Dedicated to my furstborn, who thinks he is much braver than he is, but really just has the sweetest and most tender heart, and often gets the short end of the stick now that he has a human sister.
The day I slayed my first dragon started off like any other. The sun greeted me with a gentle touch, and though my nose welcomed its warmth, I felt my body tight and tense: my toes still squeezed together, my hair still up, my jaw still clenched. Last night had been an all-too-real slaughter of tree-dwellers, and I was convinced I’d find myself amidst a blood bath, an explosion of matted grey fur and blue feathers. I peeked one eye open to assess my surroundings, but to my disappointment, there was no explosion, not a single feather or drop of blood. It was merely my room, just how I’d left it.
I noticed Father still in bed beside me, but saw that Mother was not, per the empty, sunken space where the sheets were folded over. I released an audible yawn and then army-crawled over to Mother’s side of the bed, feeling the still warm sheets across my belly. Both Mother and Father always got mad when I did this, but it was a desire I could never deny.
Just as I was drifting off to sleep again, I heard a sudden and loud noise in the other room. Most days, it was the high-pitched giggling of the Youngling that woke me, a sound I’d learned to ignore, much like the sound of her tiny feet peddling across the hardwood floors from room to room. But this clatter alerted me. My ears perked, listening. Then, a shriek of pain.
Immediately, I flew from the bed to the door in one swift swoop. Open you damned door! I commanded.
Through the small gap at the barrier’s bottom, a subtle pungent aroma crept in: it was the scent of Mother rushing out of the house in the morning, arms overstuffed; the scent of the Youngling crying at the sound of the garbage trucks going by; the scent of Father cursing at his computer.
Something was wrong.
I command you to open! I tried again, pulling my lips back this time. It defied me, as it usually did. But I did not surrender. Open! I commanded, louder.
In bed, Father stirred but only let out a snort. I turned to him, beckoning his assistance. Father, help, I groaned. He only snored louder. I had to face the door alone.
I prepared to unleash my final attack – pressing my snout into it with the full force of my strength – when I heard the screaming settle into a hushed whimper. My tail wagged furiously with anticipation as I heard footsteps approaching. Then with a sharp click, the door swung open, revealing Mother and the pouting youngling in her arms. The little one’s cheeks were wet, eyes swollen, and I longed to lick them, to inspect her, to defeat whatever caused her to be upset. But all I could do was wag and sniff at Mother’s knees.
“Come on, Wolfie,” Mother said. Her tone gave me pause. What is wrong, Mother?
“Beowulf, now!” Mother pushed me into the living room, sealing the barrier behind me. When she released the Youngling, I had no time to prepare. Though small, she is strong, and she was on me before I could retreat, squeezing her tiny arms around my neck.
“Woofie!” she screeched in that high-pitched voice. With no barrier to muffle the intensity of it, I winced. Release me, I commanded, which only made her grip tighten. “Awww!” She cooed.
There was no other option: I licked her cheeks forcefully, careful not to use my teeth, and she giggled and pulled away, setting me free. I aimed for her lips next, the way I see Mother and Father do, and lapped up a sweet, sticky goo. Mmmm, pancakes. The little one patted me away, swatting at my nose. “Woofie, stop it,” she squealed. “Mommy, Wolfie is giving me kisses!”
“Stop, Wolf,” Mother said. Again, her tone alerted me. I turned to her. She was on hands and knees, sweeping up crumbs with a napkin, the little’s one pink plate beside her. Mother, let me assist you! I ran to her, tongue ready to mop up the mess. I salivated at the smell, but Mother pushed her forearm into my chest, shoving me away. “Wolfie, no! Not for you!”
I tilted my head at her. It was not lost on me that Mother did not give me her usual greeting. No kiss on my snout. No rubs on my belly. Not even a pat on the head. What is wrong, Mother?
She didn’t even look up at me when she said, “Stop!”
A loud noise from behind grabbed my attention, and I turned to see the little one’s head deep in a box. Her tiny arms were speedily pulling things out, covering the floor with a plethora of things, all of it clinking together loudly as they landed. The Youngling released even more high-pitched yelps as she sifted through her pile, picking up one thing and tossing it aside before grabbing another. I didn’t hesitate. I ran to her side, inspecting for injury. What has hurt you, child?
