Irving the Reluctant Dragon.


     Irving sighed as he went out the door. “Off to work… again…” he thought as he started the car and drove off. It wasn’t that he hated his job… ok, he did hate his job… it was a very good job, after all, and he should be grateful to have it. He made a lot of money there, he supposed, it was just that his job didn’t… fulfill him, he felt. Like he should feel better about what he was doing, or something. It was hard to explain. He knew it was hard to explain, because he had tried.

     “I just don’t feel like I am accomplishing anything,” he had told his wife, Selma, a year or so ago. “Everything that I work with is destructive. I want to work doing something that creates instead of destroys.” Irving worked for the government, inspecting equipment that served no other purpose in the world other than to kill people, and at times he found it a bit depressing.

    “It does create, Irving,” Selma had been quick to assure him. “It creates a damn paycheck so we can pay the damn bills.”

    Irving sighed again… the past few years had just been so difficult, it seemed. They had moved quite a ways from where they had been living, a small town that was laid back and relaxed, to a medium sized city that was growing rapidly… too rapidly for Irving. Then shortly after that, despite his best efforts, they had been forced to file for bankruptcy. The years before he had landed this job finally caught up to them, and even though he was making very good wages now, there just wasn’t any way for him to pay off everyone who wanted money from him.

     Just one thing after another, it seemed. Selma and Irving never talked anymore, and he found himself thinking that, at least to his recollection, they never had. He was tired… his life was a shambles, he was miserable, his marriage was going to Hell… and last night, he had made himself a promise. Damnit, he was going to be happy again… if it killed him!

     And so it was that on this fateful day, he drove to work, determined that he was going to make a difference in his life… little did he know what great things he had set in motion making that promise to himself.


     He had barely sat down at his desk when Jeff, his boss, had come over. Tossing a sheaf of papers down in front of Irving, Jeff sat down on the edge of the desk and just sat there for a second before speaking.

     “Irving, this procedure that you gave me is completely off-track.”

     Irving looked up at him. “This is exactly what you asked for, Jeff.” He gathered up the sheaf of papers and placed it carefully into the folder where it belonged. When Irving was getting annoyed, his voice got quieter and quieter as his level of annoyance grew. If you could barely hear him, then rest assured that he was about as annoyed as any one human could get and not literally explode!


     Jeff knew this, and yet he continued on, smug in his position of authority over the man sitting before him. “No it is not.” he assured Irving. “If it was, then we would be using it right now. I needed this done and done right, Irving, and once again you have failed to stay on track.”


     Stay on track… Irving wished that Jeff would stay on track… a railroad track, with a speeding freight train bearing down on him at 900 zillion miles an hour…

    He smiled at the thought, and Jeff immediately pounced on him.


    “I see that you seem to find this amusing.” He picked up the folder that had Irving’s procedure in it, and crossing the office, proceeded to stuff the entire folder into the paper shredder, which promptly began to whine and shudder as it attempted to shred approximately ten times the amount of paper that it was designed to handle at once.


    “I don’t think…” Irving began.


    “See, that’s the problem.” Jeff pointed at him. “You just don’t think!”


    Irving decided that he had taken all that he was going to take. All of the other office workers were studiously avoiding looking at where he and Jeff were arguing, but he knew that they overheard every single word of it, and he just couldn’t take it any more.

    He stood up, picked up his briefcase and his coffee cup that his kids had given him for his birthday (the one with the “Dad’s are the greatest” cartoon on it that he adored) and turned to Jeff, who stood there with his hands on his hips, eyebrows raised as he watched Irving picking up his things.

    “Jeff, I rewrote that procedure six times. Every time I gave it to you, you said that it wasn’t right, but couldn’t tell me why it wasn’t right, just that it wasn’t and to do it again.” He held up a finger to Jeff as he started to speak. “Shut up.”


    A hush fell over the office. Everyone froze in place. The only sound was the paper shredder as it valiantly continued to try and digest the immense wad of paper that Jeff had stuffed into it.


    Jeff’s eyes bulged out in anger as he surveyed this… this… underling that dared to tell him shut up. But before he could think of anything to say, Irving continued on.


