The Dinosaur Keeper

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Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Rex yawned and rubbed his eyes gently, quite content to doze on his final day off.

It had been a late night and all his limbs ached remembering the long walk home.

Fortunately, the way back was considerably shortened when a passing diplodocus had picked him up and moments later he was deposited next to the Velociraptor paddock. But even so it had taken a good few hours trek in the rapidly gaining darkness.

About to thank the Diplodocus, Henry he thought it was, Rex noticed that the great Dinosaur was motioning at a pile of wood next to him.

Slightly stunned for a few seconds Rex realised what had happened. As he had lit the perimeter fires on the other side of the plains, just after making the final few steps down the embankment, he must have sprang into view. The Diplodocus saw him and decided to drop him next to the other fires, in order that all of them could be lit.

It always amazed Rex that, for an animal so vast, the Diplodocus’ were never comfortable until all the fires were ablaze, leaving the surrounding area in a dim fog.

So Rex had merely gone about his duties, light headed with exhaustion, slowly making his way back to the house.

Spotting Pooetesleap in his basket, Rex had carefully locked up and patted the dog, whilst they both made the motion of hunger that could wait until the morning.

So here he lay, slowly opening his eyes and rubbing his shoulders, massaging stiff, twisted joints and soothing himself with quiet coos.

The clock fizzed eleven-thirty, two turns of Chunk had passed in his sleep, which was just the push he needed, stumbling toward the bathroom and trying to think what was best to do today, sitting heavily on the toilet.

Teeth brushed, Rex noted he was still fully dressed in yesterday’s sweat soaked clothes and so looked into the wardrobe, pulling out his last identical set of weekend attire.

Snapping into full conciseness now, Rex’s stomach growled angrily at him and bounding down the stairs into the kitchen Pooetesleap greeted him with constant yaps whilst bouncing up and down, snapping excited jaws sharply.

Letting the dog out the back door, Pooetesleap’s expression lightened and a nearby bush got thoroughly drenched.

Scratching his head Rex began to open each of the cupboards, disappointed with the emptiness of every one. Provisions really were rather low, so having half attempted to chew an old piece of bread, he stepped on to the front porch, relieved that at least some coffee had been roasted yesterday and drinking deeply from a steaming cup.

Looking a little to the left, the ashes of the extra fire lit last night smoked toward him, and a pang of guilt shot at his empty stomach.

He had been tired and although normally above such deviousness, had set to constructing the blazing sticks and logs sluggishly right next to the house.

All that was left was a perfect round of scorched grass and a small mound of freshly sacrificed Dumdums.

Rex hadn’t asked them to step into the flames, but was certain of the result, no matter how much fatigue had washed over him in the still of the night.

The first bite tasted bitter, and swallowing was hard, but the remorse of trapping the animals on purpose subsided as his stomach became more full.

Bedsides there was more than enough to last the rest of the week and it would save a tussle with one of the other Dinosaurs later.

Mind you Dumdums were not the only thing he was running low on.

Apart from the various herbs and spices, there was pretty much nothing left in kitchen and Rex, with one day left before a workday, had better get prepared.

Fortunately the food he really needed was close by, for which his tender muscles were thankful for.

A lot of the medicines and other vegetation were deep in the forest, which he had no compulsion to visit, no matter how much Max’s little lecture stuck in the mind.

But most of the taller grasses that marked the edge of the house’s garden were Pearl Millet, which he could grind for bread and porridge.

An unfortunate Dumdum, that had been perfectly content to mind its own business, was quickly relieved of a good four pints of milk, passing Rex at exactly the wrong time.

As it staggered dizzily away, Rex proudly rested the now full flask on the porch, turning to one of his most favourite things in the whole of Chunk.

The Total Fruit Tree.

Now the Total Fruit Tree really was the most splendiferous of trees ever made.

On other planets you could find the Apple Pie Bush, that as well as fruit that looked exactly like freshly baked apple pie, complete with tin foil covering, had sap that tasted just like custard. Making Sunday Lunch puddings painless to prepare.

There was even the Calorie Free Conifer, far, far on the other side of the Galaxy in the Richardsimmons constellation. But to be perfectly honest the chocolate bars it presented were a little chalky, fizzed on your tongue, and left you thinking that it was probably best to have the regular, full-fat bars but just eat less of them.

The conifer itself was also quite small, far too bushy at the top and as the wind rushed through the branches it made a high pitched squeaking noise, eventually leaving anybody who stayed near it too long, with the overwhelming desire to thrash the living daylights out of it.

Consequently there were only five of them left and nobody knew where they were, which begs the question how did we know there were only five?

