Get Your Hero in Trouble on Page One

Jason's first impulse was that he was dreaming, since he had never seen a dragon before, much less been carried away by one. This, I am sure, is something you can sympathize with. Like you, Jason was quite sure that dragons, along with all of the other beasts of classical mythology (such as the unicorn, the troll, and the kraken) had no greater presence in the physical world than the Loch Ness monster. Yet no amount of pinching seemed able to wake him from this supposed dream. The next most likely possibility, then, reasoned Jason, was that he was hallucinating. He looked at his captor, screwed up his eyes, and attempted to convince himself that what he was seeing (and hearing, and feeling) did not exist.

Just a minute ago, Jason had been sitting on a bench in a small park, whose name I don't care to remember. He'd stood up and stretched his arms wide in a gigantic yawn, and a moment later, he'd found himself being swept through the air by a red dragon. The beast's enormous claws, the size of "Tyrannosaurus rex" teeth, were speared through his blue-jean jacket. It had probably swooped down behind him and picked him up like a falcon catching a mouse. It was quite fortunate that he'd had his arms stretched out, exposing the material of his jacket, when the creature attacked. Otherwise, it probably would've pierced a fleshier part of him. Still, regardless of the fact that he wasn't bleeding profusely from ten different holes, hanging by the sleeves of his jacket was not particularly comfortable.

This sensation, along with all of the others Jason was experiencing, refused to be convinced away. The dragon had a very real presence. It looked much like the archetypal dragon of Western folklore, just as you'd expect: a four-limbed, bat-winged, fork-tongued reptile, covered with thick scales. It had a long, pointed snout like an alligator's maw made narrow. Smoke trickled out of its nostrils, a telltale sign of its trademark fire-breathing ability. Its eyes were dominated by Halloween-orange irises circumscribing great black pupils. Those eyes had a front-row-center position on the dragon's face, looking straight ahead—the unmistakable signature of a predator.

It was a bit untraditional in some ways, though. Its body was a striking crimson as opposed to the more orthodox yellowish green, and although it was large—ten feet in length, not including the five-foot tail—it wasn't the mile-long serpent of legend. (Obviously, not all of these details were visible from Jason's current perspective, but he was going to see them soon enough, so I give you them now for the sake of a more complete picture.)

At least Jason could enjoy the scenery. Now that the dragon had gained plenty of altitude, he had a clear view of his hometown and the surrounding hills. Mostly he saw small buildings and trees, but he could also make out a Wal-Mart in the distance. He still hadn't succeeded in dismissing his situation as some kind of illusion, so he just waited to see what would happen.

A minute or so later, he was suddenly plunged into a cloud. The sensation of flying through it was like being dragged through a gaseous sponge. The next moment, Jason found himself rising above the cloud layer, into the upper limits of the troposphere. Now, an infinite meadow of fleece stretched across the horizon on all sides. It wasn't a completely alien sight to Jason, since he'd been on an airplane before, but it was a much grander view than the ones he'd gotten peering out of those tiny windows.

He looked up at the dragon again. As I mentioned before, its wings resembled a bat's. But it didn't fly by frantically flapping its wings and circling about. That would've made for a much bumpier ride than the relatively smooth one that Jason was experiencing. The creature moved through the air much more like a wide-winged bird such as an albatross, flapping infrequently, mostly just riding on currents, although it had no feathers. As little as Jason knew about aerodynamics, it seemed fishy to him. Come to think of it, wasn't the air above the cloud layer too thin for merely mortal men to breathe? And wasn't it supposed to be much chillier at this altitude? Clearly, the presence of the dragon wasn't the only incongruous part of this situation.

Soon enough, the beast began to descend. Another trip through the clouds, and suddenly Jason felt very lost: spread out below him like a map was a labyrinthine network of canyons, each far grander than the Grand one. His head swam. He closed his eyes; the darkness behind his lids was far less confusing. Meanwhile, the dragon sped up as it swooped downwards. Eventually, it began to slow, and Jason suddenly fell on his knees on hard stone. He snapped his eyes open and scrambled to his feet.

He was in a cave with a simply enormous opening. Chances were that the interior of the cave was yet more enormous, but he couldn't tell; the opening faced east and the sun was setting, so it was very dark inside. He didn't need much light at all, though, to see the dragon. It was standing right in front of him, upright on its hind legs, and its orange eyes, which now seemed to be glowing, were staring straight at him.

Jason swore loudly.

The dragon, for its part, leaned forward and said (in an unnaturally deep voice, not without a hint of amusement) "You can talk?"

At this new revelation, that the dragon seemed to be not a mere animal but a rational being that could speak like a man and even had a good grasp of English, Jason really suspected that the universe was conspiring to unnerve him. Somehow he managed to reply hesitantly "Y-y-yes."

