Illustration by Bob Snare
“Philip, t-that can’t be what I think it is…”
The shape stirred at the sound of voices. Its watermelon-sized head swaying back and forth, it sucked down great lungsful of air, snorting away its confusion.
Remarkably, considering what had just transpired—its forced trip from home, blink-of-an-eye, wham, bye-bye semi-tropical forest/welcome to America—the leathery, gray thing had adapted to the science-shattering moment in which it had just participated quite quickly. Actually, far more quickly than the two presumably more-intelligent men staring at it were managing.
“Around here, Maxie, I think it could be.”
“You don’t mean…”
Already adjusted to its new surroundings, unaware of the uniqueness of its situation, the thing shook itself, casting away the momentary hesitation the newness of sixty-five million years of progress should inspire in a being from the zero end of the equation. No longer concerned with the electric lights, tiled floors, and plastered walls which had replaced the soggy field in which it had been feasting, its head split along a sharp line, displaying several rows of ivory spikes, many still festooned with strips of fatty muscle.
“I think I do mean it, Max. I think I mean that very thing.”
Having cut through the overpowering pungents assailing its nostrils, the shape filtered through the smells of ammonia and paint, ozone and perfume, dust, coffee, and the other uninteresting aromas on the air, zeroing in on the essential odor of the men before it. Bellowing its delight at finally identifying smells in its new world as coming from the tasty column, the thing rose to its full height and began striding forward, the very picture of joyful determination. The pair of men acted with suitable consternation.
“It’s a goddamned dinosaur, Phil!”
“Jesus Christ! Wezleski’s done it again.”
The gentleman was correct. Oh, a complete and hungry saurian was a variation on the usual tune of chaos heard in the halls of the Pelgimbly Center for Advanced Sciences, to be sure, but the melody was far too recognizable. For sadly, the postulate would have to be immediately agreed upon by all in the know, from janitor Swenson to director Aikana, herself, if there was a dinosaur loose, anywhere, anywhere at all in the entire world which, as everyone knows, has not seen claw nor scale of any living dinosaurs for a long, long time, at the bottom of it all had to be Dr. Wendel Q. Wezleski, Ph.D.
Actually, Professor Philip Morvently was already around the far corner, urging his colleague, the more excitable Dr. Maxim Ginderhoff, to try and keep pace with him. Behind them both, but closing the gap with little difficulty, came the great gray beast which, some thirteen minutes into the future, would come to be know as Fluffkins, but not before a great deal of blood and slaughter and the violent breaking of things which had not been seen outside the venerable halls of the Pelgimbly Center for Advanced Sciences since the last great foreign war, or inside those halls since Thursday previous.
“It’s catching up to us,” announced Phil.
“Quite aware, professor. In fact,” Max ran the figures in his head, glancing over his shoulder one last time to give his equation a final check before presenting it as a hypothesis, “the way it’s managing to out-pace us, I’m thinking it’s line of trajectory is going to intersect ours in less than eleven seconds.”
Agreeing whole-heartedly, Phil shouted back to his colleague;
“Remsley, pages 72 through 75.”
Puzzled, Max almost slowed his pace. Certainly the professor was referring to Otto Remsley, or more specifically, his seminal 1984 text, Living With Fear. But, pages 72 through 75—what that reference could mean he had no idea. Sensing the doctor’s confusion, Phil clarified;
“The paperback, not the hardback.”
Suddenly everything was made clear. But, of course, “Chapter Seven, Agreements Made in Fear.” The point in the book where Remsley quipped so eloquently on the humor in danger when it caught groups by surprise, and the pacts that could be made under such pressures. Max started to chuckle at such wit from his esteemed colleague. Then, his split-second of jolly reverie past, he flashed-back to their current shared reality, remembering exactly what they had been agreeing to, reminded by a snort of white-meat scented moisture on the back of his neck. Grabbing his companion’s sleeve, the doctor tugged with urgency, shouting;
Max and Phil managed to execute a quite dramatic left turn into the second level biology lab just as the brute thing snapped at one or the other of them. Skidding helplessly on janitor Swenson’s immaculate tiles, the great beast slid past the doorway, one massive leg raised upward, swooshing onward to the end of the hall where it collided rather firmly with the far wall, knocking loose two fire extinguishers and the Center’s cherished picture of L.D. Goodhue holding up two fingers behind Johannes Croning’s head at the dinner held the day after the latter had announced his new shell molding process.
