by Mike Brotzman
part 3
 2 3 4

  In the end everything worked out for the best. The school paid for several pairs of padded wrist and shin supports. They looked like a carpal tunnel brace and had a padded palm for shock absorption. They also served to take the strain off my wrists, transmitting the force into the long bones of my appendages. I was also provided with a custom-made dragon saddle and some other pieces of somewhat demeaning dragon tack. Now, leatherwork is very expensive and the school didn't do this out of the goodness of their own heart. I suggested that they just get the machine shop guys to make it, but Sarah dissuaded me of this idea. In return for outside-contracted, custom leather pieces, I had to pose for a photo-session with the vaguely popular equestrian team and then allow each member to ride me in turn. The team was in a desperate effort to increase its membership and free dragon rides seemed like the way to do it. It took some effort to learn how to respond to movement commands given by some little creature riding on my back.
  The saddle was positioned just behind my shoulders and just before my wingroots. It was made as light as possible and made ample use of high strength polymer cords and webbing. There were four straps, two in front of my arms, two behind, which came down and attached to a little breastplate type of thing. The latches were designed so that, with some effort, I could remove the saddle. The rider had reins that attached to a modified bridle and hackamore, as a bit would have been unnecessary and uncomfortable. The bridle was designed only to go around the upper part of my muzzle so that it would not interfere with my talking, eating or breathing. I was a bit wary of being led around like an animal and Sarah mentioned that after a while I could just automatically respond to the commands on the reins and this would leave me free to think or admire the scenery. Of course, I was ultimately the one who was in charge and on several occasions when my rider wanted to extend the ride or pulled too hard on the reins I would stop, twist my neck around and then inform them that if they didn't stop they would be forcibly ejected and forced to walk back. This technique was remarkably effective and usually the rider wouldn't as so much touch the reins for the remainder of the journey. However, on other occasions, my 'leadership' was more than a little questionable. Once, I did in fact zone out like Sarah had suggested, but, unfortunately, so did my rider and the next thing I knew I had walked headlong into the side of a building.
  I would also like to point out that I had other friends than the few at school that I mentioned. Like most people in this hi-tech age I post to message boards, belong to e-mail lists (duh) and have about 60 people on my AIM buddy list. Most of my real life 'home' friends have a bad habit of being completely invisible from September to June, however my best friend is usually accessible. Our conversations were somewhat unremarkable, mostly going over what was "cool" and what was a "bummer" and then talking about how, where and when we should meet. My Internet friends were a different story. As you all know, people on the Internet have a tendency to, um, lie and me walking in proclaiming my dragonhood was not going to fly. Some places like my Mass Transit Message boards, I didn't bother saying anything. When I got back online I saw a few threads about how transit would/should handle transformed individuals with some reports about a centaur using the TTC up in Toronto. There was group consensus that he shouldn't try that in New York as he would find himself stabbed, shot or pushed in front of a Q train running express within about 10 seconds. It took over a month for someone to connect my e-mail address with the various news reports. There was a brief flurry of excitement as all the board members thought up all the various subway yards and rail lines I could fly them over, but as it became obvious that I wasn't really going to be going anywhere for the next few months the hype died out and things went back to normal. I did notice that my posts got a lot more respect and all those jerks that like to point out spelling mistakes vanished into the woodwork.
  The first time I logged onto AIM after my transformation I was blasted by frantic messages from my friend Britini out in Arizona. After I hadn't been on for a few days and after the reports of a silver dragon from my university she put 2 and 2 together and instantly knew what happened. She had tried to call, but my old phone was disconnected and the switchboard thought she was one of the 500 other wackos who had claimed to know me. I gave her my number and about 30 seconds later my custom dragon sized phone started ringing.
  "Mike! Mike Mike Mike! Are you really a dragon?! What's it like? Are they treating you well? Are you ok? How's flying?"
  "Ah, stop yelling. Dragons have sensitive ears."
  The conversation was brisk and lasted about 90 minutes. There was a slight hint of jealousy in her voice and I felt a little guilty as becoming a silver dragon had been her dream too (what can I say, we're a popular species). To alleviate this guilt I got the school to sell me a bunch of the glossy 2.5'x4' publicity posters they had made up at cost (You can buy them in the school store for $16.50. Collect all 10!) and I proceeded to send them out to every friend I knew the address of. Because I knew Brit a little better I got out my pliers and sent her a scale. Last I heard she had it on a necklace and was lording it over her friends to school. Some of my other online friends were a little harder to convince, but either a mailing or a quick DNS check of my IP would usually resolve things. Despite my new status I refrained from weighing in on any new online venues. My life was hectic enough as it was and the last thing I needed was a new gaggle of Internet friends to have to keep up with.