     “I had it reviewed by three department heads and six of the workers, all of whom told me that it was fantastic and would save us hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in time alone, not taking into account that we would produce a better product as well. But you still said it wasn’t right…”

     Irving took one last swig of his coffee, and looked around the office.

     “So all I can say to you, is, that if you don’t like it the way it is, then I suggest that you do it your own damn self!”

     He started to walk out the door, but stopped as Jeff began to bluster.


    “You can’t talk to me like that!” he exclaimed, his face growing crimson, both in anger and in embarrassment at having an employee speak to him in such a manner and in front of the rest of the workplace. Of course he never thought twice about doing it to them, but to have someone do it to him? Unthinkable!


    “It’s about time someone did, Jeff.” Irving said, quietly as he turned back towards the door to leave. “And by the way…”


    “WHAT!” Jeff yelled, his face turning purple now.


     “Your paper shredder is on fire.”


     Irving left the building just as the smoke alarms went off. “It will be fine,” he assured himself, “After all, the fire department is next door.” He got in his car and drove off, tossing his employee identification badge out the window as he made his way past the workers who had begun to stream out of the building.

     He waved at some of the people that he knew… probably for the last time, since he had never taken the time to socialize with any of them outside of work. He reached down and turned the stereo on… then turned it up way too loud as “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas came on. “All we are is dust in the wiiiiiiind….” he sang along at the top of his lungs, feeling as if he was “ten feet tall and bulletproof”.

    But this mood didn’t last long, as the exit that he needed to take to his house was fast coming up, and at the thought of telling Selma that he had quit his job settled in, he drove slower… and slower…

     “This is NOT going to be pretty!” he thought, as he edged his way into his normal parking spot in front of the house. Just coming home from work early would be enough to throw Selma into a tizzy, let alone coming home unemployed!

     “Might as well get it over with.” He sighed once again in what seemed to be becoming a habit. He grabbed his coffee cup out of the console and made his way up the walk to the door.

     He hadn’t even gotten the door closed behind him before she started in on him…


    “What in the world are you doing home?” she asked from where she sat on the couch, still in her nightgown even though it was nearly two in the afternoon. He glanced round the corner into the living room to see the usual soap opera playing, a cigarette sending its noxious fumes curling up as it burned away untended in the ashtray. “Well?” she went on, as he hadn’t answered her.

     He plopped down into his recliner, first brushing off the coating of dog hair that clung to the entire surface of it. Selma couldn’t be bothered to clean… or do any of the usual tasks that one would associate with the term “homemaker”. Her day consisted of sleeping till noon, then dragging herself out of bed and into the living room. Four or five cups of coffee later, she would turn on the television, light up a cigarette, and then spend the rest of the day watching court television programs or soap operas and talking on the telephone.


     Irving never came home from work to find dinner even started, let alone ready and waiting for him, and usually had to make whatever it was that they were going to have himself. Selma would make some sort of excuse that she “was going to start dinner, but nothing sounded good”… and then go off into her “office” and get on her computer to play Texas Holdem’ or visit one of the online gambling casinos that she frequented. There she would stay glued until about four or five in the morning, sometimes falling asleep in the chair there. Irving never even bothered trying to wake her up; he had found it an exercise in futility in the past, and now just went on about his business.


     “I quit.” he stated simply, not bothering with any attempt to sugar-coat it. He took a sip of his coffee and noticed that it had gone stone-cold and tasted like something one might possibly scrape off the side of the engine block in his car. He studied the cartoon in the side of the cup, trying to remember which one of his kids had given the mug to him. Was it one, or had all of them chipped in to get it? He couldn’t remember… his memory had been getting worse and worse for years, any more he didn’t even try to dredge the memory up out of the gray fog that he always found whenever he tried.


     “Quit what?”


    “Argghh!” Irving thought to himself. She always did this to him, and it was one of the thousand things that she did that just annoyed the living crap out of him- and most times he was certain that she did it just because she knew that it irritated him.

     “What do you think I quit?” he fumed. “I quit smoking eighteen years ago, quit drinking 15 years ago, quit going to church twenty three years ago, (a date that coincided with their marriage… imagine that!) I only go to work, then come home, and I certainly didn’t quit that, or I wouldn’t be sitting here right now, now would I? So, by process of elimination, that only leaves one thing that would be possible for me to quit, wouldn’t it?”


