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It simply wasn't fair; he and he alone had separated the juvenile Mamenchisaurus from its herd and driven it towards the rest of the pack, where they all swarmed like flies on dung - grabbing it and biting it every which way until it lay still and stopped breathing - and now he was being denied his share. The fact that he could see the amusement in their eyes aggravated him even more. His anger was beginning to show physically too, notably his constant stomping and his baring of teeth.
This had been the norm for just about every single hunt his pack had conducted. Always he was chosen to be the shepherd, driving the selected victim to the allocated ambush point where his pack would pounce and put the creature out of its misery. And always he was left without a share. He growled to himself.
The leader, a slightly larger female, must have heard his displeasure as she pricked her head up and stared at him sternly - with what little expression Yangchuanosaurus faces allowed. He swallowed his own saliva at the thought of what he may or may not have brought upon himself.
She hopped down from the stomach region of the dead Mamenchisaurus, her eyes fixated on him and him alone. He backed up slowly, peering left and right for the remote possibility that there was something behind him that caught her attention. There wasn't. The rest of the pack watched on, making mocking calls at him, knowing what was coming next. He knew it too; he had the scars to prove it.
She brought her snout up close to his and glared at him with a piercing stare, causing him to feel nearly completely hollow inside. He urged himself to move and took a single step sideways, all the while keeping his body aimed at her. She didn't react. He risked another sidestep. She snarled - his signal to start running.
He twisted around as fast as he could and sprinted hard with the pack leader in speedy pursuit. It was no secret she was much faster than he was as she had chased him down and rolled him over and scratched and bitten and kicked and stomped on him many times. How many times exactly was beyond his count, but they happened as often as he complained about his treatment. And since he was very expressive about what he thought about things, it was nearly every time they mistreated him, he complained.
The pack was howling in encouragement.
There wasn't much cover out on the open prairies for him to duck around and gain the lead by a precious moment, spare the odd boulder or tree here and there. The forest to his right would be too dense for him to manoeuvre through and keep up a speed at which he could outrun her. There was only one other place he could think of at that time - the only place he ever truly felt safe since he was forced to leave his father's pack.
Up ahead, a great number of sprinting strides away, was a small valley. There was a specific location that he went to to escape her and she knew where it was, and she was trying to deny him that sanctity.
was gaining, he could see with his peripheral vision. She opened her jaws as she was nearing his position, ready to grab him and topple him over so more pain could follow. He deliberately twisted to and fell on his left side and skidded across the green field. Her bulk meant she was unable to stop as easily as he could, especially as she was so well fed where he was malnourished. He used his own sliding speed to grip his feet onto the dirt and launched himself into the air, landed on his feet, and continued to run past her while she was turning.
Small little tricks like that helped sometimes, but never solved the problem. Many times they simply failed and he would come to a tripping, toppling, disorientating end. This, lucky for him, was one of the more fortunate attempts at evasion.
The pack's howling faded out as he entered the small valley. She was still chasing, huffing angrily at the fact he had outwitted her and gained a few moments' lead. She was faster too. Not good.
There it was! On his right. A cave. Correction: the cave. The cave that was large enough for him to pass through yet small enough for her to not do the same. He turned towards it. She knew where he was heading and cut him off. He'd never been in this situation before and had to think on the spot.
He faked a step right and she fell for it. He faked a step left and she fell for it again. She narrowed her eyes and expressed her rage by letting out the biggest roar he had ever heard from a Yangchuanosaurus in all his life. She would outmanoeuvre him if he actually tried to run past her, no doubt about that, so the only way past was through. He tilted his head downward and pushed off the ground. The action caught her completely off-guard - he could tell by how little resistance there was when he slammed into her left arm, ran past her and slid down the cave's opening on his side. Safe.
He stood up when he finished sliding and leaned against the rear wall of the cave, putting the furthest distance he could between him and the mouth that was now trying to break through the solid rock. He couldn't back up any further, but he pressed into the wall harder, his feet slipping on loose pebbles scattered around the floor.
Her snout was now bloodied from her continued efforts, but she didn't seem to care and tried again many more times - he couldn't care to count.
Eventually, however, after many long moments, she backed away, let out a roar into the cave, then walked away, probably back to the pack. As soon as he heard the heavy huffing leave, he let himself slink down and allowed his panting to turn into whimpering. She'd been angry at him before, but he never attacked her when she chased him.
He would have to wait more days than usual for things to calm down before returning. If he was permitted to return.
His cave was the only place he ever truly felt safe from anything. When he came of age he was forced to leave his father's pack to form one of his own, or join a pre-existing one. While he may have been of age, he was always more than a little short compared to everyone else, consequently strangers saw him more as prey than as an asset. After travelling many great distances, he reached where he was now - a cave with a small freshwater spring inside of it in the side of a valley.
There were only ever two seasons to a year, one wet and one dry, so he was twenty-one seasons old and at that point. He travelled from place to place in search of a pack, but always he returned to the cave; the cave where he felt at home being alone with no one but his echoes for company.
To that moment in time he had relied on carrion as his food; he wasn't big enough to take down prey of his own. Dead bodies that hadn't been eaten were hard to come by, however, and those that weren't picked clean were usually claimed by another pack, so if he wanted to be without hunger, he had to find a group who would accept him.
He spent many days searching for approval and able to find none, and so spent many nights inside the cave where he was accepted always. It was like a non-sentient parent: always there when he needed it, providing shelter from the elements and those who would want him disposed of, yet he could freely stray from it whenever he liked. Silly as it may have been, he cared more for this inanimate hollow than for just about anything or anyone else.
He shook his head, dispelling the deep thoughts. Deep thoughts don't get you far in a world of hate. He was sitting on his stomach and had been thinking while staring blankly at the wall of rock ahead of him.
He turned his head to his right and took a drink from the spring.
Eventually he had found solace with a group of boisterous adolescents and a rather brutal adult female, namely the one who was chasing him. This came after they observed him stalking a herd of Mamenchisaurus, using the forest and his low silhouette to his advantage. In all honest truth he wasn't going to attempt a kill, or an attack for that matter - he just wanted to see what their behaviour patterns were like; to see when they were at their most vulnerable. He wanted that information come the time he found a pack. And they chose him. They hated him but they chose him. That had to mean
He stood up and looked up to the horizontal entrance. His tummy had the rumbles. The only cadaver he knew of was back at the pack. This late in the day they would all be settling down for sleep, and it was around this time that he would - on any other day when he wasn't chased away - eat what hadn't been eaten.
The air between him and his pack hadn't eased: while invisible there certainly was a level of tension hanging around. The consistent running away and straggling back gave him a sixth-sense when it came to the situation, and he could tell it would take, at best, three days before she forgave him.
It was a bad decision.
He shimmied on his stomach up to the sloped entrance and out into the dark of the night. This was the kind of night where the moon shone almost as brightly as the sun, allowing him to even pick out the leaves of the trees in the distance. It was a good night for raiding. But if he made too much noise and they woke up and caught him eating his fair share...
He hoped he hadn't broken her arm.
He wasn't feeling regret when he was nearly at the kill site; rather he felt nothing on his inside, only hunger and a determination driven by the fact that this could be his only meal for another few days. There was no anxiety or feeling of dread as he had expected there would be, nor was his heart beating fast or his breathing uncontrollable. Nothing he was doing, consciously or subconsciously, suggested he was nervous: all he was doing was putting one careful foot in front of the other, trying to make the least amount of sound possible.
If any of the pack roused from sleep now, they would easily see him circling them, slowly reaching the Mamenchisaurus carcass. Sight however was the least of his concern. He had specifically chosen to
circle clockwise around them because the wind was blowing that way. Knowing how erratic the wind could be, it was foolish to place his trust in something that would probably switch directions at any given time. One whiff of his scent and they would all stop sleeping and glare at him. He didn't want to picture what would happen next.
He closed his eyes hard to try to stop thinking but not trying to think made him think harder. They would all see him by the light of the moon and think he had come back to steal from them. They would think that was the last straw and exile him if not kill him.
But he wasn't stealing. He was just taking the fair share they owed him without seeking their permission. That was it. Nothing more nothing less. A few more cautious steps forward.
Thankfully she was asleep too, but he didn't want to get too comfortable around her - she was growling and snarling in her sleep. Probably about what she would do to him if she caught him sneaking about, like right now. He really had to stop thinking and focus on not being heard. He took a stride forward and was at the body.
Pretty much everything from the stomach had been devoured so that only the ribs were left. That was okay, he was used to eating the less-meaty parts. He shouldn't be complaining anyway, not when he was trying to go undetected.
After the first bite he couldn't help but let out a sigh of indulgence. How wonderful a less-than-satisfactory meal tasted after days of going without food. He could not restrain himself from gorging and swallowing and filling up his stomach in such a fast manor. He really wanted to chew and savour the taste so he could remember it for later, but he was just too hungry.
It was after the fifth bite when he realised he was making too much noise and returned to a controlled state. He tore away from the body, chewed what he had in his mouth and gulped it down. He moved to take another bite. The Mamenchisaurus carcass moved.
He dreaded what he knew he would see if he looked up, but he did anyway.
He turned his head upwards and saw, staring right back at him, her. She didn't make any intentional sound; she just stood on top of the body, her right foot on the cadaver's exposed left thigh and her left on its tail, with bared teeth and heavy breathing. Her left arm hung limply. Dislocated, if not broken. The damage of his desperation had been done.
The urge to run grew. But where to? As his cave was in her direction, she had effectively cut him off from the only place he could be safe. He shifted his weight to his rear foot in case of the near-certain event things would go downhill.
She leapt down from the body and landed on the floor without much sound at all, then toppled him over onto his side, pinning him with her right foot. He was so surprised by the speed he didn't even think of reacting. Restrained by his neck, he could feel the weight on his throat increase as she brought her face
up close to his, still in unnatural silence. He could barely breathe by the time her mouth was nearly touching his ear, yet he didn't struggle because he knew fighting punishment would make
punishment even worse. He closed his eyelids, whimpered and whined in complete terror, even though he could expect no pity from her.
Then she stood back up. He waited for the jaws to close around his neck or his stomach or wherever she preferred, but they never came. He opened up his eyes and, still with panicked panting, held his head up. She was still there and she was still staring at him with a look of malice, but her stance was neutral.
He rolled over onto his feet and picked himself up and faced her. Cautiously, he put a foot forward.
He was met with a vicious growl as she put her body between him and the rest of the sleeping pack. He pulled back and the growling stopped. He took a reluctant step backward. She stopped showing her teeth and gave a satisfied hum.
His insides sunk to an all-time record low. He stood there for a good few moments feeling hollow and thinking sad thoughts while his head drooped slowly. Banishment. Exile wasn't mercy; she judged it to be a fate worse than sudden death, and she was right. Without a pack he stood no chance on his own, gradually starving, barely living off the small amount of bodies littering the prairies, until malnourishment would finally overcome him and he would die in pain. Exile wasn't worse than death - it just ensured he would die slowly.
Bitterness, for some inexplicable reason, suddenly turned into angry huffing. He looked upwards with his eyes rather than his head and stared at her with a fierce glare. This was the only pack to accept him after many years of searching. After seasons and after the uncountable great distances
he travelled searching, this was the only group to accept him - a severely disadvantaged Yangchuanosaurus. And he put up with their bullying because he thought their acceptance meant something. And now she was discarding him because he just wanted to be treated like one of them?!
