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

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.

When Keith died, he had one very unique and difficult request, but since he was like a brother to us, we never really questioned whether we would do it. He died unexpectedly, so it wasn’t like he wrote it in his will or anything—he was seventeen; he didn’t even have a will—but we’d talked about our funerals before. I remember one time in particular, the three of us sitting around the playground of our old elementary school on a Friday night because there was nothing else to do, eating fast food burgers, wishing we knew someone old enough to buy us beer, and listening to Irish music on the radio of my parents’ station wagon. A punk cover of “Finnegan’s Wake” came on and we all agreed that the Irish know how to celebrate the dead.

“That’s what I want when I die,” Eric said. “Don’t even bother with a funeral. Just throw a party and dump my body somewhere. I don’t even care.”

“In lieu of flowers,” I said, “please send whiskey.” I was sitting next to him on the swings, my feet dragging back and forth in the gravel. Keith sat on the bottom of a corkscrewing plastic slide a few feet away.

That’s when Keith spoke up and said what would lead the two of us who outlived him on what can only be called an adventure, childish as it makes me feel to use that word. “When I die, I want to be fed to a dragon.”

For a long moment no one spoke. The Pogues started playing “Streams of Whiskey.” Finally, Eric asked, “Any particular dragon you were thinking of? Also, for god’s sake, why?”

“No specific dragon,” Keith told us. “Just so long as it eats my body. Then I’ll be part of a dragon forever.”

And he did mean forever. Ever since I’d known him, Keith had been obsessed with dragons and wanted to study them when he grew up. He read pretty much everything that’s ever been written about them, every scientific paper, every history of their interactions with humans. And not just the real, factual stuff. I never knew Keith to be a church-goer or to believe in angels or even an afterlife, but he believed every out there and mystical theory about dragons anyone had ever advanced. Considering how hard it is to study dragons, maybe the crackpots were right. Maybe if a dragon ate a person, it would absorb his memories, his personality, mixing it with those of all the other people and cattle and who knows what else it had eaten over its centuries-long life.

“Well this is grim,” Eric blurted, pushing back off the ground and sending his swing into the air. “Anyway,” he said, “What do you guys think about the Sox signing Gonzalez?”

One month later, Keith went in to the hospital with a bad stomach ache after putting off going for three full days. His appendix burst in the waiting room and he was dead by the time the doctors got him to the operating table.

Keith and Eric and I had been friends for as long as I can remember, meeting at preschool and bonding over Transformers and Ghostbusters and Ninja Turtles. But that bonding actually started as a fight, me and Eric unable to share a cheap plastic toy, the Ghostbusters’ car. Keith, even though he was the same age as us, came in and broke up our tussling like a teacher or older brother. And that was that. Keith was the pebble that our friendship snowballed around until we had such a massive and shared history we may as well have been related by blood.

In elementary school we never had much choice where we’d go, but it seemed we ended up at Keith’s more often than not. Even once we could drive, we would go to his parents’ house.

I don’t remember ever fighting with Keith, not even arguing. Sometimes, I would get moods, but he seemed able to tell and knew what to do, whether it was just to leave me alone or to try and talk to me about some innocuous sitcom or movie that was like comfort food to me.

Eric couldn’t always tell. One time—we must have been about ten years old—the three of us were playing in the snow at Keith’s house. Eric whitewashed me over and over and I couldn’t seem to do anything to fight back. Finally I shoved him too hard and ran into the house, sprinting up to Keith’s room without even taking off my coat or boots, leaving a trail of melting slush.

Keith came into the room while I lay face down on his bed, trying to force myself not to cry. I heard him come in, but didn’t look up until I felt him sit down beside me.

“This is an Australian Spinetail,” he said, holding up a small figurine of a dragon. It was sand-brown and sinewy, with a long whiplike tail that was covered in what looked like razor-sharp spikes. I sat up and wiped my nose on my sleeve, but it was wet too and didn’t do anything.

“It’s the smallest species of dragon in the world, but it’s also the most vicious. They say that when the British landed in Australia, they didn’t see any aborigines along the whole west coast. And it was ’cause these were there. No people would even think about messing with them or trying to move into their territory.”

