Chasing the Dragon
by Josh Goller
The Ogre returned, bug-eyed and sweaty, long strands of black hair stuck to his face. Tommy had thrown a chain across the castle door, for the Ogre was crafty and had charmed the Queen into handing over the skeleton key. If Tommy could protect the castle then the Ogre could no longer inflict his black poison, a potion that deadened the Queen and ate away her beauty.
But the chain across the door only enraged the Ogre, his nostrils flared and yellow teeth clenched. With a mighty boot, the Ogre kicked in the door.
“You shall not pass!” shouted Tommy, brandishing the sword.
“Jesus, kid. What’re you supposed to be?” the Ogre said, snatching the sword and lobbing it across the room. He knocked off Tommy’s armor helmet. “This a catcher’s mask? Damn. Go play outside. Make a fucking friend.”
Tommy tried to trip the Ogre, to cling to his hairy leg, but the Ogre swatted Tommy aside. And then he was gone, inside the Queen’s chambers, beguiling her and twisting her face into the ugly grin she made only in the Ogre’s presence, the grin that scared Tommy.
He breathed in deep and burst through to the Queen’s chambers.
“Unhand her!” he demanded. His voice cracked. The Queen’s eyes shone white and her drool glistened in the flickering of the magic crystal mirror where she could watch all the peasants in the Land.
“Get the fuck out of here, kid,” bellowed the Ogre and Tommy saw where he’d tied the Queen’s arm with a band of animal hide and sunk in his poison dagger. When the Queen’s eyes fell on Tommy, they perked up. She lifted the scepter used to change the magic mirror and she threw it and hit him square on the nose. His eyes watered and he could taste metal.
“Get out!” she shrieked. “Never come in here.” She slumped back into the pillows on her canopied bed. The Ogre’s potion had turned her into a witch.
“Give me back the remote,” said the Ogre, and Tommy lifted the scepter from the floor and set it on top the blankets and then fled.
He gathered up his sword and helmet and ran down the winding steps of the spire, through the gate and over the moat, ignoring calls from a peasant about running on her grass. Arms pumping and cheeks puffing, he ran through the village square to the Ancient Library, which housed all the books ever written. He would see the Scribe, the only person to see when the Queen transformed. Maybe the Scribe knew of a spell from one of her books to banish to the Ogre to the Underlands.
But before he could reach the towering stone steps, he caught the eyes of the trolls, hunched in the alley alongside the Library and breathing smoke, their wheeled contraptions leaned against the brick. They often stole the shekels he carried to buy milk.
“Playing knight in shining armor again?” said the short, fat one.
“More like playing fairy,” the long-haired troll said, twin trails of smoke spouting from his nose. He beat a fist into an open palm. Even from a distance he smelled like spoiled cheese.
Tommy readied his sword for battle, but then the trolls’ faces went slack and they ran for their wheels and pedaled off. As Tommy turned around, he saw a Patrol rover slow in front of the Library. He hurried up the steps and inside; the Queen had told him that no matter how evil the Ogre may act, Tommy must never alert the Patrol, for the poison inside the Queen would make them lock her in the Dungeon.
Tommy readjusted the helmet to look more dignified, and sheathed his sword in his belt loop. Marching through the stacks of books filled with every story told, Tommy felt the peacefulness of the learned Scribe. He found her near the back, flipping with knobby fingers through a drawer. A flowing gown draped over her pear shape, and her silver hair was held with a pencil into a pleasant bun. Square glasses tied with chain rested on the tip of her thin nose.
“Why if it isn’t my little Knight,” she said, a smile creasing her face. Tommy thought this is what a grandmother must look like, and he wondered if, should the Ogre turn the Queen into a witch forever, the Scribe could rise to the throne.
Her smile washed away as Tommy approached and removed his helmet.
“Your nose is bleeding, Tom,” she said. “Is that a black eye?”
Tommy was brave, but as the Scribe guided him to a sink in back and began dabbing a wet cloth onto the red crust under his nose, he battled back tears.
“Where’s your mother?” the Scribe asked. She produced a butterscotch from somewhere in her flowing gown.
“She calls it chasing the dragon,” said Tommy, taking the candy.
“I see. Did she do this to you?”
Tommy’s insides ran cold; he knew the Scribe would think the Queen was the cause of all the strife in the Land, and not the evil Ogre. So he told her about the Ogre and his black poison, which made the Queen more and more into a witch.
“Wait here a moment, Tommy,” said the Scribe. Tommy obeyed at first. He sucked on his butterscotch. But then he thought about the Patrol rover out front. What if the Scribe told the Patrol about the poison inside his Queen?
Tommy leapt down from the chair and fixed his helmet back in place. He ran through the ancient book stacks and past the desk where the Scribe spoke into the phone. She called to him but he didn’t listen. He burst through the glass doors and out into the scorching noonday sun. Sword pulled from scabbard, he charged through the village and back toward the castle. No matter the cost, he must protect her.
Long live the Queen.