-Haha. No really, though... -Really. -...dragons? -That’s what I said. Ooooh, Will thought, He’s crazy.

He supposed he should have anticipated this when he walked in with a sword, but he wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe that sword was an heirloom, and he took it everywhere? Hell, there had been one time when Will met a man who carried an urn with his mother’s ashes. Said it kept her nearby always. So a sword was not really a big red flag. But now Will was feeling the crazy breeze blowing off this man, and in a big way. He was not laughing, and his eyes showed not a hint of playfulness. He believed what he was saying. -Right, well...yes. Okay. Dragons. They uh...come here a lot this time of year? It was all he could think to ask. He knew it sounded stupid. -No, no. In fact, I’ve not seen one ‘round this area for some time. ‘Least not a big one. Evie came from whatever she had been doing. Will didn’t mind. This was pretty much the most interesting thing to happen in a while. -She your sweetheart, sonny? Terrance turned to Will. -What? No, nothing like that. She laughed at Will. She always did when he was uncomfortable. -So only small ones come around here? She asked. -Usually. No more that fifteen feet long. Forest-dwellers, you know. Keep to the trees, eat deer. Occasionally wait for humans to go for a stroll and it’s bad news. -Well, of course. A dragon killing someone, I’d expect that’d be a big deal. You’d hear about that on the news in a second. Evie was giggling a bit at this point. It was a sweet sound, clearly not meant to be offensive. More of an embarrassed response. -If you’re very lucky. But o’ course the mainstream media doesn’t report about ‘em. And rightfully so! Think of the panic! No, more likely you’d hear ‘bout disappearances. Y’know, people bein’ there one minute then disappearing the next. Sound familiar? Evie noddeed. Of course, course, it said. Will, on the other hand was less amused.

-So you’re telling me that the kidnappings on the news are actually...no, no. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave. -What? Why? -This is just getting a little weird. I’m sorry, just if you wouldn’t mind-Right, right, okay. He gathered his things and got up from the stool. Affixing his goggles came last, and when his eyes were once more covered, he said: -You’d allow one more purchase, wouldn’t you? -I... -C’mon, I’m a hungry traveller. -Fine, what’ll it be? -I’ll take that cranberry muffin. Well I’ll be damned. Will took the lone muffin from the case, and placed it in a paper bag. Terrance took it and gave Will a knowing kind of smile. It was a simple look which seemed to pierce right into him, filling him with a sort of awe. Of all people, of all nights, here was the one, the one who destiny marked as the cranberry eater. And he had just asked him to leave. He almost took it back, but held firm. -Well, guess I’ll be seeing you again? -’Less I’ve got a lifetime ban? -No, just for tonight. -Sure. G’night, now. -Night. He grabbed his sword from the stand and left into the night. -Will? Evie asked. She looked confused. Why’d you ask that guy to go? -I don’t know. He was freaking me out a little. -But you told him he could come back. So I don’t get it. Won’t he just keep making you feel weird?

-He took the cranberry muffin. -He what? -Don’t worry about it. -I liked him. He seemed harmless enough. y’know? -We’ll see, I guess. -’Kay. Kinda dead now. -Sure is. -Meet me in your office in five minutes? -I thought we talked about this? -Oh, c’mon. -Well...it is dead. -I’ll tell Becky to watch out for newcomers. She threw him a wink and walked off. Just another night. II. Two days later, and things were much the same at the Grand Slam. Harold came at six P.M., earlier than usual. Said he’d had a fight with his wife. Kicked him out for about the fifth time that year. He hadn’t come in the previous day because he said he needed a mental health day. Now he sat at the counter with a large mug of coffee, doing his usual channel surfing and muttering to himself about women. Evie’s ankle was in a brace, and it gave her a slight sway in her gait. She hurt it after her and Will’s tryst in the office. He had misjudged the swing of the door into the tiny room, and crunched her leg against the desk. She had screamed pretty loudly, but luckily no one else had come in. Will left Becky in charge while he drove Evie to the hospital, and he was pretty sure she had remained asleep the entire time. Harold noticed the brace after a while. -Evie honey! What happened to ya? -Huh? Oh, I slipped on some ice getting into my car. -Hot damn! Bet that hurt bad. Will take ya to get it fixed? Was my boy a gentleman?

