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The Day Before the Wall Street Inferno

Lora Gray is a non-binary speculative fiction writer and poet from Northeast Ohio. They've been published in Uncanny, Flash Fiction Online, PseudoPod, and Asimov's among other places. Lora is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, a graduate of Clarion West and a recipient of the Ohio Arts Council's Individual Excellence Award in Fiction Writing. Lora is also a dance instructor/choreographer and occasionally moonlights as an illustrator. You can find Lora online at lora-gray.com and on twitter @LoraJGray

"Dragons are more dangerous than they used to be. Unpredictable," Kline says. "We need to upgrade our fire-resistant windows."
"Fire resistant windows." I check another box on my clipboard. "Yes, sir."
"And double steel doors," Kline says, pacing the length of his office. The late afternoon sun pours crimson onto the marble floor. "If one does manage to break through, I want the damage contained."
"Yes, sir."
Kline is barely even aware of me. I'm only an assistant, after all; my salary wouldn't pay for his wristwatch. Still I act fascinated, as if I hadn't committed this building's escape routes and structural weaknesses to memory months ago.
"My grandfather served in the Third War," Kline says, leaning his forearm against the window, his eyes skimming the city below before landing on his own reflection. "Did you know that?" Of course I do. "He commanded the first anti-dragon unit outside of Asia. He'd be rolling in his grave right now if he knew how the ESA is screwing us all over, especially now that those monsters are changing shape. Endangered species my ass. Did you hear about the one they found on the Chrysler Building? Those idiots at NYPD didn't even notice it. They thought it was a flock of pigeons."
I grip my smile tightly. "I've heard they can be extremely difficult to see, sir."
Kline sighs, his breath fogging the glass. "They should be exterminated. Every last one of them."
I set my clipboard on the desk with a clack and slip a fresh cigarette from the pack in my pocket. "Would you care for a smoke, sir?" I ask.
Kline looks over his shoulder as if seeing me for the first time.
I continue smiling.
"I quit two weeks ago," Kline says. "My wife would kill me." He chuckles to himself and takes a cigarette.
I produce a lighter, snapping the flame high as he leans in to light it.
"I didn't know you smoked," he says, taking a deep drag.
"Only on special occasions, sir."
"What's your name again?"
He nods, studies the cigarette more carefully than he has ever studied me, and resumes his pacing. "Take this down, Ryoto."
I retrieve my clipboard.
"I want every office armed. None of that standard security crap. I'm talking big guns. Something with enough fire power to take those monsters out if they get too close. I'll be damned if I let one of those scaly bastards get anywhere near the vaults."
I make a check. Ink smudges the heel of my hand like soot.
"What about the security codes, sir?" I ask. "Would you like to set new ones?"
Kline waves his hand, an ember leaping from the end of his cigarette. "Of course, of course. We can't be too careful."
Kline doesn't even glance up as he taps his cigarette into the ashtray I offer him. He doesn't acknowledge that I've thought of everything as I follow him from the room, the new security codes already written, the building's schematics locked deep in my memory. Kline has probably already forgotten my name as he strides from his office.
He pays no attention when I roll up my sleeve to wipe the smudged ink away.
He doesn't see the scales on my wrist.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 17th, 2021

Author Comments

This story is a direct result of a Sunday afternoon spent sky gazing. The clouds here in Northeast Ohio are spectacular when they choose to be and this past autumn, while lounging in a field at a local university, I spotted one just above the skyline that looked uncannily like a dragon. It shapeshifted for nearly thirty minutes before finally dissipating. I started writing "The Day Before the Wall Street Inferno" that night.

- Lora Gray
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