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The Waggledancing Dragon



Andy McIntosh










All rights reserved; no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author and publisher.


First published in Great Britain in October 2017 by

Grimlock Press


The moral right of the author has been asserted




Text Copyright © 2017 Andy McIntosh

Cover Art by Jess Gilbert


All rights reserved.



ISBN-13: 978-1-909587-33-5




GrimlockPress.com








For Fin and Eva














THE WAGGLEDANCING DRAGON

An Over-Dramatic Prologue

(With added urgent orchestral music)


Silhouetted by the full moon, it emerged one summer night in the darkening blue sky to the west. Two enormous wings powered the huge body through the air with great stealth and speed. The creature spied its destination in the distance and swooped down over the fields, scattering terrified livestock in every direction. The lights of a small town emerged over the horizon. The beast narrowed its eyes, beat its wings several times to gather height, and made its approach.

It circled slowly, as if looking for something. The townsfolk below knew this creature from ancient stories: Stories of the bravest, or more often, the unluckiest of people.

But any bravery the townsfolk may have possessed deserted them in the darkness of that fearful shadow. Suddenly, with the flick of a wingtip, the dreadful shape banked sharply towards the mountains south of the town. The creature spiralled down, then at the last moment, splayed its wings like giant sails and slammed to a stop by the shore of a glassy black lake.

Clutched in its front claws was a magnificent golden flower. It shimmered with a magical light which caught the creature’s eyes in the darkness. Carefully it was placed on the stony shore. The creature looked around. Near the top of the large cone-shaped mountain above him was the mouth of a cave. Here, it would hide its treasure until the time was right. The creature lifted the shimmering flower to its snout and sniffed, then threw back its head, and opened its terrible jaws as wide as they would go, as if to issue a deafening roar, as if to announce its arrival, as if to stake its claim on the land and defy anyone to challenge it...then it pulled out a hanky and did a big sneeze into it –


AAAAACHHHHOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”


The hanky burst into flames, the creature shrieked, flicking it frantically off its claws into the lake, where it landed with a sizzle. The creature wiped its nose on its arm, picked up the plant and stomped off up to the cave.


Chapter 1


Tortoisetown: Population, 207.


First question you might ask is, was it populated by 207 tortoises? That would make sense, but no. Was it shaped like a tortoise? No. Was it made entirely out of tortoise shells and dead tortoises? No! How could you think such a thing? You horrid monster! Get out! Ok, come back. It had nothing to do with tortoises whatsoever. Oh no, actually it had one thing in common with tortoises. It was slow. Goodness me, it was slow. Tortoisetown was a place you went through on the way to somewhere else more interesting and would say “Are we nearly there yet?” or “Let’s not stop here.” A place slowly tick-tocking away, where nothing at all ever really happened. Take these headlines from the Tortoisetown Gazette for example:


MAN SHOWS ARMPIT TO DOCTOR”


Then the next day, the top story in town was:


ARMPIT PERFECTLY NORMAL, SAY DOCTORS”


The day after that literally NOTHING happened at all, and the headline was simply:


___________________”


As a result of all this, no one was really ready for the headline:


FIRE-BREATHING MESSENGER OF DEATH TO DESTROY TOWN AND KILL EVERYONE”


Because, suddenly, Tortoisetown was a town on the edge of panic. In fact, it was so close to the edge of panic, that its heels were already over and it was wind-milling its arms and going ‘whoa!’ It had been slowly trudging down the gloomy corridor of boredom for years, but now, it had accidentally stepped on the skateboard of alarm and was hurtling towards the fire exit marked ‘UNKNOWN HORRORS!’ But what was the reason for all this?

Well, everyone had seen the suspiciously dragon-shaped flying thing arrive on Tuesday night. It had landed near the mountain a few miles out of town - the one some called ‘The Magic Mountain’, but which most people called ‘That mountain shaped like an upturned ice cream cone with the bottom bitten off’ or the more exciting sounding ‘Ice Cream Disaster Peak’. Except now the ice cream inside was dragon-flavoured, and it tasted terrifying.

One of these worried locals was Alex, who owned the Tortoisetown pie shop. At twelve he was still quite young to have such an important job, but the original owners (his Mum and Dad) had decided to give it all up and dedicate their lives to the art of teleportation. They’d travelled to the other side of the world and vowed not to return until they could do so in less than a nanosecond. And so, the pie shop had passed to young Alex. And actually, he was fine with that.