-Will? Yeah, he took care of me. Will looked up at that, and Evie smiled and went back to work. The place was actually a lot busier than usual, and she was all over the place. More of the waitstaff was working, but Will only really paid Evie any attention. If they weren’t careful, someone would catch on to their game. Luckily, Harold only paid attention to the television, so they were safe. -Sorry to hear about your wife, Harold. -Yeah, well. Y’know, kid, women are the best and worst thing that can happen to a man. You’d understand if you were married. -Again, Harold, I was married. We’ve talked about this. -Kid, I’m not here to argue about your imaginary wife. I’m here to gripe about my real one! -You think I made up my marriage just to bitch about it? -Stranger things have happened, kid. -Sure. -Speaking of strange, what ever became of that limey fellow came in here a few days ago? Y’know, the one with the sword? -Yeah, Terrance. He hasn’t come back. -No? I liked him. Hope he shows his face again. Not often I get someone my own age that late. It’s like bein’ in a club. I was a Freemason, but he was much easier to get along with. Much less secretive, too. -Didn’t you get kicked out of the Freemasons because you told the secrets to the guy at the deli counter at Stop & Shop? -We don’t talk about that, kid. Tight-assed bastards and their rules! He excused himself to “do his business”. He took his mug with him, against Will’s wishes. He noticed that the television was turned to the news again. The kidnappings again. The anchor reported: -...and this time, investigators are baffled beyond belief. We’ve learned that Mr. Wilk’s car was totalled, but left in the middle of the road. He was nowhere to be found, no trace of him anywhere, no blood in his car. His cellphone was near the wreck; he had been talking to his wife. She told police that she heard the sound of his car crashing on the other end, and heard

him scream at his apparent assailant. After that, and since then, there’s been zero contact. This is the second disappearance in as many days, and the eighth overall. And still no demands have been made. Yup, Will thought, and there won’t be any demands, because they’ve been taken by a dragon. He didn’t really want to think that, but it was a really stubborn thought that would not leave his mind. What if? Wouldn’t someone have seen it? No, because there would have been a cover-up, of course. Yeah, that was it. He snapped back into reality, and when Harold came back, he was without his mug. -So you just left my mug in the bathroom? -Hm? Oh, did I steal another...damn. Well, you’ve got extra. -Harold! -What? -Y-... Nothing. Nothing at all. Jesus. -Kid, y’seem upset. What’s got you on edge? -Nothing. -You’re an awful liar. It’s something I like about you, though. I always know you’re telling the truth. Now, what’s on your mind? Spill it, kid. It’ll make ya feel better. -...Okay, fine, look just don’t go spreading this around. He gave a look around, just to make sure no one else was listening. I’m probably going to lose the diner. -What?! Shit, sorry. Sorry, everyone! Go back to your meals. He lowered his voice. What’re you talking about? What’s happened? -Loans happened. You have to have noticed. The place hasn’t gotten much business lately. No business means no money means I can’t pay the bank. I have a few weeks left, and then it’s gone. So I’m sorry, I’ve been a little on edge. And having a 70-plus-year-old mug thief hasn’t been helping matters. Harold went quiet for a few moments. A look of sadness took him over. -So...no more Grand Slam? -Looks that way. -But where will I go?

-You’ll have to stay home, I guess. -I can’t do that! I’ve told ya, kid, this is my home. -Well I’m sorry, Harold, but it’s not exactly up to me! -Sure it is! All ya gotta do is pay them back in full, right? You can do that! Do some specials, get the people in like they used to! -Right, right. why didn’t I Think of that? Harold, even if I had the best deal in town, the weather’s been crazy. No one is coming out anymore. No one. -But-No. I gotta face it. This place’ll be gone in a few weeks. He heard the door open. A few seconds later, he heard a clunk. He saw customers turn their heads in confusion. Some laughing, some aghast. Terrance had returned, and clearly he hadn’t listened to Will’s wishes about his bringing deadly weapons to his place of business. Harold perked up. -Aha! There’s your answer, kid. -What? -Terry! He was tellin’ us last time how loaded he is. He could float ya what you need to pay the loan! -Harold, that’s rediculous. -Just let me to the talkin’. Hey! Terry! C’mon this way, your seat awaits ya! Terrance looked over, and waved back to Harold. He didn’t seem happy. Not sad, exactly, but there was something in his expression that made him look down, almost like he was disappointed by something. But. he came to the counter, and took a seat. He was dressed the same as last time, but Will noticed his hand was bandaged. He would have asked about it, but Harold spoke up: -So, Terry. How’ve ya been? -Oh, alright, I s’pose. -Hm? Y’sound down. -A bit. He looked up, noticing what was on television. Can ya change this, Will?

