by Jill Hand
There was no hot water when I went to take a shower this morning. Oh great, I thought. It’s always something. I went down to the basement to see if I could figure out what was wrong with the water heater and right away I saw what was causing the problem: the dragon was dead.
I poked it with the stick that we keep down there. The dragon was sluggish and sometimes needed poking before it would bestir itself to breathe fire. (I’d told my husband when we bought it that we should pay a little more and get a lively one, but he wouldn’t listen.) I poked at its scaly ribcage, gingerly at first, then harder. No response. The dragon was sprawled out on its side, no longer breathing, dead as the proverbial doornail.
“Nuts,” I said. “Nuts, nuts, nuts!”
“What’s the matter?” my husband called from the kitchen.
“There’s no hot water. The dragon’s dead,” I told him.
He came to the top of the stairs, a bowl of cereal in his hand. “Are you sure? Maybe it’s just sleeping. Did you poke it with the stick?
“Yes, I poked it. It’s dead,” I told him.
He ate a spoonful of cereal, appearing to mull things over. Finally he asked if I thought the dragon was still under warranty. We hadn’t owned it for very long, had we? Maybe the store would take it back and give us a new one.
I went through the paperwork that we keep in an accordion file on top of the bookcase in the dining room and found the receipt inside the instruction manual for the laptop computer. We’d bought the dragon a little over three years ago. The warranty had long since expired.
“I told you we should have gotten the extended warranty,” I told my husband, feeling aggravated that I couldn’t take a hot shower.
He said maybe I was right. It seemed like dragons used to last a lot longer. His family had one when he was growing up that lasted almost twenty years.
“It’s planned obsolescence,” he said, shaking his head and rinsing out his cereal bowl with cold water. “We’d better go to the Merchandise Mart and get a new one. I hear the red ones are good; they’re dependable and not too expensive. My friend Eric has a red one and he says he never has any trouble with it.”
At the Merchandise Mart, a short little guy working in the plumbing supplies aisle asked if he could help us. I told him we needed a new dragon.
“How about this one?” He indicated a truculent-looking dragon with sinister yellow eyes. Little puffs of smoke were coming from its nostrils. “It comes with its own hoard of gold and jewels.”
The price sticker on the shelf above it said twenty thousand dollars. That was much more than we wanted to spend.
My husband asked if they had any red ones. The guy said they were sold out and were on back order. They were expecting to get some more in a couple of weeks.
We couldn’t wait that long. I pointed to a silvery-green dragon. It had an alert, interested expression and was burbling happily to itself.
“How much is that one?” I asked.
The guy said I had a good eye for dragons. It was the latest energy-saving model. “It’s got a nice disposition, for a dragon. You don’t have to feed it knights. It works just as well on dog food and leftovers.”
That sounded good. “How much?” I asked again.
“Tell you what,” he said, smiling enticingly. “If you can guess my name, it’s yours absolutely free of charge. If you guess wrong, you pay nine thousand dollars for the dragon, plus you agree to purchase the extended, five-year warranty. How’s that sound?”
There was a name tag pinned to his red vest. He’d clearly forgotten it was there. Suppressing a grin, I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a go. Let’s see now…is your name Rumplestiltskin?”
I waited, confidently expecting him to be dismayed that I’d guessed correctly, but instead he shook his head. “Nope. That’s an unusual name. I don’t see why you’d think… Oh! Wait a minute! You saw the name tag and you thought my name was Rumplestiltskin!” He chuckled. “No, that’s another guy who works here. I guess we swapped vests by mistake. Too bad. If you guessed Bob you’d have yourself a free dragon. Come on back to the customer service counter and we’ll take care of the paperwork and arrange for delivery.”
Nine thousand dollars was more than we’d planned to spend on a dragon, let alone signing up for an extended warranty that cost who knows how much. I asked Bob if maybe we could make another arrangement. Perhaps he’d like my first-born child instead?
Ziggy, my first-born child, was now a moody, insolent teenager who listened to horrible music and left moldy, half-eaten plates of food in his room. I wouldn’t mind having somebody take him off my hands, but Bob said no. The Merchandise Mart already had plenty of first-born children.
We arranged for the new dragon to be delivered and the old one to be hauled away. We left the Merchandise Mart almost twelve thousand dollars poorer.
“Listen,” I told my husband as we were driving home. “Don’t tell Ziggy I tried to get rid of him, okay? I wouldn’t want him to get the wrong idea.”
“You mean you wouldn’t want him to get the right idea.”
“However you want to phrase it. I just think it would be better not to mention it.”
He promised he wouldn’t tell.
“I know it was expensive, but it’ll be good having a new, energy-efficient dragon,” he said. “The guy said it eats dog food, so we can feed it the canned stuff we give Cerebus. We won’t have to keep thinking up ways to trick knights into going down into the basement anymore.”
I agreed that was a plus.
Jill Hand’s fantasy/sci-fi novella, The Blue Horse, is now available from Kellan Publishing. It’s a humorous tale about the search for an actual hairless blue horse that was discovered in South Africa in 1860, shipped to England and purchased by an eccentric aristocrat, who rode it to go fox hunting. There are cameo appearances by Arthur Conan Doyle and the Cottingsley fairies, Queen Victoria, and Elsie the Cow.
Jill Hand’s short stories have recently appeared in Another Realm; Bewildering Stories; Cease, Cows; and Jersey Devil Press, among others. Jill is on Twitter at @jillhand1_gef. Gef is a tribute to a talking mongoose by that name who allegedly lived on the Isle of Man in the early 1930s. Harry Price, the original ghost hunter, tried to chat with him, but Gef stubbornly refused to make an appearance.
Jill Hand writes, … “‘Hot Water’ was inspired by the sound that my old water heater used to make, an ominous sort of rumbling, growling whoosh that put me in mind of a noise that a fire-breathing dragon might make. The water heater has since been replaced. I’m grateful to it for the inspiration.”