“The Dragon of North 24th Street” was the second story I sold to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s FANTASY Magazine. Sara asked for a mash-up of Lonnie and Tiny and the Sullivans, so I obliged.
Lonnie, Me, and the Dragon of North 24th Street
by Marian Allen
Lonnie and me and the wives all finished high school and went straight to work. My Mary Lee took some secretarial courses and Lonnie’s Leona, who said the shorthand squiggles made her carsick, went to beauty school.
One of their friends, though, was one of those girls who didn’t go to college for a PhD, but for a M.A.N. and got one and dropped out. That girl’s daughter got married just out of high school, but that girl’s daughter got a Bachelor’s degree in teaching English, and the wives’ friend invited everybody she knew to a graduation party at the Oddfellows Lodge on North 24th Street.
So Mary Lee buttered me up with my favorite breakfast (pancakes and sausage links and plenty of maple syrup, just so you know) and gave me the bad news.
“Leona and I want to go to the graduation, and we want you and Lonnie to go with us.”
I swallowed and said, “Why? Neither one of us ever looked at another girl, once we met you two.” Which was true. “I don’t even know who she is, and I bet Lonnie doesn’t, either.”
“She was Elsie Quiggins. She’s Elsie Byers now, and her daughter is Grace Sullivan and her granddaughter is Lacy Sullivan.”
Lonnie and me don’t know what pleasure the wives get in tracing everybody’s family trees, but we’re used to it, so I nodded and kept eating.
Mary Lee said, “They’re having a big buffet thing and dancing to a live band.”
“Crooners or screamers?” I asked. Elsie was from the generation that went for Elvis and the Beatles, but the graduate probably liked we mostly never heard of, like Rage Against the Blowfish or whatever.
“Irish,” Mary Lee said. With a twinkle in her beautiful eyes, she said, “They’ll have beer on tap.”
Mary Lee and I love draft beer, and Lonnie likes beer of any kind, although Leona only lets him drink a bottle now and then at my house. Leona, being a good Baptist, doesn’t drink at all, so she’d be our designated driver.
So we went.
Father Dan was there, of course. He’d been to school with all of us when he was a scapegrace kid. As a priest, he didn’t make a whole lot of money so, even though he and Elise had had an ugly breakup in eighth grade, he came for the free food and beer.
The wives went off to catch up with their clique, and Dan and Lonnie and me circulated with the rest of the men, punching arms and ragging on sports teams we didn’t root for.
I’m sorry to say, I let Lonnie out of my sight a time or two. Leona more-or-less counts on me to keep Lonnie from walking into the various buzzsaws he seems to go looking for but, short of keeping him on an actual leash, there’s only so much I can do.
So, when he came up behind me and pulled at the sleeve of my new suit jacket from the Big & Tall store, I wasn’t too surprised to see that wide-eyed look that means he’s all wound up about something.
“Tiny,” he said, “I don’t know what to think.”
You don’t get enough practice, I thought, but I didn’t say it out loud.
“There’s, like, a dragon by the card basket.”
You know how some people bring presents to a graduation party and some people bring cards with money or a check or just good wishes, and there’s always a basket to keep all the cards in one place? Well, they had a card basket like that on the presents table.
“That’s cute,” I said. So many people watched that Game of Thrones thing, I was used to seeing dragon eggs and whatnot on keychains and coffee mugs.
“No, Tiny, it ain’t cute,” Lonnie said. “I mean a real dragon. A live one. It’s pretty little, but it’s there. Come see.”
I didn’t expect a real live dragon, of course, but I was kind of interested to see who had brought a card besides us, so I went with him.
The basket was one of those woven wicker dealies like Mary Lee bought at yard sales and filled up with artificial flowers for get-well gifts. There was a sparkly red dragon curled around it. It looked like it was maybe knitted, with shiny red whatchamacallems – sequins – sewed on.
Then it raised its head and blinked. Kind of gave an evil little grin.
“Maybe we ought to yell at people to get out,” Lonnie said. “I don’t like the looks of him.”
Sssshheeeeee, the dragon hissed.
“It’s a lady one,” Lonnie said. “Sorry, ma’am.”
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I seemed to remember that one of the Sullivans was involved in those moving president statues they got down at Disney World.
“That’s pretty good,” I said. “It looks real.”
“Well, what do you think it is,” Lonnie said, his long, skinny chicken neck starting to turn red, “a cartoon?”
I heard Mary Lee yoo-hooing for me just as the band starting playing a slow song.
“Let’s go dance with the wives,” I said.
“I don’t feel like dancing,” Lonnie said, but Leona was motioning him to come over to her, so we went.
While we were dancing, I told Mary Lee about the little dragon moving statue and she said she wanted to see it after we finished the dance.
