Read The Dinosaur Chronicles Online

Authors: Joseph Erhardt

The Dinosaur Chronicles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dinosaur Chronicles

 

by Joseph M. Erhardt

 

 

 

 

 

The Dinosaur Chronicles

 

by Joseph M. Erhardt

 

 

Copyright
©
2015 Joseph M. Erhardt
 

All Rights Reserved

 

Portions Copyright
©
1996-2015
 

 

 

Cover Art

by

Daniel McCloy

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, descriptions, accounts and events portrayed in this collection of stories, except for certain historical references, are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance of non-historical story characters to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. (Honestly, if you think Tar F’Set resembles your Uncle Max, the author gently suggests you look into a new pair of glasses, or perhaps even a new Uncle Max.) The afterwords that follow the stories are either factual and/or express the author’s opinions.

 

Second Edition: January 2016

 

 

 

 

 

*
*

Table of Contents

Foreword

Forward!

The Blue Smoke Test

The Men with the Power

Two Steps Forward

Punkin’ Vipers

Evensong

Open Frame

Eliza’s Quick-Drying Polar White

Who Mourns for Spring?

Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

Letter of the Law

The Practical Meek

Edges of Memory

Crawl Ice

The Great Aribo

Postscript

Acknowledgments – And a Plug or Two

 

Foreword

by T. Rex

 

It is I, your scaly host, welcoming you to my compendium of tall tales and short excuses. If you despise forewords as much as I do, then just go—jump immediately to the meat of this volume!

Meat. Mmmm.

The rest of you might wonder, and reasonably so: Just how did a Cretaceous dinosaur survive from that era to the present day?

It’s all the fault of Mrs. Rex. No, truly. I wouldn’t kid you.

On the day of the Chicxulub asteroid impact, she had sent me into this cavern to recover more of the shiny crystal stones she loved so much to wear around her neck and on her fingers. I could never understand why, as they weren’t good for much and you certainly couldn’t eat them (I tried).

But after emerging from the mountainside that day, the sky was dark and raining fire, and the forests were burning in every direction, as far as I could see. I returned to the cavern to wait out the disaster.

The cave had water, and I could see by the glowing rocks that lined some of the passageways, but it was a hungry two weeks later before I was able to quit the mountain to find breathable air.

Nothing had survived. But burnt corpses littered the blackened tree stumps, and so food was no longer a problem for me. I lived. And continued to live, to my amazement. Only with the advent of twentieth-century science did I realize that those glowing rocks had been radioactive, and that my exposure to them had immortalized the cells of my body.

It’s been a lonely 65 million years, for the most part. Even animals that I didn’t care to eat, animals that I could’ve lived with, as pets and friends, were frightened of me. Today I have found some squirrels that let me feed them peanuts, but they still won’t take any from my lips.

With the advent of you naked bipeds—and let me tell you, you spent enough time in the trees before finally deciding to climb down—I was able to make a nice living by taking on the role of “monster” or “dragon” for kings and emperors who needed my kind of in-your-face diplomacy. It was fun, my rates weren’t excessive, and
no one
ever shorted me on a deal.

Since the Renaissance and the subsequent disbelief in fabulous creatures, however, I’ve had to maintain a lower profile. Also, you guys invented cannon.

As the centuries rolled by, I tried to keep myself current and involved. I read widely and maintained my education. I wrote—and write—for fun, and to entertain you lesser creatures. To keep the bill collectors at bay, I work in the information technology field.

Naturally, I telecommute.

Forward!

by Joseph M. Erhardt

 

Yes; it’s another foreword. Skip to the stories if you must, but return here later. (I hate the thought of abusing the keyboard for the sole purpose of talking to myself!)

The stories you hold in your virtual hands are old and new, published and unpublished, and they’ll take you to places where fact meets speculation, and fantasy meets wit. The stories are also, in a way, a writer’s journey. Today I edit professionally and am working on two novels. I rarely write short fiction any longer, but I still do—and I try to place it in the market. The short fiction market, especially the
print
short fiction market, is extraordinarily competitive. This is so because paper and ink—and postage—all cost money, whilst e-publishing is relatively cheap. But who can later hand a grandchild an electronic magazine and say, “Here, this is my story. I wrote it and they printed it. And they paid me!”

Well, “paid” might be an exaggeration. The number of short fiction markets that pay well enough to feed yourself by can be counted on the thumbs of both feet.

However—and this is a big however—writing short fiction hones craft. It trains a writer to be succinct, to use three words when ten are excessive, and to worship clarity—to paint for the reader a sharp picture of what’s happening in a story, and to do so without sounding like a pedant in a runaway monologue.

The previously-published stories in this anthology I have resisted editing. Once a short-story has been published, it’s almost a literary crime to make further changes to it. In a sense, it becomes a frozen image of the writer’s skill at the time he or she exposed the tale to the world, and this in the writing community is taken to be a Valuable Thing.

The oldest story in this book is “The Blue Smoke Test,” an over-the-top parody of various SF tropes. I would not write it today the way in which I wrote it then—today, I might consider a serious approach to the story’s concept. But it still holds interest and reads clearly and, I hope, still evokes a chuckle or two. Things take off from there.

The unpublished stories that I’ve included are those that I’ve always felt were worthy of publication but suffered from market scarcity—most were simply too long for the publications of the day, or they fell into categories for which there simply
weren’t
any short markets. And yes, the unpublished stories I did stop to edit one last time before including in
The Dinosaur Chronicles
.

Which brings me to my alter ego. (The Guy on the Cover.)

