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art by Seth Alan Bareiss

Rocket Dragons

"Happy B-Day", the old man said to the girl as he handed her the package wrapped in cloth.
"Oh, thank you Grampy," said the girl. It was her twelfth season and she knew that getting a present on her B-Day was a custom left over from the old days.
It had been three seasons since they had moved into their new home, which was one of the few buildings left relatively undamaged after the last series of rumblings. On the outer walls of the structure, the girl could still see the faded letters that spelled out PARKING. Grampy had tried to explain to her that, in the oldies, the hunks of metal that were neatly arranged in rows had been used to move people from place to place. He called them "cars." He had taught her how to move them around by shifting something called gears into neutral. They had arranged several of the cars into something that looked like a box and used the larger ones for sleeping and storage. Their home had seven different levels; three of which were underground. On warm nights, they would sleep on the uppermost level under the stars and Grampy would point out different patterns of lights in the sky. He tried to explain the difference between a star and a planet. He told her stories about a time when man had actually flown to the moon.
But that was before.
Grampy didn't like to talk about it, but the girl had been persistent. He had told her about the First Dark. A great sickness had spread through the land killing most of the old ones; it was a bad time. For those who had survived the disease, there was much killing as the strong preyed on the weak. In a few areas, people had tried to start over, planting crops and raising animals. But then came the Second Dark. Some thought it was spread by birds and others thought it was spread by rat tails but either way, the Second Dark killed most of those who remained.
After that, Grampy said the world went crazy. There were great storms and blow overs and great rumblings where the earth shook and most of the buildings were destroyed. Grampy said that large parts of the land slid into the sea, but the girl had a hard time grasping this concept.
They spent most of their time foraging for food and supplies. Yet, every day Grampy make sure that they spent at least one hour working on her reading and her math although she couldn't see the importance of either activity. He tried to explain to her that there would come a time when these skills were going to be important once again. In several of the larger cars, he was storing books that he had scavenged from old buildings. Although she could read the words, she did not understand most of the concepts. Grampy promised that as she got older he would teach her what he felt was most important for her to know. Right now, he wanted her to learn to enjoy reading; he was always on the lookout for books or papers that he thought she might enjoy. She liked the old stories the best because they were simpler to understand. She could grasp the concept of Kings and Queens and poisoned apples much easier than she could understand what a computer or an iPhone was. Those concepts seemed much more magical and fantastic than magic beans and dragons.
With great anticipation, she opened her gift unwrapping the colorful cloth which most likely came from a set of old drapes. The fabric had become dry rotted but was able to serve its function as gift wrapping. Inside she found a plastic folder, brittle with age, that some girl, many years ago, had decorated with colorful flowered appliques. In the folder, she found a stack of papers that had yellowed with age but were mostly intact. The papers were held together by a metal clip that had become fragile with rust. On examination, she found that it was a collection of short stories. Each one ranged between 2 and 5 pages in length.
She found many of the stories to be very confusing; often she had to ask Grampy for explanations. A few of the stories she found very exciting and fanciful, and she liked the way that most of them had a very clever ending. She especially liked the ones where the ending was very unexpected and came as a great surprise.
She was very pleased with the gift that Grampy have given her. At night, as she was reading by candlelight curled up in the back seat of something that her Grampy called an SUV, she noticed something strange about how each story ended. Each story had a strange symbol at the bottom of the story's last page.

The End
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As she blew out the candle and started to drift off, she wondered what a rocket dragon was. She would have to ask Grampy about this in the morning.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013
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