My Cretaceous Birthday by Michael Ajax

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Normally, I hated rolling out of bed. Getting up for school really isn’t my thing and waking up early on the weekend never happens. Ever. Except today.

For my birthday, my mom somehow snagged a family pass to the hottest ticket in town—Cretaceous Park. One website she showed me said the park was sold out for the next two years. I was psyched! I couldn’t believe this day had finally arrived.

At first, however, I felt a bit skeptical about the whole thing. Weren’t dinosaurs extinct? But the photos on their website were incredible. Amazing even.

My mother, dressed in a bright yellow top, led us to the car. Hours later, we followed a rough road into a shady looking place with old boards propped up against leaning fences. Faded circus trailers were parked in a row. A bad feeling came over me when I saw a misspelling on the main sign—Cretaceouss Park. It had an extra ‘S’ on the end.

Two guys in red and green clown suits, wearing enormous blue shoes, showed us where to park.

“This is going to be special,” my mom said.

My dad’s eyes twinkled. “A day to remember.”

With spooky clowns around, I wouldn’t be able to forget it.

As we walked toward the main gate, I heard a loud roar. It sounded just like the T-rex I had heard in a movie. Goosebumps ran up and down my arms.

“This way to our Cretaceous experience,” one clown said. “The Welcome Center is straight ahead.”

The employees there were unusually dressed. Some sported blue tights with long, maroon feathers. Our guide wore a cherry red coat and white pants. On his head sat a black top hat. He introduced himself as Ralph.

Our tour was the second group to be called. They showed us to a nice room with pale blue walls. Paper plates and plastic sporks sat next to a table with a huge salad bowl in the middle.

“To begin your experience,” Ralph waited for the others to stop speaking, “we first ask that you get a taste for the plants of the Cretaceous time. Countless new varieties grew during this period. Some were toxic while others spicy. Combining the good with the delicious, our chefs created a feast to fuel your appetite. So while we wait for departure, please enjoy a salad, and some punch, on us.”

“A salad?” My stomach dropped. “I never eat greens.”

“Enjoy the full experience,” my mom suggested.

“Only if they have Brontosaur burgers with Hadrosaur hash browns on the side.”

My dad nudged me forward. “It’s healthy. Try some.”

Dread filled me as I picked up a plate. Eating some exotic plants from the Mesozoic Era probably won’t kill me. As I stepped closer to the salad bowl, all I saw was iceberg lettuce mixed with onions and green peppers. I took a small portion. A little monkey in a tiny hat offered me some luminescent red punch. I passed.

Crunching their salad, my parents went on and on about how delicious the stuff was. They guzzled down cup after cup of punch.

After the salad, Ralph led us to the petting zoo. My excitement started again. Some kids might think they are too old to enjoy petting a dinosaur, but not me. I was ready.

After sanitizing our hands, the nice people dressed in full-bodied, pink tights told us to gently pet the dinosaurs. The first tank had three big land turtles. Although they seemed healthy, they moved pretty slow. In the second tank, a bearded lady in a tight leather jumper held a bearded dragon. In the third tank, a fat woman pointed to a sleepy iguana. Reaching the final tank, I found a bunch of skinks with blue tails. My heart sank. Am I the only one who knows that turtles and lizards aren’t dinosaurs?

I turned to my dad. “Do you notice something missing here?”

“Didn’t you like Dreadnought the Dragon?”

“He was cool. But dad. Dinosaurs are what we came to see. Remember?”

“Not to worry, Matt. Mr. Ralph told me these were just a warm up to the big safari. They can’t let people really touch dinosaurs. Lots of laws prohibit it.”

Really? Although I was disappointed, following the rules made sense. I nodded.

Ralph called for everyone to follow him. He led us to some oversized blue and white jeeps. “These luxurious vehicles will take us on a safari deep into Cretaceous Park. Sit back and enjoy the time travel ride of your life.”

I walked up to Mr. Ralph. “Wait. You said time travel? For real?”

He smiled. “These fine vehicles will take us on a special safari to see creatures that have not walked the earth for millions of years.” He offered me a cup. “Here have some punch. It takes the edge off the trip.”

My excited grew. Perhaps time travel was their special secret to getting dinosaurs. They must have discovered a wormhole to the past. Tossing out the punch, I climbed into the jeep.

The wheels rolled. I held tight and waited for the time shift to occur. Tall gates appeared in front of us. As we approached, they swung inward. Entering a dark tunnel, blinding lights flashed all around. Loud screeching pierced my ears. As we drove out of the tunnel, everyone, including me, clapped.

Sitting next to the driver, Ralph smiled. “Thank the heavens we all made the time jump safely. Look around. We have reached the Mesozoic Era—the time of the dinosaurs. Due to the delicate nature of being here, we can only remain for a limited time. And never leave the vehicle because dangerous creatures sometimes lurk. Now, on to our first attraction.”

Carefully checking our surroundings, I noticed the plants and trees looked suspiciously like the ones we just left. Did we even time travel?

“Ahead, we have some of the oldest known dinosaurs that began in the Triassic Period,” Ralph continued. “Dangerous and deadly, these creatures are always a crowd favorite.” The jeep stopped beside a fenced section of grass. “Behold the mighty Desmatosuchus. But our staff lovingly refers to them as ‘Legless Lizards’.”

