Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Flashback: Dragon Steaks

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it can be purchased on Kindle in a new short story collection.

Dragon Steaks
Word Count: 599
Published 10/12/12

Hollis the Half-Ogre had to crouch while inside the cart because of his tremendous size. He didn’t normally venture inside the cart, but his boss Fackelstrand was ill and there was no way they could pass up the opportunity to serve Dragon Steaks to the outdoor attendants at the Prince’s wedding celebration. So Hollis, the butcher, was forced to interact with customers.

It was not an ideal situation, as far as either of them was concerned. But Fackelstrand had given Hollis three rules: First, all meat costs a crown per quarter-weight. Second, no free samples, ever. Third, if a customer gave Hollis trouble, he should put on his smock and step out of the cart so they can see that he’s only the butcher, not a salesman. They’d be more understanding after that.

Hollis carved a slab of rib meat off the dragon carcass beside him and put it on the scale. “Three… crowns,” he said.

The young man buying the meat placed a few gold coins on the counter. Hollis counted all three of them. Slowly. Then he added them to the pile of gold coins under the dragon meat. He didn’t worry about thieves. One of the nice things about dragon meat was that even a dead dragon cast magical protections over the pile of gold it sat on.

Hollis took the slab off the scale and put it on a wooden block where it began to sizzle. That was another nice thing about dragon meat—it was self-cooking. He handed the wooden block to the young man and grinned toothily.

“Thank you,” said the young man.

“Have… day,” said Hollis. He was pretty sure he’d forgotten a word or two in that greeting, but the patron had smiled back.

“Excuse me!” said the next person in line. “Excuse me, I am Sir Roderick of Thistleborn and I demand to speak to the proprietor!” The customer was a well-dressed human with a fine silk shirt and a neatly trimmed beard. Noble, probably.

“Problem… sir?” asked Hollis.

“I ordered a dozen steaks and was dismayed to find them all well-done,” said Sir Roderick. “I never eat burnt meat: it’s not civilized. I eat medium rare or I do without.”

“It’s… dragon,” said Hollis. “All… well-done.”

“Be that as it may,” said Roderick, “I spent nearly fifty crowns and what I received was not to my satisfaction. I demand a refund.”

“No… freebies,” said Hollis, remembering the second rule.

“Don’t make me get the Prince involved, ogre,” said Sir Roderick through gritted teeth.

Hollis hung his head. What a predicament. Then he thought of the third rule Fackelstrand had given him. “Moment… sir,” he said. He squeezed out of the cart and dragged his gear out after him. He pulled on the thick leather smock, streaked with crusty dragon blood. He donned the metal helm and drew the face-guard down. Lastly, he took up the enchanted sword that he used to carve up steaks—dragon meat was murder on conventional weapons.

He stretched his aching back, drawing himself up to his full height to looked down at Sir Roderick. Surely the noble would recognize him as a butcher now. “Still… problem?” he asked, his words resonating through the face-guard.

Sir Roderick blanched. A dark spot formed in his fine trousers and spread down one leg. “No,” he said. “No problem at all. Forget I brought it up.”

Fackelstrand was right. Sir Roderick was nicer.

Nice. That was the word he’d forgotten. “Have… nice… day,” said Hollis as the nobleman scampered away.

This may be my favorite of all the stories I've ever written. Everything about it works exactly right, from. I love Hollis, the big, dumb, lovable protagonist. I love the tone. I love the mechanics of running a dragon steak kiosk, how the meat cooks itself and also protects the revenues. I love how it feels very world-buildy even though all of the magic is an extrapolation of basic sword-and-sorcery dragon lore. One of the hardest parts of writing flash fiction is providing the illusion of depth without spending enough words to create actual depth.

I know it sounds like I'm bragging on myself, but writing on deadline means living with disappointment, so it's nice to absolutely nail something every now and then.

The idea was generated using The Storymatic. The prompt was the write a story in which the character is an "employee in a fastfood restaurant" and a "person of a different size than most people" with the plot elements "wedding" and "first night alone". I was doing an entire month of Storymatic content, and I'd published the prompts at the beginning of the month. Ergo, I had the additional challenge of trying to avoid writing something obvious, which was part of the impetus to place this in a fantasy setting. I came up with the name "Hollis the Half-Ogre" and I really liked it, and everything else fell into place pretty organically after that. At this phase I wasn't planning out endings before I sat down to write, so it was fun to try and work out how they could be satisfying.

That's something else I really enjoy about this story. I sat down to write it not knowing how it would end, and I managed to find a very solid resolution.

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