Authors: Bryan Davis
Dragons in Our Midst, Volume 1
Copyright © 2004 by Bryan Davis
Living Ink Books, an imprint of AMG Publishers
All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in printed reviews, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (printed, written, photocopied, visual electronic, audio, or otherwise) without the prior permission of the publisher.
is the first of four books in the youth fantasy fiction series,
Dragons in Our Midst.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Print ISBN: 978-0-89957-170-6
ePub ISBN: 978-1-61715-000-5
Mobi ISBN: 978-1-61715-029-6
DRAGONS IN OUR MIDST and ORACLES OF FIRE are registered trademarks of AMG Publishers.
First printing—July 2004
Cover designed by Daryle Beam, Market Street Design, Inc., Chattanooga, Tennessee
Interior design and typesetting by Reider Publishing Services, West Hollywood, California
Edited and Proofread by Jan Dennis, Jeannie Taylor, Becky Miller, Sharon Neal, and Warren Baker
Once upon a time a crazy father told his son about a dream he had. Together, they twisted that dream, broke it into pieces, and built it into a story that touched their hearts. Thank you, James, for dreaming with me.
To my precious seven, my inspiration for all things fantastic, for as long as I draw breath, for as long as I am able to carry my sword and raise my shield, I will be there to protect you from the slayers. Count on it.
To my friends who worked with and for AMG to make this book possible, Dan Penwell, Warren Baker, Dale Anderson, Jeannie Taylor, and Becky Miller, thank you for dreaming BIG.
To my dear, sweet wife. . . . Thank you . . . for everything.
When dragons flew in days of old
With valor in their wings,
One fell prey to evil’s song
And learned what Satan sings.
Goliath, stained with Satan’s words,
Made other dragons flee,
For songs like leaven spread decay
Corrupting souls born free.
Now Satan’s scales coat dragon lore;
He hides between the lines.
He sings foul words in books corrupt
And dances on their spines.
Are dragons vile? Are dragons tame?
Depends on whom you ask.
Do scales hide tricks of Satan when
He dons a fearful mask?
One man corrupted all his kin;
One dragon brought all shame.
One man redeemed His fallen race;
Will dragons find the same?
Yet dragons dwell in hearts of men,
From God and some from baals,
And some sing words with angels’ wings
While most chant Satan’s scales.
God redeems what men cannot
Forgives what e’er thou didst
Who else can save the men of earth
With dragons in our midst?
“Halt, foul dragon!”
Billy stared at the tall stranger, a ghostly figure draped in dark chain mail. He looked like a knight of some kind, like a toy box action figure come to life. But what was he so mad about?
Could he be yelling at me?
The knight swung a sword in his right hand. Its brilliant blade flashed in the sun, and his armor jingled all over his body, echoing his swift, skillful moves. With a wave of his shield he barked a challenge. “I fear you not, fiend, nor your hellish fire! Come to battle, and we shall see whom the Creator will protect!”
Billy opened his mouth to answer, but he couldn’t talk. His throat burned like a sizzling sidewalk, and acid bubbled up from his boiling stomach. With a convulsive shudder, he belched a plume of hot, steamy gases, blistering his tongue and scorching his lips. A second later a raging river of fire blasted through his gaping mouth and hurtled toward the knight.
The warrior jerked his shield up and tucked his body behind its protective armor. The flaming torrent splashed around the shield’s edges, tearing the sword from his hand and enveloping his sleeve. The knight shook his hand and flapped his blazing arm. “Cursed lizard!”
Billy clamped his hand over his mouth and tried to suck cool air between his fingers to soothe his swollen tongue.
What’s going on? Did that fire come from me? Does he think I’m the dragon?
Billy looked at his hands. They were normal, eight fingers and two thumbs, no scales or claws. But something was different. A ring glittered on his right index finger. Somehow it looked . . . familiar.
In the ring’s center a dark red stone stared at him like a bloody luminescent eye, the prophetic eye of a mysterious old man, a deep cauldron of swirling scarlet. Billy felt the cyclonic vision drawing him closer and closer, and his mind swam in the dizzying whirlpool. The stone reflected everything around him, even his worried face. As the eye’s red glow deepened, Billy’s features morphed. His ears grew long and pointed, and his mouth stretched out wide and toothy. Within seconds the transformation was complete. “I
a dragon!” he shouted.
The knight appeared again from behind the shield, holding his bare arm away from his body. His sleeve had been scorched to ashes. An angry, reddish brown welt on his forearm oozed curling strings of smoke like the rising fumes of a cattle brand.
“Of course you’re a dragon,” he bellowed. “Do you think me a fool?” He raised his sword again. This time it cast a laser-like beam through its point, shooting high into the sky, and the knight tightened his jaw with renewed strength. “I still fear you not, neither your fire from hell nor your demon wings!”
Wings? Did he say ‘wings’?
Billy swung his head around. Wings! He tried flapping them. They worked! He flapped them harder, and he felt his body lift from the ground. Ten feet. Twenty feet. He watched the shrinking knight wave his sword, but he could no longer understand his shouts; he squeaked like an enraged mouse, and his words scattered in the wind, becoming a ringing sound, more like an alarm clock than a bellowing knight. It slowly faded away like the sound of a tambourine in the hand of a dozing player.
