A Conversation With A Pterodactyl (short story)

“There’s a pterodactyl sitting in my office!” he shouted.
“Yes. Hello.”
“You’re a pterodactyl.”
“You said that already.”
“What…”
“A pterodactyl. Yes. And you’re a human. Yay.”
“I need to get someone else. This can’t be real.”
“Wait a moment,” the pterodactyl raised a wing to block the man’s path. “You see, I can’t let that happen.”
“Why not?” the man was incredulous. In his confused state, he didn’t know what to do other than walk towards a chair and sit down.
“Erm… Ok. We were off to a bad start there.”
“Really?”
“Yes, yes. Let’s try again.”
The man swallowed, and said, “Ok.”
“Hello.”
“Hello.”
“I’m a pterodactyl, as you have realised. You can call me Terry.”
“Terry? Seriously?”
“Hey, I’m being polite here!”
“Ok ok. Hello Terry. I’m Iain.”
“Good. That’s good, Iain. Yes, and I know that you’re the head curator of this beautiful museum.”
“How did you-?”
“You see, Iain. I can read minds.”
“Hang on! You’re a mind-reading pterodactyl named Terry.”
“Yes. How else do you think we’re having this conversation? You don’t really expect me to be speaking, do you?”
Iain was quiet as he pondered upon the question that Terry had put forward. His scientific mind had long shut down when the impossible sight in front of him had appeared. They both looked cramped in Iain’s square office tucked away in the storage area of the Natural History Museum.
Not knowing what to say, Iain asked, “Is this really… real?”
“You mean me and you, sitting here having this conversation?”
Iain swallowed hard, and nodded.
“Yes. It’s real. You can call home to your wife to check, if you like.”
“Can I?”
“Of course, it’s your office.”
“But earlier-”
“Yes, that’s different. See, you aren’t to tell anyone about me. Yet.”
“But why not?”
“Well, for starters, no one will believe I exist unless you show me to them, and I won’t allow that.” Terry shook his long-beaked head from side-to-side. He seemed to enjoy the drama. “The reason for that is simple. I don’t want to be studied upon. Not yet anyway. Understand?”
Iain nodded, and swallowed hard again. He wasn’t sure if he was scared, or excited.
“Probably both,” Terry said.
“What?”
“Both. You’re scared AND excited.”
“But I-”
“Didn’t say anything. I read minds, Iain. Get used to it!” Terry shook his head again. Iain knew that Terry would’ve tsk-ed if he could.
Iain reached for the phone on his desk and dialled his home number, whilst Terry waited patiently.
As Iain spoke with his wife, first about what they were having for dinner, then about the weather and floods everywhere, then about what time he would leave work, which he responded with, “I think I’ll have to be working very late today, honey”, Terry hopped off the chair that he was perching on and started pacing the office. Iain took the cue and hung up.
“You believe all this now?” Terry asked, spreading his wings for effect. Standing, Terry was at the same height as Iain was sitting.
Iain nodded and asked, “Erm… so… how… erm… can I help you?”
“Hallelujah, the man finally asks a useful question! How? Well, you can give me a home. That’s what you can do.”
“How? Where?” Iain blurted.
“Here? I am an historical species, and THIS is the Natural History Museum, right?”
“Yes, but all of our exhibits are dead. They’ve been dead for millions of years,” cried Iain in desperation.
“Well, to start with, I’ll stay down here in the store and pretend to be dead.”
“But others will find you!” Iain was exasperated.
“I’m pretty good at pretending to be dead. I have actually been down here for over a week, you know?”
Iain opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He just stared at Terry with his jaw dropped.
“Close your mouth, Iain. We’re not a cod-fish.” Terry laughed at his little joke, uncaring that Iain still had his mouth open.
“What are you, really?” Iain finally asked, as Terry finished laughing.
“A pterodactyl, as you said.”
“You know I don’t mean that. Pterodactyls have been dead for fucking ages. What are you?”
“Ok ok. I can see that you are an intelligent man of science, so I shall try and respect that.”
“Thank you.” Iain started feeling calmer, more in control.
“I’m a spirit, and I’ve possessed this pterodactyl’s body.”
“Stop pissing about!” Iain shouted, red faced.
“I’m NOT pissing about.” Terry got serious all of a sudden. “It’s the truth, and if you can’t handle the truth, then make up whatever story you want.”
“I just… I just…” Iain pressed his face into his hands, not knowing what to say.
“Look. I know this is hard on you. So, ask me anything else and I’ll answer truthfully.”
Terry sounded sincere, so Iain looked up, and pulled himself upright.
Terry nodded his beak, gesturing for Iain to go ahead.
“Are you from Earth?”
“And he goes for the heart! No.”
“Are you from the Solar System?”
“Yes.”
“Are you an alien?”
“To you? Yes.”
“Are you… bad?”
“Hmm. I guess… no. I’m not ‘bad’ in your definition.”
“What do you mean ‘my’ definition?”
“I mean, your, human, English, definition.”
“Ok. I guess I can accept that.”
“Good. You better go on, or we’ll be here all month.”
“Is your body… erm… this pterodactyl. Is it alive?”
“Yes.”
“I mean, is it breathing, will it need to eat? Defaecate?”
“Yes. Very much so. In fact, I’m quite hungry right now.”
“How?”
“Well, I haven’t eaten in over a week.”
“No, I mean, how is the pterodactyl’s body alive?”
“I gave it life, of course,” Terry said matter-of-factly.
“You mean, you’re in the same pterodactyl that has been sitting in that corner,” Iain pointed outside his office towards a shadowed section, “that was really just, a few bones?”
“Yup. One and the same.”
“Hang on.”
Iain stood up for the first time since the encounter and walked straight out of his office towards the corner that he had pointed at. He looked around the storage area that never fails to make him feel at awe, with all the different historical specimens that are getting prepped for public display. He smiled as he walked past a very large box that was labelled simply ‘bones’. It was the box that they always assigned to new interns – a box of bones from a variety of specimens, which needed cataloguing. It was actually just a box of chicken, pig, and cow bones from their various dinners, and donations from graduated interns for new interns to come.
Distracted for a moment, Iain felt a bit better, but his legs continued to walk him towards the shadowed section, where the pterodactyl fossil remains were kept. It was going to be one of the main features in next year’s exhibit on Bavarian specimens.
Iain turned around to look into his office. For a while, he felt as if he had imagined Terry the pterodactyl. For a while, he hoped that he had imagined it, but he could see Terry’s beak in the air. Terry appeared to be perched on his desk doing what looks like some sort of a bird mating routine, looking upwards and bouncing up and down.
Iain turned around and continued his long walk across the storage area.
The lights started to dim as he arrived at the badly lit corner of the room. By habit, he walked towards the standing lamp that was placed in the corner and reached to flick its switch. The light snared his eyes as the bulb pointed directly at him.
Squinting, Iain looked at the slab of stone that once homed the fossil remains of a pterodactyl, and he was relieved to see that it was still there. Stone, bones, and all. It wasn’t much, but it was exactly how he remembered it to be.