     “You quit your job?”


     Irving smacked himself in the forehead with the palm of his hand, just to keep himself from saying what had popped into his head. He had often joked around with the few friends that he had, telling them that there were no such thing as blonde jokes… only stories about his wife… little did they know just how close to the truth that statement was!

     “Yes… I quit my job.” He steeled himself for what he was certain would follow. And knowing Selma as he did, he was not disappointed.


     “Well, you will have to go right out and get another one. I know that all sorts of jobs are open right now.”


     Irving bit back the impulse to ask her how she would know, since she hadn’t bothered to get a job in years, even when they were contemplating the bankruptcy and someone else bringing in some cash would have made all the difference then. Instead, he sat there quietly and let her run on until she ran out of steam, something that sometimes could take hours.

     Finally she was quiet… but it was the wrong sort of quiet. It wasn’t the “Ok, I’m done now” sort of quiet… it was the “Ok, I’m waiting for your answer” sort of quiet, which meant that he was supposed to have been listening and now it was his turn to say something. The truth was that he seldom paid any attention to Selma… it wasn’t that he wanted to be rude or anything, but she had this annoying habit of saying things three or four times, over and over again. Even if he was paying attention at the beginning, he always wandered off somewhere in his mind after the third time she said the same thing… he wondered if a non-committal grunt might get him by this time.

     “Huh…” he looked over at the television.




     Busted… obviously he wasn’t going to get off that easy this time. “Sorry, Selma, I didn’t hear what you said.”


     “That’s the whole problem, Irving, you never hear anything that I say. You never listen to me at all!”


     “PING!” Irving actually heard something inside his head snap at that moment. It gave him a jolt, like a bit of electricity running through the base of his skull for just a second. When it disappeared, he knew what it was that he had to do.

     Slowly standing up, he looked down at Selma where she sat, frowsy-headed, a cigarette hanging precariously between two fingers, a good two inches of gray ash dangling off of the end of it, threatening to fall off at any moment. He watched in fascination as she moved her hand, the ash falling now into the bottom of the paper shredder that sat at the end of the couch…


     “And where in the hell do you think that you are going now?” she shrilled at him as he turned towards the front door.


     “Frankly, Selma, I personally don’t think that it’s any of your damn business where I go anymore.” Irving told her. “I’m done with this mess, once and for all.”


     “What’s that supposed to mean? I suppose you are going to go and file for divorce again?” She always threw that up in his face any time that they got in an argument. He had filed for divorce on a couple of occasions before, but had dropped the proceedings when she had promised that she would change… that she would get help for her problems… and every time, as soon as the court case was dropped, she went right back to the way she had been before, and Irving felt like a gullible fool… again.


      “Nah, not this time, Selma.” he said over his shoulder as he made his way out of the room. “You’ve already cost me thousands upon thousands of dollars… and I am done.”


       “You cant just leave, Irving !” Selma was screaming at him now. “You have to provide for me… you have to!”






     “Your paper shredder’s on fire.”


     He drove off, watching as Selma hurled the flaming paper shredder out the front door… and into his watergarden. “Well, THAT figures!” he thought. “The ONE thing here that was really mine…”


     He drove out to the State Lake just outside of town to find a peaceful spot to think things over… examine his options so to speak. He really hadn’t made any plans, he had just been spouting off at Selma in retaliation for what she had said to him. But now he realized that he had to come up with something, God only knew no one else would!

     Halfway across the dam, his car gave a quick little shudder and cut out for a second, then smoothed out and went on. A little farther on, it gave one wheeze… one loud “BAM”…then died. The engine turned over easily when he turned the key, but didn’t even attempt to start.

    Irving pounded his fists on the steering wheel, beside himself at this one last blitzkrieg on his life. “What else could POSSIBLY go wrong now?” This is a question that one should never ask oneself, as Irving was about to learn.

