Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time in a land far, far away there lived a little old man who was born little, but grew old warning the people about the ancient dragon that lived beneath the mountain. The dragon came in the middle of the night and took what it wanted. It was ancient and fat and slow and came only so far as it had to, but fed upon the people and upon their livelihood and took their valuable things back to its cave. The dragon did not eat everything and left some valuable things behind. The heat from its breath stayed in the air and wilted the plants. The people who were touched by the dragon and did not die were broken and dazed and confused by what had happened. They could no longer feed themselves or take care of themselves and sat in the roads begging for food and for water. Many of the people did not believe in the dragon. They said that they had never seen it and they said the broken and hungry people were that way because they were lazy and poor. A few of the people knew of the dragon and followed it when it came at night and took what it left behind. Sometimes they would make little fires that burned blue and orange to guide the dragon toward the things that they wanted. The dragon was pleased by the blue and orange flames and always left behind a little extra for the people that followed it.

The little old man became very concerned for the people. The dragon and the people that followed it were taking more and more and there were so many broken and dazed people that it was hard to care for them. Many of the people had come to realize that something was wrong. The weather was changing and the rains did not come as they used to. Some said that they saw little fires of blue and orange flames on the nights when the people were taken. The little old man drew pictures and showed them the tracks of the dragon and those that followed it, but the people were afraid. Some said “If there IS a dragon I don’t want it coming to MY house”. Others saw that it was only a matter of time before the dragon came to everyone’s house.

The people asked the little old man what they should do. He said that they must confront the dragon and drive it away. He said that if all the people worked together they could do it. One of the ones that followed the dragon came and said that there was no dragon. She said that even if there was the people were too weak to fight it. She said that she saw the fires of orange and blue flame, too, and that she knew how to use them to send the dragon away to other places. She was known to them as an owner of many things. Long ago she had taken to wearing a little tin crown with a word written on the inside. Because she looked so like a chipmunk when she smiled she became known as “Her Royal Chipmunk”. Many people believed on her when she spoke of the dragon and were very relieved and happy. They did not ask themselves why, if she knew how to keep the dragon away, she hadn’t done so already. Others who were given things by her on the days after the dragon came began to cheer. They called out: “Hurray for Her Royal Chipmunk! Hurray for the new leader!” Her Royal Chipmunk invited all the people to come with her back to her storerooms beside the mill for tea and crumpets.

Those that did not follow Her Royal Chipmunk to her storerooms asked the little old man how to begin. He saw that it would be much more difficult now that half of the people would not help, but he knew that something must be done quickly. He asked the people to bring what they had so that they could make armor and a shield. Everyone brought what they could: some had a few coins, some had a chicken, some had a half-basket of apples or carrots. They took what they had to the market to buy metal, but the sellers at the market said that Her Royal Chipmunk had warned them not to sell to the little old man. The people spread out through the town to trade what they had for anything metal: dented pots and pans, washboards, old silverware, horseshoes, broken clock parts that couldn’t be used, even a copper still that the miller said was extra. The people made a big fire in the village green and melted the metal and from that fashioned a suit of armor and a shield. They named the armor “Duty” and named the shield “Honour”. As the shield cooled, it bent inwards indenting outer face.

The little old man knew that they needed a sword. No one knew where to find one. The people went to the jailhouse and the schoolhouse and to the church. They could not find a sword. The little old man said to go to those places and bring back what was there. From the basement of the jailhouse they brought old rusted chain and fetters, from the schoolhouse they brought the brand new rulers that they had scrimped and saved for, and from the weeds behind the church they brought an ancient cracked bell that had been replaced before they were born. The made the fire in the village green three times hotter than before and melted the metal down. They fashioned a sword and named it “Justice”.

The people asked themselves who would wear the armor and confront the dragon. They reasoned that the little old man knew more about dragons than anyone. The little old man knew that the time had come to confront the dragon. He knew that the dragon must be drawn out of its cave beneath the mountain and driven away so that the cave could be sealed off to prevent its return. He was not sure that he could wear the armor for very long. The shield was light and the sword was resilient, so he thought he might do it if it happened quickly. He called for the fishmonger’s wagon and placed the armor in it. The people were offended by the smell and concerned about the oil in the bottom of the wagon, but did as the old man said. The old man then sent word to Her Royal Chipmunk that tomorrow morning at ten o’clock, the dragon would be confronted.

