Stegosaurus vs. Tyrannosaurus

by Timothy Mudie

Albert’s favorite dinosaur was the tyrannosaurus rex, but David’s was the stegosaurus and he was too stubborn to be persuaded otherwise.

“It’s a plant-eater,” Albert said. “There’s no way a plant-eater can be cooler than a meat-eater. There’s no way.”

David’s family were themselves vegetarians, so he took some offense to this claim. “Yes way. It’s totally covered in spikes!”

“A tyrannosaurus could still eat it. I know it.”

It was a conversation the boys had had before, on the bus to and from school, at recess, at lunch, playing in one or the other’s backyard or riding bikes up and down their dead end street. Each boy’s position was long entrenched, since their earliest exposure to dinosaurs when they were still too young for school, before Albert moved in three houses down from David the previous summer.

“If a tyrannosaurus tried to eat a stegosaurus, it would just hit it with its tail. Anyway, you can’t know it,” David told him, “All the dinosaurs are extinct.”

This particular argument occurred after school on a Tuesday as the boys played air hockey on the machine David’s dad had put in their basement. They practically had to shout to be heard over the hum of its motor. If the boys were inside, they could be found in that basement, either playing air hockey or a board game or with David’s toys, or watching something on the TV. The walls were covered with pennants for various sports teams—mostly from Chicago—and framed posters for old movies. It was David’s favorite part of his house, even better than his room. They rarely played at Albert’s house, and when they did it was made clear that the basement was strictly off limits since it was Albert’s dad’s office. David didn’t know what he did—his own father was a heart doctor—just that it was kept closed by a big red combination lock and he had never so much as seen the door open.

“You can’t know that a stegosaurus would beat a t-rex then either,” Albert said as he hit the air hockey puck so hard that it popped off the table and went skittering across the linoleum floor and under one of two big plush recliners David’s dad had lugged down.

David rolled his eyes and got down on his hands and knees to find the puck. “I read it in a book,” he said. He got the puck and went back to the game, dragging the puck slowly back and forth before suddenly darting his hand out and smacking it towards Albert’s goal.

“So what? Dinosaurs were extinct before there were books.” The puck zipped past Albert’s hand and into the goal. David was winning by ten points.

“If I win, you have to say that stegosauruses are the best dinosaur,” David said.

“That’s no fair. You always win.”

And sure enough, David won. “Say it,” he prodded his friend. “Say stegosauruses are the best.”

“They’re not,” Albert said sullenly. “I’m not going to say it.” His face was scrunching up in the way David knew meant he was starting to get mad.

“You have to.”

Ever since the boys had met, Albert had wanted to tell David about his father’s office in the basement. He wanted to tell him so he could win arguments and he wanted to tell him so he could impress him and he wanted to tell him because he just wanted to tell somebody even though he knew it was wrong. And he couldn’t hold it in any longer. He blurted, “T-rexes are the best and I can prove it! I have one in my basement.”

“A t-rex can’t fit in your basement,” David asserted. “Maybe a baby.” He idly slid the puck back and forth across the humming table.

“It’s not…” Albert trailed off. He knew he wasn’t supposed to go in the basement by himself, especially not supposed to show any friends. But he’d gone with his dad a bunch of times and even snuck in himself when his dad was at work. They could just zip in and zip out. No one would even know. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll show you.”

He tromped up the stairs without looking back. Halfway up, he heard David scampering behind him and smiled. It felt good to be in charge, to know something his friend didn’t.

With David at his heels, Albert strode purposefully outside, down the street, through his front door, and straight to the door leading to the basement. His mother was out grocery shopping and his father was at work. For a second, his hand poised above the numbered wheel on the front of the lock, he reconsidered what he was doing. But it was too late to go back. David would call him a liar and say he was a baby for thinking there was a tyrannosaurus in the basement. If he didn’t show David what was down there, he would never be able to win an argument ever again. He spun the wheel to the same numbers he’d seen his father do, and the lock clicked open. He pulled the door open and began creeping down the uneven wooden stairs, David hot on his heels.

“See,” David said the moment they reached the bottom, “There’s no tyrannosaurus. I told you.” The floor and walls of the basement were sheer concrete, and there were no decorations or anything like David’s father had set up in their basement. But along one wall there were a bunch of computers and other electronic equipment.

