For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!
This Week’s Inspiration: Dracolich
Despite being trapped in the mansion and rarely let outside, the kids had never paid much attention to the monstrous skull taking pride of place on their dining room table. But their honorary uncle is more than happy to explain its origins, even if his story sounds a little far-fetched.
The children had never taken much notice of the monstrous skull resting on the dining room table. Their sprawling home was full of curiosities. So many paintings covered the walls that in some rooms they lay in piles a dozen deep. Sculptures and other artworks blocked off sections of rooms and hallways. Musical instruments and museum artefacts lay in disorganised heaps like the world’s greatest hoarder’s nest. Mountains of books, records, CDs and DVDs. The adults called it a ‘time capsule’. They were always coming back with more things to add to the stacks.
None of the kids were old enough to remember anything before the mansion. They were let outside only rarely but there were always more of the rooms to explore. Sometimes the adults tried to show them something, like a painting of some dumb soup cans, or some old piece of paper signed by a bunch of stupid names under bulletproof glass, like they were something important. But the kids had grown up surrounded by mysteries of the old world and these things were just parts of the whole. None of them had ever seen a living dog or a cat or anything like that either, so they hadn’t worked out that the skull must have belonged to a living thing once until now. To them, it was just another weird sculpture.
“I don’t think it’s real, I think it’s pretend!” Kellie declared, not the oldest but usually the ringleader among the kids through force of personality.
“Teeth!” Three-year-old Abby added.
“My daddy says it’s a dinosaur! I told you, it’s a dinosaur!” Harrison, a little older than Kellie at six-and-a-half, said.
“I think it’s a monster,” five-year-old Owen said. “Rawr!”
The families didn’t really eat in the dining room. It was big and windowless and used mostly for storing piles and piles of boxes filled with cans of food and dry goods, and stacks of bottled water. The skull dominated the exceptionally long table. As long as a motorcycle, made of whitish-brown, bonelike rock. Teeth as big as knives bristled from its mouth. Gaping eye sockets followed them no matter where they moved. The eight children studied it from different angles, climbing onto the chairs and tabletop.
A door swung open at the far end of the room and the children jumped as if one of the skull’s living relatives might have come to visit. Uncle Kevin wandered inside. His face brightened as he saw the kids.
“Hey, what are you rugrats up to?” Uncle Kevin shouted.
“Uncle Kev!” Abby sprinted clumsily across the room and Kevin easily scooped her up in one hand.
Uncle Kev wasn’t related to any of the kids, and he and his wife, Grace, didn’t have any children of their own. He always found time though to entertain the little ones. A big man with a barrel chest and thick arms, his bushy beard and braided hair made him look like a modern Viking. A couple of pistols and knives were strapped to his body armour and a hatchet dangled from a sheath on his left hip. Kev was careful not to let Abby or any of the kids get too close to the weapons as they swarmed toward him.
“Uncle Kev, where did this thing on the table come from? Is it really a skull?” Kellie asked.
“Oh, that?” Kev glanced casually toward the old bones. “That’s a dragon, I slew it.”
“No it’s not!” Kellie said.
“Yes it is, look at it! It’s a dragon skull.”
“What’s a slew?” Harrison said.
“It means I killed it, in an epic battle.”
“Dragons aren’t real!” Kellie pressed on.
“They’re not real anymore, they used to be.”
Uncle Kev ripped open some plastic packaging and pulled a bottle of water from the stack. He walked to the table and settled heavily into one of the chairs. The children massed around him.
“My daddy said it was a-, it was a, teerex,” Harrison said.
“That’s right, a teerex dragon, from the Teerex region,” Kev said. “Otherwise it’s just a sparkling fire lizard.”
Uncle Kev let the appendage at the end of his right arm fall to the table, thumping and gouging the wood. The prosthetic looked something like the end of a fireman’s tool, with a hook shaped like a pry bar and an additional spike. It was solid and heavy enough to pound a brick to powder.
“In fact, fighting the dragon was how I lost my right hand,” Kev said.
“You told me you lost your hand in a volcano!” Kellie said.
“You remember that?” Uncle Kevin looked surprised.
“You said you lost it fighting Iron Man!” Owen said.
“Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk. But I was just joking about that, that wasn’t a real fight! It was a playfight, they were good guys, I wouldn’t want to fight them!”
“You said you lost it rescuing a-, a-, a fair maiden.” Harrison stumbled over the words as he tried to remember the right phrase.
“That’s right! I did, I lost it rescuing a fair maiden from a dragon, from this dragon, in fact!”
Something thundered outside, a loud blast. The shockwave rattled the walls. Most of the children, used to such noises, ignored it completely. Kellie fixed Uncle Kev with a firm stare. Her scepticism often made her look older than her six years. Already, over time, she’d learned to trust that little of what Uncle Kev said had any real relationship with the truth. At the same time his stories were often a good deal more entertaining than what the other adults told them, and Kellie knew what was a higher priority.
