Dragon Curve, or Affine Mess You've Gotten Us Into

Steven Bergom

My father was always a forward thinking man and around the late '50s he, thinking about his children's future, started speculating on the price of land. I guess everyone does that kind of thing every now and then but usually they pass it off after a while as nothing more than a fancy and invest in something safer, like stocks. Well, my dad was a banker so he had the means to put his wide and wonderful plans to work and bought up hundreds of acres of prime real estate. The only problem is that he missed the really prime land by a couple thousands miles: he bought land in North Dakota.

Okay, so it wasn't the smartest investment he made but could you blame him? Look at California; land values in and around San Jose can go for upwards of three to four times the national average per square foot and homes have been sold for more than a million dollars over the asking price. If you've got the dough Cupertino is the place to be. The only reason that the land Dad bought could be considered 'sweet' or 'right for the pickin' ' was because the land up around that part tended to be used for the growing of sugar beets.

I mean, who in his right mind wants to live in North Dakota? It's cold, it's flat, there's not much to do unless you're a farmer and if you have the bad luck of settling anywhere near the Red River Valley you run the risk of getting flooded out every few years. The snow was only one of the reasons that I moved to southern Arizona as soon as I graduated college; the featureless landscape, the summertime mosquitos and the proliferation of 'dumb North Dakotan' jokes were the others.

I'm not saying Dad was completely snowed under by his little investment. When the Grand Forks Air Force Base was looking to expand operations he happened to hold title to the land that they were looking at to pave over and create more runways. He made a killing on the sale of that property and, on the advice of a friend, he didn't sink that money into more land but ended up playing the stock market. It was there that he built his fortune and ended up retiring a few years earlier than he had been planning.

He wasn't able to enjoy all those year, unfortunately. Shortly after his sixty-seventh birthday he fell asleep one night and never woke up. Mom had died several years earlier — car accident — and all his friends had moved to warmer climes so it was a small funeral with just me, my wife and kids, the pastor and a few of the guys from a bar he liked to frequent. It was after the casket was lowered into the ground and we all had a chance to thank the minister did I find out just how much land my father had owned. You really don't want to know.

It was an absolutely ludicrous amount, and to this day I cannot help but wonder how Dad was able to keep bread on the table when he first bought the land. Today it's used by farmers who rent the land but back when Dad first bought it there was no one who wanted to use the acreages. It was through pure determination that he kept that land to pass on to me, his only heir.

I wanted to sell it at first and just keep the proceeds but for some reason when I thought about preparing a notice to put in realty journals I couldn't bring myself to perform that very act. Instead I had thoughts about what my father would say about my throwing away everything he had worked for and how I would be letting him down for forsaking my responsibility. Mostly, though, the thought that stayed my hand time after time was, Who wants to buy land in North Dakota anyway? So I continued to collect rent checks from farmers in the far off north and used them to help pay the property taxes on my over-priced home situated in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains in Pima County, Arizona.

I had been administering my inheritance from afar for several years when I was woken at an ungodly hour of the morning by a ringing phone. I answered it with my usual morning asperity only to find that hell had relocated to the Sonoran Desert when I heard a too perky voice on the other end of the line. "Is this Eu-gene Nord-strom?"

"Mmble grmple hmph." Or, for those of you who haven't mastered the dialect of English known as Pre-Coffee, "Yes."

"Well, Mr. Nord-strom, my name is Becky and I'm with the Minnkota Power Cooperative, serving the energy needs of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota." I winced at each syllable she pronounced as I felt the beams of pure joy radiating from her mouth, down the phone line, across two time zones and straight into my brain like steel re-bar. "I'm calling you to let you know that a large energy spike occurred in our delivery system to a property of yours north of Grafton."

"Grff flft mkpha moofk?"

"Because that property does not have a phone line installed and you, Mr. Nord-strom, are listed as the contact person for anything unusual."

"Bfl uhfn."

"Your welcome, Mr. Nord-strom, and have a lovely day! Buh-bye!" at which point I hung up the phone and curled back around my pillow.

"Who was that, honey?" my wife asked from beside me.

"Mggl lrrup."

"What did they want?"

