The Valley of Fire
There weren’t always dragons in the Valley.
Until there were.
Traffic used to be the worst problem in Los Angeles until some hapless mad-scientist-wannabe grad student at Caltech opened a portal to another dimension or something.
And in they flew. The portal was shut off, but too late. It’s known as the Van Huxley Event. Named after the poor dude. He’s never going to live that down.
The winged fire-breathing beasts multiplied fast and now thrive all over California’s mix of terrains. Some breeds like to hang out on the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains, some in the dry Mojave Desert, and some like to fish off the shores of our many once crowded sandy beaches. Surfing is even more of an extreme sport than it used to be.
Although just about everything else is, too. That trip to Pinkberry could be a death sentence.
Most movies are shot in Atlanta now, which built a strong defense perimeter with ground-to-dragon missiles (GTDMs). Or in Toronto, which seems to be too cold for our scaly friends. Who knows what will happen with climate change, though.
Other industries popped up to replace them. The studios and soundstages are now government research facilities, some with captured dragons, to the chagrin of animal welfare groups. Drone delivery is thriving, despite the occasional young fire-breather mistaking the delivery bot for a rival or plaything and scattering your groceries all over the 101.
And who could bear life without the dragon sewage workers? You thought bird’s messes were bad. Understandably, convertibles are now permanently out of fashion.
And I work in fashion. Cara is the name. My friend and roommate Jamal and I started a line of utilitarian but stylish clothing made of fire and talon resistant materials. If you want to make it to that 10 o’clock meeting unscathed, trust in DragonPrüf. A bit on-the-nose, I know. But it wasn’t taken already.
Some people go for our separates, but, for their full coverage, our hooded jumpsuits are all the rage.
And our umbrellas. Even on clear, sunny days you’ll see more brollies on the streets of LA than in London in October. Ever since someone noticed they scare and confuse the fire-breathers. Kinda like horses.
Oh, the poor horses. You can only ride in indoor arenas now. Except for the dragon hunts of the uber-rich with their military escorts making sure they aren’t in too much danger. Still, the odd dragon gets one of them now and again and their tech company’s stock plummets. You can’t fight Mother Nature with all the money in the world.
The feral horses didn’t fare well until they migrated north. A lot of rural domesticated horses bolted and followed, too. They now mostly live in the grasslands of Saskatchewan. Lots of food there, but a little colder than they’re used to. Jamal and I make horse blankets and leg-wraps on the side to donate to Canadian rescue and preservation groups. It’s the least we can do.
Speaking of preservation—in this case self-preservation—I have to suit up.
“Where are you going?” asks Jamal as I pull a pink coverall off the shelf and step into it.
“That shipment of Kevlar is ready,” I say, zipping up. “Too heavy for the drones, and I don’t want to pay the armored truck fees.”
“I told you we ordered too much.”
“It’ll be nice to get some fresh air and sunshine,” I say, pulling the cowl over my head and grabbing my goggles and umbrella.
“Riiight,” says Jamal, turning his attention to his phone.
“Figure of speech these days,” I say. “You got the keys?”
“In the bowl.” He waves his head over toward the kitchen counter. “When are we gonna hire a new assistant?”
“I’ve got an ad out. Not many takers with that post office pickup line. We might need to add hazard pay.”
“Or lizard pay.”
“You should do a set at the Comedy Store.”
“I think it’s a burn clinic now.”
“Nice. Bomb factory woulda been funnier.”
“Bring back lunch?”
“Sure thing,” I say on my way out the door.
I walk down the stairs to our apartment building’s lobby. It’s a little dusty and no one’s watered the plants in a while, but it’s not too shabby.
We could probably afford new digs, but this one is in a nice area with lots of overhead coverage. And we know the cubbyholes and escape routes. I once had to shelter in a drainage ditch for half an hour while one of the Little Reds sunned itself on a nearby overpass. Last time I ever forgot my umbrella.
I swing the front doors open, look to the left, look to the right, find the car across the street, then scan the skies above. The shriek of a Green Giant pierces the air at a distance. But nothing in the skies. It’s probably too far away to see me.
I pull on my goggles, step through the doorway, and unfurl my umbrella as the light hits me.
Time to get the goods.
About the Creator
Bernadette “Berni” Johnson is the author of The Big Book of Spy Trivia, many tech articles, movie reviews, short stories, and two novels in perpetual editing.
You can find her blog, other work, and mailing list at bernijohnson.com.
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