Weeklies

Mr. Stroudfreck and the Dragon

A scene that came to me once, unconnected from any larger story. Two men are walking beside a road and one, Mr. Stroudfreck, is speaking.

“Yes. Now it is sweeting up. The newest blooms are so peppery; in the pink, at least.”

The sun had already dried the sidewalk, but had only begun to work on Mr. Lanceling’s clothes, and so far only succeeded in making them feel stiff and abrasive. He watched Mr. Stroudfreck, who never seemed to show signs of discomfort in any circumstances.

Without preamble, a man ahead of them on the sidewalk turned back, presented an 1847 Colt Walker pistol, and fired on them.

The report of the gun, instead of being gone as soon as heard, lengthened as if a knife scraped it over toast. And as if the sound had become shape, a dark, serpentine form darted from the mouth of the gun instead of bullet and smoke.

It reached fifteen feet long with the speed a loosed arrow would fly the distance, and in the same movement as its sudden growth it rose on scaled hind legs, and above Mr. Stroudfreck and Mr. Lanceling its bulbous, reptilian eyes blazed like the eyelids of the morning. The sound of the gun, now horribly distorted, became a saurian scream that pierced the mind like a sword. Mr. Lanceling collapsed into a sitting posture by the side of the road. A cascade of fire cast from the creature’s throat bore down on the gentlemen, and the brilliance seemed to dim the sky in that direction as much as the jetting fumes. Mr. Stroudfreck raised and opened the umbrella, dark against the poisonous glare, and from this canopy the flames slid like cobwebs from the nose of a flying plane. Mr. Lanceling jerked his feet into Stroudfreck’s shadow, which jutted into the sunlight at a strange angle, flickering between the rags of flame that fell on the concrete around it.

The beast arched its loathsome body, gathering in its inhale the summer air whistling through its shark teeth, hot air that was cold in the demon’s gastly heat. Mr. Stroudfreck closed the umbrella, and, stepping forward, drove it upwards through the lower jaw and in through the brain. The tongue lashed the folds of the homely instrument like a stricken asp, blood spilled from the raging eyes, the internals of the head and mouth ignited and split the face in two, wreathing it in fire, and the forepart of the worm fell like a burning club to the sidewalk.

As if vanishing through the concrete, Mr. Lanceling never saw it strike the ground. The disappearance of that long body, whose scales seemed to glisten with shadows, brightened the sunlight around them. Mr. Lanceling put his hands to the ground to steady his legs as he rose, and wondered if part of the heat he felt in the pavement originated in the encounter he had witnessed. He stared at the place he had last seen the dark creature, feeling that it could start from the ground at their feet as easily as it had from the barrel of a pistol. Knowing a thing such as that to spring from the sunlit air, he thought he could never feel comfortable anymore. Mr. Stroudfreck was turning to him.

“How do you find yourself Mr. Lanceling?” he asked, as though they had met each other there.

“I feel as I need to take an umbrella everywhere I go.” Mr. Lanceling replied. Then he realized that he had not thought of the man who had fired the shot since the more fearsome antagonist had entered the scene. He looked down and across the street, but did not expect to see the man, who must have made good his escape already, though the interaction with the worm had not lasted long.

“Do you know who it was that fired on us?”

“A pawn, a hired man no doubt.”

“Someone should take his gun away.”

“Oh, it was nothing to do with his gun.”

– Patrick Lauser

Trivia: the 1847 Colt Walker pistol was the most powerful black powder repeating handgun to be made.

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