Most boys in the town had dreams of being a knight, or a king, or of winning ‘Tortoisetown's Got Talent’ but this was not for Alex. He spent the day making pies and he loved it: big pies, small pies, every shaped and flavoured pie imaginable. What doesn’t taste better encased in a pie? Well, quite a few things: Alex’s ‘Pie pie’ for instance (a pie made of solid pastry) and his gunpowder and rum pie (made especially for National Pirate Day) were complete disasters. The second one, a complete disaster that meant a wall of the town pub had to be rebuilt. And the less said about the mackerel and daffodil one the better. But these were minor, experimental blips, and they didn’t put him off. He read book after book, making notes and comments and improvements on his favourite recipes along the way.

He planned on becoming an expert in pieology, which he wasn’t sure was truly a thing, but if it wasn’t, it soon would be. But for the moment, Alex’s plans were put on hold. What he didn’t realise at the time was just how long and momentous a moment it was going to be.

The following evening, a meeting was called in the town square by the mayor. It was the mayor that decided it would reflect rather well on him if his team of bodyguards, the three toughest men in town, otherwise known as The Bruise Brothers, would go and sort out the dragon-shaped problem.

“As you all know, my boys can be very effective” said the mayor, smugly.

The ‘Boys’ were, in no particular order, Jasper, Big Vinnie, and Johnny the Bear, who some said was actually just a shaved bear. ‘Effective’ in The Bruise Brothers world usually involved making whoever the mayor wanted to say ‘ow’ say “Ow”', and then stealing their lunch. But just as the mayor smiled, and raised his eyebrows in such a way it out-smugged what he’d said so smugly, a jet of fire exploded out of the top of the mountain, followed by the sound of a badly played trumpet, or perhaps a very large nose being blown. Everyone ducked under something or hastily ran to the toilet. Even The Bruise Brothers themselves, who were quite capable of saying boo to a goose, or hurting a fly or adding insult to injury were shaken up by this, and they rapidly agreed (out of earshot of the mayor), that it was a much better idea to persuade someone else to ‘be effective’ for them. It’s a bit difficult, however, to bully anyone when you’re crying and blowing snot bubbles, even if you are the toughest men in town. Their first thought was to try to intimidate the local chess club into going, but being the chess club, and overall clever sorts, they had anticipated this move a long way off, and were already hiding up a tree. So, The Bruise Brothers did the only thing they could do, they went and told their Mum.

The Bruise Brothers were physically fully-grown men. Their mum, Hetty Bruise, now lived in the local old people’s home. The boys were regular visitors, usually there to complain to her about each other, and she rarely took a side or even bothered to turn on her hearing aid to listen, but this was different.

“No scaly oversized flying cucumber makes my sons cry!” She declared when they’d told her about the dragon. “I’ll show it who’s boss! I was brought up on powdered eggs and turnip juice! Agnes! Ethel! Are you with me?”

It took Agnes and Ethel about ten minutes to get up out of their chairs, but once they were up, they rolled up the sleeves of their cardigans, grabbed their walking sticks and started off remarkably quickly up towards the mountain, singing old style gran-type songs about kit bags and a place called Tipperary and not dilly-dallying on the way. When the ladies returned later that night, it was immediately obvious from their slightly barbecued appearance that things had not gone as planned.

As he had rather short legs, the mayor stood on a box in the bandstand so he could conduct the meeting. It was a rather smart-looking bandstand, but Tortoisetown didn’t appear on many band’s tour dates so it was mainly used as a giant, luxury kennel by a bored-looking dog called Ralph, and he wasn’t much of a singer. He had been known to give it a go though. Ralph snored nearby, but most other people who were there were very much awake.

“Come now, come now, people, please be calm. There is absolutely no hard evidence that a dragon lives at the top of Ice Cream Disaster Peak. Hetty, firstly, can I commend you and your two companions on your bravery, it would appear you have unfortunately not passed down your incredible strength of character to your sons.” He shot a glance at the sheepish looking Bruise boys. “Perhaps I should sack them and hire you. I’ll think of a good name for you first, maybe The Action Nans, or The Grantastic Three. But in the meantime, can you please come up to the bandstand and tell us what you saw up there and lay our fears to rest.”

The three old ladies took to the stage.

“There’s a cave near the top of the mountain. And something was living in there that was big and green and scaly” said Hetty.

Everyone gaped.

“It breathed fire.” said Ethel.

Everyone gasped.

“It said it was here to ‘Party Down’...” said Agnes.

No one knew what to do with that one.

“…oh, and that it was a dragon.” she continued.

At that, everyone flapped their arms and ran around screaming. When people were too tired to do that anymore, Hetty suggested that they needed to hire a knight to deal with the dragon. Preferably a tall, handsome one (her words, not mine). But knights were snooty, vain types who charged an arm and a leg for their services (sometimes literally) and the townsfolk could never afford to pay for one. Apart from the mayor, who was utterly loaded. But instead of saying he would foot the bill, he said:

“This is a time for problem solvers to step up and solve problems.”

