Dragon Boys, a short story by Sasha Wolff at Spillwords.com
Ralph Nas

Dragon Boys

Dragon Boys

written by: Sasha Wolff


The funeral.

It’s a funeral. There’s not much to it. We’ve all been to one. Some of us, many. If you’ve never been, you can probably imagine, or guess from the movies, what a live funeral is like.

This funeral is real, but feels more like a dream.

There are two black caskets, both closed. Inside each lies a teenage boy.

It’s just a crisp, leafy autumn morning at a grassy, old cemetery in downtown New Chicago, but the holo-screen makes it appear as if the service is being held at the Lakefront at sunset, the city skyline melting into a liquefied crimson gold. Windy City gone City of Angels.

From the back of the service, it appears as if the caskets are drifting onto Lake Michigan. Twin ships. The illusion is pleasant, distracting. Mythical almost.

Standing in front of the caskets are a variety of folks, all dressed in black. Some of them look tired. Some of them look sad. Everybody looks good. Someone is having trouble breathing. She is one of the moms, so she can be ignored. It’s not rude. It’s sanity. Don’t look at her.

The news story.

A holo-article being flicked open by a commuter on the Silver Line as it hurtles along the elevated tracks, rippling in the sun like a sly, silvery snake as it turns, leaving the briefcased hubbub of The Loop behind for the graffitied, friendly-funky, leafy boulevards of Logan Square:

By Oren Stevens, The New Chicago Star

Two boys were killed by a teacup dragon in Wicker Park on Wednesday. The reptile, commonly referred to as a ‘draglet,’ was being kept as a domesticated pet in the apartment of one of the boys at the time of the incident.

Police are treating the deaths as a criminal case. Autopsies on Kai Mazel, 12, and Syler Tanner, 13, were performed Thursday.

Mazel was spending the night at Tanner’s apartment, New Chicago Police Chief Aza Ramirez said at a news conference downtown. Ramirez said the Peruvian fire-tail, approximately 28 inches tall (71 cm) and 9 kg (20 lb) in weight, was a domesticated pet living with the family inside their fourth-story apartment at the time of the incident.

An increasingly popular pet in recent years, ‘draglets’ are a product of renowned herpetologist Krysztof Amler’s 2180 break-through in fantastical bioengineering.

Ramirez has stated that the teacup dragon was being caged in a large fireproof glass enclosure that reached the ceiling of the apartment. The draglet managed to wriggle its way out of the enclosure through a small hole in the ceiling connected to the ventilation system. He said the draglet made its way through the ventilation system and moved towards the far-right bedroom, where the two boys were sleeping. The pipe collapsed and the draglet fell into the room, and onto the bed where the boys were sleeping. Panicked, it ejected fire.

No claw marks were found. Both boys were covered head to toe in sixth degree burns. Medical experts report that the boys died “rather quickly” from severe bodily injuries due to flame exposure.

The draglet in question is expected to be euthanized. It was examined and appears to be in overall good health, Ramirez said.

Phil Webb, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Natural Resources, said there was a permit issued for a Peruvian fire-tail draglet and New Chicago authorities were aware it was being kept at the apartment. New Chicago is an accredited zone for ‘enhanced pet types.’ The owner of the draglet, Narron Tanner, said that he didn’t hear a sound and discovered the ‘horrific scene’ when he went to check on the boys Thursday morning. He reports that both were covered in ‘severe, charred burns’ and neither boy was moving. ‘I can’t believe this is real,’ Tanner said.

He said Kai Mazel came often to the apartment to spend time with his son. ‘They were like brothers,’ he said. The boys were seventh graders at Pritzker Junior High, in Wicker Park. The friends bonded over a shared love of chess and video games. Tanner said that the draglet, which he had gotten as a birthday present for his son, Syler, last June, had been kept in its enclosure most days, was rarely let out, and was not handled by anyone in the family other than Syler. It had lived with the Tanner family since the summer, with no incident.