"S'fluggo na whumph."

"Oh. Would you like me to remind you when you wake up?"


I fell back asleep only to be wakened fifteen minutes later by the wailing of my alarm clock reminding me that I still had to work that day. Mumbling about all the injustices in the world I fell out of bed, stumbled across the room and barked my shin on the dresser only to realize that the bathroom was the other way. Back I went, this time tripping over a particularly dense spot in the shag carpeting before making it to the shower which I found to be too cold for being so early in the morning.

Finally showered, shaved, clothed and coffeed I kissed my wife good morning and snatched a blueberry bagel from the toaster. "You had a phone call this morning, honey. From the North Dakota Power Department."

"Oh, what did they want?" I asked, brushing crumbs that had quickly appeared on my tie.

"Apparently there was a power spike on one of your properties last night and your name was given as the contact."

"Now why would they do that? Oh, well," I shrugged and jotted down a note in my day-planner. "I'll look into it after work."

Which I promptly forgot to do until my wife reminded me about it at the supper table. After dutifully clearing off the plates and taking out the garbage I checked records that had been passed to me by my late father and found that, three miles north of Grafton, North Dakota there was a property on which a man by the name of Ole Andersen lived. Utility-free. And rent-free.

I was flabbergasted. Completely and utterly flabbergasted. For some reason my dearly departed father had set aside an account from which all gas and electric bills were paid, and would be paid for years to come. I searched through reams of paper for any information on this Ole fellow but could come up with nothing more than a quick, handwritten note bearing only two words: "Old — tinkerer." After arguing with myself for several hours I finally came to the decision that I would have to travel to Grafton to visit with this Ole person, not because of any overwhelming curiosity or a sudden attack of nostalgia, but because I could use the whole trip as a tax write-off.

After interminable hours on the phone with a ticketing agent, interminable hours in a plane and interminable miles on back-country gravel roads I finally pulled my rented Ford Escort up a dirt path with wheel-ruts that would give a carriage fits. The house that I had made my way to was large and would have looked quite forbidding if it wasn't for the fact that it was rather sunny out and that a large smiley-face had been painted across the front bay window. I couldn't find the doorbell so I settled for the expedient of knocking on the front door.

And knocking.

And knocking some more.

Ten minutes and four bruised knuckles later I finally heard life stirring inside the house in the form of loud bangs, cursing in a language that sounded vaguely Scandinavian and a high-pitched caterwaul. "You young hooligans! When I get my hands on you I'll spank you so hard you'll be crying for your mommies when you're twenty-six! Why I'll —" The door suddenly jerked inwards to reveal an old man a head shorter than myself whose hair had passed the stage of being grey and was now an absolute white. "You're not a young hooligan, are you?" he stated more than asked after studying me for several silent moments.

"No, sir. I…"

"Vacuum cleaner salesman?"

"No, I…"

"Tax man?"



"Of course not!"


"No, I'm…"

"Well, then, speak up! Who are you?! Don't stand there blubberin', I ain't got all day!"

In an effort to get my message out without being interrupted again I cranked up my volume to full and spoke as rapidly as possible. "Sir, my name is Gene Nordstrom and if you are Ole Andersen, I…"

"Nordstrom?" It didn't work.

"Yes, and…"

"Eugene Nordstrom?" I nodded my head vigorously and in a rapid about-face from his previous belligerence the man who I was pretty sure was Ole Andersen lit up with a smile wider than the Mississippi river and flung out his arms like he was greeting his prodigal son. "Artie's boy!" he exclaimed and then kissed me. On the lips.

While I bent over furiously scrubbing my mouth with the back of my hand Ole slapped me on the back and continued with a conversation by himself that was more than enough for the both of us. "My boy, my boy! It's so good to see you at last! Artie's told me so much about you, he was so proud, sorry to hear about your bereavement, why've you waited so long to come up around these parts! Come inside I'll show you the place! Sorry, but since I didn't know you were coming I didn't clean up, why didn't you call? Oh, well, busy society today, bet'cha had lots of busy stuff to do! Huh? Not much of a talker, are you Gene? Well come on in!"

