Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Forum
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
Dan's Promo Page
   

Dragons Over Bastrop

by Frank Minogue


A parade always brings a tear to my eye, especially when I'm in it. This year I'm Grand Marshal of the Bastrop Fourth of July parade. Sitting beside me is Tishie, my lady. I'm wearing my usual blue jeans and black T-shirt and my favorite Stetson. Tishie's outfitted in her cowgirl get-up.

As we proceed down Main Street, I look at all the familiar faces and wave to 'em. Jim Bander, the guy who cuts my hair, is standing in front of the Post Office. He gives me the thumbs up. Mayor Ray Nash, over there by Lock Drug Store, nods appreciatively; Dolly Chesterak, owner of Dolly's Diner, is out there throwin' kisses at me. I wonder if that will make Tishie jealous? I salute some Boy Scouts who stand at attention as we pass. There's Sam Springer who used to be the mayor. He spends his days fishin' down by the River Walk. He hollers, "Way to go, Nigel." Across the way I see Sheriff Larry Oosterhon talkin' to a couple of state troopers in front of the ole Kleinert Building.

I am the town hero. Of course when people come up and tell me I'm a hero, I tell 'em they would have done the same thing if they'd been in my shoes. People appreciate a humble hero.

So maybe I'm a genuine Texas hero, a Texian with a shinin' star on my heart. The parade passes the bronze sculpture commissioned by the city of Bastrop to celebrate our great victory over the dragons. Feeling I should do something patriotic as we pass it, I stand up and put my hand over my heart. Tishie does the same and asks, "What the hell are you doin', darlin'?"

"Thought I should make a gesture."

"We're not at a football game," she complains.

"I know, hon. I just thought I should do something."

Donna Lanier, the librarian, is holding a flag and waving it in my direction. Tears are runnin' down her face. I nod my head in silent appreciation.

"They just love ya, honey," Tishie says, squeezin' my arm.

"And I love 'em back."

As Salvador Dali would say, "All of this is a little surreal." And it sure is, for a guy who's just a chainsaw carver in a little town in Texas.

A year ago I was not the hero of Bastrop. I was well liked and all, but no one waved at me when I went to get the mail. To most folks I was the guy who carved bears out of wood with a chainsaw.

That's my business. Nigel's Kingdom, I call it. First thing people say when they hear my name is "That doesn't sound like a Texas name." And it's true, Nigel is not a Texas name by any means, but my mom was a fan of Nigel Rathbone of Sherlock Holmes fame and thus I was named. My siblings, a brother and a sister were given regular Texas names: Travis and Cheryl. There are more Travises in Texas than there are rattlesnakes. In fact I'm surprised they're not called travisnakes.

Tishie and I live in the historic section of Bastrop. How historic is Bastrop? Well, way back in 1691 the ole Spaniards used to ride through here on what was called El Camino Real, the King's Highway. Yes, Bastrop was once owned by the Spaniardos. Later on, Bastrop was set to become capital of Texas then Austin snagged it.

We live in a nice two-story wooden house with a tin roof and my carvin' barn out back. Our street is lined with pecan trees, good neighbors and lots of flags on the Fourth.

Tishie and I were blessed with one good son we named Josh. He's finishin' high school and plannin' to join the Internet, I mean, go to college. He plays football and loves to watch girl's volleyball. But, yes, he's one of those Internet nuts who has chat roomies all over the place. Tishie thinks he's surfin' for porn, but I say as long as it's the clean porn we shouldn't get on his case.

At age 51 I've seen a lot of America, some of Europe, a bit of Mexico and not much else. I got into chainsaw carvin' mostly out of boredom. I'd been laid off from the feed plant and had been cuttin' up wood for our fireplace one fall, when I thought I saw a dog in the wood. So I carved it out and showed it to Tishie, and she said, "Nigel, that looks just like a squirrel. How'd you do that?"

"I was lookin' at the wood and saw this dog, so I set to carvin', and this is what came out."

"Can you do more?"

"You bet."

And so I got some books on chainsaw carvin', got me the proper chainsaws and went for it. I can now do a full standing black bear in half a day. People come from all over to get one of my "creations," as Tishie calls 'em.

But the reason I am on this float is not because of my chain-sawin', or because I saved a kid from drowning in the Colorado River, nor because I lured a Korean silicon chipmaker to our town. I don't even know what a silicon chip looks like or where it goes.

I am on this float because I saved the city during the dragon invasion last year. Dragons. Sixty-foot long belch-of-fire dragons. It appears that what we all thought was a creature from mythology happens to be as real as a toilet seat.

The world woke up one day and learned that dragons are real, and we discovered it the hard way——by war. Do dragons like humans? No. They are not fond of humans as their war against humanity demonstrated a year ago.

Some people now use the term 'bd' and 'ad': the time before dragons and the time after dragons.

Everyone knows what life was like 'bd.' When you looked up in the sky you didn't see a large gas expulsing winged creature. You saw seagulls or black birds or even swallows, but you certainly didn't run to escape getting cooked by a 'gon.

Before the dragons, your chief concern in life was makin' sure you got to the video rental store before it closed——or God forbid, you had to spend an evening without a movie. You mowed your lawn, you re-tiled your bathroom, you went to church and, except for the odd dust-up with a state trooper, your world remained serene.

Then the dragons came, and life would never be the same. It began with reports of flying monsters in Russia, but when did anything not crazy come out of Russia? That was before the dragons hit Igarka.

Igarka? Who's ever heard of Igarka? Sounds like a Soviet washing machine, but the attack on Igarka would, for the Russians, rate right up there with Stalingrad.

The dragons swept in late one Tuesday in the afternoon. A survivor later told CNN what happened. Millworkers at the Gvestapopyrov plant were walkin' home when shadows suddenly appeared over 'em. The workers looked up to see dragons circling.

"They came at us. We threw our lunch pails away and ran. I watched a friend burned alive.

"I watched as dragons snatched people with their claws and carried them away. I watched my shop foreman being torn apart. But you know what I remember most? The smell. I never thought of there being a dragon smell but there is. It's like a mixture of rotten eggs, dog shit and gasoline. Terrible smell. Never comes out of the clothes no matter how many times you wash."

"How did you get away?" CNN asked.

"I saw a bridge over a stream, and I jumped into the stream and scrambled under the bridge. Then I lowered myself into the water, so that only my nose and mouth were still visible."

"And then what happened?"

"Even though my ears were submerged I heard a high-pitched screech and could hear the dragon walking on the bridge. I think he was looking for me. I kept my eyes closed and tried to breathe regularly. When I finally opened my eyes and climbed back on the road, the dragons were gone and there was nothing left of Igarka but smoking ruins."

A year ago, no one knew where the flyin' devils came from, but since then the 'gons have been traced to an Arctic island: Severnaya Zemlya. Russian scientists later found an ice cave littered with dragon spoors.

As one Russian scientist said, "The truth is in the spoors." (Tishie thought they said "spurs" and wondered why dragons would be wearing spurs.)

