I got the idea for this story from a meme a friend posted, about the things you lie awake worrying about. How, he asked, does a dragon blow out the candles on a birthday cake? This is my answer to that vexing conundrum.
How a Dragon Blows Out Candles
There was no way to dodge the problem. Every time one of Flick’s fellow students had a birthday they had a party, and at every party there was a cake. Flick liked cake, especially chocolate cake with lots of frosting. The cake wasn’t the problem.
The problem was the candles. Every one of those cakes came with a bunch of candles burning on top, and the excited birthday ogre, gargoyle, gremlin, elf, fairy, or human child made a wish—and blew out the candles.
Flick’s birthday would be one of the last, but it would come, and he couldn’t concentrate in class on account of the one, all-important question: How could a dragon blow out candles?
Flick sat in a desk an extra three feet away from all his classmates, because while he didn’t flame—much—when he breathed normally, there were sparks when he got excited. And once he sneezed and burned up his own homework. He was working on it, but it was hard. It was why dragons lived in bare, rocky places. Huffing and puffing like the others did to blow out their candles would be a disaster, because huffing and puffing was how Flick lit fires.
Grown dragons could control their flames. Some could even sneeze without so much as a spark. But controlling flame was an advanced level of dragon studies, and not something you learned in primary school. Grown dragons might travel and even live in forests and fields, but young dragons kept to the barren places. Flick attending school with the other young of the region was a daring experiment. It was important.
The experiment was important to the grown dragons because they wanted to prove they could be part of society. Managing his cake without disaster was even more important to Flick, because he liked cake and didn’t want to burn it up and disappoint the other students. Flick’s flammable sneezing fit had already raised some doubts about the experiment. If he incinerated his birthday cake, it would be all over, plus there would be no cake.
Mother was no help. She just said, “What’s cake?” When she found out, she said he shouldn’t be eating that stuff and had he done his math homework.
Dad was more sympathetic, having once eaten cake. He offered some very complicated explanations of how dragons controlled their flames. Flick couldn’t understand the directions at all, and couldn’t follow them even if he tried.
It was Grandfather Dragon who at last listened to Flick, really listened, and determined to solve the problem.
“It won’t be easy,” Grandfather said. “But you can learn. All of us do, though it’s easier after we reach, hmmm, a certain age.”
Flick didn’t care what “a certain age” was. He wanted to control his flame.
Grandfather tried to explain the mechanism. He tried to teach Flick the way grown dragons did it. None of that worked. But school was on a holiday, and Grandfather had nothing better to do—they’d thrown him off the Draconic Council for arguing that gargoyles were people. He was interested to learn that the gargoyles weren’t convince dragons were people. He became as determined as Flick that the birthday cake should be a success.
They experimented. Flick tried puffing through a damp cloth, but if it was wet enough not to burn, it blocked too much breath and the candles wouldn’t go out.
He tried blowing on a spot near the “cake” they had made out of sticks and mud, but again, if he blew hard enough to put out the candles, the cake got singed.
“It’s no use,” Flick said, two boiling tears running down his face.
“There’s always a way. But it looks like you’ll have to do it the hard way.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll have to learn to mediate, then to control all your bodily functions, and that will teach you to stop the flame when you don’t want it. You’ve started learning that, though you might not know it. What you do with Master Smoke on Saturdays.”
“But Master Smoke said it takes years to learn control!” Flick cried, setting fire to the fake cake.
He started crying harder as he thought about all the birthday cakes he wouldn’t get to eat after they threw him out of school. And he liked being with the other children, even if they did all have to keep a safe distance from him. Some of them were brave enough to play with him, and he was getting pretty good at tag, though he still sometimes forgot to keep his tail out of reach.
The more Flick cried, the more flames came out, and the more tears boiled from his eyes. When they grew too hot to bear, Flick dunked his head in the bucket of water they’d kept handy in case of fire. He kept it there until he couldn’t hold his breath another second.
Raising his head, Flick let out his held breath in a great whoosh—and nothing happened. There was no flame.
“I put out my flame!” Flick didn’t know if he was pleased or scared. He wanted to control his flame; he didn’t want it to go away altogether. A dragon without a flame was just a big flying snake.
“Try the candles,” Grandfather urged, hastily setting up and lighting the “cake.”
Flick gave a great puff. The candles went out, and not a flame escaped his nose or mouth. A few minutes later, while they weighed the plusses and minuses of a dragon of having no flames, Grandfather noticed a trickle of smoke leaking from Flick’s nose. A few minutes after that, Flick sneezed and set the cake on fire again. Grandfather handed him a flame-proof handkerchief. Flick grinned a little uncertainly as he and Grandfather stomped out the fire.
And that is why dragons always bob for apples at birthday parties right before they blow out the candles.