    He was blasted out of his wallowing in self-pity by the strident blaring of the car horns from the automobiles stuck behind his disabled car. There wasn’t room for them to pass, as it was a narrow two-lane road that ran across the top of the dam, and there was a constant flow of traffic coming from the other direction. There was nowhere for him to push his car, either, as off to the right there was nothing but a pipe guardrail, then the five hundred foot drop or so to the surface of the lake below.

    Irving opened the door of his car and stepped out, intending to try and find someone who could help him push his car to the other end of the dam, he didn’t care at this point if they caved the back end of it in doing it! But as he exited the car, all he was able to find were people who were extremely irate at him for deliberately breaking down in front of them… and who didn’t hesitate for a second to let him know.


     “Idiot!… Moron!… these were the least offensive of the epithets hurled at him from the cars stranded there. He was glad that he didn’t speak any language other than English, or he might truly be offended at what some of them might be calling him…


     Finally, he felt that he had enough of this abuse. With a traditional one-fingered salute to those motorists who felt the need to yell at him, he set off down the road… which, due to his disabled car blocking it, was totally devoid of traffic.

     He kept glancing over the guard rail at the lake below, so calm and cool, its waters lapping at the base of the dam as if attempting to crumble it to regain its freedom… to flood headlong down the channel below, carving out great chunks of the bank on either side in its fury at having been contained for so long…

    He shook his head, feeling as if he had just snapped out of a daydream… a daydream where he was at peace… floating in the embrace of the waters below… carefree at last. He looked about, and found that he was perched on the top bar of the guardrail, one slip from falling to his certain death below. For even if the plunge didn’t kill him… the truth was, Irving couldn’t swim a lick to save his own life. He knew this, having tried it before, and failed miserably, having had to have been pulled, gasping and choking from the bottom of the pool by a lifeguard… a pretty gal who couldn’t have been nineteen or twenty at the most, and who could swim like a fish even hauling his flailing dead weight behind her.


     “I would reconsider, Irving” he heard a voice coming from above him.


    “What? Who? Huh?” he heard stammering come out of his own mouth in amazement as he craned his head upwards, trying to see who was up there. For a moment, he thought that it might be God’s own voice… a miracle, as it were.

     A miracle it might be, indeed… but Irving was reasonably sure that it wasn’t God… or at least he hoped so!

     The sight that greeted him as he looked up reminded him of one of the gargoyles that he had seen in movies and in books, perched on the edges of buildings, their evil contorted faces leaning outward to drive away other spirits while also serving as downspouts during rainstorms… a double duty that Irving had always found sort of macabre. The thought of evil stone demons puking endless streams of water had always made him wonder about the stability of the minds of those who had originally designed them.


    “A gargoyle? Why, I have never been so insulted in all my life!”


     Irving started, and nearly fell off his perch on the guardrail.


     “Whoa… steady there, big fella!”


     Irving grasped the rail tighter, and scooted back a bit more until he no longer felt like he would topple off into the water below. “I’m crazy, aren’t I?” he asked the apparition above. “I’ve finally lost it, haven’t I?”


     “You cant lose what you’ve never had, Irv.”


     “My name is Irving, thank you.”


     “Ok… Irv.”


     There was silence for a moment, as Irving contemplated climbing up to where the monster perched and giving him… er… “it” a sound thrashing, then giving it up as a singularly bad idea. He sighed… again…

     “What do you want?” he asked the gargoyle.


     “Ok, first off, I am not a gargoyle. This is not a building, and I am not about to puke an endless stream of water… although the Knight that I ate last night is trying to come back on me a bit from time to time…” The creature let out a hearty belch, then hiccupped as wisps of smoke curled out of its nostrils and swirled about its head before dissipating on the evening breeze.


     Irving’s mind whirled dizzily as he considered… “A dragon? No way…!”


     “And just why not a dragon, pray tell?”


     “Because they don’t exist, simple as that.” Irving retorted, not stopping to think that if there was one sitting there before him, obviously they did exist.

     The dragon just sat there, knowing what was racing though the man’s mind as if he was privy to all the thoughts therein… and he was!


     “Stop that!” Irving shouted at the dragon.


     The dragon sighed… it seemed to be contagious…


    “What… do… you … want?”




     Irving squeaked and nearly fell. “M… me?” he stammered. “But… why me?”


