The Dinosaur Keeper

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Chapter 5

Chapter 5

I say said, but of course with the greatness of Max, mean roar.

It always happened like this to start, but still took Rex a little by surprise as he clutched his ears and dropped to his knees.

As Max’s mighty racket resonated around the plains of Chunk, the Stegosaurus’ stood motionless, shocked and unsure of what to do. To their relief the Pterodons took flight and began to circle the plains, eyeing up the colossal Tyrannosaurus, motioning to the other dinosaurs that everything was fine, it was only Max.

But still the Velociraptors ran to the other side of the paddock, standing in a line to block access to the plains and bearing their razor sharp claws to full extent.

The Diplodocus’, although at first startled, carried on grazing. Nothing much fazed them and they continued to try and produce as much dung as possible before Chunk finally went dark.

“Sorry” said Max, looking at the excruciating pain currently inhabiting Rex’s face.

Max, presumably having not talked for a while, would first shout at a level that could only be appreciated by your deaf granny wearing ear muffs, who lived on the next continent and had recently taken to being packed with sandbags, whilst suspended by a crane so high that it could only be cleaned by the current inhabitants of Mars.

Following this he would over compensate and start again, far too quietly.

Rex wrenched his hands from his ears and looked around hoping that the hammer which had taken up residence in his ear would soon stop gaining so much pleasure from repeatedly bashing him in the brain.

He presumed that Max had said something and replied,

“A bit louder”,

“LIKE THIS?”, came the reply and the hammer’s cousin, a pneumatic drill, started to bore into Rex’s skull.

Starting to feel quite ill, and realising that Chunk was spinning faster than normal, Rex vainly gave it one last shot,

“A little quieter”, he replied,

“Like this?” Max said, finally getting the level right,

“Yes, now give me a minute” was the response.

Stumbling backwards, Rex felt behind him for something familiar.

His hand brushed cold, rough steel and eventually soft vinyl, which sprang back at his touch.

Still edging backwards, feeling slightly dazed, he eased himself behind the wheel of the tractor and sat securely in it’s front seat, whilst reaching into his satchel. Pulling from it the remains of the Bitter Cola, popping this into his mouth then unscrewing the flask to take a great swig from the Dumdum milk, feeling as the jagged medicine eased it’s way down his throat.

Several minutes passed, but neither of them minded, having long been comfortable enough in their friendship to accept and enjoy long silences.

Slowly but surely the hammer and the drill left his head and were replaced by a high pitched ring, which subsided into a nauseous hum. Eventually Rex could focus his eyes, and his whole body seemed to accept the shock of Max’s howling as something far too familiar.

“Sorry,”, began Rex, “Always a bit of a shock, I thought you might have mastered volume control by now”,

“Well I would do,” replied Max, “If I spoke to anybody on a regular basis. In fact I would have a bit more control if I had spoken to anybody at all in the last three months”

Rex scratched his head at this, and started ticking off the days in his head. Three months? Had it really been that long?

It must have been, Max had no reason to lie, but Rex, for the first time, shuddered with the speed that the days had passed. The routine of life always decided time should be shorter, but quite frankly time had been taking a lot of liberty’s recently and Rex wasn’t sure that he liked it.

“Anyway, anyway,” Max continued “I’ll be around a lot more, now that matters have been attended to, and besides its your las…”

Max stopped at this, pausing for not even a second. But time had decided to agree with Rex and realised it had been taking advantage of things of late, stretching the next millisecond as far as possible, all three letters of the last, fragmented word elongated to breaking point.

In this brief moment, Rex saw the slightest trace of panic on Max’s face, it was replaced almost instantly by a controlled composure that he was positive had been practiced many times before.

But there was no doubt, none at all, that a slight chink in the great Max’s armour had mistakenly let itself shine through.

He had began to say something he shouldn’t, even if he had cut it short.

A cough followed, just a minor movement in the back of Max’s throat before he carried on

“In your, in your, your sixteenth year here”.

There was silence again, maybe a thin trace of buzzing in Rex’s head that still remained or just that he had to do very little thinking nowadays, but eventually he noted that the fumbled “las…”, and the following ‘sixteenth year’, were one and the same, with nothing covering their tracks. Neither comment made any sense, but Max’s expression betrayed him again and acceptance, of both of his bungled remarks, gave way again to the same much practiced composure.

This only convinced Rex more that anything Max was saying he was completely use to, versed in even, and that these occasional offhand comments were mere slips of the tongue, when Max didn’t concentrate hard enough.

Although fragmented sentence gave way to hints of questions Rex had thought over, again and again and again, only suspicion showed itself to Rex and the greater picture was never fully revealed.

