Hinkypunk was a will-o-wisp, known for glowing in the dark and leading wayward travelers to their doom, but more importantly, she was a human resources representative. A pair of thin black spectacles hung in the air above a petite black business suit. They pointed towards a clipboard as a disembodied voice struggled to pronounce a name. “Mr. Bum- Bumr. Um, Mr. Bumradish.”
“Please call me Mr. B” said Mr. B evenly, careful not to let any smoke come from his nostrils. Not Bumraidyss, Scourge of Man, Devourer of Children, Herald of Death, just Mr. B. That was how you earned people’s respect. It’s easy to make people’s lives worse, much harder to make them better. Much more rewarding, too. Mr. B’s suit was beginning to feel too tight on him, and he wondered when he’d have a chance to blow off some smoke.
Hinkypunk laughed, an unsettling sound like several different people laughing in unison. Mr. B stayed in his chair and watched the glasses bob up and down furiously. What was a little ball of light doing bouncing up and down when it laughed? There weren’t any pumping lungs to cause that sort of movement. It had to be an affectation. Mr. B could sympathize. Everywhere in the management literature it said to let people know that you’re human, with little or no recourse if you obviously aren’t. Mr. B made a mental note to look into where the Will-o-Wisps had left to come here. Finally, Hinkypunk stopped laughing and said “We’ve received a complaint that your management style is draconian.”
After a long pause, Mr. B cracked what he was sure was an unconvincing smile. “That has to be a joke.” Hinkypunk offered another blood-curdling giggle and replied, “We take these complaints very seriously, Mr. B. There’s nothing actionable in this one, we just want to bring it to your attention.” Mr. B relaxed, and Hinkypunk continued, “another employee wanted us to remind you that you’re not allowed to eat him.”
Mr. B rolled his eyes. He understood as well as any other predator that the benefit of no predation was never being the prey, so he bought and ate livestock like everyone else. Nevertheless, there seemed to be no getting past it. No matter how hard he tried to hide even the slightest action that might suggest he wanted to eat someone, he always got this complaint. He couldn’t help that he weighed three tons, had steely claws, two rows of razor-sharp teeth, and breath that could melt steel girders. He knew how not to use them just as well as any human knew not to push another one down the steps. His lack of progress in becoming accepted as someone who wants to contribute to the team rather than sow terror unsettled him. “Thank you for letting me know.”
The glasses bobbed again, “Have a nice day, Mr. Bumradish.” Mr. B smiled and encouraged Cynthia to have a good day as well. Then he scooted to his office window, opened it, and released a torrent of fire and smoke out into the open air.
Iopiephenor stroked the bumps on Bumraidyss’s snout with one white talon as he laid back on the couch, drawing him in for a kiss. “You always worry so much, Bu. You can’t get in trouble as long as you don’t actually eat any of them. I’m sure lots of my co-workers worry I’m going to eat them. I try not to let it get to me.”
Bu didn’t want to bring up that Io was already a senior manager, whereas he couldn’t seem to get more than five reports. “I know, I know. I just wish they could see me for what I choose to be rather than what I could be. If I wanted to ruin my whole career by engulfing the office in flames, I would have done it by now. In fact, I never would have come here! I would have happily stayed back at home and fought tooth and claw with other dragons over the tastiest people. Can’t they see I’m just like them? I just want a boring life where I work from nine to five and lay on the couch with my wife, without ever having to worry about getting shot by a rocket propelled grenade or getting my throat ripped out. And while I’m at it, maybe I do want to build someone up rather than chew them up. I really think I’m a people dragon.”
“I know you are,” Io crooned, “just give them time to see.”
Bumraidyss could smoke as much as he wanted outside the office. He could even breathe a little fire as long as he was careful not to catch anything aflame. He hovered above his work, a huge, cylindrical building with a picture of a globe with horns, a dragon tail, faerie wings and a business suit over the words “Together, Inc.” He found himself wishing, not for the first time, that he could just fly into his office instead of taking the stairs and walking past all the other offices, but it would be a long time before he got a window big enough for that, if he ever did.
Bumraidyss released some smoke, and began to descend. He watched the little trees get larger, and the tiny action figures become real-life people. He flapped his wings slightly to aim for an empty patch of grass and landed on his enormous belly, his arms and legs vestigial appendages pointing uselessly out at all four sides. He released the rest of his smoke and sighed in relief as his feet touched the ground again. He then opened his briefcase and pulled on his business suit. Everyone understood that clothes didn’t work for everyone at all times at Together, but the business suit was the company trademark, and as long as your body could be of a shape to support it, you wore it.
Speaking of which, Slarry happened to be walking by just at the wrong moment. “Walking” was a loose description for what it looked like for a mainly gelatinous being stuffed into a business suit to move from place to place. He had the appearance of a dripping wet ragdoll held up by too-short poles. His body slumped this way and that, effortfully raising itself up again each time. A bulge of grey-green goop rose from his shirt collar and held a pair of eyeballs and dentures. He liked to bang them together when he was talking, and would not hear it from anyone who told him this did nothing to help him seem more relatable to human beings. Despite all his challenges, Slarry had twenty reports beneath him, and on top of it always found time to be a jerk.
