By Ray Daley
Dedication: For Judy
Four hundred years of putting up with Midwich On Sea and their bloody Kraken. Clifton and their damn Roc, too! It’s not enough that they had better monsters. They could control the creatures, too! Frequently, we’d find minor tidal waves crashing through the village, or people being randomly plucked off into the sky. And what did we have in Burnistone? A dragon that hated the sight of us.
So we did what any right-minded, dragon-fearing village would have done. We kept our heads down. We made sure the sacrificial animals were not just out on time, but we put them out early, too. And we sourced our finest line in sacrificial virgins once every decade.
What did the dragon want with these poor girls? At first, we didn’t even dare to wonder. At least not until one of them came back, still able to talk.
Before Judith Goodfellow, all the other virgins had come back mute, either unable or unwilling to talk about what they had gone through. It wasn’t just that they didn’t speak at all, but they barely reacted to anything. Only fire. You couldn’t put them in a room with an open fire, not unless you fancied the idea of having the whole village screamed stone deaf.
When Judith came back, things were different. She walked. She talked. She didn’t shatter peoples’ eardrums when she saw an open flame. More importantly, she showed us the way to freedom.
“An egg?” We were shocked and horrified, in equal measure.
Judith nodded. “That’s what it’s been doing each decade. It makes the sacrifice help it give birth. I’m guessing it’s to make us believe we’ve had the same dragon for the last four hundred years.”
When the deception was finally laid out, we saw it for what it was. We no longer lived in fear, for we knew the truth.
That the dragon who had plagued our humble village for the last four hundred years had in fact actually been forty different dragons. I guess we were so scared of the things we never really took the time to stop and look at it closely. Perhaps if we had, this whole messy business might have been brought to a head that much sooner.
Judith showed us the back way into its cave, where the beast lay, in its final gasps of life, protecting the new egg until it finally hatched.
The initial reaction wasn’t entirely unexpected, to be honest. “Kill it! Smash the thing to pieces! Let us be free of dragons forever!”
Yet again, it fell to Judith Goodfellow to show us another way, other than violent revenge. “Good neighbours, hear me. What if we weren’t plagued by a dragon? How would it be if that self-same dragon worked for us, doing our bidding? Imagine being able to finally take out all the other local monsters, once and forever! We could raise that dragon as one of our own, to serve our needs as we see fit. No more Kraken. Away with the Roc! The name Burnistone could finally have a measure of pride behind it!”
And thus began a new chapter in the life of our humble village. No longer were we dragon-fearing folk. We were calling the shots now. Of course, a growing dragon still needs feeding. But animals weren’t considered to be sacrifices any longer. As a village, we coined a new term. Dragon Fodder.
And if you entered Burnistone with ill intent, that was what you soon became.
You’d be amazed at how fast a young dragon matures when given a regular diet. All it took was four years. We directed her towards Clifton first. Their stupid Roc didn’t stand a chance! Yes, it could fly as well as any dragon, but it couldn’t breathe fire at the same time too!
Our dragon grew hardy on a diet of freshly grilled Roc. A year later we found ourselves wondering if dragons liked seafood. There was only one way to find out for sure. We urged her off to Midwich On Sea.
They aren’t having any Kraken-related problems now, apparently.
Judith has grown, too, much larger than any of her forebears. Oh, yes. We named our dragon. Of course, we did! We still have to give up the odd pig or cow now and then. But you’d be amazed how many of the surrounding hamlets donate animals to us.
For no apparent reason.
What’s that, you say? Is fear a reason? No, they want to help us. Those good folks. Honest, dragon-fearing folks. Much like we used to be.
More so, perhaps.
Set our dragon on you? We wouldn’t think of it! So, thanks for thinking of it for us. We’d prefer two cows next time if you don’t mind? Say please? We’ve had four hundred years of saying please and begging for our survival. I rather like to think that’s all ancient history now.
Your village is extremely flammable, or so I’ve been led to believe?
We’ll see you next year. I hope.