My exercise in oral hygiene was interrupted by Ole reaching out and bodily dragging me through the doorway, never minding things like boxes, broken floor-boards and door jambs. It was not without a few scrapes and bruises that I eventually found myself seated in Ole's kitchen staring at a glass of supposed lemonade with an orange tint to it that I was sure was contributed to by the pipes leading into the house. Maybe that was Ole's problem: lead poisoning. It would certainly explain his greeting so far. The only thing that made the drink worthy even of the consideration of drinking was the large measure of vodka that he poured into it before hand-squeezing the lemons over top.

Ole took a long, thirsty swig of his drink. "So, Gene, you gonna' tell me why you're here?" he asked, looking at me expectantly.

"Well, uh, Mr. Andersen… Ole," I amended when he corrected me. "As you know I inherited my fathers lands when he passed on a few years ago and I haven't gotten around to surveying all of the properties as of yet. Last week I received a phone call from the Minnkota Power Cooperative informing me that there was an energy spike out here…"

"Oh, that!" he said slapping his thighs. "I'm sorry to disturb you with all that. I was just running a few experiments and the lights went futzy for a moment." Again, he sat on his kitchen stool staring at me with a happy smile on his face.

I turned his explanation over in my head for several long moment but couldn't find anything immediately wrong with it. "Experiments? What kind of experiments, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Oh, not at all, not at all. I like to build machines that do things."

"What types of things?"

"You know, things."

I furrowed my brows in concentration, trying at that moment to restrain the sudden urge to leap up and strangle Ole. "I'm sorry, sir, but my education seems to be lacking here. What things?"

"Well," he said after some careful thought. "I don't rightly know how to explain it. You ever get spells? You know, like you kinda' blank out for a while and when ya' wake up, it clicks. You just unnerstand something that you didn't before. Well, I get these sometimes and when I wake up I just gotta' build something or I'll burst! Usually they don't work, but this time it did something. Something grand!"

I was looking at him dubiously at this point; either he was a genius on an order that Einstein couldn't imagine, or I really needed to call the padded truck for a pickup. Ole, of course, read this look and translated it only as a curiosity in his contraption. "Would'ja like to see it?" I nodded my head hoping that the more that I agreed with him, the faster I would be able to leave this place. "Great!" he exclaimed back to me and rubbing his hands in glee.

He led me through more boxes and crates, through a door and then down a set of unlit stairs into the cellar. This time Ole refrained from dragging so any barked shins were purely to blame on my own nimble feet in navigating the obstacle course that was his home. "So, Ole. How is it that you and Dad came to have this, uh, arrangement?"

"You mean the house? Back in the sixties when I was working at the university I happened to pull your father out of a jam, once. It was kinda' embarrassing so he asked me to forget about it and then let me stay here. Been here ever since."

I racked my brain but couldn't think of anything that my father did in that period of time that he was involved in. Nor could I ever remember him dealing with anyone at the university. "What did my father do that was so embarrassing?"

"Don't know," Ole shrugged his shoulders. "I forget. Now, where did I put that switch… Ah! Here it is!" In a burst of light I found that the room was lit by a single, bare light bulb that just happened to be hanging right in front of my face. "There she is! Isn't she a beaut!"

While blinking away the after-effects of a fog light being shined in my eyes I saw that Ole was pointing to a large contraption that was about six feet tall, was made from randomly colored wires, copper tubes and recycled lumber and had a big blue spot right in the middle. The blue spot, of course, was probably from my still-healing eyes. "What, may I ask, is that?"

"That is my Metaphysical Multi-faceted Mimeograph!" Still at a loss I prompted him for more information with a circular waving of my hand. "It, uh… Well, it's like this… No, no, it's more like…" At a loss, Ole scratched his head. "You know, I can't really explain it. If I could, I'd give you a demonstration, but on my last run I burnt out this," he said holding up a fused mass of tubing and wires. "You wouldn't happen to have a spare, would you?"

I was sorely tempted to say yes, but knowing Ole as I did so far I feared that he would take me literally and I would have to produce said object (whatever it was) from the trunk of my rental — or the engine — and I'm pretty sure that it would invalidate my rental agreement. "I'm sorry," I said after some consideration. "I can't help you in that department."

