An Homage to Kafka, Jurassic Park, and M*A*S*H
Below the brilliant red-orange cliffs of iron-rich volcanic rock in the Utah desert, a renowned paleontologist, suspended by a harness in the mouth of an old mineshaft, draws his brush over the tiny point of fossilized bone sticking out of the wall. Oily sweat beads on his forehead and oozes into his eyes. He pushes it away, refusing to be distracted from what he knows is the find of his career: a fossilized tooth that will link a new species of therapod across two continents and prompt new questions on migration patterns, continental drift, and even extinction theories. The scientist spends hours gently clearing away sixty-five million years of dirt and rock from around the fossil, revealing its length of nearly thirty centimeters. As he cradles it in cheesecloth, he hears a distant roaring from below him in the mineshaft. The walls shake, sending chunks of rock and dirt into the hole in the earth. The man holds onto the tooth as he feels a strange sensation pass through him. And then the feeling is gone.
The first time the Change occurred the townspeople were going about their business and, quite suddenly, were not themselves. It was only for a few seconds, just long enough for most folks to think they had lapsed into a daydream or fugue of some sort. Chip Nolan was at the outdoor market near the tomato bins, trying to avoid the disapproving glare of Mrs. Pruitt, when he felt a sudden jolt slam into his entire body. He dropped the basket of baked goods he was carrying. He became aware of an intense buzzing in his ears and a strange shift in his vision, as though he had risen above the market and was looking down upon it. The next moment a tall, thin boy was tugging at his arm.
“Dr. Nolan, Dr. Nolan, what happened?”
“I—I’m not sure.”
It was young Tommy Jenkins from the ranch at the end of the road. Tommy’s family had been kind to Chip during the divorce. Martha Jenkins had left more than one casserole or pie on his porch when she thought he wasn’t looking. Although she clucked and tsk’ed him in the closing of ranks that must occur among women in such situations, she apparently felt that even he had to eat.
“Dr. Nolan, you dropped your pie.”
“Thanks Tommy—Hey come by later will you? We have to finish processing that last batch from Grid 349.”
Chip felt odd, as though he had just awakened from a daydream. He saw the townsfolk blinking in the sunlight, hair disheveled, confused looks on their faces. He also noticed that some of them huddled together behind the banana boxes and another group was slowly emerging from underneath the corn bins. Moments later, everyone shook off their disorientation and went back about the business of marketing. Chip heard mutterings from a few of the shoppers:
“Musta been a sunspot.”
“What were you doing under there?”
“I dropped an onion and it rolled over here, the next thing I knew I was scared to come out.”
“Maybe it’s a terrorist attack—some sort of electric pulse thingy.”
“Yeah—that bastard bin Laden is still out there.”
Chip doubted very much if it was an electromagnetic pulse since his wristwatch, the traffic lights, and the market cash register were still working. But he knew something had happened. He looked down at his bread, sweet rolls, and pie, now with burgundy berry juice sloshed over the crust. Still feeling a bit disoriented, he paid for the leaking pie and other items and walked to his dirty Jeep. He headed back toward the cabin he was renting just outside of town, about a mile from the dig site he had been excavating for the past four years. He whistled along with Fleetwood Mac on classic rock radio as he drove. Other than his odd blackout at the fruit stand, this day had been a good day. In fact, ever since he had unearthed the tooth several days before, he felt better than he had in a long, long time.
Waiting until the clock struck noon, he consulted the gin still on his dining room table and poured himself a martini dry as the desert outside his back door. The still was built during a contest among his graduate students. He had challenged them to replicate the one that had provided an endless supply of dry martinis to Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre on M*A*S*H, his favorite TV show. Luckily one of his students had changed majors from chemistry to paleontology. He and his students spent many nights, after scorching days in the Utah desert, enjoying the fruits of their labors in the cabin—aptly christened the Swamp, another homage to M*A*S*H.
As agreed, Tommy Jenkins stopped by later to help him sift through the box of dirt from Grid 349. Tommy had wispy blonde hair that poked out in all directions and wore wire-rimmed glasses that made him look somewhat professorial. Born to older parents, Tommy had grown up around adults and was happiest in his mother’s extensive library. The only thing Tommy loved more than reading books was hunting for dinosaur fossils. Chip remembered the day three years earlier when the boy had wandered onto the dig site, carrying a magnifying glass and wearing a dusty pith helmet he must have found at Janie’s Antiques. The grad students were amused and gave him a few odd jobs around the site, thinking the seven year old would eventually get bored and go home. Tommy never left. He became a permanent member of the team and amazed them with his knowledge of dinosaur names, which he could spell better than most of the grad students.
