Former presidential candidate Chuck Wendig issues his flash fiction call to arms this week in a saurian vein. All stories must involve dinosaurs. This is called "Doom In The Sky".
Watching a child in a museum crowd reminds me of my days playing high school basketball, when I was taught to use peripheral vision and constantly track both one's opponent and the ball. It's a peculiar routine, tracking exhibits with one eye and a child with another. As my chemistry teacher Mr. Turner always told us, when you're doing two things at once, you're doing one or both of them badly, and I was having trouble noticing any of the displays because I was preoccupied with tracking Dylan's mop of brown hair.
We were stopped in front of a dinosaur display, a giant T. Rex looming over both of us. My sister, pregnant and exhausted, begged me to take my nephew somewhere, anywhere, so I drove into the city to take him to the museum. "And I don't want him coming home with any gifts," she said as we left, but she always said that, and I never listened. Dylan was hard to say no to, and I wasn't inclined to do so in any case.
I knew the T. Rex was a rough approximation of what they actually looked like, steel and plaster and paint constructing a facsimile of a creature that could have stood here 65 million years ago. I remembered reading somewhere that they were probably more tropical beasts, but then again, the climate was different then. I always wondered how aware they really were. They almost certainly operated on a more basic level- just feed, and excrete, and reproduce. Then repeat. I envied the simplicity sometimes.
The crowd swirled and boiled around us- boys chased girls, girls chased boys. Parents gossiped, occasionally pausing to yell a command that wasn't heeded. A slim girl beamed as she held the hand of a rough looking boy, who seemed embarassed but secretly pleased. Young looking museum employees in blue polo shirts walked around aimlessly, preventing outright destruction while privately flirting with one another. It was humanity, caged in, surrounded by the history of everything on the planet.
"I like T. Rex," Dylan declared.
"You do?," I asked. "You're not scared of them?"
"Nope," he said. "Dinosaurs aren't real."
Not any more, they're not. "They aren't real now. But they used to be."
How to explain a time span of millions of years to someone who finds it hard to wait from lunch until dinner?
"A long time ago."
"When you were a baby?"
"Longer than that, pal. Before anyone you know was born."
"Wow," he said admiringly. "Like a kabillion years?"
"Yeah, about that."
"Can we go get ice cream?" He shifted gears like nobody's business. Take care of a root need- hunger.
It had to be easier to be a dinosaur, blissfully unaware that your time as master of the planet was short? No appointments, no schedules, no unemployment checks, no worries about your ex girlfriend or your novel that won't sell. Just acting, letting your primordial drives take the wheel. "Just do, don't think," Coach Turner would tell us. How much of my behavior was instinct, my lizard brain still running the show, my genetic heritage cutting through the clutter of society and decorum. I know Richard Dawkins would argue that I was a slave to my genes, acting to protect my nephew so that my genetic heritage, encoded in his tiny cells, would carry on. Even if I was only protecting him from an afternoon of Spongebob reruns.
"Of course we can, buddy. Don't tell Mom, OK?"
"Sure," he agreed. I knew he would tell her anyway, and I knew he would show her whatever trinket or stuffed animal he came home with. He hadn't learned to lie, which made him both endearing and dangerous.
I took his hand, and we walked through the maelstrom, his trust in me innocent and absolute. He knew nothing bad would happen as long as he held on. And nothing would, if I had anything to say about it. There were comets on the way, later on, that would disrupt everything he knew. Things like death, and heartbreak, and sadness; but for now, walking along with me, following the signs for the cafeteria, he was as unaware as a T.Rex, munching away on greenery as doom lights the sky behind him.