On Tuesday, we discovered the dragon in the well.
Dad was grimly triumphant. He’d been complaining about a change in the water pressure for two weeks now; oh, we’d doubted him, had we? My sister Pippa was pleased. She’d just begun school and said she had nothing to talk about with her classmates. Well, no one else at school had any sort of reptiles affecting their utilities. Mom was disgusted. The entire reason that we’d had the well investigated was because she’d noticed an “off taste” to her pasta and tea and decided it was something in the water.
Well, there was something in the water all right.
For my part, I was just . . . interested. I was seventeen, and so far, year seventeen had seemed pretty similar to year sixteen, which had been pretty similar to year fifteen, which was pretty depressing any way you sliced it.
I’d been pretty burnt up about not having any good cocktail party stories yet.
But a dragon. A dragon definitely set apart year seventeen from sixteen. A dragon seemed like something that might be good cocktail party conversation later in life.
And that was interesting.
Turned out it was easier to discover a dragon in your well than to remove one. The county told Dad our well was artesian, not public, so any dragons in it were his responsibility, not theirs. The building contractors down the road were fine with using their crane to loosen an obstruction in our well until they discovered it might be fifty feet long and fire-breathing. My father was excited by the prospect of Evans Demolitions dropping either explosives or poison into the well until he was informed the decaying, poisoned corpse of a dragon would probably render his well unusable for several decades.
So the dragon remained. My mother bought several dozen gallons of water to make coffee and wash our hands with. My father removed the concrete well head, in case the dragon decided to escape, and threw up some chain link, in case neighborhood kids decided to fall in. Pippa invited over her loads of new friends and they all giggled dangerously behind their hands from the safety of the house. I watched the open well from my bedroom window and considered.
It was hard not to wonder how a dragon spent all its time in a well.
Several days into the dragon infestation, I took matters into my own hands. On a muggy evening waiting for a thunderstorm, I let myself into the chain link area, glancing over my shoulder to make sure that Pippa wasn’t anywhere close by to follow me. I slithered over to the edge of the well on my stomach and peered into the darkness.
“Helloooo,” I called. Close by, a mockingbird made the sound of my mother’s car unlocking. The well didn’t smell all that wonderful up close; “dragon” smelled a lot like “fish.” I wondered if there really was a dragon down there. Apart from the fishy smell, it was awfully quiet down there. I would’ve thought a fifty foot reptile would make more noise.
I said, conversationally, “My name’s Emmy.” My voice echoed satisfyingly off the concrete walls of the well. It was tempting to let out a few howls to really test the sonic properties of a concrete tube, but I resisted. Instead, I asked, “Do you eat girls?”
My voice hadn’t even had time to properly resonate in the well before the ground beneath my belly rumbled and the hair stood up on my arms. Across the yard, the barbecue grill fell over. It took me a moment to realize that what I’d just heard, this subsonic earthquake, was his voice. It occurred to me, then, that the dragon might be quite a bit larger than fifty feet.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “Come again?”
This time, the rumble formed words: I DON’T EAT GIRLS.
“Well, that’s relieving,” I said. “Wait, what about women?”
His voice growled and rippled and thundered up again. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
This time, the glass over the exterior light rattled off the side of the house, splintering on the gravel below. It was a strange thing, watching the light crash on the asphalt, silent in comparison to the subterranean growl.
I rubbed my ears. They felt a little wiggly after his last question. “Puberty, I guess,” I said.
THEN STILL NO.
“Why are you down there?” I asked.
I braced my elbows against the ground, waiting for his reply, but there was nothing this time. I asked the question once more, but I knew silence when I heard it, so I stood up and brushed the grass off my jeans and headed back inside. At the very least I knew that he didn’t eat girls. Well, at the very, very least I knew that he said he didn’t eat girls. Well, at the very, very, very least, I knew that he spoke at all.
And that was interesting.
The laundry began to suffer. The grass-stained jeans I’d worn out to speak to the dragon remained grass-stained as Mom refused to run the washing machine with dragon-water. She now made weekly laundromat trips with Pippa in tow; Mom looking grim, Pippa looking cheerful. Mom had bribed Pippa with the promise of Butterfingers and soda from the laundromat’s vending machines; she’d tried to bribe me as well, but I knew better than to trade my freedom for a sugar rush. That’s what sugar packets were for.
It did plant an idea, however, and when Pippa and Mom left for the laundromat that week, I headed back out to the well-head with my grass-stained jeans and a bag. I let myself into the chain-link area and sat cross-legged beside the well. It smelled worse down there. Not different worse. Just more worse.
“I’m back,” I said. I added, “It’s Emmy, again,” because it occurred to me that the dragon couldn’t see me. I had no idea of dragons had good senses of smell or not. I asked, “Do you have a good sense of smell.”
I WISH I DIDN’T.
The soil rolled at the sound of his voice; the concrete pad beside the garage cracked. Cats yowled a few houses over.