Forget her! Forget her and forget the pack! Forget all of them! Why should he care for them if the never cared for him?! He was the one doing all the hard work by sneaking around the herds and steering the selected prey to the ambush zone! They didn't value that?! Forget them all!
He finally realised that as he was thinking to himself he had slowly been approaching her, and was now in her face. Both of them had their teeth bared and were growling in unison. He didn't loose composure when he realised they had woken the rest of the pack, who were now watching without expression. They all exchanged glances while the two stood firm, not backing down from one another.
As much as he wanted to start a brawl right then and there he knew he could never win against her. He was unafraid of fighting, but he was fearful of losing. He backed up slightly only so that he had enough room to roar in her face, making sure some saliva was thrown her way too, then turned around and walked away, ensuring his tail smacked across her face in the process.
He looked back in case she decided to retaliate. But no. She simply stood there looking absolutely stupefied, as did all of the rest, as if this was the most unlikely thing they had ever expected. The fact he even attempted to stand up to her surprised himself. But he wasn't himself. This self was someone different, and maybe it was best to let that self take over for now.
So long as it meant it would get him a pack. Or a meal.
This new self of his was really starting to pay off. It had been several days since he was forcibly removed from his pack, and so far, despite his size, he had chased away groups of Yangchuanosaurus ranging from three to seven in number who had been feasting on their kill. For a time he had been well-fed from all the bodies he had claimed, until the packs realised numbers beat attitude. Since then he went into hiding and scavenging again, but he did not lose confidence. To his surprise the new self didn't want to rely on the cave for a feeling of safeness - this self wanted to be out there and doing things without help. Without anyone to help him. No one ever helped him before, so maybe it really was best to go solo.
That was how he found himself on the outskirts of a forest, hidden, stalking a mixed herd of Nanyangosaurus and Yunnanosaurus.
Confidence and hunger had pressured him into hunting for his first kill in his entire life. And he loved every moment of it.
The herd was large. Much larger than he expected. Whether that would prove to be a problem or an advantage was yet to be seen.
He kept his body low and in the shadows, even though he knew full well that he was clearly out of their line of sight - the brown stripes across his back and grey-green base colour would easily conceal his outline amongst the trees and ferns of the forest. The shade provided by the canopy would help too.
To have a pack of his own would have made things easier, providing everyone else contributed equally.
But since now he had basically ticked off every group of Yangchuanosaurus in the immediate area - or they chased him away because of his size - the possibility of that becoming a reality had been reduced to zero.
The herd was crossing lengthwise to the forest, an unavoidable but poor decision. Close too. Very close.
Within striking distance even. He resisted the temptation to charge - that would be completely unwise on his part: he was yet to identify the young, old and weak. Though why should he settle for premature, overdue or tender meat if there was a perfect selection of adults in their prime in plain sight.
Then it was settled. His new self wanted something in its prime; a more difficult challenge with a tastier reward.
If he moved any closer to the edge of the woods, the shifting bushes would give him away easily. He proceeded a little deeper into the forest and ran parallel to the herd. He could easily outpace them when they were
this calm, but the trees of the woodland caused him to duck and weave out of
the way - something he was used to but it didn't change the fact that it
hampered his overall speed. If he didn't
hurry up, they might clear the woods before he reached the front of the herd.
He arrived at the edge of the forest going in the same direction as his prey. Darn. At least he was far beyond them. All he had to do was wait and hope they didn't see him see them.
The leader of the herd, a Yunnanosaurus, looked like an old one; it had slight wrinkles all along its face and body, though he shouldn't really judge age by looks. Movement was what he should observe to judge age: any hitching in the joints and slowed reaction time would tell him if they were old or not. In that case the leader was not that old. It had a stocky build too; muscles relatively bulky compared to the rest. Maybe that was how it came to be the herd leader.
No, no it couldn't be. Migration required memory, so the one with the best memory led the masses. Best memory or not, his size impediment would make it difficult for him to take it down without injury, if it was brave enough to stand up to him with those muscles. Best not risk it.
The Yunnanosaurus beside it was small. Too young.
The Nanyangosaurus behind that was keeping good pace, but limping.
The Nanyangosaurus next to it was labouring in its movements.
The Yunnanosaurus following...
He bared his teeth.
He broke through the undergrowth in silence, his eyes, legs, mind and mouth focussed on the target; a relatively healthy adult Yunnanosaurus. Or maybe it was an adolescent. Why should he care?
The herd finally took notice of the branches flying from their trees, and the Yangchuanosaurus charging their way. Their instant reaction was to stop and run away. Predictable. But as he was coming in from their front, it was taking longer than they wanted for them all to realise there was a threat and to find space to move. For them it was like trying to swim against a riptide. That was his plan to get closer before they realised what was really going on.
By the time they all started to gain momentum in the other direction, he was within several sprinting strides from his selected target. The chorus of distressed Nanyangosaurus and Yunnanosaurus calls and the cacophony of feet meeting earth deafened from any and all other sounds, yet he did not lose track of which of the herd he had chosen.
This new self seemed to have a soft spot for the atmosphere of chaos the hunt brought with it. The dust, grass and dirt kicked up by the flurry of feet did nothing to deter him from paying close attention to what he was after.
For a brief moment, however, he looked down to ensure none of them had fallen over and become an obstacle he could trip over. No bodies, but a lone Yunnanosaurus youngling was falling behind from
the herd and was staring straight at him, completely terrified. Instead of bringing his left foot down, he hopped the step on his right, keeping his left leg in the air. Then as he passed the youngling, he resumed running regularly.
Turning his head back up, he could see his chosen prey had made a mistake by leaving the safety of the herd. Well... being in the herd wouldn't have been so safe anyway, but it was better than leaving it at any rate. But now that it had left, there was no going back for it now. Too bad.
Despite looking somewhat front heavy, it really was a nimble thing. When he tried to speed into it, it would dodge out of the way. When he tried to follow its movements, it would weave back the way it came, much like he'd done when she chased him.
He was growing tired of this, both mentally and physically. It must be toying with him! The stupid creature! He'd show it what happens when you toy with the dominant species!
His fatigue dropped suddenly in his rage and he was able to move more freely. His slow, gradual turns became sharp, precise bends. His feet pressed against the ground harder than they had ever been pressed before. This was the angriest he had ever been, and the new self loved the anger.
It gobbled the anger up and spat it out, ready for more hate to enter the mind.
The Yunnanosaurus was beginning to tire; it had put up a good fight, but now it was time to pay the price for taunting one such as himself. The twisting was now taking longer for it to complete. Consequently he was gaining precious ground, narrowing the speed gap to a split moment. Then as it was making a third bend in running in a zigzag pattern, it happened.
Its left foot slipped.
He tilted his head down and continued running forwards.
It made a little, pathetic whimper right before his skull made contact with its upper-chest region from its left side. The sound of bone crunching made him think to wince but the new self refused it, forcing him to look up at the airborne Yunnanosaurus, open his jaw, latch onto it, and slam it into the ground.
It wailed and screamed in pain and fear before he even began biting. It struggled desperately, but he easily held it down with his foot pressing into its arm, probably broken by his ramming. He tore away and bit and swallowed and repeated the process. All the while the prey refused to give up trying to get away. He ripped and shredded up one, two, three, four mouthfuls of meat and blood and still it didn't die.
And he simply couldn't stop eating! It tasted so nice! He was just so hungry, and the hunger replaced the anger he had experienced not a few moments ago. He dove his head into the squirming body again, now seeing innards instead of just fat, skin, and muscle. And even when he bit one of the more stringy entrails, it refused to die. This was the case until he ripped out one small pulsing organ and snapped it from all the veins and arteries holding it in place, momentarily spurting blood all over his legs and mouth.
The Yunnanosaurus stopped altogether. All its flailing limbs dropped. Its cry for help was cut short as its head flopped to the ground.
And finally, there was silence.
The air was still and did not blow. The herd had long departed the scene. The sky's clouds were gone too. Everything was silent. Except for him gorging himself on the first kill he - the undersized Yangchuanosaurus: him and him alone - had ever made.
And one other thing.
The new self told him not to, but he paused eating to look for the source of a sound just over the body of the recently deceased Yunnanosaurus. The taste of meat lingered in his mouth, so he wanted only to see what the source was so he could get stuck into carcass's gut again.
It was the youngling. It was crying out wildly into the air for no apparent reason. The new self growled at it to run along back to the herd - wherever it may be - and leave him to eat it peace. This was his kill, making it his property, meaning no one but him should be anywhere near it.
It ignored the warning and continued to cry out, moving erratically while doing so, even holding onto its neck with its hands. He became more intrigued than disturbed, or maybe he was disturbingly intrigued or intriguingly disturbed. Either way, he ceased eating entirely to observe.
It was running one direction one moment, and then walking in the other direction the next. It did this several times over until it sat on its belly, hands on its neck, and breathed shallow breaths.
He didn't understand. He'd never even touched it and yet it was acting as if it was hurt in some way.
Then it did something unexpected.
The youngling, still on its stomach, pushed itself along the ground up to the dead Yunnanosaurus. It stood up, let its hands flop back to their natural position, and nudged the dead one's head. When the body didn't respond it curled up next to it and continued to breathe short, irregular whimpers.
His eyes darted between the Yunnanosaurus carcass and the youngster, trying ever so hard to comprehend why the youth would ever care for an older... member of the same... species... Unless they were... related...
He realised he was a more than a little short of breath, and a feeling of dizziness was growing in his head. He suddenly found it very difficult to stand up straight. His belly felt-
He turned away and regurgitated, expelling every bit of meat he'd eaten. Parent and child! He tore them away! He and he alone tore them away from each other! How could he! And the hate...! Thinking he was dominant was no better than to become her. No... he was no better than her.
His breathing didn't settle even after many long moments. Thoughts fought and distress grew.
Leaving behind the whimpering Yunnanosaurus, he hurried to the only place he could think of going.
The blackness of night descended in the valley. In his cave, night became more than just black - it became a void of nothingness bordered by walls of impenetrable rock with only one entrance in and out. The solitary confinement did nothing to improve his mood; it only gave him more time and space to think over what evils he had done. He curled in on himself, not unlike the youngling did, and stared blankly into whichever direction he was facing. And all he could think, all he could ever think, was a single thought repeated over and over.
That single thought sounded itself out every time he tried to think of something different. No matter what he tried to focus on; the slight breeze blowing through the valley, the sound of the cave's spring flowing, even the very faint call of distant dinosaurs... it all was drowned out by the thoughts of regret and spite over the things he had done.
Those thoughts had a sound too: a sound he could not pronounce, yet he knew what that sound sounded like. It was like a collection of noises formed into one thing, and desperately he tried to hear it. Maybe if he heard the sound of sound he would finally be at peace.
His new self was gone entirely, thankfully. It left with the meat he spewed up. Given time for reflection, it probably was best if it stayed there, rotting on the plains, if that self was turning him into something he couldn't be. So which him was he to blame for the death of a youngster's parent? Himself? Or himself?
