"You sure you want to hear this story?" the old man asked, smiling at the young children sitting near him. They giggled and nodded, fidgeting in anticipation.
"Might give you nightmares, this one. 'S about dragons!" The children begged him to go on, to tell the story. He sat back, relaxed, and began.
"When I was young there were dragons, you know. Lots. They flew like gigantic bats in the sky. They burned whole towns when they breathed. They flattened mountains when they landed, they could pull rock apart with their claws. And their tails ... oh, you''d have to see them to know. They could make riverbeds just by dragging their tails behind them. Their foot prints made pools for unicorns to wash in. Best kind of water, that. Any man who drinks where a unicorn has washed will be a little magic all his life. But that's a different story. We were talking about dragons. And in the town where I grew up there was this great big cave, big and dark, and in it ... " He stopped and looked down at the children. "You sure you want me to go on?" The children nearly screamed at him, laughing, betting him to continue. He chuckled, stretched his legs slowly, cleared his throat and began again.
"Our town lived in terror because in the dark cave on top of the hill lived a dragon!"
He paused to listen to the intake of breath from his audience. "Now we didn't want to move out of the twon because it was beautiful farming land and the woods were full of game. So we figured we'd have to make the dragon move out!" He closed his eyes, remembering. "We knew the only thing that would make that dragon leave was music. Dragons love beautiful music, but they can't bear to love anything beautiful. They go mad." He opened his eyes. "Oh, we tried to burn him out, to drive him out with guns, but dragons love fire and they're scaled head to foot so no bullet can get through to hurt them. We knew music was our only chance." The old man sighed, almost regretfully. "I was a great flute player. I could play all the melodies men made and all the bird songs as well. I could sit under a tree in the dead of winter and play, and the tree would turn green and leafy, and pink petals would drop on my shoulders. I could play by the bedsides of sick, dying women and they would die with smiles of joy on their lips. I could play more beautifully than any angel, more beautifully than God. And that," he said reverently, "is quite something." The children were absolutely silent, caught up in the wonder of the story.
"One day ... it must have been spring because I can remember the pussywillows on the hill and the buttercups full of bees ... one day the whole village walked up that hill, I with my flute and magic on my tongue. And I can remember standing in front of that black cave, not afraid at all. And I took a breath, and I put my silver flute to my lips ... " He closed his eyes again and sighed, as if watching the scene in his mind. "Never forget that music. The whole earth stopped and stood still to listen. And the dragon listened. And while we were standing on that green hill in the white spring wind, we heard the dragon begin to hum. He hummed and whistled through his needle teeth and the rocks shook with his demon's singing. Then the cave began to crumble and fall and I stopped playing to watch it happen. The rocks fell and fell, rolling down the hillside like apples falling from a tree. And we stood there watching them fall, watching the cave collapse about the dragon, listening to the dragon scream." The old man sat silent for a minute, the children watching him expectantly. "We never found the dragon's bones. Maybe he just turned to smoke." Then he reached in his shirt pocked and brought out a small flute of silver. "Haven't played it since. That creature loved it so, he couldn't bear it and he died. Music shouldn't be used to kill, not even kill dragons." He sighed and looked at his grandchildren silently for a long time. then a joy crept into his old, grey eyes. He raised the flute to his lips, and played.