Dr. Nolan and Tommy were excited about Grid 349, the cordoned piece of rocky ground in the new section of the dig that included an old mine shaft. The recent discovery of the tooth there would change the focus of their research. Unfortunately the find had not come in time to save his grant money or prevent the departure of his grad students, which had occurred about a month before. He would love to blame his ex, Lydia, but he knew his fondness for gin was a more likely suspect. But all that would change now that he had found the tooth.
“Dr. Nolan, what happened today at the market?”
“What do you mean? Other than old Mrs. Pruitt giving me the stink-eye as usual?”
“No, seriously doc, I mean it—I—I felt….”
“Go on Tommy.”
“This sounds crazy, but I felt like—like—for just a few seconds like I was flying.”
Later that evening, after Tommy left, Chip sat in the homemade Adirondack chair on his back porch and put down a few more martinis. Tommy’s revelation nagged at him as he thought about the odd out-of-body experience he had felt at the market that morning. Around midnight he was awakened by a strange buzzing noise, followed by a sense of dizziness, as though he were twenty feet off the ground. He stumbled to the end of his driveway and looked toward the town. Blinking furiously, he could have sworn he saw a pack of large animals with strange shaped heads clustered over by the Jenkins ranch. An odd sensation in his nose erupted and he realized he could smell them, even though they were about a half-mile away. The buzzing of a million cicadas on the searing July afternoon magnified to an inhuman intensity inside his head. Then as suddenly as it had begun, Chip felt cool and … dirty. He was lying face down at the foot of his dusty driveway, the waxing moon gazing at him mirthfully as though the universe was having a most excellent joke at his expense.
Chip dragged himself to his feet and realized that he was nearly naked, his clothing hanging from him in tatters. What the …? Lightheaded, he walked gingerly back to his cabin, limbs feeling as though he had been stretched on a medieval torture rack. Flopping on his bed, he picked up a frame with a photograph he had taken of Lydia eons ago. His ex-wife was a small, vivacious woman with dark, close-cropped hair and hazel eyes that twinkled with intelligence and more than a bit of sass.
They had met on a university-sponsored trip to Mongolia. A nomadic herding tribe had found the fossilized thighbone of a new tyrannosaurid very similar to one he had unearthed in Utah, and he was excited about the possibility of a connection between the two. Lydia’s specialty was paleobotany. Her inclusion on the team had been his idea, since any information about the plants that survived in the same period as his therapod would be a boon to both specialties. He had known her by professional reputation only, never having met her until the expedition. Love blossomed among the sands and craggy outcroppings of Outer Mongolia. The expedition ended when the snow started. Chip, Lydia, and the rest of the crew headed back to the States with a nearly complete fossil skeleton of the new creature he had christened Tyrannosaurus lydiaesis.
Chip returned to Utah to pursue both T. lydiaesis and Lydia. Six months later they were married at the dig site, all of their graduate students in attendance. The dusty desert seemed appropriate as a backdrop for the start of their lives together. True to her specialty, Lydia reminded him that the barren plains were once lush plantscapes filled with plants, animals, and insects that would astonish with their variety and strangeness. She loved looking out the back porch at the desert, imagining a vibrant green jungle, one that she could step into and collect plant samples. He had always teased her about her paleobotanical fantasies.
She, in turn, teased him about his obsession with T. lydiaesis. He was fixated on the odd fact that nearly perfect fossilized skulls had been found but no teeth had ever been discovered. Theories that amateur fossil hunters has taken them, or primitive tribes had used them for tools, had long since been dismissed for a variety of reasons. Chip felt strongly that the strange absence of teeth in both the Mongolia and Utah samples meant something. Now he had found one tooth, and Lydia was not here to celebrate. Visions of both Lydias swirled in his martini-addled brain as he slept.
The next morning he was awakened by a loud knock on the screen door. Sheriff Rupert Day was a kind, soft-spoken man. He had served in Special Forces during Vietnam and carried with him both the physical and emotional scars from the war. His limp was always visible—the darkness he had buried deeply only surfaced when someone made the mistake of underestimating him.