I sniffed long and hard. “What about now?”

Keith handed me the figurine. “There are still more of them than any other kind, and they’re the only species that actually mates and lays eggs instead of just having babies by themselves, but there aren’t as many as there were, obviously. Same as it is everywhere. Once there’s too many people, the dragons get killed.” He smiled widely, “But according to this book my mom got me, they still kill a couple dozen people a year.”

I don’t know why, but that made me feel better. Keith was like that. He could always be counted on for a fun fact about some dragon species or another. I wish I remembered them all.

I suppose it’s to help us feel closer to the deceased, but it doesn’t make much sense to me to mourn someone while you enjoy their favorite things. When my grandfather died, we had the reception after the funeral catered by his favorite restaurant, even though no one else in our family thought it was particularly good. We did the same thing when Keith died. With his parents’ permission, Eric and I put the Australian Spinetail figurine in the coffin. One of the floral arrangements was in the shape of a dragon, blood red carnations like fire spurting out of a mouth made of white lilies. A line drawing was etched into the cover of his casket, the last thing we saw before he was buried. The constellation draco, the dragon, a little trapezoid for the head and the line of its body snaking away. Keith had pointed it out to Eric and I plenty of times, and it’s still the only constellation I can pick out in the night sky.

I couldn’t tell you much else about that day, nor could I tell you any specifics of what we talked about with Keith’s parents and sisters. What do you tell someone when their son dies? What do you tell someone when their best friend dies?

Keith’s funeral and burial were on a Tuesday. That night, Eric and I again sat on the swings at our old elementary school. We had tried to buy whiskey so we could drink to our dead friend, but Eric’s bluster hadn’t worked. I sipped a chocolate milkshake through a straw in silence.

We must have been there for almost an hour, neither of us saying anything, when Eric abruptly turned to me and said, “You know, we’re going to have to do it.”

I didn’t answer, pretending I didn’t know what he was talking about, but of course I did.

“We should do it soon,” he said. “Before he starts decomposing. I can’t imagine any dragon would like that.” He scuffed his sneakers on the gravel. “And what about the embalming fluid and stuff? Will a dragon even want to eat him? Assuming we can get past the park rangers in the first place.” He sighed. “This might be harder than we thought.”

I hadn’t thought about it at all, though. I remembered Keith’s request, but I couldn’t bring myself to actually contemplate doing it. As if, if Keith was just buried, still all in one piece, maybe there was some chance he’d come back.

It was ten o’clock. My parents would be expecting me home at midnight. There was no way I could tell them what we wanted to do. I couldn’t call them up and say, “Hey Mom and Dad, sorry, but I’m going to be late tonight. I need to dig up Keith’s body and drive to upstate to New York so we can feed him to the dragon there. Oh, and can I borrow your car?” We would have to dig up Keith, drive to the wildlife preserve in the Adirondacks, carry his body to a spot where the dragon could find it, make sure he got eaten, and then drive back. There was no way we could do it without our parents knowing we’d gone.

I looked up at the sky. The night was clear and I could see all the stars spread across it like a kid’s scattered toys.

“Okay,” I said.

In first grade, Keith won an award for knowing so much about dragons. For whatever reason, we spent a whole month learning about them. Dragons and dinosaurs—things kids actually want to learn about and since teachers can classify it as teaching science, it seems that everyone learns about them at some point. It should have been an easy month for our teacher, Mrs. Swift, but Keith was more than she bargained for.

“All the dragons in Europe went extinct due to hunting and loss of habitat by about 1000 A.D.,” she would say.

And Keith would chime in, raising his hand and saying, “Mrs. Swift, there was a dragon in northern Scandinavia until 1500. And some people think there might be small ones living in caves in France and Germany still.”

“As far as we know, there isn’t any real evidence that if a dragon eats someone, that person’s memories and consciousness becomes part of the dragon.”

I would still be trying to wrap my head around what “consciousness” meant, when Keith would again pipe up. “But what about their decorations? How come dragons arrange skeletons and things in ways that look like art if there aren’t peoples’ minds inside them?”

I bet there’s one in every school.

