The walls were shaking from the thunder. The low rumble was scary to George. He hated thunder. His mother used to read him his favorite story in moments like these. When it thundered, he would remember the one about dinosaurs, one of the same stories that his grandpa used to read to his mother as a child. According to his mother, Grandpa always waited until it was stormy outside to break out the dinosaur book. The smell of musty old books followed Grandpa everywhere. He was an avid reader. The infamous dinosaur book was now falling apart, binding broken, ripped pages. Despite that, it was still everyone’s favorite.
“Grandpa is coming tomorrow, George. Aren’t you happy?” Mom asked.
“Grandpa is a little strange, Mom.”
“I know he is, but he is your grandpa, and nothing changes that.”
“I guess so. He tells some amazing stories, but he has never told me the dinosaur story. I only know about the famous dinosaur story because of you. How can he know I love dinosaurs but won’t even say the word dinosaur around me?”
“He loves you. He doesn’t share stories with people he doesn’t love. That is why he’s coming to visit. He is coming to see you. You better get some sleep. He should be here first thing in the morning.”
“Ok, Mom,” George said as he closed his eyes as he imagined the soothing sound of her voice reading him the dinosaur story that he had heard so many times before. The memory of his mother reading that story helped him to fall asleep in the midst of all the rumbling.
“Time to wake up son!” a voice bellowed, followed by a loud whistle. As George opened his eyes, they focused on his grandpa with two fingers in his mouth.
Grandpa whistled again. It was the loudest whistle George had ever heard.
“Ok, ok. It’s Saturday. Let me keep my eyes closed a little longer, Gramps.”
“I come to visit you and you call me Gramps? If you don’t get up, I will whistle again. Next time louder. My pappy taught me how to whistle. It’s the only way the animals on the farm can hear you. Are you an Animal? You children waste perfectly good sunlight. My father would have beat the hell out of me if I didn’t wake up at sunrise.”
“Your father hit you?”
“That he did. That is why we aren’t bums, son. We had to work for everything. No handouts!”
“Are you calling me a bum Grandpa or an animal?”
“What’s the difference. You can change that by getting out of bed, eating breakfast with me, and then—adventure time. Not too much to ask, is it?”
George nodded, his eyes still groggy, but he could smell the eggs cooking in the kitchen.
“Well, I’ll see you in there, young man. Make it snappy,” his grandpa said as he walked back to the kitchen and shut the door behind him.
George slipped on his blue jeans and buttoned up a checkered shirt. He could hear his grandpa yelling at the tv downstairs. The yelling got louder as he embarked on his breakfast journey. The smell of eggs and burned toast. Even with a toaster, his mother couldn’t keep from burning the toast. She would grab a knife, scrape off the burned part and butter it, hoping that no one would notice. But there was always a taste left from the charred part that worked its way deep into George’s taste buds.
“Just the way I like it, mom,” George said.
“Thank you,” she said.
While eating, Grandpa kept looking at George, making faces as if it was the worst food, he had ever eaten.
“That’s not nice, Grandpa,” George said.
“What? I’m not saying anything we don’t already know. Your mother is a fantastic cook.”
“Yeah dad, whatever. Just being silly again, huh?” George’s mom said.
“Can I just have a coffee?” Grandpa asked.
“Sure thing, Dad,” she said as she poured him a cup full of pitch black coffee.
“Did you tell him?” Grandpa asked.
“Why would I want to ruin the surprise,” Mom said.
George looked at his mom, trying to figure out what was going on.
“Grandpa is going to take you to meet some friends. Quality time, just Grandpa — and George,” mom said.
“It’s going to be so much fun,” Grandpa said as he grabbed a white sheet and a foldable aluminum chair out of the corner of the kitchen.
George’s mother signaled him to follow his grandfather outside.
“We are going to set it up right here, son,” Grandpa said as he unfolded the chair, slapped it down on middle of the driveway and placed a white sheet over it.
“A sheet on a chair?” George asked.
“That’s right. A sheet and a chair. You are seventeen, right? Thought you would be old enough to see a magic trick. Well, at least appreciate it.”
“I’m 12, Grandpa.”
“And you still have your mother read bedtime stories to you. Sorry, I’m not judging. If that works for you, great.”
“Mom doesn’t read — to”
“Ok, ok, just be quiet. You don’t want to miss the best part,” Grandpa said as he got down on his knees and lifted part of the sheet that was hanging off the seat of the chair.
George heard a roar. It was deeper than a lion. It was unlike anything he had ever heard. It shook the ground. He looked all around. He scanned the street, looked up at the sky, and then he stared at his Grandpa, who looked up at him from his hands and knees with a smile.