“G’mornin Doc, How’s things at the dig?”
“Hey Sheriff, same ole same ole. What brings you to the Swamp?”
“Well, funny thing actually. Loretta Pruitt called me this mornin’ all in a dither, talkin’ ‘bout some strange creature she swears she saw near your place last night. I thought maybe you were putting one of your fossil skeletons together, but then I remembered that your lab boys always take care of that over at the university.”
Chip flushed and squirmed as though ants were crawling in his trousers. “Heck, I have no idea what she’s talking about, I was here last night, but I didn’t see anything odd.” He felt it would be better at this juncture not to mention his hallucination of a pack of strange creatures down by the Jenkins place, since he was sure it must have been the gin anyway.
“Now Doc, I know you don’t have any particular affection for Loretta, but I do need to check on things for her now and again.” That was quite an understatement. Loretta Pruitt was the town busybody, sticking her nose into everyone’s business. She called Sheriff Day if her wallpaper peeled. Chip was still angry at her for the night she called 9-1-1 when Chip and Lydia were screaming at each other over which Lydia—the woman or the dinosaur— was more important to him. Screw that old harridan, and her little dog too, he thought of the yapping Bichon-poodle mix that lunged at him every time he walked past her place. Lydia might still be here if it weren’t for that night.
“Listen Doc, you …” The crackling of the sheriff’s radio interrupted as his dispatcher called him. “A-1, Control 59—We just got a call from the Martinez place, something happened at their house last night. Their cat is missing and Pablo Jr. has locked himself in his room—the daughter is hysterical, claiming she saw a giant lizard in the middle of the night.”
“Well, I’ll certainly let you know if I find any dinosaurs, other than my sixty-five million year old ones, Sheriff,” laughed Chip nervously.
“Okay Doc, you take care now.” The Sheriff shot him a quizzical glance before getting into his Bronco and heading for the Martinez place.
Chip walked back inside and looked at the gin still, the clock on the wall, and back at the still, thinking maybe he shouldn’t drink any more martinis for awhile. Moments later Tommy Jenkins came running up the drive, nearly out of breath. “Come on Doc, you have to see this!” Chip followed Tommy to the Jenkins ranch. Along the way, Tommy told Chip about an unusual dream he had about flying over his own backyard, which looked like a cretaceous scene from one of his books. “It felt so real, I was really flying. I had huge wings—and—look!” As they rounded the corner of the house Chip felt a tightening in his chest. Martha Jenkins’s vegetable garden had been decimated. Anything with green leaves now had none. The shrubs and small trees were crushed as though a herd of elephants had thundered through. The garden, once the pride of the Saturday morning green market, was now a sad collection of mangled weeds and sticks. “Doc, I saw this happen, I was flying above it—or whatever—but it really happened!” Tommy’s mother Martha stood in her bathrobe and slippers staring at the wreckage, a glazed look on her face.
“Martha, did you um—see or hear anything unusual last night, say, around midnight?”
“No—I—nothing out of the ordinary Dr. Nolan. I went with Lois, Suzanne, and the Bratcher sisters to the Trivial Pursuit party, we arrived home about midnight, but we didn’t see anything …” Her voice trailed off with uncertainty as she averted her eyes.
“Are you sure there was nothing unusual, did you and your friends see or hear anything strange?”
“Oh, this is ridiculous, but there was a loud buzzing noise, like crickets, then Suzanne said something about being hungry. The next thing I remember we were all laughing and feeling a bit silly. I suppose we chalked it up to the few drinks we had at the party and that moon, did you see the moon last night Dr. Nolan?” Chip wanted to answer but was struck by the appearance of tiny green flecks in her teeth, as though she had eaten broccoli and forgotten to floss. His eyes traveled to her hands. She had broken fingernails with dirt lodged under them and green streaks between her fingers. Martha Jenkins followed his gaze and quickly straightened up, crossed her hands in front of her and said “Well, I—I—have a lot of cleaning up to do, g … good day Dr. Nolan.”