He tossed the misshapen lump into a pile of scrap. "Oh, well. Guess I'll have to find a way around it. Since I can't show ya' a demonstration, you'll have to settle for th' end product. Now, where did you go, Olga. Olga!" Ole had turned to a workbench behind him where a cage normally used to keep small pets sat open. "Olga's always getting loose," he turned to me apologetically. "Olga's a rat. A big 'un, too, but she likes to get out of her cage. She's supposed to be the 'before', but since you've seen rats before I guess you already know what they look like. Now if I can just find Bjørn…"

Ole began searching the cellar for this mysterious 'Bjørn' by looking into old cupboards, under workbenches and even displacing the occasional trash in case 'Bjørn' was hiding under it. Finally he stood in the center of the room, turning slowly and tapping his lips thoughtfully. "Now if I were Bjørn, where would I be hiding?" Two-thirds of the way through his revolution he stopped and pointed suddenly to the ceiling. "Ah! There he is!"

I followed the direction of his pointing hand and looked up into the floor joists in time to see a large bat-creature drop and fly straight into my face. I back-pedaled but, since this was Ole's basement, tripped over some unidentified junk, hit my head and saw stars.

Once again I found myself in Ole's kitchen with a vodka-flavored orange colored lemonade — with lots of ice — pressed against a large knot that was beginning to form on my temple. Ole, too, was once again sitting across from me, but this time he had perched on his shoulder the bat-creature from the cellar. But it wasn't a bat, as I found out. It was a small lizard-like creature no longer than my forearm with a pair of leathery wings sprouting from between his shoulder blades. His name was Bjørn, and just a week ago he was Ole's pet rat.

"Bjørn here is what caused that energy spike the electric company told you about," he said finishing off his third lemonade of the afternoon. Bjørn was nibbling at a bit of meat Ole had given him and was holding it in his paws much as a rat would do. "I needed a test subject and Olga had slipped out of her cage again. She's a smart 'un. At times I swear she thinks she's human, what with the way she acts and is always finding out how to open the cage even when I put a lock on it."

I guess I should have been stunned stupid by the sight of a miniature dragon but at the moment I was attempting to will the throbbing in my head to flow outward into the icy glass I held at my temple. Instead I could only wince as I stared at the little blue dragon. Or was he brown? I couldn't tell because the big blue spot cheerfully given me by the light bulb was now joined by a rather large constellation of stars. "How did you make him, anyway?"

Ole shrugged his shoulders then and said simple, "Haven't got a clue! I woke up one night last summer when it was really hot and told myself that I really needed to fix the air conditioner. 'Course, I'd been telling myself the same thing for years, but never got around to doin' it. This time pictures of the compressor started to get stuck in my head. I didn't really have to think about it, I just started thinking about how it all worked, and before long I just had to write it all down. You know what I mean? It's like if you don't, you won't forget it, but it'll start oozing out of your ears like a leaky septic tank."

The ice wasn't doing much good while Ole was talking so I tentatively sipped at my drink to see if the vodka would have any calming effect on the marching band that was playing in my skull. Instead, it only inspired them to play louder and I now had to contend with both Ole's pontification and an out-of-tune high school band playing songs thirty years old with an over-emphasis on the drum section.

"So once I got it all written down I said to myself, 'Ole, you just gotta' figger out what this does.' So for the next year I was collectin' motors and transistors and circuit boards and what-not and puttin' them together. I wasn't real sure what would happen when I threw the switch; I still wasn't quite sure what the 'quations would do when put into practice. But it all turned out for the best and Bjørn here likes his new form, I think." Indeed Bjørn must like himself because he let out a chirrup and rubbed his head against Ole's face ecstatically.

"Did you keep notes on everything? I'd like to see them, if you don't mind." Actually, I didn't want to see them, but for some reason I thought that it would be polite to act like I was interested. He did have his notes handy and, after rifling through a pile of dirty dishes and old newspapers he extracted a notebook which he handed over to me.