At dawn the next day, the little old man picked up the sword and shield and began the climb up to the cave of the dragon. He used the trail behind his house that he had followed as a boy to gather pine cones for the winter fires. When he got near to the cave, he saw that all the people were there. Her Royal Chipmunk was on a low ridge surrounded by those that she gave things to. They had set up two small braziers for warmth. The flames flickered orange and blue. Those that were now dazed and broken had followed the others begging for food and sat in a huddle well back from the cave. The people who had helped to make the armor and the shield and the sword all watched in silence.

The little old man went before all the people and asked in a loud voice if he should draw the dragon out. Some near Her Royal Chipmunk laughed and answered “What dragon?” He asked again in a louder voice and Her Royal Chipmunk smiled and waved and said: “By all means. Let the people see what real power is!” The people around her laughed again. He asked a third time and some of the people laughed in derision while those who had helped make the armor and the shield and the sword said: “Yea. Let it be done.” Those that were dazed and broken trembled and shrieked.

The little old man went to the wagon of the fish monger and many hands helped put the armor on. The armor shone in the sun with its coating of oil. The shield was placed upon his arm, the sword in his hand and he looked out across the field at the cave. The field was strewn with the bones of the sisters and brothers, the mothers and fathers, the children of the people. The little old man tried to avoid them as he started up to the cave. He approached until he stood between the cave and the low ridge where sat Her Royal Chipmunk. It was dark within. He could see nothing, but a smelled an odor of ancient corruption. He went in and sensed motion. He could barely make out a quivering of nostrils, the rocking of a great head, the rousing of the ancient dragon. He removed his helmet and set it down beside him. Then the little old man went to the dragon and spit in its eye. The dragon drew back and lunged forward, but the little old man was already backing out of the cave.

The dragon gathered itself to follow, but as it moved forward it hesitated to go out beneath the sun. The little old man stepped aside toward the trail to his house and the dragon saw the orange and blue flames. He came out in a rush knocking the little old man head over heels. The people around Her Royal Chipmunk howled with glee. Some of the dazed and broken ones had risen to their feet and were creeping forward with a look of wonder upon their faces. The little old man rolled to his feet drawing the sword and then tilted his shield so that the morning sun focused upon the face of the dragon. The dragon screamed and hunched up. The little old man began to lose his footing among the bones and was slipping downhill. All of the people were terrified. The people who had helped him did not want to lose him to the dragon. Some called out “Come back! We can fight the dragon a little at a time — we will weaken him when he comes to feed!” Others called for him to offer to serve Her Royal Chipmunk so that together they could tame the dragon. The little old man hesitated and in that moment…

(a) He went to Her Royal Chipmunk, knelt before her, and offered her the sword.

(b) He kept the reflected sun focused upon the face of the dragon as he backed away circling uphill until he stood before the braziers. Her Royal Chipmunk called out to him that together they should subdue the dragon and harness it to turn the great stone wheels at the mill. All of those that were broken and dazed cried out at once: “Kill it! Kill it and set us free!” One of the men that had heated the fire three times hot spoke in a loud voice: “Do not help her to harness the dragon. She will set it free when we least expect it.”

(c) He lunged forward, sliding between two large stones beneath the dragon while sticking him in the belly. At first, nothing happened. He pushed with all his might and a fine spray of black stench filled the air. The dragon roared and pushed down upon the little old man as if to crush him beneath its belly. The little old man wedged the sword into the bones and scooted out from under the dragon toward its tail. An oozing of vile filth issued forth from the belly of the beast as it rocked back and forth as if grinding the little old man. The dragon roared again and lumbered forward and rose upon its ancient and tattered wings. The sword glinted in its belly as it slowly, slowly circled up and up. It flew away towards the west and the ocean. The people knew that it would not die so easily and would come back. But they began at that very moment to fill in the cave and to prepare for its return. When it was full they would seal it with the armor and the shield. Some of the people who had not helped before with the armor and the shield and the sword helped to carry stones to the cave. Those that were broken and dazed stood a little straighter and looked about them as if for the first time. They began picking up the bones of their sisters and brothers, of their mothers and fathers, of their children and placed them on the spot where the dragon had been pierced. They vowed to watch over the bones and to keep vigil lest the dragon return when the people were unaware. Her Royal Chipmunk went back to her storeroom and began to wait. Some of the people went with her, but not as many as before.

(d) None of the above.

You may pick the ending that you wish. You may pick it as a pragmatist, as an optimist, for realism and for experience. What you choose you choose for all the people and for your children.

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