After an uncountable amount of moments, he gave up playing the blame game and attempted the impossible task of falling asleep. But all he could think about was the sound the pulsing organ had been making while it was in his mouth and the look on the little one's face when he passed over it. Terror. Pure terror. The kind of terror he felt when she was chasing him. He really was not better than her.
He sighed and curled up as tight as he possibly could.
Then the sound of pebbles shifting caught his attention. He raised his head and looked up to the entrance. The same bright moonlight illuminated the landscape outside. It was probably her checking if he was back inside. The only thing he could ever really compliment her on was her persistence. But even so, her presence here was not welcome, not while he was in this state of mind, whatever it was called. He snarled at the sound, telling it to go away.
But to his surprise, and immediate distress, it was not the pack leader at all: it was the young Yunnanosaurus. He slowed his breathing to the bare minimum and watched in concern as it walked up and halted at the entrance to the cave. He barked at it to scare it away but it remained, unmoved. Then it slid down the entry and into the cavern, and looked directly at him. There was an air of sadness about it. Or was that just the moisture of the cave?
He got up to his feet - his back almost touching the ceiling - and stared back at it. Why didn't it go back to its herd? Why here? With him? It had a continuously moving home to go to. Again, why here? If it could track him down, why couldn't it track the herd?
The answer came to mind as soon as he asked himself the question: it had been so focussed on watching its... parent being eaten alive... that it didn't see in which direction its herd went, whereas it saw where he went. He rejected the food he had brought down and spared the young one, and that, strangely, must have been enough to entice it to follow him back to the cave. Or maybe there was something else motivating it, he couldn't tell. Or maybe he was just thinking too much... He really should learn when and how to stop thinking.
In any case, there were really only two options:
Either he went out the next day with the youngster, tracked down the herd and returned it to its family - providing any family remained - or end its loneliness right then and there with his jaws around its neck.
He had already dealt enough violence for one lifetime, but if one option was easier to achieve than the other...
He took another look over the green prairie. So much greenery... yet so much red blood to contradict its peacefulness.
He had to move on; she wasn't coming back, and neither was his daughter - the last survivor of a clutch of twelve eggs. Predators were everywhere, all of them feeling no pity and no remorse for what they do. Yes they all had lives of their own and their own mini mouths to feed, that he understood, but why did it have to be his mate and his only child?
Of course, if it was not his then it would be someone else's offspring or mate they'd take. Food was all they were: moving meals. Why did nature have to create such a cruel thing like carnivorous creatures if it meant things that could think and feel would have to feel loss and think about it over and over? He sighed, and then led the herd onwards.
The fields by the sea's cliffs were usually ripe this time of year, providing the Mamenchisaurus hadn't swept through the area as they usually did when he least needed them to. Maybe eating until his gut was bursting would finally take his mind off their deaths. There probably wouldn't be, but if he was lucky there might be some of those rare plants with the strange berries that gave him a headache - that might keep him from thinking too hard. But if a predator came by while he was under the fruits' effects... No... He'd have to keep his mind clear for the plausible event of attack.
He realised his head was sagging. He picked himself up, puffing his chest out, and continued forward.
Then he saw it. At first it was just a speck in the distance, but it slowly grew into a two-legged
figure of medium size and a grey-green complexion with... brown stripes along its back.
No... It couldn't be...
It was back.
It was usually at least five days, maximum of eight, before the same carnivore attacked again, but this was only three days since that Yangchuanosaurus took his family. And it was walking right at them, not even attempting to conceal itself, like it wanted them to run away so it could have a nice long chase. He signalled all stop for the herd, but they had already done so, seeing it just as soon as he had. Those who hadn't seen were going on tiptoes to get a better view, or circling around the side to form one giant line of Yunnanosaurus and Nanyangosaurus. Against natural instincts, everyone was motionless; no one was going anywhere.
It saw that they were all standing firm, but onward it marched, seemingly uncaring for what their stance was.
The Yangchuanosaurus was now within a few sprinting paces' distance from them. Then a few running paces. And then it stopped at a few jogging paces away, staring at all of them with those brown, murderous eyes it had. It did nothing but stand there and watch.
A family killer was what it was, nothing more, and if it wanted them to stand aside, it had another thing coming. It would have to go around them, not through, and he made sure that statement was clear by stepping forward and roaring the loudest roar his mouth could possibly allow at it. The rest either must have had the same thing on their minds or they all played follow-the-leader, not knowing any better. Except the ones on the furthest reaches of the line, for some reason they didn't tell it to move on.
It did nothing in response, just shift its feet to relieve the discomfort of standing idly, and continue to stare at them without expression. The Yangchuanosaurus simply waited until the roaring died down - which took a fair while - and then made a sound like wind passing through a small hole as it twisted its head slightly to its side.
Then something appeared from behind the Yangchuanosaurus's legs, and he stood with a mixture of happiness of what the something was, mortification at how he didn't see the something beforehand, and bewilderment as he began to question why the something was still alive.
That something was his daughter.
His last remaining child ran up to him without hesitation and rubbed herself all along his legs and belly, and where he had the chance, he would stroke his daughter with his hands and rub his cheeks along her body. This continued for a few moments until he realised how close the Yangchuanosaurus had come during his bonding session.
He didn't know why or how or any reason as to why it would return his son, but he was thankful it did, and he wanted to express his thanks in someway or another.
The Yangchuanosaurus took a small step closer and placed its nose to his, then tilted it head down so his was tilted down and both their heads were touching. And it stayed like that for a long while as it breathed in... and out... and in... and out... and in... and out... and in... and then it stepped away, gazed at him directly i the eyes, and then walked away in the direction it had come from.
He was left wondering what exactly he had just experienced.
As they all pushed on to wherever the herd leader was taking them, he noted that the Yunnanosaurus and Nanyangosaurus were making noises: a kind of whooping. It was the sound they used to express their joy and happiness at the return of one of their own... Nothing could describe it, because the emotion in those calls...
He had no intention of going back to his cave to be alone. Not anymore. Not when he stole someone away from someone else's life. Now he was going to ensure, from the shadows of the forests, that that life was long and happy, and anyone who was going to deny it the wellbeing it deserved was going to have to go through him first. His food would be the bodies they would find along the way, or the ones of this herd who died of natural causes. No more hunting. If he would starve because of that vow, then so be it.
But he took a life. Now it was time to give a life back.
The first thing he could feel when he woke up was the rock his chin was resting on. He didn't open his eyes immediately, he just lay there waiting for the rest of his body to wake up, and as it did so he could feel big grazes, bruises and small cuts all along his arms, legs and sides. His mouth was dry and belly was empty.
He opened his eyes to find someplace different before him - certainly not the forested areas of the mainland he was used to. Instead he found himself lying on a rocky outcrop at the edge of a beach, the shore just a few paces from his face, gently lapping at the sand and rocks. Beyond that was another landmass, several hundred great distances away, and by the size of it, it seemed like that was the mainland. That would mean that this was the island he saw out of the corner of his eye when his herd would walk along the shoreline.
He raised his head and craned it slowly, following how far the sands went in either direction. He could say one thing for sure: the island was much bigger than what it appeared to be on the mainland shores. But then again everything looked bigger up close than from a distance.
It wasn't just sand and boulders that lined the beach; branches, twigs, and bits of earth and leaves were scattered across the otherwise completely white shoreline. The roaring winds and stinging rain had ceased, which meant the storm had ended a long time ago, making way for a cloudy sky. He knew he would have bad memories for a long time afterwards.
Wait. If the waves washed him up here and his herd was over there...
It hurt to get up onto his feet and hands, but he pushed through the pain and stood on his two feet and looked about harder. All across the shoreline there was nothing but fallen trees and broken branches, small birds and pterosaurs too. How they had managed to hang on through the storm was not for him to know, nor was why they had returned so soon.
He rested on all fours and let out a worried sigh through his nostrils. This wasn't good. He didn't know how to swim too well so he couldn't make his way back to mainland. He'd never been more than a few paces away from any other Iguanodon for his entire life. He wanted to keep it that way.
He stared over the rest of the island - the rest of the island that he could see at any rate - and attempted to decide which direction he should take: left where it seemed there was a small river leading into the island, right towards a stony hill, or forwards into the pine forest. His eyes kept shifting between the three directions all the while a deep, hollow feeling of isolation was growing inside of him, specifically in his back.
Before that feeling grew any worse, he decided to take the path on the left.
His thighs and triceps ached to walk, and he must have hit his head pretty bad when he was washed away by those big waves because there was a throbbing at the rear of his skull. He could do nothing to quell the minor irritation, only walk through it and hope it would go away soon.
He had now been walking for a long time, and there was still no end to the island in sight. What appeared to be a river turned out to be the shallow dividing line between the island he was on and another island. More of a sand bar than an actual island - only one tree was left, the rest had gone. The evidence for this notion was the large holes in the ground with ripped roots. The winds would have caught the branches and upturned the trees and the waves would have washed them away.
Aside from that minor revelation, there really was nothing much else to note: the shoreline maintained the same state of devastation as far as he could see, although there was a new item amongst the debris. If he looked to his left and out to the surrounding ocean, there would be small lumps bobbing in the water. Bodies. Drowned bodies slowly drifting inwards and outwards with the waves. The sea masked their smell, but they still weren't a pretty sight, especially since he knew they were there and couldn't help staring. One of them was being mauled and eaten by sharks, further reassuring him that he should not cross the strait to the mainland.
The feeling of loneliness was growing. He started calling out for the hope of finding someone, anyone, who might have washed ashore too. It wasn't nice being alone. There was this unspoken need to be around others of his own kind, as well as the obvious advantage of safety in numbers.
His calls started to hurt his throat after a while. He needed water soon. But it would be best if he finished his lap around the island first; see if anyone was here or swimming towards the island. Who knew? It was the rainy season. Sometimes huge mounds of cold, white things floated on the water and made landfall. Then after a while they would melt into the sea. Maybe someone had made it onto one of those mounds and was floating around on the waves. The thought kept his mind off the current task for a while. His mind trailed off too often, maybe.
He was looking at the ground when he turned around the corner of the island. If he had been paying attention he would have realised he smelt or heard it long before he saw it. Just ahead of him was another Iguanodon. Except it was dead. It was a few paces away and it was lying there on its side, eyes devoid of life, bloody ribcage showing, the skin having been torn off, and with a predator - specifically an Allosaurus - holding the carcass steady as it ate away at the stomach.
He stood still, but not out of fear. The feeling was something different. Maybe he was frozen by the sadness of one of his blood being reduced to raw food. Maybe it was fear, but he certainly didn't feel like he was scared. He just stared and stood still and breathed slowly.
The Allosaurus lifted its head to swallow a hunk of meat, then noticed him staring at it. It stared back at him with a carnivorous gaze, the kind that instructed him to back off. He did as he was non-verbally told; bowing his head in the process of reversing to make sure it got the message. It huffed once and went back to eating.
The corpse wasn't fresh. Its skin was pale indicating it had probably been a victim of the flooding, now drowned and washed ashore, making the Allosaurus a scavenger. The body would be its primary food source for a good few days and nights, as would all the others that would wash onto the beaches, but after that he would need to watch out.
