Fire and Brimstone

This story is an old one – I wrote it nearly 20 years ago now (!!) – but remains one of my favourites.

The sky contains many things. Clouds, rain, sunshine, thunder, air, birds, and, for some time, dragons.

It hasn’t always been this way. There weren’t always winged harbingers of doom patrolling the sky and picking off unfortunates like avenging angels from some fiery, reptilian heaven (or hell). But they are here now, and we have to live with them, and that’s the way it is.

I was seven when the dragons first appeared. I will never forget the moment I first saw a creature supposedly of myth swooping out of the sky. People screamed and ran and hid – and I stood out in the open and stared like a statue as the most magnificent creature I had ever seen landed in a suburban park in front of me.

My parents grabbed me and dragged me inside “in the nick of time” – but not before I had locked eyes with the beast and felt my heart beat like nothing else has made it do so before or since.

I have seen the same dragon so many times I have even given him a name – Brimstone. As in “fire and brimstone”. I don’t know how many times I have had to explain this to people but I guess it doesn’t matter as they all think I am nuts anyway.

Seriously, naming a dragon. It’s not normal.

I have tried to tell them that normal sucks. That in an age where everyone and everything is dependent on science and its ever-reducing ability to keep this planet and its population alive, here is something that science can’t explain.

Where did they come from? What are they made of? How do they even exist? And, most important, how can we kill them? For ten years, the brightest minds from the greatest scientific institutes have grappled with this question and so far none have come up with an answer.

I am secretly happy about this, and I’m fairly certain that I’m the only one that feels this way. I’ve done my compulsory time in the EuroSchools and the United Earth Army, and I have seen dragons being gaped at, shot at, chased, trapped, and nuked.

I have seen fire, death, destruction, running, screaming, and panic too. But there are two things that I have not seen: anyone else stop and admire the beauty of the beasts, or a dragon die.

No matter what we do to them, they prevail. We are wiping ourselves out in an effort to rid us of them when we could just leave them alone to go about their business – business that seems fair enough to me.

They don’t just take anyone in the street, you see. If you are an honest citizen you have nothing to fear. But if you have a dark secret in your mind or a stain upon your soul they will pluck you out of the biggest crowd and shred you until your screams instil the fear back into those supposed innocents around you.

For this reason, some people believe that the dragons are a form of man-made moral police; that their ability to choose between the good and the not-so-squeaky-clean comes not from their otherworldly nature, but from a government code or AI installed in some horrendous hologram or robot.

Perhaps it is because people prefer to believe in an artificial intelligence rather than a real one that I have to suppress a smile every time I see my beloved Brimstone pick another one of them off. For this reason alone, I think he should pick them all off.

He is my last great hope for humanity, and our salvation.

When the dragons first appeared, everyone assumed that if they had some supernatural purpose it would be to bring about Armageddon, and that our world was about to turn to ashes and dust. From whence we came, so serves us right.

But that’s not true. The dragons did not come from the pit.

I wanted to laugh and say that we didn’t need glorious flying lizards to encourage us to kill each other; the so-called “brotherhood of man” perfected the art of destroying each other millenniums ago and have been practising this abhorrent tradition ever since. We don’t need any help in going to hell. We’re already there.

Look around you, at the numbed faces of the masses as they go about their carefully controlled lives dominated by machinations and machines, and you will see what I mean. Try and tell the difference between a robot girl and a real girl. It’s easy – if you hand a robot a flower, it will smile. If you hand a human girl the same, she will blink uncomprehendingly.

When the machines you have made to do menial jobs you don’t want to, even with their most basic programming, react to the world in a way more human than you, then we are in trouble. But, again, in a world where people take more comfort in the idea of man-made machines patrolling the skies than in the possibility of something natural, doing its natural duty, it’s pointless to even try to argue any more.

So I let Brimstone do my arguing for me.

It is faith, you see, that makes the dragons what they are. Their fire, their power, their invincibility – they are these things because these are the things that we believe them to be. What the rest of the world doesn’t know is that even if they don’t believe, it doesn’t matter. Because it is not their faith that makes them come alive, it is mine.

I first dreamt up a dragon when I was still in a cradle and although it took years for me to perfect my design, it was worth it when I finally saw them come to life. My very first memory was being told an old adage that with faith, you can do anything. I seem to have been born with that phrase ringing in my ears. All it takes is faith the size of a mustard seed and you can move mountains, the voice said.

I have mustard seeds for all the world.

And now, I have Brimstone. Him and thousands of others like him who understand, as I do, the way that the world has come to be and that it needs to be restored to the natural order of things.

It’s not easy being judge and jury and that’s why I don’t do it. I am merely a mortal, if a slightly psychically endowed one, and all I did was bring the dragons to life. I cannot control who or how or why they will strike.

I am a maker of dragons, not a maker of man. I didn’t dream up what is in the hearts and minds of men. I am not a saviour. I have only hope for our salvation and, for reasons beyond my knowledge, the apparent power to assist in this salvation coming about.

I have the power to do other things as well, not all of them as good. It’s a struggle sometimes, not to let out all the abilities that I have been harbouring in secret for so long in ways more violent than my avenging angels. There may come a day when they dragons come for me. If such a day should come, then I want it to be Brimstone who takes me.

I will not be condemned for the sins of my fellow Homo sapiens. If I am to be judged, then let it be for my own failures. I will accept that. I only hope that this day comes long after my dragons have done their work well enough, because I don’t know if they will survive if I am gone.

When you die, does your faith live on? In my mind’s eye I have made them immortal, but we will have to wait and see.

© Copyright 2020, Grace Penney*

*This version – once upon a time this story was on my old blog, many moons ago.