“Wait a minute,” Albert said. Now would be a real moment of truth. He’d seen his dad work his machine before, and he’d paid close attention, but he’d never used it himself. Teeth clenched in concentration, Albert tapped on the main computer, pulled levers, turned dials. A single clank emitted from the machine and for a heart-stopping moment, he was sure he’d broken it. Then it began humming, quietly at first, but building quickly to the volume of the air hockey table and moving right past it.

The air in front of the machine appeared to shimmer, like the boys were looking through water. Slowly, an image took shape within the shimmering, solidifying until it was like they were looking through a glass door hanging in the center of the room. And through that door was a forest clearing, tall green and brown grasses surrounded by thick-trunked trees that were so tall David couldn’t see the tops of them. He took a step backward and bumped his calf on the steps.

“Come on,” Albert said, standing in front of the door. “Are you scared?”

“No.” David took exactly one step forward and stopped. “You go first.”

“Fine,” Albert shrugged, and he stepped through the door as if it was no big deal. Once through, he looked to his right, then to his left, and a grin spread across his face. “Come on,” he called. “There’s one right over here!” Suddenly, he walked out of view.

“Albert!” David called, panicked. When Albert didn’t return, David took three deep puffing breaths, and walked through the door.

The basement had been cool and dry, but the moment he was through the door, the air turned hot and sticky. Beads of sweat popped up on his forehead. A warm wind stirred the grasses, which reached almost to his waist. He looked behind him and saw the basement, still there. He could just turn around and walk back through. But if Albert could come to this place and not be scared, then he wouldn’t be either. Whatever the place was, there still couldn’t be a tyrannosaurus. They were extinct.

He turned left and saw Albert crouching, his head just poking above the grass. His back was to David, and he was peering around a gnarled tree trunk with snaky green vines hanging down it. As David moved to stand behind him, Albert heard him rustling through the grass and turned around. “Come check this out,” he said, “But be quiet.”

David crept over and peered around the trunk, putting his hand on a vine to steady himself. It felt real, at least—fleshy with some sort of sticky sap covering it. As he looked around the tree, the thing Albert had been looking at came into his line of sight and David almost fainted. His eyes rolled back, but he tightened his grip on the vine and held himself up. But Albert couldn’t have blamed him if he did faint. Because there, standing in another clearing no more than ten feet in front of him, was a stegosaurus. A real live stegosaurus.

It was calmly munching on the tall grass, dipping its small pointed head for bites and lifting it while it chewed. Its stomach was white and drooped down into the grass, which was the same color as the rest of its body except for the along its back and the spikes on the tip of its tail, which were dark, almost black. It didn’t seem to notice the boys.

“What’s going on?” he asked Albert. “Where are we?”

“I don’t know,” Albert said. “Dinosaur times.”

“How?”

“My dad made a machine. It’s for his work.”

“You said there was a t-rex.”

Albert looked around. “There is a lot of the time. My dad says it lives here and the other dinosaurs it eats are just passing through.” He shrugged. “I don’t see it now, though.”

David couldn’t believe how casual Albert was acting; even if he was just trying to seem tough, he was doing a good job of it. Unless the whole thing was fake. That made more sense. They couldn’t really be millions of years in the past.

“Is it like, virtual reality?” he asked. “This isn’t real.”

“Yes it is,” Albert assured him. “My dad said so. That’s why I’m not supposed to come in alone. Even when he’s here, he makes me stay right next to the door.”

“It’s all holograms and stuff,” David said, stepping around the tree and toward the rear of the stegosaurus. “See?” The stegosaurus paid him no mind as he approached its flank, reaching out his hand. His hand would just pass right through it, maybe it would make the whole world click off and he would realize they’d been in the basement the whole time. His fingertips inched closer. But they didn’t pass through. First his fingers and then his whole hand was placed up against the dinosaur.

The stegosaurus skin was dry and smooth. It reminded him of the boa constrictor that a zookeeper had brought to show their class a few months before.

Grunting, the stegosaurus turned to see what was touching it. It gave an idle flick of its tail, like a cow brushing off a fly. But gentle for a stegosaurus still sent David crashing to the ground, the spikes from the dinosaur’s tail ripping his shirt off and leaving a long shallow gash along his stomach. He clutched it, groaning, and his fingers came away covered in blood.

Albert ran to him, clutching at his arm and trying to lift him, asking over and over if David was ok. Just as David got to his feet, branches started breaking in the trees in front of the stegosaurus. And then they heard the roar.