Anyway.

Rex stared intently at the Total Fruit Tree, unaware that it was the most perfect plant in the known universe. To be fair you couldn’t help but gaze at it for massive amounts of time, as unknowingly, the tree’s bark had a potent, scentless vapour that soothed anything that happened to be passing into a daydream like state.

It was a defence mechanism of course, as many a person had spent days just looking at the tree and forgetting to eat the bounty, eventually collapsing in a heap through starvation and becoming the tree’s compost.

Terrible things these passive aggressive plants.

Fortunately for Rex it just made him ever so slightly light headed, with the tremendous craving to pick the fruit and make several desserts, each more delicious than the last.

But for now he was happy to breath in the fumes and cast a loving gaze over the tremendous tree.

It’s trunk was solid and thick, with bark like walnuts that had been stretched to their limit, revealing gapping grooves and splinted shells.

The covering of bark was a dark green for most of the time until at midday it would burn to a deep orange and the day’s fruit would suddenly appear, ripening before your eyes.

And what fruit there was! Every possible berry, soft or citrus fruit you could think of was on the tree.

Huge melons hung from vines, draped around the branches, only to be nudged by perfect pears and rosy apples.

Rhubarb sprouted from the base, in one giant whoosh, fading to pink before your eyes, and plump grapes dangled far too close to the ground. The bananas, at the stroke of twelve, appeared and turned from green to pale yellow, opening their hands to cup the deepest of Kiwis.

Strawberries appeared every now and again, much to Rex’s dismay, as they were his favourite and he would have liked to eat them all the time, but noted that not every fruit would appear every day.

Although annoying, as you could guarantee that the fruit that made up the staple harvest was never the one you particularly wanted to eat, Rex did appreciate the forced change. Besides it had meant that he had mastered pickling and stewing the ones that didn’t appear as often, so he could at least have a taste of them when he liked, albeit a rather sludgy, watery version.

But along with the regular fruits, such as apples and oranges, and the occasional pineapple or mango, their was one extra special offering that happened but once a year.

On Christmas day afternoon, just as Rex had finished his seventh helping of sage and onion stuffed Dumdum, sure that he was fit to burst, there would be a terrific crack!

Then a glow would take over the whole of the living room, purplish in colour, making everything blush neon that passed in its way.

The first time it had happened Rex had ran out the front door in shock, sure that his house was splitting in two. But in later years had become exited just as fast, with the knowledge that something truly wonderful had happened.

For on Christmas Day, just as the Nus light began to appear, and the snow had reached it’s frostiest peak, the Total Fruit Tree would suffer the most tremendous split, in it’s cavernous trunk.

It was torn from top to roots and to the untrained eye appeared to be quite dead, blackened in colour and steaming as if scorched by a huge bolt of lightning.

But then a reassuring smell would take over both nostrils.

A spray of cinnamon and nutmeg became so intense that Rex’s eyes would water and suddenly he would be right in front of the gaping gorge of a trunk.

There in the middle, at the bottom of the base, would be the shadow of a perfectly round object.

Initial the faultless sphere would look black, as the intense lilac light gave no definition, shining from the very base of the now segmented tree.

Rex would pause, slightly fearful, before desire took over his very body.

As he reached slowly toward the object, he could feel the oily surface brush against his finger tips, until both hands wrapped round the base of the seamless globe. Rex would always stand like this for a few seconds, before hugging it next to his chest and seeing the slightest colour for the first time, as warmth seeped through his clothes and onto his skin.

Then bang! The two parts of the tree would slam back together, the branches swaying vigorously as they snapped into a horizontal position.

Green would return to the bark and the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg would fade to a memory.

None of this would be witnessed by Rex of course, as he ran clutching his prize back to the kitchen and placing the fruit on the table, his hands hot with sweat. Not from the fear of what had just happened, but from the fruit itself that was steaming in front of him.

After the heat he would see the colour and stupidity took over his whole face.

How did he only notice the colour now?

It was orange, the brightest orange in the whole of Chunk.

In fact the fruit itself looked like a large orange, or a grapefruit that had decided to become an orange but had got stuck halfway through the transformation.

Unlike a small grapefruit, or a large orange, the skin was pierced by another colour. Pure lime green swirled from the base, circling round and round, gaining width in the middle, before becoming the most slightest trace at the top.

And at the top was a great red splodge!

This was the part that Rex tackled first.

Placing his finger nails around the waxy red seal, he forced his hand up until great red shards splintered, eventually crumbling away from fruit itself.