     The dragon launched himself, or herself, or itself, whatever it was… off the beam where it had been sitting. Unfurling its wings, it plummeted towards the water below, pulling up barely in time to keep from smacking soundly into the surface. Irving watched as the creature sailed up… up… then slowly swung around and headed back towards the dam.

     It came to a graceful landing on the railing by Irving, lightly touching down and grasping the pipe with its long, curving talons. Wings neatly folded in against its body, the dragon turned towards the human seated there.


     “Because you are completely, totally, absolutely, from tiptop to the bottom…”


     “Go on, please.”


     “… unsuited for life as a human.” the dragon finished.


     “Duh dur duh.” Irving mocked him.  “And what was your first clue, oh wise one?”


     “Well, to tell the truth, we have been watching you.” the dragon confessed.


     “Watching me.”


     “Watching you.”


     Irving sat back against the support behind him, contemplating this for a moment. “So, you and whoever have been watching me all this time, and you could have stepped in at any moment, and instead, you waited until my entire life has gone down the crapper… and you suddenly decide it is time to break this news to me?’


     The dragon sat there as if it were thinking, which indeed, it was. “Yep.” he said, without any further explanation.


     “You know, you are a bit of a smart-ass?”


     “I have been told that before, actually.”


     Their conversation was disrupted by the sound of sirens approaching from the end of the road that hadn’t been blocked by the breakdown of Irving’s car. The two turned and spied the flashing lights of several law enforcement vehicles that were speeding towards them, slowing as they drew near, then coming to a stop about thirty feet or so away from where the two sat on the guardrail. Irving turned to the dragon. “I suppose they are here after me?”


     “I think that would be a reasonable assumption, at least at this point.”


     “By the way… I am Irving.”


     “I knew that…Braxtos here.”


     “Cool name”


     “Thanks, picked it out myself.”


     The doors on the police cars opened, and people in blue, green, and tan uniforms spilled out, taking positions behind the vehicles and hunkering down. A van pulled up behind them, television cameras hastily being pulled out and set up to record what was happening.


     “Must be a slow news day.”


     “It’s Kansas.”


     “Right, I forgot.”


     Irving turned to the dragon. “You never did say what you wanted me for.”


     “Dang, I forgot… yeah. “ The dragon shuffled around a bit, getting comfortable. “You see… it’s like this. I’m a recruiter.”


     “Man, I hate recruiters.”


     “Yeah, we know all about that military thing… sorry, but I’m a different sort of recruiter.”


     “So you say.”


     “Shut up and listen, willya?”




     They glanced over at the clump of police cars and news vans. Now there was a SWAT van pulling in, and in the distance they could see a helicopter closing in on the dam.


     “You would pick a place that would involve local law enforcement as well as state, federal, military and the fish and game department to have your breakdown on, I have to hand it to you!”


     “I do my best. You were saying?”


     “Right. What I am recruiting for is the best of the best. Those who truly wish to help others in their lives… those who are unsatisfied with what life has dealt them, and who seek to enlarge themselves, their abilities, their powers so to speak. I need… we need people like yourself to join us, to journey between worlds and help wherever help is needed.”


     “You are recruiting people to become dragons.”


     “I thought I just said that.”


     “Not really, but sorta.”




     Irving thought about this. He was an avid reader of fantasy novels, and had always thought that dragons had gotten a bad rap for the most part. So what if they did carry off some cattle, sheep, the occasional sacrificial virgin maiden… they were there first in every story that he had ever read. If anything, the humans had been the ones who had invaded the dragon’s home.

     “I don’t have to eat knights, do I? Or virgin maidens?

     “Sorry, I was joking about that. No, knights are pretty well wiped out… and virgin maidens… well… about the same thing, it seems. Actually, most of the times that happened, it was the girls just wanting to get away from their controlling parents, you know? We just let them come and run our castles, boss around the scullery maids and servants and such.”


     Irving scratched an itch that had started on his shoulder-blades… both sides, in fact. He wondered if perhaps he might have gotten into some ivy or something somewhere… the itch seemed to be getting worse by the moment.


     “Did I mention that you become immortal?”