Without a word, Grandpa stuck his head under the sheet and wormed his way under the chair. The chair and the sheet rocked back and forth over the old man until his feet disappeared underneath the sheet.
“Come on, Grandpa. You crawl under a chair. This is not magic. This is ridiculous. You could really get hurt at your age,” George said.
There was no answer. George got down on his hands and knees and lifted the sheet. He could see all the way to the street. Grandpa was not under the chair, or the sheet, nothing was. He pulled the sheet off the chair. Still, nothing. The foldable aluminum chair sat there, and all George could do was toss the sheet back over the chair.
After a few moments of waiting, George heard the roar again.
“Are you coming or not?” Grandpa yelled as his head popped out from underneath the sheet.
Both confused and excited, George didn’t even consider where he was going. He got down on all fours and crawled toward his grandpa. As the roars got stronger, both he and Grandpa crawled faster.
Grandpa looked back at him and placed a finger over his mouth, signaling him to be quiet. Grandpa stood up and walked out of the trees into a clearing. They were in a jungle, but there were no jungles nearby that George knew of, especially none near his driveway.
There was a low rumble and a roar that grew nearer. George looked around. There was no street, no cars, no houses — only him, grandpa and whatever was roaring out there.
“Rex!” Grandpa screamed as he signaled at George to stay out of sight. “He doesn’t know many people, so stay quiet,” Grandpa murmured.
George felt the rumble grow nearer. There was a warm air that slapped him in the face. The smell of rotten carcasses made him gag. There was a bit of groaning, and he watched as Grandpa’s eyes grew large.
“Rex!” Grandpa said like he was meeting a long-lost friend.
George watched as an enormous head with sharp teeth and small eyes darted in his direction. The foul smell grew even stronger. George froze in anticipation. He couldn’t outrun this monster.
“Rex!” Grandpa said. “It’s me! Charlie! I haven’t seen you in ages!”
Immediately, the monster appeared in front of Grandpa. George could only watch as the monster lowered its head to Grandpas’ level. He looked him in the eye and they stared at one another for a moment. The monster opened its mouth, and a tiny tongue came out. Rex licked Grandpa like a dog does its owner.
“Rex, boy! I want you to meet my Grandson! Come on out, George!” Grandpa laughed.
Hesitantly, George got to his feet and plodded toward the clearing. Grandpa sat down on the ground and Rex circled a few times before running off.
“Where did he go?” George asked.
“He went off to get a snack. Rex knows I brought nothing to munch on this time.”
“Oh, I have been here many times. Rex is my pet. He has been for over fifty years. I was just seven years old when I stumbled into this world.”
“Seven? How did you get back home?”
“It all started at dinner one night. My father yelled at me for not eating my vegetables. But they always were the worst. Would have loved another slice of bacon instead. Hell, I’d rather have fruit. I forgot what vegetable it was, but I cried so hard that night. When I went to my bedroom, I made a wish.”
“What did you wish for, Grandpa?”
“Shut your mouth, boy! I’m telling you a story.”
George nodded and made a zipper motion over his mouth.
“I made a wish that no one would ever talk to me that way ever again,” Grandpa said. “I could never forgive my father for making me cry. I cried myself to sleep, but a roar woke me. I figured it had to be my imagination. I was a little child who had a highly active imagination. It continues forever if you let it,” he added with a whisper.
I stared at him, still in shock about where we were and what exactly Rex was. He looked like a dinosaur, but he acted like a dog.
“Anyway,” he said. “I tiptoed around my room that night. I looked under my bed, I looked under my sheets, I even looked out the window, but I saw nothing. The roar continued. The low rumble was coming from under my desk chair. So, I inspected the chair. It was strange, there was nothing to see. My father heard the noise of me rearranging furniture upstairs. He wanted to know what the ruckus was.”
“What the hell do you think you are doing!” he screamed at me. “It is the middle of the damn night!” he began rolling his belt around his right hand.
“That is when I grabbed the sheet and pulled it toward me. The sheet covered the top of the desk chair, and I started crawling underneath the chair for protection. I knew he was going to hit me, so I braced myself. I crawled toward the desk so I could ball up, but under the sheet. Suddenly, I couldn’t see the desk anymore. I was outside, in a forest, this forest.” Grandpa said as he pointed around. “I looked up and saw my father stumbling around. He didn’t hit me that night. He wanted to go back home. I never saw my father look so scared. Once we were in the forest, he wasn’t the one with the power anymore. He didn’t say one word to me before Rex ate him. Snatched him up with his big mouth and sharp teeth, like an anchovy. Rex protected me. Rex still protects me.”
