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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cash for Katie

Katie sang hard. She always did, putting her all into every song, singing loud and rough, making the audience feel the anger and pain of the music. Even though this was a small, intimate club, you might think she was singing to a sold out concert at the Imperial Arena. It didn’t really matter to Katie, though, since she never sang for the audience anyway. She always sang for herself, loosing herself in the music, even sometimes forgetting her band was there with her as she whipped her long, purple hair around and worked up a sweat on stage.

The rest of the band was with her, though, as they always were. Behind her were the drums, pounding out the relentless rhythm that she danced to. Behind the drums was the man playing them, a large, bulky, gray skinned harry beast with lower canine teeth that protruded from his bottom lip. The troll wore a torn black tee-shirt that had a mouthless smiley face in raid on it.

On Katie’s right was a dwarf, squat and muscular, with a bright blue beard and a Mohawk that went at least six inches above his otherwise shaved head. He was shirtless and shoeless, and his muscles rippled as he played the bass guitar in time with the drums. To Katie’s left was a human man playing an electric guitar with deft fingers that flew across the strings almost faster than could be watched. He wore his hair cut short on the left side of his head and shoulder length on the other. He was considered handsome by many, with a square jaw and three day stubble on it, piercing blue eyes and a smile that Katie often said could charm the pants off a princess. He wore a long trench coat, jeans and tennis shoes, but like the dwarf was otherwise shirtless, showing off his washboard stomach.

Katie finished the last song and stood panting on the stage, her head down, eyes closed, and sweat pouring down her brow. She was still lost in the magic of singing, and it was the sudden cutting of the music with a loud bang by the drums that brought her back to the present. She looked up to see that crowd cheering and going wild, the mosh pit in front of the stage in a frenzy of ruthless energy. She smiled. This was the best high of all, she though, better even than sex.

The set done, the band left the stage, the troll letting the nightclub’s crew know in no uncertain terms that it would be most unfortunate for them if anything untoward should happen to his drums. Katie was heading towards her dressing room. All she wanted right now was a smoke, like she always did at the end of a gig. That, and to get out of the now cold sweat coated clothing she was in. She had her shirt off before even hitting the door, revealing her purple bra with the skull and cross bone pattern on them, but was from getting inside by large, muscular man in a form fitting suit and tie. She looked at the man with a stare that had caused lesser people to wither and slink away, but this guy wasn’t even looking at her directly, just blocking her from getting into her dressing room. This guy was a professional, she realized, and not just some overzealous fan.

“My client would like to speak with you, Ms. Cash,” he said. Katie winced. She hated the use of her last name, even if it had lead to the name of the band, Cash for Katie.

“Oh, yeah?” she said with as much attitude she could muster. “And who would your client be?”

“That would be me,” said a woman’s voice from around the corner.

The girl that followed the voice around that corner couldn’t have been more than eighteen, and Katie was guessing closer to sixteen. It was difficult to tell for sure, but something about the makeup make Katie think sixteen. She wasn’t dressed in the traditional punker clothes that Katie expected to see in fans. Oh, sure, she had on jeans and a Cash for Katie tee, but both were in perfect condition. No holes, no safety pins, no staples. And the jeans were the expensive designer kind that kids at her concerts couldn’t afford. Also, her hair, while obviously dyed, was blond rather than the traditional green or purple. There was also something about her demeanor. She held her head high, not just in pride, but in the way of someone that never looked down. She looked Katie right in the eye, as if they were not just equals, but that perhaps Katie should look down. For a brief second, Katie did, which allowed her to spot the private school ring on the girl’s finger. Woodlawn. A VERY exclusive private school. Behind the girl came another bruiser in a suit. He could have been the twin of the guy blocking the dressing room door. Putting all these facts together, Katie nodded to the girl, realizing who it was they were dealing with.

“And what would a lovely lass such as yourself be wanting with rogues like us?” the main guitar player said, sliding past Katie and taking up the girls hand into his. He bent down and kissed it, and then stood back up, a rakish grin on his face. Katie rolled her eyes.