Chip walked back to the Swamp with questions swirling inside his mind like pteradactyls, refusing to be dismissed. Did the wreckage to Mrs. Jenkins’s garden have anything to do with the herd of strange creatures he thought he saw last night? Why were her teeth green? What was he doing at the end of his drive last night? What the hell was going on at the Martinez place? Chip knew his brain would spontaneously combust if he didn’t have a martini but it was early, even for him. He busied himself for the rest of the day, testing samples, cleaning fossils, studying the sketches of other beasts he had found over the past four years. He avoided working on anything having to do with lydiaesis, resisting the urge to even look at the tooth, let alone return to the mineshaft and see if there were more. He ate pie, swept his cabin, alphabetized his sock drawer—anything to keep his mind from the proverbial tyrannosaur in his living room. Later that evening, he fell exhausted into his Adirondack chair.
As Chip nursed a martini, he went over all the strange occurrences of the past two days, the scene in the green market, the eerie transformation he felt last night, the strange complaints from his neighbors. Using the principle of Occam’s Razor, in which the simplest explanation is the best one, his conclusion made him laugh out loud. Since the simplest explanation was that he and the people of the town were actually morphing into dinosaurs, he began to seriously consider the possibility that he was losing his mind. But it all fit the morphing theory—the strange sensations he felt at the market and in the middle of the night were consistent with what T. lydiaesis might have felt sixty-five million years ago—several stories tall and an acute sense of smell— hell that would explain why everyone had cowered from him at the fruit stand. It would also explain his tattered clothing, but why hadn’t his clothing torn at the market? Was that transformation only mental? Maybe that incident was just some kind of demented preview of what was to come? And why was this happening at all?
Chip opened the wooden box on the dining room table and removed the bundle of cheesecloth that held the lydiaesis tooth. He remembered the strange feeling that had passed through him when he first freed it from its prehistoric grave—how the earth had shuddered and echoed down the old mineshaft. As he caressed the cheesecloth away, he was surprised to find that the tooth seemed a little shinier than he remembered. He quickly replaced it and returned to his porch chair, gin in hand.
More than a little pickled from the mash, Chip passed out dreaming of Lydia. Around midnight a stifling heat crept over him. Not the dry, dusty heat of the Utah desert, but a heavy, humid thickness that soaked him instantly. He opened his eyes to find the full moon illuminating a lush jungle. His cabin was surrounded by thick, juicy greenness, so green that he felt like he was seeing green for the first time. This is what Lydia saw when she sat on the porch—this is her fantasy. He lurched off the porch just as the buzzing started. The moist earth under him fell away as he found himself inexplicably rising.
The dizziness soon passed as he found his feet rooted on the ground. He paused, slowly turning his head from side to side. It felt enormous, yet oddly comfortable on a thick, muscular neck. He reached up with his arm to scratch his neck and was surprised to find that he could not. He looked down at his hand but his eyes were so far apart, he had to cock his head over to the side to see it. Where five fingers had been were now two sharply curved claws, a bony elbow, and not much else. His arms seemed almost pitiful compared to his powerful feet and legs. He marveled at their design: the feet about a meter long, with three large toes capped by toenails the size of plantains; legs extending upward and, he noted, bending the opposite way as his human knees. But none of this compared to the beauty of his tail. Straight and supple, it created the perfect counterbalance to his huge head and neck. He swung it slowly from side to side, getting the feel for it—it felt good. Stretching long and low in the moonlight, he let out a roar that reverberated in the soupy air for miles.
Gradually Chip lost himself as he became T. lydiaesis. His brain reeling from the immediacy of the physical change, his mental transformation was slower. Over the next several hours he remained in the clearing that had once held his cabin. The insect buzzing, at first alien to his human ears, started to blend into the cretaceous landscape. Slowly Dr. Chip Nolan faded away—his human problems winking out of existence as his emerging reptilian brain focused on the one thing that mattered most: food.
A clearing several large steps away revealed evidence that a herd of grazing animals had passed through recently—the vegetation was crushed and stripped. If it waited here they might come back. But wait—a strange sound was coming from another clearing nearby. Bending its huge head down to investigate, the dinosaur found a yapping creature trying to defend its tiny piece of ground. A tasty snack, but hardly enough. It gulped the small one down and waited silently as another creature stirred from the edge of the clearing. This one was a bit larger and tried to defend itself with a large branch of some kind. Ignoring the blows, the beast preyed upon the annoyance, which, oddly enough, sated its hunger. Soon the creature found its way back to the clearing from which it started. Feeling sleepy, it crouched down and drifted off to sleep.
