Author's note: Okay, so—obviously—this chapter is shorter than the previous two. I wasn't originally intending upon writing this chapter, but, after a whim, I thought it would be nice to give my readers a few bones to chew on. Bold text in this chapter indicates things that are being written and/or read.

Also, just to be clear, as a mathematician, I do not condone any of the prejudice that this chapter shows toward conic sections and ellipses. Also, also, the next chapter will most likely be a long(er) one.

Chapter 9: Things Left Out

"Problem One," Zach said, reading aloud the first problem of the night's math homework. "State the geometric definition of an ellipse. Do not simply give the equation for an ellipse."

{Ellipses, ellipses, ellipses,} he thought. He fidgeted in his chair for a moment. He quivered his left thigh, trying to get himself concentrated.

Then, with a sigh, he pressed the sharpened pencil-tip down against the cool, dry surface of the college-ruled paper.

"An ellipse," he wrote, neatly scratching out the letters, "is defined as the" but there, his right hand stopped. It didn't know what words to write.

{C'mon…. C'mon….}

Zach quivered his thigh faster, thumping the heel of his gray Converses against the soft white of the shag carpet.

"Ffffff…" he said, blowing air out through his tightened lips—scowling slightly.

{This is going to take forever!} he thought. He started slowly chewing on the inside of his right cheek.

He glanced over to his right, looking out, over the top of the soft blue sofa, and through the great bay window of the living room. The city lights glimmered in the dark like weird, distorted stars—orange and red, pale yellow and white. Some of those stars moved or flashed, while others stayed still as they gleamed. Now and again, sirens and cable-car bells echoed in the quiet. Sometimes he would hear the louder thunk of rattling cars, their metal clanking as they raced across the hills. It was hypnotic, to listen and look—much more so than his math homework.

For some reason, Zach wanted to lose himself in his surroundings, and more than he usually did, too. Maybe it was the math homework. He didn't really know, but being home just felt right. Comforting. It was where he belonged.

{Hmm….} Zach turned his head back to his homework.

And as he pondered, Zach could hear his parents' voices coming from the kitchen. The sounds wafted out the open doorway on the far side of the living room, just barely reaching his ears.

"Are you sure that this is a good idea?" his father asked. "What if something goes wrong?"

"Stop your worrying," he heard his mom say. "Nothing will go wrong, and even if something does fall out of place, it will all work out in the end. Trust me. He knows what to expect; he knows what to do."

{What are they talking about?} Zach wondered. Was the dentist his mom worked for (she was the hygienist) trying to make another crazy TV commercial, advertising his dental practice?

"Mom, is dinner going to be ready soon?" Zach asked. He didn't really raise his head away from his homework; kind of just yelled.

"The water hasn't even boiled yet, honey. Be patient!" came the reply.

"Well, I wish it would," Zach muttered. His mom made amazing pasta dishes. She was making some hard-to-pronounce Italian dish tonight. Zach knew it would be awesome. Her pasta meals always were.

As long as it involved de-starching starch-infused bread-products, his mom could work wonders with it. But, if she had to so much as touch the dial on the oven, only disaster would follow. Many, many years ago, the Taylor family—all the grandparents and cousins and uncles and aunts—had come together to bar Zach's mom from being allowed anywhere near the turkey on Thanksgiving.

{Never again!} Zach snickered at the thought of the family's joke about his mom's non-existent baking skills. But Zach's chuckles stopped the moment he glanced back at his half-written answer to Problem One.

"An ellipse is aan ellipse is a"

Then, there was a flash of inspiration. Zach's eyes went wide with realization.

Reaching over the smooth oak of the table, he pulled his math textbook close, flipped through its used, pencil-marked pages, searching for the incomprehensible knowledge contained within.

"Chapter Nine: Ellipses," he said, reading aloud the first words of his over-the-top textbook. "Since ancient times," he continued, "mankind has been fascinated by the mysterious allure of the noble ellipse."

{Blah blah blah blah blah…} Zach skipped over the ridiculous parts. He couldn't imagine how anyone could get so worked up over ovals. It took a moment—a moment of sifting through the author's seemingly endless ramblings about the pivotal role that a proper understanding of ellipses played in ensuring the continued existence of the human race—before he found the treasured phrase.

"Thus, in the spirit of not leaving anything out[1] we define an ellipse as follows: Definition: Given two…."

{There we go!} he grinned.

Zach picked up his pencil once more. He flipped it over with his fingers and pressed the soft pink of the eraser against the paper. He rubbed out his earlier, awkward effort to start the problem, clearing away the fibrous eraser debris with a swipe of his hand and a quick puff of air.

