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In the Columbia Basin desert, a Velociraptor silently screams, frozen in mid-stride. If the echo of its voice could shunt through time, I might mistake it for a red-tailed hawk besetting a field mouse. Dinosaurs, according to one theory, didn’t die off, but took flight in smaller form — they became birds. If you’ve ever heard a sandhill crane, you’ve heard something prehistoric. I wonder, if my bones fossilized over thousands of decades, what could be discerned from their remaining matter? Would a future anthropologist have any clue as to my voice?
When I attended Carroll College in the 1990s, the movie Jurassic Park was a hit. Jack Horner from the Museum of the Rockies advised the creators of the film in regards to dinosaur authenticity and spoke as a guest lecturer. He based his presentation on the following clip, posing the question, “Would T-rex have eaten a lawyer on a toilet?”
Horner, a native Montanan, is one of the world’s leading paleontologists, yet he doesn’t hold a college degree. Perhaps because his curiosity and access to finding fossils was not influenced by academia, Horner can imagine what others could not see in the fossils. His idea regarding T-rex and the lawyer was based on what original thought he’d developed from looking at the length of T-rex’s bones. Horner theorized that T-rex was a long distance runner, scavenging after carrion unlike the Velociraptor, which was smaller but more predaceous. This idea rocked the pillars of paleontology; T-rex, after all, was king.
As a student, I recall feeling energized at such a new and daring theory. Like my classmates, I awaited the conclusion. Would T-rex eat a lawyer? Scavengers eat dead and rotting flesh. They typically smell a potential meal at great distances and have the ability to get there. T-rex as a scavenger would have lost the need for reach, thus explaining the diminishing arms. However, scavengers work to clean the earth of organic garbage. Thus, in conclusion, the answer depends upon the lawyer. And if that’s a poor recollection of Horner’s joke from 20 years ago, or in poor taste, please accept my apologies, forgo any unnecessary lawsuits, and accept my distraction with Horner’s latest theory about creating a living chickenosaurus.
The fossil record might be set in stone, but it’s just as messy to decipher as human interaction and communication. It seems we socialize more than ever, yet communicate and think less and less. Trying to decode what trends on social media and why is as difficult as trying to figure out how the tails of dinosaurs mutated. Twitter has more wit and originality than Facebook. I’d like to think that the constraint of 140 characters makes people more creative in their responses. Facebook trends tend to copy, paste and repeat, which feels like social plagiarism. I always want to know who originally wrote the post and why can’t people express their own thoughts?
And yet there is beauty in both our messy attempts at communication and what we find in the ancient baked mud of a desert. Where the Columbia River cuts a gorge nearly as impressive as the Grand Canyon, fossilized ginko trees have left stunning stumps of glistening white and amber swirls. Brave writers craft sentences that leave impressions of beauty and grace, horror and suspense, enlightenment. And sometimes we fail. Sometimes the fossils are too embedded to discern from mud; our words lost on the page. Yet we pick away at the bones in search of new ideas, of voice, a career masterpiece.
This post is not it. A masterpiece, that is. My voice is weary, to be honest. But I have a spark, thinking about fossils and holding in my hand a piece of petrified forest where a Velociraptor once ran. This week, I’m offering something new. Not a chicken theory or a book, but a rock. Yes, a rock. Everyone who enters a flash fiction this week will be assigned a number and a random number selector will choose a recipient for a piece of polished petrified wood from when chickens roamed the earth with tails and T-rex collected garbage. Just a bit of fun.
August 17, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a fossil or uses the word in its variant forms (fossilize, dino bones, petrification, gastroliths, ichnofossils, etc.). Dig into your imagination and go where the fossil record leads you.
Respond by August 23, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Digging Up Bones by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)
“Coprolite,” said Danni.
Michael held up the polished stone to the lamp light. “Is it a type of agate?”
Danni leaned in to look at the piece. “Uh-huh. Agatized dino dung from Utah.” Michael quickly set the stone back down on the bookcase.
Danni walked away to the kitchen. “Come on, speak your mind Michael. I know you aren’t pissed about me having petrified poop.” She watched him glare at her displays. Danni had her ethics and collected art, not artifacts. An archeologist knew the difference.
Finally he said, “I never should have let Ike marry a bone digger.”
Gordon’s Stone by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)
Cobb poured coffee for three and topped his with corn whiskey. “Gordon, you want a topper?”
The young man shook his head. Sarah noted Gordon’s slumped shoulders from across the campfire. She nodded thanks to Cobb when he handed her a cup. The journey on the trail was exhausting; only Cobb had vigor by nightfall. The fire crackled and none spoke. Gordon pulled a stone from his pocket, twirling it in his hand.
“What’s that,” Sarah asked.
“Was Mama’s. An elephant tooth she found.”
“Elephant? Did she bring it from Africa?”
“No, Miss Sarah, she found it in Georgia.”