Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Guest Blog/Blog Tour! Lawrence Santoro (Editor of 'Tales to Terrify')
THE DRAGON I KNOW by Lawrence Santoro
Every school year at 5th and Spring Elementary ended with a neighborhood celebration held on the school’s playground and called the “Strawberry Festival.”
For us, Hebhardt, Mahler, Davy Brown, Missie and Trissie, the Talking Magpies, that that was THAT for the school year. No more Feinerfrock, no more dreaming out the windows while John Levy did long division at the blackboard, no more Patty Bullock baton-twirling, no more Hazel Gensler cooties. The Festival was it, over and out, summer’s kickoff.
We spent weeks in advance going around the neighborhood selling Festival Ticket Books—four strips of heavy paper stapled together, each strip with 5 stubs, each stub worth 5 cents. This was Festival currency used to buy baked goods, things from the “White Elephant” table (one year the table yielded a large red book from the 1880s, “Wood’s Natural History.” This told of the Reverend J.G. Wood’s wanderings among African and Pacific Island tribes. Pictures galore, graphic steel engravings of native women doing native women things, wondrous images of cannibal tribes doing cannibal things. Reverend Wood became our favorite man of God; his illustrations causing us to reassess the twin Magpies, Missie and Trissie Fritz. Reverend Wood’s life work was, of course, snatched away when the parents actually opened the book. Pardon the digression.) There were pony rides for the kiddies, merry-go-round rides for bigger tots, really good, finger-scalding French fries, music—if you liked that stuff—and there were steaming dry-ice frozen bricks of ice cream with a runny dollop of strawberries ladled over it.
And cartoons in the gym. A full hour. The three-story cavern still smelled of sweat, socks, and disgrace. A million wooden folding chairs clattered, the projector ratcheted away in half-light and tossed an image barely bright enough to see. The sound track bounced around backstage and on the tile walls and up among the steel rafters, it played around the stowed rings and up-cranked basketball nets, and got to your ears with so many echoes of itself that the lips on the screen had forgotten what they’d said.
Still, it was an HOUR of cartoons, watched, assessed with chums, made loud fun of as they played out; like Saturday matinees at the Strand except we knew these, we knew what was coming, when to respond, when to warn, when to chorus-with. Of course we did. We’d been there every year. They never changed, most were scratchy black and white from the 1930s. Still, we cheered when Heckle and Jeckle’s smart-aleky faces appeared. We loved Droopy Dog. And everyone, bar none, even Principal Ash—ticket-taker, projectionist and monitor—loved the anarchist, Woody Woodpecker.
The reason I came to the show every Festival evening, was “The Brave Little Tailor.”
I had seen it at my first Festival. I was six, new in the neighborhood, a kindergarten dropout from my old place across town. I hadn’t yet started at Fifth and Spring, so that first time I was most likely alone among strangers or, if not alone, then with a parent. Parents, though, never reckoned the difference between what they saw and what I did.
“The Brave Little Tailor” came at the end of the show. Woody and Droopy, Heckle and Jeckle, Farmer Alfalfa, and Andy Panda had come and gone. Then, in black and white stop-motion animation. “The Brave Little Tailor” begin: It is Fairy Tale time. The land is threatened by a dragon. Nightly, the beast waddles from its cave in the hills and eats local sheep. The usual rewards are offered. Brave huntsmen, knights go forth. They are eaten. Yes, eaten.
Finally, the smallest person in the film, a tailor’s apprentice not much bigger than I, says he’ll try it. Instead of armor and shield, he wears his tailoring clothes. Instead of arrows, sword, and spear, he stuffs poison into a sheep’s skin and stitches it up quick as that. When night falls he carries the stuffed sheep into the dark and scary woods, up the hill, and to the mouth of the dragon’s cave where he leaves the skin. He hides behind rocks, waits and waits. The night gets darker, scarier, the moon goes behind clouds. Finally, the little guy grabs a stone, goes to the cave mouth, and tosses the rock into the dark.
