Congratulations Michael! You can email me your 2000 word excerpt to be critiqued as your prize. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org whenever you’re ready.
And here is Michael’s winning dinosaur tale:
Nine years. Thirty seven days. Fourteen hours. Eleven minutes. That’s how long I’ve been waiting for this moment. My 150,000-volt stun rifle rests on my shoulder with my finger wrapped around the trigger. The cross hair target is centered on the beast’s torso. Its small head swivels on its long neck as if it senses I’m near but I keep the rifle aimed directly at its ostrich-like midsection. She wears a smirk and I can’t help but smile. She’s most definitely a modern-day Ingenia, but I’ve spent so much time researching her that I just call her Jean. Fossil records date her lineage back 70 million years. Most paleontologists, especially Dr. Zhang of the Evanston Paleontology Society, will tell you that Jean is extinct. They’ll tell you this specimen sitting not 10 yards from me is just an exceptionally odd bird and not a dinosaur. In fact, Dr. Zhang would precisely say, “Only a fool would spend even a dime to travel to southeast China to track down a silly bird.” If Dr. Zhang where here though, sitting next to me, nervously adjusting his oversized glasses every twenty seconds or so like he always does, he’d surely agree that the animal’s strong, wiry hands were more dinosaur than bird. He’d have a hard time differentiating this animal’s long, toothless beak from the one sitting on the counter next to Dr. Zhang’s unwashed coffee cup.
I wish my daughter was sitting next to me. A believer from day one, she’d let her jaw fall agape in wonderment in its presence. Truth be told, the money earned from such a discovery could pay for her college tuition three times over.
At nine years old, dressed in a striped long-sleeved top and blue jeans, my daughter pointed at a picture of a bird on my coworker’s office wall and said, “What kind of dino is that?” I had heard that question hundreds of times from between the thin lips she inherited from her mother but this was the first time I did not have an answer. I made up an answer. “Oviraptor,” I said. She nodded.
When my co-worker returned to the museum’s office, I asked him, “What the hell is that thing anyway?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I snapped it when I was in China on the Zhang dig.”
I asked him if I could borrow it and I took it back to my office. For weeks, I promised I would spend some time researching the bird just to satisfy my curiosity. Time, though, was fleeting and elusive, and slipped between my fingertips with every phone call and email. Finally, on one New Year’s Day, as I nursed my bleeding hangover with water and a bottle of Aspirin, I came upon the picture of an Ingenia. Uncommon in the North American fossil record, I had spent little time researching them. Seeing the image sparked an epiphany; one so powerful that when I stood to grab the picture from my desk drawer, my legs wobbled and my horizon filled with tiny, moving stars. I blinked. I scoured the web for more images and with each one I found, I discovered more similarities. Similar bone structure. Identical beak. Exact same splayed toes.
Watching Jean now, those first computer images come rushing back. Jean yawns and nestles. Her dirty white feathers brush the ground. As long as a car, she manages to curl herself up in a neat ball. I imagine her caged, the verifiable DNA evidence tucked behind a glass display.
I brought my initial findings to Dr. Zhang. He invited me into his office and I carefully laid out my case. I’ll never forget his furrowed brow. It crinkled in increments, like a pop can under a stack of heavy books. I was waiting for it to implode. Dr. Zhang picked his head up from my research, cleared his throat, and narrowed his eyes.
“Son,” he said, “you have a vivid imagination. Spunk, even. But this is not the work of a serious professional. I’ll pretend I never saw it.”’
I adjust the rifle and reaffirm my grip, preparing to fire. Jean stares straight ahead. I allow myself a moment to picture Zhang’s jealous eyes, myself on the Tonight Show, and receiving the Nobel Prize in Science. These images flash before me like a slide show from heaven.
Jean picks herself up from the ground and stretches her long legs. She takes a step and I steady my finger on the trigger. Then I hear a noise, a baritone squawk. It reverberates through the forest. My eyes follow the noise to Jean’s feet and there stand two young Ingenia. They prance around her bumping into each other. Jean lowers her head and nudges them back into her makeshift nest.
The bane of paleontology is that you never work with live animals. Nothing moves. Nothing breathes.
I watch Jean pick up one of the babies and drop it back into the nest. The baby gives out a feeble squeak of protest.
I center the cross hairs on Jean’s midsection. I inhale. My finger rubs the trigger. I do not shoot. I let the rifle fall to my side and I watch Jean and her family. I don’t even snap a picture.