"Given two points, F and G," he wrote, "an Ellipse is defined as the locus of all points P such that the sum of the lengths of the line segments FP and GP is constant."

Zach lifted his pencil from the page, and looked proudly upon his brilliant solution to the problem. He had no clue what it meant, but, he had to admit, it certainly did look impressive.

"It's almost ready," he heard his mother say.

{Yes!} he thought. Deliciousness was that much closer to him now. Zach then turned his attention back to his math assignment—there was still much work to be done.

"Still, I must insist: what about the boy?" his father asked.

"It does not matter what he does. He lives on borrowed time now," his mother replied. "There. Done," she added. "Indeed: it has begun."

"Problem Two," Zach read. "Circles have long been seen as symbols of perfection. Explain, then, how one can think of a circle as an imperfect ellipse."

{What the hell does that mean? How do they expect me to do that?} Zach asked himself, shaking his head—befuddled.

Planting his elbows on the table-top, Zach placed his hands atop his short, smooth strawberry-blonde hair, running his fingers through it—scratching his scalp out of frustration. He hated dense problems like this. It really boggled his mind: why would anyone intentionally throw inane, intractable, incomprehensible problems like this at a—

"—Ow!" Zach yelped. His scalp stung. He jerked his right hand away from his head. He must have been scratching too hard, he—

—Zach froze the instant his eyes passed over his hand.

{What… the…?} He thought, mute with fascination, and fear. The pain had suddenly become immaterial to him.

His fingers were mutating. Small, sharp spikes—charcoal black—had poked their way out through the tips of his index- and middle-fingers on his right hand, slowly erupting from the flesh—steep, black mountains rising out of soft, pink earth. Even as he watched them, in utter disbelief, they continued to grow out. Similar claws—{Claws!?}—poked their way out the tips of his other fingers. The emerging claws pushed up his fingernails as they grew out—first a centimeter, then an inch. Moments later, the nails popped off of his fingers, lifted up and pried off by crowbar-force of his growing talons.

The skin began to shrivel and darken all around the bases of his now-inch-long claws. The discoloration quickly spread, moving out from the tips, down along his fingers, and onto both sides of his hand, and beyond. It surged across his flesh like a wave of painless bruises. Once discolored, the skin grew brittle, turning dry and crusty. It wrinkled and withered away, mummified, only to crack open, break off, and turn to ash. It was like his skin was burning away under the searing heat of an invisible flame. His skin broke away, first on his fingers, and then on his hands. It traveled fast. The blackened flesh looked, sounded, and smelt like meat burnt dark, into dust. The ash seemed to vanish into the air; as Zach's disappearing skin blew away, revealing the regal coat of tyrian purple scales that lay beneath them. His pinky-fingers shrunk to ashen sticks—burnt cigarette butts that quickly crumbled off his hands.

"Wha—?!" Zach screamed, gasping.

He pushed his hands back against the rim of the table, trying to get up out of his chair as fast as he could. But, in his panic, he pushed too hard: he pushed himself and his chair over backwards. The back of the chair crashed down hard against the shag-carpet, and even harder on Zach's spine.

"Agh!" he yelled, as he rolled out onto the floor—onto his shoulder. But his screams passed by, unanswered.

His every motion broke off and shook loose more and more of his shriveling human skin. Specks of the vanishing ash, his disappearing flesh, snaked their way into his mouth and nostrils, making him cough and wretch. Then, suddenly, he was wracked by pain and pressure coming from the tips of his shoes and from the seat of his pants. It built quickly, worse in his backside, than in his feet. Looking over his shoulders with frightened eyes the best he could, Zach saw and heard the satisfying rip of his clothing as new body parts made themselves known.

A dew-claw tore out through the heels of his grey Converses, soon followed by three black claws, burst through the rubber toe-tips—ripping the whole front halves of his shoes right off him. Black ash poured out from the holes, revealing his changed feet. On each foot, his three, taloned toes wriggled out of their shoes. The growth of his toes, and of his ever-thinning, lengthening feet pushed the rubber and fabric off with each rising surge of the transformation. Zach tingled all over, feeling ash piling up inside his pants, shirt and sweater, madly itching him, all around. With each of his motions, the dark dust shook out from his clothes—from his sleeves, from his hems. He started to sneeze.

Achoo!—one; his body shook.

Achoo!—two; his back arched.

Achoo!—three; his spine buckled.