Still this wouldn’t stop the Dinosaur Keeper from asking a pertinent question, even at the expense of his friends blushes,

“What’s so important about my sixteenth year?” he eventually spluttered out.

And it was there again, the horror, the dread, the absolute revulsion at his own stupidity, covering the distinguished Tyrannosaurus’ face, shrinking it to the size of a pea.

Once more it lasted a mere moment, a fraction of the previous expression, but recognised it was, and denied it could not be.

“Well, you know” Max fumbled, “Very important, your, um, thirty-fourth year of life, soon be passing onto your, erm, thirty-fifth birthday, and we all know what that means don’t we! Anyway here’s your payslip, I trust you got the others.

Rex recognised when his friend was embarrassed and uncomfortable, and more importantly realised that he was the source, and neither relished or wanted this responsibility.

So he let it pass.

Besides, he had long given up asking questions about things that never received answers.

It didn’t stop curiosity, but repeatedly querying things over and over again, only to have the subject changed again, and again, and again, eventually frustrated Rex and Max equally.

The Dinosaur Keeper also feared that he would lose his one and only friend for good and anything, however unanswered it may be, was not worth that price.

So next followed the second part of the routine meeting, that Rex didn’t take pleasure in, he had indeed got the other two payslips, found lonely on his front porch.

Sure, the first one he had trod on it and it had become strangely fond of the sole of his shoe, ripping in two and smudging the once pristine black ink, but the second time he had expected it, and felt elated that this new routine, as appose to the next thing that was about to happen, even if it had cost him the occasional conversation here and there.

Now you’ll remember that Tyrannosaurus’ are incredulously immense, stupendously superior, toweringly tall, monstrously massive even.

However, nature had decided that all this bulk was too much for one animal and so the Tyrannosaurus was cursed with the tiniest of arms.

They were as puny as the boy at school who sits in the corner, eating celery and passing out at the thought of holding a pencil.

I mean, you can’t help but take a shine to him, but you did occasionally wish that he could catch a ball without insisting on going to the local hospital for an x-ray.

That’s how small and insignificant a Tyrannosaurus’ arms were.

Which, by and large mattered not, it wasn’t like Max was going to enter an arm wrestling contest or attempt to go bowling.

However it did make the passing of any object a bit of a palaver, but still they began.

First Max, sort of shimmied to one side and lent down, attempting to force the bit of paper into Rex’s hand. Rex was too short, and after jumping up and down, and down and up, couldn’t quite grasp it, no matter how many times his fingertips brushed the edges.

Max would then stand up straight, and lean forward, like he had done earlier so that his head was level with Rex’s. This was an uncomfortable position for a Tyrannosaurus, especially for one that suffered from slipped discs, which Max invariably did. So by the time Rex had manoeuvred around the dinosaurs head, started his way down toward the neck and was within a gnats whisker of the arm, Max would have to stand up straight, groaning with agony and attempting to rub his back, unsuccessfully, with his other arm. These two exercises were the staple diet of any objects that needed passing, and were always attempted first. They had of course tried other ways, there was the time when Rex had been in a tree for example. All was going well until he reached for the payslip and, having let go of the branch, he promptly tumbled to the ground, knocking himself out for several days.

The most inventive way had been Rex’s construction of a seesaw. Having cringed to the point of wishing that Chunk could swallow him whole, he decided that the next months handover would be much better organised.

He toiled for weeks at the creation of the contraption, ensuring that it was perfectly balanced, well oiled, and ready to accept the huge weight of a Tyrannosaurus’ foot.

Happy with a job well done, and the fact that he had painted it just the right shade of green with red detail, Rex had stood on one end awaiting the monthly visit of Max, a cauldron lashed to his head for safety.

Then he came around the corner, plodding along shouting ’It’s only me” in case any other animal thought he was something else, Max had taken to doing this when he couldn’t be bothered to tiptoe.

As he came round to the house, he looked slightly startled but knew instantly what to do and with a great whack slammed the other side of the seesaw, to jettison Rex toward him, so he could gently relieve Max of the payslip before landing softly in the Total Fruit Tree.

This of course was the idea, and not the result.

As he whacked the vacant end of the seesaw, both of them realised that maybe he had been a tad too enthusiastic in the execution of the move.

Shooting Rex into the air at about the speed of sound, he found himself the other end of the plains in a boggy marsh.

They had laughed about it later of course. All the way through the nine months that Rex was suspended upside-down, to allow his bones to mend, but had decided it best not to try anything like that again.

So eventually they would give up and start the following charade.

Rex pretended not to notice that Max dropped the pay slip and Max returned this gesture by not showing the slightest notion that he had just seen Rex pick it up.

The great Tyrannosaurus then stood motionless for a while, attempting to cross his arms in a fatherly sought of way, before realising, neither sides would meet. So he revisited his casual leaning against the top floor guttering, and, whilst the house boughs groaned at the extra weight, motioned to Rex to open the payslip up.