The boys’ insides rattled as the tyrannosaurus burst roaring from the forest, making straight for the stegosaurus. Time seemed to slow for the boys as the carnivore approached. Albert noticed that it was the same tyrannosaurus he and his father had seen, grayish-green with white stripes stretching from its pale belly to its back. From the moment it appeared, he could smell it. It smelled like rotten meat and eggs. David looked like he was going to throw up or maybe pass out.

The stegosaurus stomped its feet and backed up, knocking the boys over. Albert had to roll to avoid being stepped on. He scrambled to his feet and grabbed David’s hand, dragging him out of the way and toward the door. He tripped and fell. When he looked back he saw the tyrannosaurus standing warily in front of the stegosaurus, which had twisted so that it faced the t-rex and still could dangle its tail menacingly in front of the carnivore’s snout. The t-rex lunged and the stegosaurus whipped its tail at it, the spikes gouging its face. Blood dripped from its mouth, coloring the tall grass red.

The tyrannosaurus roared again, so loud it made Albert’s eyes hurt. David stared slack-jawed as the dinosaurs battled, circling each other like boxers, each waiting for the right time to make a move. It was scary, but beautiful too. Even though he’d known it was impossible, he had always wished that one day he could see a real live dinosaur. Here were two right in front of him, practically putting on a show.

“Come on,” Albert hissed, tugging at his friend’s hand.

“The stegosaurus is going to win,” David whispered. “Look.”

It looked like he might be right. The tyrannosaurus was backing away. But it wasn’t looking toward the forest, or even at the stegosaurus. Slowly, it turned a cold eye on the boys. Growling low in its throat, it stalked toward them.

“Run!” Albert yelled, grasping David’s hand harder and running for the door. The t-rex’s stomping footsteps grew louder behind them and the smell of meat grew stronger, but Albert didn’t dare look back. It was only a couple dozen feet to the door. Time seemed to slow down as they approached, until finally Albert leapt back into the basement, David tumbling in behind him.

The boys lay on their stomachs on the cool concrete, panting and shaking. David was the first to roll over. The moment he did so, he screamed. The tyrannosaurus was standing at the doorway, tentatively sniffing the portal between its home and the boys.

Albert scrambled to the controls, but it was too late. Lowering its head, the t-rex stepped through the door and into the basement. Unfortunately for it, the basement ceiling wasn’t high enough for it to get all the way in and stand up. Its legs were severely bent as it shuffled into the room, its thick tongue lolling toward David. As Albert frenziedly stabbed at the computers and buttons, the t-rex tried to stand, its head bumping the ceiling and causing the floorboards above to creak then snap. Dust and woodchips rained down. The t-rex roared, but before it could finish it began making a harsh rasping sound that David thought sounded like coughing. Crashing sounds came from above them as walls began to cave in. As debris crashed around it, the t-rex shook its head in confusion and continued its wracking cough. It stopped trying to stand and slumped onto the floor like a tired dog. A rush of sadness washed over David, but he knew there was nothing he could do for the dinosaur.

“We have to get out of here!” he shouted at Albert, who in his panic seemed to be just trying things at random in an attempt to close the doorway. David reached the bottom of the stairs and shouted for Albert again, finally getting his friend’s attention. The two rushed upstairs and straight out of the house, getting onto the lawn moments before the whole thing collapsed behind them, sending up a huge cloud of dirt.

The boys were sitting on the lawn, holding each other and crying, when David’s mother got there, followed soon after by fire trucks, police cruisers, an ambulance, and Albert’s parents. The boys were looked at by paramedics and let go. Minutes after Albert’s father arrived, big black vans swarmed the yard, surrounding the rubble that had been Albert’s house. They put up yellow caution tape and a big blue plastic tarp around the whole yard.

As David tried to explain what had happened to his disbelieving parents, Albert and his family quietly slipped into their station wagon and drove off. David never saw Albert again.

It took more than a month to clear up the rubble, with dump trucks and black vans coming and going at all hours. David sometimes rode his bike past, but never saw the tyrannosaurus or anything else that indicated there had been dinosaurs in the basement. After a year, a new house was built and a new family moved in, but their kids were still just babies.

Eventually, David outgrew dinosaurs, getting interested instead in cars and girls and music. He never told anyone about the time he had seen a tyrannosaurus fight a stegosaurus, or about his friend Albert. When anyone asked about the scar that stretched across his stomach, he just told them it was from an accident he had as a kid.

The End