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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.

Where There is Treasure

H.L. Fullerton lives in New York and writes fiction--mostly speculative, occasionally about dragons--which is sometimes published in places like Buzzy, Penumbra, Flash Fiction Online, and now Daily Science Fiction.

Felix bumps into me and I drop my rock. An embarrassing sound caws from my stupid throat. Over a rock. But I can't help it. I need my rock. Mom calls it a worry stone. I have a bunch of them--different worries, different shapes. Different colors. The one Felix knocked from my grasp is gray with black spots: my Dalmatian rock. I use it to make me invisible to kids like Felix. Perhaps it worked too well. Felix kicks my rock down the hallway, sneers. Says, "Freak," and pushes past me. I chase after my treasure, wipe it clean on my jeans and tuck it in my pocket. By the time I reach English class, the rock is back in my palm, my fingers curled around its curves, my thumb rubbing soothing circles on its favorite facet. I zone out, forget about Felix, let the rock work its magic. My spell isn't a complete success. Mr. Hathaway wants to see me after class. It's about my Robert Louis Stevenson essay.
"There aren't any dragons in Treasure Island." Mr. Hathaway's eyes are confused: the right one is concerned; the left suspicious.
Where there is treasure, there are always dragons, but I don't tell Mr. Hathaway this. He will have to learn it himself. The dragon says that's the best way to learn--the hardest, but the best.
The dragon lives in a trailer park near the interstate. He says the zip of traffic reminds him of panning for gold. He used to live in California but says he grew tired of the smog. Came East for the maple syrup, stayed for the mountains. He says age makes you crave change as much as treasure.
I nod as if I understand. Because when a dragon speaks you ought to listen.
On my way home from school, I scan the ground for rocks. Mom thinks I'd have more confidence if I walked with my head up, but there aren't any stones in the sky. A better reason to stand tall, eyes forward is I'd have spotted Felix and his friends before they surrounded me. Lesson learned, and yeah, it was a hard one. I ask Mom to take me back to look for my Dalmatian rock--I dropped it again--but she takes me to the hospital instead. I grab one of my black-thoughts rocks to hold on the drive--it reminds me of the dragon and even though my fingers are broke and bruised I press the stone against my swelled flesh.
The dragon and I have something in common: We both hate bats. That's why he doesn't live in a cave anymore. He says there's little point since the advent of air conditioning and as long as he avoids Renaissance Fairs he's fine. The dragon says people see what they want to see and he's had enough guano and screeching to last him the rest of forever.
This time he may be full of guano. There's no way someone could mistake him for anything other than a dragon. I didn't believe in dragons, not really, but the minute I saw him I knew exactly what he was. I didn't think dinosaur; I didn't think flying alligator; I didn't think monster; weirdo, freak, fat slob, loser. I thought: dragon.
I'd never say it to his face, but his wings are bat-like, just bigger and an orange-y red. His head is alligator-shaped but with whiskers--not like a cat's, more like a catfish's--and his teeth are all shark. Around his neck is a hood like a cobra, but scalloped around the edges like a seashell and translucent like his wings. His neck reminds me of the egrets I saw when Mom took me to Florida for Grandpa's funeral. The way it twists and bobs is more bird-like than snake-like. His tail might be a snake, if a snake ended in a shovel tip. His skin is reticulated like a Gila monster (except in shades of red and gold) and his claws are all grizzly. You think it'd be confusing, just looking at him, but it isn't. Like I said: Dragon. You know it when you see it.
And yet, I kind of know what he means about the cave-thing. Because I never liked baseball, but now I hate it.
Every dragon collects something different. This one likes gold. He sits atop a pile of it. His bed clinks as he shifts and the sound comforts me--like wind chimes knocking in a summer's breeze. I tell him I collect rocks. The dragon bobs his head. "Do you collect a specific type of rock?"
The trailer fills with humidity. I rush to assure him I am not interested in gold. I show my sunset stone--the one that keeps the nightmares at bay. The smoke wafting from his nostrils slows, then stops. His whiskers twitch and his hood flattens into a fancy collar.
The dragon says guarding a horde isn't the same as hoarding.
