"Look...just...take whatever you want, okay? I get paid like six bucks an hour, it's not worth dying."
"Oh, take it easy," he says...it says. He. I think it's a he. "I'm not trying to rob you, you moron, I just need a lighter."
"Ah," I say, like I understand. I don't, of course, but it sort of seems like maybe I should. Or maybe I shouldn't. Honestly, I'm a little too stupefied to be a good judge of what I should or should not understand. "But...why?"
"Why? To light my cigarette." He holds up his cigarette, as if that explains everything. Maybe it does.
This job, man, it really isn't working out. I figured it would be an easy way to make some extra money for the holidays, you know? I used to come in here all the time to buy smokes, and there was never anyone here. So when I saw the HELP WANTED sign, I figured why not. Work a few nights a week, graveyard shift, shouldn't be a problem, right?
Until something like this happens. In all fairness, this is the first time in three months that anything like this has happened. But frankly, one time in three months is one time too many.
He sighs impatiently. "Are you gonna hand me a lighter or what?"
"Yes," I say. "Yes I am." I try to make myself move, but nothing happens. It's not that difficult, I tell my body. You do this all the time--just turn around and grab a lighter. Still, nothing happens. I nod my head, as to emphasize the fact that I certainly am going to get him a lighter, and there's no need for violence.
He sighs impatiently. "Are you gonna get me a lighter sometime tonight?"
"Yes," I say again. "I promise. In fact, I'm trying to right now. But...the thing is..."
"You're frozen in terror?"
"Something like that, yes."
He rolls his eyes in disgust, but then shrugs. "Meh. It happens. You mind if I step around the counter and get it myself? I've been hangin' out with the in-laws all night, and I really need a smoke."
"I don't mind at all," I tell him. "They're right here behind me, just under the counter, by the rolling papers and the porn mags."
"Of course they are, because anyone who needs a lighter is obviously a deviant. You aren't gonna try to be a hero or anything, are you?"
"Absolutely not. I'm more into self-preservation than heroics."
"Good." He steps around behind the counter. I'm able to turn a little to watch his progress, but just barely. He grabs a lighter, shrugs, and grabs another. He stands up and then glances back under the counter. "Hey, is that the Penthouse that has the Lady Gaga look-alike banging that Sarah Palin look-alike with a strap-on?"
"Actually, I'm pretty sure that only one of them is a look-alike, but yes."
"I'm takin' one of these, too, then. It's been that kinda night."
He grabs a plastic-wrapped magazine and steps back around the counter. "All right, kid, sorry about the inconvenience. Have a good night."
"Hey, wait a second!"
He turns back to me, a glare on his face. "Don't get brave on me now, kid."
"No, not at all. Just...curious."
He sighs again. "About which part?"
"Pretty much all of it. It's not everyday that a dragon dressed in a tuxedo walks in here."
He laughs. "Yeah, I'm guessing if it was a daily thing, you'd handle it a little better."
"Probably not--I don't deal with anything all that well."
He laughs. "Yeah, I guess you read as that type. Listen, kid, I need a smoke something fierce, so if you want to ask questions, you follow me outside."
"Ah, okay, right on." I'm able to move now, I guess the curiosity has finally outmatched the fright. I hurry from around the counter, and start to follow him out the door.
"Oh, hey! Did you say you've been hanging out with your in-laws?"
"Well, um...you want a beer?"
He smiles, which is incredibly odd. I'd try to describe it, but a smiling dragon is not something you can really describe, unless you use your scrotum. Just...don't ask.
"You know what? I'd love a beer."
"Cool," I say, and jog back to the cooler. "Any particular kind?"
"One with alcohol. And one in a case."
"Cool," I say again, because apparently that's pretty much all I can say to dragons. I grab a couple cases of Miller Light, and follow him out the door. He sits down on the curb, and I put the beer down beside him. "Shit. Forgot my smokes, hang on."
I run back in and grab my cigarettes. I also grab the giant keyring that low-level employees are never supposed to touch. I turn out the lights, and lock the door behind me as I step outside.
"Her brother got married tonight, that's why the tux. That's why all the time with the in-laws. That's why I needed a cigarette so bad."
"Ah. Okay. But, really, my first question is, why a lighter?"
"I told you already--to light my cigarette."
"Yeah, but you're a dragon, man. Don't you, like, breathe fire and shit?"
He sniffs, shrugs, and then shoots a twenty-foot stream of roaring flame across the parking lot. It's so bright and hot that I feel like I just got eye-fucked by the sun. I try to take a drink of beer, but end up just dumping it all over my face. Which feels really good.
"So you think you could light a cigarette with that kind of firepower?"
"Got it," I reply. I try to take a drag off my cigarette, but it's nothing but ash. I go to grab another one, but they're all ash. "Shit, man, you roasted all my smokes."
"Proving a point."
I sigh in frustration, pull myself to my feet, and go inside for a fresh pack of cigarettes. When I get back outside, he has loosened his bow-tie, and thrown his jacket over his shoulder.
Also, there are like six empty beer cans by his feet...claws? Whatever. The things he walks on. Point is, he drained six cans of beer while I went in for another pack of cigarettes.
"All right," I say, sitting back down beside him. "So we've got the lighter thing figured out."
"I've got it all figured out, my friend."
"I'm sure. Lighter situation solved. Tuxedo situation solved. So now we get to the elephant in the room."
"Or the dragon in the parking lot, as it were."
"As it were, yes."
