Victor’s superpower appeared just two days before he started the sixth grade.
It all began when he was at the zoo. His mother had dragged him there because his little sister, Sandi, just loved animals. All kinds of animals – even ordinary, boring animals, like cows. “Lookit! A COW!” she could scream in her superfast little-kid voice whenever they drove anywhere. “Lookie lookie, Vic! Do you see ’em? Do you see ’em? Vic, do you see ’em, do you, do you, do you?”
“Yes!” he would always say, trying to be patient. Most times he didn’t even bother looking up from his comic book. What’s so exciting about a cow? he thought. Look any direction in Saskatchewan, and you’ll see at least three of them, eating grass and dropping giant cow-pies.
Today his mother had decided they would go to the zoo. Sandi was so excited, she was shaking.
“Are we gonna see the bears, Mommy?” she asked, talking fast as always. “Are we, are we, are we? I wanna see the bears. The bears are my favourite. ’Specially the brown bears, but I like the white ones too. Brown bears are cute, like my teddy. Maybe they’ll have baby bears too? Mom, will they? Do you think they’ll have white bears? White bears only live where it’s cold, you know. Can we go there, can we, can we, please?”
“Yes, Sandi,” Victor’s mom said, and from her voice, Victor knew she was trying hard not to be annoyed with his sister too.
Sandi clapped her hands and jumped up and down kept talking. She reminded Victor of a squirrel, chasing its own tail.
Victor was bored. He didn’t care about animals that much. Plus, it was hot outside, but he had put on pants that morning, even when his mom had told him to wear shorts. Ever since Jenny at school had called him “Victor Vulture Legs,” Victor didn’t want to wear shorts. But of course, he couldn’t tell his mom about that.
As they walked along the trails at the Saskatoon Forestry Farm and Zoo, Victor got hotter and hotter. The sun beat down and he began to sweat. It felt like the desert out there. By the time they reached the birds section, Victor realized he was incredibly thirsty.
“Mom, do you have something to drink?” he asked.
“No, but I’m thirsty too,” his mom said. “Let’s find a place to buy something.”
“Okay!” Victor looked around and spied a small concession stand. “Over there, Mom!” he said, pointing down the path.
His mom bought him a small Pepsi, which he drank up in three long swallows. “My goodness, Victor!” she said. “You were thirsty!”
“Still am,” he said, panting. It was so hot. Way too hot. He was pouring sweat, but he noticed his mother and sister weren’t sweating at all. “Can I have another one?”
His mom frowned. “Maybe if you would have worn shorts like I told you…” she began.
“I have to pee!” Sandi announced loudly. She jumped around like a frog on a trampoline, holding herself. “I have to pee really, really bad!”
“There’s a bathroom right there,” said the man at the concession stand.
“Thanks,” Victor’s mom said. She handed Victor a five-dollar bill. “Here, buy yourself another one. I’ll be right back. Stay right here.” And she took Sandi to the bathroom.
Victor looked at the three sizes of drinks. He pointed to the largest one. It was huge --almost as large as an ice-cream bucket. “Can I get that one with this five dollars?” he asked the man in the concession stand.
The man smiled. “You sure can,” he said. “It’s four-fifty for that one with the tax. Is that what you want?”
Victor nodded. “Pepsi,” he said, then thought about it, and added, “please.”
“Coming right up,” the man said. He filled the tub with Pepsi, took Victor’s money, and gave him back two quarters.
“Thanks!” Victor said.
He drank about half of it before his mother came back with his sister, who was still jumping and dancing, but no longer holding herself. His mom spotted Victor’s drink. “Victor Reginald Ashton!” she said, and Victor froze. “I told you to buy a drink, not a bucket! You shouldn’t drink all that!”
“But mom, I’m so thirsty,” he said, and he took three more swallows before his mom took the drink away.
“Well, drink some water,” she said. “And go to the bathroom here, while we’re close to one.”
Victor went, and when he came out, the drink was gone.
“Aw, Mom…” he complained. “I’m still thirsty!”
“You’ve had enough for an army,” she said firmly, and Victor knew there would be no more pop for him today.
They continued their walk. Victor saw gophers, ground squirrels, sheep, and cougars. Big deal. He yawned. The sun went behind a big cloud, and Victor thought it would get cooler, but it didn’t. He was still so hot, and so thirsty.
While they were walking up to the bears (his sister was really dancing now), Victor started to feel strange. He felt like he needed to burp, which was not surprising – he had drunk a ton of Pepsi, after all. But he also felt a strange burning feeling in his stomach. It didn’t hurt, and it wasn’t like heartburn. It was more like a hot coal was sitting in his chest, and it felt kinda…nice.