“What happened?” Kellie demanded seriously. “No fibbing!”
“With the dragon? Well, this was before, you know, before. Before any of you were born. I was parked at a drive-through waiting to get a breakfast burrito.”
“What’s a breakfast burrito?” Owen asked.
“Ah, unfortunately another treasure that’s been lost to the sands of time. A delicacy you children may never know in this cruel world! I was waiting for my breakfast burrito when a terrible shadow fell across my car and I heard a great, shrieking roar! I looked up and saw a huge, winged serpent flying through the sky above me!”
“They could fly?” Another little girl, Polly, asked.
“Oh, yes, all dragons could fly except for those placed on the No Fly List. No dragons wanted to mess with the TSA. Even the ones that could fly had to take off their shoes and could carry only teensy little bottles of liquid with them.”
“You’re fibbing!” Kellie said.
“My hand to Garth.” Kev held up his spiked prosthetic. “I had to wait a few minutes before my burrito and my extra-large, half-foam, soy frappuccino were ready, but as soon as they were, I gave chase!”
A couple of adults passed through the room, Harrison and Polly’s mom and dad. Assault rifles dangled off their shoulders. They looked tired but smiled benevolently at the kids gathered around Uncle Kev’s feet.
“I followed the sounds of chaos, big roars and explosions, and police sirens. Up ahead, I could see buildings on fire and smoke blanketing the sky. The police were trying to fight the dragon! It was huge, with scales like steel and wings as big as a 747!”
“What’s that?” Harrison asked.
“Oh, that’s a kind of airplane, or it was. Imagine wings, each as long as this room! Its head, well, you can see how big its head was, and its teeth. It had a big, snakelike neck and terrible claws! The police were trying to fight it but they couldn’t shoot it, because it was a red dragon and not a black dragon. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, bullets bounced right off its scales because they were so tough.” Kevin poked himself repeatedly in the chest, miming bullets bouncing away. “The dragon breathed gusts of fire that were so hot they set the asphalt and the cars on fire, and its claws pulled apart their cars like tin cans.”
“No! Bad!” Abby said.
“I think you’re telling lies,” Kellie said, and Kev struggled not to break down laughing at her expression.
“Luckily, I had my ancestral sword in the trunk of my car next to the spare. It was hundreds of years old and had magical powers, only ancestral swords work against dragons. As soon as I’d finished my breakfast, I got out of the car to get it. Unfortunately, during the time it took me the dragon finished what it was doing. See, dragons only like two things, gold, and kidnapping fair maidens. This dragon had come into the city to steal a big vault of gold from the bank. It was carrying the gold away when it spotted a fair maiden in her car. So, it picked up the car in its teeth, and all the gold, and it flew away!”
“And then what happened?” Owen asked.
“I knew someone had to rescue that fair maiden, so I got back in my car and followed the dragon. My car, I just want you to know, was a super cool one, like a Maserati or something. I had to track the dragon for many days but I won’t bore you with all the tales of my adventures. Some of them are a bit too PG-13 for all of you, but there were many adventures I’ll tell you about some other day. Finally, I tracked the dragon to its lair. In a volcano.”
Uncle Kev looked pointedly at Kellie, raising his eyebrows. Little arms crossed over her chest, Kellie didn’t look completely sold on his story but her face considered the possibility. Gunfire echoed from outside the mansion. Again none of the kids reacted. Kev looked around and listened, to see if whoever was firing might need help, but when there was only one burst he settled back down.
“With my family’s magic sword, I snuck into the dragon’s lair. Eventually, I came to a big, rock balcony overlooking a pool of lava, like in Lord of the Rings, which none of you have seen. There were piles and piles of gold and jewels and precious stuff everywhere. I saw the fair maiden tied up to a post near one of the piles of gold. And then I heard a voice say, ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN MY HOME, LITTLE HUMAN?’”
“The dragon could talk?” Harrison asked.
“That’s right, all dragons can talk. I told him, ‘Foul beast, I have come to rescue yon fair maiden from your evil clutches!’ Because that’s how you’ve got to talk to dragons, there’s a way these things are done. The dragon came out of the cave where it had been hiding. It looked bigger than ever, with flames coming out of its nostrils.”
“Then what happened?” Kellie said.
“We fought for hours and hours. I avoided the dragon’s claws and teeth and fire, but even with all its magic my sword couldn’t cut through its scales! I worked out the only way I could get to him was to stab him in the mouth, where he didn’t have any scales. I almost had him, but I wasn’t fast enough and his teeth snapped shut on my wrist, biting off my right hand!”
Kev gestured wildly with his hooked prosthetic. Although the children were more than used to it, they reacted as if seeing it for the first time.