‘The boys adored Septimus,’ Tanner said, referring to the draglet. ‘He never bit either of them, never sparked a flame once in all their months together. And Syler was crazy about him. He took great care of him. He was a good draglet. I mean, you know, before.’

Police say the draglet will be euthanized. It will then be sent for a necropsy to confirm the species of dragon, and will also be examined by phantastical bioengineers to help understand what may have caused it to act so violently.

Draglets, like all Level I domesticated phantasies, must be kept in their enclosures at all times. Yet, they are specifically designed so that if they do happen to escape, they will not harm their human owners. Draglets have been serving as household pets for nearly eight years now, since June of 2189, when the original ban by animal rights groups was overruled.

These are the first human deaths to have been caused by a ‘domesticated phantasy.’

Draglet experts say it was possible that the draglet was spooked and simply clung to whatever it landed on through reflex. One expert speculates that the draglet picked up on scents that were on the boys from playing with other animals that day. Byran Landry, Kai Mazel’s great-uncle, said the boys had eaten dinner at Medieval Market on Wednesday evening, and had played with different animals before going back to the apartment.

Nik Devan, founder and co-owner of Little Dragon Lair in Lakeview, said draglets were engineered not to recognize humans as a source of food but if the children smelled like animals, it could explain an attack.

‘If a draglet sees an animal moving, giving off heat, and smells like a horse, what is it? It’s a horse,’ Nik Devan (whose family owns three draglets of their own) said. ‘The reasonable explanation of how this all happened is these boys were playing with Medieval Market animals, they smelled like their prey items, and the draglet, sadly enough, mistook them as a food item. Like dogs and cats, draglets, well, they are very wired by smell. This was a freak incident, sad, but rare. Defensive action does not a deadly predator make…Of course, well, now the doorway to dragonphobia has been reopened. Will families flock to the shops to return their kids’ scaly companions? Or will folks try and give these fascinating toy wyrms of ours another chance?’

When asked his thoughts on the “dragon rights” protests currently taking place in major cities across the country, herpetologist, zoologist, and author of the bestselling book, Once Upon a Reptile, Toye Goya responded, “Have we as a society taken domestication of wildlife too far? Who permitted us to become dragon masters in the first place? I, personally, have a lot of questions about the ethics of phantastical bioengineering.’

The owner of the draglet, Narron Tanner, and his wife, were unharmed.”

Kai’s memory.

Right now, Kai, Syler, and Darius are running through the sandy marketplace of Des Nooga, trying not to explode. This is two nights before the night of the incident, which explains why the first two boys are here in Kai’s living room and not miles away, in their coffins.

Next to Kai, Syler is swearing at the screen, as usual. “Curse you, Lord Puppykiss!! Noooo.” His avatar, a Lakewater Thief, just got attacked by a hail of arrows: snarling, purple “barkballs.” Syler keeps running and cursing, now a comical, zig-zagging ball of fire.
Kai cracks up, as he darts around a vendor’s stall, checking for Elflings. Clear. He is a Desert Prince. Next to Syler, spectacled Darius assassinates twelve elves a minute. At least, it feels like that. Darius is a Holy Rogue, slick with blood and festooned in holy beads. “Take that, my purple diminutive brethren!” he declares.

“Till next time, Lord Puppykiss,” says Syler. “Awoooo!”

“Awoooo!” Kai and Darius go, laughing. The doorbell rings. Probably the pizza. “I do believe someone is at the door,” says Darius.
Syler just died, so he goes to get the door. As Kai watches him go, flicking his blonde hair out of his sea blue eyes, he thinks about how different he, Darius, and Syler are. How the three of them ended up friends is beyond him. And yet despite their differences, they do share the same absolute obsessiveness towards Sky Islands: Blood Wars.

After the pizza has been demolished, the boys plug back in. Kai feels a delicious excitement fill him as they run through the streets of Des Nooga, dodging arrows and gunfire, breathing in the auto-generated scents of sizzling hot fish and strange spices, drawing closer and closer to the old, arched bridge that leads into The Magicians’ Forest.

