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March 2011 Volume 13 , Issue 3 submit to us!
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Grow+Your+Own+Dinosaur
by Fred Hilary -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

Tom grew a dinosaur in his father's shed.

The shed was a dark, dingy place, just the right sort of place for growing a dinosaur, at least according to the instructions they'd sent him. You needed warmth and dryness, and above all darkness, for if the sunlight ever got at it before all its limbs and organs and appendages were in place, it would almost certainly shrink and die.

"It's a bit like Sea Monkeys," Tom told his friend Howie. "You know, you get a packet of sea monkey eggs, you put them in water and after a while they grow into little shrimp-like things and start squiggling about".

Only with dinosaurs, the goal wasn't little shrimp-like things. It was a twenty foot high, seven ton dinosaur with a set of enormous, razor-sharp teeth and a massive craving for flesh. It started the same, though, with a small packet containing a single dinosaur spore and a set of instructions on how to water and care for it.

It came from America. Everything odd and fantastical seemed to come from America in those days (this was the seventies, by the way, in case you're wondering exactly when Tom grew his dinosaur, since you won't have heard it on the news). Sea Monkeys did. And so did all sorts of wonderful and life-changing oddities that invariably came in small packets but which made enormous claims.

Tom soon became the envy of his friends, because right after he started watering it the spore began to grow. It wasn't an egg -- they all expected an egg, but he had to explain that it didn't work like that. It was a bit like growing a plant, because you had to water it, and even talk to it (the instructions recommended it), and then it would grow bigger and bigger, without growing up in the way that animals or humans do. When it reached the height of Tom's thumb it looked just like an adult dinosaur in proportion, but of course much smaller.

He'd got it through the mail. There had been a choice of three dinosaurs: T. Rex, Triceratops, or Pterodactyl. The firm that sold the grow-your-own dinosaurs had slimmed down their line. They had once had Dimetrodon too until an expert had written in to tell them it wasn't an actual dinosaur at all but a pelycosaur, a sort of mammal-like reptile. Tom's choice hadn't been the most original but what seven-year-old could resist having his own T. Rex?

Howie had followed the whole thing from the beginning, and became so excited that he begged his father to let him order one of his own, with no success. Things took ages to come, his father said, and in any case they usually got lost in transit. Besides, where would they keep the dinosaur when it was fully grown?

It wasn't just his friends who followed the dinosaur's progress. It was every child in the village. Even Mike Francis, the hard nut from the new houses, had come to have a look and left in a state of shock.

Tom never forgot his duties. Every single morning he crept into the shed and poured half a liter of water on the growing dinosaur. It became as long as his forearm, then as big as a chopper bike, then as tall as the shed itself. Then came the problem. The shed was about ten feet tall, but a full-grown T. Rex reached over twenty feet, so it was obviously going to outgrow the shed.

He told his father about it. "Look, Tom, the shed's old," his father said. "I've been meaning to get a new one anyway. If that thing of yours keeps growing it'll just burst through the wood and that'll save me a bit of time demolishing it. Keep growing the thing and we can pick up the timber later."

And so Tom kept at it. The T. Rex did not move, in all the time it was growing; it did not act like it was alive. At first, this disappointed Howie and his other friends. But Tom had followed the instructions with care and he knew that it would only be at the exact moment when the thing had finished growing, when it reached its full adult size, that it would start to move and behave like a real dinosaur. It would be worth waiting for. Already, the thing looked fabulously fierce and dreadful.

Just as his father had predicted, the T. Rex burst through the tiles on the shed roof so that its head poked out of the top, and pretty soon its girth expanded so much that the planks on either side began to buckle and snap. The tail had long ago made a hole at the back of the shed and curled around the garden gate, like a long green python. Tom could no longer sprinkle water on top of the thing by reaching up on tiptoe, so he had borrowed the stepladder, and soon after that his uncle's builder's ladder, and positioned it against the side of the house in order to be high enough to pour the water evenly from the top down. Following the instructions, he had to make sure that the water reached every appendage, otherwise the thing would not grow in proper proportion. The tail would be too long, for example, or the head outsized, and that would cause problems and seriously hamper its ability to catch prey.

"It can't be long now," Tom thought one morning, from the top of the ladder, as he sprinkled that day's ration of water right and left. The T. Rex was huge, and the neighbors were always coming to look at it and stare. "Did you get that from Woolworth's?" they asked, shaking their heads. "The things kids go in for these days". When he told them it was from America, they all nodded in understanding. Everything imaginable came from America.

His father, holding the ladder for him, said, "How will you know? When it's ready, I mean."

"Well, when it starts to walk about and roar, I s'pose. The instructions don't explain that bit."

