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Dan A. Cardoza 

A Dragon in the Woodshed

 

Tobias sits in junior physics. He does his best to think about something, anything other than the calculations of higher math it takes to turn into a Gaussian waveform. To understand, think of a Gaussian waveform as how physicists imagine white noise. 

Doer, his best bud, is seated next to Toby. He’s seen this before. He shoots Toby side-eye, hoping it will distract him away from igniting and burning the entire school down. Doer chuckles inside as he squints through the electronic vapor that is Toby. He imagines his friend Toby as some kind of half-baked electronic.gif that keeps repeating. 

Plague fatigue caused all the students to imagine that anything is possible in their new landscape. Maybe their classmate is jumpy. Or maybe, he is a young tuning fork. They could feel Toby's silent sound, the same way elephants communicate with one another. 

Along with the other students, the two friends recently returned to high school. The student’s once predictable landscape turned upside down. Their minds turned toward dark spaces, no longer prisms capable of reflecting and analyzing light. After all, the world is sprung, making what is impossible, probable.

Toby sits kinetic and wavy, like those cast members who’d been teleported on board in the vintage T.V. show, Star Trek. 

He’d become this Fourth of July sparkler who’d begun to emit fits of anger, mostly invisible to the untrained eye. Just thinking about his stepfather’s antics at the Black Butte Saloon in town has left him more than pissed for the day. He fumes, nearly frying the delicate circuitry of his synapse.

Doer, as usual, is confident that his friend Toby will keep things together, even though Tobias is working hard at becoming a digital stutter, an aberration, a quirk. 

And yet, Doer is aware that Toby is entering the realm of slate-scaled dragons, or at least the territory where they genuinely exist and thrive. 

Later the same day, after school, Cedric, Toby’s Dungeon Master stepfather, orders him to the woodshed to split wood and kindling for an evening fire. Even though spring is coming, it remains cold in the mountains of Northern California. 

The dragon’s woodshed is dark. It sports a single-paned window that faces most of the inclement weather. To the window, direct sunshine is a stranger.

According to the T.V. weatherman, the next morning’s temperature will dip into the twenties. This means the house's dragon-clawed cast iron stove is hungry, and his stepfather’s house will need feeding. 

Toby's shape-shifting is dramatic. He's enlarging so fast that his dorsal and caudal fins rake against the Douglas fir walls and the heavily planked ceiling. Toby works up an honest sweat using an ax, splitting maul, and iron wedge. Fortunately, the hot flames he emits don’t engulf him or Doer in the tight confines of the woodshed. 

His best friend is a young man who caught the name Evil-Doer in his freshman year of high school. Don’t ask? 

In the woodshed, Doer sits comfortably on a stump dressed in skater-dude shorts and a Metallica tee, his skateboard propped up against the wall behind him. Doer appears chill, like a stooped shouldered mouse in a slivery corner. He mostly watches and listens to his friend Toby as he rants, rages, and splits kindling.

Doer’s bitch session can wait for another day.

Doer is fashizzle. Even while sitting, he generates multiple wattages of charisma. At high school, it's no different. Doer is like a shaman. He can relate to anyone. 

He’s been created with equal parts intelligence and rugged handsomeness. He is a photogenic, younger, a sepia Marlon Brando. Marlon Brando is the long dead Oscar winning actor who lies buried in his great grandfather’s eight track cassette collection. The two friends love Brando’s movie Rebel without a Cause. 

According to Evil, great friendships have more to do about sharing empathy than ego. He has an expansive mind filled with heart and soul beyond his age. 

Though Toby needs some taming, Evil-Doer firmly believes that his friend, the terrible dragon, will eventually evolve to the point where he feels more comfortable in the skin of a boy-man. 

Toby is classically good looking, with fiery red hair and a chiseled chin, a whisker shy of the sharp edge of a hatchet. 

He's well on his way to spontaneously combusting, for a good reason. But for the longest time, that day in the woodshed, Toby isn’t human. Hell, he’d nearly caught fire and melted down at school, and now he’s displaying hot raw anger.

“Let it go,” Doer says. 

"Let it go. My F-ing stepfather Cedric will basically pay for you to go to college, dude?"

Dragon turns away, momentarily torching the bolted shut cedar door into shades of cinnamon. 

Evil-Doer speaks. 