“Keep it in your pants, Dan,” Katie said, pulling him back away from their guest. “That would be her Royal Highness, the Princess Zoe you were trying to flirt with.”

Dan’s eyes opened wide, and he took a step back, getting a better look at the girl. For her part, the girl looked at Katie, but not with surprise. Instead, there was respect there.

“I’m impressed,” the Princess said. “How did you figure it out?”

“Oh, lots of things,” Katie said. “The school ring, for a school only nobles attend. The expensive, non-torn clothing. The lack of a punk hairdo. And most of all, you have a very signature jaw line, Princess, which is recognizable even with the dyed hair.”

“Your Highness,” Dan was stuttering, getting down on one knee. “Please, I didn’t mean to…”

“No no no,” the girl said, stopping Dan in mid-genuflect. “Please, don’t bow. It would ruin my illusion that you’re all hard-assed punk rockers that don’t give a shit about royalty.”

Katie smiled. She liked this girl.

“Well, forgive my asking, Your Highness,” Katie said, “but what do you want with us?”

“Want? I’m your biggest fan!” the girl said. “I know you all. Cash for Katie, the most pure punk band in Isidom City. Katie Cash, the lead singer. Dashing Dan, lead guitar. Bug, bass guitar. And Reverend Krunk, on drums. I love you guys!”

Katie was taken aback. The most pure punk band in the city? She liked to think so, but they were barley known. They only had one album, and she had paid for that out of her own pocket. How is it possible that the Princesses of the Minal Empire knew who she was?

“And, what,” she stammered, “you want our autographs?”

“No, silly,” the Princess said. “I want you to play at my birthday party next month.”

*****************************************

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Katie said.

“What?” Dan said, grabbing Katie by the shoulders and turning her to face him. “No, no, no, no, no. You can’t have a bad feeling about this, not now, not after we’re here. We’re going on stage in an hour! It’s the Royal Ball, the birthday party of the Imperial Princess. This show will put us on the map. Hell, it’ll put us on every map there is! It’s too good to turn down. Not that we could, I think turning down this gig would have landed us in jail for treason.”

“Is everything okay here?” the rumbling voice of Krunk came from behind the two.

“Katie has a bad feeling about tonight.”

“Katie,” Krunk said, turning to his lead singer. “Is this true?”

“Yeah, Krunk,” Katie said.

“Nerves, or one of those feelings?” Krunk asked.

“One of those feelings,” Katie replied.

“No. No it isn’t,” Dan said. “It can’t be.”

“Oi!” Bug came in to the dressing room next, “what’s everyone doing in here? Ain’t we on in an hour?”

“Katie has a bad feeling about tonight,” Krunk said.

“Nerves, or one of those feelings?” Bug asked.

“One of those feelings,” Krunk answered.

“Would everyone stop saying that?” Dan said, nearly hysterical. “It’s not one of those feelings! It’ can’t be, we’re about to have the biggest concert of our carriers; everything is going to be fine! We… OW!”

Bug had come up and kicked Dan in the knee. “Sorry, Dan, but you were getting out of control.”

Dan rubbed his knee, and sighed. “You’re right, dude. Sorry.”

“It’s all right. I don’t blame ya,” Bug said, patting Dan like a lost puppy.

“Okay,” Dan said, much calmer now. “So, is there anything specific this time, or just a feeling of dread?”

Katie frowned at him. “Nothing specific,” she said. “Just a general bad feeling. Something is going to happen tonight, and we’re going to be involved, that’s all I know.”

“You’re the boss, Kaite,” Krunk said, and the other’s nodded. “What’cha want to do?”

Katie thought about this for a few moments. Something bad was coming she knew it. Now was the time to back out. Still, Dan was right, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the band. Finally, she nodded and turned to the band.

“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do,” she smiled. “We’re going to rock this fucking joint!”

“I’m glad to hear it,” came a fifth voice, one that everyone recognized by now. Princess Zoe was waiting outside the door, her two bodyguards right behind her. “What’s this about a bad feeling?”

