It had been an ordinary day like any other until Jim came home from work to find a dragon in his back garden.
“Now there’s something you don’t see every day,” he thought.
Spending too much time in front of a PC screen, fuelled by black coffee and cigarettes was clearly making him delusional.
Perhaps if he rubbed his eyes, it would go away.
Perhaps if he went back out to his car and came in again, everything would be back to normal.
It wasn’t. There was still a dragon on the lawn.
He looked at it curiously through the French windows. It was a beautiful creature, stretched out diagonally across the grass, its head resting on its front claws and its tail curled back across its rear quarters. Its scales glinted in the late afternoon sun, flame-coloured on its snout, changing gradually down the length of its body, to a deep emerald green at the end of its tail.
Jim checked the garden to see if the plants and trees had suffered any damage from burns or impact. The creature had to have arrived somehow and there wasn’t a lot of room to manoeuvre. Everything seemed to be alright but he wasn’t quite ready to go outside and make a closer examination.
“I’m going to have one hell of a job explaining this to the neighbours,” he thought.
Dragons are not a common occurrence in Middlesex.
Perhaps these hallucinations were caused by the fumes from the laser printer next to his desk. It was not so long ago that one of his colleagues had been complaining about permanent exhaustion, headaches, upset stomach – all of which he attributed to emissions from the printer. In the event, it turned out to have far more to do with what he voluntarily introduced into his nostrils over the weekends than anything breathed in at work and he’d been encouraged to seek more appropriate employment elsewhere. Even so, every so often Jim wondered whether there was any basis in the toner-cartridge theory.
He looked out of the window at the still form.
A horrible thought occurred to him – if the dragon really was there, and it was dead, how the hell was he going to dispose of the body?
“Do you mind,” said a voice in his head, “I’m not dead, I’m resting, and before you make jokes about Norwegian Blue Parrots pining for fjords, I just want to tell you, that yes, dragons have heard of Monty Python – you have no idea of the places that can pick up satellite TV – and no, you haven’t gone mad, drunk too much coffee or inhaled too many toner fumes. I’m a genuine, 24 caret, grade ‘A’ dragon, but it’s been a long day and I fancied a snooze.”
“You missed out mind-reading.”
“Goes without saying, doesn’t it?”
“Well that would describe our entire exchange, surely?” thought Jim back at his uninvited guest.
He felt invaded – if this beast could read his mind, he had no privacy at all.
He’d tried various relaxation techniques that involved making his mind go completely blank but with little success. He ended up either falling asleep or his thoughts buzzed around relentlessly, not settling on anything. He’d come to the conclusion that meditation was too far stressful – he’d do his relaxing over a pint or a nice glass of wine, thank you very much. Faced with the disturbing prospect that whatever he was thinking was open to another creature – one that was supposed to exist only in myths and legends – he regretted not having tried harder.
“Look,” said the dragon’s voice in his head, “I don’t catch everything – it’s only if I concentrate on your thoughts and I want to convey mine. I don’t mean to intrude – it’s just a flying visit, if you’ll pardon the pun.”
At that point, it raised itself on its front legs, arched its back and stretched its wings. The garden emptied of birds, and several startled squirrels shot off in various directions.
Jim wondered how it managed to land without completely trashing his garden, and how it was going to leave without doing any serious damage.
“You’ve only to ask, you know. Anyway, I thought humans had at least a rudimentary understanding of how winged creatures fly. There are enough nature documentaries on the subject!”
“Sorry,” thought Jim, “I’m not used to having conversations with visiting dragons. What am I thinking? I’m just not used to dragons – period!”
The dragon turned its head and looked at him with piercing yellow eyes.
“Well come outside and get acquainted. I promise not to eat you, spit fire or make any sudden movements. How’s that? We can even try a proper conversation if you like.”
Jim opened the French windows and stepped warily out on to the patio.
“Speaking normally would be a lot more comfortable,” he said, “but I’m not sure how the neighbours are going to take it – me standing out here talking to a dragon. You never know how people are going to react to the unfamiliar!”
“Be serious,” said the dragon. “I’m a Fabulous Beast with magical powers. Every small child knows that. Do you think I haven’t found a way to disguise my presence here?”
“Well I saw you.”
“Caught me napping, didn’t you? Not every spell is charm-perfect first time you know. I obviously overlooked the Lord of this particular Manor in the enchantment. You’re perfectly safe – no-one else will be aware that you are out here talking to something that’s not supposed to exist.”
“What about Caroline?”
“Caroline? Oh, the Lady of the Manor? I assure you I shall be long gone by the time she gets back from Sainsbury’s with your dinner.”
Jim felt invaded all over again.
“You know – I really hate that. I can’t turn my thoughts into words before you’ve got the message anyway. I suppose you even know what she’s buying. No, don’t tell me. Can’t you use a spell that makes you wait until I actually speak?”
“Sorry,” said the dragon, “habit. It’s a long time since I actually had a conversation with anyone. Go on – I’ll wait ‘til you’ve finished.”