There was a pause, and the dragon said "Oh, I see. You didn't think I could speak, did you? Well, I thought the same of you!" A brief draconic chuckle issued from its throat.

"Yes," said Jason, not much put at ease, "that's right."

"It's not every day that you get to have a sapient creature for dinner," mused the dragon aloud, "but let's not waste time chatting. I am very hungry."

Jason would've been hard-pressed to come up with something he wanted to hear less. Up until this moment, he'd been holding on to the faint shred of a hope that the beast might hold no ill will towards him—perhaps it was a champion of good, snatching him from his hometown just moments before the place was hit by a meteor, or perhaps it just wanted a human for a pet. Instead, his worst fear had been realized. A few minutes ago, he'd been relaxing in a park; now, he was staring death in the face.

With the sudden realization of all this, Jason was robbed of most of his sense, and could only stammer pointlessly "You're going to eat me?"

The dragon sighed as puffs of smoke piped from its nostrils. "Sadly, yes." It turned away and walked further into the cave.

Jason's mind raced. Now that his fate was clear, he had to find some way out of it. He might try to overpower the dragon—with what? His bare hands? Even if he'd been armed, he wouldn't have stood a chance. Running might work, but probably not. The monster was probably much faster than he; besides, where would he run to? Trickery would've been an option, but in Jason's state of extreme agitation, he couldn't come up with any tricks at all. There was only one thing to do. Somehow, he had to convince the dragon not to eat him.

"Please!" he shrieked pitifully, his voice cracking. "Don't eat me!"

The dragon turned and walked back towards Jason. "Why shouldn't I?"

"Because… because it would be unethical." He had never before regretted how philosophy wasn't taught in American public elementary schools as much as he did now.

"How so?" said the dragon, a bit sarcastically.

"Well, you shouldn't kill things. How would you like to be killed?" Jason realized what a stupid argument this was as soon as it was out of his mouth. But fear wreaked havoc on his speech.

The dragon deftly countered "And I suppose you're a breatharian?"

Jason just stood there. He began to cry silently. Was there nothing he could do? The dragon watched him. It was obviously unmoved by his tears—in the same way, he reminded himself, that he would be unmoved by the tears of the animals he ate for dinner. But it wasn't the same thing; it couldn't be the same thing. He was no livestock. He could think. The dragon seemed interested in the conversation, if not at all convinced. It wasn't dismissive, at least; it was paying attention. Jason might still have a chance. He rallied what little strength remained in his breast, dried his eyes, took a deep breath, and prepared to argue for his life.

"No, I have to eat, too." said Jason. "And animals are killed to feed me. But I eat animals, not other rational beings."

"So what? Murder is murder."

"Sure, but butchers aren't murderers. They kill animals."

"What's the difference? You eat animals because you can. They're weaker than you. In quite the same way, I'll eat you, for you're weaker than I." It smiled menacingly to illustrate this point.

"No," said Jason, with more conviction than he felt at the moment, "that's what separates creatures like you and me from the animals. We don't simply take advantage of those who are weaker than us. We do what we like with animals, but they don't really matter. They're stupid. One is just like another, give or take a few personality quirks in higher mammals. They have no creativity or intelligence. They can't systematically explore new continents, or write novels, or even light a fire.

"You and I, on the other hand, are capable of real greatness. Each specimen of each of our species is special. We can go down in history, for we, unlike the animals, keep histories. To recap: it is unethical for you to kill me for food because I'm a sapient creature."

"Pretty good," admitted the dragon, "pretty good. But your argument is based upon the assumption that we're of equal intelligence. In fact, I'm smarter than you."

"No, it isn't. Just that we're both sapient." He waited for the beast to respond, but it didn't, so he went on. "Look, think of the precedent you're setting. Suppose a rational being ten times your size got you in its clutches. You wouldn't want to get eaten, of course. But if you eat me, you won't be able to use my argument, 'cause you need to practice what you preach."

There was now a longer pause than any so far in the encounter. Jason fidgeted a little. The dragon was as impassive as ever. It sighed deeply.

Finally, it said "Fine, you win. But I hope you realize you're inconveniencing me quite a bit. I'll have to look for something else to eat." It walked out of the cave, to the canyon's rim, which was just a few yards away from the entrance. Looking back at Jason, it said "Don't worry, I'll eat an animal." Then it leapt off the edge and flew away.

Jason had no idea where he was. He didn't know how to get home. He didn't know if civilization could be found anywhere nearby, or if he had any hope of being rescued. He wasn't sure if anything he'd perceived in the last few minutes had been real at all. But Jason was alive, gloriously alive!

He smiled as he watched the dragon fly off into the distance.