The others in the vehicle cheered. Some high-fived each other. They all snapped pictures.

Remaining unimpressed, I poked my dad. “Those aren’t legless lizard—they’re snakes.”

My dad appeared puzzled. The jeep rolled on.

Approaching the next attraction, with high red and white fences, Ralph turned to face us. “From here, we travel forward to the Jurrassic Period. This is when super-sized dinosaurs walked the earth.”

I leaned forward in anticipation. I couldn’t miss this exhibit.

Ralph’s face gleamed. “We are pleased to present you . . . our own special giant . . . Gladius . . . the last of the brachiosaurs.”

Each passenger pushed to the right side of the vehicle to get a glimpse of Gladius. Cameras were poised to shoot. The jeep eased closer, barley moving as the wide barriers blocked our view. The suspense was palatable.

Finally, we could see. Yet inside the large fenced area only green grass grew. Other than that, the pen was empty.

Ralph’s smile disappeared. He called out. “Our customers expect Gladius. Show us Gladius.”

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From the far side of the attraction, a man in a blue jumpsuit ran out. He whispered in Ralph’s ear then handed him a large envelope. Turning to us, Ralph held up a picture of a huge brachiosaurs. Gladius was printed across the bottom. “I am the bearer of tragic, tragic, news. As of a few moments ago, Gladius is no longer with us. Our old friend has passed on. Could we all observe a moment of silence?”

The heavy woman with two girls in front of me wept. Someone else blew their nose. I too was touched by the untimely loss. My heart felt miserable.

Ralph, his cheeks somber, turned to us. He handed out pictures of Gladius. “With this terrible turn of events, we must sadly cut today’s safari short. If it is agreeable, we will make one final stop before returning to our current time.”

The jeep’s motor roared as the driver sped forward. I heard the two girls repeat the name Gladius over and over between their sobs.

The vehicle slowed as we reached a small enclosure that resembled an above ground pool. Something swam inside.

Ralph leaned close. “Our last attraction is exceptional . . . and dangerous. Although not true dinosaurs, these aquatic monsters nevertheless grew to exceptional sizes. Some fossils have been measured at over thirty meters long. These creatures remain the undisputed Kings-of-the Sea. I give you—Megalodon!”

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Two small creatures, with fins on their backs, swam past us. Cameras flashed. People clapped and giggled.

Somehow I had expected bigger creatures. These two were puny. Runts, even. I called to Ralph. “Aren’t they a little small for Megalodons?”

He flashed me a crooked grin. “These two are micro-Megalodons. Quite rare, actually. We’re lucky to have them.”

The others buzzed with excitement, yet I did not. Gazing at my parents, I shook my head. “They’re not micro anything, they’re just baby sharks. This whole safari’s a scam.”

My mother frowned. “No, Matt, this time travel is incredible. Soak it all up before these creatures have forever vanished. Like Gladius.”

My dad held up the picture. “Yes. Poor, old Gladius. Extinct forever.”

We reached the dark tunnel a few minutes later. While the others poured over their sightings on the safari, I sat back, depressed. Was I the only one who believed these guys were fakers?

Entering the time tunnel to return, lights flashed as deafening guitars sounded. On the other side, everyone unloaded. I was glad to be done with the safari.

Ralph pointed. “After time traveling, you may feel disoriented or woozy. Please don’t drive for at least an hour. And while waiting for your head to clear, please stop by our gift shop and donate to the Gladius memorial fund.”

As the others walked away, I stared at Ralph.

“So what was your favorite attraction?” he asked. “Let me guess—the micro-Megalodons?”

“No.” I glared at him. “Your safari sucked.”

“So you didn’t drink any punch? Too bad, you would have loved our park.”

“How can you tell I didn’t have any?”

He nodded. “I have loads of experience with young men like you. But what you’re actually upset about is Gladius’s death. Your passionate words show it. Realizing that we are all players in this circle of life is the first step to acceptance. Go in good health.”

Had he just dismissed my heartfelt comment with an old circle-of-life cliché? I was stunned. My clueless parents thanked him for his considerate nature then walked to the gift shop.

But I wasn’t finished. “This whole place is a hoax. And you’re a liar. There were never any dinosaurs.”

Ralph’s friendly smile faded. “We delivered just what our name says.”

His words confused me. “But it is Cretaceous Park, right?”

“We started off as a struggling circus, but that all changed when my wife wanted to open an amusement park. So we did and nearly lost our shirts. Nobody wanted to see old, fat, circus animals. But after we changed the park’s name, and started passing out free punch, everything blossomed. People wanted dinosaurs, so that’s what we gave ‘em—but with our own special twist. Just like our name promises.”

Ralph pointed to the overhead sign. “My wife’s middle name is Cretaceous so we call our place—Cretaceous’s Park.”

Feeling low, with tears welling in my eyes, I headed to the gift shop. My fifth birthday, my Cretaceous birthday, was a total bust. Perhaps next year, when I reached the first grade, this could be one of those stories I look back on and laugh about.

 

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Michael’s novel, Tomb of the Triceratops, follows three high school friends to the Badlands of Montana where they search for a paleontologist that claimed to have discovered a portal to another dimension were dinosaurs escaped to. What’s your favorite dinosaur?

Check out Michael’s website at www.michaelajax.com and get a look at his book on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/tombtriceratops

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