     “That has its drawbacks, you know. Especially if you are married…” Irving replied, but he was thinking furiously. Here was his chance to really make a difference, not only on this world, but others as well. To really do something with himself… he couldn’t really see a down side to it.


     On the dam, a man in a black suit stepped out from behind the SWAT team’s van and raised a bullhorn to his mouth.



     Irving looked at Braxtos. “How in the world could he know my name?”


     Braxtos pointed the tip of one wing towards the rear of one of the news vans, where they saw Selma standing, her arms folded across her chest, her foot tapping angrily on the ground as if she wanted nothing more than to come and chastise Irving for daring to embarrass her by causing such a spectacle as this.


     “Well, that would probably explain it.” Irving turned towards the man in the suit. “WHAT?” he yelled back.


     “WE WANT TO TALK TO YOU, IRVING.” the man went on. “DON’T JUMP.”


     “Who said anything about jumping?” Irving asked Braxtos, who shrugged his wings and shook his head.




     “Yeah… humans.” Irving laughed. “So tell me more about this. What do I do, and where, and how?”


     “Well, first you go to school. Then you get an assignment. When that’s done, you get another one.”


     “That’s it?”


     “What more do you want? We teach you everything you need to know, make sure you learn it, then we let you do what it is that you are supposed to do.”


     Irving sighed…


    “First off, stop that!”


     Irving and Braxtos turned as they heard the bullhorn let out a screech of feedback. They watched as Selma wrestled it out of the grasp of the federal agent and ran out onto the road between the cars and where Irving sat perched on the guardrail.


     “That was a smart man.”


     “Lucky, too.” Irving added. “Selma might have broken something if he had fought her.”


     Selma raised the bullhorn and started screaming at Irving, her naturally obnoxious voice amplified to the point where lake birds a half mile away took to flight in panic. “IRVING! GET YOUR ASS OFF THAT RAIL AND OVER HERE RIGHT THIS SECOND! HOW DARE YOU DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO EMBARRASS ME LIKE THIS!”


     Irving turned to the dragon sitting next to him. “So tell me, what do I have to do?”


     Braxtos looked back at where Selma stood, still spouting dire threats into the bullhorn, then turned back to Irving with a grin on his face. “All you have to do is… fly with me.”


     Irving scratched again at the terrible itch… the ones that were his dragonwings… trying to break through the fabric of his shirt…

     He turned back towards where Selma stood, just in time to hear her scream one more time… “YOU DON’T HAVE THE GUTS TO JUMP, IRVING!”…


     He cupped his hands around his mouth to make sure that Selma heard what he was about to say… a quiet suddenly fell across the top of the dam as all of the car horns fell silent for a moment… even the sound of the helicopter was strangely muffled for the moment.








     Everyone looked around at each other, certain that Irving had gone insane… for there weren’t any paper shredders anywhere near. Only Selma figured out what Irving was talking about, and she took off at a dead sprint for the end of the dam…


     As Irving leaned forward… taking in a deep breath..


     “Easy now.” Braxtos cautioned. “The first time can be… a bit extraordinary.”


     Irving breathed out… from the depth of his soul… and was delighted to see a tongue of flame shoot out before him, engulfing the vehicles there and sending all the people scattering, running (they thought) for their very lives.

     Irving stood up, a wisp of smoke curling about his head… his hair rapidly falling out as the scales formed over his body. His clothes began to char and fall away as he turned back towards the edge of the dam. His wings unfurled, finally freed…




     “Am I ever…!”


     The two leaned forward… and fell towards the water…



     “This story just in… law enforcement official from the local, state, federal and military law enforcement branches have released no comments regarding the explosion of several vehicles on the top of the State Lake Dam this evening. We have unsubstantiated reports that there have been several groups claiming responsibility for the blast, which destroyed five law enforcement vehicles and our very own news van. Investigations are expected to be ongoing and information will be released as it is received. A search continues for the body of an alleged suicide that occurred at the moment of the explosion, but so far there have been no results. The wife of the man is being treated at a local health facility after suffering from a nervous breakdown….



   Authors note: Art imitates life... if I had been offered the chance to be a dragon at the time that I wrote this... 


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