I've been wanting to write something to read to my three-year-old son at night, and I feel I owed it to him after he inspired a terrifying short story (to be published later). As it happens, my wife is also a huge fan of this story, and I'm sure there will be sequels after my son tells me what other messes Tommy and Eustace can get up to. This was so fun, maybe I'll just write about little boys and dragons from now on.
Little Tommy had a life much like yours. He played with action figures of his favorite superheroes. He watched cartoons. He even had a room just like the room you’re sitting in right now. The only real difference was the dragons.
Of course, these dragons didn’t breathe fire. That was just something made up by people who have never met a real dragon. The very real dragons in Tommy’s world just had very stinky breath that they could also blow really hard. If they burped near your campfire or grill, their breath might catch on fire a little, but it was never all that impressive.
The rest of what you know about dragons is probably correct, though. They were roughly the size of a small house. They could fly with giant wings that they kept folded flat against their back. And, of course, they mostly ate blueberry pancakes.
The other important difference between you and Tommy is that he had his own dragon. It had been his grandfather’s dragon when he was a little boy, and dragons live so long that it had been passed down to Tommy’s dad when he was a boy. Tommy’s dad no longer had use for a dragon when he got older, and he felt awkward flying him to the office. So, when Tommy turned six years old, the dragon became his responsibility. Tommy’s mom, who had never known a dragon until meeting Tommy’s dad, decided she was surprisingly okay with this.
Tommy, on the other hand, was much more than okay. None of his friends had dragons, and he couldn’t imagine anything more dull than a dragon-less childhood. He loved his dragon and rushed home from school every day to feed him a stack of blueberry pancakes and fly him over the town where they all lived. He even loved the weird name his grandfather had given him as a boy: Eustace. It was a reference his dad said he would get later.
Another way that Tommy’s world was probably like yours was that his town had parades for big events. In fact, they loved parades. They had parades for Thanksgiving, Christmas, starting school, ending school, and anything else they wanted to mark as special. It was before one of these parades, the End of School March, that Tommy’s teacher, Ms. Hope, asked him if he would like to lead the parade with Eustace.
As I already mentioned, despite dragons being very real, most little boys did not have their own. It would be like owning an elephant — if your elephant could fly and ate blueberry pancakes. So, of course Tommy was very excited to show off Eustace in the big parade. He promised Ms. Hope to give Eustace a whole tin of breath mints, and he decided not to mention the fact that dragons are a little slow and awkward when walking. They were really made to fly, you know, but Tommy knew he couldn’t lead the parade from up in the sky.
When he got home to tell them the good news, his parents were a little more concerned. His dad pointed out again how slow and awkward Eustace would be on the ground, and he worried about him holding up the parade or tripping and flattening cars on Main Street. His mom thought the whole idea sounded bizarre and was suddenly worried about flattened cars, since it had come up. Eustace seemed to love the idea, though, and thudded his huge tail on the ground until all the apples and a very surprised bluebird fell out of a nearby tree.
After Tommy promised to clean his room, do the dishes by himself for a month, and practice walking Eustace, his parents finally said it was okay. Tommy flew Eustace out to a field outside of town and started practicing that very afternoon. When he came home, he cleaned his room and made all the dishes sparkle after telling his parents how well Eustace had walked around in the field.
It was just a few weeks later, when the big day came. Tommy had been practicing with Eustace every day, and they were both very excited. They flew to the football field behind his school where the parade was set to start. As he flew over the school, Tommy saw all his friends and teachers look up at him from where they were preparing, and he heard the cheers from his classmates as he waved at them from Eustace’s back.
When she saw him come in to land, Ms. Hope started to worry about how much big a dragon actually was. She realized she had only seen him high in the sky, and she wondered if this pet, roughly the size of a small house, would even fit down Main Street. She didn’t even think about flattened cars, but that would have worried too. Her fears about Tommy being able to control such a large animal disappeared, at least, when she watched Eustace come in for the softest of landings right in front of the marching band. The ground barely even shook, and Tommy was very proud.
As soon as the band started playing one of their marching songs, Tommy patted his dragon’s scales, and they started leading the parade toward Main Street. As the big drums boomed and the tubas oom-pahed, Eustace plodded along with the beat. Tommy was relieved to see that Main Street had been cleared to make way for the large dragon. He at least didn’t have to worry about flattening any cars today. As they made their way onto the street, he started to relax and waved at all the people coming out to the sidewalk to cheer them on.
Tommy felt so good going down Main Street that he reached into his bag to see what his mom had packed him to eat. He knew it was early for lunch, but riding his dragon always made him hungry. When he pulled out the perfectly wrapped peanut butter and jelly sandwich, his stomach started to grumble. He was so high up, nobody would see him snacking, and his mouth watered a little.
Before you blame Tommy for what happened next, I feel I should tell you that Tommy ate on Eustace’s back almost every day. Dragons are so graceful and smooth in the air that it would be foolish not to have a snack on a lazy afternoon high above the town. It’s simply natural when you’re flying as Tommy usually is, and he didn’t know how different it would be on the ground.
As soon as Tommy tried to bite down on the sandwich, he realized it’s a lot harder to eat on a marching dragon. The big legs went up and down, and the huge back swayed side to side, with the rhythm of the music. Tommy missed his mouth twice before he saw the sandwich fly right out of his hand and toward the ground.
Eustace had no idea that Tommy had dropped his lunch, and he was definitely not prepared to step on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As his back foot squished down on the snack, jelly squirted between his toes. Eustace was very confused. Like Tommy’s dad had warned him, dragons are already awkward with their feet on the ground, and the feeling of jelly between your toes would fluster anybody.
As soon as Eustace felt the sticky goo ooze between his toes, he tried to lift his back leg up to inspect it. He leaned way over to his non-jellied side where the onlookers shrieked to avoid being squished. The noise shocked Eustace, and he leaned back the other way toward the smashed sandwich. His big foot came back down to the ground and slipped on the fresh jelly stain. The ground shook, Eustace’s foot slipped out from under him, and Tommy held on as hard as he could — images of flattened cars and splatted marching bands going through his head.
Eustace skidded and teetered back and forth and back and forth until, eventually, he leaned… leaned… and took off into the sky more gracefully than any parade leader before or since. The whole town watched him climb high into the sky with Tommy on his back. As their gaze came back to earth, they all saw the smashed sandwich in front of the frozen marching band. Despite all the swaying and shaking, the sandwich was the only thing damaged, and Tommy could hear the cheers and music start again as he and Eustace led the parade the rest of the way from high over the buildings.
Tommy and Eustace had many more adventures for years to come, but that was the last time Tommy tried to walk his dragon down Main Street.