“Toby, it’s not exactly like that, but I get what you mean!” 

“Yeah, sure, do you, Doer?”

The axe falls. It’s shiny. At first appearance, the titanium might be on fire. The awkward scythe splits the top of the stump in two with a pronounced thwack. The dried pine explodes into kindling meant for the metal belly of the family's cast iron stove. 

Doer raises his voice, "What the F, man?"

“That’s his skull, Cedric’s skull,” flames the rusty haired boy. “That’s my stepfather’s skull.” 

Wood sparks click against the shed’s wooden walls, then settle and burn out. 

Toby’s neck veins bulge and pulse, eels in tight holes. Dragon sweat spatters the rustic planked floor.

 

Doer is gifted when it comes to seeing through Toby’s white noise, the photoelectric scramble, even in the shadowy woodshed. He observes the tall dragon child closely, quite amused. He watches the voltaic fire breather chop at the wood. 

Doer knows the dragon’s heart to be infected with passion, perhaps too much passion? But Doer has more confidence in his friend than Toby has in himself. Time will teach the fire breather a thing or two. 

As Toby fractures the wood, his scales shuffle cards, his razor sharp claws and beak as sharp as a falcon. But Doer knows the natural temperament of this dragon and how his sharp cutting tools will never be used as weapons. 

In terms of Doer's disposition, he's never shed a tear in his life. He simply looks at the world differently. To him, life is more about waiting for the right opportunity. To Evil-Doer, any thoughts of revenge run deep and cold.

Doer is an only child. He’s the son of a young single mother, a woman who’d dropped out of high school. She lives with a ton of responsibility. Doer knows that, and so he cuts her slack when she makes terrible choices or how she chooses to earn a living. 

Merissa works part-time as a bartender at the Black Butte Saloon in town. She earns most of her income after hours, down the street, at one of several hotels. She keeps the company of the regulars, as well as strangers. But her specialty is taking care of married men. 

They are the ones who carry the steepest tabs at the alt-named Star Wars Mos Eisley Cantina (Black Butter Saloon). It’s an out of this world watering hole where it isn’t unheard of for Merissa to sleep with the occasional Jabba the Hutt or horny creature right out of the movie Dune. Cedric happens to be one of her regulars. 

It’s a miracle that the dragon-boy and Doer remain best friends. 

Merissa saves every spare dime she earns. Her gifted boy is damned well going to college in a few years. Her son is a junior in high school. She’s hell-bent on ensuring that the total sum of her mistakes equals something right.   

In Evil-Doer's mind, shedding a single tear is the equivalent of a master jeweler accidentally shattering a most exquisite diamond. Showing too much emotion will surely make him blur like his dragon friend, turning him into white noise or some kind of cosmic radio frequency on other planets. 

Not in this damned life, he’d say to himself. 

It’s not to say that he doesn’t think about disappearing occasionally, especially when he feels glued together with barbed wire and sutures. 

In truth, this Doer character is a survivor. He’s destined to go places. 

 His close friendship with Toby helps keep him grounded. It makes living on the periphery of his mill town culture tolerable.  

“You are a soft hearted wussy, buddy. You’re not going to burn up your stepfather or hurt anyone. You’re not built that way. Let karma take care of the bastard,” says Doer.

“Watch me, Evil, I’ll torch that S.O.B.”

“Right, okay, then I guess we might be having our future heart-to-hearts in the visitation room at San Quinton?”

Toby wipes his forehead with the back of his gloved fist. He grimaces while tugging on a buried ax he’d pounded into the stump. He cocks the ax behind his right shoulder and shoots it across the length of the woodshed. The winged, flaming ax sticks tightly in the wall, clear across the woodshed. 

"You are correct, Doer, as usual, damned you. Splitting my stepfather’s empty skull in half isn’t worth it. Besides, it’s a poor way to dull a perfectly sharp ax blade. He has nothing to show for his miserable life except for the despair he’s caused others.”

Doer rises and fist bumps Toby. He flops back down on his wooden stool. He leans back against the wall. 

“You know I’m just angry, Doer, right? Who in the hell wants to go to prison anyway?”

“You could have fooled me, killer. But I sure in the hell love the mental picture of a dragon behind bars. And what about the shitty prison food, dude? That would be enough to kill you!”

They belly laugh. 

 "Nice one, Doer. You really know how to throw shade. Thanks for being my woodshed psychologist?" 