Global warming raised the temperatures in the cave enough to bring the dragons out of their frozen state. Thank you global warming!

We learned that the Russkies were aided in the Severnaya discovery by American spy satellites, which had tracked "unusual airborne life forms" in the Russian Arctic.

Later, the Russian military learned how hard a dragon's scales are when they attacked the dragons over Minsk. The fire breathers turned an entire squadron of attack helicopters into grilled shrimp. Jets were burned from the sky, and the use of tactical nukes made the dragons giddy. After Minsk, St. Petersburg fell, then Moscow. Europe lay open for the dragons.

Of course the Joint Chiefs (or the Reefer Chiefs, as Tishie calls 'em) announced that the Russkies had bungled the whole thing, and that they could have finished off the dragons way back in Siberia using biological weapons and other dandy stuff from the military candy store.

One night Tishie and I, enjoying a twelve-pack on the couch, watched the latest shocking news from Europe. The dragons took on that most sacred of French symbols the Eiffel Tower. Under the searing blast of heat, there was no way those aging steel girders could survive. They melted like cheese on a nacho. The tower wobbled and then over it went, hitting a tourist boat in the Seine.

Tishie grasped my thigh and screamed at the TV, "You devils!"

I said, "Honey, it's not the French's fault that the dragons knocked down the tower."

"I was referring to the dragons," she corrected me. "They're just evil."

Paris without the Eiffel Tower, Berlin missing the Brandenburg Gate, The Kremlin without um. . . them pointy buildings: what would be left of our world when these dragons were done?

But the fight against the dragons had just begun. People around the world were working around the clock to find a way to stop 'em. A German scientist noticed one important detail: the dragons appeared to be lookin' for something, they were relentlessly in search of something.

The world became obsessed with the dragons. Dragons dominated TV news and the front page of every newspaper. You'd go into bathroom stalls and see dragon drawings on the door and walls. Burger King began offering a toasted dragon sandwich, which consisted of chicken breasts cut in the shape of dragons between focaccia bread with hot peppers and salsa. People loved 'em, despite their hatred for the real dragons.

I, too, found myself endlessly curious about the flyin' devils. Every morning after breakfast I'd get on our computer and start Googlin' dragons. Like everyone else I wanted to know what the hell was going on.

I read how Chinese dragons were good dragons, as opposed to European dragons, which tended to eat people. I scrolled through myriad headings for St. George and the dragon. I even read that Marco Polo reported seeing lindworm dragons while hoofin' it to China. It seemed every culture had some myth about a dragon.

A couple days later, I wandered into Dolly's Diner. Years earlier, she had converted one of Bastrop's older houses into the town's best eatery. Everyone loved to sit out on the porch eating her homemade pecan pie and ice cream after a double bacon cheeseburger. The sky was filled with black clouds. We'd been in a drought so a little rain was welcome. Of course all talk was on the dragons. Sam, the ex-mayor was there, along with Ed Whitley, who sold insurance.

"I don't think there's any rhyme or reason to it," Ed said. "Dragons are just mindless critters who love to kill."

"That's not what the experts are sayin'. They're sayin' the dragons are like dogs on a hunt," Sam replied.

"I agree with Ed. They just enjoy the killin'," Dolly said from behind the counter. She wore a striped skirt with a lowcut black top. She had a natural beauty that came of her Norwegian ancestry. As I often said to Dolly, "Honey, if all Norwegian gals look like you, I'm movin' to Norwegia."

"No, most of the killin' on this earth is for no reason," said Ed, eatin' the last of his pie.

"I wonder if the dragons'll stop killin' when they find what they're looking for?" Dolly said.

"Now that's got me curious. What would a dragon be lookin' for?" I replied.

"Who cares!! They're nasty and we should kill 'em all," Sam said, slammin' his fist on the table.

"Tell you one thing. No one's gonna be writin' any dragon policies. The industry ain't gonna insure people against dragon damage," Ed said.

"Well, hell, Ed, you boys wouldn't insure Jesus at the Resurrection," Dolly said.

England prepared for invasion. One town decided to have its citizens sharpen thousands of stakes and stick 'em in the ground.

"Those dragons are quite unputupablewith! We shall impale them on stakes, and then we will come at them with hoes," said 84-year-old Doris Miner to a BBC news crew.

The reporter asked Doris to demonstrate how she would hoe a dragon to death, and without hesitation, she began flailing at the ground with her hoe.

"Die! Die! Die, you beastly creatures," cried Doris.

I turned to Tishie and said, "Now that is one angry old mama."

"I think she's sweet," said Tishie.

To make the program more interesting, the BBC followed the interview with a short piece on how wooden stakes were made: from raw lumber, to finished stake to finally being whacked into the ground. They even went into the history of the stake, including burnings at the stake.

"I don't think the stakes will work. All the dragons have to do is fly over 'em, or if they want to land, they can land on a building or a car," Tishie said.

"Or they could burn the stakes before they land."

"They shoulda thought of that. They shoulda used metal instead of wood for the stakes."

"Too much money."

"What'll they do with all the stakes when the dragons are killed?"

I thought for a moment then said, "They could use 'em to stake tomatoes."

"Always thinkin', darlin. Always thinkin'."

Much of the world came to a standstill the day the dragons crossed the Channel in one tight black mass and invaded England. They burned Leeds and Sheffield before swingin' south toward London. Every able-bodied Brit was called to service. Their rallying cry was "Stop them at Melton Mowbray."

While not having the same ring as "Remember the Alamo" or other famous slogans, it was a rallying cry heard around the world.

Tishie vowed to name our next pet "Mowbray." She wasn't as fond of "Melton," as she felt it sounded like "melting." And, as she put it, "Who wants a pet that sounds like it's melting?"

The Battle of Melton Mowbray was broadcast live. Pay-per-View offered the battle, in addition to a Disney dragon movie. Tishie had barbecued some ribs and cooked up some corn-on-the-cob for the show.

At the height of the battle, I said, "Josh, can you get me another beer?"

"But I'll miss the attack of the Black Watch, Dad."

Normally, I'd make him get his ass off the couch and go get me a beer, but during rough times, like war, you have to pitch in, so I got up and fetched my own beer.

The Brits fired rockets and bombed the flyin' bastards, but could not stop 'em. The 'gons cooked Melton Mowbray like it was a Shepherd's pie.

"They're so big. You don't really get it till you see one pickin' up someone in its mouth," Tishie said.

"Josh, what's the biggest bird out there?" I asked.

"I don't know. Maybe the condor."

"Well, these dragons make condors look like dust mites," I replied.

With nothin' to stop 'em, the dragons headed for London, throwing a city of seven million people into a panic. All public transportation had to be shut down 'cause of unruly crowds trying to escape the city.

Londoners had faced nothing like it since the Blitz. The Queen and her family were taken aboard a submarine and transported to a secret base in Northern Ireland.

"Does the Queen have some place to stay in Ireland?" Tishie wondered.