It’s not easy maintaining a conversation with a Fabulous Beast, Jim realised, but he persevered.
“So tell me, Mr Fabulous, what brings you to Staines?”
“Call me Eric,” said the dragon.
“Yes, Eric. I’ve always fancied the name Eric and there’s no way you can pronounce my name in human language. If I say it in mine, I could end up flame-grilling your tomatoes!”
Bearing in mind that this was the first crop of tomatoes in three years that had shown any sign of ripening successfully, Jim didn’t want to take the risk.
“Nasty stuff, potato blight,” broke in the dragon’s thoughts. “Sorry, doing it again,” he added aloud.
“Alright, Eric, what brings you to Staines?”
“I’ve always fancied a flight down the length of the Thames,” explained the dragon, “but having started at the source, I came in to have a closer look at Chertsey and Shepperton Locks and I felt like a rest before continuing on into London.”
“You’re on an excursion?”
“You lot think you invented tourism, but all creatures have a natural inkling to explore. I can’t sit around at home being Fabulous all the time. I’d go crazy if I didn’t get out of the cave every so often. You’ve no idea how boring it can be guarding treasure all day, with only other dragons for company and nothing to do but blow smoke rings. I’ve always picked hot countries before, but I thought somewhere wet and cloudy might make a nice change.”
“I can imagine,” said Jim. He couldn’t imagine any such thing but he felt the dragon expected some sort of response.
“No, things haven’t been the same since Man stopped believing us and gave up hunting for hidden hoards of jewels. And the days of misguided knights charging about on horseback trying to kill us on the pretext of rescuing damsels are long gone.”
The dragon gave a deep sigh, flame-free to Jim’s relief, before continuing:
“It was completely ridiculous anyway – the average damsel was more than capable of looking after herself. It’s unbelievably painful being smacked across the nostrils with the back of a slipper. But their menfolk reckoned they needed protection. It’s amazing what those silly young fools were prepared to do for a chance of sainthood. St George has a lot to answer for, I can tell you! Still it broke the tedium. These days if I didn’t get a break every now and then, I’d go completely mad. And, since satellite transmissions started, I have a much better idea about the places I want to visit.”
“You mean to tell me that there’s a whole pack of you…”
“Flight,” Eric corrected him.
“Sorry, flight of you, flying around the place on package holidays?”
“More or less, yes. I have to say that the British Isles are largely undiscovered. You can go for days without seeing another dragon. Quite refreshing really. Well, time I was off, your Lady will be back soon, and I’m not sure if my masking spell will apply to her or not.”
Jim was struggling with the idea of introducing his uninvited guest to his all too down to earth girlfriend as the dragon continued: “House in both your names is it?”
“Er – yes.” He was having a real problem coming to terms with Eric’s grasp of 21st century house-buying arrangements. He wondered briefly if the dragon was a whiz on the Stock Market as well.
“You don’t want to know – not ethical – not supposed to get involved with the locals. Suffice it to say, we get Bloomberg too. Anyway, if the house belongs to both of you, then there’s every possibility she’ll be able to see me too. If this gets back to my Powers That Be, I could incur what is known in the fantasy world as “unspeakable wrath”, which would start with being grounded and then it’s all downhill from there. Having Modern Man find out we really do exist would lead to all sorts of investigations and the next thing you know, one of us would be captured and we’d end up freaks in one of those ghastly theme parks!”
“How does one go about capturing dragons?” asked Jim.
“Oh come on! A sloppy spell-caster I might be, but I’m not falling for that one! Look what happened to the unicorns – wiped out by a bunch of unscrupulous virgins. No, sorry, Jim, that’s a secret I’ll have to keep to myself.”
He stretched again, yawned gently and a little puff of smoke escaped from his nostrils. Jim couldn’t help flinching and backed away a few steps. The dragon flexed his wings once or twice, and said:
“Sorry about that. Right, must fly! I’m starving. Do you know anywhere I can pick up a sheep discreetly?”
“I’m not sure I should encourage sheep-rustling,” said Jim.
“No one will ever find out, trust me,” said Eric. “Every time you lot count sheep, you fall asleep.”
“You shouldn’t believe everything you hear about humans, you know,” said Jim.
Despite his misgivings he gave directions to Staines Reservoir, where he knew local farmers grazed their flocks. He added precautions about not getting in the way of the Heathrow flight path.
“Hmm, airports – ghastly, noisy, smelly places,” said the dragon. “It was a sorry day for us holiday makers when mankind finally conquered flight! It’s a major complication when planning a trip. It’s just as well we don’t need air traffic controllers – it would put the cost of travel up enormously – the holiday insurance alone is expensive enough as it is!”
He gave another couple of trial wing flaps then sprang into the air as Caroline walked through the open French windows.
“What on earth was that? It looked like a dragon!”
“Darling, you’ve either been drinking too much coffee or sitting too close to the laser printer again. Did you remember the wine?”
As he ushered her back into the house, he reflected that if he’d told her the truth she’d never believe him.
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that if I were you,” said a voice in his head. “Get her to tell you about the gryphon that dropped by last week.”