“Grandpa, I thought your dad left the family,” George said.
“Well, he did. No one believed a seven-year-old. Especially when that seven-year-old with an active imagination tells everyone that a dinosaur ate his father. My mother told me never to say that ever again. And that they would lock me up with all the terrible children if I did. So, I said nothing. Dad left the family and Rex was all I had.”
“So, you have known Rex all this time?”
“Yep, tonight he will become your pet dinosaur. They said that they were going to put me in a retirement home. Can you believe that? I probably won’t make it back here again.”
“But won’t you have a sheet and a chair at the retirement home?”
“That’s one place where your imagination goes to die. So, before I lose my imagination, I need to hand Rex over to a good owner, someone who is trustworthy– somewhat,” Grandpa said, tears coming to his eyes. “I just need to break the news to Rex. Kid gloves, you know. Has the mind of a five-year-old. That’s probably why we got along so well. He has taken care of many of my problems in life.”
“Yes, you know — people problems.”
“Oh, god Grandpa. Mom always said people disappeared around you. Grandma disappeared too, didn’t she?”
“Yep, Rex got Grandma. Now that one was an accident. I was so angry at her for not letting me buy that chocolate bar. She said it was bad for me and the doctor told her not to let me eat junk. So, I brought her here to relax with me and Rex was starving. It had been a while since I fed him. You should have seen how depressed he got after I scolded him for eating your grandmother.”
“The repo man. He wasn’t a mistake. I grabbed those keys, and I made him chase me under the chair. He didn’t last five minutes in this forest. Rex didn’t even bother to chew him.”
The ground rumbled and Rex came back into the clearing. Grandpa waited as Rex lowered his head and licked him again.
“Good boy,” Grandpa said. “I’m going to leave you in excellent hands, Rex. Do you understand what I am saying? I probably won’t see you again. So, my grandson George. He’s blood. He will watch after you from here on out,” Grandpa pointed at George.
“I know this is tough, boy. I have to show George how to come and go freely and he will take great care of you.”
Rex growled louder. Rex tilted his head toward George, looking at him through his left tiny eye. He looked back at Grandpa and dropped his huge mouth right over his entire body. There were no more words. George watched as a man-sized lump slid down Rex’s throat. Rex looked like a snake after it has swallowed a mouse.
Rex looked at George again and ran away, back into the forest. George immediately panicked and started wheezing. He got back down on his hands and knees and started crawling as fast as he could back in the other direction. It seemed like a longer journey back home than it was to get there to begin with. In the middle of the forest, he saw a chair and quickly crawled under it. Within seconds, he poked his head out from underneath the sheet. He was there in the driveway. His arms and head had made it out when something grabbed his legs and yanked him back into the forest.
“No!” he screamed, as something kept pulling him. He was being tossed around, branches and weeds slapping him across the face and body. Rex tossed him into the air, onto some soft ground.
There he was staring at the creature that just ate Grandpa. Rex growled and moved slowly toward George. George froze. The smell of death came closer. Rex’s sharp teeth moved slowly toward him. All he could do was close his eyes and wish himself back home. But nothing happened. The breath got stronger and closer. He was whimpering as he felt a tongue lick him in the face. He opened his eyes to a little wet tongue soaking his face with the rotten smell of flesh. There was a stick lying on the ground near to where he was sitting. He grabbed it and tossed it as far as he could. Rex chased it. He played fetch with Rex as he slowly made his way back to the chair. George made one last toss before he crawled back into the driveway and picked up the chair and folded up the sheet.
“There you are,” his mother said as he was setting the chair and the sheet to the garage. “Where’s your grandpa?”
“He just left,” George said with his voice cracking.
“His car is still here.”
“Well, he can handle himself. I’m sure he will be back soon. Probably got a lottery ticket or a beer.”
“Yeah,” George said.
George ran upstairs and jumped into the shower. He washed the blood and rotten saliva off his body. A little soap didn’t work. He almost used the entire bar. Still, he had a few scratches on his body that would probably take a few weeks to heal. He stayed silent over the next few weeks. No one talked about it, not even his mom.
The police didn’t believe his story. They chalked it up to him being a really imaginative child, and there was no evidence that Grandpa ever left the driveway. Before long, Grandpa was just listed as a missing person. George’s mom thought he ran away because he felt forced into the retirement home. George could never speak of what really happened ever again, or they would think he was crazy. Maybe a coping mechanism to deal with the loss of his grandfather. He didn’t feel like having people laugh at him because he had a pet dinosaur, so he continued to go to school and come home like nothing ever happened.
One day, he was walking home.