  Additionally, I had some old high school friends going to college not far from me at Hampshire University. As their choice of school would suggest they were quite "alternative" and upon hearing of my change and receiving the posters I sent they were quite eager to get down and see me. It was a weekend in early April that my friends Matt and Jessie, accompanied by their friends Colin, Chris, Erin, Linsday, Anna, Kara and Adam took the 2-hour bus ride down from the Shire. I risked tying up downtown (if you could claim Middletown had a downtown) traffic to meet them at the bus terminal. Just like most of the humans I meet they were quickly pushed beyond the point of words and stood there, open mouthed, staring at me. They arrived on a Friday afternoon and would head back on Sunday. They would spend the intervening two nights roughing it in my lair, eating my bulk shipments of food and generally doing dragon things with me. Sort of like a mythological creature Fantasy Camp. After eating we watched the standard Friday Sci-Fi shows and then stayed up late into the night gaming (something I don't get to do here as all the students here are super serious work-a-holics) and conducting a running Q&A session. I had to admit that their questions were much better than the usual fare. They seemed quite disappointed that I was not capable of any 'magical' abilities (yet), but this in no way ruined their opinion of me. Once I was able to get everyone out of bed the next morning, I took them down to the field for dragonback rides and flight/breath weapon demonstrations. The best part was when I hocked up a glob of the purple repellant stuff onto my hand and waved it in their general vicinity. Most ran away clawing at their eyes and nose and one of the guys even passed out. Thank god they signed the releases.
  The culmination of the Saturday session was a hunting demonstration. Now I will admit that I just might have gone a little over the top here. I had stunned a deer with that purple shit (it has a thousand uses!) and brought it live to the fields where I was entertaining the group of Hampshire students. I had tied it down to the ground and instructed my friend Matt to untie it when he saw me flying overhead. I took off and when I had assumed my station I saw the deer get let free. It made a valiant effort to reach the tree line, but it was no match for my diving speed. I caught it in my talons and then, after skidding to a complete stop, I promptly bit its head off and started to feast. I heard some groans from gang of onlookers and a few people started to throw up as I scooped the extra tasty internal organs into my mouth. I have a new policy: Don't let people watch me hunt live prey.
  I will now take this time to mention one little thing about the food that I discovered about this point. As I have mentioned before the quality of what the school fed me had gone considerably down since my transformation. This is understandable as it cost a lot to keep me fueled. In addition to the live meat I caught while hunting, the school provided various previously killed sources of meat (like animals from the local animal shelter and fresh road kill), leftovers from the various campus dining facilities and food that had gone past the sell-by date which was obtained both on and off campus. Sometimes I would get some freshly cooked stuff and there were usually baskets of bulk items like fruit or vegetables on call 24/7. Beverages usually consisted of hi-energy, easy to mix, sugar water type drinks. Well, this sounds pretty good, but it was by pure chance that I stumbled upon something much more devious. Even as the food sources changed I continued to notice a constant drop in quality. Of course, most everything tasted fine to me and so I really couldn't complain, but on occasion I would get a bout of indigestion, gas, stomach cramps and once or twice, some loose stool. This problem had been getting worse with the diarrhea occurring shortly before the incident that I will soon relate. I had attributed it to the recent introduction of live meat to my diet, but one night, coming back from a trot, I stumbled upon an interesting conversation.
  I was approaching one of the loading docks when I happened to overhear two of the research staff talking about my dietary needs (there's not much these ears of mine won't intercept, tee hee) so I stopped short of rounding the corner in an effort to eavesdrop unobserved. One of them was amazed I hadn't noticed yet and to my horror I heard the other one say how surprised he was that they hadn't killed me. Noticed? Killed!? This demanded an inquiry and I stormed around the corner, snatched up the two staffers, one in each talon, sat back on my haunches and preceded to ask them "nicely" about the nature of their conversation. Apparently someone had been doing a little extra research and cutting the food budget at the same time. Instead of just feeding me leftovers and stuff that couldn't be legally sold in stores they had been preparing my meals with food that was weeks out of date, some of it obviously bad (bad smell, mold, fuzz, etc). They had been steadily upping the dosage to see just what it would take to make me sick. I guess they never counted on my having some sense of pride and not mentioning my seemingly trivial maladies, which leads me to believe that their little experiment would have resulted in me curled up in my lair yakking and squirting out the contents of my digestive system. Well of course I 'complained' the very next morning. I don't know if anybody got fired, but I do recall getting freshly cooked food for the next week or so. I also didn't have to pay for the damage I caused when 'filing' my complaint.