One of the things Victor’s mom hated was burps. She would always say, “Victor, that is just disgusting!” and act like she’d just seen a big hairy spider. Victor didn’t see the big deal, and he totally agreed with his uncle Cam, who would say, “There’s more room out than in.” After all, if your body needed to burp, why not let it out? What else were you supposed to do?
But Victor knew his mom was already mad at him about the Pepsi. So when he could feel a really nice big one coming, he decided to try and hide his burp. He put his hand in front of his mouth, and let it out slowly, making no sound.
Black smoke came out of his mouth.
Victor’s eyes grew wide – had he actually just seen that? Yes, definitely – he could smell it. He watched the two curls of smoke drift up and away before they finally disappeared into the air. It smelled like a campfire.
Victor’s mom looked around. “Do you smell something?” she asked him.
“I don’t smell anything,” Victor said.
His mom shook her head. “Must be the wind,” she said, and turned back to the bears.
Another burp was building up – Victor could feel it. He was too hot – much too hot. Big beads of sweat dripped off his face, his neck, his arms. He could tell by the feeling that he was going to let out a really big one this time.
“Mom, I’m sorry, but I need to burp,” he said, hoping that saying sorry first would help get him out of trouble.
His mom shook her head. “I told you not to drink so much of that Pepsi,” she said, angry, and about to launch into an epic lecture. “I thought you would buy a small one, not a bucket –"
Victor couldn’t hold it in any longer. It was coming out and nothing would stop it. He put his hand in front of his mouth, and let ’er rip. Buuuuuurrrrppppp...
Flames shot out of his mouth, followed by black smoke.
“AAAAAHHH!” his mom screamed.
“AAAAAAHHHH!” he screamed, jumping in the air.
“AAAAAAHHHH!” his sister screamed.
“AAARRRRRR!” the bears roared.
“AAAAHHHH!” screamed the family next to them.
The screaming continued. Every time Victor screamed, flames came out. This made him scream even more. The flames were getting bigger with every scream. He turned to the bear cage so he wouldn’t hurt any people. Victor saw he had lit the door to the bear cage on fire, and it was melting fast, but if he moved in any other direction, he would hurt people.
“Stop it, Victor!” his mother yelled. “Stop…stop…stop making fire!”
Victor didn’t know how to stop. He was afraid to close his mouth in case he burned it. After a while, he realized he was still screaming, but flames were no longer coming out. And he wasn’t hot anymore. The sweat had stopped, he was no longer thirsty, and he felt cool and normal. In fact, he felt really good – the exact feeling you get when you let out a huge burp and your stomach feels much better. This was like that, times a thousand.
His mom and sister were staring at him, eyes wide, mouths open.
“Excuse me,” Victor said meekly, and his mom fainted.
All the people had left the area. The door to the bear cage was burned off, and the mama bear and her baby were leaving the cage.
“’Bye!” Sandi said, as she waved to the bears. “Have fun in the forest, Mrs. Bear! Take good care of your baby!”
The bear roared and continued on her way with her cub.
Sandi watched them go, then turned to Victor. “You made fire come out of your mouth,” she said.
“Yes,” Victor said. He could hardly believe it.
“You’re like a DRAGON!” Sandi cried. “A people-dragon! That is so cool! Do you think maybe you’ll grow wings, too? I’d like to ride a dragon. Would you be my pet dragon? A pet dragon would be so cool! I would have to feed you and find you a nice place to sleep. What do dragons eat, anyway?”
“Burgers, I guess,” Victor said. He was staring at the fire, which was no longer burning but just smouldering, its orange glow almost out now.
Victor’s mom woke up. “Come on kids,” she said wearily, as she stood up and brushed the dirt off her pants. “I don’t know what happened, but it’s time to go home.”
Victor wasn’t surprised when he passed the superpower screening test they gave to all sixth graders when he went back to school that fall. He was quite surprised when he failed the second test and was sent away to villain school instead of superhero school.
It didn’t make sense to him. He sure didn’t feel like a bad guy – he was a good guy! But the tests were never wrong about these things.
Kris Jackson has worked in the communications profession for over eighteen years and has a Bachelor of English degree from the University of Saskatchewan. Kris is a member of Whitefish (Goodfish) Lake First Nation #128 who currently lives near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada with her husband Kevin and two sons. In addition to being published by CommuterLit and Short Kid Stories, Kris runs an annual program that delivers books to children in seven remote Indigenous communities in Canada.
"Dragon Breath" was originally published in Short Kid Stories." For information about submitting to them, see here.
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