Billy flew higher and higher until all light seemed to melt away, leaving him floating through a black canopy of calm. The air thinned to a bitter cold vacuum, and his wings flapped against nothingness, finding no air to grab to keep his body aloft. Without warning they collapsed and shrank to the size of butterfly wings. Billy felt like an airborne penguin, frozen and flightless, and he dropped through the vacuum like a sock full of marbles. He flailed his arms, desperately trying to grab something, anything, to stop his fall. He tried to scream, but his voice died in the hollow void. Could anyone save him? Any second he would crash into trees or rocks below, breaking every bone in his body. He closed his eyes. He was falling, falling . . .
Billy shot up to a sitting position. His eyes bulged to read the dim surroundings. He panted, his tongue hanging out like a thirsty spaniel’s. Instead of the horrible, cold, falling sensation, he felt softness underneath and warmth over his legs. He sucked his tongue back in and groped through the covers with trembling fingers. With heavy gasps he spat out words of relief. “I’m in bed! It was just a dream!”
He rubbed his palms against his sweat-dampened cheeks.
He craned his neck to get a glimpse of his back, and he tried to reach with his hands, but his tossing and turning must have twisted his pajama top enough to restrict his motion. He jumped to his feet and tiptoed toward the light switch, dodging his half-finished pencil sketches, small wrinkled ghosts in the dawn’s obscure glow. With an upward swipe he slapped at the wall.
He slapped again.
Billy squeezed his eyes shut and then blinked at the two bulbs in the ceiling fixture. With a series of one-footed hops and careful steps, he maneuvered through his art-strewn room and headed for his mirror, almost afraid to look when he turned his back toward his reflection. He breathed a huge sigh of relief.
A sweaty pajama top clung to his shoulders, wrinkled and wet, but it lay flat against his otherwise bare skin. He remembered his fiery breath in the dream and smacked his hot, dry lips.
I feel like I fried that knight and ate him for breakfast!
With his school clothes tucked under his arm, he shuffled down the hall toward the bathroom, thinking about the dream. It was already fading fast, like fog chased away by a bright morning sun.
Was it a knight? I don’t remember. Was I really a dragon?
Still smacking his lips, he flicked on the light and looked around the bathroom countertop.
Ah, there’s the mouthwash.
He grabbed the plastic bottle and read the writing on the side. “Makes your breath sparkling, clean, and cool!”
Well, it works for the guys on television.
Billy swished and gargled several times, but his mouth still felt like used charcoal.
What was the song they sang on the commercial? Oh, yeah. “Tired of that old doggie breath? Make it clean with Super Fresh!”
At this point, doggie breath would have been an improvement.
Billy frowned at his reflection and slammed the plastic bottle on the countertop.
With one palm on the sink, he leaned toward the mirror, rubbing his chin to feel for any telltale signs of emerging whiskers. Not today. But the zits were under control—that was good. As he straightened his body, he examined the hair on his arms. It seemed thicker and more reddish than ever, even though there wasn’t a hint of red in the company of brown follicles on his head, a flattened, ragtag mat of unruly strands that needed a dose of discipline. He brushed his hair with a quick sweep of his fingers, and his thick, short nap perked straight up and then wilted to one side.
Looking closely at his reflection, he leaned forward until he could see the individual pores in his skin. With his mouth open wide, he breathed on his image, straining his eyes to catch any results. The mirror didn’t fog up.
Third day in a row!
He drew back and blew softly on his knuckles. “Ouch!” He shook his hand and doused it with cool water.
Scalded by my own breath!
A red blister appeared under the water’s spray.
Wow! My breath’s never been this bad before!
Was it finally time to tell his mom and dad about the problem? Would they make him wear a surgical mask to keep everyone safe? Some of the kids at school already called him “Dragon Breath.” He didn’t want a new name, like “Lizard Lips” or something.
Maybe it was a fungus, some alien life form that took up residence in his cheeks to create a new civilization. When he ran his tongue along the roof of his mouth, it felt like he was licking glazed pottery, a series of slick ridges that didn’t register his tongue’s caress.
Aliens that live off saliva? I guess stranger things have happened. I just can’t remember when.
“William!” Billy heard his mother calling from downstairs. “Hurry up! You still have to eat breakfast before the bus gets here!”“William!” Billy heard his mother calling from downstairs. “Hurry up! You still have to eat breakfast before the bus gets here!”
Billy sighed and pulled on his clothes, starting with his favorite pants—the off-white ones with deep pockets on the sides of the lower legs. The right-hand pocket still held two pens and a mechanical pencil, all tightly clipped to the opening. After throwing on a shirt and hurriedly tying his shoes, he headed toward the stairs, pausing for a minute to pet Gandalf. The long-haired cat yawned and arched his back to fully take in Billy’s deep strokes. “I guess you’d never call me Dragon Breath, would you?” Billy rubbed the purring cat one more time and then bounded down the stairs, jackhammering every second stair on the way down. With a long-legged leap, he skipped the last four steps, bringing his tennis shoes in for a slap landing against the wood floor.