  By mid-April I had gotten quite competent with my new body. On the ground Sarah had taught me to trot, pace, canter and gallop (with some draconic modifications) and we were working on a new gait that would involve the use of my wings (nothing like a 5 speed gearbox). In the air I could cruise at between 40 and 50 mph and could hit 60 if I was really sprinting. I could fly for about 50 to 60 miles before having to stop and rest for about an hour or two and if I was really pushing hard I could probably fly about 80 miles, but I would have to then rest for around 5 to 6 hours. The prevailing wind conditions and the payload I was carrying would of course change these numbers some. Due to the dangers of defying gravity the machine shop guys had given me some protective gear to wear. I was mostly worried about a hard landing and impaling myself on something pointy, but on one of my weekend flights some backwoods wacko had taken a pot shot at me and put a hole clean through my wing. To protect me from both these events I was given a helmet constructed with a shell of Kevlar and high tensile aluminum and an inner layer of foam padding. It fit over my forehead and also covered the sides of my head with little slots cut in the back for my horns to fit through. There were attachment points for a pair of Lexan goggles to protect my eyes. There was also an optional piece that attached under my muzzle to prevent anything from plunging up into my brain. For my belly there is large plate of similar construction to the helmet shell. It protects the vital organs in my upper torso and attaches with straps that go across my back. It also serves as an attachment point for my saddle. For about a week or so I had been practicing flying with 200 pounds of flour sitting on my neck and after everything was to my satisfaction (and to the school's) I went and asked Sarah if she wanted a ride. Sarah had a real horse, which was kept some distance off campus, and the only way she could see him was by bumming a ride from the equestrian team car pool. Needless to say she was not able to see her trusty steed as often as she liked and I, being the kind and noble dragon, stepped in to alleviate this problem.
  "Flying? Wow, sure. Did the university say it was all right?"
  "Yeah, you just have to sign some papers and wear the requisite safety gear. I was thinking we could go see your horse or something."
  "Yeah, just give me some time to get ready."
  We set off on a Wednesday afternoon after lunch. Sarah had to sign both the yellow and green forms this time and I had to call in the flight to the FAA. Like with all my flights I strapped on my cell phone with the hands free attachment and filled up on 'sugar water' and several large servings of vegetable oil. Sarah buckled on a rappelling harness and then secured my saddle to my back. In accordance with the school's instructions, my rider would both be fastened to the saddle and then again to my neck via a high tensile nylon rope attached to a backup harness. The only way something was going to happen to my rider was if something happened to me. She climbed up on my back and settled down into the saddle. My new design was much more secure and she had no trouble keeping her balance. We decided the reins would not be needed on this trip so she just grabbed a hold of some of the handles on the saddle. I sensed a small amount of apprehension as I prepared to take off as her breathing and heart rate increased. I opted for a standing takeoff and used my powerful legs to jump up into the air while I pumped downward with my wings. The sudden acceleration forced Sarah downward onto my neck and she clung tightly to it until I had shifted out of hover and into forward flight. I felt her shift around as she went about taking in all the views. I circled once around campus without even being asked.
  The flight was only going to take about 25 minutes or so and I quickly pointed myself in the direction of the stable and began to cruise. Sarah made some observational comments, but I couldn't really respond as the saddle limited my neck's ability to crane backwards (Not that I would want to as that maneuver usually leads to unwanted turns). Sarah soon brought a small problem to my attention by pounding on the back of my neck. Since I had increased speed I had pointed my neck out straight and she was getting just a tad wind whipped. I was tempted to inform her that the saddle design allowed for the rider to sit in a more aerodynamically correct position, but as this would ruin much of the view I just put my neck back up as a windbreak. Soon I felt Sarah kicking at my side.
  "Land down there," she yelled.
  "That doesn't look like the stable."
  "I know, just land."
  I gradually descended and made a perfect landing on that looked like some sort of access road. Sarah unhooked the harness and slid off my back.
  "So, are we going to make some kind of big entrance? I'd love to see the look on everyone's face when you come in riding a dragon."
  "Um, you're not going any where near that stable."
  "Why not? It would be so cool showing up all those horse people. Besides, I want to meet the horses. They're cute."
  "That's the problem. Do you have any idea what the horses will do when they see you?"
  "Well they might be a little scared."
  "Gee, ya think?"
  "I'm sure they would like me after I showed myself to not be a threat."
  "Oh yeah, lots of horses are going to just sit there while this big scary monster looks at them. I don't think so. Just stay away, okay?"
  "It wouldn't be too bad. I'm not that scary."
  "They would freak out. Those that didn't injure themselves from bolting would probably just die of fright. Horses are deathly afraid of snakes, have you looked at yourself in a mirror lately? Promise me you'll just stay here."
  "Ok ok, I promise, but how about you just bring your horse out to me. I've always wanted to see what he looks like."
  "You've seen what he looks like. I'll take some more pictures, but no way are you going to present your giant, scary self to him. I like my horse standing, thank you very much."
  "What should I do while you're riding?"
  "I don't care. Just don't come anywhere near the barn. There are some woods around here. Why don't you get some exercise? Just meet me back here in 90 minutes."