“Princess,” Dan said, the madness returning to his eyes, “Why it’s nothing, it’s just…”

“A premonition,” Katie said. “I get them from time to time.”

“Really?” the princesses said, honestly interested. “Do they come true?”

“Hard to say, really,” Katie said. “Most of the time, they’re vague. Like now. Something bad is going to happen tonight, but bad is relitive. Bad could just mean we bomb on stage, and get booed off.”

“Or it could mean that my father gets killed,” Zoe said.

“Only if I was going to get framed for it,” Katie said. She continued when the Princesses raised an eyebrow in question. “The premonition is always focused on me. Something bad is going to happen tonight… to me. That’s how it goes.”

“I see,” Zoe said, taking it all in. “So, it could be as simple as you tripping and falling, maybe breaking a leg.”

“That’s happened before, actually,” Dan said in a tone that was supposed to be under his breath but was easily heard by all.

“Look,” Katie said, slapping Dan on the arm. “The point is, I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I only know it is going to happen, and so I figure there’s no reason to try and run from it. You want us to play? We’re going to play.”

“Good,” Zoe said, nodding and smiling. “Because I want you to play.”

Without any warning, the roof collapsed into hundreds of pieces, shattered across the room. Everyone went ducking for cover as chunks of roof and stone fell to the floor, shattering glasses, breaking chairs and filling the room with dust. As the dust settled and the coughing started everyone looked about to see what was happening. When Katie looked up, she saw something straight out of a nightmare. There, above the castle, looking down into her dressing room was a large, reptilian head with two great, yellow eyes, one of which was bearing down straight at her. The head was attached to a long neck, covered in dark red scales that appeared almost brown. The body wasn’t visible, but Katie knew what it looked.

“Dragon!” Bug shouted, pointing needlessly through the hole in the ceiling.

“I’m so happy to be recognized,” the dragon said, in a deep, snarling voice that was not only heard by felt. “I can’t see you very well through the smoke, but I know one of you is the princess. And the princess is who I came here to get, so I’m just going to have to take you all before the Imperial Guard regroup and come get me.”

And with that, a great claw descended into the dressing room, easily pushing furniture out of the way, and scooped up the members of the bad, the princess, and one of her bodyguards. The dragon probably couldn’t see the other one. With its prisoners in tow, the dragon spread it’s mighty wings, batted them against the ground, and took off!

*******************************************

When Katie woke, it was to a sight of the six of them huddled together in the palms of the dragon, its two hands together to provide enough space for them all. It had its fingers and claws up and touching, forming a kind of cage. It looked like everyone else was already awake. Or maybe they didn’t pass out in the first place.

“Oh, good, you’re back with us,” Princess Zoe said, real concern in her voice. “We were starting to wonder if the dragon had harmed you.”

“Not yet, but it won’t be long before we’re all dead,” Dan was saying. He moved over to one of the fingers and tried to peer through it. Just then, a great, yellow eye, as large as Dan was tall, appeared in front of him. Dan cried out in fear, and stumbled backwards, falling on his ass.

“Please don’t squirm so much,” the great, rumbling voice of the dragon said. “It’s difficult enough as it is to hold all of you at one time, but you’re moving around like that is a really bad idea.”

“Uh… yes sir, Mr. Dragon, sir,” Dan replied.

“Thank you,” the dragon said.

“He’s awfully polite for a dragon,” Katie said.

The others nodded, but remained silent for the remainder of the flight. The journey lasted another twenty minutes before the dragon tightened his grip around them all and dove for the ground. Surprisingly, the landing was very gentle, and Katie could see that they were now all before a great cave mouth in the side of an inactive volcano.

“Mount Valuvia,” Dan said. “We’re like three hundred miles from where we started.”

The dragon lowered its hands to the ground and then it’s fingers, making a kind of ramp for them to walk down.

“Okay, everyone off,” it said. “Into the cave.”

“Oh, thank the Goddess,” Katie said, “I have to piss like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Katie!” Zoe said in shock. For a punk rock fan, she was easily offended by an off handed comment, Katie thought.

“What? Like you don’t?” Katie said. “My apologies to your royal highness, but I still gotta piss.”

