“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Jen Sparks walked across the street with a spring in her step. She imagined she had dragon’s wings, and they spread as she turned and strode lightly down Biltmore Avenue from the square. Her niece Bridgette turned four years old today. Jen had been reading birthday presents to her. Harry Potter was a story about a magical boy who goes to magic school. Muggles were the people who were not magical. Bridgette loved it. When Jen put the book down, Harry Potter on the cover gave a wink and a little sideways smile as they looked at him.
“Am I a Muggle?” Bridgette had worried. She tugged on her toes as they sat together on the couch. They had painted their toenails and fingernails bright red at her birthday party.
“You’re absolutely stunningly magically wonderful,” Jen had said. She relished the satisfied smile that climbed onto Bridgette’s face as she thought about it.
Then they read Doogie Dragon about a young dragon who lived in a gray granite mountain cave. Doogie had smooth gray skin and green eyes with ovoid irises, like a cat. He liked to tickle his little sister and take her gifts. When he got older, he molted into a teenage dragon and went to Dragon Earth School. He started to grow his first small wings, keeping them tucked into his coat, pretending to be human.
“Doogie Dragon is funny!” Bridgette had said.
“He likes to trick people into being happy, doesn’t he?” Jen had agreed. “That’s pretty funny. We need more dragons like him.”
Jen’s imaginary dragon floated down the street over the tops of the cars until she got to where she was staying through the Thanksgiving weekend. She folded her wings and sat on the porch at the Gray Rock Inn. She watched people walk up and down the street, guessing whether they were Muggles or Magicals.
Another guest at the inn came out on the porch and sat down. They had met the previous day as Jen was arriving. His name was Harry Walters. Today, Jen checked to make sure Harry didn’t have a lightning shaped scar on his forehead like Harry Potter did. He didn’t. He was more of a Muggle, a non-magical person. He seemed like somebody who belonged to the world of football and stoplights and badges, someone you could count on to be the same person every day. He had short, neat hair parted on one side and a face that might become beefy in time, if he let himself go. He didn’t look like a magician or a dragon either. It seemed like he might be a very honest person.
They watched people going about their business. They talked about the weather, which was very fine, and the new hotel going up just a block away. Harry was clean shaved and well fed. He had a white sport shirt with a golf logo on the breast. Jen was slender and dressed in a black skirt with a black turtleneck sweater under a light black jacket. Her hair was shiny, dark and straight, sweeping her shoulders. Her fingernails were still bright red from Bridgette’s birthday party.
An older couple shambled down the street with short steps, stopping to read the plaque on a stone that stood close to the road in front of the building where Jen and Harry were sitting. The plaque commemorated the origin of the words “bunk” and “debunk,” having come from the county “Buncombe.” It happened in 1820 when a congressman from Buncombe County was misquoted by reporters after a failed speech on the Missouri compromise. “Buncombe” was misspelled to “bunkum,” meaning empty political rhetoric, and was then shortened to “bunk” and subsequently adapted to “debunk.”
The woman had butterfat cheeks and soft shoes. The man stood curved like a banana as he read the inscription. Jen and Harry watched from the porch just behind the stone. In a short minute the couple read it and turned to go. The stone itself was gray granite, about three feet tall above the ground, set in the earth between the sidewalk and the porch. Jen thought of Doogie Dragon living in a gray granite mountain. The couple said nothing. The woman looked tiredly at the mountains and beyond at the clouds. “Hmph,” she chuffed. They moved on slowly down the street, not touching.
Watching them, Jen wondered about Muggles and smothered dreams. Where did people put their disused spirits? Were they stacked in a warehouse now, numbered and dormant?
“Pretty deep, huh?” Harry said, gesturing at the Bunkum Stone. “Debunking is a common thing, known all over the world, but nobody connects it to Buncombe County. How long has that stone been there?”
Jen didn’t have a good answer at first, so she looked at Harry and answered with another question. He was so logical, so like a Muggle, she thought. She said, “You don’t know the story, do you?” She rolled her eyes around, settling on the gray granite of the stone and thinking of Doogie Dragon in his gray granite cave. “That’s my brother’s rock. You wouldn’t know it, but that’s his rock.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s not really a rock, it’s like a dragon egg. He’s in there for a few years. He’ll hatch out one day.” Jen had a real brother, Bob, who was serious like Harry. Bob would have scoffed. He was anything but a dragon.
“Uh huh.” Harry thought of his older sister Susie, who made up stories ever since she was a girl playing with dolls. Now she taught school and wrote children’s fantasy books about a human family called the Henanigans. He didn’t have that talent. Harry could talk all day about sports, but he wasn’t inventing anything. He used to tease Susie and tell her she was addled for making up fantasies with dolls. She said he was goofy for talking sports. Now he appreciated her talent. At tax time, he would help her fill out forms. She made more money than he did. Jen was like Susie.
“I’m serious!” Jen said. “He finished his first stage and transitioned, like a caterpillar that goes into a cocoon and comes out a butterfly. That’s what the rock is, it’s his cocoon.”
Harry Walters looked at Jen sideways and thought maybe she was mocking him. He made a tiny smile and said, “Oh, go on.” Just like Susie, he thought, bright and creative in a way that he could never keep up with. He was considering how to respond to Jen.
Jen saw his reaction and his faked interest humoring her. “He’s my little brother. That’s what we do. He’s here for Earth school. He’ll learn all the things humans learn, maybe even make a lot of money and give it away. This phase takes about fifty years. I did the cocoon thing about ten years ago. I’ve got another forty to go before I graduate to the third level.” She said to herself, he’ll do the math, and that will mess with him. Her real brother, Bob would, have said “you’re crazy” and skulked out of the room.
