Flash Friday 16/10/2015: Straight To The Heart
“Can you believe it? Two whole hours of complaining about the cold, and he turns his nose up at the first source of warmth! There truly is no pleasing tourists!”
The roar of laughter stang my ears as much as the cold wind did. There was no talking back to the Urkyan race; they were tall, strong, and currently my only home. Despite their strength and bravery, they were also incredibly charitable and kind, if not annoyingly jovial. Through the torrent of snow, I could make out the figures of the Urkyan surrounding a fallen ice dragon teenager. The one that spoke was Gregor, my ‘carer’, currently kneeling by the dragon’s stomach.
“I’m not a tourist,” I said, sinking into my fur jacket two sizes too big.
“Ah!” Gregor waved a carefree hand. “So you say, with your strange homeworld where you worked with ‘computers’ and ‘programmed UIs’. I’ll tell you now, friend; there are certainly no such beasts as UIs here! If you’re going to last more than ten days in the snowy North, it’s good to know how to hunt dragons, no? So, come, come! Warm yourself from the bitter cold.”
“You’re sticking your arm inside a dragon’s stomach.”
“So?” Gregor maintained eye contact with me as he plunged an arm deep into a cut on the dragon’s stomach. “It’s warm, is it not?”
“Yes, and it is also sticking your arm inside a dragon’s stomach.”
“Ah! Don’t be so queasy, my tiny friend. Come, come! Give it a try. When you return to your homeworld, you can proudly boast that you hunted dragons and tore out their hearts, bumping shoulders with the finest race of men that Nature herself has created! Come!”
It wasn’t the first time I’ve been goaded. Dares from my ‘friends’ back in school. Shots with all manners of bugs in it sliding across the counter towards me. Co-worker pranks. There was something about the group of Urkyans goading me, however, that was different; there was a hint that they genuinely wanted me to evolve as a person by jamming my arm into a only-just-dead dragon and tearing out its heart from the inside.
“Alright,” I said, approaching it. “But I’m going to need pointers.”
The clap on my shoulder almost had me falling face-first into it, let alone my arm. “That’s the spirit!” Gregor said. “Nature doesn’t make them weak, even in different worlds! For your bravery, you shall receive an ancient technique for extracting a dragon’s heart. And the first step; jam your arm in!”
“In it’s stomach?”
“Dragon anatomy is a whole different lesson in its own right. All you need to know is the heart is within arms reach.”
“Even if they’re this size?” I said, referring to the fact that an Urkyan arm could also conveniently double as a drinks bar. As soon as my arm was in the air, Gregor had grasped my wrist and lifted me off of the ground, inspecting me as if I were a fish he had just caught.
“Yes!” he bellowed, dropping me. “Yes, that is a good heart-grabbing arm. Not long or beefy, but narrow enough to squeeze past the nasty bits. Like ribs.”
“In its stomach?”
“So! First of all, stick your arm into the dragon. Don’t be delicate, it’s not like he’ll complain.”
For the record, I have never, not even in my wildest dreams, stuck my arm into a vat of warm spaghetti. I could imagine, however, it would smell a lot better, and wouldn’t make me feel on the verge of vomiting.
“Right!” Gregor clapped his hands with enthusiasm. The other Urkyans had stopped doing their own tasks, watching to see this strange foreign being try to pretend as if he’s one of them. “Now, here is the ancient Urkyan technique for extracting dragon hearts. First, jam your arm in — and I see very clearly you’ve taken to this step very well, top marks — then, find the heart. It’ll feel like you’re grabbing a, a….winter hare, or something. But a lot more slimy.”
“I’ll let you know when I find it,” I said, without enthusiasm.
“Then! — and this is the important bit — grab hold of it, and tug as hard as you can.”
I frowned. “That’s your ancient Urkyan technique?”
A heavy shrug. “It’s served us for generations.”
I searched with my arm, moving around organs I didn’t know even existed. Eventually I found the heart, which — to Gregor’s credit — did, in fact, feel like I was grabbing a hare made entirely of rotting meat and nightmares.
“Found it,” I whined.
“Excellent! Excellent work, my friend!” A clap on the shoulder, which jammed my arm further into the dragon than I liked. “Now, once you’ve gotten a firm grip–”
There was a distant sound, as if someone was flapping a huge sheet of plastic up and down. The cheer from Gregor’s face vanished as he — and then, everyone else — peered over the dragon’s corpse, looking at something in the sky behind it.
“Listen, Craig,” Gregor muttered quietly. “I feel it’s time that you have matured enough in the Urkyan ways to learn more ancient knowledge of snow dragons.”
“And what’s that?”
“Their mothers don’t take kindly to seeing their young being dissected.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. “Can you please teach me the ancient Urkyan technique of getting out of this situation?”
“Why, yes, it’s…run faster than the slowest in the group.”
“But I am the slowest in the group.”
Everyone looked at me.
When they all fled in unison, I knew what job I was playing in the Urkyan technique. Ripping my arm out of the dragon — extracting the heart faster than any ancient technique — I tried to catch up with my ‘comrades’ as the sound of a deep roar came from behind, the mother voicing its disapproval that I was fleeing with its offspring’s heart in one hand.
Suddenly, hour-long business meetings back home didn’t seem so bad, after all.