The Thagomizer (Steve Gergley)

When I was eight, the stegosaurus was my favorite dinosaur. When I was thirty-eight, I started browsing Wikipedia during my morning deuce to learn one new fact each day. When I was thirty-eight and forty-one days, the stegosaurus was the featured article on the Wikipedia home page. After reading the entire article, I finished up in the bathroom and called Jackie, my old best friend from fourth grade, and asked her to build a time machine for me. Ever since we were kids, Jackie had been building stuff, and now that we weren’t kids, she could build anything with the right parts. For five straight minutes she complained about how much of a pain in the ass I am, about how random I am, and about how I’m always mucking up her sleep schedule and her work schedule and her everything else schedule, but since she already had all the necessary parts on hand in her autobody shop, she agreed.

Two weeks later she delivered the time machine to my house while I was at work. Once it was there, she sent me a text letting me know she’d be expecting my payment via PayPal. In response I sent her a quick thanks and a smiley face emoji.

During my lunch break, I sat at my desk and watched a YouTube video of two paleontologists debating the possible uses of a stegosaurus’s thagomizer in front of two hundred nine year-olds. The older paleontologist said that since the stegosaurus’s tail lacked ossified tendons, it was much more flexible than most dino tails, and therefore, it was likely used as a weapon. The moment the paleontologist said the word weapon, all the boys in the audience began cheering. The paleontologist smiled uncomfortably and tried to specify that he meant defensive weapon only, but the boys did not hear the word defensive. They only heard the word weapon a second time, and cheered even louder. This made me happy. Not because the boys were being rowdy and disrespectful, but because it made me feel less alone in the many serious miscommunications that occurred in my life on a daily basis. Most of which led to personal, professional, and grammatical disaster. But that’s not the only reason the boys’ reaction made me happy. In contrast to the high-stress social climate of our current times, I enjoyed the sight of such a tremendous level of passion being dedicated to something wholesome, like dinosaurs. And of course, I was also excited about the time machine I had waiting for me at home at the end of the workday, which I decided to name The Thagomizer. So I turned off the video, sent a payment of 3000 USD to Jackie’s PayPal, and ordered a six-inch stegosaurus figurine for my desk here at work. Even if the time machine didn’t work, I’d still have a cool dino figurine to brighten my long and difficult days at the office.

When I got home from work, I hopped inside The Thagomizer and took a trip back to the late Cretaceous. The moment I stepped into that primordial world, streams of sweat began to slide down my body. It was very, very hot, and there was quite a bit of moisture in the air.

Wandering around a stand of ancient oaks whose ghosts would haunt my house seventy million years in the future, I tromped into a dense forest. Overhead, I spotted an archeopteryx; its call was shrill and fearsome. On my right, I caught a quick glimpse of the spiked armor and heavy tail club of an ankylosaurus. To the left, I saw the disappointingly empty underbrush. So I slipped my phone out of my pocket and snapped a few photos of the two dinos in my area. But because of my sweaty fingers, my trembling hands, and my thudding heartbeat, the shots came out blurry, off-center, and poorly composed. I didn’t care. The experience alone was worth it.

I trudged through the forest for another few minutes. But no matter where I looked, I didn’t find the dino I wanted to see most: my old friend the stegosaurus. This was disappointing. But once I realized it was very, very unlikely that I’d come across one specific dino out of thousands of different species, I walked back to The Thagomizer and returned home. 

When I flicked back to the present day, the ground was much lower than it had been in the Cretaceous. Because of this, The Thagomizer fell twenty feet and crushed the new bike of the nine year-old kid next door. Moments later the kid ran out of his house and started to cry. Clambering out of my time machine, I apologized and slipped the kid twenty bucks. He took the money, but he didn’t stop crying. So I unlocked my phone and looked at him.

“You want to see some real life dinosaurs?” I said.

The moment he heard the word dinosaurs, he stopped crying and looked at me with a hopeful glitter in his eyes.

I clicked on my most recent photo, showed him my phone, and scrolled through my blurry shots from the Cretaceous.

“Ankylosaurus,” I said, stopping my scroll and pointing at the screen. “Look at that club on his tail. Paleontologists say he used to use that club as a weapon.”

“Wow,” the kid said. “That’s pretty cool.”

I let the kid look at the rest of the pictures on his own. Once he was done, he dropped my phone in the grass and went back inside his house.

Later that night, the kid’s dad knocked on my door and demanded that I pay for his son’s bike that I ruined. Since I didn’t have any more money, I offered him The Thagomizer and we called it square. I didn’t mind. My stegosaurus figurine would be arriving in the mail soon, and that was good enough for me.


Steve Gergley is the author of the short story collection, A Quick Primer on Wallowing in Despair (LEFTOVER Books ’22), and the forthcoming novel, Skyscraper (West Vine Press ’23). His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Barren Magazine, New World Writing, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. He tweets @GergleySteve. His fiction can be found at:


image: Jade Hawk is a meat popsicle.