If there was anything that Horace Ruth had learned in life, it was that people who ask you for one thing really want two. And so on. The first request is always pebbles before the avalanche.
For this reason, Horace’s chief means of tackling any problem someone gave him was to counter this geological inflation with multiples of zero. That is, by facing it straight on and doing nothing.
Oddly enough, things usually worked out.
In fact, this strategy for avoiding avalanches had worked out for much of his life. Now he was over the hill and doing quite well. The reason behind this was that, in truth, most of the problems anyone wanted him to solve were self-invented: The instant the problem’s owner let it go, it ceased to exist.
But Horace’s strategy was now posing a problem, in light of the dragon.
Facing the problem of a dragon straight on (and slightly upwards) was about as effective as facing a steam locomotive straight on, a very scaly locomotive with a grudge for gold and a fiery prologue instead of a whistle.
So perhaps it was worse than a locomotive, Horace reconsidered, squinting into the sky.
In fact, to do nothing with dragons was essentially to do nothing for the very last time, plus forever. Or, to put it another way, if you did nothing with dragons, you wouldn’t do much ever again.
Horace stood and faced the dragon straight on, but wondered about his life choices.
The diving dragon arched its neck back like the bow of a ship, and inhaled.
“ ‘Go take care of the dragon, Horace,’” Horace muttered the townspeople’s complaint. They might have been telling him to take care of a spider in the laundry. He’d been given nothing to work with, so what did they expected him to do about it? Use his shoe?
Granted, getting help was even more inconvenient, wasn’t it? If someone told you to do something, and you asked for something to do it with, then next you “owed” them for it, they said—“owed” them for the thing you wouldn’t have needed if you hadn’t been doing what they wanted you to do in the first place.
That kind of nonsense didn’t really appeal to Horace.
It was only because they wouldn’t stop bothering him that he was even out here. It had been that way with the babysitting and the wakes and with doors to be propped open. For a people always pushing him to do something with his life, they certainly didn’t want him to get around to it.
Perhaps there was something to that, Horace considered, watching a pulsing glow in the dragon’s chest grow brighter. (That would be the fire warming up.) Perhaps they didn’t know what was worth doing. They thought spending energy was the same as doing something. They didn’t understand why anyone would save their energy rather than do something, the same way they didn’t understand dragons.
A dragon was something worth saving your energy for.
Horace hadn’t realized just how practical he was until that very moment.
The great reptile’s wings billowed like leathery sails as they caught an updraft. The dragon was slowing its dive to take aim. Horace coughed on some dust.
So how exactly did one manage dragons, he wondered, with this newly-realized practicality. That’s what they wanted him to do, right? Manage it? It would be rather pointless to send him to do nothing this time. Nothing worked with babysitting—albeit the house was a mess after. And nothing worked with wakes—the dead never wandered off before burial. Nothing worked when there was nothing to do. They’d been happy to live with the feeling that they’d told him what to do and he’d done it. That, to them, was something.
In fact, Horace considered, say you did do something, something you wanted, even your own idea of nothing. Well, they’d never put up with it. It didn’t matter what it was. It really came down to who got to feel good, who got control, once the thing was done.
Horace planted his feet against the oncoming rush of wind and wondered if they’d feel good about his death. He knew—practically speaking—that he’d probably be quite indifferent after the fact, but the possibility felt unfair. And say he did not die. Then they would feel good that they had told him to go and do it. And then they would think of other things he might do next.
Which came back to his first problem, actually: Not the dragon, but the avalanche.
Dragons today. And tomorrow?
There was not much after dragons. That was much the reason they were trouble. But anything after dragons was unpleasant.
Horace looked up. The dragon at hand was about to exhale.
So if he did anything, what more could he do after? By avalanche logic they’d all make his life impossible.
No, that wouldn’t do.
It was a little while later that Horace considered, walking away across an empty pasture that smelled of mutton, that he’d finally done something with his life; but he lost any sense of accomplishment when he considered that all of them would never be around to know it.
Dragons did manage to put a great deal into perspective.