It tilted its head upward again as it swallowed another piece and halted as it took note of him a second time. Its bloody lips matched the colour of its bony eye ridges. The eyes struck him more than anything else: a gold-yellow in colour around the iris. The red of the ridges and yellow of the eyes stood out like the sun in the sky in contrast to the rest of its body, which was a raincloud grey barring the black stripes running vertically across its back. It had bruises and grazes too, like he had. That probably meant it was swept from the mainland too. It also had something so noticeable he couldn't believe he didn't see it until just now: a deep gash to its left thigh. It had stopped bleeding, but it did not look like something anyone could merely shrug off.
It stepped over the carcass and took two steps towards him with that same gaze it used before. It hissed as it breathed in and snarled as it breathed out, then barked at him to get away. He took one final look at the gash and then ran on his legs into the island's forest to his right.
His first day on the island passed by really quite quickly, as did the second and the third. The island was much larger than he could ever have anticipated from the mainland shore. It even had a small lake somewhere inside the forest of pine trees and steep rocky crevices. Most of his time was spent either eating or searching for anyone else who might have winded up on the beach - preferably another member of his herd, or what's left of it, judging by the amount of bodies he saw lining the horizon.
The migration was therefore a complete failure. All the friends he knew gone in a matter of moments.
He sighed as he opened his eyes. He had been awake for a few moments before, but only now did he open his eyes. He had hoped he would go back to dreaming about silly things. Silly things done in silly locations with silly creatures, like running contests and... he couldn't remember what else he saw in his dreams. That was the funny thing about them: he could never totally recall a dream, not that there was anyone to recall a dream to - he had no way of communicating aside from a call of distress, a call of happiness, a call of embarrassment, a call of anger, and a call for a mate. That was the reason his herd was migrating before the storm hit - if it had been successful and if he had proven himself this time, he would have been a first-time father.
Now he couldn't be with anyone again unless the sea shrank or another storm hit another herd following the exact same route. But if the latter were to happen then there would be more death, and no one except sharks and scavengers would want to see that.
He sighed again and picked himself up off the rocky outcrop - the very same he woke up on three days before. There was nothing to do aside from the same routine: eat, drink, rest, repeat until dusk, all the while keep lookout.
He did as his stomach and throat demanded, bending to their will and whim. When he grew hungry he would strip the leaves off the trees, and when his oesophagus felt dry, he would go to the little lake and drink.
But that just couldn't be all that he could do on the island. There just had to be something else he could do to occupy his time other than just resting all the time and getting up when he felt hungry or thirsty or heard or smelt something out of the ordinary.
His thighs and triceps still hadn't recovered from when he first awoke: whenever he shifted weight to either one they would hurt, but it was oddly a good hurt. Interesting there was such a thing - a hurt that felt nice.
He came up with a solution to the problem of his boredom and his aching thighs about midday when the light was brightest. Propelled by little more than his own wonder, he strode out from the forest and found himself a spot on the beach. There he looked straight ahead, breathed deeply, felt a strange sensation in his stomach, then began to run. Sprinting on his two legs, he reached the corner of the island in no time, especially since there was no time to measure, and turned, lost footing on the slippery sand for a few steps, then regained grip and sped onward. His thighs had that same good aching every time he stomped the ground and brought them back up. And every time it hurt, it felt a little better than it did the previous time. The pain was lessening.
He turned another corner to see the same Iguanodon carcass he saw three days ago now gnawed to the bone and picked clean by pterosaurs.
He kept running, slightly faster now.
The next corner in the island's shape was not so much a corner but rather a long bend leading to the same stony hill that was to his right when deciding which direction he should take on the first day. The only easy way past it he could see was to follow the sands a little distance into the water and go around, so that was what he did.
When he turned back to the above-water beach, he saw a cave dug into the hill. He wanted to stop and investigate to see if it was viable shelter, but decided it would be best on the second lap when he had less energy.
He didn't stop on the second lap: he noticed it was already occupied by the same Allosaurus he saw before. He could tell by the ugly-looking wound to its thigh. It was lying down and it was awake and well aware of his presence, but only followed him with its head. And its gaze was nothing like the one it used before to tell him to back away - no, this was something different. If it was still there on the third lap, he'd risk stopping.
It was. He halted. It didn't move, just stared. He started running again, but only to a small distance further away, back to his starting point. It stood up and moved out of the cave, looking down the direction he came. He knew why. It was searching for a reason for his running.
He had a reason, but it wasn't a very good one. It switched its focus from him to the route he took, then back to him, then back to the route, then finally snorted and shook its head at the same time and went back into its cave to rest. He went back to doing laps around the island. The third and fourth times he lapped the island it would stand up and search the direction he came from then go back to resting. After the fifth, it became annoyed rather than interested, hissing and barking and growling at him to go away. He persisted, and on the eighth lap, it gave up trying to tell him what to do.
He let himself succumb to fatigue midway through the ninth lap on the opposite side of the island to the Allosaurus: it was best it didn't see he was exhausted in case it was hungry.
It was dusk, and after letting his legs recuperate he finished off a tree's leaves and settled down for sleep.
His thighs didn't hurt anymore, nor did his triceps - holding his arms up and running long and hard did their work. If only he could share his discovery with someone else...
The next day he was feeling really invigorated; an unintended effect he could only assume came from his laps around the island. He walked with a bound in his step and a feeling of positivity and confidence in his gut. He wanted to see for how long he could really run around the island: his last attempt ended sooner than he liked due to the light giving in to dark. But before he could do anything that involved exerting his body, he would need to satisfy his thirst.
He strode into the forest he now almost knew like the nesting site his herd was heading to. Aside from a small patch near the rocky hill, he had practically mapped the entire island mentally. The forest made up the majority of the landmass, with the small lake being only a few long distances from the ocean on any side. Crevices wide enough for him to fit through scarred the area, usually filled with seawater at the deepest points. No major landmarks.
He made it to the lake without hassle as opposed to the other times where he rolled a wrist or stubbed a toe when he failed to notice a drop in the landscape or a rock just in front of him. So, indeed, today was turning out to be pretty good.
The lake gave off a sweet scent. He would have liked to know how that was so, but he couldn't and he knew he never would; it was just nice to taste something sweet so close to something as salty as the sea itself.
Before he got stuck into drinking, he heard something come from his right behind a line of bushes. It sounded like splashing. He came closer to the water's edge and peered over the natural barrier while standing on two feet to see the Allosaurus taking a drink. It would nibble at the gash on its thigh from time to time as if it was irritating. The wound seemed to be turning black.
He knew he shouldn't as it was definitely against any sane judgment, but he called out to it.
The Allosaurus jumped as it realised it was being watched. He was no expert in recognising the looks in eyes, but he could take an uneducated guess that it was scared for a moment, just one moment, to see him looking over the wall of bushes. It narrowed its eyes, barked at him, then snorted and walked away to the other side of the lake.
It amused him how maybe a predator could feel fear. He called again. It turned its head up for a moment, snarled, and then went back to drinking. To be this tolerant, it must have found another source of food. He circled around the lake and approached it once more. It stared at him through slit eyes. He drank. It moved away. He followed it once again. This time it turned its whole body towards him, put its left foot forward, and roared. He tried to look unmoved, but he had to admit the majority of his muscles and organs were wrenching for him to turn tail and run for the coast. When he didn't respond, the Allosaurus leant further with its left leg and roared again, only to be cut short. Its left thigh cramped up - the muscle visibly contracting under the skin - and the roar became a yelp. It tried to recompose itself, but it lost balance and fell into the lake.
He watched in complete amusement as the mighty beast fumbled about in the lake, found its feet, rose from the water and limped away back to its cave, giving him a hiss as it passed him.
When it was nearly gone from sight, he called again and it said nothing in reply. He could only guess, but maybe that was the first time the Allosaurus had experienced the rare feeling of embarrassment.
As a safety precaution, he spent the following nights in one of the crevices within the forest in case he had unintentionally caused a grudge. Now, as he was hiding through a second day without food or water, he was most definitely regretting his actions.
He began realising what he had done moments after he did it, and decided the best place to hide was the places that smelled like the sea, but now, two days later, his hidey-hole smelt like his excrement. It wouldn't be safe to stay in a place that reeked of himself any longer. He would need to find another hole soon, and maybe strip a few branches and get a drink from the lake if he felt like trying his luck.
He pulled himself out of the crevice. His throat really hurt, even to breathe it ached. The entrance and therefore exit was steep and he struggled to find any grip on the clay surface, but he eventually made his way out and into the forest.
Thunder boomed several great distances away, which probably meant rains would soon follow. The lake was looking quite empty the last time he checked... for once a storm could do some good.
It would be best to stay out of holes in the ground for the time being while the rain swept through; if it was anything like the storm that killed his herd, the fallen water would easily fill up the crevices in next to no time.
The Allosaurus would probably have seen the signs long before and stuck to its cave to wait out the gale, which would mean he had all the time to restock on his food stores.
Two days without and it made every leaf seem like a meal on its own. And it was even better when he caught a flower off the branch, though really the flowering bushes were quite early - the wet season was not over yet, but it was a sign that it was coming to a close. That would be for the best. He just hoped this storm was not like the hell the herd-killer was.
The sky began to spit, quickly followed by a steady downpour. It felt so soothing to have something on his back other than the sun. The droplets dulled the pain of two days of sunburnt skin. He stood up onto his legs and looked straight up to the sky. Rain hit his eyes. He closed them and opened his mouth. Water streamed in, trickled down his tongue and streamed through his throat. Time felt like it had frozen - he had never felt so relaxed in all his life. So relaxed that he had to shift his feet as he lost his balance at times, but all the time he kept his eyes closed and mouth open, and lost himself in peacefulness.
His legs grew tired and he brought his arms to the ground and settled on all fours, eyes still closed trying to hold to that feeling of bliss. But he knew it was time to move, he opened his eyes and took two steps before he halted.
Just ahead of him, no more than one Iguanodon length away, stood yellow eyes.
They didn't do anything or say anything, just stared into his eyes. The Allosaurus gave nothing away about its mood for that was already clear as day: head low and eyelids near closing point. Rain dripped down its eye ridges, teeth, lips and chin. It growled once. He stepped back. Lightning flashed. It roared with a rage he hadn't heard in any creature ever. Thunder clapped its giant hands. It stepped forward. He turned and ran. Over the thunder and the howling wind and stinging rain he could hear the Allosaurus huffing through its nostrils and making contact with the ground with its massive feet as it gave chase through the pines. He couldn't look back at his pursuer, not with all these trees he had to watch out for, no matter how bad he wanted to see how far its jaws were from reaching his tail, or stomach, or neck. He couldn't go to the beach: it'd catch up to him if there were no obstacles in the way, no doubt about that. The only oth- Crevice! He jumped over successfully, but lost a lot of speed by stopping to make the perfect leap. Now looking back, he couldn't say the same for his attacker: it stopped for a second, jumped, and then yelped as it landed on its left foot. He pressed on.
Maybe if he tried the unexplored side he'd have a chance. Being chased, he wasn't exactly inclined to disagree with himself. To the unexplored area it was.
He turned his head back to see the Allosaurus still hunting him down at the fastest limp possible. He thread himself through a large gap in a rock wall. He just hoped that it wasn't...