“Eeeheehee!” She clapped her hands together. I sniffed at them, but did not detect the smell of harm.
“That’s it! Outside! Both of you!”
The Youngling and I froze. We knew that voice. My tail pulled towards my belly.
Mother’s hand was quick to the back door, swinging it open with force and urgency. She pointed outside. “Come on, Gabby. Go play outside while I clean the kitchen. Mommy needs a break.”
The little one’s head and shoulders sunk, but she walked to the door, grabbing the bin I usually inspected for spiders on her way outside. “Okaaaay,” she said. The smell of fear and anger were now wafting off the little one and Mother.
Mother, what is wrong? I attempted once more.
“You too, Beo,” Mother said, re-flinging her finger out the door. The urge to defend her, to comfort her, was strong, almost a vibrative desire throughout my whole body, but it was overpowered by the need to obey her. Ears, tail, and head down, I walked past her and out the door.
The moment my feet touched the concrete patio, all behind me was forgotten. The aroma of the yard rushed over me, and I sprinted to the lawn where the sun warmed my coat instantly. The sudden urge to pee overtook me, but I resisted. Nose to the ground, I surveyed the perimeter of the yard, following the worn path I’d proudly marked regularly for years, my self-imposed defensive barrier to protect my family. Once I’d ensured the safety of the yard, I relieved myself on my favorite tree, the large oak at the far end of the fence line. The branches above me shook.
Instantly, I was on guard, ready to fight. Intruder!
I looked up and saw a blue bird staring down at me.
I narrowed my eyes before digging my nails into the tree's trunk. Intruder! Intruder! Intruder!
The bird never stood a chance. Victoriously, I watched it flutter away. My house! I added for good measure.
So, the day really had been just like any other day. There hadn’t been anything unusual about it, other than Mother’s irritation, which wasn’t entirely uncommon since the Youngling arrived a few years back. All seemed well in our house. It wasn’t until I’d gone back to check on the little one, who had happily busied herself with dragging chalk into the cement, when things became interesting.
I sniffed at her colorful scribbles, looking for any signs of trouble. She screeched, “Wolfie, no! Get off my picture!” and pushed me away. Though I was only trying to help, I did not tell her that. Instead, I obeyed, stepping backwards, because even though she was no Mother or Father, my duty was still to her.
I remained nearby like I always do, continuing my inspections away from her fresh markings. Nose to the ground, tail high. Had I known my birth parents, they would have been proud of my form, I’d imagined. I buried my snout into each nook and crevice, each rock pile and crack in the area, passing over snail trails, fleets of marching ants, and lone roaming roly-polies, all of which I would have liked to spend a little more time inspecting for pure pleasure; but, I am not a puppy anymore. I have responsibilities. Priorities. So, I continued.
This was when things got a little interesting. I was scouring the space between two clay pots of flowers when my whiskers twitched at the sudden discovery of something new…Before I could further examine, I was startled by a guttural scream. Behind me, the Youngling launched herself backwards and tossed her chalk to the ground. “Get it, Woofie, get it!”
Instantly, my body was alert. I rushed to her side, a fury flaring in my tail as I searched for signs of harm. What is it? I demanded.
“There! There! There!” She jabbed her finger down, pointing behind me.
I followed the tiny finger with precision, scanning the area. There was no unusual scent. No visible attacker. Where, child? I pled for her to give me more, but she only pointed, terror emanating at her fingertips.
All hairs up, I sniffed the ground, pacing from left to right. Sniff. Sniff. Sniff. There was nothing but ants and small patches of green emerging from the cracks of the pavement. Not a clue for my nose, nor my eyes. I hurried, covering more and more ground with each paw forward. Nothing revealed itself, but I remained vigilant.
The Youngling wailed again: “Woofie!”
And then just like that, I saw it.
The creature was motionless between the two flower pots, stiller than gravel itself. It was covered in a kaleidoscope of green and black and white scales, a slight shimmer glaring across them. Its eyes were a pair of unblinking black dots, and its legs were camouflaged at its sides, making its body appear limbless and long. Its mouth opened wide, a hiss releasing from its bright pink cavity. I had never encountered such a beast in my life, but the moment I saw it, I knew exactly what it was.
I was face to face with a real-life dragon.