The way Kai sees it, if you’re on the run from the intergalactic law, you might as well be on the run with your two best friends. And if you’re on the run with your friends, you might as well be making your way, armed, into an enchanted blue forest. And if you’re doing magic in the forest with a very cute boy your age, hey, you may as well be a little in love.

The euthanizer.

Vivian is tucking the girls into bed. At least, attempting to. Outside, the wind is howling. The girls are each jumping on their floaty, pink and purple beds, giggling. It always takes them a while to get settled in after their bath. “Mommy, why does the dragon have to die?” asks Claire.

“Euthanized,” said Kendall, smiling like she enjoys the word on her tongue. You wouldn’t think they were twins at first by the sound of their voices. Claire is all innocence, while Kendall is more like her: a dainty devil.

Vivian breathes in and says, “That means it’s dangerous. We just want to make sure it doesn’t hurt any other little boys in the future.”

“Mom, please don’t kill it tomorrow morning,” says Claire. “Do you have to?”

Vivian takes a calming breath. “I’m not killing it,” she explains. “I’m putting it to sleep.”

“Like us?” Kendall asks, knowingly.

“Those boys, did they die in their sleep?” asks Claire.

“Those boys?” Vivian removes a pillow feather from her North Face jacket. She didn’t realize she was still wearing it. “Yes, they were deep, deep asleep when it happened. It was a peaceful way for them to go. Light on?”

“Yes, please,” says Claire.

“You know they probably woke up though,” says Kendall. “Seconds before the breath flames scorched them into smithereens!”

“Enough,” says Vivian. “I’m turning off the main light. The lamp can stay on.”

“Mom?” says Claire. “I think you’re really brave for helping things sleep.”

Vivian swallows, and leans it to give Claire a kiss. “Thank you, sweetie.”

Kendall snorts. “Well, I wish no one ever invented sleep.”

Vivian gives her a goodnight kiss. “But then there would be no night or day, my love. But you know, I don’t like sleep much either.”

“Good night, Mommy,” says Claire, in a voice she hasn’t used since she was a small girl and their father was still in the picture.

Vivian looks at the two of them, her darlings. “Good night, babies. Get some…” She stops, catches herself. “See you in the morning.”

Downstairs, Vivian inhales a dusty bottle of Cabernet by its neck. She takes a long drain, looking outside at the dark, whispering branches through the kitchen window, afraid of her bed, afraid of sleep, afraid more than she could say, least of all to two nine-year-olds, of morning.

Syler’s memory.

This is the night before it happened. Syler is waiting for Kai to arrive. They’re doing a sleepover. They’ve never done a sleepover before. Syler keeps walking back and forth between rooms. He pours more salty snacks into ceramic bowls. He washes and rewashes his hands. He checks his phone. His dad is watching TV on the couch. He keeps taking worried looks at Syler. He asks Syler if he’s on drugs.

Syler doesn’t answer.

Heart pounding like mad, he goes down the four flights of stairs and sits on his skateboard outside his apartment building, moving slowly up and down the sidewalk over the cracks. A few minutes later, a sleek, fancy, black FlyteXis pulls up, like something out of a movie about famous people. Syler squints up at the car’s shiny, sun-rippling roof, and feels the known world rise to meet him.

It’s Kai. He sort of tumbles out of the vehicle, sloppy and wet-haired like a coin, lost in the air, before it lands. He looks so shrimpy and shy in his grass-stained gray sweatshirt, backpack slumped around his skinny, low self-esteem shoulders, as his mom cruises off like she has empires to rule. But Syler knows better. He knows Kai has his own jeweled heavens and uncharted universes inside. He gets up, kicks up his skateboard, and goes to greet his friend.