“Well, you could come out of there,” I suggested. This was met with stony silence, so I asked, instead, “What are you eating down there, anyway?” I removed objects from the bag and laid them on the edge of the hole: a box of Froot Loops, a gob of ground beef, a leftover hot dog that was burnt on one side, a bottle of ketchup, a chocolate-chip muffin.
There was a sound from the bowels of the well. Not the thundering of the dragon speaking, but a rustling, wet sound. Scales against concrete, perhaps. The dragon moving, definitely. Not much, but moving. I didn’t think there’d be much room to shift around down there, but I’d not spent any time in the bottom of a well, either.
I tossed the muffin down into the hole. It made a soft punt! noise off something solid.
I HAVE NEVER THROWN ANYTHING AT YOU.
“It’s not anything. It’s a muffin. If you weren’t in a hole, I could just hand stuff to you. Do you like it?”
NO. I DO NOT LIKE HAVING OBJECTS THROWN AT ME.
“You’re taking this the wrong way,” I said, and knocked the ground beef into the hole. It splattered wetly on something below. I won’t lie, it was a little satisfying.
YOU ARE MAKING ME ANGRY.
I replied, “You know what’s making me angry? Having to wear dirty jeans. Do you like it or not?”
There was no reply. Crossly, I tipped in the Froot Loops, the ketchup, and the leftover hot dog that was burnt on one side. They cereal pattered, the ketchup burst, and the hot dog made no sound at all.
I was annoyed at eating out of take-out boxes and wearing my least favorite jeans or dirty ones, by having my friends avoid the house. I was even annoyed about having to weed-whack the chain link around the well.
I MISS THESE.
This was a rumble, but not enough to break anything or split any concrete or even stop the mockingbird from trying out new cat sounds in the tree nearby. It was a much quieter earthquake than any of his previous statements. Perhaps a dragon version of a whisper.
“What? ‘These’? Hotdogs? Froot Loops?” Surely not ketchup. But only because of the grammar. You couldn’t have plural ketchups, could you?
There were crunching noises echoing up from the base of the well. The dragon snuffling up the last of the cereal. I didn’t think dragons had the right teeth for eating grains. I had not considered the idea that the dragon may have come from somewhere before he ended up in our well.
The siege went on. Dad talked about digging a new well. Buying a new house. Spending the summer at his mother’s. Mom said things were bad, but there was no point being unreasonable. They went in clothing fresh from the laundromat to see our congressman. I did not go. Seventeen was old enough to have a firm knowledge of what our government could and could not do for us, and I was quite certain that a dragon in a well was far out of gubernatorial reach.
The incident with the Froot Loops had been nagging me for days now. I kept doodling images of dragon teeth on the corners of paper towels while eating bowls of cereal and mulling over what he’d said in my mind. I analyzed every sentence he’d said. I googled dragons. I thought I was getting an inkling.
So when my parents and Pippa went to petition our government for help with the dragon, I went back out to the chain link area and let myself in. It had rained recently, so my grass-stained jeans were now damp as well, but it was really only just adding insult to injury. The well was smelling pretty bad by now. A bit like the Pacific Ocean, only without the water, just the seafood.
“So,” I said, “You’re a prince, aren’t you? Transformed. Cursed.”
There was a long silence, and then a brief roar that only made the chain link shimmer and the garage door hum a bit.
Well, this was disappointing. I supposed I had jumped to a rather large conclusion, with the help of my research. It just went to show that Wikipedia was a liar and Google a whore.
ARE THERE EVEN PRINCES IN AMERICA?
In the garage, my bicycle fell over. I felt a smile creep across my face as I said, “No. Loads of princesses though.”
I leaned over to look into the well. As always, there was nothing but blackness. And the overwhelming, gag-inducing odor, of course, of fish. I was quite certain that there were no fish in the well. It occurred to me that I’d made even more assumptions than I’d thought. The fish smell was the dragon himself. I exclaimed, “Are you an amphibian! How does your curse work?”
There was a shuffling sound in the well, a rushing sound — water raining down into yet more water below. I sensed more than saw something massive coming up, and jumped back just in time for the dragon’s head to emerge.
Oh, and he was ugly, too, with pimpled flesh and too-small eyes, fiercely rotten breath and slimy little amphibian ear holes. His head was the size of a refrigerator. The shadow it cast to the side of us was hideous and strange.
THE USUAL WAY.
His voice resonated through my feet and up through my chest. It felt like my bones or my heart would shatter this time.
What would’ve made the moment easier would be if his eyes looked somewhat hopeful or if his mouth had pleaded, but these weren’t expressions that a dragon had. He had no eyelids to shutter his expression, no eyebrows to appear uncertain. There was just gritty lips, alien eyes, tiny nostrils meant for shutting out water. It wasn’t going to be great, any way you cut it. But it’d be interesting.
I put my hands on my hips, leaned forward, and kissed the dragon.
In the end, the only thing that keeps this story from ending with “happily ever after” is that the government took credit for getting him out anyway.
Also, I’ve completely lost my taste for fish.
Author’s Note: OMIGOSH, Maggie, what is going on with all these happy endings?
image courtesy: guppiecat