The notebook was an average notebook that you could buy in any store for thirty-five cents (plus tax) and had been well-used judging by the doodles and bits of dried food on the cover. Inside, though, were copious amounts of recognizable algebra mixed with Greek, Latin and what I probably would identify as Phoenician if I hadn't failed history in college. In summary it looked as exciting as an actuarial table.

"Neat, huh?" He was beaming with a pride that I had seen on my son's face when he brought me a watercolor picture that he painted home from school. I suddenly had the desire to hang the notebook by magnets on a refrigerator door but I refrained from acting on the impulse. "Here," he said, flipping through the notebook in my hands to a page near the end. "That's what actually turned Bjørn into the handsome fella you see before you now."

"So, you've built a machine that can turn rats into small dragons."

"Well, not just rats. The original form doesn't matter in the least! With that set of equations I can turn anything into a dragon, even you!"

I gulped at the prospect of having to spend the rest of my life in the body of something small enough to be eaten by a coyote. "You wouldn't actually turn me…?"

"Oh, no, nonono!" he assured me. "I wouldn't do that. If you wanted to be something else, I'd do that!"

"Thank you for the offer but I think I'll turn it down." A thought suddenly occurred to me. "What would you want to be? If you could find the equations to turn you into anything, what would it be?"

Ole leaned back in his chair and scratched at his chin thoughtfully. "I really don't know there, Gene. Maybe a big, busty blonde, like you see on TV all the time! I've always been interested in the other side, you know. Or maybe I'd be a dragon, like little bronze Bjørn here, except bigger. I wouldn't really want to be anything that small. What do you think?"

"I really don't know what to tell you, Ole, I really don't." And I really wanted to get out of there after his comment about the blonde. "What exactly did you do at the university?" I said changing the subject to try and shake the image of Ole Andersen as a Baywatch babe out of my head.

"I was a janitor," he said proudly though if he kept the university grounds in the same condition as his home I could see why he would need the trust fund my father had set up for him. As I handed Ole back his notebook I couldn't help but be thankful that he only caused a spike in the energy grid and nothing more catastrophic. "You can learn a lot from forty years of cleaning professors chalk boards," he said when he caught my significant look at the book.

"Well," I said after a long pause, "I really must be going. I need to catch a flight out in the morning and I don't want to have to reschedule my seat."

"Well, don't let me keep you, Gene, and thanks for coming up! Maybe the next time you come for a visit I'll have the Mimeograph up and running and give you a demonstration," he offered as we made our way to the front door.

"That would be, uh, wonderful." We stopped in the entry way and I looked around at the house. "Have you ever thought of getting a phone line out here? I don't want to have to fly up here every time that I get a call from the power company."

"I tried, but the phone company didn't want to come out. Can't for the life of me figure out why."

Looking around at the clutter I could probably have given him an excellent reason, but decided the best course of action would be to agree whole-heartedly. Still, I didn't want to leave him without a means of contact so I pulled out one of my business cards and wrote my home phone number on the back. "Well, in case you get a phone, or just need to let me know when you're going to start up experimenting again, here's where you can reach me."

Ole looked at the card for a minute and it looked like his eyes were beginning to tear up. Suddenly he threw his arms around me and hugged me quite tightly, giving me trouble breathing. "Oh, thank you so much, Gene! Your father'd be proud of you!"

I squeaked out a thank-you and worked an arm loose enough so that I could pat him on the back. "Well," I managed when he finally let me go. "Keep in touch!"

"I will!" he promised and waved me off as I got into the car. I couldn't be sure because of the distance I was from the house, but it looked like Bjørn was mirroring his owners actions by waving his little paw at me. I made my way back down the gravel road, onto the highway and back to the hotel I was staying at in Grand Forks. When I got to my room I ordered up room service, savoring the bottled water they sent up, took two aspirin and flew home in the morning.

It had definitely been a mistake on my part to give Ole my phone number because just as he promised to keep in touch, he did. Several times a week. Even if I happened to be at work. And that man could talk for hours on any and all subjects! He talked about the weather, local and global politics, the economy and, especially, his machine.

Of course I don't mean to insinuate that he always made sense. "Chaos is so predictable," he told me once. "There will always be some point in a simulation beyond which prediction is impossible. We don't want so much to find an equation that models an even perfectly, but one where the error propagation is small enough so that a butterfly flapping around in Africa doesn't cause tornadoes in Kansas." Afterwards he launched into an extended analysis of the lutefisk that he was served at a local restaurant the night before.

