Breathing Fire

By Ed McManis

It was more cute than ferocious, the science teachers agreed, sniggering as they peeked into the basement lab where the 8th graders had barricaded themselves two days before, stacking the desks against the door.

“Dumb-shits,” said Mr. Petry, “They didn’t plan for getting it out. Figures.”

“Maybe if they’d paid more attention in class,” added Sr. Mary Patience, shrugging.

Though I sucked at math and science, as an English major I understood fantasy, the impossibility of connecting the stories in your head to the world, the physics of creating magical wings proportionate to the desire to escape your class. Or your peers.

I peeked through the grimy grey window of the lab door; there it was, sure enough, filling up the room like a junior-high rumor spray painted into life. Silver and gold wings, spiked tail curling around the ceiling fan, green-eyed head the size of a VW bug, tilted toward the future.

They’d dislodged the school’s coal furnace, repurposed it as the thorax, jiggered the hot water heater for the fire-breathing component. I figured it was attached somewhere in the underbelly. Sr. Constance, our principal, peered over my shoulder.  An “Oh my,” as she shook her head, adjusting her wimple. She stood on her toes to get another glance.

“Is that Toby Peterson in there? I bet he’s behind this.”

I couldn’t see… anyone, just a dozen or so backpacks in disarray, some opened, contents strewn about as if the Lunch Room Monitor had sprung a surprise backpack check.

“Now what?” said Petry. “I have a class in five minutes.”

“Me too,” said Ms. Thompson, “It’s 8th English. I guess I won’t have class again?”

Sr. Constance pursed her lips and hmmmmd.

“We wait,” she announced, which seemed like a viable solution, one anyway that had defined her life to date and kept us in place, the school secure.

And so we waited. And on the third day, the basement rumbled, the walls shook, and the halls filled with a deafening roar as what had been contained by the daily schedule, the physics of a middle school lab, the rules of order, and necessary credits for graduation, exploded in a ball of fire spewed by this silver-headed, green-eyed creation that extended its wings from September to May, then burned a hole through the east wall, the wall with the life-sized crucifix, and there was no sign of the students, not even one, just the grinding sound of hands and feet working in unison, cranking the Beast, heading for the horizon.

Musepaper Story Prize #59

Ed McManis is a writer, editor, erstwhile Head of School, and father.  His work has appeared in more than 50 publications. He has just published esteemed author Joanne Greenberg’s (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden) latest novel, Jubilee Year

He holds the outdoor free-throw record at Camp Santa Maria: 67 in a row.

* This will be the author’s first work of fiction to appear in print. *

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