It was slow progress, but once every last part of the red wax was cleared, there would be an immense hiss as the fruit warmed itself up again. The skin would blister under the heat and eventually fall away, leaving a smoothly rich, brown sphere steaming on the table.

Rex breathed in the moment, for a few seconds, before running to the kitchen draw and frantically searching for the largest spoon he could find.

Happy with a ladle, twice the size of his mouth, Rex would break the skin of the smouldering fruit, slicing out a perfect portion, slightly smaller than the immense ladle.

The cinnamon would hit his nose again and as he drew the piece closer, steam would bounce from the top of his mouth and rush out of his nostrils.

The first taste would be of the cold steel, as his teeth clamped down on the spoon, and then the fruit itself would hit him, hard.

The heat would deaden a once moist tongue and slightly blister the roof of a watering mouth, before the flavour of fruit stewed in brandy and enclosed by cake, would take over all of his sensations.

The first piece of Plum Pudding Fruit had been eaten, and nothing had tasted so good all year.

The rest, if we are to be truthful, was not savoured as long.

Indeed the Plum Pudding Fruit didn’t taste as good on the second mouthful, but only in the same way that chocolate ice cream was better than vanilla or cocoa at night was better than the morning.

It was all good but the anticipation had been removed, still not shortening the smile on Rex’s face by one millimetre, as he gobbled every last crumb.

Standing perfectly motionless on the porch the memory lingered for a while longer, until Rex snapped back to attention realising Christmas was some weeks away.

So he settled for some of the juicier apples and greener bananas.

It was then that Rex first felt the eyes upon him.

The sensation was quite routine, as he had experienced it many times before. Yet still the stare could be felt hot on his neck.

Only this time his brain went over and over the prepared speech, determined to execute it to the letter,

“I think it best to start in the upper section of the deep forest,” he began loudly to nobody in particular.

“Then I’ll sweep through, zigzagging of course so that I’ll cover every centimetre, and then….”

His voice trailed off as if reaching a logical conclusion, and Rex stared hard at the Total Fruit Tree.

And then? And then what, Rex?

It was a good point that the left part of his brain seemed to be making to the right. What would he do if he actually, and not half heartedly like all the other attempts, looked for the Rogue Creature?

In all honestly Rex had never at any point considered what to do if he came across the animal through actions purposely thought out.

Most of their meetings seemed to be on the creatures terms, not Rex’s.

Following this was normally blind panic and running, lots of running, the occasional casualty of course, but it certainly wasn’t planned, no thought of coming face to face by choice ever entered Rex’s head.

Every time he came across the beast they all feared the most, he couldn’t help but be shocked, surprised even, as if never before informed of the animal’s existence and amazed to see such a creature at all.

Warnings had been frequent of course, and briefings to the smallest detail had taken place, in all honesty, from when he had had the first meeting with Max.

Not the very first, but the first one that didn’t involve being knocked unconscious or running into trees.

They had been having quite a pleasant little chat, and Rex had finally got used to talking to such a colossal creature without fearing he was going to be eaten. It was that perfect time when you could call somebody a friend, but they were still new enough to be amazingly interesting, occasionally still surprising with their knowledge, or tales of previous actions, which while fascinating, proved to Rex that he had much to learn about his companion.

Then one day, as Max had become increasingly interested at twirling a stick between his fingers and staring at it intently he had said,

“Of course we are not without our problems”,

at which point the twig had snapped in two and Max hurriedly picked up another, continuing his intensity and looking hard at the new object.

“Well one problem, to be exact”, he had carried on, before giving a full blow by blow account of the ‘Rogue Creature’.

Rex hadn’t really taken any of it in, although the lecture was a good ten minutes in length, but had just about got straight in his head that it was big, very big, and took great delight in terrorising the rest of the Dinosaurs, when right at the end, without any warning Max had said,

“He’s never been caught”.

This initially shocked Rex back to the real world, as he wondered whether it meant he was expected to catch such a vicious beast, especially one that had never been caught.

It wasn’t until later when Rex had been half awake in the still of the night, fearful of his new task, that he realised the gravity of what had previously been deemed a passing comment.

Never been caught.

This meant that something or somebody must have attempted the capture of the Rogue Creature.

Rex was quite certain the other dinosaurs interest in the terrible beast, lay in never seeing it and every now and then scowling the Dinosaur Keeper when it turned up.

So he ruled the Dinosaurs out as potential hunters.

Max was crossed out for two reasons. He had never mentioned expeditions to find it, although being about the same size and weight, and so perfectly equipped for the task.

But secondly, he had instructed Rex to try to capture it, and the present Dinosaur Keeper was pretty sure that you don’t issue instruction on something you are about to do yourself.

