Oh, I totally lied, gentle readers. I’m not going to jump into my enduring love for Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King. Not right now, anyway. I’m teasing you, for now, you–the collective three people that drop by once in a while to peruse whatever I’ve smeared and smushed into an incoherent blog post. Thank you all, by the way, for reading my posts. I appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I wrote this short story about a miniature dragon. I set it in one of Idaho’s actually truly historically famous towns–Idaho City. Which used to be the biggest city between St. Louis and Portland during the late 1800’s. Used to be. There was a gold boom in Idaho, and Idaho is now known as the Gem State. They have Famous Potatoes, but they’re actually the Gem State. Anyway!! Personal note: my aunt and uncle used to live up past Idaho City, up around Centerville, which might sound gigantic and Chicago-sized, well, it’s not. It’s teeny. As is Idaho City. We visited there a lot for holidays and otherwise, so yes, Idaho City and those gorgeous mountains do figure in my writing. Gold miners, murders, boom town, Native Americans, history of the real west…it’s like human nip to me. That’s cat nip, except for humans! Or maybe that’s just chocolate. Or coffee. Or fries drenched in gravy. Or homemade bread just out of the oven. Or tacos. Or. Or. Or.
So I just imagined, being a writer, that’s kinda my job…a business owner with a surefire tourist attraction, a little dragon in a cage. A woman business owner, who has made the best of her situation and where she lives and what she has to work with. This is probably one of the favorite things of mine I’ve ever composed. I like how pragmatic and practical Jane is and I rather like how that dragon developed. I won’t post the whole story, as it’s close to eight thousand words…and hey, you can read it yourself in…wait for it….wait for it…OREGON GOTHIC!!! Which is available for purchase! And– if you can, go leave a review. Good, bad, indifferent, leave a review. I need to start asking folks to LEAVE A REVIEW. Apparently, word of mouth only works if there is actually, um, word of mouth.
Oh…even though my BOOK might be titled OREGON GOTHIC, it does include tales of a somewhat Idaho-laced Gothic nature as well. Because Eastern Oregon, where I am and Western Idaho happen to be hopelessly intermingled. Eastern Oregon is rather snidely referred to as part of Idaho. We’re even on Mountain Time here, instead of Pacific, like the rest of Oregon. You switch time zones when you go past Farewell Bend, up by Huntington, if you’re inclined to go investigate that. Snake River, Farewell Bend, Huntington. Anyway!!!
And now!! An excerpt from COME FOR THE PIE, STAY FOR THE DRAGON, one of the tales included in the fabulous and awesome and wonderful and fabulously awesomely wonderful OREGON GOTHIC:
Along Idaho Highway 21, there’s a little mining and logging town called Idaho City. Well, once upon a time, about a hundred years or longer, it had mining and logging and the reputation of a real hot place to be any time of the week. Now, it’s more of a sedately dying tourist trap. But that’s for quite another tale. People do drugs here now and sell stuff to tourists passing through. There’s also skiing and snowmobiling during the winter months. It’s a busy little two-lane heading up into the Idaho mountains, that ole 21.
Now, Jane Spudman, she changed her name because of the tourist trade, her actual last name was something like Heinburg or Hindendammer, Jane ran a little diner and curio shop. The name over all this was, yes, The Spudster. It featured local game– elk and venison and pheasant, mostly– the famous Idaho potatoes, homemade pie and one caged, tiny, always depressed miniature dragon.
This combo diner and curio shop sat smack right on the highway, where one just had to jerk the wheel a little to arrive in the dirt parking lot. Jane had painted the outside a sedate pioneer white– the actual color on the paint cans had been Pioneer White. This had been obtained from a mark down sale at Home Depot, she told everyone. Jane hunted out bargains and mark downs the way others hunted fish. Her eyes would light up, her blood would race as she made her ten dollars, usually all she carried in cash, stretch to the utter limits. She even bargained at times if she had to. Americans don’t know how to haggle but Jane did. Well, Jane knew slightly how to haggle. She mostly just walked away if she got insulted enough. Where or how she had gotten that miniature dragon in the cage, she never said. It was her greatest secret, she often murmured, with a twinkle in her very German blue eyes. Her grandfather had spoken German and lived in Nebraska most of his life, Amherst, Nebraska– if Jane can be trusted. Her ancestors had come over right before the Civil War, she was the daughter of actually very acceptable immigrants. She often said she was not Irish. For some reason, she had a great loathing of Irish roots. Also, her far-distant German immigrant ancestors had not been slave-owners, which she was also proud of. Jane had a framed picture of some grim-looking folks who vaguely resembled her, wearing old-timey clothes, a black and white print, which she claimed was her relatives from the 1880’s. As Jane stood over six foot tall, with dyed black hair, and wore a Levi vest over a Boise Broncos t-shirt most days and Wrangler jeans over bright purple cowboy boots, well, there was really no telling if Jane had simply found this old picture and claimed it as her own. People did that when they worked with tourists for a living.