Thankfully, though, I didn't receive any more calls from the power company complaining about power spikes coming from Ole's house. That is, until Ole figured out what all those scribbled notes meant.

It was the middle of tax season and I was fully ensconced in the convoluted rhetoric of the US tax code when I got a frantic call from Ole. "I've got it, Gene! I've got it!" he screamed at me while I tried to reconcile the expenditures of a local flower shop.

"What have you got, Ole? Measles?" I asked hopefully.

Ole chuckled. "Oh, Gene, you're such a kidder! No, I've figured out what it all means!"

"Great, then I wish you eternal happiness." I was trying to get him off the phone because, as a corporate accountant I had several accounts that I needed to get through by the end of the week and Ole would severely cut into my time. It was not to be, though.

"You're going to love this!"

"I'm sure I would, but…"

"Great! I hope you're sitting down 'cause this may take a while."

"Ole, I…"

"Do you know much about math?" Without being rude I decided that the only thing that I could do was to figuratively nod my head and make polite mumblings.

"Well, I am a CPA."

"Oh, so not much. I'll make this simple then." Obviously he didn't feel my need to be nice with the way he had just trivialized six years of my life spent learning economics. "Have you ever looked at a maple leaf? Well, you know how if you take a smaller leaf and compare it, they look the same. Even more, if you lay the leaf back on the bigger one and rotate it around a little it fits on like a piece of a puzzle. If you were patient and found a couple more leaves like the smaller one, you could fit them together and make a big leaf; kinda' like making a collage. You can do the same thing with a mathematical model, flipping, folding, stretching, translating and rotating a figure to make a bigger version.

"Now, here's the really neat part: you don't actually need to start out with a maple leaf to get one in the end. You can start with anything! If you want to you could start out with a tax form, shrink it, copy it, rotate it and translate it according to a group of functions — a function system, if you may — and do it again, and again, and again to the resulting picture you'll eventually make a maple leaf. You can make a maple leaf out of anything!"

"That's great, Ole, but now I…"

"I haven't even gotten to the best part! You would think by what I just described that you can only do this with two-dimensional objects, but it works just as easily in three! Well, not exactly 'easily'. The equations are just a tad more complicated, but the theory still stands. That's how I made Bjørn into a dragon. I stretched, shrunk, copied and rotated him until his end form fit to the equations that I started out with."

"You know, Ole," I said while rubbing my forehead against the coming of a headache, "that sounds quite painful."

"Yes, actually, I guess it would be. It's probably enough to cause any thinking being to go insane!"

"Unless, of course, they're already crazy."

"Well, yes, I guess there is that… Anyway, I wanted to call to let you know that I'm going to start working on the machine again, so if you get any calls from the power company it's just me and I'll be all right. I'll let you know if it's otherwise."

"Thank you, Ole. It's been nice talking with you," I said but he had already hung up somewhere between the 'nice' and 'talking' and before I could correct him on the sheer illogicality of the statement he just made; if nothing happened, he wouldn't call (which was a definite bonus) but if something did, then he probably wouldn't be in a position to call anyway.

Either way it looked like I was going to be able to get some work done without certain unwanted interruptions.

In all actuality I didn't notice that Ole hadn't been calling me of late. He had a habit of calling at the most inopportune times and at that moment every time was inopportune. Tax season is not the most forgiving of seasons to the CPA and the IRS fairy had decided to visit me with the most unruly customers in three counties just to test my mettle. My mettle tested quite well during that month, thank you.

It was a quiet Saturday morning in June when I once again received a call from up north. "Hello, is this Mr. Eu-gene Nord-strom?"


"My name is Becky and I'm with the Minnkota Power Cooperative." Oh, Lord, not again! If anything Becky had managed to get even perkier in the intervening months and each syllable felt like a thousand tacks were being shoved into my skull. From the inside. Repeatedly. "I'm calling to let you know that a power spike was registered on your property near Grafton."

"Mphthl thzzis."