“Bar the door.”
Max needed no encouragement from his erstwhile colleague. Indeed, he had already started to slide forward several lab stools and a half full box of Blakely & Son’s Bunsen burners.
“Something heavier, old boy,” Phil chided his partner in amateur survival. “Equal mass. Distribution of force, that sort of thing—yes?”
Max nearly blushed. Even mind-numbing panic of a sort never actually experienced by any living human being was still no excuse for a scientist forgetting his fundamental principles of dynamics.
But, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, he thought, grabbing for something that might stiffen the barrier the pair of researchers were hoping to build between themselves and the slavering thing in the hall, that Wezleski!
There simply wouldn’t be a need for such enthusiasms at all if it weren’t for that darned Wezleski.
Oh, how the name made Max flush with a rage not compatible with his elevated blood pressure. Come to work and find eighty-seven of the eighty-nine windows of the western wing not only shattered, but the resultant shards pincushioning a low flying plane brought to ruin by the shattering, and only one name could be attached as the cause—Wezleski. Break for lunch and hear the arrival of scores of firefighting volunteers along with their hooks, ladders and hoses, all eager to have away at the volcanic eruption transforming the formerly immaculate south lawn into something from a Ray Harryhausen film, and there would be only a single Center member whose reputation might come to mind—Wezleski. Reach for the last jelly doughnut, and find that not only is it missing, but replaced by a spiny creature the length of a standard spatula, the width of a generous dinner plate, with the eyes of a collie and the disposition of an Orthodox Jew at an all-you-can-munch bacon-breakfast and certainly, but one signature could you see on the dotted line…
“Less muttering, more stacking,” encouraged Phil. Oh, to be certain, the professor was not trying to change his companion’s disposition toward their absent brethren, merely his immediate fixation upon him for, outside in the hall, the gray thing had made its way back to the biology laboratory. Already it had begun to pit its tiny, fairly one-dimensional intellect against the awesomely complex three-dimensional concept of the swinging door. And, since it had already shown itself to be somewhat of a Paleozoic genius, it was doubtful Max and Phil had much time left.
The thing stared and stared at the spot where its prey had effectively vanished. It had followed them to the exact spot where it now stood. It knew it was correct in this, for their odor still hung in the air. Indeed, it was strong and juicy and growing stronger, filled with the delicious drippings of desperate fright in which the horror’s growling belly simply delighted. In fact, it could smell them, could hear their squeaking noises, it could practically taste them in the air. It just could not see them. Still, it had not lived to the ripe old age of many passings of the sun by not learning a thing or one thing and another thing. The beast knew that if it could smell something, it was there. So, trusting its nose, it began moving forward toward the wall.
Its snout touching the door, the thing was taken with the fact that this flat gray nothing seemed somehow different than the flat gray nothing into which it had slammed several minutes earlier. Whereas its forceful encounter with that flat gray nothing had been rather painful, it losing the lop-sided battle quite completely, this flat grayness was different. It was not stationary. It moved.
“It’s pushing the door!”
“Well then do join me in pushing it back.”
The scientists resisted with the strength they would use to oppose the theory of a flat earth, or the rights of cinema stars to proselytize for scientific causes. The memory of Susan Sarandon and Wynona Ryder lecturing the General Assembly on the dangers of conservative Christians being allowed to clone mad armies for Jesus still burned into his mind, Max strove valiantly to hold the breach by himself as he shouted;
“Phil, release all the animals.”