On all sides there were walls. Too steep and high and slippery for him to climb and there was barely enough room for him to move. He stared down the only passage in and out.
Maybe if he made a stand the Allosaurus would figure he was too difficult to be prey and back down. His breathing intensified.
He could hear it coming through now; feet struggling to find comfortable positions. It huffed in frustration. Another step quickly followed by another yelp. He stopped breathing entirely. He heard a scuffle, filled with wailing and yelping and growls of frustration and heavy footsteps and thunder and rain. Until silence, with exception to the thunder and rain. He breathed again and took slow, cautious steps towards the passage. He followed the contours that had been carved in the stone. His eyes shifted from side to front to side. Then he was back at the main forest, with no sign of the Allosaurus in sight. Left, right, no sign.
Wait. Yes there was. On the wall on his right there was a patch of... he sniffed. Blood. It was blood - probably from the gash rubbing against the stone. He backed away at the smell and scanned the area again. He tried the ground. Footprints pressed into the mud. They led away from the area in the direction of the cave. It was best not to follow.
The next few nights he found refuge in the same crevice, but over the next few days there were no signs that his pursuer had entered the forest since it had exited. The storm passed with no repercussions and the light shone without a cloud in the sky. It was perfect, but there was something imperfect. The Allosaurus hadn't shown anywhere. Not hunting for him, nor at the lake, or on the coast. The only place he hadn't checked was the cave, but even so, he was scared to go near that place, completely in contrast to how he had behaved before the minor storm.
It wasn't good to have a predator on an island where he was the only real prey. So why should he care for the well-being of a threat? Even so, something was still tugging at him to go see the creature's fate.
For some reason, the forest felt empty without it.
He walked along the beach to reach the cave. The wind was blowing towards him and he could smell the faint scent of rotting flesh. It wasn't a nice smell; it probably wouldn't even smell nice to carnivores either, but even his nose couldn't confirm what his eyes could not see. He walked ever so slowly forward.
The cave was in sight, but no Allosaurus. Still he kept his pace: he had to be sure.
There was a small corner dug into the earth just by the cave, held up by limestone. He could hear laboured huffing. It had to be it.
Sure enough as his line of sight increased into the corner, he could see a tail, a snout, two legs, a whole head, and a body. It looked in bad shape. He knew it could smell him, and see him too: its nostrils were flaring and its eyes were wide open. He took a step forward and it snarled at him. He took another step and its snarling turned into a growl. He took another and it sat itself into a ready-to-stand pose, then it yelped and fell back onto its right side, head rested on a rock.
Its gash had turned totally black. He'd seen it happen with many of his herd before: sometimes they would be attacked by predators and would survive with deep cuts. Most times the wounds would heal and leave scars, but other times the wounds went black and, if left unmonitored and untreated, the victim would die. The great Allosaurus struck down by an infection it caught from a cut it received while being swept away in a storm. It could do nothing to him, and he could do anything he wanted with it, even put it out of its misery with his thumb spike if he wanted. But instead he walked away back to the rocky outcrop and peered into a dry rockpool and found something.
She closed her eyes as it went away to the rocky outcrop. She couldn't do anything anymore. She couldn't strike fear into anyone else, couldn't run, couldn't jump. Couldn't survive. Outlived by the last dinosaur she probably would ever have seen.
Then she heard a thud. She opened her eyes to find something just in front of her mouth. It was a dead turtle. The Iguanodon reverted back to walking on four legs and looked at her. She looked back. It nudged the dead turtle closer. It smelt like it had been dead for a day or two, but it was something, and that was better than nothing. She extended her neck and bit the flipper and brought it closer.
The Iguanodon stuck its thumb spike into her gash a little way, and it hurt like fire. She yelped hard and barked at it in anger. If it was going to kill her at least it could cut her neck. It walked over to the sea. She glared to make sure it got the message. Then she went back to the turtle.
It felt so nice to get a bit of something in her belly for once.
Another stinging sensation in her cut, but this one felt sort of good at the same time. The Iguanodon had taken water from the ocean, carried it in its mouth, and dropped it into the opened wound. She shuddered. It started to lick the gash with its tongue. Each lick eased the pain and the constant throbbing.
Her breathing slowed. She relaxed her muscles all over.
She woke to find the Iguanodon resting by her the next morning. Her cut was less black and felt a whole lot better. She stared at the creature next to her. And only one thing came to her mind.
She held onto that thought and nudged it with her feet. It woke, stood up on all fours and looked at her with a look she had only ever seen from one other creature in her life. It brought its head close to hers, breathing slow, careful breaths. She raised her head slightly and her eyes held his gaze. It leaned in, drew back in hesitation, then leaned in again and lightly pressed its cheek to her neck.
Surprise swept her. It felt odd, but somewhat comforting at the same time. Instincts yelled at her to bite at its exposed throat, but it was acting completely out of what instincts would have demanded. Then she had a moment of clarity, and she knew why it did what it did. She closed her eyes and returned the nuzzle.
It wanted someone to love.
(Moral: Enemies may put aside hate for a common yearning)
Several years ago my friend and I went to America to pursue palaeontology as a possible career. World interest in the subject had faded considerably since the middle of the 21st century, and as a consequence funds for digs and research had dropped about 75%. The teams who were able to scrape by on what money they could salvage were underfunded and not able to afford proper equipment. Most of the teams out there weren't given charity by any other companies or research labs - they used their own money, as digging for fossils was their hobby. My friend and I went on a work experience field trip from our college out to one of few dig sites left in the Ghost Ranch area of New Mexico. The sun was beating down so we all had to squint to see our caretakers for the day.
After lunch was served two of the palaeontologists took us out towards this long-dried up lake, which had now been reduced to little more than a mud pit. We were each given six small containers to put any fragments of fossils we found inside. I had nearly finished and was about to head over to the rest of the group who were looking at this cliff's side and determining all the different geological eras in which the layers had formed. That's when my friend's temper broke. He had been looking the longest out of all of us and could not find the last fossil to fill his last container. I can't say what was going through his head to make him snap like that, but he started jumping up and down all over the shop, stomping on the ground hard. He took notice of me and a few other staring at him and told us to mind our own business with his eyes alone. He then stomped again and something crunched. I looked over my shoulder to see my friend having sunk a small distance into the ground - about a few centimetres - and staring back at me with a face full of anxiety. He yelled my name, asking me what to do. I told him to stay put and not to shift about. He replied by stating that if he stood there then it might collapse. I was midway through telling him to get off in that case when the floor gave in. I remember the sudden drop with his arms being the last I saw of him go through the hole he made.
He didn't die though - he wasn't even really that injured when I peered over the edge of the hole, with the exception of being winded. He had accidentally found a small cave beneath the dry lakebed, and when we pulled him out, he claimed - and we confirmed - he had discovered an entire fossilised skeleton of a Coelophysis inside.
To this date, or at least the date this book has been published, it is the most perfectly preserved specimen of a Coelophysis ever discovered. My friend was rewarded handsomely for his contribution to science and for the increased enthusiasm for palaeontology. But the one thing that has split scientists over this find is the debate over the specimen's intelligence. While the majority of news coverage has been on the invasion of the Caucasus, the scientific world has been focussing on the Coelophysis - now called AMNH 191375 - and the conditions and environment in which it was found.
The cave in which the Coelophysis was found was filled with scratch marks - the majority of which has been dismissed as its futile attempts at clawing a way out as the entrance had been blocked - but there were many that can be seen as symbols for objects and creatures and perhaps even words whose meanings aren't assigned to objects. Words like ‘new' and ‘old', ‘past', ‘present' and ‘future'. The suggested lexicon on one of the walls of the cave - if what has been postulated is true - could be the first evidence of language, and intelligent life before humanity. The very idea has shocked and intrigued scientists and palaeontologists the world over: that maybe dinosaurs, or at least some of them, were not as base as we thought. Many claim it to be possible, and many others claim the scratch marks to be mere coincidence.
My friend's name is Simon Murray, and he strongly holds the belief that she was intelligent. We know AMNH 191375 was a she because of sexual dimorphism - skeletal differences between sexes. I am inclined to agree on the intelligent part. For those who will say it is near impossible for a creature like that to think intelligent thoughts or have feelings and any sense of sentience, I will remind you of one specific case:
A long time ago, spanning from the late 20th to early 21st century, an experiment took place. The subject of this experiment was an African Grey parrot called Alex. After 30 years with his caretaker, Irene M. Pepperberg, teaching him and teaching him, he could assign words to objects, to shapes and to colours and to actions and could even count, add and subtract, and understand the concept of 0. He could recognise and understand and say words that had no specific real-world meaning. He could identify an object's texture and name it for what it was, whether it was wool or cotton or corn or bark. Sometimes he would grow bored of his testing and play tricks on Irene. He loved to dance. And he was interviewed several times. On September 5, 2007, Irene was setting up Alex to go to sleep, she was about to leave when Alex said:
"You be good. I love you."
He had picked up the phrase ‘I love you' from the students who would help with the research and his training. Whether he knew what it meant when he said it could never be known, because the next day, Alex was found dead. Cause: inconclusive.
A media blitz followed his passing. Articles were written marking his passing, commending him and Irene on their insight into the animal mind which - until Alex - was considered ‘lowlier' than a human's. A torrent of emails was sent to Irene with condolences for her loss.
Irene went into mourning for a long while after that, and all because of a bird who challenged the beliefs of that time: that animals are not as dumb as we think.
How small was Alex's brain compared to ours? If intelligence had anything to do with brain size, how could he have possibly accomplished so many things that were deemed impossible, like knowing a single number five represented more than two square pieces of wood? If intelligence had anything to do with brain size, how is it that elephants and blue whales aren't taking over the earth as we speak? If intelligence had anything to do with brain size, how is it that we H. sapiens have survived where the Neanderthal has become extinct?
Another example is Koko the gorilla. Born on the 4th of July, 1971, Koko had been taught the American Sign Language and could sign approximately 1000 words and understand at least 2000 English words by 2014. While not the first, she was one of a few non-humans known to have kept pets. Koko asked for a cat for her birthday in 1983. She was given a life-like stuffed animal instead. She was less than pleased and didn't want to play with it, continually signing ‘sad'. Her next birthday, in 1984, she was able to choose from a litter of abandoned kittens.
She chose a grey Manx and named him ‘All Ball', and nursed him and played with him as gently as she would with a gorilla baby. The researchers believed the kitten might act as a tool to help her learn how to take care of offspring of her own.
In December of the same year, All Ball escaped from Koko's enclosure and was hit and killed by a car. Doctor Penny Patterson, the lead researcher, signed that All Ball had died. Koko signed back, "Bad, sad, bad," and "frown, cry, frown, sad."
Later, Patterson reported hearing Koko making a sound similar to human weeping.
If intelligence has nothing to do with species, then who are we to say that AMNH 191375 was not intelligent? Why do many of us insist that no other species besides our own has a soul and can experience love and all other kinds of emotion?
You get the point I'm trying to put across, I hope. But if you will allow me to keep talking, I will put forward three more arguments.
1: Elephants have a language.
2: We are humans, and we are mammals, and it took 100+ million years for us humans with emotions and intelligent minds to evolve while dinosaurs had a 165+ million year reign over the world.