His father went quiet for a bit while Tom climbed down the ladder. He was thinking, and whenever thinking hard about something he usually stared off into the distance, his eyes all glassy, as if the world had disappeared.

"But, Tom, what happens then?" he said at last. "When the thing starts stomping around in the garden? We've only just paid off the mortgage on the house. I don't want to have the builders in to repair the structural damage if that thing starts blundering into anything in its path. Not to mention what it might do to my vegetables."

His father stared up at the monstrous thing, twice as high as the garden fence, reaching almost to the eaves of the house. Its teeth were six-inches long and viciously jagged.

"But come on, Dad" said Tom, "it's a dinosaur. Stomping is what it's supposed to do. It's not a big teddy bear, is it? Loads of kids in America have got one. Besides, if you stop watering it, even after it's eaten, it'll go inactive again. That's what the instructions say."

The day finally came when Tom climbed the ladder and sprinkled the last drops on his fully-grown dinosaur. He felt the ladder rock as the thing shook itself to life. It turned about, nearly knocking Tom from the ladder, and gave the loudest, most terrifying roar anyone in the village had ever heard. Tom scrambled up on to the house roof and stayed there. Crouched, trembling but more excited than he'd ever been in his life, Tom watched the dinosaur pace about in the small garden. It bent its great head to sniff at the chrysanthemum beds, and, raising it again, brought its eye level with the roof.

The great eye of the monster regarded him. Though Tom couldn't explain it, he was sure that it was gleaming at him with a thank you. Thank you, it seemed to be saying, for giving me life. Then it shook its great flanks vigorously, and went charging off across the vegetable patch and straight through the fence, sending pieces of timber and earth flying in its wake.

Howie, who had run back into the house, emerged and helped Tom climb down. He was shaking with fear, but obviously as excited as Tom was. The neighbors were already gathering, muttering with astonishment at hearing the great roar of the beast, even if few of them had actually seen it in action yet.

"Come on!" said Howie. "We've got to follow it. We've got to see what it does. God, this is more exciting than a Doug McClure film."

They went in delirious pursuit as the great theropod went rampaging through the village, breaking down walls and snapping belisha beacons, smashing through the post office wall and reaching inside to pluck out the screaming post lady and gobble her up. The milkman, returning home after his round, had thrown empty milk bottles at it from his retreating float but it was like throwing berries at a tank. By half-past twelve it had eaten Mrs. Rice from the cottages; the fat policeman who in any case nobody liked and whose last words had been, "What's all this, then?"; and a couple of council workmen who were having tea by the road works. And then it had lumbered into the empty school playing fields and sat down under the oak tree to have a nap.

Tom and Howie followed it, and watched it from a safe distance. By this time, they'd had their fill of excitement, and Tom was starting to worry what his parents would say. They had gone to the town for the day, but were due back any time, and probably there would be all sorts of trouble because, after all, the monster had swallowed people. They wouldn't be arrested, perhaps, because the policeman had been eaten, but there would probably be some other come-uppance waiting for them.

"Well, it's asleep now," Howie said, watching it from the playground that bordered the playing field. "It's eaten enough, I suppose."

It was nearly evening, and the light was fading fast, but Tom, studying the great sleeping monster, shook his head. "No, look. It's lifeless. It's stopped growing again. It needs more water."

"That's it, then. You're not going to give it more, are you? I mean, you're in enough trouble as it is. Best leave it there to shrink."

It seemed like a good idea for a little while, for just as long as it took for them to look up at the sky. It was summer, and hadn't rained for weeks, but no matter -- those were dark grey clouds, and it was definitely going to pour down this very evening.

"Gosh, look over there!" shouted Howie, breaking Tom's stare at the clouds. "They've brought the army. I've only seen a tank once before, in a military tattoo. Never seen one in action before, with real shells, going after a dinosaur."

It was a tank as well, followed close behind, by two more, trundling up the road past the half-demolished post office, gun turrets peering about from side to side like antennas.

"It won't stand a chance," said Tom, hanging his head. "It's not active, I mean. They'll just pound it with shells and it'll be gone in a great puff of flame and smoke. Three weeks' pocket money."

"I don't think so," said Howie. A great blob of rain ran down the end of his nose. "Here goes," he said as they felt the patter of raindrops on the pavement nearby.

The tanks were just moving into firing position, three in a line, when the T. Rex shook itself back to life and went thundering off in another direction. The tanks gave pursuit, their tracks shuddering and shaking as they went down the dip between the road and the playing fields. The T. Rex had gone out of sight, and an eerie stillness prevailed, with just the rumble of tank wheels filling the evening air, before a sudden thunderous crash from the junior school brought it all to an end.