Rex couldn’t help but be excited by this event and tore eagerly at the paper, ripping the strips horizontally and unfolding the paper until it was twice the size.

He wasn’t quite sure why this moment gave him such a thrill, the money went into something called a ‘bank account’, and so Rex never actually saw it.

He had checked all the river’s banks and had not found any money, unless you counted mud and pebbles as currency, in which case he would have been a millionaire.

To be fair Rex didn’t know what money was.

Max had explained that it was used to buy things, and that it was sort of a trade of one object for another.

This all seemed quite pointless to Rex, as everything he needed was free, or turned up occasionally without the need to trade anything, the necessary deduction made straight from his wages.

Of course this didn’t stop the money being spent.

Some things called ‘Nat Ins’, ‘Tax’ and ‘Pens’, took quite a healthy helping of a lot it, being deducted from what was referred to on his payslip as ‘basic gross‘.

This seemed slightly unfair, as he had never seen the ‘basic‘ but was quite certain that its appearance would be acceptable, and by no means ‘gross’ at all.

Rex ran his fingers down the column, observing the black and white print, that was headed ‘Dinosaur Keeper Wages’.

Basic Gross £1,000.

Overtime £100.

Total £1,100.

All good and well, from what he could remember that would add to his £84,000 savings in the ‘bank’, which would be a nice little nest egg for when he retired, he could spend it on, well, being old Rex supposed.

Unfortunately next came the deductions.

’Tax £100

Nat Ins £50.

Pens £50.

Dry Cleaning £300.

Total £500’

So £600 left, thought a beaming Rex, the dry cleaning wasn’t even that bad, well a little less than normal anyway.

He then saw the additional third column, ‘Extra Deductions’, it read solemnly.

And there it was, the dreaded additional deduction appeared, the one he feared the most, shame covering his whole body.

There in bold letters, and underlined twice, was ‘66’.

More importantly ‘66, deduction £200’.

He paused, and mourned briefly, he had been ever so fond of 66. But had sort of got used to the trauma as the years had gone by. Still, he thought, it wouldn‘t do any harm to be more careful when in the forest.

Happy with what he had just read, and stowing the document in his satchel he looked up at Max.

Max, had started to doze slightly, dislodging a couple of the tiles as he moved, trying as hard as he could to stay awake, shaking himself back into consciousness, before succumbing to slumber again.

It was the first time that Rex had noticed how tired Max looked.

So he let the dinosaur slumber a while longer, and reclined in the musty smell of the tractor’s seat.

With a start, Max awoke shouting ‘How many more?’, at the top of his voice, and looking dazed and confused.

After the house had stopped shaking, the tractor had returned to the ground and the pounding in Rex’s head had briefly returned and disappeared again, Max turned and looked squarely at Rex, finally realising where he was.

It was at this point, in the fixed stare of Max, that Rex knew what was coming next.

The seconds had slowed to hours again, and as Max mouthed the beginning of an all too familiar sentence.

“Been searching recently?”, asked Max.

Rex knew exactly what he meant and, he estimated, had been asked this question approximately one hundred and sixty times before. Yet still no reasonable reply had been formulated, and so he weakly replied,

“For what?”

The fires in Max’s eyes, freshly stoked by something deep inside, burned with more passion than was readily needed.

“FOR WHAT???” he bellowed, casually waking up most planets in the neighbouring galaxies.

“FOR WHAT?”, he repeated “For the love of Chunker, for the… FOR THE ROGUE CREATURE OF COURSE!”

For no known reason, the mention of this, aloud by something else, always sent Rex defensively into a rage. A rage that could equal that of Max‘s,

“WHEN IN CHUNK DO YOU EXPECT ME TO DO THIS? BEFORE OR AFTER, FEEDING THE DINOSAURS, MUCKING THEM OUT, CLEANING THEM, DISINFECTING THEM, GIVING THEM MEDICINE, MENDING THE FENCES, REMOVING POISONOUS BERRIES OR TENDING TO THE COMPOST HEAP, THAT, BY THE WAY IS SO LARGE THAT IF THE DINOSAURS STOPPED PRODUCING DUNG FOR A DECADE WOULD STILL TAKE SEVERAL CENTURIES TO SPREAD OUT AND NOURISH THE PLAINS AND BE TEN METRES THICK!!!”

There was a slight uncomfortable pause, as they both realised how loud Rex cold be if he wanted to. Which was quite shocking to them, and the following silence was only shattered by a small cough from Rex, when he realised how raw his throat suddenly felt.

Max finally responded,

“Sweet baby Chunker in a basket”

At this point I must apologise for all the swearing, but they were both quite cross at the mention of the offending creature.

