Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Dragon's Lair- a short story

Here is a short story, inspired by a table and a prompt about a dragon. 

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     The Dragon’s Lair wasn’t a fitting name for a coffee house. A tattoo parlor maybe, or a strip club, but a coffee house? It just didn’t fit, but at least it was somewhere that James could get some writing done since his apartment was now hostile territory. Lauren had seen to that.
     She’d ripped his heart out. Everything had been going fine. James had even been thinking of proposing. At least he hadn’t bought the ring yet. The icing on the cake was that they still had six months left on their lease and neither of them had the money to end it early, so they were forced to keep living together. It was hell. Even when Lauren was at work the apartment was suffocating; he could feel her presence everywhere. He couldn’t write in that environment.
     First he’d tried the library, but it was deader than a cemetery. He didn’t know how a man who loved books could hate a library, but he did. The place had a vampiric energy to it—it sucked the life out of him, and he didn’t have much life left to spare. After the library he’d tried Starbucks, but if the library was vampiric than the Starbucks was Stepford—he figured if he ordered too many coffees he might feel compelled to go out and get a nine to five job and buy a minivan.  
     If he hadn’t discovered the Dragon’s Lair he might’ve just given up on finishing his novel. He’d found it the previous day while driving around. An accident on the main road had forced him to turn into a shopping center. He’d driven around to the back, hoping to take a side road, and spotted it. James had never been anywhere like it. He’d gotten hours of writing done, and the owner—an intriguingly beautiful woman named Sari—had served as a bonus.  
     Entering The Dragon’s Lair was like stepping into—well, maybe a dragon’s lair. The walls were painted a bright red; combined with the many windows it created a strange contrast of light and dark. Even though he'd been there before, it still came as a shock to him. As he walked to the counter he glanced at the table he already thought of as his favorite, disappointed to find it occupied. It was in the corner and provided the perfect view for people-watching—James’s default activity when he hit writer’s block.
     At the counter he smiled at Sari, who gave him a broad smile in return. Sari was as fitting a name for her as The Dragon’s lair was to a coffee shop. To James, a Sari should be petite and pixie-like. This woman was anything but. She was tall for a woman, hell she was tall for a man—she was at least a couple inches taller than James’s 6’1”.
     Sari’s large, muscular body was a canvas. Though James had spent plenty of time staring at her many tattoos the previous day, he found himself doing so again. Her hands and arms were covered, as was her chest up to her collarbone. They were all dragons. There must’ve been hundreds of them: large, small, detailed, simple . . . Some were woven into the wings and bodies of other dragons. Some were drawn into the fire coming out of the mouths of others. Finding them was like a puzzle, one that James waned to solve.
     “Didn’t you get a good enough look enough yesterday?” she asked.
     He leaned over the counter and gave her his special smile—the one that had gotten Lauren into bed on their second date. “Oh no, not nearly good enough.” A wave of guilt overcame him and he stepped back. A second later he reminded himself that he was single again; he was allowed to flirt.
     “What’ll it be?” she asked.
     “Coffee. Large.”
     “Is that all?”
     “Yeah. None of that fancy shit,” he said.
     That earned him another smile just before she turned to pour the coffee. He admired her tight jeans, this time ignoring the guilt. When she turned back she set the cup down with a wink and tossed her vivid hair over her shoulder. He blinked, waiting for the afterimages to pass. Staring at her hair was like dropping acid and looking at one of those posters with the swirls of color. Not that James had ever done that—well not since he was a teenager anyway. Sari’s hair, which was a mix of red, green, and purple made him feel as though he was on LSD. It wasn’t an unwelcome feeling.
     “I think I’m going to write you into my book,” he said.
     “Is that a compliment?”
     “For you? Yes.”
     “In that case, I’m intrigued,” she said, her black eyes sparkling with interest. For a moment he was lost in their depths; he felt like he was falling. Suddenly he was afraid, though of what he didn’t know. His heart pounded and he had the urge to turn and leave when someone behind him cleared her throat.
     “Hey, are you gonna pay for that? Some of us are waiting.”
     James glanced briefly at the woman behind him. “Sorry,” he said. He turned back to Sari, feeling stupid. The moment was broken; whatever he’d been afraid of had passed.
     Sari’s dark eyes drilled a hole in him, as if she knew what he was feeling. “That’ll be $2.45, and you get a free refill.”
