HERE BEGINS THE STORY OF HOW I FOUND MY TRUE LOVE
My name is Gork The Terrible, and I’m a dragon.
And here begins the story of how I went searching for my true love and then made her my Queen. And I should warn you that when it comes to dragon love stories, well mine is the most terrifying tale of them all. But also the most romantic. For inside my scaly green chest, there beats a grotesquely large and sensitive heart.
Now some folks get a little confused when they first hear me say that.
And I’m not talking about when I roar it at them and I’ve got my tail raised in a Threat Display and I’m shooting big scary firestreams out of my nostrils. No sir. I’m talking about when I say it real calm and normal, like I’m doing right now. So just to make sure you don’t get mixed up here at the beginning of my story, let me try and make this as simple as possible for you.
My first name is Gork.
My middle name is The.
And my last name is Terrible.
And like I said, I’m a dragon.
Plus I’m a poet.
Now if you happen to be a man-creature here on planet Earth, then you should know I have read your books and stories about my species. And not only are your reports about us dragons wildly inaccurate, they are downright insensitive and repugnant. You man-creatures sure do seem to get a big bang out of spreading ignorant lies about my species. About how vile we are. About how disgusting we are. About how uncivilized we are.
I mean take old Beowulf, for instance. That book isn’t nothing but a pack of slanderous lies about my kind, written by a bum poet who didn’t have the gumption to sign his own name to the book. It’s like even the man-creature who wrote Beowulf knew it was a bunch of flapdoodle and so he was too ashamed to stick his own damn name on the cover. And now you man-creatures go around passing that book off down the centuries as a bona fide classic.
Well if that don’t beat all. Seems to me from where I’m sitting, all’s you have to do is stick a bunch of mean-spirited lies about dragons between two covers and voila—you’ve got yourself an instant classic.
But you know what? Beowulf isn’t even the half of it. No sir.
Because the most offensive book out there about us dragons is the lunatic rantings of a man-creature that goes by the name of Mr. J. R. R. Tolkien.
Now this nutjob Tolkien’s book The Hobbit is so full of balderdash and nonsense about my glorious species that it makes my toe claws shudder just to think about it. That bastard Tolkien paints us dragons out to be a bunch of ignorant and repulsive savages. Well as far as I’m concerned, this Mr. Tolkien was a real low-hearted sonuvabitch.
Look at how Tolkien portrayed that dragon Smaug in that book The Hobbit.
Ever seen a red dragon? I haven’t, and Smaug appears to be the most slovenly and debased creature in the entire universe. Shoot, like us dragons’ personal grooming habits are so skeezoid that we wouldn’t notice when a scale on our left breast had fallen out, exposing the soft pink skin underneath. And like we’d just stupidly go about our business and leave that soft pink spot on our left breast exposed to the elements. So some little fool named Bard who lives by a lake can come traipsing along and slay us with one well-placed arrow.
No lake-dweller is going to get the drop on my scaly green ass. With an arrow, no less. Especially not some jerk who goes by the name of Bard.
Shoot, I’ve got so many nanobots in my bloodstream that if I ever did somehow manage to lose a scale, it would regenerate itself before you could even pull the arrow from your quiver. Or pull the trigger on your laser pistol. Or whatever your weapon of choice may be.
So if you’ve come here hoping for yet another tale wherein we dragons are portrayed as nothing more than a bunch of vile wyrms, well then you can do us both a big favor and buzz off. Because I can assure you this sort of old-fashioned speciesism and bigotry has no place here. That whole crusty line of thinking is deeply offensive and strictly for the birds.
Because dragons are nothing if not sacred creatures.
This much I can promise you.
Now I’m only sixteen. And I’m an orphan, on account of my parents died right before I hatched.
But my grandpa is six hundred and eighty-four years old. And my grandpa’s name is Dr. Terrible.
And this right here is the real deal, a true love story told by a real dragon. A dragon who may not be the smartest of his kind, but who is a damn sight more sophisticated and evolved than what Mr. J. R. R. Tolkien would have you believe.
And like all tales told by real dragons about their true love and the quest to find their Queen, this story starts with the first time I blasted fire.
Shoot, every dragon knows the rule of how your proper true love tale’s got to start with first fire.
Now maybe you’re kind of surprised to learn that we dragons have some storytelling traditions of our own. Well get used to it.
Because my name is Gork The Terrible, and I’m a dragon.
And this is my story.