“You’re welcome, Dragon-boy.” 

“I wish I were more like you, Doer.” 

"No, you don’t,” quips Doer.

Doer Williams isn’t into sanctimonious bullshit. He gives back more than he takes tenfold. Fortunately, very few of his enemies have crossed the boy known as Evil-Doer.

He will indeed grow into a well respected and successful man one day. He’ll make his mother, Merissa, really proud of all her sacrifices. 

That day in the woodshed, Doer got through to Toby. He explained that respect is earned by deed and action, not fire and brimstone. 

Little did they know then that once in college, the two best friends would eventually travel in different directions and shine in other universes. As often happens with childhood memories, they remain just that–memories. Oftentimes, we even outgrow our memories.   

Toby is thankful. He attempts to mix tears with enough sweat to prevent him from appearing weak. But in truth, he hasn’t fooled anyone. 

Having twisted his bed sheets into fists a time or two, surely Doer knows the ways of the elusive demon called anxiety. Thus, it’s easy for Evil to feel compassion and empathy toward the dragon. 

To send her only son off to college, Doer’s mother, Merissa, committed long ago to do anything necessary to get him there. Her son’s diploma would undoubtedly be worth more than the sum total of her self-esteem. 

The young dragon’s bellows have slowed. Doer watches as Toby turns off the scorching flames like a jet’s afterburners. 

Doer observes the natural, healthy rhythm of his friend’s chest as he sheds his chevron scales. He watches in wonder as his friend shape-shifts back into a kind young man. Near the end transformation, there is calmness. Toby is a boy once again, a young boy hell bent on reaching manhood. 

Next, Toby loosens the ax stuck in the stump. He places it against the wall next to the workbench.  

“I wish I were you sometimes, Doer. At least you don’t have a wicked stepfather, the person who single handedly humiliates us both.” 

“Hello, fire head–remember I deal with my own shit. Remember how my father died?” 

“That’s gross. I know how much you loved him, Doer?”

“I still do, Toby. So stay strong. One day you can flap those big clumsy dragon wings and fly off into the sunset. A big world is out there waiting for you.”

“What about my mother, Lenore, Doer? What do you think will happen to her when I’m gone? My stepfather treats her like shit, but I'm sure it gets worse when they are alone.” 

“From my vantage point over here in the corner, Mr. Basilisk, your mother might sprout her own special set of wings, perhaps like one of those creatures in the first Avatar movie. And then, she will fly away too. I suggest she may do that sooner than you think, dude. That's when she'll need you most, Toby."

“I'll be there for her, Doer, no matter where I end up.”

“Sometimes, reality takes its time, Toby. It may be late occasionally, but it always shows up. It’s as certain as death and taxes. It is how we handle it that matters."

“No shit,” exhales Toby, his long tail wagging to and from, scraping against the ceiling and the floor like some kind of giant golden retriever might do. As Toby relaxes, his mutated tail begins to disappear very slowly. 

Not long after, the shed door bursts open. Toby and Doer appear iridescent in the faint pulse of light through the parting clouds. It’s just the two of them, again, arms full of wood meant to feed Toby’s cast iron monster. The temperature is dropping, but at least the rain has stopped. It’s springtime, after all. 

The young boys shimmer and glisten in the wash of golden scaled sunlight. Their long day of mental stretch marks is ending. 

To the west, they can see God’s fireball as it slowly glides over the rim of the Cascade’s, gravity pulling the day’s reality into tomorrow. 

The two stare off into the distance as if preparing to transform or change again somehow. The cool air on their faces feels clean, if not pure. 

What remains of the day’s white noise is slowly turning into nightfall. 



 

Dan Cardoza's most recent darkness has been featured in BlazeVOX, Black Petals, Blood Moon Rising, Bull, Cleaver, Close to the Bone, Dark City Books, Dark Dossier, Dream Noir, The Horror Zine, Mystery Tribune, Suspense Magazine, Schlock Magazine, The Yard Crime Blog, Variant, and The 5-2. Anthologies: Coffin Bell Two, Running Wild Press, Anthology of Stories, Vita Brevis Poetry, Pain & Renewal, Chilling Tales for Dark Nights, Audio Horror Anthology (13 stories). Dan has also been nominated for Best of the Net and Best micro-fiction. 

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