The next morning the hot desert sun appeared over Chip’s prostrate form on the dirt. Moving stiffly, he sat up and looked around. His eyes found his ramshackle cabin, some dusty tumbleweeds, and not a green plant in sight. What an incredible dream. Feeling slightly sick, he realized he could sense a lingering metallic essence in his mouth. He reached up and felt his jaw, which was tender and swollen. He felt like he’d been in a bar fight. Looking around he spotted a trail of dark red leading around the cabin and down the drive. Following it he saw that the blood trail headed off towards the Pruitt place. Horrified, he looked down, only to find that he was completely naked. But the reddish brown sheen that covered his chest told him a story he didn’t want to know. His thoughts collapsed inward. Too much blood—not all mine—what have I done? Slowly exhaling he tried to push away the terrible truth and, for the first time since boyhood, he hung his head and sobbed.
Panic set in as his grief subsided. He returned to the clearing behind his cabin, where he found the scattered remnants of his clothing, few pieces larger than a postage stamp. It was as if they had exploded. His leather boots had been split open by a violent force that left only bits of leather and rubber. Quickly he gathered them up and placed them in a sample bag for laboratory testing. After hosing the blood from his chest, he retreated to the shower where he scrubbed his skin until it was raw and angry. He thought about calling Sheriff Day, but what would he say? “Hi Sheriff, I just want you to know that I have been turning into a dinosaur lately, and this time I think I ate Mrs. Pruitt.” No, he couldn’t talk to Rupert yet.
He could, however, try to prevent the next Change from taking place. He had to protect everyone. Chip realized that he wouldn’t be able to live harmoniously with his neighbors, who were all morphing into herbivores whenever the Change occurred. This made sense, since herbivores always outnumber large carnivores. The only way for an apex predator to survive is to be the only one for many miles, otherwise the competition for food results in an imbalance.
Gradually Chip pieced the events of the past few days together: The market must have been the start. Tommy’s sensation of flying must mean that he was morphing into one of the large flying reptiles of that period, some kind of pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus maybe. Martha Jenkins and her friends most certainly were the herd of creatures he saw two nights prior and were obviously the culprits in the garden fiasco. The frightened look Martha had given him yesterday made sense—she must have awakened in her garden, naked, thinking that she had been to one hell of a Trivial Pursuit party. No wonder she was reluctant to talk. The radio transmission that sent Sheriff Day over to the Martinez place was clearly connected as well. And then there was the tooth. Chip felt drawn to it in a way that seemed unnatural, even for a scientist who had spent his career looking for such a find. Each time he removed it from its wrappings it appeared shinier, newer, as though sixty-five million years of transmogrification were melting away.
Chip eventually realized that the tooth must be the key to it all. He had somehow awakened a force from prehistory that was now affecting everyone within a few miles of Grid 349. He would make one attempt to control the Change. If that didn’t work, he would return the tooth to its original owner. He hated to consider that, as returning the tooth would mean the loss of years of research, the loss of the chance to introduce a stunning new phenomenon to the scientific community.
As afternoon faded into evening, Chip headed over the ridge to the far reaches of the dig. Carrying a large sack of supplies, he struggled over rocky slopes on the way to Grid 349, about two miles east of the main dig site. Chip was afraid another transformation would result in more death and destruction. His plan was to return to the exact site where he had discovered the tooth and confine himself in an effort to prevent the Change from occurring. Chip knew it was a risk, given the force that had exploded his clothing, but he also figured he didn’t have much to lose, now that he was a murderer.
Chip looked up defiantly as the moon glowered over him in a cosmic test of wills. Somehow that goddamned moon is part of all this. Among the jagged rocks surrounding the mineshaft he made his preparations. He started by wrapping a steel cable around his ankles, gradually winding up his legs to his waist. He tightened them enough so that he couldn’t move his legs, but so his circulation wouldn’t be cut off. He fastened them carefully with a shackle. He took another cable and tied a round turn secured by a square knot around his left wrist, leaving about 10 feet of cable. Next he wrapped the running end of that cable around his waist, attached it to the shackle there, securing his left arm tightly around his midsection. He took the standing end of the second cable and shackled it to an iron piling near the mouth of the shaft. Then, using only his right hand, he tied a modified bowline, locking his right wrist inside the knot. When he was satisfied that he couldn’t escape, he used his body weight to lower himself into the mineshaft. Then he waited. It shouldn’t be long now until he heard the buzzing noise.