"Probably an underground castle, I would think," I replied.

"And what about all her servants? Will they get to go, or will they stay at Buckingham Palace?" Josh asked.

"I don't know," I said. "A submarine can't hold a lot of people. She may be cookin' her own bacon till this war is over."

It was early on a Sunday mornin' when the air raid sirens sounded. The dragons came in two groups: one over Finchley and one over Barking. They converged on central London and attacked the Horse Guards who were being used for crowd control.

As the BBC reporter described it, "Horse and riders have been set afire. We saw a Guardsman's helmet melt, setting his hair on fire and boiling his brain. It's ghastly."

The 'gons attacked the Parliament buildings and razed Piccadilly. The British army fought them the whole way. RAF pilots who ran out of bombs and bullets dived their planes into clusters of flying 'gons, taking a page from the kamakaze boys of World War Two.

That night Tishie and I lay in bed, wondering, like most Americans, if we were next.

The endless destruction oversees was havin' an impact here in good old America. People talked non-stop about the comin' invasion. Jim the barber said, "I've been storin' food in my tornado shelter, preparin' for when they come. I just hope those assholes in Washington are making some plans."

The lost art of canning became popular again. Sales of Bibles skyrocketed, and despite not being the most religious folks on the planet, Tishie and I went out and bought one, too.

We looked at the King James version, but we didn't really understand what was being said, so we got a copy of the Lone Star Bible, which had all the same stories as the King James one, only it spoke our language.

Like when Jesus wanted to speak to the people, he had one of his disciples whistle and say, "Listen up, y'all. Boss has got somethin' to say. You over there! Yeah, you, you're talkin' when you should be listen'n."

Tishie and I talked about converting our tornado shelter to a dragon shelter.

"I love our tornado shelter," Tishie said. "I don't want to change it, jus because of the dragons. It's all set up the way I like it."

"Okay, we'll leave it like it is, but what about cannin'?" I asked cautiously. "A lot of folks have been busy cannin' stuff, but you've avoided it." This got Tishie's blood up.

"Let me guess, Dolly Chesterak is Miss Texas Cannin' Queen, and you wish you could taste her cannin'!"

Tishie, always jealous of Dolly, could never just say "Dolly," she had to use her whole name.

"That's crazy. I don't know if Dolly's cannin'. But she has the perfect right to can."

"So now you're defendin' Dolly Chesterak over me."

"No, hon. I was just sayin' that if people in Bastrop feel the need to can, then they should can. And I'm sayin' that even if the dragons don't come it's not a bad idea to get cannin'. It's not like the canned peaches would go to waste."

"I don't like cannin', Nigel. It's messy. You have to buy all them jars and it's hot. I hate it! And what would we can?"

"Beets, turnips, peaches."

"I hate beets! And how long could we live on peaches?" "That's more a dessert you serve with ice cream."

"I doubt there'll be ice cream if there's an invasion. The luxury goods are the first to go."

"Well, I've been squirrelin' chocolate bars away. Just one here, one there."

"But, hon, we can't live on chocolate bars."

"I wasn't sayin' we'd live on 'em. It would be a treat for when our spirits were down. Look, hon, forget the cannin'. Just cause other folks are cannin' don't mean it's right for us. We'll make a list of things we can sock away——"

"Pecan and cherry pies."

"I can't think of anything I'd like better."

One thing Tishie and I did look into was buyin' gold. You hear that in tough times gold is the way. When people are buyin' a loaf of bread with a wheelbarrow load of greenbacks, a man with gold is sittin' pretty.

We went down to the bank to buy some gold, and we were told banks didn't sell gold. You had to buy it privately. There was a guy in Austin who bought and sold gold and so we drove in to see him.

We sat in his office, across from the Capitol, looking over the various gold coins he showed us, including a gold eagle.

"Gold is gonna go through the roof with the dragons and all," the dealer said. He was in his mid-60s, with long gray hair tied back to a ponytail. He wore three gold rings on his fingers. "While everyone is left holding a handful of cash, you'll have solid American gold."

"So how do we buy milk with gold?" Tishie asked.

"Well, it doesn't really work that way," he replied.

"Okay, how does it work?" she asked. "If the stores and banks don't take gold, what good is it?"

"If it got really bad, the paper money would be worthless, so we'd go back to trading gold. I'm sure it's not going to get that bad."

"So I take my gold eagle coin into the grocery store for a loaf of bread, how do I get change? Will she give me gold back?"

"Like I was saying, it's unlikely you'll ever use a gold coin to buy bread. You're buying gold because in tough times it will be more valuable. Gold rises as everything else falls."

Well, we ended up not buying any gold because Tishie said if she couldn't buy milk with it, what good was it.

"It would only make sense if you were buyin' things worth the value of a coin. Like say a $400 generator," she said.

"Are you thinkin' we should buy a generator?" I asked.

"What do you think?"

"Well, you buy a gas-powered generator, and that's good for the first night or so, but what happens when you run out of gas?"

"Unless you stocked up on gas."

"But, hon, with fire-breathin' dragons out and about, that's kinda dangerous. One lick of flame and our whole house would go up."

Just then Tishie turned to me on the street and said, "Darlin', you just said something amazin'."

"What?"

"About our whole house goin' up. What if we made our house dragon proof? So they couldn't burn it down."

"We don't even know if they're comin' this far," I replied. "In fact why would the dragons want to attack Bastrop? They'll go for Austin or for San Antonio, then move on."

"But there's nothin' stoppin' 'em from goin' anywhere," Tishie said. "Couldn't hurt to do some fireproofin'. What if we coated the roof and walls with mud?"

"Hon, that's the craziest thing I ever heard you say."

But it wasn't only the local folks who had big plans, the White House had plans too. The president went on live TV and said it was every American's duty to fight the invaders.

"We don't believe any dragon will set foot on American soil, but if they come we'll throw everything we got at 'em. And if they come to your town, fight 'em; if they come to a football game, fight 'em; if you're standing in a parking lot and they suddenly arrive, fight 'em.

"I will be fighting them in my own way, from a secure base deep inside a mountain. Together, side-by-side, we will fight 'em in the streets and in the air."

I turned to Tishie and said, "I think I'll call my congressman askin' for the address to the secret base, so the president and I can fight side-by-side."

Things went from bad to worse a week later when the world learned that the dragons split up, with one group attackin' Ireland and another group flyin' south and attackin' the Middle East. Parts of Jerusalem were in flames, and the 'gons had attacked and destroyed the bulk of the Saudi Arabian oil wells.

"They're in the Holy Land! It's just not right. What if they burn the place where Jesus died on the cross?" Tishie asked.

This was especially hard on Tishie because she owned a sliver of the True Cross, which she'd ordered online from a church in Alabama that owned the U.S. rights to the lower part of the Cross. Tishie kept the Holy Sliver in a wooden case by our bed.

"They'll rebuild it, sugar," I said, calming her. "They'll rebuild everything."

