The dragon roared again, shaking the ground so that garbage came tumbling down in little avalanches all around us.
“A trash dragon, to be precise,” Uncle Junk said cheerfully. “It hoards garbage the way other dragons hoard gold. Much more sensible, if you ask me.”
I held up a finger. “I think I’ve changed my—”
“Well, come see me when you get the treasure” said Uncle Junk. “Have fun!”
“No, wait!” I yelled, but I was too late. Uncle Junk turned on his heel, vanishing around the Corner and leaving us alone.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Ethan screamed at the empty air where he’d just been. “You son of a—”
“Ethan, look out!”
I tackled him half a second before the dragon’s foot came crashing down, and we rolled together across the filthy ground. Hauling Ethan back to his feet, I took off running with him right behind me, and we ducked behind a pile of trash.
“This is why you don’t agree to favors without knowing what they are, Henry!” Ethan yelled.
“Shut up,” I snapped, poking my head around the side of the trash pile. “This is…This is fine!”
The dragon growled, vibrating my bones like an obnoxious car stereo.
“How is this fine?” Ethan whispered. “It’s blocking our way out!”
He was right about that, at least. It must have seen Uncle Junk disappear around the Corner, so now it knew where our escape route was. It sat down, nearly causing an earthquake in the process, and waited.
I shrugged. “So what? I’ll just get it to move.”
“Can you even fight a dragon?”
“Anyone can fight a dragon,” I told him, whipping out Splatsy.
“Okay, but can you fight one and win?”
Good question. I peeked out at it again. “I don’t have to beat it. I just have to get it away from the Corner so we can go through.”
“And how do you plan on doing that?” Ethan asked. I grinned at him, and he rolled his eyes. “Right. Stupid question.”
“Stay here,” I told him. “I’ll lead it away and then come back to get you, okay?”
“Okay.” He nodded.
I took a deep breath. “Okay.”
I began to step out from behind the trash pile when he caught me by the arm.
“Oh, and, uh…” he said. “Don’t die, all right?”
I smiled. “I’ll do my best.”
He blushed a little. “I mean, I can’t cut the Corner by myself.”
“Aww, you really do care!” I fought the urge to pinch his cheek. “You’re adorable.”
He glared at me. “I changed my mind. It can eat you.”
I laughed, and then darted around the trash pile.
“Hey, stinkosaurus rex!” I yelled. “Over here!”
The dragon’s head snapped around to look at me, and for a moment I saw myself reflected in its gigantic green eyes. It reacted faster than I would have thought a monster that size could, opening its mouth…
And spewing rotten nastiness right at me.
“Oh, shish kebabs!” I yelled. It was like the dragon had been eating raw sewage and had decided to vomit it at me — and I got the horrible feeling that’s exactly what it was.
But the dragon wasn’t the only one with good reflexes. Channeling magic into my shoes, I launched myself up and forward, narrowly dodging the geyser of filth. I landed, skidding across the muddy ground like a trash surfer. My momentum carried me underneath the dragon, so I raised Splatsy and slammed her into its shin as I slid past. I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal any real damage to a monster that big, but I could least get its attention.
What I didn’t expect was for Splatsy to bounce off like a squeaky hammer.
I was thrown off balance and went somersaulting uncontrollably right beneath the dragon’s trash encrusted belly. The massive thing backed up until it could see me, while I lay there trying to make my head stop spinning. It opened its mouth again, but I scrambled back to my feet and launched myself into the air just in time to avoid another blast of its sewer breath. As I flew, though, I realized I hadn’t taken the time to look where I was leaping. I crested the top of a mountain of garbage, and began to plummet back down toward it.
When was the last time I had a tetanus shot? I thought a split second before crashing down into the trash heap. Fortunately, a plastic bag broke my fall.
Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure it was filled with nails.
A shadow blotted out the sun, and I opened my eyes to see a gigantic, gaping mouth closing in on me. I didn’t have time to get up and run, so instead I rolled down the trash pile. The dragon’s jaws snapped shut half an inch behind me, but I barely noticed as my journey to the bottom left me smeared with every terrible thing on earth.
“Oh, gross!” I moaned, peeling something off my shirt. “Is that a diaper?”
Crunching sounds came from above me, and I looked up to see the dragon noisily chewing and swallowing its mouthful of garbage. At least one of us was enjoying this. But as soon as it swallowed, it all came back up again in a slimy, rotten tidal wave. I took off running, narrowly missing it, and did my best to ignore the way it spattered against my back. The dragon came crashing through the wall of garbage after me.
Taking a quick puff from my inhaler, I channeled my magic again and blasted myself back over the wall of trash. Hopefully that would buy me a few precious seconds. Luckily, Ethan was standing right out in the open waiting for me.
“Come on, hurry!” I yelled, grabbing him by the hand and sprinting for the Corner.
Behind us, the building sized wall of trash exploded, and the dragon came thundering toward us with a roar.
“Henry?” Ethan squeaked.
“Hold on,” I said, running with my hand held out. “It’s somewhere…around…here!”
I’d found it. Grabbing Ethan, I spun — just as the dragon closed its jaws around us.
And then, just like that, it was gone. We were surrounded by the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of Uncle Junk’s Trash Emporium.
“Oh, thank God!” Ethan moaned, sinking down to the floor in a big Ethan-y puddle.
“Pull yourself together,” I snapped, trying not to let on how fast my heart was racing. “You didn’t act like this after I fought the maiam!”
“The maiam,” he argued, “was not a freaking dragon!”
He had a point.
“Well, this was a massive waste of time,” he grumped, sitting up. “So not only did you almost get us eaten by a dragon…”
“Excuse you,” I shot back, “it only came close to eating one of us!”
“…but we didn’t even get what Uncle Junk wanted, so we still can’t have the stupid bowling ball!”
I frowned. I hated to admit it, but he was right. Whatever that book he’d wanted from Aesop’s shop was, it was still firmly out of our price range. That, more than anything, made me mad. Not because Uncle Junk had set me up against a corn flaking dragon, but because the dragon had gotten the best of us. It still had Uncle Junk’s treasure, which meant I had put Ethan in danger for no reason.
And myself too, I guess, but who really cares?
“Ethan, stay here,” I said, making up my mind. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
He was on his feet in an instant, grabbing me by the hand. “Excuse me? Did you just say that you’re going back there?”
“No, what I said was Ethan, stay here. I’ll—”
“But yes, that’s the gist of it.”
Ethan put his head in his hands, looking like he was about to have a nervous breakdown. “Whyyyyy?”
I turned from him, facing the invisible Corner, and smirked.
“Don’t worry. I’m too stupid to die.”