He stopped and listened for a second.
Mom’s humming. That means something good’s cooking.
He followed the sweet sound, and his nose picked up the delicious smells of morning. He inhaled deeply, relishing the delightful aromas of fried bacon and fresh coffee, and his mood perked up, prompting him to whistle along with his mother’s song, a tune he had heard recently in a movie.
What’s that song called? Something about remembering the past, I think.
As soon as he walked into the kitchen, she turned toward him and held up a foil pouch and a tall glass of orange juice. “Your father’s having bacon and eggs,” she said, “but I didn’t know if you’d be up on time, so I didn’t make you any. I don’t think there’s time for me to make more.”
Billy grimaced at the silver pouch. “Pop-Tarts again?”
“The early bird gets the hot breakfast. You’re the one who just had to stay up late, you know.”
Billy took the pouch and glass, leaned against the counter, and sipped the juice while absentmindedly watching his mom bustle around the kitchen. Since his recent growth spurt, he no longer had to reach upward to take something from her hand. Her slender, five-foot-seven frame matched his own, except for the obvious differences, of course. She was definitely female, with shoulder-length hair, lighter than his own, but not quite blonde. Her skin also displayed a lighter tone, with a hint of German or Swedish facial features.
Billy glanced at the breakfast table. His father leaned back in his chair munching a piece of toast while gripping the newspaper with his strong, hairy hands. Billy carried a true blend of his mother and father, his own skin tinted with his dad’s tawnier coloring. He had always thought Dad had British ancestors, though when he asked one day, his father had said, “My complexion’s too dark, and I’d never be able to get the hang of drinking hot tea.”
Billy shook himself out of his trance. “Mom, can I help you with the dishes or something?”
She had just put a frying pan in the sink. “No, thanks. Your dad’s going to do them after he eats.” She squirted a stream of soap into the pan and turned on the faucet. “Were you working on the poster for the festival last night?”
“No, I wanted to finish that portrait for Dad’s friend.”
“The one of the basset hound? Dr. Franklin’s dog?”
“Yeah, I left it on Dad’s—”
“Present and accounted for,” a deep voice interrupted. “I have it right here.”
Billy swiveled to see his father holding up a large sheet of paper.
“You did a great job,” he continued. “It looks just like Maggie.”
With two long strides, Billy stepped over to the table and sat down, placing his glass of juice next to his elbow. “Thanks,” he said, reaching for his dad’s cup of coffee. With his fingers wrapped around the warm mug, he waited, displaying a big smile and a “may I please have a sip?” look. His father glared at him, but Billy knew it was just an act. Although his father’s thick eyebrows had curled downward, and every line on his forty-something face had taken a hairpin turn toward his chin, the gleam in his brown eyes gave away his playacting.
Billy took a long slurp and watched over the edge of the cup while his father hid a big smirk and pretended to be interested again in the drawing. Billy set the cup down, let out a satisfied “Ahhh!” and wiped his mouth with his father’s napkin. “The photo of Maggie that Dr. Franklin gave you was small,” Billy explained, pointing at the paper, “so I blew her up real big on my easel.”
“Old Doc will love it. How do you want to be paid this time?”
Billy took a long drink of his orange juice before answering. “Just tell him to send a check to the Humane Society and put my name on the memo line. They’ll know what to do with it.”
“Now you’re including your name? What are they doing, constructing the Billy Bannister wing for stray cats?”
expanding. Gandalf’s buddies need a better place to live, you know.”
“Yes, I remember when you chose Gandalf. Those cat cages were stacked higher than my head.”
“So they need all the help they can get.”
“True, but don’t you want to keep some of the money for yourself?”
“Not really. I should get plenty at the festival tomorrow night.” Billy smiled and stared at the coffee cup. “Maybe I’ll get enough to get my own coffeemaker.”
His father peeked around the drawing and casually tipped the cup forward to get a look at the penny-sized splotch of coffee remaining at the bottom. “So how much should I tell him to send?”
“I don’t know,” Billy replied, shrugging his shoulders. “Twenty dollars?”
Billy’s dad held up the portrait and gazed at it again. “This may be the best you’ve done yet.” After wiping the table with a clean napkin, he placed the drawing on the surface and began rolling it into a tube. “I’ll ask for fifty. That shouldn’t be a problem for Doc.” He lodged the cylinder between the salt and pepper shakers and picked up his folded newspaper.
“Fifty would be great,” Billy agreed.
“Right. Gandalf’s friends might want to buy you a coffeemaker for Christmas.” His dad let out a broad smile and whacked Billy playfully on the head with his newspaper. Billy tried to grab it, but his father snatched it out of the way just in time. Billy lunged forward, wrapped his arms around his father’s neck, and pulled him to the floor. A world wrestling championship match had commenced right there in the Bannisters’ kitchen, but it wasn’t very convincing with both competitors laughing so hard.