The beast looked out from within his cave, watching, waiting. He didn’t feel sociable today, but visitors were rare and they might be delicious. He licked his lips and found his voice. “Would you like to come inside for dinner?” he asked the children, smiling his ghastliest grin. His fangs glistened in the afternoon light.
The first boy stepped back. “I warn you, I eat a lot of brussel sprouts. I’ll taste bitter and terrible.”
“I’ve never been to Brussels,” said the beast. “But I’ll try anything once.”
“Not me, you won’t,” said a second boy. “I bathed in hot tamales just this morning.”
The beast shrugged. “So I’ll eat you with a glass of milk to cut the spice.”
“I taste delicious!” said the third child, the little sister who’d tagged along. “I eat apples every day and sweets like pie and cake and cookies…”
The beast retched and backed away. “Disgusting!” He dry-heaved his retreat into his cave.
The little girl’s jaw dropped and she burst into disappointed tears as her brothers dragged her away. “I could’ve been eaten by a beastie!” she wailed, and they shook their heads in wonder at her.
Deep in the Alabaster Mountains, there lay a secret cave. Few remain who still know how to find it, and those who do avoid it if they can. The cave is rumored to be home to a fierce dragon. Others say it is home to a family of gnomes who hired a dragon once upon a time, to scare away trespassers.
It’s hard to say which of the tales is true, though I like to believe in both the family of gnomes and the dragon. Dragons are lonely creatures, being both fearsome and fiery, and gnomes are small and subject to bullying. Working together would serve them well.
Sometimes I look up to the cliffs at night, and see their fire twinkling there. I like to imagine the dragon lights it for them every night. He warms his friends while they cook their dinner together and enjoy the stars from high up on the cliff. Every third bat who swoops across the moon might be the dragon, taking his pals for a joyride, or a quick trip to the grocery store so they can make more s’mores.
There were better caves, cozier caves, and safer caves on mountaintops. Just the same, this one with the happy sound of a rollicking river always present, was the one the dragon chose for his den. One morning a chunk of the cliff calved away and littered his entryway. It was intended to oust the beast. Instead, the dragon admitted, in his easygoing way, the art of stone landscaping was better left to the cliff’s discretion and cheerfully stepped around it. The cliff was so impressed it changed its mind at once and soon grew proud to host such a fiery tenant.