“Where did he come from before this?”
“There’s a double vortex here. When the planets line up just right, it becomes a portal to our planet. But you have to be in a cocoon to come through the transition. It’s very, very far.”
Harry couldn’t imagine what would come next. Susie would say he should play along and ask questions, so he said, “Did he look like you?” He was thinking of Susie’s books and the dragons she drew, cute creatures that were warm at heart. The latest book was called Doogie Dragon and told of the Henanigan family befriending a girl dragon named Clarey and her brother Doogie. Clarey thought of her human friends as strange creatures who, nonetheless, liked the gifts she brought them. They then left gifts for her like rings and strings and wheels, fancy things they thought a dragon would like. They didn’t talk the same language at first, but they spoke with their hearts.
In Susie’s story, Dragon Clarey lived by a big blue lake where she would dive for fish. She had a brother Doogie who lived in a gray granite cave nearby and kept a pen full of snakes that he would eat. Doogie brought her crystals from inside his mountain and Clarey gave them to the Henanigans as gifts. The crystals went into their garden around a painted garden gnome.
One day Clarey took Doogie to meet the Henanigans. Before they got to the house, Doogie took a chicken from the pen by the garden and started to eat it. Clarey stopped him. “That’s the Henanigans’ food!” she scolded. Doogie put the chicken back. The next time they visited, Doogie brought one of his snakes as a gift for the Henanigans, but when they saw it on the ground, they recoiled in fear. Doogie saw his mistake and grabbed the snake in his teeth, biting off its head. The Henanigans didn’t realize Doogie had brought the snake, so they thanked him for catching it.
Harry pictured the dragon Susie had drawn for the book showing Doogie with an expression that mixed embarrassment that his gift was a mistake, confusion about why humans didn’t like snakes, and relief that his error wasn’t discovered. He marveled at Susie’s talent to draw Doogie showing so many conflicting emotions and still making him cute.
Jen said, “Do I look like my brother? Oh, no. We don’t look alike at all. Male dragons are much uglier.” Jen talked and Harry listened, but he was distracted, wondering when his wife would come out the door, ready to walk up the street to the restaurant. To Jen, Harry looked clean and conscientious. Nobody would ever need to pick up after Harry. He might offer to do your taxes for you, though. She wanted to dress him up as Frankenstein and take him to parties. She did that with her brother Bob when he was a tall gangly teenager. He had fun being Frankenstein that night.
“What?” Harry said. He was thinking again of Susie’s dragons.
“They are really ugly! You may not have noticed, though. They hide it with cosmetics and hairpieces. And money. You can hide a lot with enough money. We brought him to Asheville because this is a good place for a dragon to blend in, and the egg, the cocoon, what better place to hide a dragon cocoon than in plain sight right out on the street?”
“He’s hiding.” Harry said of the dragon in the egg. He used to warn his sister when her stories got too wild, that she was turning people off. She would object then, saying those people needed shaking up.
“Yes, aren’t you? Why are you here? Are you here for the energy vortex? You know, this is also a great place to hide.” Jen was grinning at Harry, like she used to when poking fun at her brother for his lack of imagination. It was a little reckless because she actually envied stability.
Harry decided he might be the straight man in a comedy duo. “Why would I be hiding?”
“I don’t know. Why are you hiding? Don’t you have a secret? Tell me, what’s your secret?” Jen looked Harry straight in the eye, checking to see if she could figure out what he was not saying. Would he be a Muggle and still be talking to her? Maybe she misjudged him.
Harry thought to himself, it’s asking questions when I don’t know what else to say—that’s my secret. “So, tell me, don’t dragons have wings and breathe fire?” There was something about Jen. Harry thought Susie should hear this conversation. He could tell his wife too, over dinner later.
Jen explained, “That’s the fourth and fifth male dragon stages. They get really big, too. My brother could show you, but you won’t live that long. Sorry, I’m not supposed to bring that up.”
Harry paused and thought about what Jen said and considered what it meant. “I won’t…” he said, “You’re a dragon too, huh?” Harry knew about dragons, he thought. Susie’s dragons didn’t have wings. They were cuddly cute like all young creatures are. But it’s all fantasy anyway.
“Of course, but I’m not hiding,” Jen said. “I’m playing with truth. I want to see what happens when I’m open and forthcoming. I tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s funny, isn’t it? Are you annoyed? I suppose I should keep my mouth shut. I will someday.” Jen nodded crisply, thinking the game was making a fool of her.
Harry’s logical left brain was indeed annoyed and jumped on an idea, “So, if I break open that rock, I’ll find your brother inside?” Staring the dragon down, he thought.
“Oh, no; he has to crack it from the inside. If you break it from the outside, it’ll just look like the inside of a rock. But then there’ll be two of him, half the size. They’ll still hatch out when they’re ready. They’ll remember you, though.” Jen noticed that she was suddenly having too much fun to stop. Her real brother Bob would have fetched a big hammer.
“If I break it into gravel?”
“Then there’ll be a thousand of him. They’ll be like little scorpions. They’ll find you. You’d better not do that.” Jen worried that she had stepped over a line. Her fun meter was pushing its highest marks.
“I won’t.” Harry picked a hair off his sleeve. “I won’t tell anybody your secret, either.” His wife came out the front door and looked expectantly at him. “Are you ready?” Harry said to her, standing up to leave.
“It’s not a secret.” Jen laughed again as Harry turned away. “It’s in plain sight. Nobody expects it and nobody believes it, so nobody sees it. You don’t either, so you’ll forget by tonight.”
Harry turned back to Jen. “You should meet my sister. You’d get along beautifully.”
This is a work of fiction