"Look, man," he says, "There's all kinds of crazy shit out there. Human beings, they're a weird breed. They only want to believe in what they make or what they can explain. You have some dragon, or some elf, or some fairy, they're just myth, they're just legend, as far as you guys are concerned. Meanwhile, you'll create a god that can save them, or His son that can raise the dead, walk on water, and float up to eternal bliss. Really?"
"I'm not really...I don't know much about either myth or religion."
"Science is its own god--all kinds of theory and hypotheses of crap that nobody can prove. The weird thing is, all these people who refuse to believe in any sort of god, they have just as much faith in theory. In time, when the world collapses, that's the new god, I swear to you--Theory. The unpredictable god that will strike you down for too much assumption."
"I work at a gas station, dude. Not too much into science, either."
"Shut up. Point is, there's all kinds of crazy shit out there. Just because it's crazy, that doesn't make it less real."
"Dragons? Dragons are a stupid thing. But so is hair on your toes. It shouldn't exist, but it does."
"Hand me another beer."
"Don't be a pussy."
"Hand me two more beers."
"That's more like it," the dragon says, and hands me two cans of beer. I down the first one while I pop the top on the second one.
"So you're married," I say. "Nice dragon lady?"
"Nope," he says, popping the top of his own two beers. "And just between you and me? That's where I fucked up."
"You've heard about the damsel in distress, right?"
"Sure," I tell him. I turn to the guy who just walked up to the doors behind us. "Hey, they're closed."
"Stupid sonsabitches," he says. "How hard is it t-" and then he sees the dragon. He runs away.
"The thing about that is," the dragon tells me, "They aren't so much 'in distress' as they are 'desperate.' I mean, it's not their fault, okay? But the way their mothers raise them? It's like, 'you aren't a real woman unless you're being saved.' It's ridiculous, it really is. So Debbie--that's my wife--she shows up, all stupid and innocent, roaming around my cave, right? Hollering things like, 'Is anyone there?' and 'Hello?' Just being a dumbass, you know?"
"I've always thought that!" I say, a little too loud, because I've had a few beers at this point. "Like, why do they yell into the creepy cave? Why not just be quiet and see if there's a bad guy in there?"
"Exactly! But the thing is, that's the way they're brought up. So this chick shows up, and I'm about to fry her--you know, on general principle--and then I hear her mutter, 'This is so dumb. Why did they think this was a good idea?' So I hesitate. She finds her way back to my lair, and as soon as she does, she shakes her head in this really disgusted way. And she goes, 'Fuck.' I don't mind telling you, something about her complete unsurprisedness appealed to me. I mean, I've taken my share of damsels-in-distress hostage, right?"
"Right," I say, because I'm pretty drunk, and feel like I should attempt to contribute to the conversation in some way.
"And they all just pissed me off. The knight-in-shining-armor shows up, it's a pleasure to roast the damsel and then cook him in short order."
"Short-order cook, yeah?" I laugh at my own stupid joke, but it's okay, because he's laughing, too.
"Yeah! Fuckin' guys. They show up with their swords, ready to fight or whatever. Idiots. You wanna know about dragons and knights and damsels in distress, kid?"
"Hells yeah, I do!"
"Dragons don't give a fuck. We don't. We reincarnate. You jab a lance or whatever through our heart, we just come back in the next egg that's produced. No big deal. Dying is no big deal. All those stories you've heard about knights killing us and saving the maidens? That's because we let them win."
"Yes way. And with her, there was no way I was letting this douche bag get her. So I fried him, and then I told her to quit screaming. I told her to just chill out, come back into my cave and we could watch some Netflix or whatever. It took her a bit, but she eventually chilled. And--long story slightly shorter--we fell in love."
"Damn," I say, because I can't think of anything better to say.
"Damn right," the dragon in a tuxedo says.
"But here you are," I tell him, after I've smoked my cigarette to a butt.
"Here I am," he says.
"Do dragons get happily ever after?"
He laughs, and flame shoots across the parking lot. "Not in the traditional sense," he says.
"I don't...I've never been good at relationships, so I don't exactly understand traditional," I tell him.
"Her family wants to slay me, for the most part."
"Yeah, bummer. Except for her sister-in-law, who just married her brother because she wants an in to the dragon cock."
"Ooh. Complications. The sister-in-law hot?"
"Ah. So here you are, the fuckable villain, caught in some weird lust triangle, escaping the pressure by terrorizing some convenience store clerk."
"You were terrorized?"
"Yeah, dude. You're a dragon!"
"Fuck yeah I am!"
We both laugh for a really long time. And then we stop. We finish our cigarettes in silence, and then he pats me on the shoulder.
"For what?" I ask.
"For whatever. Maybe just a break, I don't know. Or not freaking the fuck out. Being real."
"Did I not? I felt like I freaked the fuck out."
"No, not quite."
I sigh. "Yet another thing I've failed at."
He laughs, and pats me on the shoulder again. "Well I hope you keep on failing, because you might have saved your town tonight. What do I owe you for the smokes and beer and lighter?"
"Bah," I say, because I'm pretty drunk, at this point.
"Well, I'll at least give you this." He coughs a massive fireball onto my store, and the entire building erupts in fire. "Go do something else with your life."
I want to interject, but he hits me with his tail, and that's about it.
I wake up because there are people shaking me, telling me thank God I escaped. They take me to the hospital and they treat me for smoke inhalation, and they tell me about a faulty gas main.
The day I'm released, I walk out the sliding glass hospitaldoors, and I laugh at the sky, and I realize that I have better things to do with my life than work at a gas station.