"I think it's our form's classroom," said Tom, as they rushed to get a look. As they came in sight of the school they saw the dinosaur wrecking havoc, splinters of glass and Formica flying everywhere as it shook its rump against the side of the building. The tanks, meanwhile, had reached the edge of the playing fields and were aiming their guns. A shot ripped through the air, and the wall next to where the T. Rex was pounding out its fury suddenly burst into flame. The big dinosaur sniffed the air, cocked its head to one side, and in a few quick bounds had reached the tanks and was pounding them with its feet. It was like watching someone treading grapes.

"So much for the army, then," said Howie, as they watched the T. Rex go off again, this time to the other end of the village. The rain had increased, and the sky was thick and dark, and there would be no let up for the time being. The rampage, it seemed, was only just beginning. The dinosaur seemed to find sport in smashing through the walls of buildings, and its hunger seemed insatiable. It tried a few dogs that had foolishly tried to stand their ground, but it seemed to prefer the villagers themselves, and made a point, Tom noticed, of attacking people his parents were on good terms with. They wouldn't be pleased when they got home.

He wondered when it would all end. Would they send in helicopters, or lay down some kind of trap to catch the beast in? How come Doug McClure always managed to bring down a dinosaur with a couple of shots from a Springfield rifle?

The end came with a deep rumble. It was not the T. Rex's, whose booming, earth-shuddering roar they had been hearing all evening. It was more like an earthquake, or like the lowing noise cattle make but much louder. Then the second dinosaur appeared.

It was a triceratops. Twenty-seven feet long, its massive head shaking defiantly with three sharp horns pointed like spears. A few feet behind it, egging it on, was "hard" Mike Francis from the other end of the village, who Tom remembered leaving in a hurry the day he'd come to see the dinosaur in his father's shed. The triceratops lowered its head, stamped its feet on the ground, and then proceeded to charge straight at Tom's T. Rex. It hit it with an enormous thud, its pointed horns ripping straight into the startled and frankly oblivious T. Rex's side. The furious T. Rex shook itself free, and the two began to pace round each other, roaring their challenges, before becoming entangled in a great, thrashing, thundering, rumbling battle of teeth and horns and enormous bloody flesh wounds.

"It's just like in One Million Years B.C."

"No, you're thinking of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth".

"They shouldn't have had cavemen there, though. Lived millions of years after."

"Well, that hasn't stopped this T Rex from eating people."

Mike Francis came up to join them watch the fight. "I was dead jealous of you, with that T. Rex. Wanted one of my own. Didn't want the same, though, ‘cause you'd say I was just copying you. So I went for the Triceratops. Grows a bit quicker, that one, if you add just a bit more water than the instructions say. Then I found out in a book that the thing didn't eat meat. Blooming plant eater. Never mind, though. Built like a tank. Can you see the damage its horns make?"

They watched the fight until there wasn't much life left in either dinosaur. By the time a new lot of tanks trundled up, it was easy for them to fire a few shells and finish them off. A great cloud of smoke rose from where the dinosaurs had stood, and the wind carried the overbearing smell of burning flesh. Then it was all over.

The boys all hung their heads in gloom as they walked home in the rain in their sodden clothes, skirting around the police cars and fire engines and military vehicles. They would have to face the consequences now. Tom's parents would be furious about the broken garden fence and trampled vegetable patch and all the people who had been chewed and swallowed. Mike Francis, he supposed, would be facing the same fate.

"It'll all blow over," said Howie, breaking the silence. "They'll be angry for a bit, then everything'll go back to normal. It always does, around here. You could drop an atom bomb in the middle of this place and it would still be back to normal after a couple of weeks, and no one would be carrying on any different."

He pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket and led them to a nearby bus shelter. "I was jealous too, you know. I've been thinking about getting one on the sly, not telling my father at all. We could pool our money, all chip in. Then we could go down the fields, find a nice little den, and grow it there. No one would know. Then, when it finally goes rampaging about, we deny all knowledge. No one will have seen us with the monster. Look at this. It's a new line they're bringing out."

He unfolded the paper, a newspaper cutting, and they all gasped as he held it for them to see. "GROW YOUR OWN MYTHOLOGICAL MONSTER" it said. There was Talos, a great bronze Titan, holding a sword. Medusa was just as good, snakes writhing in her hair, almost terrible enough to turn the looker into stone even from the newsprint. And last and best, a dragon, breathing a long tongue of fire that blasted and scorched the earth below it.

"That one!" Tom and Mike said in unison. Tom made a quick calculation. Four weeks' pocket money this time. But it would be worth it. This time it really would be spectacular.

They walked home, imagining they could already hear the beat of enormous wings on the air.

 
 
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Features -- March 2011 -- Mid Month Issue