So, on a late fall day, with snow threatening at any moment, Jane put a freshly made coconut cream pie in her revolving pie and dessert case. There was also key lime, banana cream, lemon crunch, rhubarb, cherry, apple, huckleberry, chocolate silk and peanut butter. She changed the lineup of her pies to keep things interesting. Once in a while, she whipped up a cake, during those long winter months, to amuse herself. Cake just seemed more filling and right during January storms, she said. Her cook, Leanne, flipped burgers on the grill, her hair held back in a bun covered by a hairnet. A couple of hunters sat drinking coffee and waiting for their burgers and fries, and yes, pie. They wore the Day Glo vests of orange and also wore the camouflage pants that no deer or elk, of course, could see, ever. The deer were always fooled by the half-missing humans pointing bang sticks at them. One hunter was bald, the other was not. Others in the Spudster ate omelets and stacks of pancakes, as breakfast was served all day long. People liked breakfast all day long, Jane had never understood diners who only served eggs and toast and bacon to ten or so in the morning. Give the people what they want, they’ll pay you money for it, was her genial motto. Her waitress, [ and of course Jane had several waitresses on reserve with names like Becky and Susie], Cathy, who had dropped out of high school to give birth to a very much unwanted baby just last year, slopped coffee and topped up water glasses. She never smiled but she did manage to keep her snarl of a voice pleasant enough when at work. Nineteen and already used up and spit out by life. Cathy also said the dragon had come from Satan’s bedroom. Cathy had taken up Jesus big time since her life had gone to Shitsville for a possibly life-long stay. As Cathy didn’t bother the dragon or even go near it, Jane let it slide. As long as Cathy worked and slaved for pennies, what did it matter how Cathy thought the dragon had come from God’s arch-nemesis? It was more funny than threatening. And God knew laughs were needed to get through a day spent with tourists.
Jane went to the curio side of her business. Two children stared in at the sleeping dragon, which had two mottled bicolored wings– fog gray and grass green– curled along its sinewy back. The boy was about ten, with an upturned pig snout of a nose. The girl, a sister or even twin sister, was about the same age or just big for her years. They had reddish-orange hair, curly and rather repugnant. Jane had no urge to pat their heads nor did she honestly find them adorable. They were not. But she put on her pleasant face, and busied herself near the shelf of antique dishes. The dragon slumbered on. There were faded scars on its shoulders and the long, horse-like face where it had tried to bust itself out of its jail. Jane had placed the cage, five feet by five feet, on a pedestal and had roped off the area around it so no one could poke at or hurt the dragon. It was, after all, about a foot long, maybe longer. Men judged everything on inches, she did not. She had no wish to see her big draw taken out by a careless or malicious tourist, and truth be told, tourists were both most of the time. People traveled out of their home towns and turned into bona fide turds. She herself experienced this the further she got from Idaho’s borders. On the rare instances Jane did manage to drive or fly anywhere, her impulses went from kindly and polite to unkindly and impolite. She pushed and shoved and demanded with the best of them. Once in O’Hare, she had shoved an old lady to get on a tiny plane headed back to Boise. It had been a supreme act of arrogance and meanness. And so satisfactory!
“It’s not a real dragon,” the boy said, looking at Jane like one might look at a math problem one didn’t want to do, with loathing and exasperation and disbelief. The girl clicked her tongue, making a tuk-tuk-tuk noise. What had they been doing in here unsupervised? Oh dear.
“I assure you, it is.” Jane moved her carnival glass up to eye level. Cathy served the hunters their burgers and fries. She had even more zits clustered around her mouth than usual today. A good healthy dose of self-esteem and Dove soap might help. Cathy also needed a winning Powerball ticket, and a trip to some bountiful future where poor stupid girls became rich intelligent women.” You two from around here?”