With a long, harsh rrrrrrrip a purple tail slithered out through the burst seat of his jeans, writhing between his legs. It thrashed as it slid, its smooth scales brushing over and caressing, his thighs, and then his lower legs, giving expression to his fear. And all the while, it grew in length and girth. Zach's efforts to get up and run for help met their end. His scaly forelimbs slipped against the piles of ash beneath him, and the weight of his growing tail quickly pulled him back down to his knees. His toe claws shredded up the carpet as he scraped them back in his scramble to stay balanced.


Giving up reason—his pulse and breaths wild flurries—Zach rushed to pull off his sweater and shirt, and the tattered remains of his pants and boxers. It wasn't easy, gripping them with his deformed hands—paws, and the limited motions of his thickened fingers—but he managed, somehow, tearing, more than pulling. His claws ripped the fabric to shreds with each grasp and each tug, spilling ash everywhere. They dug channels in the rug. A shower of dust surrounded him, choking him—flooding all over. Even his head, now, was melting away, the soft skin cracking on his face, and on his scalp, shriveling into a blackened mask, before sloughing away in crumbling chunks, taking his hair along with them—taking his nose along with them with them—revealing a gleaming coat of tyrian hue.

Zach felt himself getting smaller.

Then—impossible!—his shoulder blades doubled, lifting up out of his back. His scaled, purple flesh rippled as the leathered arm-hands flared out behind him. The new "fingers" flexed—the wings beat; dust hurled into the air, spiraling about. Zach's whole body seized; straining, he fell on his side. Proportions were changing, now—in his torso, in his thighs. His hips buckled, broke, and folded down, driving his thick, scute-covered belly beneath his legs. His knees would no longer touch. They stuck out like buttresses on either side of his elongating form. Zach's head shot out from his shoulders. His neck grw long and seemingly distended. Horns crested out from the back of his skull; his screams sunk into a high-pitched cry, more like a squeak, than a roar. What little remained of his voice soon vanished into the ash, joining the rest of his sloughed humanity.

There was a crunch of cartilage—snap—as his head jerked up, his neck now connecting at the back, rather than from below. Purple mouth and purple nose melted together, wrenched forward, turning triangular; soft molars sharpened to deadly fangs. Zach's slowly moving eyes blossomed in into piercing sunset yellows—his pupils stretching tall, and thin. A dragon he was; a dragon, complete. And still, he grew smaller; shrinking, contracting: five feet, four feet, three feet—two and a half. A tiny baby dragon, lying helpless in a sea of ash, on a once-white rug; confused, terrified, and so very, very—

Creeunk…. Shmuut.

The white wood of the front door opened and then closed as a human Zachary Taylor walked into the house.

{What?!} Zach looked up at Zach. Zach saw himself, and his world through the eyes of a dragon. Yet the thoughts of the human simulacrum walking into the living room remained a mystery to the little dragon. The dragon looked up at his other self, framed by the now-too-bright glare of the recessed lighting in the walls above. He saw the grey Converses, scuffed up from the walk home; he saw the brand new, brilliant-blue denim jeans, the banded tee-shirt, and the black jacket with the thin, red trim. He saw the inquisitive face, and the calm hazel yes, and the strawberry-blonde hair, flowing smooth, as usual. But it wasn't him. It wasn't Zach. It couldn't be. It couldn't be! A person couldn't be two things at once! That was impossible! Who was this Zach? Who was this other? Who was who, and why?!

{Everything's… everything's…} dragon-Zach thought. He didn't know what to do.

He tried to get up and walk forward, but he was awkward on four feet. Worse, it was like his legs wouldn't even move—as if he was paralyzed. Zach dragged himself forward with his forelegs, pulling the dead weight of his tail and wings along with him. His scales scraped against the shredded carpet below.

The other Zach walked closer. There was a grin on his face. He seemed unaware of dragon-Zach.

Thump. Thump.

Suddenly, Zach's ear-fins were assaulted by a quake of heavy, monstrous footsteps. The whole room seemed to shake.

"—Mother, Father, I am here. I have arrived. I am ready, as you requested," the human-Zach-not-Zach said. His voice was strange, his manner, more so; it was alien. Inhuman.


There was a great crash; the roof was ripped away, as if by an invisible tornado. Winds howled and rushed through the ruined room, kicking up the hair and clothes of the Zach-not-Zach, making it tremble.

Thump. Thump.

The sound was like a drum in Zach's head. He turned his neck.

{No, no—this… this can't be happening. This can't be happening!} Every fiber in his body seized up.

The remnants of the kitchen door loomed high and wide, like the gate of a great ark. Storms swirled above and around. Gone were the lights of the city; gone were the sounds and smell of home. Only a storm-cloud was left—a raging hurricane—circling bands of tempest, deep in the distant dark.