“Just do it!”
No Wezleski, of course, Dr. Maxim Ginderhoff was still an intellect with which to be reckoned. All throughout the biology room, cages adorned the walls and floor filled with all manner of experimental fish, fowl, and furbearer. As Phil threw open latch after latch, allowing escape for the various chickens, cats, white mice and so on, Max began kicking away bits and pieces of their barrier, even as the thing in the hall started increasing its efforts to reach the delicious sounds it heard multiplying inside the lab. Reaching the monkey cages, Phil asked;
“Even Brodsky’s chimps?”
“He’ll be awfully cross, he’s very keen on how close he is with his cancer research.”
“Open the cages.”
“Max, he’s got them up to two packs a day.”
“Philip! Unfasten the bolts or I shall stroll over there, unfasten the deltoids of your left shoulder from the area of the trapezius, grasp the resultant dislocated appendage firmly at the intersection of ulna and carpals and beat you to death with it!”
Sensing the seriousness in Max’s tone, Phil complied, releasing Dr. Brodsky’s prize chimps into the melee, all eight of which immediately began an insane search for cigarettes, seven for the cool, fresh taste of Marlboros, only one determined to uncover the coveted pack of Winterfresh Menthol Lites the doctor saved for those of their octet who performed exceptionally well, ringing the right bell in response to the proper colored light series or managing to get at least an act or two of Hamlet typed up from memory before coughing up a nicotine-flavored lu’gee into their IBM Selectric.
Finally, with hamsters, ducks, rabbits and everything else filling the air with fur, feathers and consternation, Phil rejoined Max at the door. Adding his delicate but willing shoulder to the barricade, he both informed Max that all the test subjects had been released and inquired as to just why the hell such a thing had been done. The doctor explained.
“I’m willing to wager that our friend out there, eager as it is to acquaint itself with the best scientific minds of our day, is not all that erudite itself.”
“Points conceded,” Phil granted as the door continued to push inward. “Go on.”
“I’m thinking,” answered Max, just catching his balance as the beast pulled away for a moment, causing the door to rush back toward the hallway once more, “that if one side of a swinging door confused our new best friend, that similar results might be achieved by the opposite side as well.”
“Acceptable premise,” agreed Phil as the beast came at the door again, expending much more force than it had previously. Digging in his J.C. Penny loafers, he asked, “have you given much thought to testing it?”
“Indeed. If you note, our friend has fallen into a pattern of pressing against the door, pulling back, and then coming forward with more force. Delightfully predictable. I propose when next it relents, we back away, and then, when it comes forward again, we allow it to enter the laboratory while we exit. Once inside…”
“With all the animals on the menu…”
“He will forget about us…”
“And we can trap him in the lab!”
The great beast stopped for a moment, vibrations it had never felt before stunning its external radar.
“Now or never…”
The thing was shocked. The spark that raw human consciousness could generate had actually touched it through the door, not harmed it, no—not a physical touching…
“He’s still there—you can feel him.”
But, pressed against the moving gray nothing, the mindless thing almost awakened, almost noticed something beyond the few senses it knew and trusted so well. But then, the first of the new aromas caught hold—
Inside, Max rapidly waved the notes he was carrying, a rather insightful symposium lecture he was to deliver at 2:30 on the social significance of the fact that Monty’s Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” was the most requested song at funerals around the world, blowing the rising smell of the lab animals under the door.
“Come on, big fella, we do chicken right.”
Suddenly the air was alive with a thousand new pure fats and bloods that were so overpowering as to intoxicate. The beast wavered on its feet, giddy with wonder at what treasure might be inside the vast gray nothing.
“He’s going to move soon, yes…?”
“I’d say in three…”
His foot on the side of his body which was not the other side of his body dug into the treacherous floor. His eyes hooded, shoulders flattened—
Deep breath, rush of blood, brain exploding with oxygen, order given—forward!