They were not. Jane knew just about everybody who crouched, lived, squatted and rented around these parts. These two goblins masquerading as children were not local spawn. “Pasadena. The good part. We ain’t from this fucking shithole. We’re from California. God!” The girl said.” It’s not a real dragon. It’s an iguana. Or a Komodo Dragon. I watch a lot of reptile shows. I know reptiles.”
“Yeah. A fucking iguana. This is lame.” The boy added, giant shallow eyes raking over the curio side of the diner with absolute disgust. The dragon in the iron cage opened one sky blue eye. The girl stepped back, barely avoiding a jet of tiny black-tinged flame. The boy hooted like a sick owl. “What the hell!”
“It’s not an iguana,” Jane reiterated gently. The no-trespassing space about the dragon was both to protect the little animal and to protect tourists and locals alike. It spat fire now and then. She had been burned rather badly during a careless moment passing too close. That burn, on her left forearm, had taken almost a year to heal. The doctor had had to graft skin from her thigh to close up the nickel-sized hole. Jane had not been careless like that since. The dragon hated her with all its tiny might. It never grew tame or compliant. But. It drew in customers and customers paid the bills. And very few people these days in Idaho City could actually pay their bills.
“It’s a trick, a dirty old trick.” The girl said, quite determined to prove an actual dragon just an ordinary lizard which someone had rigged with fire-breathing abilities. “Come on, Walter. Let’s go get some pie. Stepmonster said we could have some if we behaved.”
Walter, the boy, the goblin in disguise as a boy, all children were actually goblins in disguise, sniffed, wiped his nose on his sleeve. “I thought dad said no.”
“Dad can suck it,” the unnamed girl said without a look at Jane. But the blue-eyed dragon got a glare, which it returned with interest. Jane smiled her vague, of course I’m happy to be here with you smile. The dragon was due for a mouse. It ate them from the tail to the head. Tortured them as it ate them. But. It was the only food Jane could get the miniature monster to eat. She had tried lettuce, seeds, nuts of every kind including the expensive macadamia. She had tried hamburger and pork sausage, both raw and cooked versions. Chicken, too. The dragon had allowed itself to be fed a mouse now and then. A live mouse or at times, if the dragon was hungry enough, a dead one from a trap. Its hide, a smooth furless hide, would ripple and change color when it was hungry. From the normal dull gray-green to bright poisonous lime and bright black. She knew then that it would accept any mouse in any condition when its body looked like a tennis ball intersected with bright black bands. Minus the fuzzy roundness, as it was a lean little monster, with its ribs clearly marked, the hollows of its long face marked and immediate. It was also unnervingly silent. It just watched. It just observed. When she cleaned the cage, she had to put the dragon into a gunny sack full of nails. The dragon had to be handled with falconer gloves and placed into the gunny sack. Full of nails. Little iron nails. The dragon would not move. And she very carefully placed a bucket over this. The dragon had tried, once, to escape, even though touching the nails had clearly hurt it severely. It had panted and moved about and shuddered for days after. And licked the raw places the iron nails had touched, looking at Jane with real understanding that it was Jane and Jane alone who had caused all this misery. Some sort of allergy, had to be. As she herself had an allergic reaction to metals, she had a faint sympathy for her tourist draw. Her ears grew into bright red, pus-filled horrors if she wore earrings. She had tried three times to have pierced ears. Same result every time.
Of course other places had tigers and bears and alligators for draws. Or some sort of sideshow. She had heard of a small hole in the road somewhere in the wilds of the Cascades, somewhere in Oregon, where they kept a naked two-headed boy on a chain. And the tourists could pay money to watch this two-headed naked boy being fed rats. Or chickens. Sort of a messed up version of the circus geek, usually a male who had bitten the heads off live animals for people’s amusement. As people were highly amused by watching cruelty and observing freaks. Always had been. Always would be, no matter the clime of political correctness.
The two goblins disguised as children went back to their table where their parents, two ordinary pinkish sorts, were slurping down chicken fried steaks and talking about leaving their awful offspring somewhere for others to raise. Or so Jane imagined. She liked to amuse herself imagining rather terrible things about her customers. It helped her deal with their demands and impossible arrogances. It helped her deal with their disbelief that an actual tiny dragon existed, let alone existed in a cage in Idaho City, Idaho, Boise County, United States of America. She considered such dark fantasies harmless and was very good at wiping her face clear of any actual emotion or reaction she might have felt toward anyone.
It was that night that the dragon disappeared.