Chip began to feel sleepy. Drifting in and out of lucidity he saw terrible teeth flashing before his eyes, a yapping dog menaced him. He saw the Mongolian landscape with a rapidly waxing and waning moon streaking across a black and endless sky. Lydia appeared before him, her hazel eyes closed—peaceful, as though sleeping. When her eyes opened they were not the round eyes of a woman—the irises were ovoid and slanted, with a reptilian sheen. They stared at him accusingly. Soon the buzzing started. Chip felt his body jerk violently as he dangled inside the crack in the earth. His screams slowly changed to a thunderous roar as he lost all sense of himself—both human and reptilian.
When Chip regained consciousness, he realized he was still tethered. Thank God, the binding held. His limbs and mind felt heavy, like he could not move if he wanted to. He noted with curiosity that he was lying on his back. I must have fallen to the bottom of the shaft. As he slowly opened his eyes the moon above him was no longer round, but long and thin. It took him several moments to realize that he was staring at a fluorescent light fixture suspended from the ceiling in a room with very thick, white walls.
“Dr. Nolan. Dr. Nolan, how are you feeling?” A female voice crept into his head.
“Huh? Ah wah…”
“I’ve given you a sedative, that’s why you are feeling so heavy. Do you know why you’re here?”
“Ah waah..z… dino… shange.”
“The sedative is making it hard for you to speak—you’ll feel stronger in a little while. I’ll come back later.”
“Uh ga…” His vision blurred to anything but the tubular moon, he never saw the speaker. Chip struggled as he tried to comprehend the events leading to this place. His hearing returned sooner than his ability to speak and he heard conversation down the hall drift through his open door.
“Is he awake m’am?”
“Yes, Sheriff, he is, but I’m afraid you won’t be able to talk with him just yet.”
“Listen Doc, I understand your position, but please consider mine. I’ve got a dead woman, a pile of fur that might have been her dog, a bunch of strange shit—pardon my French— going on, and a town full of terrified citizens. I need answers.”
A third voice intervened. “Dr. Avery, can you tell us if the forensic evidence supports our theory so far? I mean the woman showed signs of, well, having been chewed on. We found blood evidence on Dr. Nolan’s property and the bloodhounds led us to the old mine where we found him hiding out. Can you tell us anything?”
“I can say that Dr. Nolan’s mouth and stomach contents did contain evidence that he had consumed raw flesh— ah—and some fur—the samples are at the lab now and we won’t have anything conclusive for a few more days. Also, did you guys have any trouble bringing him in? He looks like he took a bit of a beating, especially in the face.”
“Shit no, we didn’t have to, he had already trussed himself up, almost like he wanted to be caught. The old lady he murdered did try to beat him off with a broom, maybe she got in a few lucky shots before he—well we still don’t know what he did. Anything you can give us will help …” The voices trailed off down the hallway.
Several hours later, Chip heard Sheriff Day’s voice float into his hospital room from the hallway. He was trying to calm someone down, someone speaking frantic Spanish.
“El lagarto … el dinosaurio!” a hysterical female voice cried.
“Mrs. Martinez please, let Dr. Avery take a look at Pablo, she can’t help him unless she sees him.” Chip heard several other excited voices, both in English and Spanish, footsteps and doors opening and shutting. Finally, Dr. Avery and Sheriff Day returned to Chip’s room.
“Dr. Nolan, I’m Linda Avery, do you know why you’re here?” Chip looked at Sheriff Day, his face lined and haggard as though he had aged a few million years since yesterday morning when he visited Chip at the Swamp. Dr. Avery looked tired as well.
“You wouldn’t believe me—you have no idea …. Rupert what did I do to Loretta Pruitt? Please, I know something awful happened.”
“Loretta is dead, and it looks bad for you, son.”
“Sheriff you have to believe me, I had no idea—I—I—wasn’t myself.”
“Well there seems to be a lot of that going around.” Then he turned to Dr. Avery “Dr. Avery, if ya don’t mind please, tell Dr. Nolan about the patient in the next room.”
“I have never seen anything like it. Sheriff Day thinks you may be able to help, although I’m not sure what a paleontologist would know about human physiology. At this point I’m willing to consider anyone else’s opinion since I simply cannot trust my own.”