Max and Phil fell to the floor with the grace quickly learned by all those whose permanent place of employment was the Pelgimbly Center for Advanced Sciences, falling back with the perfect rhythm all truly rational souls gain in times of stress. Two-stepping as the door swung open, violently propelled as it was by the blood-fever rush of the only dinosaur to know the sweet dream of feasting on domesticated lives, the esteemed doctor of thermodynamic physics bounced back toward the hall with the much-valued professor of non-linear philosophy sliding out quietly behind him.
Allowing the door to swing shut, they locked it quickly with Morvently’s official key as a dean of sciences, and then slid down the wall opposite, laughing and cursing, ignoring the hideous screaming, screaming, screaming coming from the other side of the door as they tried to answer the questions of the many flocking to find out what all the previous commotion had been about. There were, of course, a goodly faction who were also quite curious about the screaming, screaming, screaming as well.
In only a few minutes Dr. Ginderhoff and Professor Morvently were able to give a fairly detailed account of what had happened to them, specifying their suspicions of grievous blame and to which of Dr. Wezleski’s addresses to forward them to in their footnotes, despite the constant questions from those in the crowd, especially janitor Swenson, although it was apparent he was mostly concerned with how his tiles had gotten so streaked, and who was going to have to clean up “…der stinkin’ piles of dinosaur crap,” and of course, the screaming, screaming, screaming, when suddenly, the constant din of the country dinner being served tartar in the main dining room of the biology laboratory… stopped.
No more screams.
None at all.
For a very long moment…
“Who in hell took my Luckies?”
“Wezleski?” asked Phil.
“Wezleski,” snarled Max, diabolical loathing closing one of his eyes, curling his delicately sensitive instrument-like hands into fists. “Wezleski!” snapped Max, envy and humiliation raging against the indifference he knew the crazed Wezleski would feel toward everything that had happened in his wake.
As the crowd moved toward the swinging door of the biology lab, they all gasped involuntarily as the door suddenly open.
“Hey, some kind of mess in there, huh?”
Dr. Ginderhoff moved forward, moustache twitching, open eye bulging, face crimsoning over like Russian wheat at sunset, his hands clutching and opening, clutching and squeezing, only to find himself blocked by the venerable Director Aikana. Knowing her staff all too well, the good Director thwarted the promised blood-letting with a bit of tact, deflecting the doctor’s misplaced rage into a weapon for truth.
“Dr. Wezleski,” she snapped with authority. “What was that thing? Why did you bring it to the Center? Explain yourself before those horrid people from UPN force their way in here again.”
“Oh, you must mean Fluffkins,” answered the somewhat dazed looking scientist. “I noticed him leaving through the field as I returned.”
“What?” The innocent single word was actually voiced by a number of the crowd. Indeed, there were a great many exclamations, but this one is quite representative and thus should suffice.
“I thought I’d finally cracked the problem with inter-dimensional travel. Trouble is, I only back-doored my way into time travel again.”
“Groan…” Once more, not a complete tally of reactions.
Wezleski opened the door behind him and invited everyone to move into biology lab 5A, or as it would be affectionately remembered for years after, ye olde slaughterhouse, as if ushering them into Fluffkins dining hall would somehow endear them to his tale. But, unbelievably, after but a few fairly incomprehensible moments of explanation, the eye-popping reaction to which can only be compared to the first ever audience to experience Willis O’Brien’s King Kong; the sensation of seeing the Earth as only the astronauts have—floating in space, back in the womb, snaggled to a life-giving umbilical, viewing a motherfigure the size of everything and the width of it squared; or that wonderful moment in 1905 when a brave new world was created at the moment when elastic rubber replaced the traditional whalebone and lacing used in women’s foundation garments, the Director said;
“You’re telling us, that when you went through the time stream you displaced an equal mass to yourself and what you took inside with you. It could have been two hundred and fifty three pounds of sea water, or coal, or riverbottom that came to us, but no, precisely, it was a dinosaur of a vary nasty, snapping, unbehaved type we had to contend with while you dallied elsewhere.”