He tried to convince Mrs. Swift to bring us on a field trip to see a dragon, but considering it would have had to be an overnight trip—the closest dragon being the one in New York—that was a no-go. It wasn’t until he was thirteen that Keith finally saw his first dragon in the flesh.

“Oh my God, guys, you wouldn’t believe it,” he said upon returning from the trip he and his family took to Texas. “It’s so huge. Even from so far away, I barely even needed binoculars.”

He held a dented and dirty copy of the Peterson Field Guide to Dragons of the Americas. He flipped to the page with the picture of the Texas dragon, displayed in various poses: wings outstretched; in profile, showing its two ridges of thick plates running along its spine; a close up of its gaping jaws.

No one knew how old the dragon in Texas was, just that it had been there when the first settlers arrived and had previously lived in relative harmony with the native tribes for as long as they could recall. After the settlers arrived from the east, it survived any number of attempts to kill it before dragons were finally declared protected in 1886, and its territory had been protected land ever since. Considering all the European dragons had been killed hundreds of years before anyone even set sail for the Americas, it may have been the oldest dragon in the world. I didn’t think about it at the time, but on our trip to feed Keith to the New York dragon, I wondered how many people the Texas one had eaten, how many memories and minds it had bouncing around in its scaly head.

“It’s so beautiful,” he said. “It’s like so white that in the desert with all the sun it practically glows.” He flipped to the back of the field guide, where there was a list of all eighteen dragons in the Americas, with boxes next to each one so you could check off all the ones you’d seen. Keith held out that page to us. There was a big X next to the Texas dragon. Five more were circled. “I want to go see those ones next,” he said. “My dad said maybe we can go for a weekend this summer and see the New York dragon.”

During the reception at his parents’ house after the funeral, Eric and I went to his bedroom and found the field guide. Keith had marked an X next to the dragons in Texas, Newfoundland, and Florida. The box next to the New York dragon was circled, but unmarked. We brought the book with us, along with Keith’s binoculars. It would be the first dragon Eric or I had seen in person, and in a way, we would be seeing it with Keith.

The town of Maple Lake, New York seemed to exist solely for dragon-viewing tourists. When Eric and I rolled into Main Street just before six in the morning, there were only a few people about, opening shops and diners. At the end of Main Street was a market, and then after that was the road to the dragon preserve. Even though the sun was barely up, it was bright and cloudless, and was obviously going to be a hot day.

We pulled into the market’s small parking lot and saw that it wouldn’t be open until seven, about fifteen minutes. As Eric walked behind the building to pee, I called my parents on my cell phone. I had missed forty-seven calls from them.

My mother picked up about halfway through the first ring. “Ian? Is it you? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Mom,” I said. “I’m sorry I scared you.”

“What’s wrong? Where are you? Is Eric with you?” In the background I heard my father asking, “Does he need the police?”

“I’m fine, Mom,” I repeated. “Nothing is wrong, but I can’t tell you where I am right now. Eric and I had to do something. A last request for Keith.”

She was silent then. “What are you going to do?”

“I can’t tell you, Mom, but I promise it’s nothing bad. It’s what Keith wanted.”

She must have put her hand over the phone. I heard muffled conversation, but couldn’t make anything out. Finally, she came back and said, “You know that you technically stole the car, right?”

“I’ll fill up the tank,” I said. “And get it washed. I’ll be home by tonight.”

I told my parents I loved them, assured them again that everything was fine, and hung up. Eric was just getting back.

“Your parents pissed?” he asked.

“Not as bad as I thought they’d be,” I answered. “You call yours?”

He shook his head. “I’m going to wait till this is all over. I’d rather deal with one thing at a time.”

We watched the front of the market, looking for signs it was opening.

“Remember when Keith came back from Texas?” Eric asked. “The look on his face?”

I smiled. “He was like a kid on Christmas.”

“My grandmother used to get that look when she was in church. Kid was crazy.”

It got quiet again. After a long minute, I said, “We’re good friends, right?”

“Absolutely,” Eric answered. “More. We’re brothers, the three of us.”

“This is the right thing to do,” I said.

Eric nodded.

