by Jocelyne Gregory
Seven dragons sat on a circle of metal chairs in the basement of an old church. The faux wooden panels of the basement’s walls were a sharp contrast to the faded red shag carpet that had fallen victim to the arts and crafts of generations of children. The metal chairs groaned beneath the dragon’s various weights as they shifted and tried to find comfortable positions for their wings, tails, and long necks without bumping into one another or destroying the popcorn ceiling. They waited as a brilliant orange scaled dragon settled on his seat and tucked his tail around his clawed feet.
“Good afternoon!” The orange dragon smiled at the group. He clutched a clipboard in his hands.
“Good afternoon, Steve.” The other dragons mumbled in response.
“I’m pleased everyone was able to attend this week. Charlie, I would like to start with you. Last time we spoke, we were talking about your latest acquisition. Have things changed since then?” Steve picked up a pencil and set it to the clipboard.
Charlie shifted in his seat. He glanced at the other members before he let out a heavy sigh and powder blue smoke drifted from a nostril.
“Well, you see, I was— I mean, I— I was going to return the jelly to its rightful owner. But the way it jiggled and wiggled? I couldn’t bring myself to do it.” Charlie said.
“Just to clarify for the group, was this a jelly for jam? Or a real-life jelly?” Steve asked.
Charlie fidgeted. His lavender scales shimmered in the flickering ceiling lights.
“I thought it was just some jam an adventurer had brought along with them to have with their bread and butter, but when I opened the jar there was this little face peeking up at me. I couldn’t bring myself to return it to the adventurer’s family.” Charlie explained.
“And how many jellies do you have now?”
“Five hundred and thirty-three,” Charlie confessed.
The other dragons in the circle murmured to each other.
“I just don’t want to let them go!” Charlie blurted, “I feel so bad for them. Adventurers, thieves, barbarians, and wizards? They have no problem killing jellies for potion purposes or to find out what the jelly has eaten. It’s not their fault!”
“I think we have a bit of a conundrum here,” Steve addressed the group. “Does anybody have any suggestions for how Charlie could help his jellies, but at the same time keep them safe?”
The other dragons glanced at each other until a platinum dragon raised its tail.
“Yes, Melony?” Steve asked.
“Charlie could build a dungeon, or claim a forest, or some grass lands and put up warning signs that the land was protected by a dragon?” Melony offered.
“I could do that,” Charlie said. “They might be happier than being stuck in the back of the cave.”
“I know the jellies’ welfare is your greatest concern, and this would be better for them.” Steve kindly said.
Charlie mumbled under his breath and another puff of purple smoke drifted from his nostril.
“Does anybody want to speak up next?” Steve looked to the group.
The dragons glanced at each other.
A skeleton dragon raised its bony tail.
“I let some of my skeleton soldiers return to their graves,” Taylor scratched their neck bone.
The other dragons clapped in approval. Charlie gave Taylor a thumbs up.
“Wonderful! How did that make you feel?” Steve asked.
“At first I was lonely and I felt unsure and honestly I thought I was going to collapse into a pile of bones, but this little human girl came to my cave with a fresh loaf of bread and some flowers she picked from her mother’s garden, and…” Taylor trailed off and looked away from the group.
“And?” Steve pushed.
“She thanked me for letting her father and grandfather go to rest, but she thought I might be awfully lonely so she said she’s going to come visit me every week and read to me from her story book,” Taylor’s voice cracked.
“That is amazing progress, well done, Taylor!” Steve clapped his hands.
An obsidian and emerald scaled dragon patted Taylor on the back and both murmured words of approval and comfort to Taylor.
Taylor whispered a quiet word of thanks to the others and sipped from their coffee cup; The black liquid dripped down their bony neck and onto their ribs and the chair they sat on.
“Does anybody else have some more good news? Yes, Ginger?” Steve gestured to the obsidian dragon.
Ginger leaned back in her chair. Her lips peeled back into a sharp and toothy grin. “I killed a group of raiders that threatened to attack my village,” she said.
“Can I have the bodies?” Taylor asked her.
“Taylor.” Steve warned, “Ginger, I thought you were going to take a step back and allow the town’s people to protect themselves.”
“It’s part of your treatment. Remind the group what you horde.”
Ginger glowered, then huffed a puff of smoke.
“I horde praise and worship,” Ginger admitted.
“And by continually protecting your village, you…” Steve trailed off.
“I’m worshipped and praised.” Ginger sniffed.
“And admittance is the first step to treatment. I know that in previous group sessions you’ve been reluctant to let the villagers defend against raiders and approaching armies. But you have to ask yourself the question: what if they chose to leave the village? Or a plague comes through and there are no more villagers? Who will worship you?”
Ginger grumbled; the sound echoed off the faux wooden panels.
“Buildings cannot worship. Empty towns cannot give praise. Praise and worship can come from within, but only if you give yourself a chance,” Steve said.
“I suppose the next time there is a group of bandits or raiders, I could just step back and watch how the villagers handle it.”
“That’s a good step, Ginger,” Steve said.