“No!” Owen said.
Uncle Kev glanced over at the doorway and saw his wife, Grace, waiting on him. An assault rifle hung off her shoulder. Her expression looked stern as she gestured for him to follow.
“What happened then, Uncle Kev?” Harrison asked.
“Well, kids, I’ve got to go but to make a long story short, I figured out the only way to get my sword back and to get past the dragon’s scales was to trick him into swallowing me! In his stomach, I found my sword and I cut my way out from the inside! Never found my hand though.”
The children all expressed amazement and disbelief. They clamoured around him, asking more questions. Knowing Kev struggled to disappoint the kids, Grace hurried over.
“Sorry, guys! Uncle Kev has to come with me, but he can tell you the rest of the story later, okay?”
“Awww,” the kids all chimed.
“Your parents told me to tell you to head down to the basement and lock yourselves in! Don’t open the door until one of us comes and says the special password. What’s that password again?”
“Swordfish,” the kids all intoned dutifully.
“That’s right, now go!” Grace turned on her husband. “Come on, dragon slayer.”
The kids filed away, chattering excitedly, but Kellie stopped Kevin before he could leave. “Uncle Kev?”
“What happened to the fair maiden that the dragon kidnapped?”
Kev grinned and jerked his head toward Grace. “What do you think? I married her.”
Smiling from ear to ear, Kellie hurried to join the others. Kev followed Grace into the hallway and toward the front of the house, collecting a hulking machine gun along the way. He held it left-handed, his right-hand prosthetic locking on underneath. Grace looked annoyed so he gave her an incorrigibly boyish smile.
“How long were you listening?” Kev asked.
“Long enough,” Grace said.
The two of them left via the front doors of the mansion. Dark clouds shadowed the day. The enormous house had been chosen for its defensive position, built on a long spit of land with ocean views and water on three of its four sides. The landward side of the property had been enhanced with trenches and barricades, and snarls of razor wire. More barricades covered the mansion’s windows and other entrances. Guns and artillery crowded the front of the house, aimed toward the mainland. A dozen other adults, all armed, waited for them to arrive.
“Kids are in the bunker, what’s the sit-rep?” Grace asked.
Jordan, Kellie and Abby’s father, answered. “Another wave on the way in. The biggest one yet, they definitely know where we are now and want to wipe us out.”
Around them, fifty calibre anti-aircraft guns started thundering. Every fourth round was a tracer, searing orange across the air as they narrowed on the spit passage between them and the mainland. They chewed apart the first ranks of the enemy but there were more coming, many, many more. Their eyes glowed purple in the dusk. Tentacles and insectile limbs bristled from bodies warped and mutated by dark energies. Some towered above the horde like giants. They weren’t all once human, some had been animals, and some were so impossibly twisted that it was hard to say what they’d been originally. A few huge, batlike monstrosities whirled above the coming horde. Death meant nothing to them, and those at the front showed no hesitation even as their fellow abominations were chewed to ribbons.
“I don’t get it,” Grace raised her voice over the weapons, while she still had time to talk. “With everything happening in the world, you’ve got to make those kids afraid of dragons coming to get them too?”
Kev shouldered his M240 and measured the distance between them and the opening ranks of the horde. Those that had escaped the carnage inflicted by the fifty cals reached the trenches and coils of razor wire.
“It’s not about making them afraid of dragons!” Kev said. “It’s letting them know that, no matter what the odds, dragons can still be slayed!”
Bloated orange fireballs suddenly consumed a tightly packed section of the horde, as someone triggered several explosive packages buried in shallow graves along the spit of land. The blasts rocked them backward, even standing behind the mansion’s barricades, and they felt the heat on their faces. Pieces of the infected launched hundreds of metres into the air and rained back down in the ocean. In overlapping bursts, Kev, Grace, and the other adults began to fire.
Sean: I’m an uncle to two wonderful little girls, really smart, funny kids. As an uncle I think it’s my role to teach them that some rules can be broken as long as it’s funny, and that you should trust no one. The older of the pair has just turned seven and for the past couple of years was already super sceptical of anything I tell her, and the younger kind of goes along with anything her big sister says. The most amusing part for me is if I make a mistake about something, or say something unlikely, they’ll just assume I’m trying to trick them. If my wife says anything they think is wrong, they will harp on that non-stop because they feel they’ve gotten one over on her, a grownup, and that she must be at least trying to tell the truth.
There’s two more weeks of Dractoberfest! These last two stories, I had to really hurry to write in the last couple of weeks to meet the challenge but I think you’re going to like them:
October 21st: Red Dragon
October 28th: Ancient Gold Dragon
So great, as usual!
Thank you so much, I really appreciate that! Especially coming toward the pointy end of the year with all these stories.