“I expected as much,” the dragon interrupted before the princesses could respond. “Please use the large boulders on the left side of the cave.”

Katie nodded, and headed off in that direction followed by Bug and Dan. Zoe reluctantly walked to the boulders after a few moments. The bodyguard followed, but only to the edge of the boulders, where he turned and stood watch, though from what Katie didn’t know. She figured that at least pretending to do his job made him feel better. Krunk, on the other hand, just hunkered down near by, and watched the dragon.

The great beast entered the cave only after the six others had done so. It walked in on all fours, and proceeded to circle around a large, empty area of the cave several times before settling down. It lay on it’s stomach, with its fore arms folded to make a crook for its long, lizard like head to lay on top of. All in all, it reminded Krunk of a dog, or even a cat. A very large cat, that could breath fire an swallow even him in one bite.

A few moments later, everyone returned from behind the bolder. The princess looked a little green, and was wiping her hands rapidly on her pants. Upon seeing the dragon, however, she straightened up, put on a face of indignant anger, and marched right up to the dragon, as if it were merely a member of her staff, or perhaps a diplomat.

“What is the meaning of this?” she shouted at the huge yellow eye. “When my father hears about this, he’ll send the whole army here to get you!”

“I am hoping that it won’t come to that, my dear Princesses,” the dragon said. Katie was surprised to find that the dragon’s voice seemed quieter here, as if he were toning it down inside the cave. Her eardrums appreciated that.

“Oh, it will, mark my words,” Zoe said, and then crossed her arms and turned her back on the dragon. Katie couldn’t believe the balls on this girl. When you’re the princesses of the largest empire in the world, you must be used to getting things your way, Katie thought.

“If you are quite done now, I will explain my motivations,” the dragon said. “I intended to kidnap only the princess. The rest of you were not supposed to be here, however, with all the smoke from wrecking the ceiling, I couldn’t tell which of you was the princesses, so I figured it was better to grab you all and bring you here.”

“Why were you even trying to kidnap the princess in the first place?” Katie asked.

“Simple,” the dragon said. “I intend to hold her hostage in order to better dragon rights in the Empire.”

Everyone paused and blinked, as if they weren’t sure what the dragon had just said. Even Zoe had turned around to face it again.

“Dragon rights?” Katie said, coming to stand next to the princess.

Katie and Zoe looked at each other and then back to the dragon.

“Are you serious?” the both said in unison.

The arch above the dragon’s eyes raised in much like a human would raise an eyebrow. The black pupil in the middle of the huge yellow eye narrowed into a slit and then back to a round ball again. Then the dragon took in a deep breath and let it out in what Katie thought was a sigh, except that it sounded exactly like the breaks on a steam train.

“Indeed, I am serious,” the dragon said. “Do you know how appallingly dragons are treated in this country? Why, it’s legal for people to hunt us still, and in the eastern providences, there’s even a contest to see who can get one before the end of the century. We’re being hunted and killed… well, hunted; anyway, we’re hard to kill. We don’t even have the right to voice our indignation, or vote to get the laws changed. We’re not even recognized as intelligent beings. Even goblins are recognized as intelligent creatures, if not citizens. We, we’re treated as mere beasts, no different than game animals. When was the last time you held any kind of conversation with a deer, never mind one over music, poetry or magic?”

Everyone continued to stare at the dragon in stunned silence. Finally, Katie shook here head and raised her hands in exasperation.

“Really?!?” she cried, her hands dropping to her side. “I mean, really? Are you kidding? Dragons kill lives stock, and I don’t mean like a wolf, like whole fields of cows in one go! Divisions of soldiers have been taken down in a simple exhale of breath. You’re cold blooded killers, and I’ve never seen anything that has changed that view in over one thousand years. All of a sudden you want us to believe that you’re really tea totaling, music loving civilized people?”

“My dear young lady,” the dragon said. His great eye moved its focus from the princess to Katie. “I assure you that we have always wanted to be treated as civilized beings. Prior to now, no one has ever allowed us to be anything other than cattle killers. Whole divisions of soldiers have come to kill us, so we defended ourselves. I, and many other dragons of like mind, would like for things to be different.”

