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The Poop Dragon lived in a waste treatment facility in Northern New Jersey, and she lived there all alone. She was very old compared to this particular waste treatment facility, and the entire concept of waste treatment and facilities for that matter, but she did not know it for time has no meaning to a Poop Dragon. Even so, she was no longer the earthy brown color of well-digested fiber but the sepia of old black and white photographs and catabolites soon to return to earthbound nutrients. But her eyes? Her eyes were still a shimmering and clear wet-white, like factory fresh toilet paper seen through a heat haze. And she still moved with the fluidity of cerulean water circling its way down a drain.
Seasons passed like days to the Poop Dragon, and most of what it had seen it had long since forgotten, but it was a verdant spring when a loud yellow-haired girl came to the waste treatment facility. She was in a group of thirty or so human children, led by one frazzled adult human with a clipboard. Such groups came through the waste treatment facility periodically, but the Poop Dragon could no more be expected to notice a single group or individual anymore than it could be expected to notice a particular grain of sand in a vast desert. Though most humans passed right by the Poop Dragon unaware, except perhaps when they pinched their noses, this child was pointing directly at the Poop Dragon, mouth agape.
Perhaps the Dragon should have known, or at least expected something like this would happen, for the people of this land were the loudest to have ever walked the Earth and growing ever louder with every passing season.
“Teacher!” said the girl, wearing an incarnadine tutu and a helmet of tinfoil, jumping up and down, “there’s a dragon right there!”
“That’s very nice, Shawn,” said the teacher, quietly counting children, seeming unable to quite believe none of them had died or gone missing on their tour of the waste treatment facility.
“It’s right there and it’s made of poo!” the girl cried. “I mean, it’s the size of a semi-truck and it’s all made of sh-”
“Shawn! You know there’s no such thing as dragons! Nobody has ever seen one and nobody has ever found evidence of one. Now please get back in line, you’re making it difficult to count. And don’t think I didn’t notice what you were about to say -we’ll discuss your language later!”
The yellow-haired girl folded her arms and screwed up her face and put her chin high into the air.
“There is too!” she said, stomping.
The teacher was forced to grab the little girl by the arm and walk her away, and the Poop Dragon watched all of his befuddled, slowly chewing on a peanut and a bit of corn in her great mouth. It had been a thousand years and several nations since a human had last been able to see her, and that made this instance remarkable even in her oceanic memory.
Something else about the experience troubled the Poop Dragon, though it could not say what.
It was winter again by the time the Poop Dragon gave voice to a terrible thought that had haunted her, unrealized through these last several months, “Am I the last one, then? Am I the last of the Poop Dragons?”
For more months it said no more.
It is the natural life-cycle of a Poop Dragon to arise spontaneously out of the waste of other creatures, travel to the worlds dirtiest and least dignified places, witness no great heroics but only the mundane and mediocre, and oversee the decomposition of digested matter back into the earth. Yet nothing lives which cannot be lonely, and so one summer eve the Poop Dragon spread its wide wings with sanitary-tissue membranes as fine as the finest gossamer and took flight.
She was made all of filth, but even filth can be majestic.
The Poop Dragon traveled first to India, to visit the Priests of the Other End who had long been in service to her kind. Here, humans still Stalked the Sewer and Worshiped the Waste and took Coin from the Crap. Here, she would find someone who would have news of her kind. Near a clogged sewer in Mumbai, the Poop Dragon landed before a Priest neck deep in human excrement trying to unclog a pipe with his bare hands.
There were many other people in the street, but the man was as invisible to them as the Poop Dragon was, and this the Poop Dragon knew was also as it had always been. This particular kind of Invisibility was a gift of the Other End. To be seen and not seen, and when seen not to be spoken of.
The sound of his struggles had drawn the Poop Dragon’s attention, like a rat struggling to swim out of a cistern, and she heard in his thrashings great wisdom and courage. Long years of experience showed in every twitch and flick of the Priest’s submerged wrists, and though the beard of the Priest seemed brown the Dragon knew it was truly white with age. The Poop Dragon knew that of all the Priests in this land, that this human was most likely to have news of her kind.
It took a moment for the Priest to see that she was there, and when he did the man cackled with laughter so wild that the Dragon feared he had gone insane.
“Dragon!” said the little Priest, “such a blessing! Is this my time then, now while I am baptized in the essence of the Other End? Will a sudden flow now drown me and send me where all men must one day go?”
The Poop Dragon shook its head an hour later, struggling to focus in on the human conception of time and make sense of the words.
“Not tonight, Priest. Not for many nights. I come to ask news of my kind. It has been many thousands of seasons since I last heard news of my brothers and sisters. Tell me priest, have you ever seen another Poop Dragon?”
The priest explicitly did not bite his lower lip, for he was too practiced and wise for that, but without moving his face he gave an expression that said he would have in other circumstances. It was an expression of deep and trance-like thought.
“None, Dragon. Truly, in all of my memory I have only heard stories of Dragons and those all re-told and re-told from back to the beginning of sewers. No Priest save I, in this moment, has seen a Poop Dragon. My life on it,” the Priest said.
After three days, the Dragon nodded, and the Priest now near death, for he had not moved, nodded in return.
“I grant you Clearing of the Pipes, Priest. May the God of the Other End smile upon you when your time comes.”
