Dinosaurs gone awry on this week’s Drabblecast! We bring you an original story by John Wiswell called The Tyrant Lizard (and Her Plus One), enjoy!
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Dinosaurs don’t want to kill you; they just don’t care that you’re there. More people have been sat on by brontosauruses than have been eaten by all the theropods combined. Since I joined security on the archipelago, 82% of dinosaur-related human casualties were from tourists who got too close during mating season. And the four times I’ve seen a deinonychus attack someone, they’ve always left them uneaten. Why? For the same reason bears and sharks tend to leave victims alive: because humans taste like shit…
The Tyrant Lizard (and Her Plus One)
by John Wiswell
Dinosaurs don’t want to kill you; they just don’t care that you’re there. More people have been sat on by brontosauruses than have been eaten by all the theropods combined. Since I joined security on the archipelago, 82% of dinosaur-related human casualties were from tourists who got too close during mating season. And the four times I’ve seen a deinonychus attack someone, they’ve always left them uneaten. Why? For the same reason bears and sharks tend to leave victims alive: because humans taste like shit.
The easiest way to survive is to not come here at all. You may remember my crew from the news three years ago, when the government sent us to claim these islands in the name of democracy or whatever. I only took this job because I was drowning in bills and going deaf. Opportunities were short. It was an exciting six months, before Congress cut our funding and left us with zero evac and zero back-pay. Now I literally can’t afford to leave.
If you see my Senator, please tell him Ms. Plover sends her finest expletives.
Nowadays my job is managing the food for my fellow orphans. The government is gone, but food suppliers keep dumping here. We get airdrops of grain and meat-like substances that were too low-grade for corporations to sell in the Americas. Thanks to regulations, they pocket write-offs by dropping their garbage on the lawns of dinosaurs.
I’m on my way outside to paint when the tripwires go off, letting me know I have heavier company than usual waiting outside. I left my brushes and pigments outside and instantly fear for them. Painting is the one respite I have out here, even if my Tumblr has three followers. In high school Mr. Dennett said I lacked ability and discipline, but I do it for myself, not for the memory of teachers who neg their students. Dinosaurs are less opinionated about amateur Fauvism.
The tripwire trembles two more times, waving colored flags, and then I’m sure it’s the ducks outside. See, the ducks don’t care that I’m here, but they love discount bulk grains. I feel the vibrations of their feet thudding on the concrete outside as I grab my trusty vuvuzela. The ducks are probably going after the cargo containers again.
When I say ‘ducks,’ I mean hadrosaurs. They are some of the most social critters on the island, and if you drop crumbs on the ground once, they’ll follow after you honking forever for more that you don’t have. It’s no surprise they evolved into ducks.
So I head outside with the vuvuzela that I stole from a drunken David Beckham impersonator at the only sports game I ever went to. I come out blowing – the sudden loud noise usually spooks the ducks into fleeing the premises. I have a back-up alarm, but this usually does the trick.
There are no ducks. First I look to the jungle, expecting them to flee south to the river. Then I check the parking lot, which is similarly vacant. This is weird. Hadrosaurs always dumpster dive in flocks.
A single tail juts from inside the garage. The other ex-employees forgot to close the shutters after picking up their shipment, and a dino got in. Something with a way bigger tail than my ducks.
Standing halfway in the door, I give another blast of the vuvuzela. The tail ignores me, swaying as its owner munches hips-deep in a frozen fast food smorgasbord. I grab a chunk of asphalt and hurl it at the tail.
That gets her attention. She turns quicker than a hadrosaur, just like evolution ordered. She reels on my door with fifty teeth and breath that gingivitis has nightmares about. She’s a zhuchengtyrannus, the archipelago’s dominant brand of tyrannosaur, and she’s definitely looking at me. Her gaze makes me drop the vuvuzela. It plunks to the ground as I reach for my phone and swipe for the only app that still works.
I am over 90% deaf in my good ear, and the rumble of her footsteps is fully audible to me. The earth shakes, the vibrations traveling up my entire body. I can hear her with my feet. She is as close as she needs to be to turn me into a cautionary tale.
I hit the emergency app, signaling every light and siren in the compound. It’s an overcast early morning and suddenly the parking lot is painfully bright from floodlighting, and the klaxons drown out anything for two square miles. That spooks the zhuchengtyrannus, who bangs her head against a cargo container, denting it deeply, and then she sprints directly at me.
