Junie B. May Meets a Dragon
by Kelly Weber
The dragon attacked at nightfall, as dragons are wont to do — they come the way your month’s blood does, red and crimpy and only partly by surprise, leaving everyone in just a fine mood.
Arkansas-asaw ain’t known for dragons particularly — Kansas-ee gets more that kind of crowd — but we get our share, and this one came right in the middle of the annual summer picnic, just as Father Harold was finishing his twenty-minute sermon.
Could sort of hear the dragon coming: a low, steady rumble. And big? It was so big it made one of them fancy-dance new hot air balloons look like a fly on a mule. Came right up over the tall grass and landed in the middle of the big fat amen.
“My holy Jesus God!” hollered Father Harold, which I thought a bit excessive for a picnic, and Johnny’s mother passed out stone-cold right into her mashed potatoes. Someone had the good mind to shout, “Save her from drowning!” and pull her head free, but I reckon she would’ve been all right. Already lived and breathed her food anyway.
Don’t nothing prepare you for a dragon — you hear all about them wings and smoldering fire, but don’t mean nothing till it’s burning down telephone poles. It stomped a few stores and squished Johnny Rate’s leg, though I think maybe that was an accident. And soon’s it flew back off into the sun like a worm into an apple, we reconoitered in what was left of the town hall.
It would come back. Just what dragons do. Like Bible salesmen and certain diseases. So Father Harold presided with Johnny’s outhouse for a podium and ashes floating behind as if the Burning Bush had lit him on fire.
“Let’s poison it,” said Stephen Sodder, whose best picnic table had been burned up. Lord, I never heard a man scream so high.
“Sugarsweet’s cow’s sick.”
“Dragon’s gonna want that?”
“Don’t seem too particular.”
“You volunteering to push it out there? And anyway, the cow could give it powerful indigestion.”
Stephen got quiet.
“I got it!” Sonny yelled. “Let’s get a real sacrifice! Like from all them old tales!”
Well, we women weren’t too keen on it, but we didn’t seem to have much of a choice, so we drew lots. The first one was Mrs. Leattie, who was about 107 and way too old going by all the tales, so we drew again. And guess who got the winning lot?
“You’re gonna be rewarded in heaven,” panted Father Harold as he and everyone else marched me out with ropes on my wrists.
“It gonna eat me?”
“If it tries... well, I, I reckon the light of God’ll blow its head clean off. Then you won’t have nothing to worry about.”
Nothing my foot. They needn’t have bothered with ropes, since it’s so flat here they could’ve seen me running for days. Whatever they say about “curve of the earth” don’t apply to Arkansas-asaw. Never really did follow rules, scientific or otherwise.
We stopped in a field, and Father Harold said a few words about “bless this sacrifice” and “yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of an overgrown lizard, I will be delivered, amen,” and then he and everyone else took off back to town.
I stood toeing and tapping my foot till the dragon came swinging out of the sky and just ’bout knocked me flat. Scooped me right up and took off in a whirl of grass, and I pretty much figured that was the end of me, except two wing-beats cross the field it fell and nearly crushed me.
Wasn’t till I got up and shook myself off I saw how poorly it looked. Couldn’t even get a good dragon to be sacrificed to: ragged spines and wings that looked like paper been erased too many times. I looked back, but no little smudges were running to come save me. Can’t blame folks. I put my hand on my hip and waited for the dragon to hurry up killing me or go off and die.
It raised its head up, and... it looked into me, and I looked into it — into its mind, I mean. And it started to flake and crumble and catch on fire, and the flames spread to me and before I knew it, I had wings sprouting and scales crackling out all over and a big new tail and neck so long I felt I could see clear over the horizon.
See, that’s how dragons live so long: when they get ready to die, they pass the flame on to the next person. Before it got to me as a little bitty old dragon, it was a lady in Philadelphia, who was able to push her scaly hide all the way into libraries and Congress afterwards cause, well, ain’t nobody really gonna say no to a dragon.
It took ’em a few weeks to let me back into town. I had to promise not to eat any more cattle till I bought ’em first. But when I did, Mrs. Leattie pulled me aside and said, “Junie B., your jaw may be an ugly sight bigger, but don’t you forget you was once small. You been given something. Earn it. Gotta earn it. Then maybe you can go places. Just ’cause you can roar, that don’t mean people don’t have to tell you ‘no’ anymore. But don’t let ’em tell you ‘no’ for the wrong reasons.”
I’m still figuring out what’s the right reasons, but I love angling into the smell of cattle in the evening and looking at the sun dead-on. People got the right to tell me ‘no’ in life, ’cept when they don’t, and I’m learning to use these wings to fly farther than fields, ’cause if I eat one of Father Harold’s prize cows, not even scales gonna save me.
Copyright © 2015 by Kelly Weber