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Short story: “Fire and brimstone”

This started with a sentence and grew from that.

Simple, short and self contained for once. Proceed with caution, for here there be dragons:

***

*****

“Honestly, it just seemed like a good idea at the time.”

The girl rocked slightly in her chair, strangely nonchalant considering the severity of the situation.

“So, let me repeat it all one more time, because I’m not sure if I heard you correctly the first time.”

The man pinched the bridge of his nose wearily, pushing up his glasses slightly.

“You and your friends had decided to trespass on someone else’s property, on which you found a strange creature hidden away in a shack and you decided it was a “good idea at the time” to take this thing home with you.”

The girl blew out a pink bubble of the gum she was chewing. It popped noisily and stuck to her nose.

“Yeah, pretty much”, she said, struggling to peel the sticky mess off her nose. “It just looked so cute and harmless!”

The man let out a deep sigh, carrying with it all the long hours he’d spent on call, answering phone calls with reports from panicked citizens and keeping in touch with animal services as they struggled to come up with some way to detain the runaway creature.

“A strange scaled creature that looks like a five foot chicken, a snake and a tiger combined is what you consider cute?”

The girl just gave him a vacant stare and shrugged.

“Well, he was cuter when he was little. He just started to…grow bigger.”

“And when did it occur to you that this “cute and harmless” thing was more than you kids could handle?”

The girl frowned and actually took some time to really ruminate on her answer for once. Or at least that’s what it looked like.

“I guess…It was when the neighbor’s dog disappeared”, she said, pushing the hair out of her eyes. “We didn’t realize he’d eaten it until we found the dog’s collar in his pen.”

“And why did you not report him to the authorities when that happened?”

“Well, no one liked that stupid old dog anyway. It was mean and nasty. It just barked at every one, keeping my dad up all night…And it always attacked smaller dogs that got close to it. We all felt it had it coming.”

She stretched her long and lanky limps, yawning. “So, how much longer are you going to keep me locked up here? I already told you everything.”

“Well, this pet of yours has run amok in the city for two days now, eating everything it could sink its teeth in and destroyed property for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The fire brigade is completely worked out.”

“Well, I didn’t know it could breathe fire too”, the girl exclaimed. “And when we found out it did, when it set the school on fire, that’s when we called the police!”

“How convenient for you, that you waited until your creature had extended your spring break indefinitely.”

He found it impossible not to roll his eyes at her. She tried and failed to hide that hint of a smirk that flickered across her face.

“Well, nothing to do about that now, right? We all did the right thing in the end!”

His pen did a tap-tap on the tabletop. The girl was right. There was no way they could prove they’d set fire to the school on purpose. All of the kids he’d questioned so far had given pretty much the same general story. The same story, but not the kind of identical story that made you suspect they’d agreed on what to say beforehand.

And as all of them were below the age of 18, there was nothing much that could be done but give them a slap on the wrist and maybe a day of community service.

That might do them some good actually. Maybe have them volunteer at the city animal shelter, it might teach them what to do with strange animals they find in the future instead of raising them in their garage where it can be a danger to everyone that lives in the neighborhood.

“Well, I guess we are more or less done here for now…” he began, pulling back his chair with a creaking sound.

The girl’s face lit up and her mouth opened as if she wanted to say something when the door burst open and one of the younger officers came in, out of breath and sweating bullets.

“The thing…We finally cornered it. We managed to turn it back towards the harbor; it’s holed up in the shipping area. It got mighty upset when it realized it couldn’t set fire to those steel shipping containers!”

Was he seeing things or did the girl actually look upset? Did she still have feelings for that monster?

“Well, it seems I have to go make sure your pet is properly taken care of”, he said, pulling his jacket off the chair, nodding towards the girl and then he turned towards the younger officer.

“You make sure she stays with her friends until their parents show up to pick them up.”

There was a car outside waiting for him and the driver offered him a salute as he got in.

“Animal services wants to know if they have the go ahead or if they should wait for you.”

“I want to see the end of this with my own eyes”, he said solemnly. “Tell them I’ll be right there.”

***

The entire city had a slight smell of fire and brimstone, but the harbor really stunk of it by the time he got there. There was a smell of a runaway fire and the air was thick with smoke. He was offered a mask the second he climbed out of the car.

“We think we finally wore it out”, another officer said as he came up to the rest of them, all of them turning around to salute him. Up at the front the animal services people were huddled together, wearing the fire proof gear they’d borrowed from the fire department.

“It hasn’t done much in the past fifteen minutes”, one of them said when he came up to them, uniform genderless shapes hidden under all that protective gear.

“Well, let’s see if we can’t end this messy affair then”, he said and nodded.

He peered between the shoulders of the heavily clothed personnel and finally got his first really good look the creature. Before the thing had been a constantly moving streak in the sky, always spewing fire and ash everywhere, hissing like an angry viper.

What he saw huddled up inside the large shipping container was a long and lean creature, with orange scales that shimmered like the fire it produced. Its neck and back was lined with striped orange fur and its ornate feathered wings lay tucked up against its sides, which were moving like bellows. The forest green eyes studied them all carefully even as it panted, its forked tongue lolling out of its mouth like a dogs. Its bird-like front legs were splayed out, twitching slightly.

Suddenly he felt sorry for it.

“What were you planning on doing with it?” he asked the man in charge of animal services.

“We…Thought it might be easier to just put it to sleep. We think we finally have the right concentration…”

“How about…You lower that….Just knock it out good and long.”

The man paused. “Well, we don’t really have the facilities to keep such a creature safe and contained.”

He rubbed his chin, deep in thought.

“I think I might have some idea…”

***

It was late, way too late, but he had to see it off to the bitter end. He’d promised himself as much.

It had been hard to get a hold of his friend on account of the time difference, but eventually she’d picked up the phone. She’d been surprised about the request, but she could quickly see why he’d come to her asking for help.

And now the crate was being loaded up and on its way. They’d stuffed the thing full of the kinds of food the kids had reported the thing preferred.

He felt certain the creature would enjoy its new home, right nearby an active volcano. There would be little there for it to destroy that the volcano would not have taken care of in time and the only people around was his researcher friend and her small staff of locals.

They’d been warned of what was coming and would know to keep away from it. He had suggested they keep it fed. That seemed to make it more docile.

The wind in his face brought with it the salty smell of the ocean.

And a hint of fire and brimstone.

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