3: What we find fossilised is probably less than 1% of whatever lived back then: there were easily millions, possibly billions of creatures living all at one time, and only a fraction was preserved.
I say: "Dragons exist(ed)."
You say: "Prove it."
I say: "Disprove it."
You say: "There's no solid evidence they ever existed."
I say: "Precisely."
Just because something is not there doesn't mean it does not or never did exist.
Still not convinced? Then all I can say to you, thanks to relaxed publishing and editorial regulations, is to shut this book (or burn it, your preference), go away, and have a nice cup of your narrow-minded tea as you relax in your armchair of arrogance in front of your fireplace of shame in your home of conservativeness.
The following pages you read are a compilation of short stories that all expand on the debate of AMNH 191375. I would not wish to write about AMNH 191375 herself as it would ruin any speculation as to what her life was like 203 million years ago - there are some things best left for the imagination.
These are the stories of the hate, love, curiosity and heartache that may or may not have come from a time before time was conceived. These are the stories of some of the creatures that may or may not have been a cut above the rest of their herd or pack. These are the stories of the dinosaurs that may or may not have existed.
These are the stories of the lives of technicolour.
I'd like to ask for a raise of hands, but it's impossible because you're reading a blog and I can't see you hands, but I am assuming everyone has seen Jurassic Park. Did anyone like it? Yes? But the sequels, however, they failed to live up to the last ones standards, the reason being that everything that was new in the first was reused in the second and third, making everything that was "WOW" turn into something that was "ugh, again?". A chain of events occur to cause a group of people to find themselves on an island being chased by dinosaurs, and eaten one by one until only the main characters are left alive and find a way off the island. After watching it happen three times, it quickly becomes a boring plot, especially if there's no twist.
The rumour of a fourth movie of this same series, supposedly called Jurassic World has prompted me to suggest a new, possibly more innovative storyline for a fourth/fifth Jurassic Park movie.
Around about the same time as Jurassic Park and the two other dinosaur wilderness ranges were being constructed, a fourth, little-known installation was also set up. The purpose of this complex on Isla Estrella was to study the behavior of dinosaurs more closely and effectively than its other tourist-attracting counterparts. Basically it was more of a free-range research facility, another investment InGen failed to officially list. The employees here must take extraordinary lengths to remain undetected by the resident dinosaurs so as to not ‘contaminate' the results. So unbeknownst to the dinosaurs, they all live in captivity while it may not seem like it. Believing that the dinosaurs are unable to reproduce, the employees use the same techniques as seen in Jurassic Park to recreate the dinosaurs from their eggs.
Then one day, something wrong happens with one of the batches of velociraptor eggs: something causes them to hatch prematurely, and die within a matter of minutes. One of the employees, Janet Keen, manages to save one of the infants. But she exposed it to human contact. Any dinosaur that has seen a human must, regrettably, be destroyed for fear it may contaminate the results of studies into pack and solitary behavior of certain dinosaur species. However clean her record is, Janet doesn't like the idea that she would have to hand over and end the life she just saved. She sneaks the infant back home to her residential lodge and raises it over the years. Janet and the velociraptor, whom she later names Felix (sex is told by the presence of primitive feathers at the back of the neck), bond like a mother and son, disproving the stereotype the previous three have left us with: that all dinosaurs are cold-blooded killers and nothing more.
The fact that Felix is a boy and not a girl like the rest makes Janet wonder if it was intentional, or the fact the thing that went wrong caused the intended sex to be changed.
Through several near misses, Janet keeps Felix hidden from all other staff.
Eventually, the lodge becomes too small for a velociraptor to hide in, and Janet decides to take Felix out to the free-range section of the island, though knowing full well that it could jeopardize the entire research program. She and her reptilian friend part, though Felix is left absolutely baffled as to why his adoptive mother would just leave him like that. And what were all these new creatures around him that had the same skin texture, but were bigger or smaller? He doesn't like it there.
Meanwhile back at the main facility, the administration receives a call about the Isla Nublar Incident and to monitor for any hostile or overly curious behavior on the dinosaurs' part, and also to search for these mystery eggs that Dr. Alan Grant reported he saw.
Scared, lonely, and rejected by every wild pack of velociraptor, Felix finds a way back to the only place he knows where he is accepted - Janet's lodge. He's spotted and an alarm is sounded. Just hearing the word from Isla Nublar, the orders are to shoot and kill before the rogue dinosaur develops a taste for human. Felix temporarily evades capture and finds Janet, who's relieved to see him safe, but also worried that he shouldn't be in the compound side of the island. She tries to get him back over, but he refuses and is captured, and Janet arrested.
With the detection of eggs in the velociraptor population, the InGen security forces assume they were Felix's doing, and decide to start fresh by designing a waterborne virus that would kill velociraptors and only velociraptors and introduce it to the island's water supply. With no parents, the infants would die off quickly either by exposure or by predators.
Felix is infected as a test, in front of Janet in an opposite holding cell no less, and is left to die as the security detail climbs in the helicopters and head for Isla Estrella's only freshwater lake. But Felix miraculously recovers from the contagion, and escapes along with Janet. She directs him to a lab to synthesize an antidote from his blood, and head to the lake to disinfect the water supply. Along the way, Felix defends her from some of the velociraptor packs that hunted him when he was in the wild.
When they reach the lake, the helicopters have gone, but the effects of the contaminated water are clear; bodies of velociraptors hang at the edges of the spring twitching and writhing in pain as the virus kills them slowly. Not just raptors, an adolescent Tyrannosaurus, and several other herbivores are also infected - lying on their bellies moaning.
Isla Estrella's InGen administrators see they've made a big mistake and tell their staff to pack up and leave as the project has completely been mucked up and would cost too much to fix.
Janet applies the antidote to the lake and injects the affected dinosaurs, and in turn waits for each to recover. Knowing she saved them stops them from eating her and her accomplice, and all walk their separate ways. Felix and Janet make their way back to the InGen complex to find everything being packed away on boats in the docks, getting ready to sail back to mainland America. The security details on board deny letting her join them in their exodus so long as she had Felix with her. Janet knows what drove him to come back to her lodge, and refuses to leave him behind. The InGen administrator reminds her that rescue will not come for her if she stays - as all the phone lines have been severed and helicopters are being taken - but still she refuses, and watches as they sail away to the horizon.
Her and Felix's fate remains a mystery to this day.
So how's that for a movie idea? It'd probably need some cleaning up and a multimillion-dollar budget, but I think it has potential. Of course, that's a bias statement coming from the person who thought about it from scratch between 1:30 PM and 9:26 PM.
Once upon a time, on no particular morning, on no particular day, in no particular week, in no particular month, on no particular year, in no particular millennium, in no particular country, in no particular state, in no particular city, in no particular suburb and certainly in no particular mansion, a king awoke. He had everything he could possibly think of, and was loved by all his subjects. He was kind, he was humble, he was clean and he was practical. He was a genius and he was a learner, he was a philosopher and he was a mathematician, he was a realist and he was a surrealist, he was contradictory and he was non-contradictory. But most of all, he was a lover. He loved art and he loved nature, he loved science and he loved logic, he loved fact and he loved fiction, he loved the mind and he loved the soul.
On this no particular morning, the king spoke into a small microphone on his bedside table and kindly requested three warm pancakes with maple syrup. Within five minutes, his order was ready and presented to him on a platter that spanned his lap. He ate his breakfast with absolute bliss. Once the platter had been cleared away, he sat up and hopped into his wheelchair, which was always conveniently placed near his bed each evening. He guided himself towards the wardrobe and selected a very common and casual shirt and a very common and casual pair of trousers; two of the very limited number of items of clothing he had within his wardrobe. After attending to the minor issues that cropped up from political advisors and informants, he decided to take a stroll around the city.
As he rolled by the many shops and windows and pedestrians he passed, all the tenants and faces lit up with his presence, and said hello, and hi-fived with him from time to time. He passed through a lovely park filled with trees with lovely orange leaves, and birds singing to their heart's content, and small mammals scurrying around and up and along the trunks. Dogs wagged their tails at his passing, and barked with joy when he said hello back. The sky was grey with clouds, but the ground was lit as if the sun was fully out. He stopped by his son's house, which was rather less extravagant than his own, and knocked on the door and waited for a reply. The son opened the door and invited his father in, but he refused and invited the son to join his little walk, claiming it would lighten his heart even more.
The two stopped for coffee in a common coffee shop, and enjoyed a muffin each with a side order of a medium-sized mug of hot chocolate - a delicacy dating to when the son was around about the size of a fire hydrant. The father and the son stayed in there for a good few hours, discussing how good things had been both within and without the kingdom, and what would happen in the future, and saying thank you to those who served their table. Some of the other customers bowed as soon as they entered and exited the shop, much to the king's displeasure. When the two had had their fill, they paid the bill and left the area, back to their homes from whence they came.
Midday, the leader of a neighbouring country came to the palace simply to keep in touch with an old friend. The king and the leader ate and laughed and chuckled and discussed and laughed some more until it reached evening.
Come time to go to bed, the king redressed into his pyjamas and pulled himself out of his wheelchair. He sat on his bed for a good few hours, reading a book he had read during his childhood, and had since forgotten the storyline. When his eyes grew heavy, he put the book away and thought about the world, and his long departed wife, his son, and how happy everyone was. Then he spoke into the microphone on his bedside table, and requested euthanasia.
If you are confused about the end, it's supposed to question euthanasia. What this story was supposed to do was ask you, if someone so well loved and respected and admired was to request death, would you let him?
In this case, the king is the happiest he has ever been in a long time, and he doesn't want to see the world change any more for better or for worse. He wants to remember the world as the day was; happy and peaceful. And now that he is growing old, it's his time anyway.
"You lot the uni students?"
There was a slight embarrassed air among the group before him, as they thought they displeased the man before them, despite the friendly look on his face. He also had a beige cowboy hat placed on his head, shading his eyes from the sun.
"We'll don't all speak at once." He jested.
"Yes, we're the university group," Simon said aloud, "Mr...?"
"West, Mr West," the work experience group sniggered a little, "yeah well, I thought if I sounded the part, I should dress the part shouldn't I? Well, we're going to be doing a little excavation on a group of dinosaurs we uncovered a few days ago and you guys, and gals, are going to be helping out a little, and get some experience while you're at it."
The group of two girls and four boys - two of which were Simon and Ethan - followed the cowboy to an area of commotion and heavy equipment. There were at least twenty other palaeontologists working around three other excavation sites, lifting, dusting, fixing, debugging, chipping, and just talking. At each of the sites stood a metal frame with a scanner, which, as Mr West explained, was designed to locate and tell the exact size of a fossil.
"But recently we've been having some... technical difficulties," Mr West discussed, "the others are saying they've just got gremlins in the system, as soon as we manage to get it running for five minutes they just conk out. But it doesn't really matter because five minutes is all we really need."
He halted the group at the closest site and walked over to one of the scanner operators.
"Students," he announced, "I'd like you to meet one of our best palaeontologists, Miss Eliza Woods."
"Good morning." The class murmured.
"I thought I'd see a little more enthusiasm from you guys. Oh well, I hope the action will help with your attitude."