A man wearing an apron over jeans and a black t-shirt pushed open the door, leaned outside, and flipped a sign from “closed” to “open.” We went in to buy the meat.

The field guide had warned that dragons are attracted by scent, so dragon watchers trying to avoid detection should douse themselves in unnatural scents to keep from smelling like food. For Keith, already smelling unnatural due to the embalming fluid, we would need to entice the dragon somehow. Raw meat seemed a good way to do it.

At the market, we filled a cart with the cheapest meat we could find, tossing in pound after pound of beef, pork, and chicken. We were the only customers in the store.

“Should we get a cooler?” I asked Eric.

“I don’t think we’ll need one,” he said. “We shouldn’t have this for too long.”

As I pushed the cart toward the registers at the front of the small store, I happened to glance out at our car. Parked next to it was a park ranger’s cruiser, brown and green with a light on top like a police car. I couldn’t tell if someone was in it or not. Had our parents figured out our plan and called? The ranger was parked directly next to us, just feet from a corpse we had stolen from a graveyard that was hidden only by a couple army blankets. My heart leapt into my throat as my guts dropped to my shoes. I took a deep breath and walked steadily to the register.

We loaded the meat onto the conveyor and watched as the teenage girl cashier blankly scanned each item.

A low whistle came from behind me. “Damn, my man, that’s a hell of a lot of meat.”

I turned around slowly, calmly, even though I knew just what I’d see. And sure enough, it was the park ranger, looking very official and intimidating in his green and khaki uniform, wearing a green hat. He wasn’t very old, probably just out of college. He smiled, but whether it was meant to be friendly or not I couldn’t tell, I was too nervous.

“What’s all that for?” he asked.

“Barbeque,” Eric answered.

“Mmm, I’m jealous. You mind me asking where at? It’s just I don’t recognize you guys is all.”

“We’re going camping,” Eric said. “A few miles from here.”

The ranger nodded. “That’s going to be one meaty barbeque. No potato salad? Hamburger rolls? Hell, not even some ketchup?”

“Friends are bringing those,” Eric said. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

He nodded slowly, like he was really thinking it over. “Well, that may be true,” he said. “But, see, I work up at the reserve, and if you’re buying all that meat with the intention of feeding the dragon, then it is my business.”

“Why the hell would we want to do that?” Eric asked.

He shrugged. “Oh, you know. People want to attract it, get up extra close. We get a few crazies every year. Honestly, though? You don’t want to bring this guy anywhere near you, unless you’re looking to get yourself eaten.”

Neither Eric nor I spoke. I paid the cashier and helped her bag the meat. I picked up all the bags at once, the weight making the plastic handles dig into my fingers.

“Ready?” I asked Eric. “We don’t want to keep the guys waiting.”

Eric nodded. “You have a good day, Mr. Ranger,” he said as he passed me, heading for the door. We reached the car, threw the bags into the back, and drove away before we’d gotten our seatbelts on, Eric behind the wheel.

As we pulled out the lot, I saw the ranger watching us and striding very purposefully across the parking lot.

“Come on, come on, come on,” Eric repeated, tugging Keith’s blanket-wrapped body up the slope, one arm looped around the upper part of his body and the other hand holding bags of meat. On the lower half, I was doing the same thing, struggling to keep up.

We weren’t following any trail, just crashing through the woods to where we hoped would be a good vantage point for attracting the dragon. And we had just stepped across a rocky clearing, where the break in the trees let us see down into the parking lot where we had left the car. Once again, right next to it was the ranger’s cruiser. And if he knew we were trying to feed the dragon, then he could guess where we were headed.

Eric trailed off in a gasp, leaving only the sounds of chirping birds and buzzing cicadas. Branches scratched my face and tore at my clothes and the bags and blankets. I was sweating bullets, but my mouth was bone dry. My shoulders and back ached. Judging by the look on his face, Eric was in the same boat.

After about ten more minutes of frantic scrambling through the underbrush we reached the cliff. Eric had read about it online, on a website giving advice for people trying to get illegally close to dragons. The cliff jutted out from the forest, looking out over the valley below and the other mountains dotting the horizon. All the pine covered slopes looked the same to me, but Eric pointed out the dragon’s cave. There was only one way to find out if we were close enough to get its attention.