“Hey, look, it’s Bumraiders! You done being a balloon, Bumraiders? Ready to put on your clothes? Ha ha ha!” Slarry’s teeth banged together as his whole body flung itself about madly in his own interpretation of human laughter. Slarry didn’t have anyone with him at the moment, so just a few people turned to see what the fuss was about and quickly lost interest. Mr. B pretended not to have heard him, and walked forward too quickly for Slarry’s shambling gait to keep up.
Even letting all his air out, Mr. B did not fit in the elevator. Io claimed to be jealous of him, with all the exercise he got climbing twenty flights of stairs every morning. He had to do it while staying cool enough as to not inflate and get stuck between the wall and the rails, making it a long slog indeed. He used to land on the roof and go down, but the roof had recently been locked. Now he arrived at work thirty minutes early just to get up the stairs.
Mr. B had spent too long floating around and Dennis was already in his office when he arrived. “Good morning,” Mr. B said, opting not to apologize even though he was three minutes late. It would not do to seem obsequious to his own report. Especially a human one. Officially everyone had the same opportunities at Together, but it didn’t mean that they all had an equally easy time to achieve them. For one thing, wearing a business suit was, for a human being, an enviably easy thing to do.
Dennis Michael Johnathan-Smith was, fortunately, an excellent employee in his own right. He had been hired straight off of his PhD in human-creature interactions, and had immediately used his specialty with fire-breathing creatures to develop a program for humans to better deal with their high-temperature colleagues. He was only as self-important as was to be expected of a human, and had never once seemed intimidated by Mr. B’s imposing countenance. Mr. B had even overheard him explaining to another report of his, Simian that dragons had a smoke and fire bladder that was separate from their regular lungs, so they could fly without holding their breath and breathe without spewing fire. It had hurt Mr. B’s feelings that Simian had never asked him, an actual dragon, how he flew and talked at the same time, but he knew better than to hold that against Dennis.
“How is life going outside of Together?” Mr. B asked.
Dennis shrugged, “Fine. Sally and I went to see the Gnomes play the Wraiths last night. It was pretty good. Gnomes were ahead until the last inning when Johnny Acklebee scored a home run with the bases loaded. I feel like the sport would be a lot more interesting if actual gnomes and wraiths were playing against each other.”
Mr. B considered this, “wouldn’t that make balance a lot more challenging?”
Dennis’s very human eyes lit up, “I was thinking about that. You’d probably find some creatures dominating and others, perhaps humans, getting left out entirely. Would we want to have different leagues? Wraith league? Maybe just undead league in general? I don’t know.”
Mr. B nodded. “Very interesting, I’ll be interested to hear if you have more ideas. We do have intramural baseball here at Together, don’t forget. Nothing in this company is human-only. Perhaps you can take a look and see what happens here?”
Dennis admitted he hadn’t considered that, and would look into it, and Mr. B strained not to physically swell with pride. Dennis became pensive, then he said, “I don’t think that my presentation on how humans can better work with fire-breathing creatures is going well. Creatures seem thrilled, but the humans keep telling me that my suggestions are too much to expect of busy humans.”
Mr. B had seen this coming as soon as he’d read Dennis’s first draft. He just didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to discourage him while he was just starting. “Dennis, don’t talk about this outside this office, but the humans don’t want to hear what they can do differently. What they want is for you to make the twenty-first edition of ‘How to be a fire breathing creature in the workplace.’ Do you understand the difference?”
Dennis knew the difference, and adopted a hushed tone, “what do you want me to do?”
“Dennis, look at me.” Mr. B grinned, “I would have written ‘How to work with fire-breathing creatures’ ten years ago if they’d let me. It means so much more coming from a human, though. You’re going to keep getting pushback, but you have my support as long as I can give it.”
As the sun fell in the sky, Mr. B stepped out of his office. He walked up to the stairs, looked down the twenty flights, and sighed. Then he looked up, at the stairs that led to the locked roof exit. Standing at the top of those stairs, nobody else would be able to see him. Mr. B climbed up the stairs and drew in a breath, but stopped. If he destroyed the lock with steel-melting breath, everyone would know exactly who did it. Instead, he took it in one hand, crushed it, and tossed it onto the floor.
Mr. B stepped out onto the roof of the Together building. In the fading twilight, he stripped off his business suit and packed it neatly back into his briefcase. Then, he drew in one extended breath. He balanced on his growing belly, and felt his arms and legs lift up on either side of him, one fist clamped tightly around his briefcase handle. As the last sliver of sunlight disappeared over the horizon, Bumraidyss, Master of his Domain, rose up, high into the sky.