“Yeah, I think so,” admitted Wezleski, puzzling to remember if he had meant anything else.
“And before I assess the damage you have done to our esteemed Center, yet again, Dr. Wezleski, I want to know something… Why did you call that beast ‘Fluffkins,’ as if you knew it?”
“Because I did know it.”
Now, remarkably, at this point, having lived through so many purely wezleskian moments as that shard of time they were all sharing with the only M.I.T./Yale/Cambridge alumni to have ever taken The Most Dangerous Man in Science Nomination twenty-six times in only eleven years (the duplications caused by his common, multiple category nominations within the same year, usually creating a split vote that would allow some other knucklehead to walk away with the trophy), you would have thought at least someone would have begun edging toward the door.
“You see,” he explained, with that unknowing way he had of luring the foolish to their doom, “geared as I was for intra-dimensional travel through inter-dimensional means, when I hit the damn time stream again, my ratial-mass threw an anchor out to pull me back—Fluffkins. But, since I was on an extended trip, I was actually there before, during and after his…”
“Excuse me, Dr. Ginderhoff?” asked Wezleski.
“It’s not a ‘him,’ it’s an ‘it.’”
“Hey, I was with him long enough to assign enough anthropomorphic characteristics to allow the pattern to establish itself. Comprende?”
Ginderhoff hated Wezleski’s embracing of popular culture means to explain his sloppier descriptive characteristics. Then again, he hated Wezleski’s favorite lunch, any tune he might chance to whistle, and even the tie given him by the Women’s Alliance for Runaway Decency. Honestly, he just plain hated Wezleski. But, with his vision blurring and the pain in his arm turning to numbness, he decided he had more important things to think about at that moment.
“Anyway,” Wezleski continued, “I disappeared from where I was twice, Fluffkins, three times. That means I was able to study him after he ate all the bio critters.”
“Hold on sixty seconds,” snapped Professor Morvently. “How could you have been around this creature any length of time? It obviously considers the human smell the dinner bell…”
“You have to rub yourself with fruit juice and not give off any signs of fear. All right?”
Morvently rolled his eyes. The crowd stared. Aikana wondered about this research Wezleski had mentioned. Her need to find dollars in any situation, the Director steered the conversation back to the doctor’s studies.
“Oh, yeah… anyway, I ran tests on ol’ Fluffkins when he got back. It’s a complete study of the effects of modern life on prehistoric cultures. Fluffkins chowed down on mega overdoses of nicotine and perfume extracts and carcinogens—everything that was in biology. I’ve got it all stretched—the numbers ring. Someone out there should be happy.”
Aikana smiled. Her mad bomber of scientific research had done it again. No matter which outcome the research favored, she already knew to whom she could sell it. Her soul lifted as the tally she could see for damages and lost loveable furry things was far outstripped by the minimum bids she could already hear jangling in the Center’s deepening pockets. Pleased beyond reason, she spoke without thinking.
“Well done, doctor,” she cooed, meaning it. Loving him once more. “Do give me you notes.”
“Sure,” answered Wezleski without hesitation, always happy to follow the dictates of the Director, “One minute. I left them on the other side.”
Turning on his heel, he reached out and grabbed an arm.
“C’mon Swenson, help me look for those notes.”
And the two men stepped through the time portal to retrieve the asked-for papers. Sending not two hundred and fifty three pounds over to the other side, but some five hundred and eighteen pounds instead. Of course, it might have displaced some five hundred and eighteen pounds of sea water, or coal, or even of riverbottom. But no, none of those were precisely what was returned.
What anchored their trip was something smaller than the last time. Tiny in comparison—but still remained the rows of ivory spikes and unruly disposition. Smaller, indeed, just more of them. Two hundred and fifty-three more of them, to be exact. All of whom, upon arrival in ye olde slaughterhouse, heard one massive sound voiced from some thirty-two various throats: