It was one of those villages that snuggled itself between maternal mountainous slopes. Cozy, drowsy, and comfortable. Morning came before the sun, and life sauntered quietly along high meadow paths filled with asters and aspens.
None of the off-key city cacophony reached this far up the mountain where Sioni watched her little sheep herd. Well, the folks who dwelled down there called it a city. Had airs, they did. Airs that smelled uneasily of wrongfully-gained profits – not to mention the tiny streams skulking beside homes and businesses, ashamed of their own odorous being. The banner into the city’s main street proclaimed its existence, as if, otherwise, the people would debate the truth and find it wanting. In fact, the people were wanting. I mean, it was all right and good to be a “city”, and have “commerce”. But, at the end of the day, diapers still had to be changed and the trash taken out. And not one extra minute was gained. Not one extra six-pence. It was occurring to the populace at-large (although it was the merchants who were large; the common-folk were starving), that the profit of the city was being nicked away – bit by bit – from their very souls, not reimbursed by “foreign interests”, as they were told.
The city was so wrapped up in its fog-shrouded reality that it did not see through the smoke-and-mirrors of the new stranger in town. On the front of the quickly-erected-in-the-dark-of-night-façade was a sign that read:
ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK
HUMANS WITH HEART PROBLEMS OR PREGNANCY SHOULD NOT GO IN
NO ONE SHORTER THAN THIS SIGN ALLOWED
BETTER THAN IMAX
SEE THE TRUTH!
THE DRAGON LIVES HERE
Of course, most of the villagers couldn’t read the sign, or afford the 12 pence it asked for admission. But it did seem as though most of the visitors and traders were investing money there. Which is to say that money was NOT being spent in the merchants’ stores. There was much profuse sweating and consternation-laced mumbling going on between the merchants and the mayor. It seemed the proper channels and paperwork for the new enterprise had been mysteriously misplaced – as if there had never been any. But then, conveniently misplaced documents and receipts had always been part of the city arrangement. But it was only supposed to be in their circle, and here was some interloper wanting a piece of the action.
What the merchants and mayor really didn’t like was that they hadn’t initiated this particular transaction. Not only were they not in on the profits, they were losing money. Lots of it. Someone needed to DO something about it. Curious thing about DOING something. It involved movement. And maybe risk. Something the merchants and mayor were very inexperienced in – and allergic to – if anyone had taken notice of the way they were avoiding “work”. Still, someone needed to confront this upstart entrepreneur, and put him out of business, especially all that false advertising about dragons, trying to give people the wrong impression about their family-friendly town.
So they offered “job incentives” and “paid time off” and, begrudgingly, “bonuses” for anyone who would go meet with this person and “encourage” him to leave town. They banked on the fact that the common folk wouldn’t even understand the concept behind the terms, but just think of it as something special like a holiday or roast pig. Of course, it never occurred to the merchants, the mayor, or anyone else, that it was a real dragon.
Over the next few months – which wasn’t a problem except that Election Day was approaching – the mayor and his friends noticed that there was a funny attrition in the town’s census. They began to worry that this new interloper would wrangle his way into somehow becoming Prime Minister, or some other exotic species. It didn’t occur to them that a proportionate number of “bonuses” had gone uncollected, as well. And now, the local housewife union was harassing them about missing husbands and brothers and no-good drunken uncles and such. Like it was the government’s fault!
For all of this, the mayor reckoned there must be a Beer Fest going on somewhere that no one had bothered to inform him of, and someone was going to pay for that! Most likely his assistant, who he had only hired because he was his wife’s brother, but he was in absentia, too. Paranoia began creeping around the edges of his mind, like starved piranhas given a 7-course meal. Obviously, “they” were all in cahoots with this new interloper, having a great time, making lots of money, and spending it lasciviously. All without him. Well, he’d show them. He never really thought about what he’d show them, but he knew it would work out right, because he was mayor, and that’s how small town logic works.
During lunch break, which began a little after coffee meetings at 10, and lasted until, well, until there was no more coffee and it was time for beer and the afternoon meeting, the mayor called the two friends he still had. We don’t know what he called them, but it was enough for them to begrudgingly show up for lunch.
“We have to DO something!” The mayor shouted.
Harley rotated his earphone, and said, “Come again? Who’s the king?”
“There is no KING! There’s just a bandit taking our money and our town!”
“I didn’t know the king was a bandit. What’s a bandit?” That was Slow Mo.
“Something you put on your cut, doofus!” Harley liked to yell just to hear himself. No one really knew if he ever did, though.
“Let’s make a Posse!” The mayor shouted louder, as if they would understand him better. We know better, but the piranhas were hard at work on the mayor’s paranoia aperitif and soup du jour.
“Why do we need a cat?”
The mayor would have cried if he could, but the piranhas were very noisy and slurping and crunching, so he just gathered up his friends, and set off down the main street to the place where the big sign was hung.
“Who’s got 12 pence? Come on, ante up.”
At which point, as they entered the Labyrinth, Slow Mo said, “Not ante up; ante em, I think. Cuz we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
And anybody who had been with them would have agreed. If you looked around at the strange walls and graffiti and stuff only seen in the subways of New York (Harley read Small Town Geographic Magazine), you’d know for certain it wasn’t Kansas. It wasn’t even here. Whatever that meant. Slow Mo began crumbling his cookies (he always carried some in his pockets), leaving a trail behind him. As he was last, no one said anything, although a couple of mice looked at each other knowingly – one of them circling his paw around his head. But Slow Mo knew the trick. He remembered being read stories at bedtime, and especially the one about the dwarves with glass slippers who dropped crumbs and sang “Zippedee-do-dah” on their way to the Emerald City. It ended happily, so he figured his cookie crumbs would help him end happily, because this didn’t feel like a nice bedtime story.
Then he realized how quiet it had gotten. He called for his two friends, but he knew Harley couldn’t hear him, and the mayor never listened. So, he finally just turned around and followed his cookie crumbs back out. It did take him a couple of days, though, because the mice had rearranged a few feet of crumbs, laying down odds and bets and even a few unmentionables, to see how long it would take Slow Mo to find his way back home.
Sioni had come down from the mountainside to get some supper, when she saw Mo walking dejectedly down the main street. She didn’t call him ‘Slow’, because he seemed just the right speed to her way of thinking. She changed direction to intercept his meandering path.
“Hey, Mo. Why you lookin’ so sad?”
“What do you mean?”
“Harley, the mayor, my drunk uncle, all the guys at the pub. Gone. I know they weren’t much nice to me, but they were friends of sorts. Now they’re gone.”
“In there.” And Mo pointed to the entrance next to the sign that took his last 12p.
“It says a dragon lives in there.”
“Ah, that’s just hype, Sioni. Ever’one knows that.”
“But everyone’s gone, like you said. What if it’s for real?”
“What’s for real?”
“Well, then no one should oughta go in there, then.”
“But I bet they did, don’t you?”
“Well, Harley and the mayor did.”
“And where are they?”
“I don’t know. They just distappeared. So I came back out. And here I am.”
Simplicity was Mo’s gift, if you understood it. Most people were so complex and multi-wired in their heads, they couldn’t get it. Most people prided themselves on high scientific thinking and cogitating on religious enigmas. Those kind of people would need cookie crumbs to follow Mo’s thinking. It was just too plain slow and simple. And, of course, those kind of people NEVER carried cookies in their pockets.
Sioni looked at Mo. “Would you go with me in there so we can see what’s happening?”
“You said there was a dragon. That’s what’s happening.”
“Maybe we can find all the missing people.”
“They weren’t that nice to me.”
“Doesn’t matter. We have to do what’s right, you know that.”
“Yeah, ok. Like Jiminy Cricket and the poisoned apple.”
Sioni didn’t even try to correct that one.
“So, will you come with me?”
“Of course, Sioni. Let me find some more cookies, first.”
It was late evening by the time the two of them were ready to take on the Labyrinth. Mo led the way, reminding Sioni not to disturb the crumbs he was dropping on the floor. Many times, it seemed that the Labyrinth just turned around on itself, as if time and space didn’t really work the same in here, and after a while, Sioni secretly was glad that Mo was leaving cookie crumbs on the floor. Finally, they came to a place where the corridor opened up into a great hall, or something. Sioni held Mo back, while she scrutinized the setting.
It was very quiet.
It was the kind of quiet that makes your stomach gurgle and try to work itself up backwards through the esophagus. It’s the kind of quiet that tornadoes like to spread in front of themselves, so they can pop up and scare people to death. And cows, too. Not that cows scare people to death, of course. They just don’t fly well in tornadoes. Anyway, it was a dark quiet. And Sioni didn’t trust it. Not one bit.
Mo just crumbled the last of his cookies, and whispered to Sioni, “We have to go back, cuz I’m out of cookies.”
She whispered back to him, “We’re at the end. We don’t need anymore.”
“But there’s nothing here…” Mo mused. Slow people muse well.
“There’s a mirror.”
“The one that speaks riddles to the old apple witch?”
“No. I think this one is worse.”
“Oh. Well, where’s the dragon, anyway?”
“I’m not sure. Let’s check this mirror out, since it’s the only thing here.”
Cautiously, the two of them walked over to the huge ceiling-to-floor mirror. As they neared it, Mo hesitated.
“What is it, Mo?”
“I see someone.”
“In the mirror.”
“I’d expect that’d be us.”
“No. No, it isn’t. Well, it may be you. But there’s this guy with you, looks like Prince Charming or Sir Lancelot. Like a hero. You know, to save the day and the damsel in distress and return to Kansas.”
“Silly Mo. That’s just you.”
“This is a mirror of Truth. You see your Truth. That can be pretty scary for some folk I know. Might even cause a heart attack or insanity or indigestion. I bet that dragon has something to do with this.”
And, raising her voice, she called, “You get out here right this minute!”
And, right at that moment, disenchanted that his grand entrance effect had been dampened by the girl’s precocious smackdown, the dragon stepped from behind the mirror.
“Whoa…” mused Mo. And he stepped in front of Sioni.
“I’ll roast you like a marshmallow, errant Knight.”
Sioni walked up to the dragon, waggling her finger, and proceeded to scold him.
“Don’t you even think about it! What kind of a scam do you have going on here, anyway? And where are all the people? And just when was the last time you took a bath, geesh!”
The dragon was so nonplused, he just stared at the girl.
Slowly he replied, “I didn’t do anything with the ‘people’. They just came rambling in here, looking for a good time, and then they saw their Truth. Scared them as if they had seen me. But this was so much more fun. After they fainted, or collapsed, or other unmentionables, I just nudged them over into that room behind you.”
Sioni turned around. Where there had been the corridor leading out, there was a small closed door.
She looked at the dragon. “You sure have made a mess, here.”
“I didn’t make the mess. The people made the mess when they saw the Truth.”
Suddenly, Sioni saw movement beside her. It was Mo. He was waving something at the dragon, and saying strange words. Not that this was unusual, mind you. Just that they seemed to be causing the dragon some discomfort.
“Mo, what are you doin’?”
But he wasn’t listening. He kept waving his hands and saying nonsense words. Suddenly, the dragon went ‘POOF!’ and turned into a mouse. A very unhappy mouse. A mouse who couldn’t even breathe fire without hiccuping. He scampered rapidly away from them. And Sioni just looked at Mo, like you would at a hero.
“Wow! Thanks Mo! Now let’s go get all our friends out of that room and go home.”
And, sure enough, when they opened the door, everyone was there, and very ready to go home (except the mayor whose piranhas were now working from the inside of a mouse-dragon).
The sleepy town (happy at no longer having to be a city) was blanketed by smells of supper and songs of beer-sated patrons. All was back to normal.
As Sioni walked with Mo back to her little cottage, she turned and looked quizzically at him.
“What is it, Sioni? Is there something wrong with me?”
“No, there’s something very right with you, Mo. But I was just wondering what it was you said to the dragon.”
And just as slow and simple as you can get, he answered her.