     He handed her the money, watching her large hands as she did. He let his imagination wander to the things she could do with those long fingers. When she handed him his change her fingers brushed his; her skin was rougher than it looked, adding a note of realism to his fantasies. Rough hands meant they got a lot of use and he liked that idea.
     He gave her a tip that was larger than necessary for simply having poured a cup of coffee.
     “Thank you,” she said.
     “Anytime.” He flashed her that smile again before walking away. His earlier annoyance returned when he saw that his table was still occupied. He gave the table thief—an older man with a gray beard—a long hard glare before sitting down across from him, where he would be well positioned to continue to stare. Maybe he could intimidate the man into moving. James continued to stare at the man until he realized his efforts were completely futile. The guy was clearly a writer, which meant he possessed an uncanny ability to shut out the entire world.
     James sighed and turned around, resigning himself to dealing with a subpar table. Pulling his laptop out, he opened up the document and set to work. He was on the second draft of his first novel. There were only a few more chapters left to go, but since the breakup it felt like someone had poured tar in his brain. That someone was Lauren.
     He sipped his coffee, pushing Lauren from his head and focusing on the fantasy world he’d created. His fingers danced across the keyboard, but not nearly as fast as he would’ve liked. They were clumsy, not deft like they used to be. Still, something was better than nothing. He sipped and typed, glancing behind him every few minutes in the hopes that his table had freed up, but it hadn’t.
     He wrote a few more paragraphs, finished his coffee, and got up for a refill. Another round of flirting with Sari perked up his mood. When he returned he found that the corner table, his table, was empty. At first he was happy until a voice in the back of his mind whispered: wrong. His stomach churned and he was suddenly lightheaded. It was wrong, that empty table. Just before he’d gotten up, it had been occupied by a man who hadn’t looked like he would be moving anytime soon. Now it was empty. James hadn’t seen the man get up. There you go again, letting your imagination run wild.
    Feeling stupid, he set his coffee cup on the corner table, gathered his laptop and backpack, and carried them over. Once he was settled his fingers flew over the keyboard, barely keeping up with the ideas that popped into his head. When he got up for his third cup of coffee he barely even paid attention to what Sari said. He drained his fourth cup just as he finished the epilogue. There was editing to be done—a lot of it—but he was finished. He felt like dancing.
     He should be tired, but he wasn’t. He might as well get started on the edits. Within minutes he was lost in his story again. It had been ages since he’d gotten so much done, and it felt good. Hell, it felt amazing. He was so lost in the world he’d created that he didn’t notice the table and chair were moving.
     “Another perfectionist. I should’ve known,” Sari said.
     “What?” he muttered. As much as James enjoyed flirting with Sari, he wasn’t in the mood anymore; he was in the zone.
     When she didn’t answer he looked up and gasped. He wasn’t in The Dragon’s Lair anymore. He was still sitting at his table—the precious table he’d wanted so badly—but the rest of the shop was gone. There was no other furniture in the room, no windows. There was nothing but red walls and gray cement floors. Sari stood in front of his table, towering above him.      
     “What the hell? Where am I?”
     Sari smiled, opening her mouth in a way she hadn’t before, revealing sharp, pointy teeth. “Welcome to my lair, James.”
     He felt like he was missing something, but he was suddenly too light-headed to think clearly. “What’s going on?”
     She took a step closer. “It’s okay. It’s only the basement, James. Your table’s an elevator.”
     “An elevator?” He couldn’t wrap his mind around it. Her image blurred in front of him. There were two of her and he struggled to focus, but his brain kept trying to think about his novel and the edits he’d been working on. Think, James!
     “I love a focused man,” Sari said, dreamily. “A war could’ve been going on outside and you wouldn’t have noticed.”
     “What did you do? What are you?” He couldn’t think straight. The walls, those horrible bright red walls were moving. No, the walls weren’t moving, but something on them was. The paint. The red paint. It was dripping, oozing, moving down.
     Sari’s smile widened, showing more of those perfectly pointed teeth. “You really haven’t figured that out yet?”
     “What kind of a sick joke is this?” It wasn’t a joke at all; she’d drugged him. That had to be it. He looked in the empty coffee cup, as if that would give him a clue. But the clue wasn’t in the cup—it was in that wild, rainbow hair. “Did you give me LSD?”
     She laughed. “Something like that. It’s my venom. It helps you focus and keeps you calm. Don’t worry, it’ll take the pain away.”
     “Pain?”
