At first, Leaky wasn’t sure that it was a dragon that flew out of her chrysanthemums.
She saw what appeared to be a small, reptilian creature with leathery wings dart out from her flowers, but lost sight of it after the creature disappeared amidst a cloud of robins. Her old eyes hadn’t been trustworthy for many years, and she told herself she’d been imagining things.
“Haven’t been dragons since I was little,” she chuckled, and went back to weeding her immense garden.
Over the days that followed, she heard rumors about more dragon sightings around town, and rumors had to be mighty loud to reach Leaky’s door. She didn’t talk to other folks very much. People felt she had a mean streak, and she supposed they were right, but what else did they expect from an orphan that’d known nothing but liars and cheaters all her life?
The only love Leaky ever had, the only peace she ever knew, came from her garden. That’s why she was so traumatized the morning she walked outside to find her favorite orchids charred black and smoldering in the morning mist, with dozens of dragons flitting about, nibbling her flowers, and burping up little spouts of flame.
Leaky swung her broom in an attempt to chase the monsters away. They flew just out of range, rolling through the air as though playing a game, their little mouths curled back in reptilian smiles.
She cried in bed all that night at the death of her beloved garden. Hatred burned in her heart like pepper juice smeared across her eyes as she thought about the batty little creatures that had destroyed the one solace she had in life.
On the following afternoon, a knock came at her door. Leaky grabbed a meat tenderizer, opened the door a crack, and glared outside. “What do you want?”
Outside stood a man in a red robe spattered with yellow crescent moons. He smiled as he twirled a ruby-studded cane. “Morning, ma’am. Word around the whirly is that Slocum’s Hollow’s got itself a dragon problem.”
Leaky’s first instinct was to slam the door in the man’s face. Any other time she would have followed that instinct without hesitation, but the possibility of a solution to her dilemma gave her pause.
“What are you selling?”
“Glad you asked, ma’am. Glad you asked.” The salesman drew forth from his pocket a vial of purple powder. He flicked the glass. “Narflax, ma’am. Kills dragons dead. Guaranteed.”
Leaky eyed the container. “How much?”
“Normally goes for seventy pentas.” He leaned closer and winked, flashing a mouthful of perfect teeth. “But you remind me of my own sweet Grammy, so I’ll give it to you for fifty.”
“Robbery,” Leaky muttered, and went to get her money.
She took the Narflax through the crack in the door, slammed it shut, and walked back to her garden. Dragons swooped around her head as she dusted the flowers with the powder.
“Eat as much as your slimy little bellies can hold, buggers,” she muttered. Tapping out the last of the mixture, she went to bed.
The next morning, she woke to find her garden littered with dragon corpses. She swept the carcasses into a sack, eyeing their limp little necks and blue eyes bulging out of their sockets. Sadness pecked at her belly like an annoying bird. “Don’t be such a soft old fool,” she thought, burying the dead dragons beneath a willow tree.
As she repaired and replanted her flowers, she kept catching herself looking in the air for more of the dragon pests. Surprisingly, she felt a distinct sense of loneliness every time she didn’t see one. She shook her head and continued working. “Damn old fool.”
That afternoon, while building a new trellis for her roses, she caught a whiff of smoke coming from the forest behind her cottage. Moments later, a man shrieked in pain.
Leaky followed the scent into the woods. Several yards within the trees, she found the Narflax salesman standing in a clearing and stomping on the singed, smoking hem of his robe. From the branches around his head hung metal cages crammed full of dragons.
The salesman looked up, eyes wide in surprise. After a moment of silence, he blurted out, “I think someone’s been raising these here dragons and unleashing them on the town.”
Leaky glanced at his feet where a bag bulged open to reveal hundreds of coins. “Now, I wonder who that might have been.”
Smiling, the salesman stepped towards Leaky. If he’d lived in Slocum’s Hollow for any length of time, he’d have known how foolish his next move was. But he didn’t live in Slocum’s Hollow, and so it was that he made the crucial mistake of attacking Leaky Binderhaven.
Before he could lay a finger on her, Leaky grabbed a branch from the ground and batted it across the salesman’s mouth. He fell, looking up in bewilderment with a black, gaping hole where his perfect front teeth once stood. Leaky landed two more blows before he staggered to his feet and ran off shrieking like a howler toad.
Leaky nodded in satisfaction, dropped the branch, and walked to one of the cages. An orange-scaled dragon with yellow stripes cooed behind the bars. The little bugger was actually kind of cute. Leaky stuck a finger between the bars. The dragon nuzzled its head against her fingertip.
She smiled. “You’re a little sweetheart, aren’t you?” It bit her, and she snapped her hand back. “But not that sweet,” she laughed. Thinking a moment, she added, “Just like me.”
One by one, she opened the cages and set the creatures free. They flitted around her head, chirping and pulling at her hair.
She led them out of the forest, back towards her house. To her amazement, she found herself skipping like a school girl. “You’re a damn old fool, Leaky Binderhaven,” she said, but kept on smiling, all the same.