The dragon attack on the Holy Land brought out the zealots, both on the streets and on TV. The reverend Jason Sweet of the Sweet Baptist Ministries was the most vocal. He worked out of Iowa, a place not likely to get attacked by dragons. We watched his show because we liked the old time singin', but lately there hadn't been much singin'.

"People ask me, 'Pastor Jason, why have the dragons come? Why has this evil suddenly manifested itself in our world?'

"And I say, 'Read the scriptures, my friends: And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.'

"You see folks, those dragons flyin' around are devils. They are the manifestation of Satan, coming to destroy us for our sins. America is a sinner nation and must repent. Satan has come out of hiding and is fighting his last battle."

"I know I'm a sinner," Tishie said, clicking off the TV.

"I've never sinned in my life," I joked.

"That's not funny. You can't joke about sinnin'. A little repentance wouldn't hurt this country."

"But I don't think that's gonna stop the dragons, hon."

"God parted the Red Sea for Moses, didn't he?"

"What's that got to do with the dragons?"

"It means when we're on God's side and we're followin' his Commandments that God will intervene for us. Maybe he will rain fire down on the dragons if we pray hard enough."

I could see Tishie was upset, so I agreed to do some prayin'.

While the 'gons were still in the Middle East, our government prepared to deliver a nuclear strike to the region in hopes of annihilating the dragons as they wreaked havoc there. Radar had picked up a large concentration of 'gons over the Saudi Arabian desert.

Tishie and I watched the attack on Bacon & Eggs, the new morning show. Bacon & Eggs, ever conscious of ratings, had cameras both in the air and on the ground. Tishie and I watched the warheads detonate.

"Darlin', is it safe to be watchin' warheads detonate?" Tishie asked.

"Of course, hon. We're protected by distance and TV," I replied patting her knee.

"This is Stefanie Morrow reporting on the ground for Bacon & Eggs. According to the U.S. military, the warheads missed the dragons and ended up detonating over a Club Med. No word yet from Club Med on casualties. Bob, back to you."

The heat from the explosions vitrified the sand, and it rained glass for miles around the epicenter. The only remnant found at the Club Med site was a pair of very expensive sunglasses.

An hour later the president told the nation that the nukes didn't work, that the 'gons had escaped and were headin' north, to rejoin their buddies, it was assumed.

I was out puttin' the finishing touches on a seven-foot bear one morning when Tishie informed me that the dragons had been sighted in Newfoundland. I asked her where Newfoundland was, and she said it was in Canada. Dragons were in Canada.

The Canadians deployed its armed forces, but they were no match for the fire-breathing satans. What was once Newfoundland was now charred rock.

One night as I passed Josh's bedroom, I noticed him cleanin' his shotgun. Josh had a big poster of Shania Twain on his wall. I envied him.

"What are you doin', son?" I asked.

"Gettin' ready."

"For what?"

"You know what."

"The dragons? You don't believe the dragons are comin' down here, do you?"

"Ask the Russians if they're comin'? Ask the French and English and Saudis and Newfoundlanders if they're comin', Dad."

"Okay, it does look bleak, but what good is a shotgun when you're fighting somethin' that not even nukes can stop?"

"Maybe not much, but at least they're going to get some buckshot before they get me."

"No dragon is gonna get my son."

"I wish I could believe you, Dad, but how could you stop a dragon?"

Later that night, as Tishie and I lay in bed watching Leno, I turned to her and said, "Our boy is a man, hon."

Without muting the sound, she asked, "Omigod, did you catch him, um . . .?"

"No, not that. It's because he's ready to take on the dragons. A boy doesn't take on dragons. That's man work."

Tishie turned away and said, "My boy is a man."

The talk shows were filled with dragon experts. They debated whether the dragons could talk. As everyone knows, dragons in the movies talk.

A Dr. Cortland said, "Dragons cannot talk. I've studied them on video. I've listened to audio recordings of them, and it's clear that aside from that terrible screech they make, they are unable to speak."

"I disagree, Dr. Cortland. I've listened to those same tapes, and I'm definitely hearing a form of primitive speech.

In one video sequence a dragon, flying low over the streets of Berlin, leans its head down and clearly screeches out the word, "Beer."

"That's absurd, Dr. Green. Why would a dragon say 'beer'?"

"Dr. Cortland, I have listened to that sequence hundreds of times. The dragon definitely says 'beer.'"

Tishie pressed the mute button and threw the remote down on the couch.

"I just wish we knew what they wanted," she said. "Experts everywhere and no one seems to know anything about the dragons."

The dragons, tired of toasting Newfies, invaded our country and all work came to a stop. The buzz of my chainsaw was suddenly silenced as we watched the 'gons invade Boston, then New York.

Tishie and I watched it all on TV. She cried so much that the remote became moist in her hands, so I took it from her, sayin', "Honey, I love ya, but don’t ruin the remote with moisture."

The sight of dragons in Times Square sent me to the edge of my easy chair. The NYPD fought them on every street, backed by the Army and Marines.

A suicide platoon of not-quite-graduated cadets from West Point charged four dragons that landed in Central Park. They didn't stand a chance and were cut down in a blast of fire.

One dragon sat atop the Empire State Building and battled biplanes. The cameras caught four women screaming in horror when the dragon bit a plane in two, causing the pilot to tumble to the pavement right in front of them.

As we watched the action unfold before us in New York, the reality of dragons comin' to Texas and even to Bastrop turned us from watchers into doers.

The Bastrop City Council hired Bert Mandilow, a well known chaos expert, to talk to the town. Tishie and I arrived late at the Methodist church, where Mr. Mandilow would be speakin'. I brushed against Dolly who was headed to the ladies' room. She turned and said hi with that big Norwegian smile of hers.

Mr. Mandilow wore a light blue suit with a red tie. He was in his mid-30s, with blonde reddish hair, a slight bulge around the waist and a rounded jolly face.

With the heat and humidity, it wasn't long before discomfort set in, and the clever Mr. Mandilow took full advantage of that in his speech.

"Getting' hot in here, isn't it?" he said.

"Talk cooler," someone yelled, to much laughter.

"Here's a scenario: You're in City A, which is under dragon attack. You decide to go to City B because it isn't under dragon attack. You pack a few things, even bring some emergency stuff like water, a flashlight, extra cash, you pack the kids in the back of the SUV and you head out. Sounds about right, doesn't it?"

We all nodded in agreement.

"You don't even get out of City A when you discover you're in the biggest traffic jam you've ever seen. Your wife says, 'Honey, didn't you check the traffic reports?' and you reply, 'I thought you did.' No, no one checked the traffic reports.

"So here you have a choice, you can stay in the jam, risk running out of gas, having your car possibly overheat and having no toilets within miles, or you can turn back, unpack things and face possible destruction at the hands of the dragons. But at least you'll have clean toilets." Everyone laughed. You had to admit he was one funny speaker.

"So what should we do?" a guy yelled.