"Miss Woods is one of the best in her field of work," West elaborated, "she's helped with over two hundred excavations and found three new dinosaur species in Ghost Ranch alone."
"Okay, Jeffry, no need to brag to the guests."
Eliza, Ethan noticed, had blonde hair hidden by a green-tan hat. She also wore the same green coloured shirt as Mr West, but beige track pants. The shirt had her company's insignia and logo on her right sleeve. All her clothes were relatively dirty - but then that would have been expected for someone in her line of work. Ethan also noticed Mr West had the same insignia.
"So, shall we get down to business?"
The class nodded.
"Good, follow me," she gestured, and so the class did, "as you have probably already been taught, palaeontology means the study of extinct life, and we specialise in the study of dinosaurs. And while we don't have access to any written record or something similar, we can guess how they behaved and what they looked like through what they've left behind. For instance, with footprints we can determine if dinosaurs lived in herds or were solitary. Through their teeth, we can tell if they ate others or plants, or both. And very rarely, we can tell the gender of a dinosaur. Yes? Er..."
"Simon, what is it?"
"What is the most common species around here?"
"Coelophysis. Now the interesting thing about coelophysis is that most of the time we find them, they are all washed up into a pile; suggesting they were buried under debris from a flash flood, which was consistent with the geology and climate that long ago. This led to the belief that they were cannibals; where bones mixed in the stomach region of the one on top, and this was later proven to be wrong. Other times we find them just lying in the middle of nowhere, and those fossils are easier to separate from the rock. Coelophysis was also one of the first bipedal dinosaurs, which later carried on to most of the other predators in the later eras. And we can safely assume the population to be a 50-50 male-female ratio as the number of fossils say so, when looking for sexual dimorphism."
"But you lot won't work directly on the sites, you're going to help a few of the experienced trainees with identification and just supplying us all with whatever tools needed. And- yes?"
"Valerie Atkins, Mr West, what is ‘identification'?"
"Identification," Woods explained, "is basically identifying whether an object is rock or a fossil. While we can usually tell just by the shape or colour, there are sometimes fragments of which we can't be sure of until we take that test. Now, Justin!"
"Yes, Miss Woods?" replied one of the men helping with a site further away.
"Is that table all set up?"
"I never forget a thing!"
"Good man! You three," she separated one of the girls with Simon and Ethan, "to the table, Justin will show you the way. The others, help out at Harry's site, okay?"
"Who's Harry?" one asked.
"Oh, sorry," Mr West interrupted, "I'm Harry; Harry West."
"So are we all okay now?" Eliza re-asked.
The class merely shifted their feet around.
"Okay," She answered herself, and added playfully, "now ge' outta here."
So Ethan and Simon and the girl did as their instructor told them and followed the gesture to the same person who'd called out from before; an African-American dressed in the same attire as Eliza, who apparently answered to the name of Justin. He also looked to be around his twenties. Ethan knew straight away that Simon liked him, and he did too; they both generally liked those of African lineage and neither knew why. Justin's skin was considerably darker than those Ethan had seen elsewhere, so perhaps he came directly from the continent himself.
"The table is just over there," he instructed, indicating the small group to a long waist-high table at the other side of the site, "look, I will show you what to do."
Justin kindly led them around the marked area that was to be where they would excavate, and picked up one of the torch-shaped scanners on the table, and continually smacked it on his hand when it would not work.
"It doesn't seem like much has been done." Simon bluntly observed.
"Gremlins, my friend, gremlins everywhere, in those scanners," he pointed at the bulky machine another trainee was attempting to operate, "these handheld ones, everywhere. No one knows why, or how, they just, poof, appear, then poof, disappear. We even had some computer men come in and try to fix these things, but nothing; they could not find anything wrong. Ah, here we go."
The torch-shaped scanner lit up in red, blue and yellow at the larger end, then flashed off as soon as Justin let his thumb off the button at the other end.
"You see? The scan lasts as long as the button is held. What happens is that you scan one of the items in these trays on the table, you scan it with this, and if it's a rock, the light will turn red. If it is a fossil, the light will turn yellow. If it the scanner flashes blue, it's probably just a piece of bark or some other thing with living cells that's washed into here. In both cases with rocks and bark, throw them in the bag over on the right, for fossils, use one of the cases inside the box underneath the table, then put the case back. You see these scanners were originally designed for medical practises, and identify organic material. If there is none it flashes red, and if the material is only in traces or was there but is dead, it turns yellow. Eliza says they're a cheap alternative to the more sophisticated ones."
"So that's all we have to do?"
"Pretty much, yes."
"And just out of curiosity, where did you collect these samples?"
"Uh... not too far East there's a small incline downwards where rainwater collects into a small puddle every so often. So in this collection of samples there are probably more rocks and bits of organic matter. We collected these from around that area. Now get to it, I have to try and help with this monster of a gremlin."
And so Simon, Ethan, and the girl got to work. They sorted, and sorted, and sorted, and after thirty minutes of sorting they'd gone about halfway through the three trays on the table. Malfunctions with their devices had some part in adding to the time.
"Honestly, Ethan, if I could just get these things under a computer they would all be fixed in less than five minutes." Stated Simon.
"Yes, but this isn't exactly near any reliable power source, is it?" Ethan replied, "Besides, they're easy to fix, just squeeze the thin end really tight, then push the button again."
"Yeah, maybe it fixes it, but maybe it's just as faulty, they need me to take a look at them."
"Oh quit with the bragging will you?"
"What, you know it, I know it, and everyone in high school knew it. I'm the best coder slash engineer around."
"Yeah, so? Just keep it down and get back to work. And stop with the complaining, you want to take up palaeontology or not?"
Silence dwelled again. The sun's rays were becoming hotter and hotter as they day wore on, and being in the middle of a rocky desert didn't really help. The trainee team in front of the table proclaimed they had finally managed to get the scanner working. The frame-mounted device moved from forwards to backward, left to right with a white light on as it attempted to discover how big the site would need to be, if there were any fossils beneath the surface. And according to the machine, there were, and to excavate it would require a site three metres by two metres. The team marked the area out and started to dig, and the three university students watched with fascination, occasionally returning to their assigned duty when they had lost interest. At the current rate the three were working, it would have taken them twice as long to complete the other half of the fragments and samples. Justin narrated to them how palaeontologist would deal with the certain steps required to begin and proceed with excavation, including negotiation with mishaps that could be encountered. Down, down, down they dug ever so slightly until they finally struck fossil, then it was a battle of the brushes. Dust flew up and pebbles scattered, some of which landed all the three's faces. An eye socket, a nose cavity, a nostril, teeth, a small ear, the entire skull was all there, a dark brown in a sea of beige, and the deeper the excavators went the slower they took because if this was a full skeleton, one would not want to be careless around such fragile artefacts - although one should be careful around any fossil. In silence, as if caught in a trance, everyone looked upon the head bewildered; 220 million years amounted to this. Ethan began flooding his own mind with questions; why was it here; was it male or female; how could this happen; was it killed or died naturally; what did it look like; and most oddly, who was it? He knew no answer to any of the questions he asked himself, but they continued to pester him for as long as he watched.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Jason asked the three as he stopped brushing, "You know, this is one of those moments you look upon these creatures and ask yourself ‘who was this dinosaur'." He now had Ethan's full attention, "You ask yourself ‘what did it do', ‘what was its nature'. And no one can say. The only one that could, is this one here, and I find it somewhat of a pity that we can't bring them back, even with the technology of today."
"But what if we could?" asked Simon.
"If we could, I would be so grateful to the man who does."
"No, I meant what would we do with them if they were resurrected."
Jason thought about this a little while, "As far as I am concerned, they should simply be allowed live. Who knows what the mass extinction of the late Triassic was caused by, for all we know maybe most dinosaurs' end was by unnatural means: Generations cut short by an unknown assailant."
"So how would be the most likely way of raising them from the dead?" asked the girl.
"That's the problem, we can't. Any genetic material has degraded beyond use; turned into rocks and minerals. Most of the DNA we do find is still in the process of becoming a fossil, so it is very unlikely that we will ever find such material."
"But would they allow it?"
"If by ‘they' you mean scientists?"
"Then all I can say is maybe."
"But why would that be?" questioned Ethan.
"Ethics, my friend, people will argue and argue over such a huge thing. There will be two sides: Those who ask ‘why?' And those who ask ‘why not?'"
"So who are you?"
"I ask ‘why not?' But I say too much, are you three done yet?"
"Then quick-time it, it's now nearly twelve o'clock, we don't want to miss lunch break."
"So what do we do when all is done up here?"
Ethan chucked another rock into the black bag to his right, "And that's it?"
"That's it, until lunch, then we go on a little hike over through the hills over in the east, we may even come across the site where those fragments were found." Simon's face lit up to this. Ethan felt the same too, finally something proper. "I think we're all done, now where's the camera..." Justin began to look around. "Camera... camera... oh damn, Mitchel, you know where the camera is?"
The other excavator looked up from dusting to Justin, "No... but the last place I knew it to be was... the... car..."
A look of panic swept both their faces. "Damn it Mitchel, I thought I told you specifically to bring the camera!"
"But I thought you had it."
"Well most evidently I do not."
"Well at least the AC is on, that should keep it cool."
"Yeah, yeah, you're right it... wait... I turned the AC off when we got out."
Mitchel smiled uncomfortably at Justin, then they both started running towards a group of SUVs to the west. Ethan just heard Justin's distant voice call out, "I am going to murder you, Mitchel, if that camera is...!"
The girl looked ahead as if in a trance, then bent under the table and grabbed a hi-res camera from the side of the box. "I knew I saw a camera around here."
Simon looked over, "Should we tell them?"
Taking the camera in his right hand, Ethan replied to Simon "Nah, just smile and wave."
At 12:32 P.M., when the sun was brightest and the temperature highest, a lunch of hotdogs was served, with a selection of delicious sauces. For those who brought their own lunch, they were allowed to have either, and for vegetarians there were a few vegetarian hotdogs. Soft drink and juice of various flavours were available in large dispenser drums. Collapsible tables and chairs formed two rows on the dusty ground underneath the main tent. As the excavation work had begun early in the morning, the ground was cool then and this was reflected by the noticeable difference in temperature from out in the open to undercover. Palaeontologists, trainees and students mingled in with one another as they sat down at the tables to have their lunches. Most stayed in friendship groups and started talking about their everyday lives, and work colleagues discussed work, and students discussed whether this really was the job for them. Simon had watched and listened from his end of the north table with vigilant eyes and ears. While he knew to keep his business to himself, he couldn't help but eavesdrop on other people's conversations. It was a precautionary trait he'd picked up from Primary School, when some bully had turned the majority of his friends on him and Simon had learnt to listen out for who was on whose side by listening. Listening was a particularly good trait Simon had, not that any girl ever liked him, but still he could sit in a park and identify every single bird species in the immediate location just by their call. And now, it was complete and utter silence, spare the whooshing sound of the wind, the crunching of seven pairs of shoes on sand and rock, and the voices of seven mouths. A sandy expanse was all this region of New Mexico was; filled with sprouting, barely living, dying and dead plants that provided some of the only changes in colour. Cliffs towered in the distance like rust-red ruins of some ancient empire that collapsed long ago from the efforts of time. Simon checked his phone on his arm (as most were now fixed to the wrist like watches) and looked at the time: 1:21P.M.. How long was it going to be until they got back to the sites? He wanted to start digging instead of being dragged through the desert in search of fossils that may or may not actually be there. But the views were really quite spectacular, and Simon argued in his head which was better; digging, or the views. Despite the heat, which made the rest of his group sweat profoundly, he didn't really mind the sun or the temperature, aside from the fact he could catch skin cancer from it. That was precisely why he was trailing behind the group; putting on sun cream, or more of a combination of enjoying the view, thinking to himself, and putting on sun cream. It was only when he was doing up his neck did he realise how far away he was from the group of five university students and two palaeontologists, and it was only when he started running towards them did the group realise his absence. When he had finally caught up, they continued moving east at the same walking pace as they had left the camp seven minutes ago. Aside from the cliffs, the landscape didn't really change a lot; only a few large and rolling hills here and there but no biome change, no water, no village or town or other urban settlement, just a large rocky desert for miles and miles on end with grey, dead trees dotting the area. Then they finally came to the destination the palaeontologists had been leading them.