My mother is a hoarder. With my cast, I can barely navigate our house. Piles of jewelry-making supplies topple as I brush by. She hurries to catch her treasures, slow the avalanches in my wake. I feel clumsy. An elephant at a garbage dump with signs saying Keep Off the Trash. Mom digs through a pile atop what was once the dining room table. Finds three grimy markers and gives them to me with a bright smile. "So the kids at school can sign your cast," she says, and I get what the dragon meant about people only seeing what they want to. But I take the pens, let my classmates sign--not Felix, but anyone else. Show the dragon my collection of signatures and well wishes next time I visit.
Dragons don't have names. I think this might be confusing if I knew more dragons, but I only know the one so it isn't. I ask the dragon if it's confusing for him--he must know many dragons.
"Every being is unique," the dragon says. "Names are not. What good are they?"
"But how do you talk to one dragon about another dragon?"
His head tilts, gold coins slither. "Why would I do that?"
"I don't know," I say and think it must be nice to be a dragon.
Felix has my Dalmatian rock. I saw it in his locker. Well not saw exactly, but it's in there. I've had to use my rocket ship rock at school--it's an agate, a smoky translucent color with puffs of white all over. Now though I'm going to call it my pirate rock. Because, when I walked past Felix's locker, I realized Felix is Long John Silver, mutinous pirate, stealing treasure that's not his, was never his. I head to the library and rewrite Mr. Hathaway's essay focusing on parrots and pieces of eight. I think how much better Jim's life was with Silver gone.
The dragon says greed is nothing more than pieces of hate wrapped up all acceptable-like. He also said killing dragons was just a distraction for knights unable to slay their own demons.
I worry if Mom ever met the dragon she'd try to Sir Yvain him. Mom has a whole houseful of demons and the dragon has a lot of gold necklaces--a lot. I rub the agate's white plumes until my thumb bleeds.
When the cast comes off, my skin looks funny. I'm not sure what's wrong with it, but there's something off about it. My mom thinks a little sun will make it good as new. The doctor says everything looks fine. I stare at my collection of polished rocks and try to decide which one will ward off leprosy. Or flesh-eating bacteria. Really it could be anything. Hospitals are filled with diseases. I shove a handful of stones into my pockets. More worries, more stones. I'm on my way to see the dragon when I figure out which rock I need. My Dalmatian rock. I veer off to Felix's house.
"Give me my rock back."
"I don't know what you're talking about, loser."
"You give it back or--"
"Or what?" Felix steps in close. He's taller than me, wider. I fit in his shadow with room to spare. I want to run. But I need my rock. And he has it. He stole it.
"Or..." What would a dragon say? "I'll burn your fucking house down."
Felix's head snaps back. I've surprised him... and something else. It isn't fear I see in his eyes. It's worry. "Shove off," he says and turns and goes inside. Felix is worried. About me.
That's new. Makes me forget all about my little skin problem.
The dragon asks to see my arm. I show him, turn it this way and that. He hmmms. Ask me to pull up my shirt. I worry he's getting pervy. I slide back to the door, tell him I'm not really into dragons. He laughs so hard, flames shoot out his mouth and he falls off his bed of gold.
I have to stop, drop, and roll myself. My hair is singed and my nose stings if I breathe through it. A claw catches my shirt and bares my stomach. Right over my gallbladder is a black smudge. Like a mole, but not a mole. Like a... scale. I touch it. "Holy smokes!"
The dragon says I'm a dragon.
"But I don't look like a dragon."
"Doesn't change what you are." He does a dragon version of a shrug.
"So my treasure is rocks?" I picture myself lying atop a bed of rocks. Gold is much cooler. I wonder if I can switch. Then I remember my mom and wonder if she's a dragon, too. She certainly collects enough junk.
The dragon studies me. "You've never collected rocks, not really."
"But..." I wonder if this is going to be one of those hard lessons and flinch.
"I would've smoked you if you had. You wouldn't have been able to keep your hands off my nuggets."
"Worries. You collect worries." He looks smug.
Being a dragon, he says, isn't about scales or wings or treasure. It's about heat. And I have a fire inside me.
Yeah, maybe Felix was right to be worried.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, October 24th, 2014

Author Comments

Originally, my idea was to write a list-type story of Things Dragons Say. That, um, didn't happen. Turns out, dragons are kind of boring. It's all treasure, treasure, treasure, fire. My screensaver kept popping up. I'd customized it to: Here They Be Dragons. It became less inspirational, more mocking. I stared and thought about who would listen to a dragon. Seemed to me, the people most likely to understand--and befriend--dragons were other collectors. And maybe my story wasn't about the dragon--expect, of course, it was. Because treasure can be anything, where there's treasure...

- H. L. Fullerton
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