"Good question. But before I answer that, here's another scenario. In your desire to escape City A, which is burning all around you, you know the roads are clogged, you know that public transportation is hopeless and you know no one's coming to help you, so you think 'I'll escape by water. I'll go down to the docks, steal a boat and sail away.'"

Tishie turned to me and said, "I didn't expect him to be funny. It's nice."

"These guys often build humor into their speeches," I replied.

"This doesn't sound 'built in.' I think he's naturally funny."

"But they're so good that they make unnatural humor sound natural."

"Shut up. He's going to talk about the boat dock."

"You and your family make their way through the debris strewn streets, fires everywhere, sirens, screams and people running and you manage to arrive at the dock. And what do you discover? A thousand other people had the same idea as you, and some percentage of them are armed. So there you stand with all the other unarmed people watching the armed people steal sailboats that they don't know how to operate."

"Is it better to steal motorized craft?" Ed called out.

"Sounds like he's saying we need to be armed," said another.

"Now you're starting to think like survivors, friends. A survivor is someone willing to walk over the corpse of his neighbor to survive." We applauded.

"When there's chaos, can we shoot people?" Donna the librarian wanted to know.

"Depends on the level of chaos. There is chaos where the police are still in control, and then there is what's known as utter chaos. If you see a dead police officer with his cruiser on fire, you have entered the utter chaos zone. And in that scenario, shoot first, ask questions later."

"So, what's the best way to steal a boat?" Ed asked, persistently.

"What about heavy machinery?" asked another.

"Ah, heavy machinery. Good one. I've got a video clip I want to show you, and it ties in with that exact question."

We waited till he got setup, then he played the video titled "The Bulldozer." In the video there was yellin' and gunshots, and smoke in the background. The video was handheld and jerky but that added to the realism.

Mr. Mandilow paused the video and asked, "What level of chaos does this scene represent?"

We all yelled "Utter!"

"Good. You're learning. Some of you will survive."

The video continued. The camera panned to a man runnin' and jumpin' up on a bulldozer. At first he couldn't figure out how to start it, but then got it going. Then he had trouble getting' it in gear and going forward, so he headed down the road in reverse, going very slowly. People were runnin' past him. More gunfire. The man was intent, frequently lookin' behind him.

From the right side of the screen a man in a torn white shirt, red shorts and tennis shoes ran up to him and pointed a gun at him. The bulldozer man appeared to be ready to dismount and give the machine over to the assailant, but the guy shot him anyway. The assailant stuck the gun in his shorts, climbed aboard the still moving bulldozer and the video ended.

"My God," someone cried out.

"Horrible, isn't it?" said Mr. Mandilow. "This video was shot in South America where lawlessness and utter chaos are a way of life. In Spanish it's known as caos absoluto. You should write that down.

"What happened to the man who shot the bulldozer guy?" Sam asked.

"Do you mean did the authorities arrest him for murder? Was he brought to justice in a court of law? Not likely, sir. I know it's shocking, but what's the lesson here?"

"Don't hesitate to shoot an assailant during chaos?"

"Yes, but more basic than that. Anyone?"

"Yes, this little girl up front. What do you think, dear?"

"Don't steal a bulldozer because they're very slow and use lots of fuel."

The directness and clarity of her answer brought us all to our feet. It was Becky Wrightman, smartest teen in Bastrop.

"Shoulda known Ms. Smartypants would get the answer," Tishie whispered.

"Don't be bitter, hon."

Mr. Mandilow clapped along with us. "Wow. You nailed it. What's your name? What's that? Becky? Folks, I think we have a class A survivor here. Take a bow, Becky." With that, we had to applaud more.

Following the seminar, Tishie and I lined up with others to buy his book: Chaos, It's No Theory.

Later, we sat outside under our big pecan tree, looking up at the stars and drinking coffee. Tishie had her feet up on my legs.

"If they come, hon, and there's no escapin' 'em, don't let 'em fry me," Tishie said. It came out in a whisper.

"Now you're getting' all crazy. The dragons aren't comin' to Bastrop. We're a blip on their radar screen," I replied.

"That's what the Igarkians thought and look what happened to them."

"I know. I know."

"Just don't let them fry me."

"Okay, hon. More coffee?"

"Half a cup. You know I was readin' that they don't call a group of dragons a flock," Tishie said.

"What do they call 'em?"

"A berserk. Yep, they call 'em a berserk of dragons."

"A berserk of dragons, huh? Does it come from the Russian?"

"They don't know which country it came from, but it's always been a berserk of dragons."

That night I dreamed about the dragons. I was one of 'em, but it wasn't like I had turned completely into a dragon. It was me, Nigel, in a dragon's body. I couldn't say where we were, but it seemed as though we were over a vast jungle. There was fire everywhere. There were people screamin', and they were covered in blood. And there were these dark things flyin' among us dragons, and we couldn't get 'em off.

The next morning I told Tishie about the dream, and how I found myself enjoying being a dragon for a night, despite the black things, the blood, the screams and the fire.

"So now you like the dragons?" she asked, flingin' a burnt toast my way.

"Didn't say that. It was just that in the dream I enjoyed bein' a dragon. I didn't talk to any of the other dragons, and though I roasted a few people, it wasn't like I felt evil doin' it. It felt natural."

"Natural to set people ablaze. And this is the man I'm countin' on to protect me when the 'gons come?"

"It was just a dream, hon. It was like a flyin' dream, only I wasn't in my body, I was in a dragon body. What was really strange was this battle over a jungle. There's something to that, and I don't know what."

"Are we going to Home Depot later?" she asked, changing the subject.

"Yeah. I need some new work gloves and stuff."

"Did you hear Home Depot is running a 'Dragon-Proofing Your Home' class tomorrow morning? I think we should go."

"I've gotten all kinds of dragon proofing stuff off the Net, hon. We don't need to go——"

And that was as far as I got. Tishie burst into tears. I didn't say anything, and she finally stopped, wiped her nose and said, "I've been such a bitch. I'm sorry. It's just all this rotten news."

"Come on, let's go to Home Depot and take our minds off this stuff. It'll be good to get out of the house, and you always love walkin' through the garden tool section," I said, givin' her a hug.

I knew she was gonna be all right when we got in the pickup, and she slid a Merle Haggard CD in and started singin' along.

The burning of the White House hit everyone hard. Dolly closed the diner that day, and I refused to take any special orders for bear sculptures. The guy on the news said the White House was last burned during the War of 1812.

As the 'gons blasted away at the White House, the homeless people in and around Lafayette Square ran for cover.

Anti-aircraft crews on the South Lawn fired till they ran out of shells. We watched in slo-mo as a man fell from the White House roof onto the driveway. A Secret Service agent fired his weapon till it was empty and then threw it at an approaching 'gon. The big 'gon——and he was one big dragon——snapped up the agent in his mouth and flew off with him. (When the 'gons have a victim in their jaws, they let out an interesting half screech, almost like a victory cheer.)