Lonnie was dragging Leona over to the presents table, jabbering about a real, live dragon.
He and Leona passed an ancient woman in a wheelchair and all covered up in shawls, even though it was hot enough in that hall to boil eggs in your armpits. When she heard what Lonnie was saying, she reached two bony hands down to the chair’s wheels and gave them a shove. She cut Lonnie and Leona off just as we came up to them.
“Did you see that?” Lonnie looked like she’d run over his toe, although I was a witness that she didn’t. “That’s reckless endangerment or something. She oughtn’t to be driving at her age.”
“Rude!” said Leona. “But she always was.” She told Mary Lee, “That’s Elise’s daughter’s husband’s great-aunt. Remember, she used to teach at Vacation Bible School?”
“Miss Katie?” Mary Lee craned her neck to get a better look. “Miss Katie Sullivan? She must be a hundred years old by now!”
“A hundred and five,” said Leona.
As we came up behind the wheelchair, the animated dragon toy lifted its head and hissed, Sssssullivan!
“You know the family, then,” said the old woman.
All of my race know you and hate you. I’ve come to burn down this hall, and all your friends and all your relations.
“Let’s go,” said Lonnie. “We can call the fire department from outside.”
Leona elbowed him. “Oh, don’t be silly! There’s probably a little camera in it and somebody with a microphone making it talk.”
“Well, it ain’t very funny,” Lonnie said, and I had to agree with him. “I say we at least get Father Dan over here. I wonder if he carries holy water on him.”
A priessssst? The dragon recoiled.
“A priest is the least of your worries,” Miss Katie said. “There’s a Sullivan before you.”
She reached out and grabbed the dragon behind the head, squeezing its neck so hard it’s eyes bulged.
It spread its little wings, but she used her other hand to fold them back down. She shoved it under her shawls, wrapped them around herself more tightly, and tucked the ends under her skinny butt.
“Ma’am,” I said, “I don’t think that’s safe. The mechanism’ll get overheated.”
Sure enough, a puff of black smoke curled up at the side of her neck, and I caught that nasty smell of hot wool, like when you’re trying to burn a carpet remnant.
Miss Katie smiled. “Better than a hot water bottle.” She glared at the four of us. “What’re you looking at? Take your noses out of my business and go about your own.”
“Yes, ma’am, Miss Katie,” the wives murmured, like they were little girls again, shuffling backwards and pulling us with them.
For years after that, every so often Lonnie would look up from a barbecue grill and ask, “I wonder what ever came of that mean old woman who stole that dragon toy at that graduation party. You reckon they ever caught her at it?”
“If they did,” I always said, “I feel sorry for ’em if they tried to take it away from her.”
“You got that right,” Lonnie always said, and we talked about something else.
Season 4 of Stranger Things dropped on Friday, so my nails are a tribute.
The red base polish is Starlight Polish’s Tiny Firebird. The black base polish is NeVerMind’s A Forbidden Ride. The black stamping polish is Maniology’s Straight Up Black, and I colored in Barb’s and Steve’s faces with Maniology’s Latte. The stamping plate is Manitude’s Mouth Breather. One thumb says Stranger Things; the other thumb says FRIENDS DON’T LIE, something that the protagonists have always stressed to each other. The nail next to Steve says The Upside Down, which is where all the strange things come from. The nail next to Barb says Justice For Barb. Barb was killed by a monster in the first episode, and I’m still mad about it. Happily, so is her best friend, who wouldn’t rest until she’d found who was responsible and made them pay. Barb is my favorite character. Steve is my favorite living character.
MY PROMPT TODAY: Lonnie and Tiny and the imaginary Sullivan family.
Dan AntionMay 30, 2022 at 10:37am
Excellent story and nails! You are cruising along this writing challenge 🙂
Marian AllenMay 30, 2022 at 3:08pm
Thanks, Dan! I’m worn out this year, probably because I skipped last year (mostly). Not really up to it this year, either, but I think it did me good.
Dan AntionMay 30, 2022 at 3:11pm
Well, you certainly did a good job. I’m impressed. I’m trying to finish the story about those two pages before tomorrow, and…
Alicia Butcher EhrhardtMay 30, 2022 at 12:40pm
Like button wouldn’t let me click it.
Marian AllenMay 30, 2022 at 3:09pm
Oh, well. I’ll just consider myself Liked anyway. 🙂
acfloryJune 2, 2022 at 6:17pm
I enjoyed the story but what really hit me was the era in which it’s set. It’s like a snapshot of the 50s? 60s? It’s quite brilliant. 🙂
Marian AllenJune 3, 2022 at 11:54am
That’s time in which I grew up. 🙂
acfloryJune 3, 2022 at 4:55pm
-nods- There’s a real authenticity about the characters. You’ve captured them in amber. 🙂