Katie tossed her hands up in the air once again, slapping them on her thighs loudly.

“And again I ask, really?” she exclaimed. “You claim you’re tired of being treated as a stereotype, and yet the best plan you can come up with is to kidnap the princess of the largest empire in the world? Did you really think that was going to accomplish anything?”

The large yellow eye blinked, slowly. Katie was amazed at how human like some of the dragon’s actions seemed.

“Well,” he said as the eyelid opened back up, “yes.”

“Oh. My. Goddess.” Katie said. “You kidnapped he PRINCESS! The daughter of the Emperor himself. His only child. Hair to the throne of the empire, for fucks sake!”

All the while she had been speaking, she was pointing at Zoe, who was now looking back and fourth between Katie and the dragon, unsure which one was the bigger threat at this point.

“Yes, it was why I chose her,” the dragon said, still not comprehending what Katie was trying to get at. “I have his daughter, if he wants to see her alive, he’ll need to talk to me.”

“You really think that the Emperor will just come over here and discuss things?” Katie’s voice had stopped being high pitched and dropped down to a more conversational tone, which somehow lent weight to her words. “He is going to do one thing and one thing only. He is going to come here with a full on army of imperial soldiers. And I’m not just talking troops. No, no. Tanks. Jets. Missiles. Anything they can bring to bear to take you down.”

“He wouldn’t,” said the dragon in disbelief. “He couldn’t!”

“He not only could and would,” Zoe said, “he would feel that he had no choice. In fact, if anything were to happen to me here, especially if I were to die, he would probably not just kill you, he would declare war against dragon kind, and hunt down every last dragon in the empire.”

The great eye opened wide, making Katie slightly nervous with the reminder of how small she was compared to the beast she was talking to. It would take an entire army to kill such a creature. And she realized that she had been yelling at it, telling it that it was stupid and doomed to failure. This creature could blow a puff of fire from its nostril and kill her without even thinking. There had to be a way out of this that didn’t involve her being killed. She turned to look at the band, and saw the boys and the bodyguard all staring at her and Zoe with wide eyes and no small amount of fear. Then she saw Krunk. The old troll was standing in his torn jeans and tee shirt, the only one with no fear in his eyes. He nodded at the dragon, then pointed a thumb at himself, and mouthed the words ‘peaceful protest.’ Katie nodded back, understanding fully.

“Peaceful protest,” she repeated, turning back to the dragon. He felt all eyes focus on her.

“I beg your pardon?” the dragon said.

“Peaceful protest,” she said again. “its your way out of this situation. Once upon a time, the trolls were in your same position,” she pointed back towards Krunk. “They were being hunted to extension by the army, called monsters and terrorists, less than second class citizen. Then a troll appeared, a shaman and one of the few that had been to university, started protesting the treatment of his people. He spoke of a dream he had, when trolls were not judged by their appearance, but by the content of their character. He led non-violent protests, with trolls holding signs, giving speeches, singing songs, and gaining all kinds of media attention. He proved to the world that trolls were not the mindless killing machines that everyone thought they were, and that they could, in fact, be productive citizens of the empire. Since then, there have been trolls in the Imperial senate, doctors and soldiers. In fact, one of the highest ranking generals in the army right now is a troll.”

The dragon thought about this for a few moments. “Peaceful protest,” he said, as if tasting the words. The eye once again focused on her. “How would you suggest I proceed with such a plan.”

“Uh, well…” she said, at a complete loss to answer that question.

“I can help with that,” Zoe said. Both the Dragon and Katie turned to look at her. “You’ll need an advocate, someone who’s involved in the political system that can speak on your behalf. I can do that. I can help you organize protests, with marches, where you can give speeches. I can bring media attention, where you can prove to everyone how intelligent you are, and show them how wrong it is to treat you as animals, and that you wish to become citizens. Imagine how much the Empire would be improved with dragon’s as citizens. Why, the military applications of dragons alone would be amazing, not to mention the advances you could provide in history and magic. I can only imagine what dragon art and music must be like. This is exciting!”