We unwrapped Keith from the blankets and placed him near the edge of the cliff. Both of us beginning to retch, we pulled the warm meat from its styrofoam containers and covered Keith with it, first his torso, then his limbs, and finally we covered his lidded eyes and beatific half smile with two handfuls of ground beef and a skirt steak.

With Keith’s body prepared, we sat back along the tree line to wait, me repeatedly spitting to try to clear my mouth of the bile. I could only hope that the dragon would arrive before the ranger.

Blood ran between my fingers and down my arms. We didn’t have to wait long.

The ranger beat the dragon there by about two minutes. As Eric and I sat, catching our breath and looking out at the dragon’s mountain, me trying to will it to appear, the ranger burst through the trees and onto the cliff behind us.

“God damn it, guys,” he said. “This is so not safe. We need to get you out of here now.”

We turned to face him just as he noticed that our pile of meat was in the outline of a human, that it was covering a body. “Jesus!” He pulled his gun from his holster, but kept it pointed at the ground. It didn’t look like he had had a lot of experience with it.

“What’s going on?” he asked. “What is this?”

“Hey, come on,” Eric said. “It’s cool. Be cool.”

The ranger looked from Eric to me to Keith and back. “You guys are under arrest. We need to clean this up immediately and get out of here before the dragon smells it. If you try anything, I will shoot you.”

I raised my hands in front of me. “Please,” I said. “This is our friend.”

“Yeah, you guys look like real pals.”

“He… he died.” My voice caught in my throat. I told myself that the pressure in my eyes was from the stress, from the pain in my back and the heat. “This is our friend Keith. He loved dragons, and he died. This is his last request.”

The gun dropped a couple inches, as if he had forgotten he was holding it. “He wanted to be fed to a dragon? God, why?” Then it hit him. “He thinks he’ll be absorbed by it, doesn’t he? That he’ll have his memories in the dragon forever?” When I didn’t answer he shook his head. “That’s not true, man. That’s just a… a myth. It’s not magic. It’s an animal.”

“It’s a dragon,” Eric said.

“No,” the ranger said. “We need to get out of here right now. Get your friend, leave the meat, and let’s go.”

I heard a massive shush, the sound of air being displaced by the steady flaps of huge leathery wings. We all turned to see the dragon rising from below the cliff, slowly exposing itself to view like a surfacing submarine.

“Move,” the ranger called. “Get out of there. Into the trees.”

I couldn’t look away, but I heard Eric behind me, kicking up pebbles as he jumped to his feet and ran into the trees.

“Ian!” he hissed. “Come on.”

Without standing—my legs felt limp all of a sudden—I slid until my back pressed against a tree trunk. Eric and the ranger urged me back further, but I was frozen. And then the dragon landed on the cliff on its hind legs, wings splayed out to steady it. Combined, the wings were even larger than its body, thin but tough skin hanging from curved hollow bones that sprouted from its shoulders. Each one was tipped with a yellowed hooked claw. Though the wings were leathery, the rest of its body was covered in large round scales. It was a good thirty feet long from nose to tail. If it was hungry, it could easily fit Keith and me in its stomach, with room for Eric and the ranger as dessert.

As I’d learned from Keith, dragons tend to be colored so they can blend in with their surroundings. Being the sort that lives in a mountain forest, the New York dragon was a mix of green and brown and gray. The scales were iridescent, seeming to shift between all three colors at once. It wasn’t something a person would notice from further away. Maybe a handful of people in the whole world had ever seen it.

The dragon folded its wings and dropped to all fours, stretching its long sinewy neck toward Keith. It made a chuffing sound that I assumed was a sniff. It looked up at me, then back to Keith as it reared its head. A low rumble came from its throat and suddenly a puff of flame burst from its mouth, charring the meat heaped on Keith’s body. A quick blast of heat hit me. I heard crinkling and smelled scorched hair. When I touched my face, I realized my eyebrows had burned off.