“But!” Ginger’s tail thumped hard against the church’s carpeted floor. “If they can’t handle it, I’m stepping in.”
“And that is very understandable.” Steve smiled and turned his attention to the green dragon who shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I know this hits a little close to home for you, Phial, how have you been since last week?”
“I started writing a dream journal,” Phial slowly admitted.
“Instead of stealing and hoarding mortal’s dreams?”
“Yes. I thought about last week’s exercise, and how we had to imagine ourselves as our hoard, and early last week a necromancer actually showed up at my cave because he thought I might have the dreams of a prophet that would give him a hint as to how resurrect the Dark King,” Phial explained.
“And do you?” Steve asked.
“Yes, but I wasn’t going to give it to him. The Dark King gives nothing but nightmares, and it really darkens the dream orbs I’ve got in my cave. So, I entombed him in vines and he died last night,” Phial said.
“Can I have the body?” Taylor asked.
“Taylor,” Steve warned again. “Phial, how does this help with your hoard?”
“I had a very pleasant visit from this wizard a few hours after the necromancer showed up, and in exchange for helping the wizard with the prophecy, he’s going to travel and write down people’s dreams for me. I received the first owl this morning in fact. This boy he met dreamed of a flying metal machine in the sky. It was fascinating.” Phial smiled.
“That is wonderful progress, Phial. And it looks like you might change perceptions of yourself, too,” Steve commented.
“It’s a beginning, and I know I have a long road ahead of me, but it feels kind of good.” Phial’s scales turned a shade of deeper green.
“Good job, Phial,” Steve said. The other dragons clapped approvingly. “Any other good news stories? Yes, Bill?”
“I started paying taxes.” Bill puffed with pride, his red scales the colour of blacksmith flames.
The group paused before they began to laugh.
“Bill,” Steve waved his hands and tried to get the other dragons under control. “We have talked about this; dropping gold and jewels in the cities’ slums is not paying taxes.”
“It should be,” Bill muttered.
“Are people worshipping you yet?” Ginger leaned close to Bill.
“They’ve started drawing images of me on the castle walls and saying I will be the next King.” Bill grinned at her.
“What a brilliant idea.” Ginger rubbed her black scaled chin.
“Ginger, no. Bill, what is it that you hoard?” Steve asked.
Bill rolled his eyes.
“I hoard political dissidence and government instability. Look, it’s not my fault the court is corrupt! That stupid spymaster staged a coup two years ago and the people are still suffering. I’m just trying to help out,” Bill ranted.
“And what will happen if you keep dropping gold and jewels into the cities’ slums?”
“Then there will be more political dissidence and government instability,” Bill grumbled.
“And what will you do about it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll follow Ginger’s lead and just take a step back and see how the court handles things. Let the people have their own revolution.” Bill sighed.
“That’s a good step, Bill.” Steve gave him a reassuring smile. “Now, I think everyone’s had a chance to speak, so let us end this meeting and…” He trailed off as the rest of the group stared at him. “What?”
Charlie leaned close. “Come on, you have to speak up, too. How have you been since last week?”
“Me? I’ve been good. Yeah, I went out on a date last Tuesday,” Steve rambled.
“Come on, Steve. Speak up, we all have,” Bill said.
“Yeah, tell us how you’ve been treating your hoard,” Ginger dryly said.
“I— I have been perfectly fine since last week,” Steve stuttered.
“It’s okay, Steve. You’re among friends,” Melony soothed.
Taylor wordlessly nodded their head.
Steve looked to his scribbled clipboard and set it on his lap. He took a deep breath and let it out before he began to speak
“It’s been three days since… since…”
“Yes?” Melony asked.
“It’s been three days since I last heard someone’s confession.” Steve’s tail fell limp at his side. “It’s just so hard not to want to collect them and keep them safe! So many stories, so many ideas, so many lives. It’s so hard not to collect them all.”
“And that is why you’re the one who asks the questions in the group,” Melony said. “But you must remember that each confession has a real person behind it with a real identity, and you can’t collect them all.”
“And that’s why you’re the one who asks all the questions,” Taylor agreed. “Even though Melony is our sponsor.”
“Melony just likes to hoard warm and fuzzy feelings,” Bill grumbled.
“I think we all made progress today in understanding our difficulties and challenges, but in recognizing our hoarding, we can begin to understand why we hoard. So, until we meet again next week, I want us to think about what life events took place that led to your beginning to hoard and we will discuss that next time in group,” Melony said.
* * *
About the Author
Jocelyne Gregory is an MFA graduate of the University of British Columbia’s School of Creative Writing and a graduate of Simon Fraser University’s The Writer’s Studio. She has worked as a graduate teaching assistant and a manuscript consultant with The Writer’s Studio and community libraries. She has written reviews for children’s books with UBC’s Young Adulting Review. Her previous works have appeared in 50-Word Stories, Emerge16, and New Zealand’s Flash Fiction. When not hoarding writing degrees like a dragon, she can be found on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast rescuing plants, painting, and writing poetry and fantasy romance novels.