The Dunstable Mall had been losing money for a year when Dougan rented his largest storefront to the dragon hatchery.
“They’ll pay the rent,” he told his wife. “Everybody’s buying dragons. Can’t keep the whelps in stock.”
It was true. Ever since dragons had come back on the tail of a comet, they were the hottest ticket in town.
“MayBelle has three already,” Alice recounted, “in different colors, like accessories. Takes them out on rhinestone leashes. Can you stand it?”
“Ah, that’s just a fad,” he said. “They’re damn good storytellers, though, full of the impossible — dinosaurs, Atlantis, the fountain of youth. Dragons have seen it all, and they remember everything.”
Alice nodded, eyes on her sewing. She wondered if Dougan would be open to fuchsia, or maybe lavender to match the couch. “Now don’t go getting no ideas,” he said, as if he’d read her mind. “They scorch up the yard something fierce. Winkle’s daughter lost a sideboard to a misplaced sneeze. We don’t need none of that.”
“I heard they’re handy round the house,” Alice offered. “Good with a hammer and nails. Fire pits, and such”
“What needs doing round here that I can’t handle?” Dougan huffed, eyebrows knotted in a large, grey tangle.
Alice smiled and went back to her mending.
That afternoon she found a reason to go to the mall. “I need magenta thread,” she said, “And socks.” He narrowed his eyes with a thick harumph, to let her know he wasn’t fooled.
At the hatchery, a salesman with a whiplashed smile was batting flames from the hem of his pants. “Feisty lot,” he said. “Course, that’s the way you want them. What’s the use of a half-hearted dragon?”
The room was full of fledglings tumbling and wrestling in sinuous, muscular knots. Scorch marks ribbed the walls, and the air was sharp with the metallic whistle of extended wings. In the corners, complacent mothers sat on glowing eggs.
“I always thought they would be larger,” Alice said.
“Ahhhhhh,” purred a warm-caramel voice at her waist, “we’re big as sssssuits our purpose.”
The salesman flinched. “Don’t mind the talk,” he said. “They get no bigger than an average dog, mostly. The perfect sort of pet — never sheds, eats anything. Useful critters, too, especially at barbeques.”
Later in the day, the fledglings crashed, tumbling, into naps. Sunlight caught their spikes and tails and curves, pinned their shadows to linoleum. “They look like angels when they sleep,” Alice whispered. Dougan sighed and dug the wallet from his pocket. She pointed at a curl of emerald with translucent nails of rose.
“We’d better hide the sideboard.”
In its sleep, the little dragon smiled, hardly more than an apostrophe’s curve. Ancestral memory was a fine-etched map, outlining every nuance of this place, nothing lost, no grief forgotten. The dragon slayers of old had gone soft in the bosom of a mall. Sideboards were just the beginning. There’s nothing half-hearted in a dragon’s revenge.
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here.