Timothy Mudie

Timothy Mudie was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, but now lives outside of Boston. He works as an editor for a trade publisher there. His short fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Spinetingler Magazine, The Worcester Review, Space Squid, This Mutant Life, State of Horror: Massachusetts, Everyday Weirdness, The Fifth Di..., and several other magazines and anthologies.

Timothy Mudie was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, but now lives outside of Boston. He works as an editor for a trade publisher there. His short fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Spinetingler Magazine, The Worcester Review, Space Squid, This Mutant Life, State of Horror: Massachusetts, Everyday Weirdness, The Fifth Di..., and several other magazines and anthologies.

A Ravenous Beast

The ramp lifted and rolled into the ship behind him as Ellsworth surveyed the planet. Unspoiled natural beauty spread across the endless horizon. The ship had let him off at a river, a few days from his intended destination, but he didn’t want anyone to know exactly where he was headed anyway. He had specifically chartered Hartwell’s ship for its lack of crew—just the captain and some AI, which wouldn’t be telling any tales out of school.

“Six weeks,” Captain Hartwell called just before the doors shunked closed. Ellsworth didn’t bother to turn around or wave. Kept his eyes on the horizon, but really he was seeing his future.

Like all prospectors—the first to discover deposits of gold, reservoirs of oil, rich veins of iridium hidden within asteroids—he came alone. For three days, he carried his heavy pack, following the river until he came to a small feeder stream. All his research on alchemium pointed to just this sort of feeder stream as a source for the substance. And when he reached the head of the stream—a small natural spring that sluiced out from under a rocky outcropping—he had only to take a plastic vial from his pack and fill it with spring water. When he poured it into the alchemium detector, the bulb on the front of the machine lit up green. He’d found it.

Any prospector worth his salt knew that intuition and ambition were nothing if not accompanied by the right set of tools, whether they be pick or shovel or microscopic robots that dwelled in your bloodstream. The nanotech residing in Ellsworth would both help him to survive in the planet’s ultra-oxygenated atmosphere and protect him from any effects of alchemium exposure. Just a few drops of the stuff in a tilapia farm and suddenly the fish were too big to fit inside the pools. A sprinkling atop overfarmed and barren soil and the land was as fertile as the Nile floodplains. Whoever was the first to exploit the substance and extract it from the planet would be a rich man indeed.

In his heart and mind, he could not wait to begin his search in earnest, could not wait to start drawing the gelatinous alchemium from the soil like blood from a vein. The rest of his body, however, wanted sleep after the three day trek from the landing site. And so Ellsworth unstrapped various equipment from his pack—shovel, rifle, hatchet—pitched his tent, spread out his bedroll, ate a small meal from his dehydrated vacuum-packed rations, washed it down with water fresh from the spring, and fell into a deep sleep.

Feeding the Dragon

I have to say, it was easier than I expected to exhume Keith. We were able to drive my parents’ station wagon right into the cemetery, parking just a few feet from the grave. The soil was still loose and we managed to frantically shovel our way through the six feet to the coffin in under an hour. I had insisted on both Eric and I wearing all black, including ski masks over our faces, but no one came by. No night watchman on patrol or even any kids looking for an out of the way place to make out or smoke pot.

There wasn’t enough room in the back of the station wagon for the casket, even with the seats down. We knew that before we got there, but I don’t think what it meant had really registered for either of us until we were in the hole, crouched over the casket and holding
crowbars.

Eric turned his gaze from the coffin to me. “I don’t want to do this, Ian,” he said, his voice quavering.

“Me neither,” I said, but I wedged the crowbar under the lid and leaned on it. After a second, Eric did too. We bounced up and down, jimmying the lid until the wood shattered and it sprung open. And there was Keith.

I started to dry heave and Eric turned away, audibly hyperventilating. Somehow we communicated enough to grab hold of Keith—me under his armpits, Eric by his ankles—and carefully lift him above our heads to the grass. We closed the casket and climbed back out, then placed Keith in the back of the car, covered him with a white sheet and two army blankets, and hastily shoveled the soil back into the hole. All the while, we wore the ski masks, and by the time we were finished they were crusty with dirt and sweat. When we got into the car, the stench caused me to dry heave again. I hoped it was Eric and I and not Keith. He couldn’t be decomposing already. Would the dragon even want to eat him if he was so clearly dead?

I drove for the first leg of the trip, until we got far enough away from the cemetery that we weren’t worried that we were being followed. At a truck stop three hours west, somewhere in western Massachusetts, we finally stopped to shower. Neither of us had spoken a word the entire time.