Author's Note:

This is a bit unusual for me—it's a story that DOESN'T take place in my fantasy world, Aurhìm. I got this idea in my head, and I'd like to write something without having to worry about being faithful to my world and its magic system. Also, it's a rather silly story, by my standards. Read "The Song of the Wind" if you want a sample of my more "serious" writing. Seriously: that story needs more review love. It'll make me happy and confident, and when I'm happy and confident, I write more and stress less. And that's good for everyone.

More to the point: Zachary has no relationship to the 19th Century US President of the same name. I just like the name, that's all.

Also: {words} denotes characters' PERSONAL THOUGHTS, while «words» denotes TELEPATHIC COMMUNICATION.

For your information, this story is a parody of the dragon-rider genre, so, expect the unexpected. Also, though it is at least hundreds of thousands of words away, I will tell you that the last word of the last chapter of the story (excluding the epilogue) will be "ketchup". Yeah, "ketchup".

Chapter 1: A Rude Awakening

Zachary Taylor awoke from his nap, only to notice that something was wrong. Something was very wrong—and it wasn't his math homework. He wasn't in the living room of his parents' house. He wasn't lying on the old couch, tired after a long day of high school. He wasn't looking out through the big bay windows. He wasn't taking in the sight of the broad blue waters of the San Francisco Bay, pondering the herd of clouds passing by. No: he was surrounded in total darkness—submerged in it, all around.

{What the hell?} he thought, completely mystified by whatever was happening to him—by whatever had happened to him.

He tried to move; he couldn't. He tried to speak; he couldn't. He tried to move again; he still couldn't. He tried to jump or swim or run or scream or see or dance or cry or sing—but he couldn't. He tried to feel… and he felt something!—but not anything good. He felt confinement. He felt pressure bearing down on him. He felt pressure bearing up on him—but he couldn't detect the floor, walls or ceiling that should have been its cause. It actually felt like he was floating, but not in a good way. Zach felt like the tiniest lump of coal, buried deep underneath the earth, with the weight of an active volcano bearing down on him.

It was a moment later that Zach realized he couldn't feel himself breathing.

{What!? How can I…?} Zach thought. He would have gulped, if he could; if he had been breathing, his inhalations would have quickened into pounding sprints. But he wasn't breathing, and so, he didn't.

Come to think of it, Zach couldn't feel any part of himself. He could feel the pressure all around, but his body felt numb—like he had fallen asleep on every single muscle and vessel in his body. But nowhere could he feel the tingle of blood-deprived nerves reawakening. Zach imagined that this was what being in a sensory-deprivation tank was like. He had never been in one; nor had he ever wanted to. At the moment, he would have almost preferred to die, rather than endure another second of this… this whatever-it-was.

{Mom? Dad? Anybody? What the hell is going on?!}

Desperate—unable to think of anything else to do—Zach started shouting with his mind. He felt like one of those Russian dolls: his body was… trapped somehow, and he was trapped inside of his own body. It was hell—pure hell—and he wanted it to stop! Now!

«HELLLLLLLP!» He screamed in his mind, as loud as he could. What else was he supposed to do? His mouth didn't work!

Suddenly, the sound of a voice split the darkness. Someone had heard him!

«Child? Child?» the voice asked, with glacial calm. The words fluctuated and reverberated, as if they were passing through a mirror. He could tell that it was the voice of a woman, but it was rough, and weighty—like it belonged to a heavy smoker.

Zach didn't know how he could hear it, but he could, and, at this point, he didn't care what the reason was. He was scared, and he wanted answers—and fast!

«Please, help me!» he yelled once more. «What's—what's going on?!» The sixteen-year-old boy's thoughts were just as rushed and jumbled as his feelings. They reeked of panic. «Where am I? Why am I here? Why is it so—»

«—Excellent,» the woman said, cutting him off. «The spell appears to have worked.» She sounded quite pleased with herself, not seeming to care the slightest about Zach's terror—nor that she had just blown his mind wide open.