Will pointed to Harold, indicating that he was the master of the remote control. -Oh yes, yes sure. He turned it to something random, no one paid attention to what. So, still in yer funky threads, I see. I tell ya, you rich people are a funny bunch. -Sometimes, yes. -You rich people. -...Yes. -Lotta time on yer hands. -Not enough, though. -Well, maybe you need a project, y’know something to occupy your time. Harold winked at Will. He truly believed his sweet talking was working. Luckily, Evie appeared. -Oh, good! She said. The dragon hunter is back! We missed you! -Wait, wait, what now? Ya hunt dragons? Harold perked right up. Unlike Will, he didn’t even consider that Terrance was probably a little crazy. So that’s why yer dressed like that! -Hey Harold? Will pointed outside. I think your car’s being stolen. -My Lucille?! Don’t even think about it, you little shits! Terrance watched him dart off, then looked outside. -Will, I don’t think that’s true. -I just thought I would get him away for a while. How are you, Terrance? -Will, m’boy, I’ve been better. -You look it. You look kinda...haggard. And your hand, what’s with that? -Hurt it in battle? Evie smiled. -I’m afraid so, my dear. -Evie, can you go do your tables, please? She nodded, rolling her eyes a bit. What really happened?

-I’ve just said. -C’mon, Terrance. -Sonny, why would I lie about this? -Well, because... Because you’re crazy, he wanted to say. What else? -Well? Why would I lie to you? You’re a good man, Will, I can sense that. Why would I lie to you, and in your own place of business? I’ll tell you right now. Last night, while trailing my quarry, I failed to properly judge its flight patterns. It appeared right behind me, crushed a car, too. I managed t’ hold it back with the sword, but it gored my hand. -Oh, yes. So that thing on the news was because of you? -Yes, it certainly was. And if y’don’t believe me, I have this. He reached into his pocket, and pulled out something wrapped in cloth. When Will saw it was sharp, and a blotch of red, he gasped. -What the hell is that? He voice was a controlled but frightened whisper. -What’s it look like? It’s a tooth! Not the biggest, only a bit bigger than a shark’s as you can see. But still, when it’s in yer skin, it doesn’t really matter how big it is, does it? He plopped it on the counter like it was a heavy coin. A man on the far end regarded it with a curious an slightly shocked expression. -Please put that away? -Yes, yes, o’course. But there it is, sonny. What say ya t’ that? Well one thing was for sure, and that’s that it wasn’t a shark tooth. It was too long, and curved. Not unlike a lizard’s, he thought uncomfortably. -Not that was a sight! Harold had returned from outside. Sorry I was gone so long, kid. The hooligans musta ran off. But I still I hit a bird earlier, cause there was some kinda mess in my grill. But my god! That was quite a tooth. From one o’ yer dragons, Terry. -Sure was. -Y’know, I saw a dragon once. In Korea. -Not surprising. Will, may I have a cup o’ coffee? Will obliged. Considering it’s proximity to Russia, Korea sees its share of dragons quite frequently.

-Aaaaah, of course! So Russia’s a hotbed, then? -For certain kinds of them, yes. Certainly the big one around here. -The big one? Will asked. What do you mean? -Why, Will, Terrance smiled. Does this mean you’ve joined the ranks of the believer with Harold here? -Let’s say I have. What do you mean by big one? -I mean the master, my friend. They’re like wolves, in way. The biggest, the strongest takes the lead. But they don’t have t’ be related. If a big one just blows into town, like what’s happened now, then it can take control. And I won’t lie to ya, this one’s gonna be trouble. -Why? -Yeah why, Terry? -This in’t a normal beast, my men. This’s a white. And a big white, at that. And where whites go, winter follows. That’s how they thrive, by messin’ with the seasons, makin’ it freeze. Then, they feed. And they’ll continue until they get tired of it. -Hot dog! They can do that? Harold’s face was like an child in amazement. -Yessah. This’s a primal force we’re dealing with here. The elements’re like an extra arm to ‘em. -Well, we gotta get this bastard, then! He said this very loudly, and patrons began to get a little worried. Will assured them everything was fine: -Just a little dispute, folks, nothing to worry about. Harold, please keep it down. -Sorry kid, but this is damned important. Can’t have these beasts roamin’ around our town! Terrance, sign me up! Let’s get it! -Easy, Harold. Firstly, we haven’t the manpower to take it down. Yet. Second, it’ll be a while before it shows its face. It was an underling I dealt with last night. -Well regardless! Let’s get it! -I was planning on going out tonight... -You just got yourself a new partner!

-If you’re up to it. Will, how ‘bout it? Will was, rightfully, a bit speechless. This was the first time he’d been asked to join a dragon-slaying party, so he was at a loss for words. Accept or decline, he was acknowledging something that wasn’t exactly commonplace, and more than likely imaginary, so he tried to choose his words carefully. -I...don’t know? -Sorry ‘bout him, Terry. Will here’s a little preoccupied. -Thank you, Harold. -He might be losin’ the Grand Slam. Deep in debt. -Harold! Enough! Terrance, for the first time since his arrival, smiled. -So it was, money after all, eh? -I didn’t want to talk about it. -Well what if I told you that coming with me could make you a very rich man? -I’d say it sounded too good to be true. -Well, it could certainly keep you from losing your diner. -...Then I guess I’d have to listen.

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