The nation watched in horror as a White House secretary ran from the building shielding herself with a coat rack. The woman and her coat rack were soon a burning pile of refuse. Meanwhile the dragons torched the Capitol and the Supreme Court.

With nothin' to stop 'em, the dragons flew up the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial where they took a siesta. On the way there, they knocked the tip off the Washington Monument with the swipe of a passing tail. What a sight to behold. A whole berserk of dragons encamped in, on and around the Lincoln Memorial.

"Abe'll be turning over in his grave," Tishie said.

The president, of course, was not in the White House during all this. He was in a secret location somewhere in Colorado. The federal government had essentially shut down.

People wondered if it was the end of the U.S. of A. What if the dragons stayed? What if they liked livin' on the Washington Mall? I crushed a beer can in anger.

Some of the 'gons enjoyed a dip in the Potomac and lolled in front of the Jefferson Memorial. One dragon was seen to be napping in the cleft of the "V" at the Vietnam Memorial. 'Gons gamboled in the Reflecting Pool and fell asleep in clumps all along the Mall.

We listened to the NBC Evening News that night. "A day of destruction in the American capital has left the nation shocked and bewildered. The White House continues to burn, the Capitol dome has collapsed and the dragons are encamped in the Lincoln Memorial. Reaction on the street was predictable."

A middle-aged woman stared into the camera and said, "I believe we are seeing the Apocalypse, the end of civilization as we know it. And where's our president? He's hiding out in Colorado somewhere!"

People were angry and scared. It's one thing to see dragons wrecking a country an ocean away, it's quite another thing to see 'em come to your town and start incineratin' people.

I never thought I would see a kid's inflatable dragon being burned on Main Street in Bastrop, Texas, but it happened. It was a group of moms, and they blocked traffic chanting, "Get gone, you fire breathin' mofos."

For now the dragons stayed put. They appeared unsure of what to do next. A dragon expert from California was interviewed on a morning talk show.

"I believe they are regrouping. They've exhausted themselves. They need a rest. But I'm also seeing what I consider to be some communication going on. Almost as if the dragons are planning their next move. Some experts have theorized that the dragons are looking for something and I concur. What it is, we don't know. Where they will go next, we don't know."

"You know what gets me?" Tishie said that night at dinner.

"What, mom?" Josh asked.

"That there are dragons in the nation's capital. It's like saying rats are in charge of our country."

"I wouldn't compare dragons to rats, mom," Josh said.

"Well, I would. They're both evil, smelly, foul creatures

and we should have figured out how to rid ourselves of 'em weeks ago."

"Mom, should we be doing up our wills? You know, in case they come?" Josh asked between bites of his green beans. Tears flooded Tishie's eyes.

I stepped in. "Son, we don't need wills. No one in this family is gonna get killed by a dragon. Worst case scenario is we get our hair singed, but I don't think it will come to that. I believe our government will find a solution to the problem. We're a nation of thinkers, son. We invented the helicopter for God's sake. We can invent something that does in them dragons."

"Dad, I thought a Russian guy invented the helicopter," Josh said.

"Don't be smart."

A few days later the dragons got tired of Washington and began leaving.

Dolly's place was packed. We all watched on her big screen TV as the dragons, one-by-one, took to the air. It was amazing to see all the dragons flyin' off, leavin' the Lincoln Memorial and other monuments covered with dragon poop.

Not only had they burned important buildings, they had knocked over monuments and statues, eaten a horse, torched the cherry trees and bent an Alexander Calder sculpture.

We listened in silence to the news anchor: "The dragons are circling and gaining altitude. Some have dropped out of formation to set a Wendy's on fire. One dragon is chasing a postal worker, but for the most part, the dragons are leaving Washington.

"One four-star general is quoted as saying, 'We are not defeated. Fire breathing creatures will not defeat a country that survived a Civil War, two world wars and that Mesopotamian fiasco.'"

That night, as I lay in bed listening to Tishie make odd bird sounds in her sleep, I wondered if we had come to the end of civilization as we knew it. I couldn't imagine a world without drive-up windows. I couldn't imagine a world without advance green arrows. I couldn't imagine a world without automated voice answering machines in lieu of a human.

Right now Earth was Planet Human. It was a place where humans ruled. Thousands of lesser animals were going extinct every day but humans lived on. In a way we were the gods of Earth because we did whatever we liked with the planet. Could a duck-billed platypus, a grebe or a vole build a satellite dish?

If we didn't like a body of water, we drained it, and if we didn't like the way a forest looked, we razed it.

But imagine a world without humans in charge. I lay there tryin' to think of that. What if the era of humans was over, and it was now the time of the dragons? I didn't really believe a dragon would take care of things the way we had. And what would become of us? Would we become extinct, like so many other creatures of this planet?

I always thought that humans would be the last critters standin'! There might be a few underground insects, but for the most part I saw us alone and on top of things.

But if the planet was to become Planet Dragon, would even one of us survive? I lay there with my hands behind my head wonderin' who might be the last person on earth. Would it be someone with money? A religious guy up on a mountain? Or a big guy drivin' a truck? Or maybe a miner, who came up from the mine and found that everyone else was dead. He'd rush home, and his family and friends would be dead. He'd head to the nearest town and not a soul would be alive. He'd turn on the TV: nothin'. He'd hear a scratchin' on his door, fling it open expectantly, only to find hundreds of dragons milling about. The dragons would give him a few moments to collect his thoughts before toasting his marshmallows.

The real panic in Texas set in when it was announced the dragons were on a south by southwest heading. A government website was set up to allow people to track the 'gons' flight path from their startin' point in Russia to where they were now.

I was upstairs late one afternoon trackin' the bastards and listen' to Hank Williams when I noticed something a little strange. It was what you might call a deviation, and I wondered if I was the only one who had noticed it.

The 'gons had just passed Louisville, Kentucky and were continuing south when they suddenly veered way east, almost at a right angle. I wondered what might have caused them to swerve, so I went to a few news sites to see if the veerance had been reported. There was some mention of it but nothing in depth.

I mentioned the dragons veering off at dinner, but Tishie said she didn't want to talk dragon. She was on edge, as were much of the townsfolk. It was like the town had gone into a funk. Normally talkative people like Dolly had gone quiet. People were livin' in their heads. Fear had caught hold of 'em.

Normally the post office was the talkin'est place in town. It's amazing how chatty people get just pickin' up mail, but with the dragon fear in 'em, people picked up their mail, gave a nod and left.

Before turning west, the 'gons hit Nashville. The Grand Ole Opry became the Grand Ole Hunk of Charcoal. Country and Western fan buses were set ablaze, the flames fueled by all the polyester. One 'gon crashed into Elvis' "jungle room" at Graceland. It was reported to have taken one look, let out a loud screech and flew off.

Out of curiosity, I overlaid a printed plotline of the dragon's flight line on a map of the United States. I pinpointed the place where they had earlier veered, and found my finger resting right on the words Mammoth Cave National Park.