«Spell!? What do you think this is, Dungeons and Dragons?! Please, what in god's name is going on here! I was just taking a nap on the couch, and then I found myself here—wherever "here" is! Has something happened to me? Have I been kidnapped? Where are my parents? Please, I need—» but Zach stopped himself. He had that weird feeling of emptiness; that feeling you get when you're trying to continue a conversation that's already ended. «Hello? Lady, can you hear me? Hello?! Hello?!»

Zach waited for what seemed like an eternity, hoping and praying that the woman was still listening—but there was only nothing. The empty stillness told Zach all he needed to know. He felt like sobbing, or screaming out loud—but he knew he couldn't.

He was alone now—alone again; trapped for no reason, and for who-knows how long. There were no friends to stand by him, nor loved ones to comfort him. None of Mom's desserts, none of Grandpa's stories; no games, no sports, no classes, no books, just quiet, and darkness, and Zach—all alone.

«Shit! Oh, no… what's—what's going to happen to me? Am… am I paralyzed? Was there an accident? Am I,» his mind made a leap, «…am I dead? No—no, I can't…. Oh, no…. No! No no no no no no no! I don't wanna be dead! I can't be dead! I want to live! I want my life back, damn it! I want to wake up! I have to wake up! I want this to stop: I WANT TO LIVE!» he screamed to himself.

Once again: nothing.

Maybe this really was death; what else could it be? Zach didn't know what death would be like—no one did! Maybe this was Hell… maybe—

«—Did I do something wrong? Was I lazy? Was I greedy? Was I cruel? Did I not work hard enough? Please, tell me! Please—give me a chance to fix it! I'll do better; whatever I did wrong, I'll do better! Please!»

And again: nothing,

Time passed—how much, he couldn't tell. It could've been a heartbeat, or it could have been an eon. Nothing seemed to matter; nothing seemed to stick. Zach wanted to hit something, he wanted to throw a tantrum; he wanted to do something— even pain would be a plus; anything to break through the silence of the dark shroud surrounding him; to bring motion to the stillness of it all; to break up the mind-numbing monotony.

And then, when he'd least expected it, Zach wish was granted. With a slam, and a shuddering crack—so very, very loud—Zach felt his prison tip on its side. It was like his whole world had literally tipped over—like a car tossed over by the force of an impact, the hard exterior broken in pieces. Zach's isolation came to an abrupt end as he tumbled out of his prison, like a kid rolling down a grassy hill, and felt sensations flood his whole world with sound and air and light and smell and touch and wetness and taste and breath and slime and cough and every other feeling that he could have ever imagined—and more.

Retching—coughing up fluid—Zachary Taylor took in the first breath of his new life. And then, exhausted by the ordeal, he collapsed on the hay beneath him, and quickly passed into unconsciousness.

Revision History:

(2/4/2013) More editing.

(2/2/2013) More editing—some tweaks to the opening passages. Thank you, Nesasio, for pointing it out. Part of me really wants to think that somehow, you, and all of my readers, have hacked into my account and inserted errors into my writing—seeing as I haven't seen them before—only, then, when I check my manuscript on my computer, I realize that they really were there. It's like I'm being haunted, but by the English language. xD

(1/8/2013) Changed a tiny punctuation error, and altered the author's notes.

(1/1/2013) Alterations and new additions totaling to + 158 words; thanks to lookingwest for giving me a good suggestion! Oh, and Happy New Year, everybody! :)

(12/19/2012) More editing. Thank you, inwardtransience for your time and diligence. :D

(11/4/2012) Editing, alterations and general clean-up of the prose.

(10/24/2012) Revised my method for informing readers of my revisions. Also, removed a superfluous "before". Also, in this—and every other chapter—I've decided to change "Zack" to "Zach".

(10/10/2012) Minor spelling and grammar changes, courtesy of my kind-hearted reviewers.

All content Copyright 2012; MCS.