  She walked off down the road and after standing there for a while I turned into the woods. I soon found what looked like a jeep trail and went for a short jog. Upon hearing the sound of running water I stopped short and located a small brook. Nothing could kill time like building a little dam and now I possessed the equipment to actually do a good job. I soon found myself crouching there, partly covered in mud while the water backed up, forming a large pond in the middle of the forest. Nothing beats amateur engineering. Suddenly I heard the clip clop of approaching hooves. I silently cursed to myself. That road must have been one of those cross-country horse trails Sarah had mentioned. I hunkered down behind some brambles and tried to make myself invisible. Just as I thought it was going to work I heard the horses making noise and their human riders attempting to quiet them. Out of the corner of my eye I could see my tail poking out onto the road. Stupid appendage, it's more trouble than it's worth. I tried to pull it back, but the shift caused a stick to shoot up my left nostril. My head pulled reflexively back and I found my cover completely broken. The horses began to whinny and snort and began a general movement backwards. The riders seemed to stunned for words so I mustered the most soothing voice I could.
  "Don't be afraid, I'm just out for a jog."
  The horses reared back, throwing their riders to the ground, their eyes wide with absolute terror. They took off down the trail in the direction they had come, their humans in hot pursuit.
  "Oh, shit. I'm in trouble."
  When I saw Sarah coming down the road I slinked out of the forest to greet her.
  "See? I told you the horses would freak," she said before I had a chance to open my mouth.
  "I'm really sorry. I hope I didn't get you in trouble."
  "That's ok, nothing happened."
  "Aren't you mad?"
  "Nah, it was an accident. It was an accident, right?"
  "Yes, I was just sitting there building a dam and..."
  "Alright, I believe you. Now lets get out of here. I have homework to do."
  She climbed on and strapped in and I took off. Somehow she sensed that I was feeling a little depressed and she suggested that we stop somewhere for food. Specifically McDonalds and since we were pressed for time we would use the drive through window.
  I landed in the parking lot and walked over to the little talking order box thing.
  "Hello, welcome to McDonalds. Can I... Oh My God!"
  "Would you care to take my order or do I have to make a civil rights complaint?" I snapped back.
  There was an extended period of silence while the peon got authorization from his manager, but soon the voice returned.
  "W-What w-would you w-want? Um, sir."
  "Well, the lady would like a two hamburgers meal with a coke and I would like 10 Big Macs, 10 Super Size fries and 5 double quarter ponders. I have my own drink, thank you."
  "Would you like fries with that?"
  "You mean fries with my fries?"
  "Um, well, er."
  I seemed to have blown the peon's mind so I just moved around to the pay window where Before Sarah could object I had plucked a 50 from my belt pack and paid the cashier.
  "You know I was going to pay for you," Sarah said. "After the flight you gave me it was the least I could do."
  "That's ok, I would have gone flying anyway. You're the one doing me a favour by keeping me company. Besides, I have a tendency to eat people out of house and home."
  Sarah collected the food as I waited at the window. By this time we had attracted a small crowd and I had to push my way past them to get free. My rider directed me to a small grassy hill near the McDonalds and we lay down to eat in the fading light of the afternoon. She slowly ate her burgers while I popped mine into my mouth one at a time and then followed it up by emptying the super sized fry containers onto my tongue. I may have learned to eat and enjoy raw meat, but nothing tastes quite as good as plain old McDonalds. We sat and ate and talked and generally had a good time, but I was still disturbed from the events of that afternoon. The fact that I could kill creatures merely by my presence alone was hanging a serious weight on my self-image. Even sentient beings that watched the nightly news still had their initial urge set to 'run and hide'. I looked over at Sarah and sighed. At least some creatures still felt comfortable around me. The ride back was largely uneventful. After dropping off my charge I hurried back to my lair to change. I had something to prove to myself.
  I soon soared high over the forest where I usually did my hunting. I had done this many times before, but tonight's hunt had a different goal. Sure animals and people might be scared when they first saw me, but I was confident that after just a little contact anything could become my friend. I had already done it once with that doe and birds frequently landed on me to pick off bugs and stuff from my scales. I scanned the area below me with my night vision and upon finding a largish blob of heat or life energy or whatever it was I saw, I folded my wings and dived down for the catch. Just before impact I trucked my wings in and crashed through the branches. Normally I waited for my prey to get into the open, but that night I just didn't feel like waiting. I had left the protective claw covers on so that when I grabbed the deer I wouldn't impale it. My aim was true and I soon felt a large woodland mammal struggling in my grasp. Being careful not to hurt the poor thing I uncovered its head, brought it close to mine and began to slowly stroke it with a finger while making soothing noises. I thought it might be working, but only for a second. The buck's eyes were wide with horror and I could feel its heart thumping away at an all too unnatural pace. The poor animal began to spasm before finally going limp in my grasp. I stared at it for a second, recalling the feeling as its heart just stopped dead in its chest.