THE FIRST TIME I BLAST FIRE IT HAPPENS ON PLANET EARTH, WHEN I AM JUST A LITTLE BABY DRAGON
The first time you ever spit fire is a seminal event in every dragon’s life.
The first time I spat fire, it happened on planet Earth. Yes sir.
Even though my family hails from Planet Blegwethia, I actually hatched on Earth. And my grandpa Dr. Terrible always blames my early feral years growing up alone on Earth for my pathetic WILL TO POWER.
Anyway, I still remember what it felt like to be scrunched up inside the egg right before I hatched. And I also remember what it felt like as I used my tiny black beak to try and peck my way out of the egg, and how each time I poked a hole through the shell a blinding sunbeam poured down in there and made my little eyes blink like crazy.
And I remember how as I pecked away at the shell, I was thinking:
This feels very important!
And I was thinking:
Ready or not, here I come!
And if you want to know the truth, I nearly killed myself trying to break free.
There’s even an old Blegwethian riddle that goes like this:
Question: What’s the hardest part of a dragon’s life?
So I just kept pecking with my beak and I could hear the shell cracking and my little lungs were heaving because of how hard I was working, and I felt dizzy. But I kept pecking anyway and then there was a superloud crack! And somehow I managed to break free of the white shell which had been holding me prisoner.
And I thought:
Way to go!
And I thought:
I can’t believe I made it!
And then I thought:
Look at this beautiful forest!
So, suddenly there I was on Earth, though of course at the time I didn’t know this. And I was standing on my own two hind legs for the very first time, and I found myself alone in this forest with all those little pieces of eggshell scattered around my webbed feet.
Now I remember how as I stood there that morning, well suddenly this glorious feeling shot straight up my spine and it caused my wings to shiver. How can I describe the feeling to you? Well it felt like the entire forest was jumping up and down and cheering with excitement at the sight of my little scaly green ass. I could even hear the wind moving in the trees, and the trees were singing:
“Welcome, Gork! Welcome!
We’ve been waiting here for you all along!
Now that you’re finally here,
we can sing this joyous song!
You will be a famous dragon,
the stuff of legend and lore!
You’ll bravely lead us to victory,
of this you can be sure!
After many a pitched battle,
you will win the Great War!
Now that you’ve arrived we have nothing to fear,
we could not be more excited that you’re finally here!
Welcome, little baby Gork!”
Now upon hearing those trees singing to me like that, well my chest swelled near to the point of bursting.
And I thought:
These sure are some friendly trees!
And then I thought:
What the heck do these trees mean when they say they’ve been waiting for me all along, anyway? And what’s this “Great War” they’re jabbering on about?
And then I thought:
Well they must mean I have some very important mission to accomplish with my life and that one day I will be a great hero!
Now I felt grateful to these trees for giving me this piece of secret knowledge about my life, and I wanted to give them some sort of assurance that I was up to the task. So right then and there I tilted my tiny green head back and opened my black beak and then I cut loose with a mighty roar. And this roar came welling up from the center of my being and then exploded out my beak and trumpeted throughout the forest.
Squawk! Because if you want to know the truth, it really did sound more like a squawk.
Not long after that, I spat fire out my beak for the very first time. Now I was only four months old when I first got my fire powers and I was still just a little baby dragon and it wasn’t even on purpose. You see, what happened was this: I’d been flying around the forest one afternoon and I flew up and spied a hornets’ nest attached to a tree limb. This nest was as big as a boulder and it sounded like there were thousands of giant hornets buzzing around inside the nest and I was just flapping my wings and hovering there in midair, studying it. And I remember as I stared at that gigantic hornets’ nest my little belly rumbled and I thought: Me so hungry!
So I punched the hornets’ nest out of the tree and it fell to the forest floor some fifty feet below. And then I flapped my wings and flew down to the forest floor and the hornets’ nest was setting there on the grass, and a blizzard of angry giant hornets were zooming around looking for whoever just knocked their nest out of the tree.
Well as I stood there right in the middle of that blizzard of angry hornets I casually picked the nest up off the ground and opened my beak and took a huge bite out of it.
Then I chewed thoughtfully on the piece of nest while the swarm of hornets stung me all over my scaly green body. But I just ignored the hornets and focused on how delicious the nest tasted. And then I swallowed.
Now at that point the enraged hornets decided that a unified attack was their best bet, and they gathered into a dark buzzing cloud overhead and then dropped down in formation until they completely engulfed me like a sheet being lowered over a birdcage. So I shot my tongue out a good five feet up into the air and snatched a hornet and then retracted my tongue back into my beak, and I chewed it up and swallowed.