     She nodded. “Trust me. You’ll be thanking me.” She took a step back, pulled her tank top over her head, and tossed it on the floor. Okay, now he was definitely hallucinating, but wow, what a hallucination. Calm and casual as can be, she unzipped her jeans and slipped them off. “I always take them off first. Otherwise, they rip,” she said in answer to his puzzled look, though this really wasn’t an explanation at all.
     God help him, he was still attracted to her. He should be making a run for it, not that there was anywhere to run to. He didn’t see a door, and even if he did, he wouldn’t make it around Sari. She was too big. Had she gotten bigger? It seemed as though she had. She took up nearly every inch of space in the room.
     Crazy or not, she was captivating. He’d been right: she had more tattoos. Her stomach, chest, breasts, legs—pretty much every inch of her exposed skin was covered in ink. The ink depicted dragons. Dragons, he thought, understanding dawning on him
     “Venom. My god, you psycho, you think you’re a dragon,” he said with a laugh. It was a crazed laugh. It was the laugh of a man who knew he was doomed.
     “Oh, is that what I think?” She moved closer, her tail swishing behind her as she did. Wait—her tail? James tilted his head and looked and yes, she did indeed have a tail. It took up the entire length of the floor. It was covered in scales of greens, blues, and reds, all kinds of colors and if James were a dragon himself he would want to take Sari to bed. Or to the pile of gold. Did dragons do it on top of their treasure?
     He wasn’t thinking straight. That would be the LSD, which was making him see a tail, because surely this woman did not have a tail. She was not a dragon. Nor did she have scales, though that’s what her tattoos looked like: scales. Her body was covered in scales.
     Sari moved forward and reached with clawed hands for his laptop. “No!” He made to grab it, but he couldn’t move.
    “Did I mention that my venom is paralytic?” she asked. “But don’t worry, your story is safe.” With a delicacy he wouldn’t have thought possible with her huge hands (claws?) she lifted his laptop, closed it, and carried it to the far corner of the room where she gently laid it on the floor. “I can’t say the same about you,” she said, moving toward him again.
     Panicking, James shouted, “I’m not a virgin!”
     Sari laughed, a harsh sound that was like boulders falling down a mountain. Her body rumbled with it, shaking the entire room. Her hair—a wash of colors—swayed around her head. Since when did dragons have hair? As James watched her, he realized her hair continued to move and that it wasn’t hair at all—it was fire. The flames danced atop Sari’s head. The sight was magnificent. “I hate stereotypes. Not all dragons want virgins. My tastes are a little different.”
     “You have a taste for writers?”
     She nodded and came closer, shoving the table aside.
     “But I’m not any good,” he said in one last attempt to get her away from him.
     She pressed against him, on top of him now. Her large body should’ve crushed him, but it didn’t. “Yes, you are. Some dragons can smell virgins, but I can smell talent. I want yours.”
     “I don’t have any treasure. Trust me, you don’t want old that thing. It’s a relic,” he said, nodding in the direction of his laptop, though Sari’s large body—which was now entirely reptilian—was blocking it.
     “The laptop isn’t the treasure. It’s what’s on the laptop.” Sari’s voice was muffled, probably because her mouth was buried in his arm. She was right: her venom did take the pain away. Hell, it was pleasant. He almost didn’t know he was being eaten.
     “You—you’re a dragon with a taste for writers and your treasure is stories.” He leaned back and closed his eyes as she breathed a gust of fire on him—apparently she liked her meat cooked. The warmth was pleasant after the air-conditioned coffee shop.
     “Yes. You’re a talker, has anyone ever told you that? But it’s been awhile since I’ve had a chat over dinner. It’s nice,” she said, spraying bits of food as she spoke. She slurped up a mouthful of blood to wash down his flesh.
     “Good. What kind of a dragon name is Sari?” he asked, feeling sleepy.
     “It’s actually Sarikyvalixaxblskyginami. But you can keep calling me Sari, for as long you’ll be calling me anything.” She’d moved down to his stomach, and it was true that he wasn’t likely to be calling her anything for much longer.
     “Sari, this isn’t real,” he mumbled.
     “Isn’t it?” she asked.
     He didn’t know, and maybe he didn’t care. Her venom took care of the physical pain, but not the pain in his heart. That was still there. But hey, he’d finished his novel, and even better, someone wanted it. And just like he’d said, he’d written Sari into it. If only he’d been able to foresee the ending.