The mayor was always saying things like that to make people think he was in control of the situation, and to avoid any uncomfortable questions like:

“Why don’t you stick your hand in your pocket, you penny pinching so and so?”

A man called Des put his hand up. Des was the town fool, although on his CV he stated his job as ‘Fruit Magician’ because of falling asleep in an orchard one autumn and waking up under a big pile of apples. Goodness knows how long he was lying there.

“Frank the milkman will do it!” He shouted.

People would call Frank the milkman “Frank the milkman”, otherwise they got him confused with Frank the postman, although some suspected it was the same bloke in a fake beard and a different hat taking home two pay checks. Frank, who was standing next to Des, went as white as the milk in his bottles.

“Des! Shut up!” He hissed, wide-eyed and stunned at his outright treachery.

“Er, sorry everyone, I can’t go, as you all know I already have a very important job to do.”

“What’s your job then?” Asked Des.

“The clue’s in my name, Des.” Said Frank.

“What, Frank?”

“Des, when you were asleep in the orchard that time, did someone remove your brain and replace it with a mouse chewing a biscuit?” Said Frank the milkman.

“But I could’ve sworn you was the postman…”

“Zip it Des! There’s no mystery here! Just call me Frank the milkman!”

“Yes, Frank the milkman.”

“Er...how about we draw lots?” Suggested Frank.

“Excellent idea, Frank the milkman!” Said the mayor. “I knew you’d come up with a good suggestion, so I suppose we can technically say that was my idea.”

The mayor also had a very canny knack of being able to butt in just at the right time, or take other people’s ideas and claim them as his own. This probably went some way to explaining why he had come to be a mayor in the first place, so keep your eye out for people like him, readers.

“Now, what can we use?” he said looking about at the crowd.

“I’ve got a drawer full of spoons back in my pie shop: mostly the same size, but there’s one tiny one.” Said Alex the piemaker.

He was then tasked by the mayor with collecting one spoon for every person living in Tortoisetown, including the one spoon that was obviously smaller than the others. Everyone was to reach into a bag and pull out a spoon. The person with the smallest spoon was to face the dragon.

Alex rifled through the drawers in his shop, and soon returned with a bag full of the ‘Jangling Cutlery of Destiny’ as the mayor, in typically over-the-top style, decided it was called. The mayor then climbed back onto his little platform in the bandstand and held the bag open. One by one, the townsfolk walked up, reached in and took one. People compared spoons. They all looked pretty much the same size. The mayor congratulated them on their choice, and wished them luck. Des was next in line to pick. “Good luck Des. Your next job might be hero! Wouldn’t that be something for the CV?” Said the mayor, patronisingly.

Des pulled out a large serving spoon. “Aw.” He moaned, lay down on the spot and fell asleep, because his brain had confused disappointment with tiredness. Next, the inhabitants of Tortoisetown formed a line around the square, and placed their chosen spoon in front of them on the ground. The mayor walked around the long line of spoons, nodding and occasionally comparing one spoon to another, saying “Hmm”, and then putting it down and moving along. A bell bonged ominously in the background. Eventually he came to Alex, who was still without a spoon, and the last in the line.

“Citizens of Tortoisetown.” Announced the mayor. “You have all chosen your spoons, but the smallest spoon, it would appear, has not been selected. He stood in front of Alex. “And that can only mean one thing.”

The mayor gave Alex a consoling look and then turned to the crowd. “Alex the piemaker has the smallest spoon. Best of luck on your mission, my boy. Your pies will live long in our memories.” The mayor slapped Alex heartily on the back. “Now, let’s all applaud our fairly and democratically elected town champion!” He began to clap loudly in Alex’s face.

“Hang on.” Said Alex. “I collected 207 spoons. One for each person in Tortoisetown, just like you said. There must be two spoons left. That’s one for you and one for me. We haven’t drawn yet.” Everybody thought he had a point. But only the crickets made a sound.

“Ma-ma-ma-ma-me?” stammered the mayor. “Don’t be ridiculous, I’m The Mayor!”

“And I’m The Piemaker. We still need to draw.” Demanded Alex.

Now even the crickets had shut up. The mayor shook the bag gently. It jangled. And it takes two to jangle.

“Well,” Said the mayor with a nervous laugh, “Then I shall draw first…”

“We’ll draw at the same time.” Cut in Alex. Fairness was a big thing for him. His parents had taught him it was the difference between a good way of life and a bad way of life, plus it was very handy for slicing pies equally and not getting complaints from customers.

The mayor was starting to feel a bit hot and sticky. He hadn’t planned on this at all. What he needed was a distracting soundbite, but he was under the gaze of the whole town now, and nothing came. The people gathered, and waited for the town’s hero to be revealed.


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