Zoe continued talking, discussing what she could wear at the protests, how best to organize the media, and even what she could do to manipulate her father. Katie shook her head.

“But first,” Katie said, letting the princesses continue to talk, “You’d need to let us go, as a show of good faith.”

“What?” the dragon said, and Katie cringed, afraid she had pushed too far too fast.

“Oh, yes,” Zoe said cheerfully, as if she were unaware that they were still hostages. “it will prove to my father that this was a mistake. We’ll tell him that it was all a misunderstanding, that you never intended for it to go this far. It will be out first effort to show how peaceful and non-violent you are.”

‘Our effort,’ Katie noted, and shook her head. Still, the princess seemed to be convincing the dragon to let them go, or even to fly them back to the capital, at least the edges, where they cold return on their own. She was coming up with plans for them to communicate, and when their first real protest could happen. She was even planning on giving a press conference right away, describing her time spent here in this cave, and what she had learned about dragons and the terrible situation they lived in.

It didn’t take long before the dragon had been convinced, and agreed it would take them back to the outskirts of the city. It gave her a crystal ball that it said they could communicate through with a complex spell, when she laughed and handed him her cell phone. He cast a spell on it to make it bigger, so he could actually use it. Katie walked back to the rest of the band, specifically to Krunk, and gave the massive drummer a big hug.

“Thanks, you big lug,” she said.

“I am happy to have aided another creature whose people are in a similar situation to my own,” he grumbled.

“You know,” Dan said, coming up beside the two of them, “I think there might be a song in this. Plight of the Dragon. How awesome would that be? Imagine the anger and power would cold put into a song about oppressed dragons! I’m going to start writing it right now.”

Katie shook her head, but Dan was the best song writer in the group. She had no doubt that this would be a great song.

***************************************

A few hours later, the whole band had been dropped off by the dragon at a quiet suburban zone. It was nearly pitch dark, except for the street lights. Katie was amazed at how the dragon managed to avoid all the light when dropping them off. For such a large creature, it sure was nimble. Zoe was waving at it.

“Remember, we’ll have our first protest in a week, at the university!” she was shouting at the retreating form of the dragon, and Katie was sure that, despite the speed and distance, the dragon had heard her.

“So,” Dan said, stretching his legs. “what do we do now? We were gone for several hours, it’s got to be past midnight. The Emperor couldn’t have mobilized that quickly, so we should still have time to get to him before the army find our… uh… friend’s cave.”

“Oh, he’s mobilized all right,” Zoe had said, “But the army will take some time to get to the cave. It won’t be until tomorrow, at the earliest. We can easily stop the whole thing, I just need to call my father. In the mean time, though, there’s something more important we need to attend to.”

“More important?” Bug said. It was the first dwarf had spoken since the dragon had first appeared. “What in the nine hells could be more important that making sure that dragon isn’t killed by some trigger happy soldier?”

“My birthday party, of course,” Zoe said matter of factly.

“Your… birthday…” Katie wasn’t quite sure she had heard the princess right.

“Oh, yes,” Zoe said. “The ball is an important tradition, and it can’t happen without me. Besides, I invited a friend of mine to come and listen to you. I think you know of him, Mr. James Whitman.”

“James Whitman?” Dan said in disbelief. “Of Noble Knight Records?”

“Yes, of course,” Zoe said. “You guys need to be on a major record label, and James is always looking for something that the ‘young people’ are listening to.

Katie smiled and Dan went on excitedly to Zoe about how amazing it was that she actually knew James Whitman. She turned to Krunk, who nodded at her with a knowing smile on his face.

“You did good tonight, Katie,” he said.

“Yeah, who knew that I would help start a whole civil rights movement,” she said.

“No, not that,” Krunk said, and she turned to look at him confused. “I mean, you’re instincts to stay at the party were right. We’re going to get signed to a label. It’s about fucking time.”

Katie just stared at her oldest friend and drummer for a few moments, before the two of them burst out laughing.

The End

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