pterodactylus

Furious now, Iain strode quickly back to his office, with his eye on Terry, who was still bouncing up and down on his desk.
“You lied.”
Terry stopped his bouncing, shrugged with his wings, since he didn’t have any shoulders and said, “Not really.”
“The pterodactyl is still there.”
“Of course it’s still there, I’m not a cannibal.”
“Huh? What? No. I mean you said you gave its body life! It’s still dead. It’s still there!” Iain spat the last word out.
“I did give it life. I only needed its DNA, stupid. And you say you’re a man of science.”
“You’re a… you’re a clone?”
“Well, you don’t have to be rude, do you? This is a copy of that pterodactyl, and a pretty good one at that.”
“You should’ve just said!”
“You didn’t ask!”
Terry hopped off the desk and onto the radiator by the window just behind. It was still warm and he gave a shudder of appreciation.
“You’re clearly technologically advanced,” Iain said, pausing to allow Terry to nod in approval. “Then, why did you pick a pterodactyl, of all things, to become?”
“Now, that’s a good question. See. I studied human anthropology for my people, so I know a thing or two about you guys.”
“No kidding,” Iain retorted under his breath.
“I read minds.”
“Sorry,” Iain blushed.
“As I was saying, I studied you, and I thought, if I could pick anything to be when I’m on Earth, what would it be? You see, a pterodactyl was perfect. Initially, I could stay a secret, as no one would believe anyone who said that a pterodactyl was alive today. Then, when I’m ready to show myself to your world, I will be the most amazing discovery in Earth’s history!”
Iain thought about what Terry said, then he asked, “So, this is all about your ego then? To be famous?”
“Well,” Terry said sheepishly. “Yes, and no.”
“How’s that then?”
“Well, you see. My people are looking for me.”
“Your people? Looking for you?”
“Stop repeating what I said.”
“Why are they looking for you?”
“I’m what you’ll say – wanted.”
“You mean, by your authorities? You’re wanted by your authorities?”
“Kind of. We don’t really have authorities, but yes, I’m wanted by my people.”
“And, you’re hiding on Earth, in a pterodactyl.”
“Yes. Brilliant plan, isn’t it? Well, they’ll all know that I’m on Earth, since you are my specialist study area, but they would have no idea what a pterodactyl is, or was! They won’t know where to start looking!”
“So, your people are going to come here, to Earth, to look for you?”
Nodding vigorously, Terry confirmed what was probably Iain’s and the rest of humanity’s worst fear. “They’re probably here already.”
“What? How? We have to tell somebody!”
“No point really.”
“Why?”
“You won’t have any idea what form they’ve taken. At your last count, Earth has over thirty million species of animals, and that doesn’t account for the dead and extinct ones. And, they might choose to take the form of humans. Heck, they might even be working in this museum and you won’t know it.”
“They can’t be, can they?” Iain was at the verge of crying.
“Of course not. I would know if they were in this building, of course.” Terry seemed to be enjoying their talk about his people, as he stood with his chest puffed up in pride.
Giving up, Iain dropped into his chair and slouched down. “What should I do then?”
“Right now?” Terry asked.
Iain just nodded. Tired.
“Get me some food, then head home. We can figure the rest out tomorrow.”
“Ok. And what food do you eat?” Iain asked as he started to pack his briefcase, standing to leave.
“You’re the expert, you tell me. What can this body take? All I know is that I have a massive hankering for meat.”
“Yeah, you eat meat. Lots of it. I’ll have to go to the supermarket.”
“Ok. Don’t be long though. I’m so hungry I might just eat the next person that comes down here.”
That remark earned a raised eyebrow from Iain, who couldn’t tell if Terry was joking or not.
“I’m joking. But seriously, you better bring food back.”
Nodding, Iain left his office, taking care to switch off all the lights so that no one might accidentally discover Terry.

***

Iain headed directly to the nearest Sainsbury’s, and collected a basket full of the cheapest frozen meat that was on offer. On the way to the till, he stopped at the newspapers and magazines, his eyes caught by the headlines on an evening paper. It said, “£100 For Beijing Zoo Tickets As Talking Giraffes, Ginny and Rafi, Attract Hoardes.”