Being the only two people who have heard the real-life scream of a Tyrannosaurus Rex is something that I’ll never forget, as long as I live.
Mainly because ‘as long as I live’ was currently measured in seconds.
“He’s coming!” My companion shrieked, hanging out the back of the Time Machine. Through the filmy glass of his goggles, his eyes were huge. “Press the thing! Press the thing!”
“I–what thing?” I screamed back, jabbing at the dizzying array of buttons, levers, wheels and joysticks on the console in front of us. “There are so many things!“
Trees, ferns and moss shot past us in a green blur. We’d landed on the side of a mountain, and were shooting down a sloped plateau. There was an awful burning smell in the air–either the raw stink of unrefined nitrogen burning the air, or the tires on the side of the Time Machine pulling apart. I desperately hoped for the former.
The wheel, which one is the wheel–a ‘Y’ shaped joystick in the center of the console, beneath the bobblehead Jesus, shaking with laughter. I seized it and pulled, and the Time Machine swerved to the left, nearly catching on a fallen tree and sending us straight over the side.
Behind us, the T-Rex screamed again. It was a high-pitched sound, louder than anything I’d ever heard in my precious ten years. I probably should have peed before we left.
“Dominic! Dom, dang it, you’re supposed to be the driver! Grab this!” I grabbed Dom’s hand and slapped it against the joystick. “Steer!”
He turned around and whipped the Time Machine around a fern the size of a VW van, aiming for a break between two trees. Every hair on his head stood on end–he looked like a mad scientist. Which, I guess, for the circumstances…
“Jaxson get us the hell out of here!” He screamed, dodging a pothole large enough to eat all of us.
“I’m trying, I’m trying!” I couldn’t remember what I’d pressed to get us going in the first place. I feel like it was there, on the console with numbers, but they were all ticking now, counting upwards–no, no they were counting down, from fifty–what happened when they hit zero?
“It’s closing on us, Jax!”
“Scientists estimate that the T-Rex could run up to forty-five miles an hour!” I popped over the side for a better look. “Quick, Dom, check the dash–how fast are we going?”
“Jaxson I swear to god–“
So, here’s the thing. Being a child genius is a hoot, it really is. You get to skip school, get your picture taken, you get sponsorship from big companies with even bigger checks. They pay you to hang out in a lab and build stuff–isn’t that the coolest? I made a machine that disintegrates plastic into a recyclable polymer, and Coca-Cola bought my mom a new hair cutting studio–with seats that swivel, even! But here’s the thing; I’m not even the smart one in the family. That’s my Aunt Maggie.
Aunt Maggie lives in the shack in our backyard. She only drinks milk with four ice cubes, eats children’s gummy vitamins, chili-lime cheetos and the occasional banana, when Mom makes her ’cause she’s worried she’s gonna die of malnutrition. Aunt Maggie makes me look like a dumb-dumb. So it made sense (to me, at least) to sneak into her shack with my brother when she was at her monthly dentist appointment and see what she was working on.
Enter; The Time Machine.
Aunt Maggie built it in the skeleton of a 1994 Buick Station Wagon. She had to saw the top and back off to make room for the bulk of the Machine’s think tank in the back, so it was a convertible, in the broadest sense of the word. There were a pair of goggles hanging on the pegboard beneath the coil gun we’d worked on as a science fair project last year. I figured Dom and I would maybe pop back a few years, go to the first showing of Star Wars. I was pretty smart, I could do the math.
Enter; the Cretacious period. Physics isn’t easier when you’re being chased by a dinosaur. Who knew?
“Jax. Jax, there’s a cliff.” Dom sounded very calm–he always sounded calm when things got real bad.
“Huh?” I looked up from the comp notebook stuffed with Aunt Maggie’s illegible scribblings.
“Cliff.” Dom said, calm as if he was mentioning the weather. He pointed.
Three hundred feet in front of us, the plateau ended in a rock-toothed drop off, straight into the ocean. In the empty air a pack of Pterodactyls wheeled, cawing in curiosity at the vehicle burning ugly black fumes, headed straight for the end of the plateau. If I ever got back I made a mental note to talk to Aunt Maggie about her carbon footprint.
“Well steer away from it! Don’t just inform me it exists!”
“And go where, egg-head?“
Behind us, the T-Rex screamed again, this time I’m guessing in frustration at potentially losing it’s snack. It’s footsteps rattled the car from left to right like earthquakes. I flipped through the comp notebook, past the 3-d drawing and pages of unbroken text. There–there! A picture of the numerical console, with arrows pointing to the array of switches and buttons.
“I got it!” I dove into the passenger foot well, smashing buttons and flipping levers. Behind me, the think tank groaned and hummed high-pitched. Dom was screaming, the T-Rex was screaming…I was screaming. Everything was burning. There was a formula outlined in four different highlighter colors at the bottom of the page and I was trying to do the math, but it was hard because Dom was hammering on the brakes but the brakes were shot, because my brilliant aunt built a Time Machine in a twenty-year old car.
The inverse of ‘a’ is ‘b’ but ‘b’ is the number of years, taking into account ‘c’ which is the relative velocity of–
The countdown was spinning. I was running out of time.
I punched a random number in the dash. Anything–literally anything–was better than here.
“Jax the cliff! Jaxson!”
I flipped the blue switch, jammed the vortex lever sideways and pressed the unlabeled black button beneath the steering wheel.
A black hole tore the air open and swallowed the Time Machine. The T-Rex, the mountain, the cliff disappeared. Everything went black. The impression of incredible movement, and then Dom and I slammed back down to earth with a crash. There was light everywhere–I squinted through my time travelers goggles.
My house–that was my house. My yard. My dog, currently peeing on my Dad’s rose bushes. We made it; just outside of Aunt Maggie’s shack. I slumped back into the seat, sweating bullets, and checked my watch. We’d been gone eighteen seconds. In the trees a bird sang. Puffy clouds rolled overhead. I took a breath, the first calm one in what felt like forever, and unbuckled.
“Help me push the car back into the shack. Aunt Maggie and Mom will be back in an hour. If she finds out we went into her shack…”
“Yeah, Dom?” Golly I was tired. Maybe I’d take a break from inventing today.
“In a theoretical sense of the phrase, how bad would it be if, say, something came back with us?”
I adjusted my time travelers goggles. “Well, it’s tough to say. I mean, if it was a rock that wouldn’t be the worst, because it’s inorganic and will crumble into—“
I froze. That’s not why he was asking. .
Beneath his feet in the driver’s seat well. A ball of bat-like wings. A pterodactyl. It must have gotten stuck just as we flew through the time vortex.
“Can we keep him?”
Image Credit – Antoine Verney Carron