AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction piece was written for Sunday Scribblings. It is not part of the novel and it contains no spoilers. I've embedded links to spoiler-free supplemental information, where appropriate. Be sure to drop by Sunday Scribblings for more fun!
The hotel had always been spooky with its gloomy corners, useless televisions, and portraits of the deceased gazing down from the walls, but since the pandemic, the entire city was a dark and frightening place. Before now the children's only fears had been the ghosts of the dead and the feral children of rival tribes. Now, though, the youngest had a new worry.
In an effort to convince them, Cassie and Galahad led them in a nervous, whispering group through the darkest rooms and corridors, shining their flashlights into corners and behind furniture. "See?" Cassie told them. "No dragons."
The children shook their heads. Dragons were fast and were good at hiding. They wouldn't be found until they were ready.
Alaina, the sixteen year old teacher, tried next. She rounded up the children and conducted a lesson on dragons. "They're a myth," she said. "No more real than the tooth fairy."
Some of the children pouted, while others stared in disbelief. One, more enterprising than the others, searched the improvised schoolroom's meager selection of books and handed her a copy of The Reluctant Dragon.
"This is just a story," Alaina said, but her words fell on deaf ears.
Sid, the teenage engineer, was enlisted to devise security measures around the children's rooms with a notion that maybe bells and trip wires would help them feel safe. Dragons were clever, though, not easily defeated by such measures. The children continued to wake in the night, screaming.
Exasperated, Mundo called a meeting in his favorite conference room. "This is getting out of control. It's not my policy to dictate what anyone thinks. If these kids want to believe in dragons, that's their business, but the screaming and crying has got to stop."
His girlfriend Kayleen agreed. "I haven't had a good night's sleep all week, thanks to those brats."
"Who started this crazy rumor, anyway?" Cassie asked.
Everyone looked at David, the lead forager, but he shook his head. "Why would I do a dumb thing like that? They're disturbing my rest, too."
"Well, we have to do something," Mundo said. "I'm open to any suggestions."
They debated for a quarter of an hour, but no one had any new ideas. They could give more lessons and keep shining lights in dark places, but if these tactics hadn't worked before, why would they succeed now?
"Take them to the Zoo Tribe," David said. "Everyone knows they're animal experts. Maybe they can convince them."
Julilla, the guard leader's second in command shuddered. "Then they'll have nightmares about dead elephants."
"You got any better ideas?"
"To make them quit thinking there's dragons around here? No." Julilla glanced at Alex, the guard leader, before continuing. "Instead of trying to convince them of something they seem hell-bent on believing, we should make them think they're strong and smart enough that no dragon would be able to hurt them."
At the head of the table, Mundo leaned forward. "You mean teach them to fight or something?"
"Fight, outsmart them...you know, show them how to be better than the dragons."
Alex nodded. "We can do that. Teach them to overpower their dragons instead of run from them."
Heads around the table nodded. "It's the one thing we haven't tried," Cassie agreed.
"So that's the plan," Mundo said. "We'll teach them to outwit their dragons."
"Something we all ought to know how to do," Cassie added.
Everyone looked at each other in silence for a moment, each thinking of their own darkest fears. Then Mundo reached for a pen and notepad and shoved them toward Kayleen. "Take some notes, babe." He turned to Julilla. "Go on. Tell us how to beat the dragons."