You say I gotta hang by the knees, smack this tub with a flashlight, and holler
‘Here, Snipe?’ Sounds OK to me.
--Gullibility-challenged Boy Scout

Keeping Up With the Joneses

by Layla Lawlor © 2002

Wouldn't you know it, Fred Naylor thought, I gotta be driving the wife's Subaru when I hit a dragon.

"Oh Jesus," he said as the body thumped under his fender, and stifled, just in time, a reflexive glance over his shoulder to make sure Lilly hadn't somehow managed to appear in the backseat and overhear him taking the good Lord's name in vain.

She hadn't. She was sure going to pitch a fit if he'd crumpled the front end, though. The station wagon was a few years from new, but Lilly vacuumed the seats every second weekend and made him knock his boots off before he got in. He shouldn't have taken it out to Willie's, should have just done the tranny work on the truck days ago, but with a week to go until Lilly got back from her mother's, it was the Devil's own temptation to drive her car.

I'm fixing the truck tomorrow, he promised himself.

Fred set the parking brake and got the deer rifle from the backseat before he went around front—just in case the dragon wasn't dead and he had to put it down. The dragon's body was a dark lump in the car's headlights, a low ridge like a fireplace log, with the swell of its chest and hips tapering down to a long tail. It wasn't very big. Probably five, six feet not counting the tail.

Except for the size, it looked just like the pictures in little Freddie's book of fairy tales.

Fred leaned across its body, resting the rifle on his shoulder, and ran his fingers along the bumper. It had a few scratches, probably from the scales, but nothing that couldn't be buffed out. The paint and headlights looked fine.

Fred poked at the dragon's head with his foot. It didn't move. He bent down and saw that its jaws were open, a double row of crooked teeth gleaming dully under the headlights. The one eye he could see was staring blindly into the sky, a yellow half-moon of iris around its dilated pupil.

He poked it again a couple of times, and then straightened up and looked around.

The Murphy place wasn't far, around the corner and down the long hill, a few miles before the sparse woods opened up into farm country. This part of the road was wild, lonely and dark. He could drive on to the Murphys' and call Fish & Game. Or was the DOT supposed to dispose of wild animals? He couldn't remember.

Fred looked around again. Nobody had seen him. He could easily drag the thing into the bushes. Probably a coyote would get it.


Fred stared thoughtfully at the dragon. Deer season hadn't closed yet, but three days of tramping around in the woods with Willie had got him nothing but aching knees and a worrisome cough. Pete Murphy had bagged a twelve-point buck on opening day, and Dave Bentley brought down a, what, nine-pointer just a few days later. Maybe this was God's way of evening the score. Sure, it wasn't a deer, but it might look all right on the wall.

Not to mention he'd had a few beers at Willie's place, not a lot, mind you, and over several hours, and it was pretty cheap stuff and not at all likely that it had thrown his reflexes off at all, but it was still better not to have the troopers poking around, huh?

He laid the rifle against the side of the car and slid both hands under the dragon. It was lighter than it looked, and he could lift it easily, although the rough scales cut his hands. He strapped it to the rack on top of the Subaru. It was bleeding some from the mouth, but he wiped that with a shop towel from the backseat, to keep the paint job clean.

Willie Metz came by the next day to return Fred's mitre saw and noticed the dragon hanging by the tail in the garage, dripping occasionally on the old bikes and Lilly's cracked flowerpots. "What the hell's that?"

"Something I hit on the road." They were drinking brewskis on the porch of Fred's old turn-of-the-century farmhouse, and he felt expansive, ready to talk.

"What do you reckon it is? Alligator or something?"

"Somethin', for sure," Fred said.

"You got a permit for that thing?"

Fred bristled. "Hey, Dave Bentley got a permit for that white horse or moose or whatever it was, the thing with the horn, the one he ran over last fall? He's sure as hell got it on his wall, and it did a number on his Ford, too. What about Red Jones and that big funny-looking gray dog what went rabid in his yard and tried to attack the kids at the full moon? Red's got it on his wall, don't he?"

"Yeah, but Fred--"

"Junior likes it," Fred said. "Don't you, kid? Hey, kid?"

Freddie Junior was tying Bobbie Metz to an anthill in the yard. "What now, Pop?"

"You know that critter in the garage...?"

"'S a dragon, Pop . . . Sheez, get it straight, man. Hol' still, you bum, you're screwin' up my knots."

"You think that'd look good in the living room, son?" Fred Naylor called across the yard, through the firefly-filled dusk.

"Whatever, Pop. It ain't as cool as that wolf Jonesy's dad's got, though . . . Darn it, Bobbie, if you don't hold still I swear I'll cap you one--"

The adults turned back to their conversation, enjoying the cheerful cries of the playing children, a pleasant and heartwarming sound since they were too far away to make out any words. "See, I can't disappoint the boy. And I'll be damned if I'll let Red Jones get the jump on me. Not Fred Naylor."

"You think Lilly's gonna go for it?"

"She let me put a 42-inch pike over the dining room table, didn't she?"

"Yeah, I've been wondering for years how you swung that one. I was lucky enough to get Peggy to let me have the bass in the TV room."

Fred tapped his forehead with one finger. "Secrets of the married life, William. Give her something she wants, too. Something with ruffles on it, usually."

"Well, I just hope you got the cash for a brand new station wagon with ruffles on it, then, because I think you're going to be paying for this one for years, my friend. Bobbie, get your father another beer, there's a good boy."

"Jus' a minute, Dad," came Bobbie Metz's slightly muffled voice.

"I tell you," Fred said, gesturing with his half-empty beer. "If Red Jones has got a dog on his wall, by God, then I'm putting up a lizard on mine, and Lilly can say whatever she wants about it."

Lilly had plenty to say about it, starting with, "Fred, what is that thing in the garage?"

"It's a trophy, dear."

"Fred, it looks like it's endangered or something. It wasn't on state property or anything, was it?"

"Of course not. I don't poach, woman. What are you thinking?"

"I have no idea, Fred. I don't understand why you'd want to take a living, feeling creature and put a bullet through its head in the first place."

"Damn it, woman, this is a man thing. There's no way you could possibly understand. Shooting it in the head ruins the trophy."

Eventually he won the argument by promising Lilly that yes, they'd finish the upstairs bathroom by next spring, and put in the twin full-length mirrors just like she wanted. And the dragon went in the living room next to the black bear and the eight-point buck from last fall.

Willie Metz brought over a few boys to see it, and it was the talk of Winston Holler until the next fall, when Red Jones shot some critter with three heads (goat, snake and a chicken of all things) while hunting elk on the flats out back of town. But fame is fleeting and everybody gets his fifteen minutes . . . even Fred Naylor.

x x x

This Fred puts me in mind of another Fred who was always scheming and, usually, outsmarted himself. I speak, of course, of Fred Flintstone—star of Hannah-Barberra’s greatest creation. (To all you Scooby Doo afficianados, nyahhhhh!!) Anyway, I liked this amusing little fantasy with its subtle moral lessons. How about you?—gm

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