What was there around Mammoth that caused the 'gons to suddenly deviate east? I checked the news sites for anything to do with Mammoth but found nothing.

I called a military information hotline but the automatic voice recording told me there were 78 people ahead of me, so I gave up on that idea.

I concluded that there must be something at Mammoth, or near Mammoth that a high flyin' group of dragons would want to avoid. A military installation? The dragons had no fear of our military or anyone else's, it seemed. Maybe an unusually strong wind current had knocked 'em off course, but when I checked the weather reports for that time and day, it had been calm and warm.

And then it happened again. The dragons were following a steady course southwest when they suddenly veered off as they reached the northwest corner of Arkansas. Doing my map overlay again, I discovered that the dragons had veered over a place called Cave Springs.

I could feel the hair on the back of my neck risin'. The 'gons had veered to avoid two sites where there were caves, but why?

With the 'gons headin' our way, Texas declared a state of emergency and called out the National Guard. Every Guardsperson, every state trooper, every beat cop was told to "Save the Lone Star State."

I worked through the night Googlin' so heavily that I got a headache, but at three that morning, just when our neighborhood cats usually start mating, I found the answer: bats.

Both the Mammoth area and the Cave Springs area were known for bats, and both times the dragons had veered off course was at dusk, the time bats normally leave their caves.

I rechecked the flight path of the dragons over Europe and noticed a similar deviation in southwestern Germany. And what was in southwestern Germany? Caves. Bats lived in the caves of the Swabian Alb.

I woke Tishie and she almost screamed, worried that the dragons had come.

"I got it, hon. I figured it out. The dragons are afraid of bats."

"You woke me up to tell me that?"

I told her about the caves and the dragons veering away.

"But that doesn't prove anything. Why should a dragon fear a bat? It's a gazillion times bigger! Honey, the stress is really gettin' to you."

I realized how crazy it sounded, but it was the only explanation. I let Tishie go back to sleep, and I called the military hotline and an hour later I was connected to a corporal, who listened patiently to my story and then said, "Thank you for calling."

"So what are you going to do?" I asked.

"Sir, this is a national emergency. We have no time for crank calls." And he hung up.

I waited until ten the next morning and started callin' again. I tried the governor's mansion in Austin. No one answered, and you couldn't leave messages. I finally gave up after tryin' the National Guard, the Department of Public Safety

and the Secret Service.

On a whim I called the biology department at the University of Texas and was, amazingly, put through to a Professor Sphinka. He listed to my theory and then suggested I call a colleague of his who had retired from the anthropology department, a Professor Lawrence.

Professor Lawrence asked if I could come to his house in Austin and talk in person. I told him I'd be there that afternoon.

The professor lived on a tree-lined street off Enfield, in an older neighborhood. The aging and bent professor led me to his study and offered me ice tea.

"Are you an anthropologist, sir?" he asked.

"No, I carve bears out of wood with a chainsaw."

"I've always wanted to meet a chainsaw carver. Interesting work. Now, about your theory. You have stumbled onto something that few people know about."

"Really?"

"Yes. You see, I have studied what I believe to be the aboriginals of Guatemala, a people who lived long before the Mayans. They called themselves the Hmmmz.

"Weird name. So these Hmmmz were like stone age people?" I asked.

"Exactly. Ten years ago I was down in Guatemala near the Mayan ruins of Tikal, and I unearthed an ancient Hmmmz burial ground. I found a stone with images carved in relief. What I saw amazed me. It was the image of a dragon and a bat entangled in mid-flight.

"I believe there was once a great war between the dragons and the bats. I believe the dragons who have been terrorizing us are headed home to the jungles of Guatemala, and, perhaps, to another clash with the bats."

"But shouldn't you tell the authorities now, so they know what they're dealin' with?" I pleaded.

"What good would it do? We can't stop them. If there is to be a dragon and bat war, it will happen far from here, and only one of the two will survive. Anyways, my book, Life of the Hmmz, is due out next fall. It will shock the anthropology world, but for now the bats and dragons must settle this themselves."

"But how could bats take on dragons? It's David and Goliath," I said.

"Yes, and David slew Goliath. From the images I've seen on the stones, the bats worm their way under the dragon's scales, bite the soft skin underneath and essentially infect them. From my research I believe the bats defeated the dragons, and only a few dragons escaped. It appears they went north to Russia. They bred, increasing their numbers, but then they were caught in perhaps a shock freeze during the Ice Age, locking the dragons in a kind of ice tomb until now."

We talked further and then I thanked the professor and headed back to Bastrop. I thought about my dream where the dark things were flying around us dragons. The dark things were obviously bats.

All this academic talk was fine, but for me, the dragons were real, and if there was somethin' I could do to save my town, I was gonna do it.

The next morning I burst into the mayor's office, as he was watching cartoons.

"What the hell, Nigel. You can't——"

"Ray, I know this is going to sound crazy, but I know what the dragons are up to, and I know what we gotta do to save Bastrop."

"But——"

I laid out the plan for the mayor, and pointed out that if Bastrop got torched I would tell everyone that he had stood by and done nothing.

"What will all the wood and banners cost?" he asked.

"Bill the Feds," I said and walked out.

The dragons swept south into Texas. Every Texan with a gun fired at them as they passed overhead on their way to Dallas. One guy in Dallas fired a Stinger missile from his condo balcony at a traffic helicopter and sent it twirlin' to the ground in a fiery mess. When questioned by the police, he said, "I thought it was a dragon."

The CFD (Cheerleader Federation of Dallas) organized its members into platoon-size units and prepared to meet the enemy. Dana Markham, head cheerleader, said, "We all went down to Neiman Marcus and bought us deer rifles. The idea is that each platoon will concentrate its fire on one dragon. We figure one of us might get a lucky shot. We are very hot and patriotic cheerleaders just tryin' to help."

Not even hot cheerleaders could save Dallas. Flames from the Bank of America building could be seen for miles and miles away. When they finished with Dallas, the 'gons headed toward Fort Worth.

I laid out my plans at a town meeting and everyone agreed, except the sheriff, who felt he was being bypassed, and he was. My plan involved a whole lot of wood carvin', but I was pumped and ready for it.

When not carvin', I rode through town in the back of a pickup truck yellin' at folks to get their asses movin'. To be a leader, you have to be willin' to bruise a few egos. At one point I ordered Dolly to make bacon and eggs for a work crew and she yelled back, "I ain't your slave!"

With the voice of leadership, I barked back, "Dolly, don't make me come over there and whack your butt!"

She smiled coyly, and replied, "Any time you're ready, I sure am."

Tishie and Josh acted as my lieutenants. I'd snap orders at 'em, and they in turn would relay the orders down the line.

That night, after a day of kickin' butt, someone drove by the house and yelled "Hard ass!"

"You're a leader, honey," Tishie said. "It can get ugly."

I carved deep into the night: burned out two chainsaws in the process.

And then our time ran out. We watched on TV as the dragons tore up Round Rock and flew in formation toward the heart of Austin.