When I first began writing and submitting work, my paying job carried with it a number of business and political sensitivities, and I worried that customers would, perhaps, think that I was not paying their needs due attention, should they discover my avocation. Some might even have thought that I was actually making money at writing and therefore didn’t really
need
that contract I was negotiating for.

Right.

So I used the pen name “Templeton Rex,” later shortened, simply, to “T. Rex.”

And in a way, becoming a dinosaur reflected my taste in stories: I like old-style tales that are built in the classical (antediluvian) fashion. I want a tale with a beginning, a middle, and an end that provides some satisfaction to the reader. Additionally, a plot that makes sense, holds some logic and allows for a second glance is a big plus.

To that end, I hope that the stories in this book succeed in following that classical approach. I realize that people are different, and that not all readers will like all the stories, but I do hope that you will like the greater part of them, and that, while reading these tales, I’ve managed, for a little while, to take you away from the push and peril of everyday life.

 

J. Erhardt, 12/18/2015

The Blue Smoke Test

It was with no small reservoir of irritation that I opened the door to my home on that evening. An interruption! At so critical a moment! A moment that was to bring forth the culmination of months of effort, yet upon the twenty-third ringing of the bell I felt I had either to dispense the interloper a most uncouth piece of my mind or perhaps throttle him or her with my own two hands.

“What
is
it you want!” I thundered as I swung the portal wide.

Before me stood a tall man, slim, in dark tunic and slacks, with a long, bony countenance and a most arrogant flair about him.

“Professor Beloit?” he asked me in a voice that hissed slightly, like steam escaping a kettle.

“I am he. I am also very busy. State your business and begone!”

“I am afraid,” the figure said, idly flicking a piece of lint from his sleeve, “that my business is
your business
. Specifically, the item you have hidden in your workshop.”

Having survived in this plane of existence for nearly five decades, I have experienced much, and little surprises me any longer. But I confess to having started, and the blood must have drained from my face.

“Surprised, my dear Professor?” Before I could say or do anything, the stranger pushed his way into my living room and closed the door behind him. “We detected your machine,” he went on, “when you powered it up for the first time this morning. What do you call it when you first apply current to an electronic device? The Blue Smoke Test? How quaint.”

I gathered my courage and outrage. “How dare you just enter! Who do you think you are?”

“Inspector Valik, Interpol.”


Interpol!

With an aplomb nearly maddening, the figure then gripped the skin at the base of his neck and pulled from his head a large rubber mask. I gasped, as the bony human features were replaced by pale green skin, slitty eyes and a mouth and nose of much sharper form; his ears each ended in a point, and my heart beat rapidly and irregularly as I searched my memory. I had not, I could swear, offered my soul to the Devil; at least, not recently.

Now the creature pulled a wallet from his vest pocket, but when he opened the item, a holographic projection unfolded. A number of unintelligible symbols and diagrams were displayed under a grapefruit-sized reproduction of his hideous face.

“As I said, I am Inspector Valik, Interplanetary Police. Your time machine is an illegal device. When you powered it this morning, its presence was registered on our detectors. I have come to confiscate same and to warn you of the consequences of building another.”

Of what I said in the philippic that followed I recall but little. The words “How dare you!” and “Upon what authority!” must surely have been included; perhaps earthier, more Saxon expressions were also uttered. As my spleen was vented, however, the Inspector merely settled himself on my sofa and waited for me to finish, draw breath, or expire, whichever the case might finally be.

“You Terrans,” he mocked. “Of all the species in this part of the Galaxy, you are the only one with scientists crazy enough to design and actually build a machine that is so obviously an impossibility.”

“If it is impossible,” I cried, “why do you bother?!”

“Because it is, after all, possible, as you and several others have demonstrated—”

“Several others!” I admit my pride of accomplishment was harshly shaken by this revelation.

“You are the eighth—no, ninth—discoverer of the principle of time-stasis manipulation.
Congratulations
.”

It was the way in which that final word was said—the dubious intonation, the sardonic trill—it took the life from me. I dropped into the overstuffed chair across from the sofa and buried my face in my hands.

“You must understand the danger, Professor,” the alien went on. “Your machine has the ability to change history. It cannot be allowed to exist.”

I looked up. “Change history? What is past, is past and done! A time machine can be used to observe, perhaps sample, but history is set—set as firmly as quarks are locked within atomic nuclei! And even if history
could
be changed, how could one ever detect it?”

The alien shook his head in a quite-human gesture. “Amazing. First, you build an impossible machine. Then, you claim it cannot do what it can most certainly do. How gloriously contradictory; how eminently Terran. Allow me to describe to you the Wells experiment.”

“The
Wells
experiment?” I repeated, and pulled from my pocket my handkerchief, with which I proceeded to dry my quavering lips.

“A rather humorous literary reference; the etymology of its use goes back to Discoverer Number Two. Nevertheless, here is how it works: In a sealed vault is a spigot that controls the outflow of water to a tank in an adjacent room. The spigot is full-open. In the adjacent room, a float in the tank rises with the water and, upon reaching a certain level, turns on an indicator and shuts off the water flow using a separate control. Once the shutoff occurs, a scientist enters a time machine, teleports into the sealed chamber just a moment after its sealing and adjusts,
if need be
, the spigot to
half
flow. He then returns several minutes after the moment from which he
would have left, had the spigot already been half-flow
. He does this to synchronize his existence with that of himself that leaves to manipulate the spigot after the end of the half-flow version of the experiment. Follow so far?”

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