Heart-happy like a fool, Syler says to Kai, Hey, man. What’s up. Kai looks at him shyly. Syler smiles, playing with Kai’s backpack strap. Kai smiles back. He likes that. Syler suddenly feels like he’s losing air: like deep inside, all the parts of him that are supposed to be doing their normal job are whirring and lighting up instead, spinning about like some illegal pinball game.

Kai looks down. Sorry I’m late. We were at the pool, he says. I’m in this swimming class.

No duh, says Syler, touching his dark damp curls. You’re all wet.

Kai touches Syler’s hand, almost catching it, the one doing things in his hair. Syler pulls away. Then seeing the look on Kai’s face, he takes Kai’s hand back, like he means it this time, and leads him up the back stairs, toward the fourth floor. Then reality sinks in and he drops Kai’s hand. Maybe things are different today. But just before they go in, Kai kisses him on the ear, his breath warm. Syler pulls him. Lips meet. Kai tastes so good. Salty-essential, like tortilla chips.

Later that night, after they’ve played video games and turned off all the lights in the living room and brushed their teeth, they shut Syler’s bedroom door and knock off all the stuffed animals from Syler’s bed and get under the comforter. They pull it over their heads so it makes a cozy, cottony fort.

I feel like I’m five, says Kai, laughing. He has Syler’s hand in his. He is running his fingers along the lines on his palm like he knows their quest.

Quiet, says Syler, trying to ignore the dizzy touch of Kai’s fingers. We’re in a cave and you’re about to get eaten.

No. You’re a dragon, says Kai. You’re a dragon and I’m the tamer.

Syler laughs. Fine. Tame me.

Kai puts his mouth on Syler’s ear and breathes, slow memory of fire and mountains, brimming with riches, filling him. Syler can feel his spine curling like a dragon tail. Kai holds him in both his hands and keeps his mouth to his ear. Syler arcs against him, caught in place, almost paralyzed.

You’re my dragon, whispers Kai. I caught you.

A word on dragons.

The word, “dragon,” derives from the Greek, drákōn. It means “water-snake.” References to dragons can be dated as far back as the thirteenth century. Although dragons occur in many legends around the world, they take different forms depending on the culture. There are Chinese dragons and blue Greek dragons like in The Iliad; just as there are Slavic smoks and Indian dragons with three heads. Dragons are imagined by every continent.

The draglet.

Vivian lights up her vaporette. It’s a quarter past seven. A drizzly, cold November morning. She is standing in the middle of the Sky Bridge, taking in the gray, glittering sights of her city. Time to euthanize a dragon, she thinks. As inhales the crisp, lung-starry doom of nicotine, she turns from the newly renovated, faux-Gothic college buildings to the lantern-lit waters of the Chicago River. It ripples below, like old myths dreaming themselves away.

On the ground, inside the cage, the draglet is curled up into a tiny, green, red-tailed ball. It is resting. Vivian is grateful it gets one last daylight nap, at least. But: it is not asleep. It sees her. It sees her vaporette, the light touching out through the fog, small and bright, and lifts its head. Then it does something rather odd. It makes a sound: a noise so guttural and private and small even Vivian cannot hear it.

What is it doing? It is calling. All this creature has ever known is being a pet. Living in a solitary dim cage. Sipping water out of a plastic bowl. For the first time: it is talking. It has never seen its kind before. Outdoors for the first time in months, seeing that orange wild dot in the wet, silvery sky, it has mistaken the glowing tip of its executioner’s vaporette for fire.

It has mistaken her vice for a friend.

Its reptile eyes trained on the moving flame, it calls to the other creature. Vivan doesn’t hear. Tired of city life and the daily trials of parenting, weary of her dispiriting job, she is going through whether it will be quicker to do soup or salad for lunch. Vivian sighs, puts out her vaporette. Then she picks up the FireDome cage and heads back toward the new, fancy, ultra-modern laboratorium to end a pint-sized, scaly life. As her black Step’n Flex heels click along the damp pavement, the draglet scans the horizon, searching for the flame it just saw; yearning, as it is carried through the cool misty gray, for a fellow spark.

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