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The Dragon that Lurks in Shadows
Author: Randall D. Larson
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
A Weird Tales-styled view of discontentment and negativity in the workplace
(with thanks to H. P. Lovecraft.)
Originally published in our August 2004 issue
This is by far the weirdest editorial I wrote for 9-1-1 magazine. A longtime aficionado of the writing of H.P. Lovecraft (and an occasional writer of that type of weird fantasy fiction), I borrowed some ideas from one of his stories (“The Outsider,” 1921) to make an oblique comment on negativity and cynicism in the 9-1-1 Center. I don’t know how successful this was or wasn’t (at least one reader wrote in that they got it, thank you, and had appreciated its Lovecraftian aesthetic), but it may have been too “out there” for many readers. In any case, I thought it would be interesting to revisit it here, as its perspective is still relevant and its narrative style even more regarded in literary circles.
The published version of this tale was abridged for page space; what follows is an “Editor’s Cut,” which restores a hefty amount of text that had been left behind on my virtual cutting room floor. - rdl
Those better days, it seems, have faded into obscurity over the many years you have excelled at your craft. The meritorious enthusiasm that brought you into this stalwart company – that innate motivation to bring good out of chaos, that essential desire to make a difference – has waned over the years, tramped upon by too many dismal outcomes, hopeless situations, abusive personalities, and unrewarding encounters. You have transacted too often in the darkness of human behavior and tragedy to summon forth a smile in these late hours of your career, and you have been unable to extricate your personality from where it has been mired by negativity and despondency. You have fallen into the Dragon’s trap.
There exists a Dragon among your company. It lurks in the shadows and feeds upon the well-being. Its maw exudes hostility and the roughly-hewn scales that run staggered along the slope of its back continually fan breezes of discontentment. Although your company continues to function professionally, the satisfaction is gone, charred to ash by the exhalations of the Dragon, whose detestable presence here has nourished too much arrogance and resentment. Your workplace seethes with howls of pessimism and unpleasantry. You scorn those whose pervasive negativity has led you to share their empty indifference, and blame those of your company unwilling or unable to temper their discontentment with tolerance. You have attempted to withstand its onslaughts but you feel as though you have been unable to strive against it and so you have succumbed to its power.
Up it clambers from its dark depths, its scaly hide grinding dust from the rocky passageways through which it crawls. A glint of yellowish-crimson in the blackness, and you are staring into its eyes. Unblinking, searing, wicked little eyes.
Come closer, it seems to intone. Feel my foetid breathe upon your face. Detect the stench of my gritty fleece. Allow me to breathe clouds of hostility throughout your environment, and see me watch as all hope fades from your scrutiny. Notice how from its very being a vaporous miasma infiltrates each of you in the workplace, a contagion of some vile bitterness that makes even the staunchest of your teammates to sulk and grumble and squabble amongst each other, and even those you are committed to helping are regarded with disdain and contempt.
But there came a day, as you hear its snarls growing ever nearer once again, in which you decide enough is enough. Some small glimmer of your previous valor summons forth a kernel of courage, and you feel it growing stronger. You will not let the Dragon consume you and your fellows! You determine to face it, and conquer it before it consumes all of you. Swallowing hard, you get up and leave your position to a co-worker, and you race down the hallway to confront the hellish beast.
Ahead of you, you glimpse the shadowy figure of the Dragon at the end of the hall, moving forward. Your eyes meet and each of you share an expression of malevolent determination. You race to meet it, every step bringing the hideous visage of the creature into frightful vividness. As you engage it with eager fists and savage condemnation, you are repulsed by something massive and unmoving, and you are knocked to the ground.
When you regain awareness, you are alone in the hallway. As you look ahead, towards the Dragon's lair, you realize that you have had it wrong all along, that the battle to be waged was not against some abominable outsider, and that your sense of responsibility had become as twisted as the sanguinary forks of the Dragon's tongue. You need to rethink your strategy and your starting point now becomes clear.
You stretch out your fingers towards what it was you ran into in your rush towards the Dragon, and you shiver as they touch the cold and unyielding surface of polished glass. With a cry of horror, you realize the Dragon was only a mirror image looming out of the dark passageway and that you are the Dragon.
Illustration by Denis Tiani, for Threshold of Fantasy (R.D. Larson, 1987). previously unpublished.