The priests wrists twitched again and this time his hands came up out of the filth with a giant cylindrical rat. The Dragon bowed a token of respect to the rat, a bloated King of Clogs, who must surely have killed the priest without the Dragon’s Blessing. A great flushing sound, so loud that it strained the limits of the priest’s invisibility, filled the square and the filth lowered from around the priest’s neck to below his ankles and then disappeared beyond sight.
Rain came, great torrents of pure water, and washed the Priest clean. The Poop Dragon took flight again, roaring an unanswered greeting to a land empty of her kind.
The Poop Dragon came to China some years later, for it had now spoken to Priests of every land and the only new stories they had heard were stories of her, to a place where there were those who Raised Up to the Mouth Again. The Poop Dragon’s kind had only ever had little to do with such humans but she was desperate for news. No Priest of the Other End in any nation had seen its kind in thousands of years. For the Dragon this was as alarming as if it had not heard from a close relative and neighbor in a month. The Poop Dragon was becoming alarmed that all her brothers and sisters had simply moved on and met the God of the Other End and left her behind without so much as a word goodbye.
Those Who Raised Up to the Mouth Again were mixing her essence with dirt and spreading it out over a field to become food and begin the Great Cycle anew. It was one of the most ancient rituals of the Universe and these humans practiced the ritual with greater efficiency than their forebears could have ever imagined. Everywhere the eye could follow, her essence was harnessed and spread to bring new life and Raise Up to the Mouth Again. They were shrewd creatures, these humans, to stand at an Edge and maintain a Great Cycle in this way, and wiser than should be possible for their brief lifespans. But such was always the way of those who served the Cycles and kept the Edges.
At first, the Poop Dragon thought she was invisible to these creatures, as she had been to the lowly acolytes at the waste treatment facility and all but her most devout Priests, but then realized they had all seen her and were politely waiting for her to make her business known. The Ones who Raised Up to the Mouth Again knew a Dragon did not know time the way a human did, but they also knew they were too busy to wait in attendance all day.
“I have coming seeking news of my brothers and sisters,” said the Poop Dragon.
The leader of Those Who Raised Up to the Mouth Again nodded impatiently, as though she had been expecting this. Their leader was an old woman, permanently stooped over from almost a century of planting, and leaning heavily on a wooden cane.
“What I tell you was told to me by my grandmother, who heard it from her grandmother, and from her grandmother, back for two-hundred generations. We have waited for you to come so that we may tell you this news. It brings me no joy to tell you this, but it is as it must be. All the Poop Dragons passed out to the Other End,” she said.
The Poop Dragons wings fell and it slumped forward, and it huffed so deep and so hard that a smell both toxic and dangerous filled the whole of the land. Humans coughed and fled, save the old woman, but the plants flourished and grew green and hardy in the course of a single season. The old woman lay on the ground before the Dragon all the while, eating nothing and drinking only what the rain could offer her.
“What is to come of me?” the Poop Dragon wondered aloud.
The Old Woman, half-buried under a tangled growth of vines, whispered just at the edge of the Dragon’s hearing.
“Lie here next to me, Dragon. All my brothers and sisters are also gone. I have lain here months and yet to me it only feels only like a single day. For my kind, I am as ancient as you. This place is the Edge where Death becomes Life again. What better place to be than this, to see what lays at the Other End? Even one such as you must take that journey alone, yet here we can leave for for the journey side by side. If it is your wish, I only ask that you hurry, or else I must leave with you.”
The Dragon thought on this, but only for a minute, and it nuzzled up next to the old woman, who was too old even to smell it and closed its great wet-white eyes. When it felt the woman go, the Poop Dragon took its first step along the great journey with her. And it followed all the way to the Other End.
There was a hill in the center of the field where Grandmother Liu had lain down to her final rest, and although the city officials had made a fuss over burying her in the middle of the field, and the men who operated the heavy farming equipment fussed that the hill was a nuisance to the job of harvesting, none of the field workers would move it or touch it or allow someone else to do it for them.
“It is not our place to move the hill. The wind will take it, grain by grain. If not the wind, then the rain. If not the rain, then the future. When there is no memory of Grandmother Liu or the Dragon, then it will be no sin to level the hill. Then and only then,” the people of the field said this like a catechism.
If the hill had the shape of a dragon and was inconvenient to harvest with farming equipment, it also grew the richest food and it was what the farmers fed to their own families whenever they had the choice, and it gave the children somewhere to play hide-and-seek. They called it Dragon-Hill and it was whispered if you could find its secret center, you’d know the secret of true magic.
As years passed, and the story of the hill spread, it made more than one child frown for it was a story unlike other stories.
“That’s ridiculous,” they said, “that there should even be anything so stupid as a Poop Dragon. Not even a real dragon, really, and no brave warriors or magic or anything.”
“Every mountain that scrapes the sky has its roots deep in the Earth. Every brave warrior soon finds the end of their path and it is not cowardice which brings them there, only time. True wisdom, comes in knowing that there is no magic greater than moving in and out of this world. It is all part of the Great Cycle, and it is not for us to question the designs of the Universe,” their elders said.
There was another part of the story, which they did not relate, for when it is known it is better that it is known as a personal discovery and held silently. For to speak it aloud undoes the magic. For if everything moves in a Great Cycle, and if it is natural that a Poop Dragon should spontaneously arise out of the waste of other creatures, preside over mediocrity, and return to the Earth, it follows that for every Poop Dragon that dies a True Dragon must be born to heroic destiny. For there cannot be one without the other.