More importantly though was Rex’s feeling, a feeling that long overtook any actual physical evidence, save the odd indiscretion by Max.

He was not the first.

Not the first to put on the peaked cap and uniform, not the first to shovel dung day in and day out and not the first to listen open mouthed to the dreadful instruction.

But the most vital sensation that Rex had, was he was not the first to be expected to carry out this terrible deed.

Thinking nothing of this Rex had simply asked Max, the next time they met, who else had been employed.

Max had just stared at him, firmly.

Then in complete silence he had turned round and walked away.

After this the great tyrannosaurus was not seen for a few weeks.

When he did arrive there was a different pace in his voice, a slowing of words.

It was as if every sentence had been carefully thought out, and Rex’s potential queries intently pre-analysed, every possible answer thought of and an exacting counter in turn applied.

They still talked about rubbish of course, and this felt no strain at all, but if Rex hinted that a question of any previous Dinosaur Keeper was about to come up, or merely intimated that it would be nice to know something about the time before their first meeting on the plains, Max would flick a switch in his head and standard answers would be trawled out.

Eventually after many such conversations, Rex simply gave up.

Bizarrely, this seemed to be exactly what he should do, as no sooner had he decided not to ask any questions, than Max had started to give him all the answers.

Not directly of course, he would never be so stupid, but it was recognised in a turn of phrase.

Particularly when finishing conversations, similar to the other day when mentioning ‘others‘.

Max would finish everything he had wanted to say, and then sort of mentally come out of work mode, relaxing into more friendly terms and allowing the occasional faux pas.

Of course if Rex directly challenged such an off the cuff remark, then he would jump right back into standard replies.

But by and large Rex had learnt to repress these urges, and gather what information he could.

There had definitely been others, he knew that.

However as the years had passed the importance of capturing the Rogue Creature had been heightened, with Max seeming to want him to do this all the time, almost at the expense of his other duties, as if time was of the essence.

Still pondering this thought and more than happy in the daydream, the bushes suddenly rustled behind him and Rex was snapped back into his pantomime.

“Yes that should do it”, he said supposing a conclusion on a matter left unresolved,

“Must think about provisions. It will be a long day tomorrow”, and with this he grabbed a few bananas and stuffed them in his satchel.

Turning towards the house his head was full of hope that the empty words would be enough, and that the next time Max spied on him, thoughts of the Rogue Creature would be a distant memory.

The eyes poking through the tops of the tree though, were of a creature still consumed with hunger and not at all concerned by routine searches. Even though the stomach was full of Dumdums that somebody had stacked carelessly next to the Total Fruit Tree.

The hunger burned in the pit of his very belly, stoked with the passion for chaos and the sight of fear.

Even though every part of his body longed to run into the plains and terrify everything there, his composure was calm.

Nus time was but a few hours away, and everything could wait until the safe cloak of darkness.

The non-Max creature would wait until later.

This went completely unnoticed by Rex, as he had been pleasantly surprised by the arrival of lemons, just at the back of the tree.

He would have missed them completely, so deep in his script was he, but whilst stepping into the house a flash of yellow had caught his eye.

The thing was he wasn’t really in the mood for anything lemony.

No curds, or tarts, or sorbets.

So had decided to preserve them, which was the reason he was to be found deep inside the biggest kitchen cupboard, banging around and intermittently swearing.

After the fourth or fifth ‘for the love of Chunker’, which was closely proceeded by a couple of ‘sweet baby Chunker in a basket’ and the smallest smattering of ‘Chunker’s own pet rabbit’, which was a new phrase that meant absolutely nothing, but Rex quite liked the sound of, he found what he was looking for.

There at the back was a large glass jar, about the size of a small bucket.

He pulled it gingerly toward him trying not to knock against the toasted sandwich maker, the electric can opener, the slow cooker, the fondue set or any of the once popular but now redundant contraptions that had been deemed impractical and took over far too much work space in the kitchen.

He looked at the jar and felt the cold, thick glass, which had just a hint of green in its clear but mottled appearance.

Blowing into the top and then turning it over and giving it a good shake he ran a finger over the bottom, with the lettering proudly stating ‘tiogany’.

Rex wasn’t sure who Tiogany was, but was convinced he was a very clever chap indeed.

In all the years he had been on Chunk Rex had yet to master making anything out of glass at all, so treated everything made of it like a newborn child, scared that if one was broken, it would never be replaced.

He switched on the tap, and ensuring it was not too hot, rinsed the jar thoroughly, and checked the metal clip snapped shut securely and was free from rust.