Thump. Thump.

And then he saw them, emerging from the shadows of the great gate.

They were his parents. They weren't his parents.

They were giants. They were monsters. Spikes contorted his father's once-calm hair. Red scales mutilated his mother's once-soft face. Their figures were angular and distended, with some bones too long, bulging out—raising up the scaly skin little tents. Others were too short—bent and deformed, like a body crushed beneath a car. Tails lashed out from behind, one blue, one red. Great wings spread out in mismatched proportions: one small and one big; and one big and one small. There were claws and talons, shredded clothes, and misshapen jaws. Odd mouths filled with gleaming serrated teeth, oozing with hunger and drool. And the eyes… the eyes—terrible, horrible—filled with hate, filled with anger.

"Mother! Father!" the Zach-not-Zach yelled, his arms stretched out high, as if he was meeting his gods.

"You are here for our purpose, our son."

"You know what you must do."

They spoke in voices deep and old; voices that could be heard, even though there was no sound. But they spoke to the not-Zach—why him? Why him?

"And I do it, gladly, my mother, my father. But should we not first tie the knot?"

Fear fluttered in Zach's heart, set loose by the doppelganger's words. Something was coming. Something was about to happen.

"They are all pawns. And so shall we feast," both monsters said, in unison.

Then all three turned to Zach. Three pairs of monsters' eyes gazed down at him, but it felt like a thousand.

Zach was no better than stone now.

The blue not-father reached out and grabbed him by the tail. The red not-mother stomped back in through the great gate, and her mate followed close.

A sound of fire shook through the shrieking air. Wet heat pulsed along with the drumbeats of Zach's manic heart.

Boom. Boom.

Great churning waters roiled and bubbled; an infinite pot filled by a vast, boiling sea.

"Dinner is served."

They let him go. He fell, and he fell, and then plunged into the froth—into waters as hot as the fires of the sun. They seared him. They cooked him.

And then they ate him.

— — —

Zach woke up with a roar, his body shaking, his head still swooning from the nightmare.

He snapped himself silent as quick as he could. It was dark in the stables, and the air was surprisingly cool against his scales. He could barely see, save for the quiet brightness of the starlight outside, filtering into the stable through the crack beneath the doors. He could smell the others—the other dragons, sleeping in the stalls around him. The silence of the desert night was broken for a few moments as his "classmates" shifted in their sleep, their scales brushing up against the hay lining their stalls. But it didn't seem like his outburst had woken any of them.

«Wha… what was that…?» Zach 'whispered' to himself. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind of the nightmare's remnants. And, oddly enough, it seemed to work; but, then again, Zach had never been good at remembering dreams, even when he'd been human.

Over the next few minutes, the frightful images in his mind's eye shattered and dispersed, fading away 'till they were little more than a sparse cobble of ghostly impressions, dangling at the edge of his thoughts. He'd been human, but then he'd changed. He'd seen himself, but it wasn't himself; he'd seen his parents, but they weren't his parents. And then they all ate him….

{Ugh…} he thought, breathing out in a long sigh.

He'd had strange dreams or nightmares before, especially after staying up late, playing video-games, or watching a scary movie. But this dream had been stranger than most any other that he could remember. Well, that did kind of make sense. These past two days had been the strangest days of his life; his brain was probably having one hell of a time trying to make sense of it all.

Still, something about the dream disturbed Zach. He couldn't quite put his finger on it. He didn't have fingers to put on anything anymore, really. Maybe it meant something; maybe it didn't. Zach didn't know, and right now, he was too tired to care. He just wanted to go back to sleep and not have to worry about any nightmares. His new life already had plenty of those.

So—sighing once more—Zach curled back into his sleeping position, atop his bed of hay, lying there like a purple croissant, with his tail just brushing his snout. He nuzzled it against it, ever-so-slightly, as if his tail was a teddy bear, or a favorite pillow. He hadn't used either of those things in many, many years. But now, as he lay coiled up, alone amidst company on a harsh desert night, he felt he needed their comforting presence like never before.

Zach lay still for many minutes after that. The time was stretched long by the quiet hums of sleeping dragons, all around him. But eventually, he joined them; his breaths rumbling smooth in the gentle grasps of dreamless slumber.

[1] The imaginary author of this imaginary math textbook thinks that this is a funny pun. He thinks this because the English word "ellipse" is derived from the ancient Greek word elleipein, which meant 'to leave out'.

Revision History:

(4/26/2013) Editing.

(1/18/2013): Removed some literary detritus. Thanks to VelvetyCheerio for pointing it out!

All story content Copyright 2012-13; MCS