Rex knew that he should be looking for it, but in all honesty was so petrified at the very thought of stalking this terrifying beast, that he almost felt sick, and keeping his meals down had already become too much of a problem lately.

The biggest dilemma though, was that he knew that Max was right. If not for his and Pooetesleap’s safety, then he should be doing this chore for the rest of the dinosaurs.

It was at this point that he was going to admit he was wrong, not wanting to argue with his only friend a moment longer.

About to say something like he would try harder, even getting to the point where he was going to say he would start next week, well next month at the latest, Max mumbled this,

“The others managed it”

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?”, demanded Rex, finding his throat may hurt but he could still shout as loud as a four foot or so, person could be expected to,

“Nothing, I said, erm, nothing. I was just angry, forget it, pretend we haven’t mentioned it”

This did not appease Rex one bit. Not a single morsel of his being gave up on Max’s last sentence, however mumbled and under his breath he had tried to be. He had said ‘others’, the whole sentence was not clear, but ‘others’ was definitely voiced,

“FOR THE SAKE OF CHUNKERS ONLY SON. FOR THE CHUNKERS LOVE ETERNAL, FOR CHUNKER’S…”

And it was here that Rex stopped.

His rage was still, well, raging. His voice had lost none of its new found power, as angry as a Tyrannosaurus with an itchy shoulder blade, and as red as the glowing embers of a freshly lit fire. But Max had decided that enough was enough, and more importantly to take matters into his own hands.

Or his own left nostril to be precise.

With a quick snort he blew a short gust of air through it, just enough to force Rex back into his seat and make him think about something else for a second.

It worked, Rex sat completely still and silent, slightly shocked at the way that the front of the tractor had sprung six feet into the air.

Their friendship was worth more than a petty argument.

Especially when all Rex had to do was to not ask further questions about ‘others’ when they were mentioned and just have a quick look in the forest, say he hadn’t seen anything and get back to his regular duties.

“Sorry” Rex eventually said to his old friend, “and thank you. I don’t know what happened, I’ll look, I promise. First thing next week”

This of course he had no intention of doing, but it seemed the right thing to say.

“It’s alright,” replied Max unconvincingly, “I’m sure you’ll do your best. Well, better be off.”

And with this he stomped toward the deep forest, disappearing seconds later behind the great trees of the woods that greeted him.

Max was still in a bad mood, or he would have tiptoed so not to alarm anyone, as he made his way to the woods.

Rex cursed his own foolishness, and felt ashamed that after three months of not seeing his beloved friend it had all ended in shouting and failed reconciliation.

He turned slowly toward the house and saw Pooetesleap wagging his tail vigorously at him.

There was a lot to be said for chums that didn’t answer back, although they never quite quenched all the loneliness in Rex’s heart.

“Come on then, Poo,” Rex said softly, crouching and tickling his chin “Lets get you fed”.

Thoughts of Max were bitter and so Rex brushed them aside deciding he would rise early tomorrow, take the largest portion of the Dumdums, and pile them next to the total Fruit Tree.

This would be seen as an edible apology, by Rex, and their relations would be back on track.

He walked slowly into the house, Pooetesleap leaping at his side, hungry for Dinner. Having fed Pooetesleap, he shut the door to the kitchen, leaving the dog alone.

Rex was not in the mood for company and decided to settle down

with the Dinosaur Keeper Manual, taking some solace in the warmth of his arm chair and the crackle of the fire in the hearth.

To be truthful the more he read the less he actually committed to memory, sitting there and trying to study diligently about stalking animals whilst remaining undetected seemed the right thing to do, but his brain yearned to understand other things.

Anything, to be perfectly honest, because no matter how many times Rex started the chapter, and restarted again, his thoughts would trail off, leaving him at a complete loss to what he had just read.

Eventually giving up, he snapped the book shut, and stretched both arms as high as possible, yawning slightly.

Checking all the doors and windows and making his way upstairs, not caring if the creaks on each step were in the right place, wrong place, or there at all.

Flicking the light on his bedroom, only to flick it off again, Rex ran a finger over Augustus Montague Quentin Smith - The First, and

looked as the Nuslight cast shadows over the bristling moustache and sideburns.

He sat on the end of his bed and stared blankly at the cracks and crevasses of each oily brush stroke, and shook his head at the bizarrely numbered face staring back at him.

The glow of the alarm clock led him to his pillow, and turning to one side Rex gazed at the silhouettes of the Diplodocus’.

One, two, three, four, five, six, he counted, as their necks bobbed up and down trying to snaffle the last of the days leaves.

One, two, three, four, five, six, he counted again, before lying on his back and thinking of himself.

One, he counted over and over again.

One.

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