This story, is a meaningless one. You must not search for a moral. It isn’t that kind of story, you see. It’s the other kind of story.
The story, is called ‘The Dog and the Dragon.’
The Dragon was a brilliant pearlescent color, with silver running along the contours of its body. One day, the dog saw this dragon flying overhead. The dog marveled, as one might expect. He had never seen anything so majestic or grand. The dragon soared in the sky, shimmering with iridescent colors in the sunlight. When it curved around and passed above the dog, it called out a mighty challenge, demanding in the human tongue that all acknowledge its beauty.
The dog watched this from atop a hill. Now, he wasn’t particularly large, even for a dog. He was white, with brown spots and floppy ears. Not of any specific breed or lineage, and small enough that the other dogs often mocked him. He was a common variety of a common species of a common animal that most people would rightfully ignore. But when this dog stared at the dragon and heard the mighty boast, he came to a realization. Today, he had encountered something he’d always wished for but never known. Today he’d seen perfection, and had been presented with a goal. From today, nothing else mattered. He was going to become a dragon.
The dog sat upon that hilltop through an entire night and day, staring. Thinking. Dreaming. Finally, he returned to the farm where he lived among others of his kind. These farm dogs all had jobs, chasing livestock or guarding the perimeter, but he—as the smallest—was seldom given any duty. Perhaps to another this would be liberating. To him it had always been humiliating.
As any problem to overcome is merely a set of smaller problems to overcome in a sequence, he divided his goal of becoming a dragon into three steps. First, he would find a way to have colorful scales like the dragon. Second, he would learn to speak the language of men like the dragon. Third, he would learn to fly like the dragon.
The dog chose the scales first, as it seemed the easiest, and he wanted to begin his transformation with an early victory. He knew the farmer owned many seeds in a variety of colors, and they were the shape of little scales. Because he was not a thief, the dog did not take these—but he asked the other animals where the farmer obtained new ones.
It turned out, the farmer could make seeds by putting them in the ground, waiting for plants to grow, then taking more seeds from the stalks. Knowing this, the dog borrowed some seeds and did the same, accompanying the farmer’s eldest son on his daily work. As the youth worked, the dog moved alongside him, digging holes for seeds with his paws and planting them carefully with his mouth. It was an amusing scene, watching the dog work.
The farmer’s eldest son found the dog’s actions quite amusing—then incredible as the dog went out each day, gripping a watering can in his teeth. The little dog watered each seed, just as the farmer did. He learned to weed and fertilize. And eventually the dog was rewarded with his own small crop of colorful seeds.
After replacing what he’d borrowed from the farmer, the dog got himself wet and rolled in his seeds, sticking them all over his body. He then presented himself to the other dogs. ‘Do you admire my wonderful new scales?’ he asked his fellow animals. ‘Do I not look like a dragon?’ They, in turn, laughed at him. ‘Those are not scales!’ they said. ‘You look stupid and silly. Go back to being a dog.’
The dog slunk away, feeling foolish and hurt. He had failed at his first task, to have scales like a dragon. The dog, however, was not daunted. Surely if he could speak with the grand voice of a dragon, they would all see. And so, the dog spent his free time watching the children of the farmer. There were three. The eldest son, who helped in the fields. The middle daughter, who helped with the animals, and the toddler—who was too young to help, but was learning to speak. They were all working in the yard—the farmer’s wife, who was taller than the farmer. A youth, lanky and assiduous. A daughter who would someday share her mother’s height. A baby who toddled around the yard, tended by them all as they did their chores.
Anyway, the dog figured that the best way to learn the language of men was to study their youngest child. So the dog played with the baby, stayed with him, and listened as he began to form words. The dog played with the daughter too, helped her with yard work. He soon found he could understand her, if he tried hard. But he couldn’t form words. He tried so hard to speak as they did, but his mouth could not make that kind of speech. His tongue did not work like a human tongue. Eventually, while watching the tall and serious daughter, he noticed she could make the words of humans on paper. The dog was overjoyed by this. It was a way to speak without having a human tongue! The dog joined her at the table where she studied, inspecting the letters as she made them. He failed many times, but eventually learned to scratch the letters in the dirt himself.
The farmer and his family thought this an amazing trick. The dog was sure he had found a way to prove he was becoming a dragon. He returned to the other dogs in the field and showed them his writing ability by writing their names in the dirt. They, however, could not read the words. When the dog explained what writing was, they laughed. ‘This is not the loud and majestic voice of a dragon!’ the dogs said. ‘This is speaking so quietly, nobody can hear it! You look silly and stupid. Go back to being a dog.’ They left the dog to stare at his writing as rain began to fall, washing the words away. He realized they were correct. He had failed to speak with the proud and powerful voice of the dragon.
But there was still hope, if the dog could just fly. If he could achieve this feat, the dogs would have to acknowledge his transformation. This task seemed even harder than the previous two. However, the dog had seen a curious device in the barn. The farmer would tie bales of hay with a rope, then raise or lower them using a pulley in the rafters. This was essentially flying, was it not? The bales of hay soared in the air. And so, the dog practiced pulling on the rope himself, and learned the mechanics of the device. He found that the pulley could be balanced with a weight on the other side, which made the bales of hay lower slowly and safely.
The dog took his leash and tied it around him to make a harness, like the ones that wrapped up the hay. Then he tied a sack slightly lighter than he was to the rope, creating a weight to balance him. After using his mouth to tie the rope to his harness, he climbed to the top of the barn’s loft, and called for the other dogs to come in. When they arrived, he leaped gracefully off the loft. It worked! The dog lowered down slowly, striking a magnificent pose in the air. He was flying! He soared like the dragon had! He felt the air around him, and knew the sensation of being up high, with everything below him. When he landed, he felt so proud and so free.
Then the other dogs laughed the loudest they had ever laughed. ‘That is not flying like a dragon!’ they said. ‘You fell slowly. You looked so stupid and silly. Go back to being a dog.’
This, at long last, crushed the dog’s hopes. He realized the truth. A dog like him simply could not become a dragon. He was too small, too quiet, too silly.
What was that?
The dog looked up, confused. He heard noises. Sudden shouting? Yells of panic?
The dog raced out of the barn to find the farmer and his family huddled around the small farmyard well, which was barely wide enough for the bucket. The dog put his paws up on the edge of the well and looked down. Far below, in the deep darkness of the hole, he heard crying and splashing. A pitiful, gurgling cry was barely audible over the splashing. The littlest child of the farmer and his wife had fallen into the well, and was drowning. The family screamed and wept. There was nothing to be done. Or … was there?
In a flash, the dog knew what to do. He bit the bucket off the well’s rope, then had the eldest son tie the rope to his harness. He wrote ‘lower me’ in the dirt, then hopped up onto the rim of the well. Finally, he threw himself into the well as the farmer grabbed the crank.
Lowered down on this rope, the dog ‘flew’ into the darkness. He found the baby all the way underwater, but shoved his snout in and took hold of the baby’s clothing with his teeth. A short time later, when the family pulled him back up, the dog appeared holding the littlest child: wet, crying, but very much alive.
That night, the family set a place for the little dog at their table and gave him a sweater to keep him warm, his name written across the front with letters he could read. They served a feast with food the dog had helped grow. They gave him some of the cake celebrating the birthday of the child whose life he had saved.
That night, it rained on the other dogs, who slept outside in the cold barn, which leaked. But the little dog snuggled into a warm bed beside the fire, hugged by the farmer’s children, his belly full. And as he did, the dog sadly thought to himself, ‘I could not become a dragon. I am an utter and complete failure.’