I shifted slightly to my left, hoping to get amongst the trees, but the instant I moved the dragon dropped its head and glared at me, freezing me in my tracks. From behind me, I heard Eric and the ranger breathing heavily. I could picture them, watching, hoping to help but ready to sprint off if they needed to.

As I sat paralyzed, the dragon lowered its head and carefully, almost daintily, closed its jaws around Keith’s body. It lifted him up, tilted its head back, and swallowed him whole like a seagull with a fish. And just like that Keith was gone.

Cuts of meat rained from the dragon’s jaws, plopping on the ground in front of me with a squish. One of Keith’s shiny black shoes followed. It bounced off the rock and landed a foot to my right, and I instinctively picked it up. Unfortunately, that caught the dragon’s attention and it whipped its head down until it was so close I could feel the heat coming off its body and its breath ruffled my hair. Its jaws cracked open. My stomach and throat tightened until I felt like I both couldn’t breathe and was about to vomit. It stared into my eyes and I stared back. They were disconcertingly human, intelligent eyes, with large whites around the outside and dark black pupils surrounded by deep watery blue. At that moment, I was certain that I would shortly be following Keith down the dragon’s throat. I wondered if we would recognize each other inside the dragon’s mind.

Then, after what seemed like hours but was in reality just a few seconds, the dragon snapped its jaws shut with a loud clack. It raised its head and turned around, perching on the edge of the cliff. Just before it took off, it turned back and looked at me one last time. It unfurled its wings, and with a massive flap stepped off the cliff and into the air. I realized I had been holding my breath and slowly exhaled. As the dragon languidly flew toward its cave, I passed out. When I came to a few minutes later, the ranger had me in fireman’s carry as he picked his way along the trail. His breath was coming ragged, sweat was pouring off his forehead, and he seemed not far from passing out himself. I got off his shoulders, and the three of us supported each other all the way down the mountain.

When we reached the bottom, the ranger didn’t speak. He just stared at us for a long minute before getting in his car and driving away.

I was initially grounded for the entirety of my senior year, though good behavior got my parents to relent after a few months. Still, though I was allowed to go out on weekends and to play video games, my car privileges were revoked. There was no discussion on that.

A year later, still no one else had figured out that Keith was missing from his grave. Eric and I had apparently reburied the casket convincingly.

I think we had both hoped that honoring Keith’s final wish would help us get past his death, but it didn’t really. At one point on the drive home, I thought Eric was sleeping, so I turned the radio off and realized he was crying very softly, though I couldn’t tell if it was in his sleep or not. I turned the radio back on to cover the sound. When I was finally allowed to stay at Eric’s house overnight again, we spent the whole night reminiscing about when we had had sleepovers of all three of us. I wasn’t able to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time that night, and every time I woke Eric was also awake.

On the one year anniversary of when we gave Keith to the dragon, Eric and I borrowed his parents car—with permission. We left on a Thursday and drove through the night, getting to the same parking lot we’d started up the mountain from early Friday morning. The lot was empty.

It was cooler that morning than it had been the year before. Dew still clung to the grass and dripped off leaves. The ranger and his cruiser were nowhere to be seen.

We hadn’t brought any meat this time, but we did bring Keith’s binoculars. We sat cross-legged on the rocky ground where we had laid him out a year earlier.

I scanned the dragon’s mountain without the binoculars, but I couldn’t see the dragon anywhere. I didn’t see it when I looked with the binoculars either, but as my view passed by a large cave that had to be the dragon’s lair, I noticed something white standing out from the darker grays and browns. I squinted, wishing the binoculars were stronger, but they were strong enough for me to make out what it was. Arranged in front of the cave’s entrance was a complete human skeleton, put together as perfectly as if it were standing in a science classroom. Except instead of its arms hanging by its side, the skeleton’s right hand was raised in a wave. And I know I was far away and looking through binoculars, and that all skulls supposedly look the same, but I swear that Keith was smiling.

Born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, Timothy Mudie now lives outside of Boston, where he works as an assistant editor at a publishing house. His fiction has either been published or is forthcoming in Spinetingler, Space Squid, The Worcester Review, The Fifth Di…, This Mutant Life, State of Horror: Massachusetts, and several other magazines and anthologies.

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