Out roars the dragon. It bellows, rears up, its wings spread—big pointy bat-wings flap and blow a gale that nearly knocks our hero down—the dragon snorts fire and steam at the little tailor who retreats. The dragon turns, leaps, rages. He is terror itself. I nearly faint. Then it sees the poison pelt, sniffs it, picks it up, plays with it, teases us… Sniffs it again, then eats it in a gobble.
Like/that, the creature knows something’s wrong. He goes funny. He turns round and round, staggers. His movements become even jerkier. He staggers past the little hero. He’s forgotten him. All the dragon now wants is water, something to cool the poison fire in his belly. He buries his snout in the nearby stream and drinks. He drinks and drinks. The little tailor can’t believe how much he drinks. The dragon stomach swells and swells. The tailor is amazed. Amazed. The dragon’s gut is so large, round, and tight, his stubby feet can’t reach the ground. He is a scaly balloon of a dragon, now. Finally…
Here I must stop. My factual memory is that the dragon died. That was all. Dragon dead. Tailor returns to village, claims his reward. Happy. End of film.
The fact is, I never found out what happened to the critter until maybe fourth grade. I hid my eyes. Yearly. I was not only afraid of dragons but of balloons. An about-to-burst-dragon balloon was really more than I could take. So, hide the eyes, stuff the ears. End of story. Dragon dead.
That’s was a beginning, see? The reason I tell this is because the dragon became a companion.
Through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, to this day he was expected, a constant, and a presence in the narrow space between the wall and my bed. Wherever that was.
I knew—I know—he’s there. He waits. Tonight I will sleep with my back to that narrow darkness between bed and wall. I know if I see him… Well.
But, if you don’t see him; he can rear up, his spiky ears can touch the ceiling, he can spread his wings and roar silent at the night, but he can never, ever harm me. That much I know of the rules of terror. He knows them too. An agreement. I am his to take but he is mine, and will feed and nourish me with life and shivers for as long as we both shall be.
Thanks for reading. Sometimes, you see, sometimes our fears, our little terrors born in childhood do become the things on which you build your life. That’s all. That’s all.
Award-winning writer and narrator, Lawrence Santoro began writing dark tales at age five.
In 2001 his novella “God Screamed and Screamed, Then I Ate Him” was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. In 2002, his adaptation and audio production of Gene Wolfe’s “The Tree Is My Hat,” was also Stoker nominated. In 2003, his Stoker-recommended “Catching” received Honorable Mention in Ellen Datlow’s 17th Annual “Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror” anthology. In 2004, “So Many Tiny Mouths” was cited in the anthology’s 18th edition. In the 20th, his novella, “At Angels Sixteen,” from the anthology A DARK AND DEADLY VALLEY, was similarly honored.
Larry’s first novel, “Just North of Nowhere,” was published in 2007. A collection of his short fiction, DRINK FOR THE THIRST TO COME, was published in 2011. He lives in Chicago and is working on two new novels, “Griffon and the Sky Warriors,” and “A Mississippi Traveler, or Sam Clemens Tries the Water”.
If you've missed the rest of the tour, and want to catch up, here's where the tour stopped over the last week...
October, 22nd: Innsmouth Free Press
October, 23rd: Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews (http://darkwolfsfantasyreviews.blogspot.com/)
October, 24th: Kaaron Warren (http://kaaronwarren.wordpress.com/)
October, 25th: Sci fi & Fantasy Lovin' News and Reviews (http://sqt-fantasy-sci-fi-girl.blogspot.com/)
October, 26th: Fantasy Book Critic (http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com/)
October, 29th: Wag the Fox (http://waggingthefox.blogspot.com/)
October, 30th: Angela Slatter (http://www.angelaslatter.com/)
There's also a competition going on where you can win a PDF of 'Tales to Terrify'. Find 'Tales to Terrify' on Facebook or Twitter and tell em' what scares you the most. It's that simple. The competition does end today though (not sure exactly what time) so I'd get a move on if you want to enter...