"You see that small mud puddle in the centre of the expanse?" Eliza asked the group.
Of course they nodded, the mud was clearly visible as it was several tones darker than the surrounding beige sand.
"That is all that remains of a prehistoric lake, formed some 400 million years ago and after all this time, it's amounted to a small puddle in the centre of a desert. 400 million years."
"So what happened?" asked one of the students.
"Climate happened," explained the other palaeontologist, "climate change happened to be more exact. Deserts grew, rain came less, and this is the result. Occasionally the rainwater from the rare storm that passes by collects in that small muddy patch in the centre."
"We don't know where the water goes, and we aren't entitled to find out," finished Eliza, "Now, moving on. We've found some good and preserved fossils around here and after about two weeks we think we exhausted the place dry, but there are still some fragments about. You have your cases and your scanners, and if you switch them to a higher level like so," she demonstrated by twisting the handle three clicks to the right, "your scanner's range will pass through at least six metres of rock. So who knows, you might even find a full skeleton we managed to miss."
"So you lot all set?"
"Yes!" shouted a couple.
"Then let's go find something interesting."
The search began for Simon and with little success. Rock. Rock. Bark. Rock. Bark. Fossil. Bark. Rock. Rock. Rock. Rock. Over the space of ten minutes he'd managed to find only one fossil and an equivalent of mount Everest in terms of rock and bark pieces, most of which he'd probably counted twice or thrice. Knowingly, he slowly made his way to the centre where the mud pit was as there weren't many people around there so he would have had a better chance at finding something and not be in the wake of another scavenger. And it was slightly deeper there than any other area in the ancient lakebed, so maybe something landed down there. Instantly his thinking was rewarded; one fragment, two fragments, three four five. Two more cases to go and he would be out of things that could carry such fragile items with. Aside from his hands, of course, those he could carry just about anything with gentle delicacy - unless it was heavy - and he could catch anything he dropped in mid-air, but that was known to fail despite the speed of his hand. As he was thinking all this he was still searching for more fossil fragments and suddenly met just as little success as he did in the outer areas. Rock. Rock. Rock. Rock. Rock. Bark. Rock. Bark. Bark. Rock. Fossil. Rock. Rock. Rock. He couldn't believe his luck, or more rather he should have foreseen it as his family had been plagued with bad luck for years. He would be the only student without a complete set. There were only two others on the expanse now, including Ethan, the rest had gone off to Eliza and the other palaeontologist who were showing the four the different layers of the cliff face to the southeast, probably telling them of the different prehistoric periods, and notifying the students to keep away from the caves in the cliff's base. Rock. Rock. Bark. Rock. Nothing. Bark. Rock. Rock. Bark. Nothing still. Rock. Rock. Rock. Rock. Damn it maybe that was where his life was heading. Nothing! Rock. Sam was right, he wouldn't amount to anything, and he'd just be one of those nobodies. Oh how Simon hated that bully back. Nothing!
Simon had had tantrums when he was just a toddler; banging his head against the ground when he knew he had done something stupid. This habit continued into primary and high school, smacking himself in the head whenever he thought he said something idiotic or out of context or aside from the social norm. He would apologise for whatever he said afterwards. When he was stressed he would just punch and or dance it out and wear himself out until he couldn't care for the situation anymore. But sometimes the stress simply got to him fair and square. One example was when he fell behind on schoolwork because he couldn't be bothered doing it at home. He hated himself for that. Then one evening when he came back he decided to tell his mother that he wasn't sure why he couldn't do anything properly; that he thought he wasn't ever going to do anything right. He wanted to seem mature and not stumble and stutter as he usually did when he tried to convince people or stand up to them. After talking to her for no more than a minute, she took charge of the discussion and began talking about how he was playing more games than doing homework. And he tried to listen, but all of a sudden his vision became blurry and he realised his eyes were welling up with tears and he couldn't stop from crying. He curled up and cried, and cried, and cried and could not stop. Not even Simon realised how much he bad the situation was inside his head. His fingers were stiff with confusion; we wanted to curl into a ball and hold his face and wipe his tears and hold onto Mum at the same time. His Mum made a joke about him which was supposed to be met with laughter but instead was met with, "Mum, please, don't" and angry, heavy breathing. What came out were his own raw emotions and he could not control any of it. "It- *sob -was sup- *sob -posed to- *sob -be funny," Simon stated, "why would I think that about my Mum?!" He cried for a good fifteen minutes or more. And since then he'd tried to keep up with work. But, as he called it, he became emotionally ‘dead', where he smiled and laughed, but felt nothing - no good or bad spine tingling or anything that he could feel inside. He rarely became angry, only sad, and never frustrated, only disappointed. But sometimes things happened and he would throw a fit. For example, now, when he was one of the only ones not able to find a last fossil. He jumped up and down and stamped his feet on the ground and kicked any rocks he could out of the way until he became so hot he stopped to catch his breath. He noticed Ethan and the other student were watching him in both astonishment and curiosity. Simon stopped immediately and stared back until they stopped. He really disliked that; people just watching and not saying anything, that's how many people treated him in high school, and that memory alone gave him the energy to complete one final stomp on the ground.
There was a sudden crack Simon felt through his legs. He instantly assumed he'd broken an ankle, but he was still standing up with full posture. A second, more pronounced crunch, a feeling of absolute fear struck Simon's face as he realised that it was not him that was buckling under pressure, it was the lakebed. Simon turned his head downward and noticed small and long fissures slowly opening up, creeping around his feet like stealthy snakes cornering their prey. He looked over to Ethan who too had heard and probably felt the fractures and was now looking back to him with the same look of horror.
"Ethan!" Simon yelled to his friend, "What do I do?"
"Stay put, I'll go get help."
"If I say here it will give in."
"Then get off it-"
The small area of the dried lake Simon was standing on gave way to his weight and he plummeted downwards, hearing a shout from Ethan. Simon didn't give one in return, instead he fell in silence aside from the surprised ‘whoa' that escaped his mouth when his descent began. In his mind the thoughts of everything bad he ever did flashed, and he considered how he should have or how he could have dealt differently with the situation. He remembered the times when the world seemed amazing and he didn't think so much about the current problems in the world. And then Simon found himself alive. The fall took just over a second, and then Simon landed on a relatively smooth rock floor, though of course he landed his left side. He bounced a little off the floor as if the ground was a firm trampoline. Simon checked himself immediately, no cuts, a few bruises, but most importantly no broken or dislocated bones. Sitting up, Simon looked about this new environment to find it was little more than some sort of natural cave, but oddly with no exit as far as he could see from his position in the dust cloud the falling debris created. Behind him a puddle, fed by an unknown source of water, created an ambient dripping sound that disturbed him a little. Turning his head upwards, Simon could tell the obvious exit was the way he came, which was way out of reach by a good three metres give or take. As his eyes had grown used to the dim light of the small prison he was in, the little entrance in the ceiling was really quite bright; so much that Simon had to squint until Ethan's head popped over from the edge.
"Are you okay down there?" he asked more curiously than concerned.
"Oh fine, fine never better, but you seriously should keep away from there."
"Where's the nearest stable part?"
"A... wall, my side of the room."
"Okay, we're going to get you out of there, okay?"
"Yeah, and don't you bloody say ‘don't move'."
Smiling, Ethan, crawling on the ground, disappeared from the skylight. Simon was left in a little solitude. This was an area he could think in; an area of complete silence, aside of course from the constant dripping of the puddle in the other corner. Then he thought whether than puddle was drinkable. It was the first time he took a proper look at that section. Illuminated by the light was an aqua blue puddle with a small source of water from the ceiling, slowly dropping into the pool below it. And just to the left of it, no more than a centimetre away, was a mouth, and a neck, and a body, and a tail, and two clawed feet, and two clawed hands. A bony mouth, a spiny neck, a hollow body, a rocky tail, two stiff clawed feet and two fossilised clawed hands. It took a little while for his mind to register, but then Simon finally realised that in front of him, in front of him, was the most perfectly preserved skeleton of a coelophysis he had ever seen. All the ribs were separate from the rock, and no sections or pieces seemed fractured or missing. No, despite the bad luck he and his family had experienced, been riddled with, haunted and had been plagued by, he had found the most perfect specimen of coelophysis the world had ever seen. He approached in caution towards the slain beast, as if it were alive and each step could send the creature into its awoken state filled with rage, yet his fantasy did not become a reality. The fossil lay in a deathly silence with no reaction or movement from its part. There was no breathing as the flesh, muscle and organs had long since decayed, though there was still a very slight pungent smell lingering in the air. Even the puddle's dripping seemed to have stopped when Simon was creeping up on this dead prey, as if in some form of natural respect to this moment in history. The living meets the dead. Another thought came through Simon's mind. If this creature was down here, how did it if there were no exits? But that must mean there was one, unless it - though unlikely - came in the same way he did. Simon searched the room again and found that the opposite wall had an entry of some kind that had been blocked off by large boulders and were impossible to move, and he shouldn't either in the case that some of the roof of rock above him relied on its support.
Damn, he thought to himself, looking at his long departed inmate in an inquisitive way, why were you in here?
Then the thought became more serious inside his head, "Why were you in here?" he asked the skeleton. Since no reply was given, he decided to do some investigation work, especially as it would take God knows how long for a rope to be thrown down. He began by examining the remains. There were no bones in the cavity where the stomach would be, so it didn't come down for food, or the food escaped its clutches perhaps. Simon walked over to the blocked entrance and noted a distinct colour change when he looked at one of the boulders; instead of the beige-brown like the rest of the underground rocks around, on this one in particular was a dark red-brown patch. Simon pulled out his scanner and investigated the patch, the light turned yellow indicating the patch once was organic matter but had died out long ago. His attention then turned to numerous streaks of a lighter colour of stone all across the room's walls, each denting a little into the rock face. After a scan it too showed small signs of dead organic matter. A picture was slowly building in his head. And once he examined the coelophysis, he uncovered one of the many possible stories that could be speculated about what happened 220 million years ago. And if it was alive and it could understand him, it would have confirmed that he was right.