It’s my birthday! My present to you is an original short story mash-up of my favourite subjects. Read on…
A Dinosaur in Time
by Claire Fayers
For the immediate attention of the Director of the Earth Space Exploration Centre. May 12th, 2283.
I know you are busy and have many urgent matters to attend to, especially today, for which I apologise, therefore I will be as brief as possible. My story is a strange one and I am not sure where to start it.
I supposed it began on the day I discovered my neighbour had invented a time machine.
Please bear with me. I know this is hard to believe. If time travel existed, people would have come back from the future by now and we’d all know about it, right?
I had just turned twelve and my parents had bought me a telescope for my birthday. Being a curious boy, I used it to spy on my neighbour. He lived in the house at the back of ours and I could see into his downstairs room from my bedroom, if I leaned out of the window. He was a quiet man, about my grandfather’s age, and he always smiled and said hello when we passed him in the street, so I knew he wouldn’t mind.
I’d expected to catch him reading or washing his dishes or something equally boring. Instead, I saw him drag a grey cylinder into the centre of the room and climb inside it. There was a flash of light and the cylinder vanished. Then another flash and it reappeared covered in mud.
I forgot that I wasn’t supposed to bother the neighbours. I ran around the road and tossed my football into his garden so I’d have an excuse to knock at the door.
My neighbour opened it, looking a little dishevelled, the sort of look you get if you’ve overslept. (I guess you don’t remember what it’s like to oversleep, or sleep at all, given what’s happened. Once again, I sincerely apologise.)
“What are you doing?” I blurted, forgetting about the football that lay abandoned on his lawn.
He had an odd look on his face. Like he’d overslept after watching too many horror films and he’d woken out of a nightmare. Maybe I should have gone home then.
He rubbed his hands over his eyes. “I am,” he said, “in the middle of making the greatest scientific discovery of all time. The secret to unlocking time, if you will.”
I understood straight away, of course. I was twelve years old and obsessed with science fiction comics. Of course I knew what it all meant. The vanishing and reappearing cylinder, the terrified, exultant look on my neighbour’s face. It strikes me now that he never told my family his name. We weren’t friends, you see. We were the kind of neighbours who nodded, said hello and walked on.
To return to the story.
“A time machine,” I said. “Cool. Can we go back and see the dinosaurs?”
He didn’t deny the existence of the machine.
“No,” he said. “Your mother will have my head if I let you get eaten by velociraptors.” He walked back through the house to the back room where the capsule lay on the floor. I followed him. He didn’t seem to mind.
“How does it work?” I asked.
“With science. Very complicated science that you cannot hope to understand at your age. I will demonstrate how it works. You wait here, I’ll have a quick nip back in time and look around, and I’ll be right back. In fact, I’ll come back almost to this very moment so you’ll barely know I was gone.”
He climbed into the cylinder and slid the lid shut.
Five seconds later, the cylinder disappeared.
Two minutes after that, I was still waiting for him to return.
Two hours later, I knew my mother would be calling me for dinner, so I had to go.
After two days, I started to suspect that something may have gone wrong.
Two weeks later, the cylinder arrived back in my neighbour’s garden. I was climbing the fence to get to it when the top panel slid back and a creature emerged.
It wasn’t my neighbour – unless my neighbour had inexplicably been turned into a dinosaur.
Once again, I know what you’re thinking, and please bear with me. It was a small dinosaur, and, in case you’re interested, yes, it had feathers.
It looked at me with its yellow, reptilian eyes, and I felt myself turn cold.
“Do you know how to work a time machine?” it said.
I fell off the fence in shock.
It snapped its jaws in an irritated fashion. “Maybe you could try looking a little less surprised. We did have brains in the Cretaceous Period, you know.”
“But you’re a dinosaur.”
The dinosaur glanced down at itself. “Gosh, thanks for pointing that out. Deinocheirus to be exact. It means ‘terrible hands’.”
I looked at Deinocheirus’s hands. Each claw was as long as my arm and curved like a sabre. I started to back away.
“Sit down,” Deinocheirus ordered. “We need to plan.”
My legs gave way and my backside hit the grass. “Plan? Plan what? What are you doing here? What happened to Mr… um…”
“Trampled by a Tyrannosaurus,” Deinocheirus said. “He should have looked where he was going. Luckily, I was able to save the time machine. The return details were set to this time period so I thought I’d see what was here.”
I pictured my neighbour, whose name I didn’t even know, flattened in a dinosaur footprint. “It’s how he’d have wanted to go,” I said uncertainly. I eyed the time machine. “We can go back in time and save him, though. Can’t we?”
Deinocheirus shrugged its feather. “I suppose you could try. Right after we’ve saved the dinosaurs.”
I blinked. “Pardon?”
“Giant asteroid strike,” Deinocheirus said. “Sixty five million years ago give or take a week. Wipes out almost all life on Earth and you primates go on to evolve into the dominant species. Don’t ask me how.” It gave me a sour look. “But now I have a time machine. I can save the world.”
Deinocheirus could save its own world, it meant. A world full of dinosaurs. A thrill of excitement went through me.
Imagine me, saving the dinosaurs.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
Deinocheirus examined its claws. “You’re the one with the superior mammal brain. You think of something.”
“Can we go back in time and bright them forward?”
“One at a time? Have you ever tried fitting a Tyrannosaurus into a time machine?”
I looked at the slim cylinder, built to take one human body.
Imagine dinosaurs alive in our world.
Imagine them trampling on cars, biting chunks out of buildings, knocking down bridges. I’d seen enough films to know it never ended well. The Earth belonged to humans now and throwing a million dinosaurs suddenly into the mix could cause a disaster more catastrophic than the original asteroid strike.
Imagine me being responsible for the deaths of millions of people.
“Maybe, if you went back and warned the other dinosaurs, you could come up with an escape plan,” I suggested.
“Such as what? The end of the world is nigh, run for your lives? Where can we go? This whole planet will be uninhabitable.”
This whole planet.
And that, dear Director, is why I am writing to you today.
You will be wondering where your prototype generational space ship is.
I’m afraid we stole it. Patched it into the time machine’s engines and took it right back to the Cretaceous Period.
It took us many hundreds of attempts, but that was all right. We have a time machine, you see.
It’s not big enough for all the dinosaurs but we filled it with representatives of most species. And eggs. Eggs take up very little room. The project ‘Dinosaur Ark’ took fifty years from its conception in my neighbour’s back garden to completion.
I don’t even have to be telling you this. Without this letter, you’d never find out what happened. But I know that you will build a new space ship – I’ve seen it. I know that Earth in your day is becoming uninhabitable once again and you need to escape. The ship is your own chance of survival, just like it was the dinosaurs’ only chance.
I also know that when you send a ship into space, when you travel to new planets full of optimism and feeling like heroes, you’ll find that some of them are already taken.
Sorry about that.
There’s one last thing, just in case you think I’ve got away with this. I’d like to assure you that I haven’t. I said the whole project took fifty years, and though we have a time machine and therefore, in theory, unlimited time, we continued to age. Gradually, I looked less like the twelve-year-old boy who knocked on my neighbour’s door, and more like the man who opened the door that day.
It appears that at some point, fairly soon I’m guessing, I will move into the house at the bottom of my twelve-year-old self’s garden. I will not need to invent a time machine because I have one already. If you can work out how that makes sense, you are far cleverer than I am.
The day my twelve-year-old self knocks on my door, I will go back in time and be trampled to death by a Tyrannosaurus.
Come to think of it, it’s not a bad way to go.