THE DRAGON OF JÁK

ANNA O’CONNELL

In the village of Ják, Father Peter was washing the soot from his hands, following Compline on the Day of Ashes. He had remained to extinguish the candles and stepped outside and over to the trough to the side of the door, where he poured water from a small pitcher over his fingers. He had a brief pang of hunger and allowed a sigh to pass through his lips, the wordless sound steaming in the frigid night. Outlined by the sliver of moonlight, the mist seemed to take on a deeper shadow. Rubbing his eyes, Father Peter blinked with a grimace as the grit worked across his face.

Before him was a fearsome creature, a serpent with a flared, horse-like nose and great rooster claws. The beast bared its teeth at Father Peter, who, still scrunching his eyes, tripped onto the stone stair of the dormitory. He clutched the lintel as the beast spoke.

“Peter. Would you like my finest food?”

“No.”

“Are you not hungry?”

Father Peter blinked again. “I am,” he replied, “but today is the Day of Ashes, and so I fast.”

“Because of your hungry thought, I will take your soul.”

Father Peter felt the mist of the night grow more chill. The faces of the saints carved into the church seemed to intimate something in their stony eyes.

“O beast, I challenge you for my soul. If after forty days I have not eaten bread, nor drank wine nor water, and can set a pillar from Rome alight to blaze through the entire night, I will walk away with my soul. In return, you must do the same. If you succeed, you may have it.”

For forty days, the beast watched Father Peter. Growing thinner by the day, the beast smugly looked on as the Father seemed to forget his vow, spotting the friar eating bread and drinking at meals. As the forty days drew to a close, Peter made no attempt to bring a pillar back from Rome. The beast flew off, weakened from its fast, and on the fortieth day, dropped a huge marble pillar into the garden, where it broke into three massive pieces. The beast rested there, triumphant.

As the day drew to a close, the monks gathered around Father Peter as he began to sing the ancient Easter Sequence, stoking the fire at the entrance of the church. The monks chanted, “Amen,” and Father Peter turned to the beast.

“Truly, I have fasted from the bread and wine of life at Holy Mass. There is no water which nourishes, but the water of life which I shall drink in Heaven. Will you now set your pillar ablaze? I now light this pillar, brought to me from Rome.” Father Peter lit the Easter candle and its light beamed through the night while the dragon huffed and wheezed to set the marble on fire to no avail. In the morning light, it disappeared with its wisps of fire, as the candle burned.