This is my fault, hitting an alarm that makes the critter run in whatever direction she’s facing. The mix of light and noise might as well be a hurricane, and anything alive runs from it. My dumb ass made an off-brand T-Rex charge directly at me. I dive indoors, the heavy steel slamming behind me, and pray to a god that I otherwise don’t admit believing in.
I hyperventilate, hugging my sides. Trampling is a huge human-killer. How lucky was I to make it out of that alive?
When my fingers stop shaking, I swipe the alarm off and poke my head outside. My Cretaceous visitor is gone, leaving behind a trail of crushed cars. She must’ve hauled tail out of here.
After all that, I need a smoke and a canvas, and there haven’t been cigarettes on the island in years. It’ll take hours of painting to really calm my nerves.
I look around for my paints for several moments. Did I leave them by the cars? I’m worried the bag has been crushed until I see a single smear of pink across the asphalt. The smear leads into the jungle.
The Queen of the Lizards stole my paints.
I keep walking in circles, looking under wreckage I’ve already checked. Denial is easier than imagining a terrified monster accidentally snagging a bag of painting supplies on her notoriously tiny arms.
You think it’s hard finding cigarettes out here? Try buying a paint brush set. Try mixing your own pigments from scratch. I’ve been stretching out these supplies for years, and now…
So shut up about me going in the jungle. I go because I’d rather get trampled out there than live in safety without art, and if you don’t understand that, then you’re what I don’t miss about not living in human society anymore.
It takes me half an hour to track to her den. It seems bizarre that I’ve never seen her before if she lives that close. Then I notice all the newly crushed ferns. There are no bones from carrion, or feces anywhere around. Although it smells like feces and then some.
The zhuchengtyrannus lies on her belly, flattened out across the earth, facing northwest. She’s over thirty-five feet long, with a coat of red and black quills along her spine. She’s not a proper t-rex, but I dare you to call her a knock-off to her face.
My fiber-weave paint bag is stuck to one of her toes. Her body shudders painfully, and I’m grateful to be coming from the south-end until she rips one. My eyes water so badly that they almost squirt out of my head. It’s like if Hell had an Axe Body Spray.
This isn’t a healthy lady. Her guts are full of chemically treated meat-like product that humans haven’t evolved to digest, let alone critters from 65,000,000 years ago. The Queen of the Lizards is sprawled out in pain because she’s got indigestion. Taco Bell makes us all feel mortal an hour later.
I finish dry-heaving, thankful that she doesn’t rouse at the sound. I creep up to her left foot – both straps of the paint bag are wrapped around one of her claws. It doesn’t look pulverized, the bag resting atop of the foot instead of beneath the heel.
This will be easier when she passes out. I check around her right side, trying to make out her eyes, and a dry fern cracks so loud that even I hear it.
Not so much the twitch of an eyelid. The irritable monster keeps staring forward like she doesn’t hear a thing. She just wants today to be over.
I look at the fern under my shoe, and remember blowing the vuvuzela at her. Did she run from the sirens, or just from the light show?
“No way,” I say despite myself, and she doesn’t seem to notice. Her ear canal doesn’t twitch in response to a sound right next to her.
This zhuchengtyrannus is deaf. Deaf like me.
I actually raise both palms and slowly lower them in ASL for “Calm.” My first urge is to teach her to sign with her tiny hands. Or, her one remaining tiny hand – I can’t go erasing disabilities, not even those of dinosaurs.
She’s missing her right arm, her scales puffy out around scar tissue. She has deep grooves down her flank where other critters have hit her over the years. This old lady has led a life. A deaf hunter. A disabled queen whose Handicapped Spot you’d better not steal.
That’s when I decide to help her out. Zhu is technically my neighbor, and I have an idea.
Crocodiles let Plover birds into their mouths to peck scraps from their gums. The birds are so small that they’re worth not eating in exchange for the pleasure of having someone else do your flossing.
That’s why my Tumblr handle is “Ms. Plover.”
It’s a quick trip back to the compound for supplies. I mix a garbage bag of Dino Pepto: stomach-settling drugs from back when the park worked, reptile-friendly antibiotics, and some of that chemical the fast food joints use to make a microwaved patty smell fresh off the grill. Theropods hunt on smell anyway.
Within three seconds of sticking the bag under her snout, Zhu bites into it and throws it back like a Jell-O shot. She does it so fast that I’m stuck there in her line of sight. If she wants to eat this Plover bird, she can.