I turned to Tishie and said, "They're gonna bypass Austin."

She nodded and replied, "Of course. The bats."

As the bats under the Congress Street bridge rose en masse into the dusk sky, the dragons veered east, leavin' the city untouched. Most people had no idea why Austin had been left unscathed, except maybe Professor Lawrence.

I called him and all he said was, "I've been watching them on Doppler Radar. They're heading right for Bastrop."

Tishie slipped the .357 into her purse, Josh shouldered his shotgun and I carried my biggest chainsaw to the pickup truck, along with a flare gun.

We looked back at our house, wonderin' if we'd ever see it again. Defiantly, the people of Bastrop climbed to their battle stations on the roofs of the buildings downtown and on the Old Iron Bridge. Some were in boats on the Colorado. It was assumed the dragons would make a frontal assault. Each Bastropian carried a weapon. For some it was just a kitchen knife or a sickle, for others it was a semi- or fully automatic weapon.

Josh took the wheel of the pickup, while Tishie and I got in the back. I had the bullhorn ready.

"People of Bastrop, as you know I'm just a down home chainsaw artist with a hot wife and a whole lotta love for this town. Now the dragons are comin', and while those sissies in Washington let them run riot over the town, we ain't gonna let that happen. It ends here."

My god, every Texan cheered in that glorious moment. I knew if it came right down to it, the 'gons had us beat, but it was best to go out fightin' no matter what.

Everyone took his position, and some smartass put Star Wars music over a loudspeaker.

The dragons appeared as a gathering darkness in the distant sky. With the precision of an Air Force fighter drill team, the 'gons formed themselves into a flyin' V formation.

They came straight at us. Heavy artillery and rifle fire were unleashed from those forces on the opposite side of the river below the historic district. The sales guys at Eddie Lerman Chevy Trucks were firing from the new Chevy Half Track Family and Assault Vehicle.

Tracer fire filled the sky. I could smell the cordite, and for the first time I could smell the rotten egg and gasoline smell of the dragons. It was like livin' inside a fart.

"Get ready!!" I said, over the megaphone. The air was filled with smoke from all the weapons being fired. On came the dragons, right through the hail of steel.

When the first dragon crossed the Colorado River, I fired the flare gun, the signal for everyone to act in unison.

From every roof top of the downtown shops, a line of bat effigies carved in wood and mounted on poles suddenly faced the oncoming dragons. Then a second line of cloth bats mounted on poles shot skyward. At the same time, thousands of bat balloons were released. A massive bat banner slung across the Old Iron Bridge was hoisted up, in full view of every approachin' dragon.

Our last tactic was to turn on——full blast——a recording of bat calls, that Josh had ordered from highpitchsounds.com.

The lead dragon reared up, flapping its great wings. I had never seen a critter so large, so awful and so powerful. I watched as the viscous napalm-like jelly issued from the edges of its mouth. Fire seemed to hang deep in the back of its open jaws. Its eyes were red devil eyes, and its scales shone in the dying sunlight. From where I stood, you could hear the metallic scraping of its continually shifting scales.

It let out a terrific blast of fire, aimed, thankfully, high in the sky. It wheeled, gave two hard wingbeats and shot west along the Colorado River and over the highway. The other dragons, that had also just crossed the river, followed. We shook our bats and we prayed.

We continued to play the recording until the last 'gon passed, then there was a rippling cry of joy throughout the crowd. We cheered till we were hoarse.

I did wonder if the dragons would wheel and take us from the opposite direction, but onward they flew and night fell with our town still intact.

I hugged Tishie and Josh and soon found myself carried aloft on the arms of the people of Bastrop. My friends carried me to Dolly's place, and there we celebrated with ice cream and pecan pie.

The streets of Bastrop were littered with the bat effigies, and some of the balloons had burst on their upward ascent and were caught in the trees all around town.

The smell of dragon and cordite still hung in the air. News crews arrived and learned the story, firsthand, how one small Texas town had defeated the dragons.

Someone fired a shot into the air, and soon everyone was lettin' those bullets fly, even the sheriff. The only thing missin' was fireworks and a fly-by of Texas National Guard jets.

I must have showered for an hour that night. Though no dragon had touched me, I still felt that I needed to wash their stink off me. And how do you sleep after such an experience? Tishie and I talked through the night. I told her I was plannin' a new series of carvings: dragons and bats.

"But people love your bears," she said.

"I know, hon, and I'll keep makin' bears, but I'm gonna do bats and dragons. I've already got the design in my head."

"You know, there's talk of givin' you a reward. We could use it to renovate the upstairs bathroom."

"Now, hon, I can't take money for doin' what was right."

"I know. I just thought about those new faucets where you don't turn the handle, you just wave your hands under 'em."

"Does Home Depot have 'em?"

"You know they do, silly."

While the dragons had spared Bastrop, they did not spare San Antonio. We learned the next mornin' of the destruction, and it did dampen the enthusiasm of our own victory. The 'gons finally crossed the border at Eagle Pass and headed south.

A few weeks later, after Mexico City had been pillaged by the fire-spewin' bastards, there were reports of a great battle at the jungle border between Mexico and Guatemala.

A farmer interviewed on CNN said, "I looked up and thought I saw a black cloth suddenly rise out of the jungle. I thought I must be dreaming. I wondered if it was the Virgin Mary in mourning, but it was bats, millions of bats. From the opposite direction I saw many dragons, which are devil creatures if you ask me, and I saw the bats fly right at those dragons. And then the sky was turned all black there were so many bats.

"I saw fire in the sky and screeches that will haunt me forever. I ran because of the horror before my eyes.

"The next morning the skies were blue and all was peaceful. I thanked the Virgin for protecting my family."

Dragon corpses were found rotting deep in the Guatemalan jungles, and it was not recommended that you cut out a 'gon ribeye and plunk it on the barbecue.

Turns out I wasn't only a Bastrop hero, I was a national hero. I've been on Oprah and Larry King. I met the president, and he ended up buying one of my carvings for the East Room of the White House once it's rebuilt.

I sold my story to Hollywood, and I'm hopin' Robert Mitchum can play me.

Tishie said, "But he's dead, darlin'," and I replied, "Well, hon, with special effects those Hollywooders can do just about anything?"

The parade's over and Tishie and I are having margaritas on the back deck. We've got steaks on the barbecue, and she's sliced up some peppers to go with 'em.

Josh is upstairs chattin' online with his buddies at Victoria Secret Night Chats, and the sky above Bastrop is a deep blue, as deep and as warm a blue as you could ever desire.

End


© 2007 Frank Minogue

Frank Minogue was born 1955 in Timmins, Ontario Canada and now lives in Austin Texas where he works as a writer/artist. His short stories, poetry, and artwork have been published in a number of literary journals, such as Atomjack, Wisconsin Review, Amherst Review, Sulphur River Literary Review, Aura Literary Arts Review, and Poetry Ireland. In 2002, The Place in the Woods Press published his children's book Little Horse.

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.