"Well, no, actually that's not all. We also had to shut down the gas main, too."


"The house burned down, Mr. Nord-strom."

In the world there are only two things that can wake me up as quickly as I did that morning: hot, black coffee and the sudden depreciation of investments. Oddly enough, I couldn't identify what I was feeling as either of those two things, and that frightened me. "Is Ole okay? I mean, the man that was living there; is he all right?"

"I'm sorry Mr. Nord-strom. You'll have to contact the local authorities on that. I only report what affects the Minnkota Power Cooperative. I thank you for your time and hope you have a lovely day. Buh-bye!"

I put the phone back in its cradle with some shock. I had no way of knowing if Ole was okay because there was no way that he could call me if he was badly injured. With a call to the operator I found the number for the Grafton Fire Department and upon calling them learned only that they were called out early in the morning to put out a fire that was mostly out when they got there.

I knew it probably wasn't the smartest thing to do but I had to find out if Ole was all right. I contacted my travel agent and brow-beat him into giving me a discounted plane ticket and within forty-eight hours found myself driving along a gravel road outside of Grafton, North Dakota.

The house was a total loss. All that was left was a smoking pile of rubble and a few pieces of yellow painted glass that were part of a bay window that had a big smiley face on it. If Ole was anywhere in the house at the time of the fire, there was no way that he could have survived. I was contemplating slipping under the yellow plastic police line that had been erected to protect the scene when a voice just off my right shoulder startled at least three years off my life. "And what might you be doing there, eh?"

I jumped back to collide with a young woman in a police officer's uniform. We fell together and it was several moments before we could disentangle ourselves. As I helped her up I couldn't help but notice that she had blonde hair, a rather large bust and looked pretty good. (If my wife is reading this, I swear that I did not have any lascivious thoughts. It is possible for a guy to look at a woman and not want to jump in the sack with her.) I blinked for a moment while my mind went back to a conversation that I had with Ole in this very house about his Mimeograph machine. "Ole?" I asked very quietly.

The officer looked at me like I was crazy before proceeding to correct me in an exaggerated phrasing that you would use when teaching a child phonics. "No, it's El-la. Officer El-la Lar-sen, if you must know. You still haven't answered my question, don't'cha know. What business do you have here?"

"I, uh, that is, I own this land. And the house. I just heard that it burned down yesterday and I came to check my losses."

"Ya own this land?"

"That's right and I was wondering…"

"And the house?"

"Yes and…"

"Whatcha say your name was?"


"Well can't'cha talk, there? Cat got your tongue, eh?"

I was having serious deja vu here. Other than the fact that Ella was talking in a northern accent so thick it made you want to play hockey and eat back bacon she was interrupting me in just the same way that Ole did the previous summer. "My name is Eugene Nordstrom."

It was like a switch went on in her head because she suddenly had a smile on her face and was throwing her arms around me, trapping my own arms against my body. I would be lying to say that I wasn't disappointed that she didn't kiss me on the lips. "Artie's boy!"

Now, I'm going to take a little break from the narrative here to say that, for the life of me I have no idea how so many people in Grafton knew my father so well that they felt absolutely comfortable in greeting me, a total stranger, with such familiarity. I never knew Dad to leave his home in Grand Forks except for occasional visits to Minnesota to go fishing when I was younger. In that instant I knew there was much that I needed to learn about him and Grafton was the place to start. Now back to the original story line.

When she released me she stepped back to look at me with a still-glowing smile on her face. "Oh, it's good to meet you, Gene! Your father said so much about you."

"How exactly did you know my father?"

"Well, he did me a favor a long time ago. In fact, if it weren't for him I wouldn't be the woman you see standing before you today," she said putting her hands on her hips and thrusting her chest out proudly. "Anyways, is there anything that I can help you with?"

"Well, a man by the name of Ole Andersen was staying here and I was wondering if he made it out before all this happened."

She scratched her head in though before answering, "I can't rightly tell. No one's seen him for about a week or so, so it's possible but I can't say for sure, ya know. Tell ya what, the fire inspector's gonna' be sifting through this for the next week. If they find anything I'll have the give ya a call."

