When he was born he had exactly six minutes of normal living. For those six minutes he was loved, cosseted and crooned over by midwives and nurses. He entered the world feeling cautious but very comfortable.
Then he opened his eyes.
A few of the nurses shrieked; some ran away.
“What is it?” his mother demanded.
“This one has a dragon behind his eyes,” the head midwife said, her voice matter-of-fact and precise. She had been delivering babies for far too long to panic at every little abnormality that might occur during a birth. “Best set him out to die now before you get too attached.”
They were just words then—meaningless sounds. He didn’t cry out because they meant nothing; instead, he sensed the midwife’s calm manner, her professional handling of his small body, her scent of sweat and stale lavender. He liked all of these things, and nestled close to her body.
“Yes,” the midwife added, “kill him before you even give him a name. It’s better that way.”
“He has a name,” his mother snapped, taking him from the midwife’s arms with jarring force. “His name is Dear Sunshine.”
His mother wrapped a blindfold around his eyes and from then on he lived in darkness.
“You can’t turn a monster into a boy,” his father said, “And you can’t turn a dragon into a son.”
“Just watch what I can do,” his mother said.
By then, three days after his birth, he was already starting to understand human language. But he was small and frail and couldn’t move around like he wanted. He hated how useless he was. He cried all the time to express his outrage.
He killed his first man when he was three. A drunken knight snatched off the boy’s blindfold as a dare. The knight wanted to see a dragon and so a dragon was the last thing he ever saw.
No one but the boy’s mother dared approach him to put his blindfold back on; they were afraid that they too would have their heads smashed against the walls.
“Dear Sunshine,” his mother said, crossing her arms. It was the first time he ever got a good look at his mother—she was thin and fierce, like a dragon. Ugly but aesthetically pleasing. He admired the sight of her. “What have I said about killing people?”
“Not to,” he said, a tad sulky.
“And why did you?”
Because the dragon wanted me to, he could have answered. Because the knight was stupid and deserved it and because all day, every day, the dragon screams under my skin Release me Release me Release me Release me and so I released him and it felt good.
“I forgot,” he said instead.
She looked at him with disbelief. “Don’t kill and don’t lie. You know better.”
Her stern face was the last thing he saw before she looped the blindfold around his eyes once more.
The year he turned ten, his parents fought constantly and without surrender.
“You think I don’t know about your whores?” his mother screamed. “You think I don’t know about all your bastards?”
“You think I’ll risk breeding a bitch who throws out dragons?” his father snarled. “You think I want that thing to be my heir?”
“Well he is your heir and you just have to deal with that.”
That night, all the king’s bastards had their throats slit, one by one. Everyone blamed Dear Sunshine. His father struck him once in the head but never again after the boy nearly tore out his arm.
When he was twelve, the assassination attempts started.
They amused him more than anything else—as if poison or blades or fire could ever be enough to kill a dragon! The only result was a lot of dead assassins.
But his mother grew unhappy at each attempt on his life. She said nothing, did nothing, but Dear Sunshine knew her well. So did the dragon.
The barbarians came when he was fifteen.
They came in countless numbers, riding fierce beasts and bringing slaughter. Everyone said they would never breach the city walls but everyone was wrong. Soon all the boy could hear was screaming and dying throes.
“Should I kill them for you?” he asked his mother.
She ran her hands through his hair. “No, Dear Sunshine. Let them come.”
Let them slaughter, she meant. He understood. The dragon did too.
The barbarian king killed the boy’s father in the throne room. Afterwards he summoned Dear Sunshine to come before him.
“They tell me you have a dragon behind your eyes,” the barbarian said.
Dear Sunshine did not reply.
“They say you killed your siblings.”
Still, Dear Sunshine said nothing.
“But, you see, dragons don’t slit throats. People do.”
“Yes,” the boy said.
“Was it you that left the city gates open?” the barbarian asked.
“No,” the boy said.
“Your mother is a bit of a monster, I think,” the barbarian said.
“She is my mother,” the boy said simply.
The barbarian took the former queen as a whore and the whole kingdom knew.
“He thinks I’ll bear him a dragon son,” she told Dear Sunshine. “He’s just as stupid as your father.”
“Shall I kill him for you?” he asked.
“The assassins have stopped, haven’t they? Let him be while he leaves you be.”
When he turned twenty his mother killed the barbarian king. She stabbed him through the heart during their lovemaking. Afterwards she declared herself Empress—“Not Queen”—and slaughtered anyone who dared protest.
She met little resistance because everyone feared her dragon son.
By then, Dear Sunshine realized his mother did not need him to kill people for her.
“What would you like me to do?” he asked her one day.
“Are you my son or a dragon?” she asked.
He thought hard before answering. “Both.”
She stroked his cheek. “Then that is enough.”
Michelle Denham has traveled across the country receiving various degrees in Literature. She has a disturbing obsession with books and a love affair with writing the fantastical. She is currently teaching English at the University of Arizona while working on her PhD.