“They found a body down the river. Heard it was your granddad. Maybe he shouldn’t have hitched a ride with strangers. Can you believe your granddad was that dumb? Like grandfather like grandson,” Jim, a the class bully said as he shoved George onto the ground. Usually George just took it, but this time he got up and punched Jim as hard as he could.
Jim took a blow to his face, and he barely budged.
“You need to learn how to throw a better punch than that if you want to stand a chance against me.” Jim said as he charged George.
George ran toward his house. It was only a few blocks away. George was fast, but not fast enough to make it all the way home with Jim on his tail and he knew it. He scanned the neighborhood as he was running. He focused on a tarp over a car and a folding chair in a person’s front yard. He ran over and pulled the tarp from the car, covered the chair, and waited for Jim to catch up.
“Why are you so mean, Jim. What did I ever do to you?” George asked.
“You were born,” Jim said. “I’m the top of the chain, you are at the bottom, learn your place, misfit.”
Jim ran at George. George dropped to the ground and went under the chair and then under the tarp. He felt Jim grab his leg and kicked until Jim let lost grip on him.
George looked around. He was in the forest now. There was a roaring in the distance, but it was so far away. He heard Jim groaning and watched as Jim dusted himself off and stood in the forest.
Jim looked around. He looked back at the chair.
“What are you, a magician?” Jim laughed. “How did we get to the forest? From the chair?”
“It’s not about where we are. It is about what lives here,” George said.
The roars were growing louder in the distance.
“It doesn’t matter what lives here. I’ll beat you up really good, and no one will find you here.” Jim said as he charged George again.
Jim chased George deep into the jungle, to where the clearing was. The roaring got louder.
“Rex!” George screamed.
The smell of dead carcasses and breath arrived along with a roar.
George turned back to look at Jim. Jim’s face had gone white, and his eyes had grown large with fear.
George watched in pleasure as Jim, his bully, froze.
“Meet Rex. He’s my pet dinosaur,” George said as Jim turned and ran.
George watched as Jim disappeared into the woods. He heard the screams from the distance as Jim was being ripped apart, then he felt a licking on his face.
“Rex?” George said as Rex dropped the large stick in front of him.
The growls from the distance got louder and Rex whimpered.
“If that’s not you? What is it?” George asked, as if Rex could give him an answer.
The rumbling grew louder after the screams stopped. And George was staring at a dinosaur that looked way more vicious than Rex. Rex whimpered loudly. George ran in the chair’s direction. The vicious animal was closing in on him when he heard a loud thud from behind. He looked back to see Rex and the other monster fighting each other. Biting, clawing and wailing in pain as they took rips out of each other. George ran all the way back to the chair. It was on its side. He picked it up and started trying to get it to stand up, but a leg was broken off, and it wouldn’t stand up. The fight was getting closer to him. He ran around and found a stick, like the one he had played fetch with Rex.
He placed it under the chair and started crawling back to the person’s driveway and came out of the forest.
“What are you doing? Why is the tarp off my car? Did you pull it off to play clubhouse? You built a tent over my chair?” the man yelled at him.
A roar came from under the chair.
“What the hell!” the man said as he lifted the tarp up.
“Don’t do that, sir,” George said.
The man did it anyway. A fierce dinosaur’s head slid out onto the driveway and chomped the man’s body. The only thing left was his feet in his shoes, which were still firmly planted on the driveway.
George ran over and yanked the tarp off the chair.
Nothing. Nothing but the screams of the man’s wife, who watched as a dinosaur head came from under the tarp and ate her husband. And George, who said the man’s wife must be crazy. There was no explanation for what happened to the man, there was no proof that any person had anything to do with it. So just like all the disappearing people around grandpa, the mysterious circumstances disappeared as well.
Jim, being a troubled child, was quickly overlooked because of the gruesome end to the man in the driveway on the same day. It became the talk of the town, but the police shelved it.
George didn’t want to crawl under any chairs soon. His mother tried to talk to him, but he really didn’t want to talk to anyone about the events.
One morning at breakfast several months later, his mom sat down with him.
“So I really wanted to talk to you about — the events.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s been difficult.”
“When are we going to feed Rex?” mom asked.
George’s mouth dropped.
“You know about Rex?”
“Of course, I know about Rex. That’s what happened to Grandpa right?”
“Yeah, Rex was mad that grandpa was going to give him up.”
“And Rex got the guy in the driveway and the kid that bullied you?”
“That was a much fiercer animal. Rex and he were fighting.”
“That means we must bring enough to feed him as well. — Who do you have in mind?”
George and his mom looked at each other and smiled.
Copyright © 2021 by Ryan Barnard-Stoker