  I dropped the lifeless buck and poked at it a few times with my talon. My mind was still processing the fact that Sarah was indeed correct in her assertions. Despite my best efforts I had just scared this poor animal to death. Nah, it was a fluke. I just had to be. Only monsters scared things to death, and I was most certainly not a monster. I would show her, I would show them all. I heard something move in the brush and my mind screamed out with joy that I had been granted another opportunity to prove how gentle and kind I was. I pounced without looking and came down on something warm and fuzzy. Ah ha! Success! I looked down at my new 'friend'. It was a doe, and it looked familiar, just like that doe I had befriended earlier! Thank god, I really needed a pick me up then. I moved my talons to let it up off the ground, but something was wrong. It tried to get up, but fell right back down on the ground. It tried again and again failed. Finally it just lay there, flailing its legs every so often, a bloody froth coming from its muzzle. I ran my finger along the doe's flank and could feel the broken ribs. I was too depressed and out of it to give her a quick death. I just sat there and watched her expire. I ate both of the deer I had killed that night. I felt it would be a disservice to their spirits if I allowed their deaths to serve no purpose.
  My dream was turning into a nightmare. I had always wanted to be the noble dragon, helping people out and kicking ass when necessary, but here I was, some sort of freakish monster that killed without even trying. Like Moby Dick or the Middle East. I just sat there for a while, in the middle of the dark forest, trying to come to grips with just exactly what I had become. Eventually I flew back to campus and tried to get to sleep, but sleep would not come. I kept picturing the horrified look on that buck's face right before his heart exploded or the blood on the doe's muzzle as she struggled for breath. All throughout I heard this strange whispering in the back of my mind. I couldn't understand it and I couldn't make it go away. All night it was the same thing, horrific pictures and annoying whispering. For two days I didn't get an ounce of sleep and my green eyes were clearly bloodshot. So I did what any normal person would have done in my situation: I escaped my problem through use of mind-altering drugs. I began to pay a member of the cleaning staff to do down every day to Metro Spirits and buy me several bottles of hard liquor. The voices would be vanquished, the pictures were extinguished, I would get a good night's sleep and my life could be normal once again.
  Well it looks like you finally got me to spill out something important. Yeah, once you get involved with the councilors and therapists it's only a matter of time before they have you spilling your deepest and darkest secrets from when you were five. Now if you will please excuse me I find this topic very trying and I will need to take some time to unwind before I can write more.

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  See what happens when you come out and confront your problems. The school councilor says your making progress and then sends you back to your lair to write some more. I was really looking forward to getting out today. Oh well, what's time to a dragon. I guess it's time for me to get back on track. Now where was I? Oh, yes. It was May and I needed to figure out what to do with my summer vacation. Not only that I was running out of money. I was making a fair amount doing my various jobs and selling myself for various interviews and I had even sold a few scales online. However, the quantity of snack food I consumed took a lot off the top. Even so I had accumulated a decent amount in my hoard, but then again, three bottles of hard liquor a day was starting to take it's toll on my savings and things could only get worse as my university jobs stood to end with the school year. The more I drank the more the voice would come, which would force me to drink more. I don't know how I thought I could handle it myself, but the thought of being locked away in some cage for insane dragons, unable to fly, scared me into silence.
  I began to look into the many job offers I had received. Most of the offers were out of the question as they involved me having to move, expend a lot of time or perform illegal acts. There were some easy ones that quickly caught my eye. A well-known company was putting together a Changeling trading card set. Not like game cards or anything, but the type of cards one might find as part of the merchandising campaign for a majour motion picture. They were trying to get all the Changelings on board and the card would feature a romanticized picture on the front and some facts and biographical info on the reverse. I was paid $750 in cash and I took them out to the abandoned quarry for the shoot. Hmm, I really seem to spend a lot of time out there. I really should find out who owns the place.
  It was during reading period that I accepted the offer from that popular computer game company to star in their upcoming Changelings game. They used some laser thing to make a 3D model directly from my body and I then spent the rest of the day hooked up with sensors as they captured my motion. The game looks really cool and I can't wait to play it. The premise is that a bunch of the Changelings become part of an elite government anti-bad guy team. They have recruited myself, that shapeshifter Quentin, one of the wolf morph guys and the queen Alien. I think there might be a few others included as Easter eggs. Each character has a different game environment and set of missions and controls suited to their form. It's going to be really big. I was paid about $4000 for the capture and they were going to work out the licensing with my lawyer. I think I'll get royalties to the tune of 10 cents per game or something like that and maybe a profit cut. Anyway, $4000 would buy a lot of alcohol and food, but not enough for a dragon for three long summer months.