Leaving it to dry he pricked all of the lemons thoroughly, before arranging them in the jar.

It had been a long time since he had had this particular fruit so everyone was treated with the respect it deserved, as he covered them with salt.

Placing them on the porch, where the Sun was the strongest, Rex surmised that the pickling would take a couple of days and so he went back to the kitchen to see what other chores needed to be done before the weekend was gone.

There were the bedrooms of course, but he felt confident that would keep for another week.

So he stood in the kitchen in front of the butter churner bracing himself next to the machine and waiting for Chunk to complete its afternoon flip into twilight.

After all the cups had stopped rocking from side to side, Rex ladled off the cream, from the Dumdum milk, and emptied it into the churner, starting to turn the handle.

The cream sloshed about through the glass and the handle warmed on Rex’s rough hands.

Many a happy hour was spent doing this, as it was both a necessity, yet a time consuming thoughtless task that lent itself well to pondering.

Dumdum milk was incredibly fatty, the cream more so, so it was only half an hour later that Rex could separate the butter milk from the fatty globules, that would make the actual butter.

Kneading them into a nice fat lump, he put it securely in a dish and stored it in the fridge, pouring himself a large glass of buttermilk whilst doing so.

Rex was still concerned about tomorrow. Sure, he had delivered the speech faultlessly and, in theory at least, Max wouldn’t visit him again for a good couple of days, so how would he know if he’d done the search or not?

He’d lied to him before, mainly about counting the Dinosaurs when really taking an unauthorised nap under a tree during work hours, but was pretty sure he could apply the principle and make the lie a little bit larger.

Confident that most tasks had been accomplished, apart from making the bread of course, Rex decided on a quick snooze.

He sat down for no more than two minutes, before finally giving into his brain and grabbing the Dinosaur Keepers Manual, from its shelf.

Buckling under the weight slightly, he flopped into the armchair again, and flipped to the back index.

Pretty sure it would be impossible, and probably not even listed in the book, Rex turned the pages.

‘Transchunktional’, read the top of the page, until just about halfway down he saw the word he hoped would not be there, ‘Trap - page 965‘.

’Trap, it continued;

1. An enclosure or device, for catching animals.

2. A device with bait for killing vermin.’

‘Please note‘, the passage courteously continued, ‘trapping of Animals is strictly forbidden. A direct contravention of the Dinosaur Keepers Rule, see page one, paragraph one.’

Rex frowned at this and questioned whether the manual would tell him anything useful, ever.

‘However the contravention,’ it cheerfully went on, ‘will be deemed as an intervention ,if any animal should come to the attention, of the Dinosaur Keeper whose summation, would be that the trapping would not be a misapprehension, in order to secure the creatures health through detention’.

This made no sense what so ever, but Rex was used to how the text was written and ignored the last paragraph, as it was typical of what he suspected about this book.

Somebody had started it, he presumed, with all the good intentions in the world and proudly submitted the script to whoever it was suppose to be given.

That person had looked at it and made a few modest alterations, and then passed it to somebody else.

This was repeated again and again and again, until the original text had been edited so much, that it bore no relation to what it was actually trying to explain.

This is what Rex, was currently staring at.

The problem was that the trap. Although beautifully drawn, and one of the few pictures in the book, it showed a picture of a Dumdum haplessly wandering into a cage, propped up with a stick, before moving onto another picture of said stick being yanked away from the cage to make it fall down and enclose the creature.

This posed two problems for Rex. Firstly he was pretty sure that a cage big enough to ambush the Rogue Creature would take far too long to construct, and would be seen for exactly what it was.

Secondly, and with this Rex was fast asleep.

Having missed the turn to night time, he was rudely awaken by a loud banging on the door.

Springing into action and checking his watch, Rex saw that he had been asleep for some hours, as it brightly responded ten to eleven.

The banging continued, more rapidly now, and without thinking, and certainly not checking what he was behind the door, he flung it open.

In front of him, crouched below the low ceiling of the porch, stood a rather petrified looking Velociraptor.

Quivering from head to toe his brownish, scaly skin shook as if he had been stored in a refrigerator too long.

“Rupert?”, enquired a meek Rex, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes,

“What on Chunk are you doing here, and more importantly why are you making such a noise? You’ll wake every body up!”.

With this he looked at the plains and realised he hadn’t lit the fires. But as he stared a little into the Nus light, he could see that all the dinosaurs were up anyway.

Up and moving about, quite curiously.

He returned his stare to Rupert, and a quizzical frown came over Rex’s face,

“Bob”, was Rupert’s reply.

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