I looked up as my husband entered the kitchen, where I was inventorying the contents of the refrigerator before moving on to the pantry. Tomorrow was grocery shopping day, and I wanted to make certain my list was complete.
“What’s the problem?” Noting his annoyed look, I put down the list and gave him my undivided attention. “Did one of my characters get into some mischief again?”
“I’m not sure. Have you noticed how warm it is?” Miles took out a handkerchief and mopped his brow.
I nodded and frowned. “I have noticed, but I thought it was just me. I’ve been scurrying around here this morning like a chicken with my head cut off.”
Miles shook his head. “No, it’s not you. It’s hot in the house. Too hot. It’s almost ninety degrees in here, and it’s only sixty-eight outside. I already checked the thermostat to make sure no one had accidentally turned on the heater. The slide switch was sitting right in the middle, between heat and air conditioning, in the off position.”
“So, why is it so hot in the house?”
We looked at each other for a moment, then both turned and yelled, “Dragon!”
“If ye be lookin’ fer tha beastie, she been in tha con-fer-ence room, lastest I been seein’ ’er. She prob’ly still be there. She dinna be lookin’ much liken she be wantin’ ta be movin’.” My Old Dwarf entered the room, chomping on an apple. He made a beeline for the refrigerator. Holding the remains of his apple between his teeth, he started pulling out two loaves of bread along with everything that could conceivably go on a sandwich, and a whole lot that couldn’t, rendering my shopping list useless.
“You better go see what she’s up to.” Miles spoke to me but scowled at the dwarf. “I’ll stay here and try to make certain your Old Dwarf doesn’t eat us out of house and home.”
I found Dragon in the conference room, as my Old Dwarf had predicted. She was curled up in a tight ball, sound asleep, in front of her blazing illusory fireplace. She had morphed to black. Her color often reflects her mood, I reminded myself.
“Dragon?” I tiptoed over to the beast and cautiously poked at her, but she did not stir. “Dragon!” I shouted practically in her ear. I had to shout several more times before she half-opened an eye. She greeted me with a growl.
“Nice to see you, too.” I frowned.
Dragon’s eyes narrowed dangerously, the tip of her tail started twitching, and acrid smoke drifted from her snout. “I do not wish to be disturbed. I wish to warm myself.”
I scoffed. “You’ve made this room hotter than a dwarven forge with your illusory fireplace! And the whole house is like a sauna!”
Dragon nodded. Her reptilian lips stretched in a smile, revealing terrible, dagger-sharp teeth. “It is my only defense against your Minnesota weather.” She sat up and morphed back to her normal red color. “What happened to summer? Last week, it was deliciously hot. This week is it freezing!”
I snorted. “Hardly freezing! The temperature outside right now is a comfortable sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit.”
“Comfortable for whom?” Black smoke plumed from her snout again. “In case you have forgotten, I am a creature of fire and heat, raised in the burning sands of the desert. When it reaches one hundred on your devices that record the heat, it is finally warm enough for my comfort.”
I glared at her. “Well, it had better not reach one hundred in this house! If you are cold, shape-shift to the form of a person and put on a coat. Or create an illusory desert to visit. Just keep the temperature in this house comfortable for the rest of the occupants, if you don’t mind!”
The beast’s tail twitched, and her reptilian eyes narrowed. “I do mind.”
“What?” I was taken aback by her response.
“I do mind.” She started to pout. “The comfort and care of every other occupant of this house is catered to before mine. I do not hear you complaining when your Old Dwarf raids the refrigerator a dozen times a day.”
“If you don’t hear me complain about that, it’s because you don’t listen very well.” I stared at Dragon, my brow furrowed and my hands on my hips. “What’s gotten into you, anyway? I’ve never heard you complain about not being treated the same as the others.”
“If you do not hear me complain about that, it is because you do not listen very well.” The beast turned my words back on me.
I gaped at the huge reptile. I had never before heard her complain about her treatment.
Continuing to pout, Dragon seemed intent on declaring every slight she felt she had suffered since falling out of one of my manuscripts and becoming stranded in this, the real world.
“Dragon,” she sing-songed. “The Foreman, the Gypsy, and the Young Hero miss their horses. Create some illusory mounts for them. Dragon, the Foreman misses his old life. Create an illusory world for him so he can feel useful again. Dragon, the Arrogant One is causing problems with his magic. Deal with him. Dragon, some neighbors have seen the illusory stable and horses. Do something. Dragon, the Young Hero is having nightmares. Help him. Dragon, something strange is happening. Investigate. Dragon, your fireplace is making the house too hot for everyone. Get rid of it.”
The beast paused to take a breath, glaring at me with an anger I had never before seen her direct toward me.
“The house is too hot for everyone?” She snarled. “Am I not part of the everyone living here? With all I do for everyone here, is not my comfort as important as that of the others?”
At a loss for words, I stood gaping at Dragon as she morphed back to black and curled up in front of her fireplace once more.
* * *
“Ye been noticin’ summat strange aboot tha beastie?”
With his mouth full of the huge bite he had just taken from his sandwich, the Old Dwarf’s words came out more like “Yebenotsinsummitstrgeabotthabeasty?”
Miles gaped at the rotund figure. “What?”
The dwarf swallowed his food, took a big swig of dwarven brew to wash it down, then repeated himself. This time, Miles managed to follow the gist of the dwarf’s question.
“You mean stranger than just being a dragon, in a world where dragons don’t exist?” Miles raised an eyebrow at the dwarf. “No, I can’t say I’ve noticed anything else strange about her.”
The dwarf chuckled. “After us-ens bein’ here in yer world all this time, ye still do na be acceptin’ us, be ye? Ye be actin’ all tha time likens ye be wakin’ up some day an’ be findin’ all o us-ens ta have been jus’ a bad dream.”
“One can only hope,” Miles replied dryly.
The dwarf shook his head and took another bite of his sandwich. This time, he waited until he had swallowed it and taken another drink before speaking, all the time eyeing Miles curiously. “So’s, ye do na been noticin’ any change in tha beastie’s behavin’?”
Miles shook his head. “No. What sort of changes do you think I should have noticed?
“Wale . . .” He crammed the last bite of sandwich into his mouth and chewed on it, a pensive look on his face. He took his time chewing that bite and took an extra-long swallow of brew when he had finished. He squared his shoulders and faced Miles as he spoke. “Now, I do na be for sure certain aboot it, but it be seemin’ ta me thet tha beastie jus’ do na been ’erself lately. E’er since we been returnin’ from tha make-believe world what she an’ tha other magickers been creatin’ fer tha Foreman, the beastie been seemin’ . . .” The dwarf struggled to find the word. “She been seemin’ all oot o sorts, sulky-like. Likens summat be on ’er mind, be eatin’ at ’er..”
Miles considered this. “Well, you know her better than I do. I thought the two of you shared a pretty close bond. You would, no doubt, notice things about Dragon long before anyone else would.”
The Old Dwarf sighed. “Mebbe. But thet do na be meanin’ I be knowin’ what ta be doin’ fer ’er.”
Walking in on the last of the conversation, I thought sadly, I’m not sure I know what to do for her, either. But I might know someone who would.
What can I do . . . what can any of us do . . . to help Dragon? Be sure to come back again next week and see to whom we might turn to help Dragon. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.