  I had talked with my parents and we came to the conclusion that it would probably be best if I stayed up at school. I would try to come down and visit a few times, but they just didn't have the facilities to deal with me. I breezed through my finals and found out that the school was paying for my parents to come up and spend time with me during Senior Week. Senior Week is the week before graduation where the Seniors get drunk off their ass and the alumni return to remember the olden days (usually by getting drunk off of their ass as well). During this time it is the job of University Relations to get large cash donations from the intoxicated reunion goers. I soon found myself drafted by University Relations so I guess this would be my job as well. I was informed to make myself 'available' as much as possible and to try to 'accommodate' the wishes of the Alumni and their families. Those indicated as VIP's were to have no 'accommodation' spared and were eligible to have rides, talks, pets and scales on demand. Everyday at 2 I was to report to the athletic field to 'thank' those few very 'generous' alums with a flight around the campus. The whole thing seemed hectic, but I was given plenty of good food and there was still much free time to spend with my parents (although they politely refused to let me take them flying). All the activity and the loving support of my parents caused my mental troubles to melt away and I didn't take a drink all week. Well, I didn't 'need' to take a drink all week. All drinking that was done was solely for the benefit of the alums.
  It was really nice to have my parents up. It was just like old times. They didn't treat me like I was different. I was just plain old Michael to them. Sure people try to treat me the 'same', but they always forget the little things, the small avoidances, the wide eyes, the increased heart rate and always having me as the center of attention. One of the things I hated the most about my new form was the absolute inability to blend in. No matter how well people knew me or how quiet I was acting, the eyes would always drift in my direction. My parents and I went for walks and they eventually did consent to ground rides. I showed them all the places I had been flying and swimming and hunting. I even helped them carve out and carry some decorative stones for the garden back home. We talked about all kinds of things. I was still opposed to them getting a new house and, despite their assurances, I promised to start bringing in more money on my own. They then reminded me that they didn't have to pay tuition any more and since they really didn't have anything better to spend the money on they might as well spend it on me. I suggested they look into some way that I might come home via train, as my little stint in the truck was pure hell. I also showed them my plan for getting home under my own power. Using my many maps, I had plotted out a route that consisted of 50-60 mile hops between various public lands and parks. I would fly a leg and then take a time out at a park or forest. While there I could go and buy food and if permission had been received, maybe a little hunting. I had several routes. The direct route went through New York City. A slightly less direct, but less public panic-causing route took me down long island and the indirect route took me across the Hudson at Peekskill. For that entire week I had that warm, glowey feeling and each night as I went to sleep I would curl up, snuggle in the bedding and bask in the feeling of my smooth wings and scales rubbing against each other.
  Alas, the week ended far to quickly and I was back on my own. It was summer now and absolutely nobody was around. The research session didn't even start until the 10th of June and the campus was a ghost town with most of the faculty off on vacation. Meal service was cut back to 3 times a week and it was mostly bulk, semi-perishable goods like fruit, vegetables, sugar syrup stuff and various bricks of food that looked like they just came out of a civil defense bunker. Hunting was getting harder as I had already killed off most of the stupid deer and the only ones that were left had been getting wise to my tactics. I soon found myself having to range over several thousand acres worth of forest south of town. Luckily the State came to my rescue and allowed me to hunt in the nearby Wadsworth State Park. This was one of those locations where there was a big deer problem, but human activity precluded hunting with projectile weapons. I was able to fly in and hunt early in the morning with little risk to the humans who typically used the park. Even so, to avoid any protests the state didn't really publicize my intervention and just quietly closed the park from 1 to 5 AM. The voices came back and because there was nobody else around to distract me, they were louder than before. I sort of felt there was really only one voice, but it just talked to me in different ways. In any event, I didn't try very hard to listen to it. My first move was to the bottle of firewater tucked secretly in my belly pack. Days began to take on a routine in which I would drink myself to sleep, wake up all pumped and full of alcohol fueled energy, fly around at top speed to burn off this energy and then cap it all off with a nice relaxing hunt to restore my biological reserves.
  Getting back on track, I needed money and I needed something to do with my free time. I was going to have to resign myself to the fact that I was going to have to prostitute myself in public spectacles on varying degrees. Before school had ended I had been sorting through my job offers looking for just the right events to attend. One activity I was definitely not going to participate in was the strange Changeling gathering one Michael Jackson was putting together out at his Never say Never Land ranch. I had been getting several mailings a week from him. Some were plain text, some were flashy brochures, some came disguised as more innocent mail and some came with money and gift certificates, promising much, much more if I would only come out. Jackson's letters were always deserving of a special fate, be it ingestion, combustion, evisceration, mastication or the ever popular crystallization followed by a quick fragmentation. Please note that I would always keep the gifts. I was not so stupid as to let my principles get in the way of rationality, plus the fruit baskets were tasty.
  Finally, right before finals came the most obnoxious attempt of them all. I don't know how he got access to me (probably a large 'donation'), but one morning this fast talking combination PR rep/salesman barges into my lair and begins to bombard me with false compassion. How are you feeling, how is the food, I represent someone who really cares about you and your well being, blah blah blah. Then, of course came the sales pitch. All I had to do to be all safe and comfortable and loved and taken care of was to climb into the back of that tractor trailer and I would be whisked directly, non-stop to Never say Never Again land.