Intruder! Intruder! I growled.
The dragon showed no outward reaction to my warning, so unlike the squirrels and birds I am accustomed to battling. I tried again.
Intruder! Intruder! Intruder!
The wretched beast remained defiantly still. I felt a familiar tightening in my belly: the feeling of Father and Mother and Youngling putting on my collar and locking the door on their way out. I’d realized: I didn’t know how to fight this beast.
Behind me, as if she had sensed my hesitation, the little one sputtered with fear, jumping and down. I trotted to her, pressed my nose into her leg, assuring her: I protect, Youngling.
“Get it, Wolfie!”
I reminded myself: my duty is to protect. Against all things. Even ugly, fierce, and terrifying dragons – even though I did not entirely know they really truly existed. I swallowed my fear – For the Youngling – and approached the beast slowly, one paw, a second paw, lowering my nose in stride. There was no scent but the potted flowers. Such a mysterious creature. It hissed again, and I (embarrassingly) startled backwards.
Back, dragon! Stay back! I don’t want to hurt you!
To my surprise, the dragon slithered an inch forward, its slender body gliding across the rough ground as if it were water. No creature has defied me so audaciously. No creature has defended against me. A feeling bubbled up deep from my chest: the feeling of Father not giving me his leftover pizza crust after I asked for it several times. I could show no mercy.
I roared louder: Stay back! Leave! Leave, you wretched beast!
The dragon merely closed its mouth, but did not retreat. It remained, taunting me with its undying gaze.
I’ve slain many before you, I threatened.
It only blinked.
Perhaps, I was wearing it down. I felt the high of victory creeping up my chest. You cannot win, beast. I snarled, this time showing him my teeth.
Behind me, the back door swung open, but before I could turn to check on the Youngling, a sharp pain exploded across my nose. The dragon’s bite was tight and unrelenting as I shook my head furiously in response, swatting at it with alternating paws. Off, beast, off! I yelped. In the same moment I heard Mother’s voice, I felt a surge of relief flash in my face. The beast landed several feet from me, and I watched my writing assailant slither away, disappearing into the bushes. In front of me, the beast’s tail wiggled and flopped as if it were still attached.
Victory! I announced as I approached what was left of my defeated opponent. The Youngling cried on Mother’s hip.
“Shhh, it’s OK, honey. It looks like it’s gone now,” Mother said. She walked out onto the patio and set the little one down by her chalk. Mother kicked at the lone tail, flinging it towards the bushes, before squatting down in front of me. She cupped my jaw in her hands. “Aw, did you get bit, Wolfie?” Mother scratched behind my ears as she inspected my stinging nose. “It looks OK,” she said, patting my head.
“Hey, what’s going on? Why is Beo barking so much?”
Father! My gallant and noble leader! I sprinted the short distance, nudging my head into his knees, tail wagging with abandon, his favorite way to be greeted.
“I sent Gabby out here to play while I cleaned the kitchen, and I guess she saw a lizard. Beowulf tried to scare it off, but it bit him,” Mother said.
“Yeah, Daddy, I told him to get it, and it bit him right on his nose! He shook his head and flung it off,” the little one contributed proudly. “And its tail came off!”
“Ah, I see,” Father nodded. He bent down to rub my belly, and I wiggled into his hands. His voice an octave higher, he said, “Did you get the lizard, boy? Did you protect our little princess? Good boy! Good boy, Beowulf!” When he released me, I was disappointed. I’d expected a little more of a thank you for my bravery and service. But Father was a busy man so I just continued to nudge my head into his leg. “Exciting morning, huh?” he said to Mother.
“You don’t even know.”
The day continued on like usual from there. Father ate his breakfast at the table, while Mother, who seemed less irritable, and the Youngling, who refused to go back outside, played with the mess the little one had made earlier, though I was not sure why she was so scared to go back outside. Afterall, I’d slayed the dragon. But I wasn’t going to complain. All that excitement had made me tired, and I was about an hour late for my morning nap.
I leapt onto the unmade pile of sheets and blankets and circled the space twice before curling up right in the center where the last remaining sun patch provided my achy nose some warm relief. As I closed my eyes, I found myself hoping for a dream without scaly beasts, perhaps one filled with fluttering feathers and matted grey fur, or maybe, pancakes.