Then the cloud of angry hornets closed ranks and started stinging me relentlessly. Since my scales are designed to withstand sword blades and laser beams and whatnot, I couldn’t even feel the hornets’ stingers. And once one of those little bastards stung me they were stuck there, because they couldn’t yank their stingers out of my thick scales.
So I shot my tongue out again. I did this over and over and over, snatching dozens of hornets out of the air with my tongue.
Now I remember at one point there were hundreds of pissed-off hornets stuck all over me and I’m sure I looked like a big green pincushion flailing around in the woods that afternoon. Plus, because all those little fiends stuck in me were buzzing with rage, my body was vibrating like a tuning fork.
So in between taking bites of the delicious hornets’ nest I’d reach up and use my claws to pluck a hornet off my scaly snout and pop it in my beak and chew it up.
Then I’d pluck a hornet off my belly and pop it in my beak and chew it up.
I did this over and over, eating scores of hornets in this way. And if you haven’t figured it out already, when it comes to dragons, hornets are one of our favorite snacks. And let me tell you those deranged hornets I ate that day in the forest were delicious.
So by the time I finished that afternoon I had scarfed down the entire nest plus 671 hornets. Then I lay back on the forest floor because my little green belly was so full I could barely move, and without really thinking about it, I just opened my beak and belched.
And along with the belch, a huge firestream suddenly exploded out my beak. And when the firestream exploded in front of me like that, well I thought for sure some deranged monster was attacking me and I nearly leapt out of my scales. Then I turned and ran away as fast as I could. And I must have sprinted a good fifty feet or so before it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t being attacked and the fire had come from my own fool beak.
So then what did I do?
Well I spent the whole rest of that day belching.
I must have belched for ten hours straight.
Because in the beginning that was the only way I could make fire shoot out of my beak. And take it from me, when you’re just a little baby dragon and you first get your fire powers, well you never really get tired of making those flames shoot out of your beak.
Now those first couple months on planet Earth really just kind of flew by.
Yes sir, I roamed the forest. I lived like a savage beast and had the mind of a savage beast, with no real strategy or game plan for my days and no real understanding of what or who I was. The concept of time was meaningless to me.
I had no sense of the past or the future, just the eternal primal now.
My life was claw and fang and wing, nothing more.
But I was also growing bigger and no longer enjoyed sleeping in the tops of trees with one eye open, like a stupid bird.
So I moved into my very first lair. Now what I did was I took up residence in this abandoned spaceship I discovered in the forest one afternoon. Though of course I didn’t know it was a spaceship, I just figured it was some sort of shiny chamber. And the main reason I chose this chamber for my lair was because it had a clear door which I could shut with my talons.
And this door changed my life.
Because now I could drag a freshly killed deer back to the chamber and eat it in peace with no concern of some scavenger darting in and trying to steal my meal. I could finally sleep in peace too, behind the safety of that door.
I slept hanging upside down inside the chamber with my wings folded across my back. But I’d wake in the middle of the night and see the piercing yellow eyes of this big gray wolf watching me through the clear door. Once as a warning shot I belched a firestream at the door and the wolf leapt away. Later when I woke again that big wolf bastard was back, watching me through the clear door.
What else can I tell you about my very first lair?
Well the outside of my lair had the letters ATHENOS stamped on it. But since I couldn’t read or write back then, these letters held about as much meaning for me as the bark on a tree. And inside my lair, there were these two dragon skeletons. Of course I didn’t know that they were dragons but I could tell by the shape of their skeletons that they were the same as me, just bigger.
They were sitting up in their seats. I’d found them that way. And each skeleton had a gold crown set atop its skull. Now propped up in front of those two skeletons was a small screen that flashed the words:
DESTINATION: PLANET EARTH
But again, I couldn’t read. So as far as what those flashing words on the screen were saying, I didn’t know. And as for those skeletons, I quickly forgot they were even there. Because soon the floor was littered with bones and fur and feathers from all the forest animals and whatnot I ate in my lair.
Then the days began to blur. Days, days, and more days.
A succession of arrivals and exits through my lair’s door. Survival was the thing. My life was claw and fang and wing, nothing more.
That is, until The Night When Everything Changed.
GABE HUDSON is the author of Dear Mr. President, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and winner of the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Hudson was named one of Granta's 20 Best of Young American Novelists. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Village Voice, McSweeney's, Black Book, and Granta. He lives in Brooklyn.
To learn more about Gork, the Teenage Dragon, click here.