  On the promise of several hundred pounds of beef, the salesman was able to lure me outside to 'view' my rapid transport vehicle. Thank god he didn't see the 50 or so odd liquor bottles I was sleeping on top of. He probably would have gotten the school to sign me over into his custody to be taken care of by the 'finest doctors money can buy'. The trailer was plain on the outside, but on the inside it made a limousine looked like an AMC Pacer. Everything was plush with velvet and satin and the end closest the cab was covered by a huge flat screen HDTV. There were racks full of food and the suspension was fully air cushioned. I was sorely tempted, but only for about 2.81 seconds. I asked if I could get in and see how it felt. The salesman was more than happy to say yes. I asked them to close the door so that I could judge how confining it was. Again, he was happy to do as I said. A few minutes later I opened the door and flowed out. I thanked him for his time and expressed my regret that I would not be able to take him up on his offer. After all, I had finals to complete. I gathered up my free meat and left. I should really send old Michael a thank you note. That was the nicest portable outhouse I have ever been allowed to shit in.
  Out of all the job offers I received, one caught my attention and it would be with that job that I decided to start my summer employment. A local group of Pagans had sent me a little letter offering me a relatively small amount of money to attend one of their pre-solstice activities. I seriously doubt that they ever expected me to attend, but their offer was just the thing to appeal to my greedy, 'get money' side and my nice, 'help people' side.
  I called up the person who sent me the letter and she gave me directions to the location of the meeting. It was only about 15 miles outside of town and I could easily get there by flying. I am not a Pagan, but I have no problem with them and I have a thing for cool ceremonies in that I can really get into them and them come away with some sort of 'experience'. It was a Saturday morning about a week or so after graduation what I geared up and took off. I didn't have anything to contribute to what they were going to do except myself and I hoped this job didn't need any prior experience, figurines or exotic crystals. I found where my destination and landed in a field that appeared to be part some a small farm. A few people quickly walked out and introduced themselves. Something told me that more than one of them looked familiar, possibly one of the people wandering campus to get a glimpse of me. However, I did not recognize any of them as one of the many people who approached me for a conversation. After my landing there was the customary period of 'show and tell' where the slowly growing group walked around touching my body and asking me questions. However, there was a tangible sense of reverence. They kept referring to me as Lord Dragon and other equivalent names and I could tell that they meant it. I wasn't just cool or remarkable or extraordinary, but I was something that bordered on holy. I began to feel more uncomfortable than if they had been a group of rude, gawking tourists. After everyone had arrived they began the events. I could do little more but stand there as I had very little clue what they were doing. The ceremony was very interesting and highly enjoyable, but it was marred by that ever-present sense of uncomfortability. These people were paying good money for me to just show up and sit there with the occasional 'walk here' or 'move this way'. Glancing towards the parking area made me feel even worse as I noticed the array of '80s economy cars parked there. It looked as if they could barely afford incense let alone a defective performing dragon. Just when this couldn't get any worse they brought out a cow.
  "Lord Dragon, we humbly offer this sacrifice to you."
  Before I could think about objecting they had slit the animal's throat and began collecting the blood in a large bowel. This was bad. Then then handed me the bowl and expected me to drink it. This was worse. Over the next several minutes I was fed a multi-course, all beef 'lunch'. If I had refused I probably would have ruined their experience and after all I was used to devouring recently killed animals. However, I was not used to being fed in this manner and it was more than a little upsetting. Following the gathering I was thoroughly thanked and the organizer handed me the small bundle of cash for my payment. Normally I would have felt bad making these people have to unceremoniously hand over cash to a revered being, but by that point I really didn't care. The voices were louder that night and it took about half of what I earned just to quiet them enough for me to sleep. Looking back on it, those Pagans could have probably done something to solve my little 'problem', but I just never thought to ask. Oh well, with life comes experience.
  After that episode I decided to shoot for something a little more mainstream. When I got an offer from the Bi-Yearly New Haven Sci Fi Convention I quickly jumped at the chance. It was going to be a pretty big event featuring some of the actors from one of the less popular Star Trek series (Voyager I think). The promoter was going to give me $2000 just to show up and another $1500 if I could make a well-timed entrance. I explained that with my cell phone I could be instructed to land anywhere at any time he wanted.
  There would also be various fund raising activities inside the arena. Get up close and touch the dragon, $10. Autographed picture of the dragon, an extra $15. Have your picture taken with the dragon, an extra $25. Want that autographed, add $10. $100 would buy you 30 minutes in a private room with me and 4 others (well, $100 was the starting bid as there were only 4 groups scheduled). Also, I would be auctioning off 5 of my scales, 2 black, 3 silver. After some hissing and growling on my part I was promised half of the profits from these 'extras' and 90% of the selling price of my scales. I was also promised a lunch that was to be at least 60% fresh processed meat. For my entrance I was expected to roar and shatter a few objects with my ice breath.
