It was the sound of mastication that really set her off. The nerve-wracking squanch squanch of the brachiosaur’s curved white teeth echoed loudly in the primordial setting of jungle ferns. “Why is this stupid thing so loud?” The curator turned to look at her, eyes just slightly squinting. “Ma’am, the brachiosaur was an herbivore, our recreation is also. The lower jaw has the exact same sheering pressure as the real deal. If you were lucky enough to be alive in the late Jurassic, standing in a field of gingko trees watching this beast nip away at their top-most branches, you would hear this noise.” She was not impressed.
Her son and daughter dragged her into this nightmare. Stevie was ten and obsessed with all things paleontological, Michelle was eight and equally taken by the giant monsters. The idea of creatures as large and as exotic as dinosaurs vaguely repelled her, and now she was in a room filled with hissing, moaning, squanching mechanical reproductions of them. How the children would be able to sleep after seeing the Albertosaurus ripping bloody flesh from off of what looked like a freshly defrosted…cow?…Horrible.
SEE DINOSAURS AS REAL AS LIFE!
FIESTY! FEARSOME! FEROCIOUS!
MECHANICAL WONDERS AS ALIVE AS YOU OR ME
THIS WEEK AT THE SCIENCE MUSEUM, DOWNTOWN
The advert said. Steve ran to her with the Sunday paper in his hand and begged to be taken to the traveling exhibit. “The science center has brought in more than 20 different types of robotic recreations,” he said. “I will be able to watch a velociraptor run and a quetzalcoatlus really fly!” His excitement was so palpable and Michelle’s pouting so pathetic, that she gave in and took them the very first day of the weekend.
The vast exhibition space was crowded with families, hundreds of children running from dinosaur to dinosaur, all laughing or screaming – as required. The tyrannosaurus line almost went out the door, but she could hear its loud footfalls and blood-curdling roar all the way from the entrance. Stevie was so giddy he was shaking. “Remember children that these things aren’t real and they can’t hurt you.” “We know mom!” they said together in a singsong voice. For some reason she felt that saying it to them was reassuring to her.
She was dragged by both arms from one display area to the next, pretending to listen each time a Panama-hatted docent would tell them all about the eating habits and habitats of the creatures in his or her care. She asked one in regard to a lively dilophosaurus, with its bright crimson head crests deepening in color, how the robot was powered. “Well ma’am, these robotic simulacra use wireless power transmission. There’s a huge Tesla coil out in the parking lot broadcasting enormous amounts of energy through the air. When the coil is powered off, the simulacra have battery backups.” She didn’t know what a Tesla coil was, but it seemed to make sense. No power cords meant more realism.
Michelle screamed in delight at the hadrosaurids; their flat duckbills playfully scooping up water and spiting it in a fine mist back over the audience. She couldn’t help but notice how bright the robot’s eyes were…almost alive, almost real. It unnerved her. At the gift shop she bought a big stuffed version for Michelle to hug. On the way back out of the museum, Michelle let go of her mother’s hand and ran off to say goodbye to the ‘hadros, her face all radiant glee. She fell in love with the beasts. Absurd. On the long drive back home Michelle suddenly realized that she had left the stuffed creature on a Styrofoam rock back at the display. She begged her mother to go back and pick it up. She would never sleep again she said. Peace was worth the trouble.
It was after midnight when she managed to get back to the museum. The lights were still on in the exhibit hall, the double doors unlocked. She decided to sneak in and look for the stuffed animal herself, she didn’t feel the need to bother the staff. Without the mass of visitors, the hall seemed even larger. Michelle said she remembered leaving it at the hadrosaurid’s display. The dinosaurs were all hidden away, their vast, dark bulks visible beneath plastic tarps in the diorama areas. She walked past the spot where the cow carcass had laid in the great meat-eater display; she could still smell the iron-tinged effluvia that stained the plastic and hydraulic jaws which had gnawed away at it only hours earlier.
Soon she found the Styrofoam rock near the tinkling pond that acted as a lakefront for the hadrosaurids, and Michelle’s plushy still sat there unmolested. She bent down to pick it up; it was slightly damp from the backsplash. As she began to move to vertical, the overhead lights began to extinguish, one by one. The loud crack of the breakers echoed through the room, making her jump with each report. Within seconds she was thrust into darkness. Even the gentle sound of the circulator in the pond stopped. She became aware of her own breathing, at how raspy the sound of air entering her lungs was. How warm the room felt. As she waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim glow of the faraway EXIT lights, she listened close to the emptiness.
Her arm hairs began to slowly rise, something electric was flowing over her, something that acted like the whispers of midnight lovers. She was afraid, but the fear became a kind of ecstasy for her. As her heartbeats increased, her titillation followed. She could now smell the ozone in the air, smell the auto repair shop musk of machine oil, the strange sensuality of rubber gaskets and axle grease. She also felt minute vibrations transmitted through the polished parquet floor. Behind her something pattered gently on its tip-toes, or hind feet. She slowly turned around to face where the steps approached, eyes opened as wide as possible.
There in the green haze was a shape, lithe, rounded, a long darting tail swishing ever so slightly from side to side. It came nearer, a snout (she thought it was a snout) nuzzling close to her chest, taking deep breaths, blowing out hot, moist heat into her face. It smelled like the cow smelled. She couldn’t help but think that it was wrong for a robot to breathe. It was definitely wrong for a robot to run its bifurcated tongue over her face. It was certainly not normal for it to bite through her jugular and to drag her limp body back into the darkness.
Come tomorrow morning there would be a new carcass in the meat-eater display.