Mark of the Dragon
by JW Troemner GENRE: Urban Fantasy
Rosario Hernandez doesn't ask for much. She'd like to sleep on a bed instead of a sidewalk, to know where her next meal is coming from, and maybe, if she's really feeling optimistic, to get a girlfriend. More than anything, though, she wants her best friend Arkay to not murder anyone— because Arkay is a dragon, claws and all, and she has a penchant for vigilante justice. When Arkay's latest escapade goes sour, Rosario gets stuck with a stolen van and a cooler full of human organs. Now they're on the run, and it's not just the cops who want answers. The owner of the cooler is still out there, and they want to replace what they've lost— by any means necessary.
“What have ya got there?” Raimo asked when his inspection reached the back of the van.
“No clue,” I said, coming around front. “The guy we got this from said he was delivering something.”
“Like what, a case of beer?” He tipped the box back a few inches, and it made a wet gravelly sound. “It looks like a cooler.”
“Must have been some excellent beer,” I said, tapping the padlock that sealed the lid. “You don’t get ice boxes like this at Walmart.”
An excited grin crossed Raimo’s face. “Let’s find out, shall we? Give me a second.” He vanished into the garage and came out with what I could only describe as a murder weapon. “Watch your fingers, Hiccup.”
This wasn’t a friendly little set of bolt cutters. It had wicked blades nearly as long as “Isn’t that a bit excessive?” I asked.
“I know, right?” he squealed. “I just got her in. Isn’t she gorgeous? I’m going to call her Matilda.”
“Ooh, did Raimo get a new toy?” Arkay called from inside. “I wanna see!” She bounded out to join us, bits of moisture still dripping down from her damp hair.
The padlock could probably have been pulled off with a solid pull, but Raimo caught the remaining sliver of metal between Matilda’s jaws with an almost dainty twist. Another roar, and the pieces fell away.
“All right,” Arkay said, taking the lid with both hands. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.”
Matilda hit the floor with a solid thunk as Raimo stumbled back. “Jesus Christ!”
It took me a moment longer to make sense of the metallic, meaty smell and the sudden flash of red.
JW Troemner was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States, where she lives with her partner in a house full of pets. Most days she can be found gazing longingly at sinkholes and abandoned buildings.
Some of my favorite things are abandoned places.
The practice of visiting abandoned buildings is called urban exploration. It’s most famously associated with people who visit closed-down hospitals and asylums (mostly because that’s the premise of so many horror movies like The House on Haunted Hill, Session 9, and Grave Encounters), but I’ve got a particular affection for industrial buildings.
I live in the American Rust Belt, which consists of a whole stretch of cities and towns where the economy was predominantly driven by car manufacturing and the supporting industries. When a lot of that manufacturing went overseas, factories closed, and entire cities suddenly found themselves with hundreds of unemployed workers and collapsing local economies. I live in one of the cities that’s in the process of recovering, but you can still find rust belt ruins all over the place. Some of them are houses that have stood empty for years or even decades; some are factories or warehouses. All of them have a history, and all of them are fantastically creepy.
Part of that creepiness revolves around the emptiness of places that we know should be cluttered, and eerily still when we know they should be buzzing with life. Another part of that creepiness comes from the graffiti and garbage and the other ever-present evidence of human intrusion. When you set foot in an abandoned place, you know you’re not the first person who’s done so. The question that always haunts your mind is whether one of the people who came before you is still right there with you.
It’s enough to make your skin crawl, and that’s a feeling I use a lot in my writing. Several of the books in the Urban Dragon series take place in abandoned factories, grocery stores, and foreclosed houses.
But it’s not all grim and dark.
I’ve got a chance to see a lot of these abandoned buildings being refurbished and repurposed. Much of the urban exploration I’ve done has been with the permission of the owners, usually while they were in the process of cleaning out the shattered glass and giving new life to something that once was broken. And that gives me hope.