I sign “Calm” again, more to myself than her.
Zhu returns her head to the ground like she’s dismissing the maid. Is it weird to be offended that a dinosaur didn’t make eye contact?
I linger behind some trees until her shuddering subsides, hoping I haven’t killed her. I was barely trained for security. I’m definitely not a vet.
Two tugs later, my paint bag slips free from her foot. The inside of the bag is very blue – two tubes of that have burst. That it’s pure blue is a relief, because that means none of the other colors broke. I’ve painted enough skies for a while anyway.
I spend the entire hike back to the compound thinking of what to paint. That makeshift dino den would be nice. There were some gorgeous views in the jungle, and if Zhu sticks around, no smaller predators will mess with me if I go back out there. Plus I can spend months just sketching the way she crushed those cars.
Five hundred feet out, and the garage stinks like herbivore. I come running, and right around the bend, those damned ducks are banging on the cargo containers. They smelled the grain. They’ve swarmed around, at least three separate flocks converging on one of the cargo containers Zhu had breached. I’ve never seen so many ducks in one place. The pavement is slippery with their guano.
If I don’t get rid of them right now, we’re going to lose the entire food supply. As much as I hate my neighbors, I am not letting them starve. Fuck, the herbivores are going to kill us all.
A vuvuzela is not going to fix this. I could hit the alarm, but with this many ducks around, their own stampede will kill a lot of them, and their carcasses will turn my compound into destination dining for carnivores. I pull out my phone, hesitating over what the hell to do as two hadrosaurs manage to pop the door off the next container. It swings open, and immediately a dozen more of them drive their heads into the food bins.
I turn around to pace and the biggest blur in the world charges past me. I hear her roaring, hear it from my hair to my toes, and Zhu rips into a hadrosaur’s belly. Just as nimbly, she uppercuts a second one with her snout, sending it into a wall before going for the kill.
The ducks spook, hopping over the cargo containers, going in all directions but hers. Zhu chases a third one down, catching it by the tail and drawing it into her mouth like spaghetti. I’ve never in my life imagined a dinosaur being treated like spaghetti. I’m in absolute awe of this creature.
The absolute awe lasts about a minute, before she starts barfing all over the parking lot. She was healthy enough to hunt, but not to eat.
If you feed a duck once, it’ll follow after you honking forever for more that you don’t have. Zhu didn’t honk, but she had followed me back to the feeding grounds. Her hips shudder and she glances at me.
I sign, “Calm.”
It’d be anthropomorphizing to say she gives me A Look. With that mouth, she always has A Look.
But when I sign again, she lays down on the asphalt. Then barfs up half-digested hadrosaur.
She’s such a pitiful sight that I want to hold her hair while she barfs. Not that she has hair. Her quills are like anorexic feathers, quivering with her discomfort.
I let her rest outside, my personal attack dog. As she alternates between zoning out and nibbling on her leftovers, I sit on the crushed hood of a car and paint. She left me enough red and brown pigments to do her royal likeness justice. It reminds me of Burgess Meredith sitting on the steps of the last library on earth.
“Time enough at last,” I say. I spend the afternoon making Twilight Zone jokes at a deaf carnivore
My surprise is that the paintings of a barfing dinosaur get shared a ton online. Weirdos from around the world message me about prints. T-shirt sites steal my art while I’m busy making new pieces. The internet loves paintings of the big lady doing mundane things, like flossing on my clothesline, or falling asleep between the solar panels in a way that looks like she’s tanning.
Two months later, I have a Patreon. I start it to be able to afford new paints, especially blue since most of the time I’m painting her from a low perspective and the sky sneaks in there. Demand for art is draining my supplies until the first wave of pledges hits.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably surprised that I’m surprised. I guess this is when I’m supposed to thank my Patreon subscribers. Thank you for supporting the Ms. Plover Project. I hope you like the next piece. Some locals heard I’d “tamed” the beast, and I think this painting captures the terror of them learning they were very wrong indeed.
She’s not housebroken, and neither am I. We’re a couple of misanthropes. She spends her days prowling for wildlife that doesn’t make her as sick as fast food, while I paint our way out from under a crap economy. In a few months I could afford transportation off this glorified tar pit. I might visit my Senator.
Although I’m not leaving without my emotional support animal. Does anyone know an airline with a generous policy?