Dragons in the Schoolyard – A Short Story

Peter Larkin, the author, stood up to thunderous applause that did not die away until he had reached the podium to receive his award. He held a small piece of paper with pencil markings on it, the guidelines for the speech he had written the day before.

But as he stood on the stage looking over the audience, he reflected upon his success and the long, difficult road he had taken to get here. Suddenly the speech he had prepared seemed utterly inadequate to the occasion. He had another inspiration instead.

He put the piece of paper back in his coat pocket, cleared his throat, and began to speak:

“Let me tell you a story. It isn’t a very long story, but I think it is fitting for this occasion. The time frame is many years ago, about twenty five or so. The setting is an elementary school in Cleveland Ohio; the main character is a boy in the third grade who saw dragons in the schoolyard.

“He was a very ordinary boy in many ways, but he was a very unusual boy in many other ways. This boy often lived in his imagination, especially when he was at school and very bored. But he could see the schoolyard from his desk in the classroom. The schoolyard was more than just a place for recess; it was a place of infinite possibility and promise. His dragons often played there while he watched, and soon he began to populate that space with knights and damsels and all manner of magical creatures. They were his friends and constant companions, and eventually, they became his guardians.

“It wasn’t long before the teacher noticed how much time the boy spent staring out of the window, clearly not paying attention to the lesson. He was falling behind in his work and was dangerously near failing math and science. She grew concerned about him. At first she simply tried getting him to stop looking out the window, forcing him to forsake his place of refuge and his friends. But his friends were not so easily put off by this.

“Before long, the dragons came into the classroom with him to keep him company, and the boy discovered that he could begin writing about them on paper, describing their appearances and everything they did and said. He was entranced by this discovery and began writing stories that were terrible at first but grew better and better with every try. He hardly cared that he was about to fail school because writing his stories were so much more interesting than anything he could have possibly been doing in school. The teacher grew exasperated. She took his stories away and threatened to call in his parents if he did not behave himself.

“At last the teacher called in the boy’s parents for a long chat. With grave faces the boy’s parents listened to the teacher’s concerns and asked what they ought to do about it. The teacher suggested a doctor’s appointment to diagnose whatever it was that was causing the problem. It took not one, but several doctor’s appointments before anyone was certain. “Attention Deficit Disorder,” they called it. “Asperger’s Syndrome.” “Anti-social Personality Disorder.” All of these terms became names for the boy, who knew there was nothing wrong with him.

“To treat the Attention Deficit Disorder, they told the boy to take one medication. To treat his other disorders, they gave him therapies and more medication. The boy did as the doctors ordered, but he did not stop writing. His dragons grew fiercer; his stories grew longer, more careful, and more sophisticated. Everyone else told him to stop writing stories so he would not fail school. They told him that normal boys did not write stories while they were in school. The told him that normal boys were good at math and science and did not fail school. Normal boys grew up to be doctors and lawyers and to have good, practical careers.

“The boy was broken but not crushed by this pressure. His friends continued to remain with him when no one else did and they became ferocious. His stories grew even more and they grew better because of the pressure. The boy managed to keep writing, but he kept it to himself because the world was not ready for it yet.

“And then suddenly and mysteriously the boy grew up. He went to college and earned an English degree, graduating summa cum laude even though everyone thought he was making a mistake in pursuing something so impractical. And then he began to write stories for a living; he did not make a lot of money at first. In fact, he barely survived. But he continued on; he fought as he had been fighting from the third grade onward.

“That boy stands before you today as a simple storyteller who strove bitterly to be here at all. I stand before you now because I believe in the magic of storytelling, and also the importance of it. It was the spark in me that would not die, even though others tried to douse it in various ways.

“I stand before you here because I believe that stories are conduits for ideas. I believe that stories are how we can change our world for the better, because stories speak to our very souls and change our hearts. Through my stories, I speak for the forlorn, the pressured, and the broken souls in this world. That is my driving purpose, and the reason I stand before you today. And it is all because a little boy saw dragons in the schoolyard. Thank you.”

Peter Larkin descended the stage to thunderous, but more thoughtful applause. The true story he told that evening had the power to change minds, to strengthen old resolves, to form new ones, and to offer hope. Such is the power of a story well-told.

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