I thanked her and after I gave her my home phone number and the number of the hotel I was staying at, I watched her get into the squad car and drive off back to Grafton. When she was nothing more than a puff of dirt off in the distance, I turned back to staring at the smoking rubble that was Ole Andersen's home.

I don't know how long I was standing there, but about when the sun started to sink toward the horizon I felt a light breeze kiss the back of my neck and small, sharp talons grip into my shoulder. I turned my head to have a little bronze dragon nuzzle into my cheek. "Well, Bjørn. It's good to see that you made it out alive. I don't suppose you could give me any information on what happened to your master, could you?" Bjørn sniffed at me and then bent his head to scratch at a particularly itchy spot on his stomach. I chuckled sadly and helped Bjørn scratch, an action for which he made evident his appreciation by chirruping.

While I was doing that I suddenly felt another breath of air. I looked first to Bjørn, but his wings were folded on his back. It wasn't until I felt twin pin-pricks on my right shoulder that I knew he wasn't completely alone in the world. "Well I'll be a monkey's uncle!" I exclaimed when I saw the gold dragonette. She was a beautiful specimen; she was bigger than Bjørn and with larger flight muscles, but it was her skin, a natural golden color that glinted in the setting sun that caught my breath away.

"And I suppose you would be Olga, right?" She chirruped and then continued 'talking' to me for quite some time before settling back and giving me a smug look. I opened my mouth when a thought hit me, but it was rather disturbing so I dismissed it quickly. "Naw," I said, "it couldn't be. Either way, I guess I'm going to have to figure out how to get you two home because you don't have anyone here and North Dakota isn't quite that friendly to lizards in the winter. What would you to say to moving to a nice, hot, dry desert?" They both ground their heads into my cheeks in pleasure and I laughed with the first bit of joy since I learned of the fire the previous morning.

They never did find Ole's remains in the house and after several years of searching for him they eventually wrote him off as dead. It had taken me a while to figure out how to get Bjørn and Olga home but that problem was solved by a medium-sized pet carrier and a few surly looks from the airplane stewardesses. My children were ecstatic when I brought them out though my wife fainted immediately on seeing our two new houseguests. With a little explanation and a generous amount of smelling salts I got her back up and we had two new pets.

Now, I bet you've noticed how I've assumed until now that the golden dragon was female when I had no real way of knowing that. I could always say that I assumed she was Olga, the second rat that Ole had finally captured and Mimeographed, but the question of her gender became rather academic when, later in the summer she produced nine healthy eggs. Yes, I know that she could very well be Ole, transformed, but I discard that conclusion every time it pops into my head despite the fact that she enjoys lemonade, keeps her den rather messy and has broken into my liquor cabinet at least twice since I got her. I just can't believe that Ole would go so far as to turn himself into a female dragon-companion for Bjørn.

Ella, the police officer kept in touch long after Ole was declared dead and we came to have a relationship much as any siblings would have. In fact, we became the big brother and little sister that the other never had, especially since she knew my father nearly as well as I knew him. Ella didn't have any parents, something which she never explained, so when she found the right man and he proposed I once again flew to Grafton and gave her away, all the while trying not to laugh as the minister dictated the wedding service in an accent at least as strong as Ella's.

When I first arrived home with Bjørn and Olga I was surprised to find that a package was waiting for me. It was a manilla envelope postmarked the week before and inside it contained a familiar notebook and a note, hand-written by Ole. It read:

Dear Gene,

I'm giving this to you for safe keeping. I don't know what will happen in the near future and with my luck at house-keeping I'd probably lose it. There's some valuable stuff in there and I don't want some hooligans running off with it before I've had a chance to figure out what half of it is. Please take care of it. I trust you.

The new thing that I discovered after I talked to you last was that not only is the collage great for one-, two and three-dimensional objects, but it can be expanded to as many dimensions as you want! You can change space and time as much as you want and it only takes a few simple equations. Just think, you could fix all the mistakes that you made in life, and make everything turn out the way that you want it. But there's one thing that I wouldn't change in a million years and that was meeting your father, Gene, and meeting you. You've made an old man happy and for that I owe you everything.

I'll keep in touch.

Your friend,

Ole Andersen