Sheriff Day helped Dr. Avery with Chip’s bindings and the three entered a room down the hall. Seven year-old Pablo Martinez was huddled in the corner of the room wearing a hospital gown that opened in the back. When Dr. Avery gently coaxed him into the center of the room, Chip saw quite plainly that little Pablo had sprouted a tail. A long, green, mottled tail.
“Incredible. The tail must have remained after the morph reversed.” Chip muttered softly.
Dr. Avery and Sheriff Day sat in stunned silence as Chip confided everything he knew about what had happened in the eight days following his discovery in the mine. Chip added that the gravitational pull of the moon had something to do with the strength of the morph, as Chip’s strongest morph occurred the night of the full moon—the night he ate Mrs. Pruitt. The night before the moon was full, his morph had been fleeting; the night after the full moon he was able to defeat it by cabling himself inside the mineshaft. A long silence followed.
Dr. Avery was the first to speak: “So if the waxing and the waning of the moon have an effect, that may explain why Pablo’s morph didn’t entirely reverse itself—or maybe he never completely morphed at all last night?” Chip nodded, exhausted but a little relieved that he wasn’t losing his mind all by himself anymore. Sheriff Day asked the big question: “How do we stop it?”
“But Rupert, do you know what this could mean to the scientific community at large? I—I—mean what if we tried to control it—we could get the government involved, they could keep it a secret until we learned how to ….” Chip’s voice trailed off as he realized there was no way their little town would ever survive the scrutiny it would receive once this got out. He thought about Tommy and his family, the Martinez family, the other townspeople. All their lives would be a twisted carnival, with them as the freakshow attractions. No, they had to stop this now, and returning the tooth seemed the only viable option at this point.
That afternoon, Dr. Nolan and Sheriff Day returned to the rental cabin. Chip was happy to see that Tommy was waiting there for him, sitting on the porch with his arm in a cast.
“Tommy, what happened to your arm?”
“I was on the roof, I fell off and broke it. Dr. Avery set it for me—she’s really nice. And pretty, too.”
“What were you doing on the roof? Wait, never mind, I think I can guess—Quetzalcoatlus?”
“Doc it was awesome, I was huge, and I—I—could see everything for miles. But I landed on the rooftop and then I guess I woke up, or changed back or something, and I fell. You’re going to make this stop aren’t you?” Tommy’s voice trembled, a mixture of fear and excitement.
“I have to Tommy, you know I do.”
Sheriff Day watched the last sliver of orange disappear behind a distant ridge. “We need to get to the mine, Doc.” Chip carried the box containing the tooth out to the porch. He opened it and unraveled the cheesecloth. Inside the tooth gleamed brightly, its serrated edges sharp and new. Tommy and Chip were mesmerized, knowing that they were no longer holding a fossil, but the real thing, just as it had appeared sixty-five million years before. When Chip started to sweat, Sheriff Day closed the box in Chip’s hands and nudged him toward the path leading to Grid 349.
The waxing moon was high when they reached the old mine. Chip donned his harness and the sheriff lowered him into the opening. Chip had brought along his tools, intending to return the tooth to the exact spot from which it came. When he reached the spot, he told the Sheriff to belay the rope to the iron piling. Chip worked carefully with his brushes and awls, reversing the work he had done only eight days before. As soon as he replaced the tooth it flashed briefly, then began to fade. Chip held his breath as the tooth completed the fossilization process, which took millions of years the first time, happen in a matter of seconds. The fossil appeared exactly as it had when he found it. As Chip labored, gently repacking stone and dirt around the tooth, he heard a distant rumbling from the bowels of the mine. He kept working. Sheriff Day called down to him:
“Are ya done? Things are shakin’ up here—I need to pull you up.”
“No Rupert, I need more time—it—has to be complete!”
“Doc, I gotta pull y’up now!”
Chip finished covering the tooth as large rocks began to fall around him. He looked up and saw the silhouettes of Sheriff’s Day’s hat and Tommy’s slight form. Tommy was wildly gesticulating with his good arm, they were both yelling for Chip to come back up. Their voices faded as thoughts of the past week circled his head. Amazing … Pablo’s tail, Loretta Pruitt, her dog. And he realized he couldn’t go back. What would be the point? Everything he’d ever worked for was down here now. Lydia was right after all—her namesake was more important to him. Chip reached for the carabiner that secured his harness to the belayed rope. Releasing it, he never felt the crushing maw of the shaft as it collapsed inward, belching dust and rocks high into the black Utah night.