  This didn't really sound like a big deal, but, well, I hate to admit it, but, I really didn't know how to roar. In fact, I really couldn't make any dragon sounds. Yes I could hiss and growl, but I really couldn't reproduce those sounds on demand. I don't really like to draw attention to myself so I had made an effort not to do anything like roar or snarl loudly. For the week before the event I had to fly off to my usual stomping ground (the quarry) to practice said roaring. Usually when I try to do some sort of vocal trick I start off sounding stupid, then get self-conscious and then I just make things worse (this is why I can't do a British accent any more). However, this time I was doing it for $1500 and if that isn't a motivator I don't know what is. Well I finally got a convincing roar down (at least the off-roaders who use the quarry area stopped laughing at me) and early on the day of the convention I strapped on my flying gear, called the FAA and took to the air. I flew to a state park just north of New Haven. Since my entrance was going to require perfect timing I needed to rest to allow myself a little time to loiter off station. About 30 minutes before my ETA I took to the air again and flew toward downtown New Haven. I circled just out of sight of the arena's parking lot and when the promoter guy called me I embarked upon my final approach. Well, the landing went perfectly. I touched down and roared. The crowd promptly roared back. I took off my flying gear while the announcer pumped up the crowd. When ready, I used my breath on a big pile of watermelons and then again on some sort of 15-foot-tall construct made to look like a Kingon warrior. The construct performed as designed and shattered into a million pieces upon contact with my spinning tail. After my big entrance the announcer guy made sure to indicate that I would be inside and posing for pictures.
  I entered through the large doors normally reserved for monster trucks and took my place near various raised platforms and walkways what would allow people to get close and pose with me. The promoters had made sure to lay down a comfortable bed of foam padding. My talons still hurt from having to sign the 1000 promotional photos and I was tempted to ask for a dry ice pack. My first order of business was to chow down on some food to recharge my system from its long flight.
  After that the people started to file by and I found it very hard to get used to the near constant rub of humans hands on my scales and wings. Fortunately the mind numbing tedium of the photo sessions helped serve as an anesthetic. Some human schlub would walk up, make the most stupid comments that I had already heard about 500 times, put a stupid grin on his simian face and have his picture taken with the dragon. Then there was the people who had to give me 'bunny ears'. Wake up people. I already have horns. You just paid $35 for a picture you just ruined. After about the 50th time I swear I was going to eat next fucking human who wanted to be Mr. Funny. The day droned on. My scales were auctioned off and I endured the 2 hours trapped with chattering humans who seemed obsessed with what I could 'feel', what flying was like and what was it like to transform (nobody seems to believe that I passed out). Finally my stint at the Con ended and I was free to go home. Security had sealed off an area in the lot where I could unwind a bit and get my flight gear back on. My brain felt like pudding and I realized why all the newer Star Trek actors sucked. This lifestyle was akin to an extended stint in purgatory and was probably assigned to actors as a Guild mandated punishment.
  "Um, excuse me, Mr. Brotzman sir."
  A meek little voice came from behind me and I turned to see some young adult standing there, obviously some fan who managed to slip through security. I did not have the time or the patience for this.
  "Go away."
  "Oh, I'm sorry, I see that you're busy and I don't mean to bother you."
  The kid was way too late on that score.
  "I just wanted to thank you for all the joy and hope you have put back into my life."
  Hmm, what was this now?
  "Every time I see you living the impossible dream and being so free and happy it encourages me to strive for the same. Your example has changed my life."
  I didn't know what to say. Was this kid for real? Did I deserve this praise? Why did his words make me feel so good? I decided to take him at his word and my expression softened and I thanked him for his remarks. He tried to leave at that point, honestly not wanting to bother me any more, but I was far from bothered. I bade him to stay and we spent a few minutes talking. This person was so unlike most of the others I had met. He wasn't a boot licking fan or some camera-toting tourist. He seemed to care about me for what I was inside and what I represented to him. His words had had the reverse effect of giving me hope. As barricade after barricade had flown up in my face, hope was something I had in an ever short supply. However, this young man's words had inspired me and restored my faith in my life. I definitely owed him something.
  His name was Edward, he was 18 and he was about to be taken for a ride on the back of a dragon. This little guy was going to be the envy of the entire convention. I didn't have my saddle so I just put him in the harness and lashed him to my back, right between my wings. I stepped out into full view and as cameras flashed and video cameras recorded I spread my giant wings and with three great flaps pushed my way into the sky. We floated through blue sky of that warm summer evening. I had to give him credit, instead of chattering away like some bird on speed, he remained quiet, allowing his movement and breathing to speak for him. As I soared higher we both became one being, engulfed in the majesty of flight. The feeling rivaled that of when I was with my parents. It was just pure bliss that caused all my troubles to fade away and the voices to cease their endless chatter. After what seemed like an eternity the young man signaled the place where he was to land.

part 3
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