Short stories

Dark hearts & dinosaurs

The sun, as so often happens in the Congo, flicked a last orange sneer to the jungle it prepared to leave.

It was typical, thought Burton, glancing again at his watch in the gathering gloom, that a meeting which had taken months to plan, should go wrong in the last minutes. It was his master plan, his inspiration.

‘Come on…’ he muttered, checking the pygmy natives as they hovered in the dark bush murmuring a foreign chorus. Was he going mad after all?

And then suddenly they were there - his friends, bursting through the jungle into the clearing where the pygmies had promised all the action would be. Cornelius greeted him first, a slim man though never handsome, for years his skin pocked by eczema, soft spoken but a sting in every sentence.

‘You’re a crazy fucker Burton Alexander,’ he said, ‘I’ll shake your hand but I’m not staying long. I’ve been asking my own questions. It’s a myth, a legend, a tall story on legs. A lizard at best…’

Burton nodded, relieved they’d come at all. ‘It’s a sauropod my friend,’ he said, ‘A dinosaur, the last one on earth. They call it Mokele-mbembe, the last dinosaur in the world, surviving here in the deep lakes close to the Equator. Myths and legends always have their root, see.’ The pygmies shivered in the jungle foliage as the triumvirate negotiated the drama Burton had begun.

‘And that,’ exclaimed Bowler, the last and loudest of the trio, all allies at Art College years ago now, ‘Is why you’ve dragged us here? I thought at the least it might be diamonds. I don’t mind adventure but come off it Burton…’

Bowler was round like Buddha, a big belly and bald. Unlike Buddha his ears were small, mean.

None of these friends were successful artists – yet. None had made their mark on the world – yet.

It was that yet that got them in the jungle. Not famous yet… No big money… yet…

‘I swear,’ said Burton tensely, the best looking of the three, ‘I’ve been living a year in this forsaken country.’

‘As you asked,’ said Bowler calmly, ‘I’ve brought a tranquillising kit from a Canadian vet on the Kruger. It’s used for stunning hippos.’ He paused, adding distastefully, ‘I don’t even like bloody Labradors.’

‘You have to think of the prize,’ said Burton trying to reach for words to inspire them, a grand speech before the discovery that would change the world and make their name. ‘We can do this. We can take the dinosaur back to London. Imagine the possibilities. If the worst happens and it dies – we’ll put it in formaldehyde.’ He paused. He hoped he sounded like a leader. The fact was they had all been at Art College with one of the most successful artists of all time - a living artist at that, not dead yet.

Not dead yet… Not famous yet… Yet…

They had nicknamed him Pickle for his overuse of formaldehyde. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t draw, paint or sculpt, his huge success had haunted them for twenty, nearly thirty years. Thirty years of Yet…

‘Don’t you remember,’ Burton began again, ‘When we made a pact years ago, that if we hadn’t made it by fifty, we’d all meet for one last try?’

But the pact at art school was when they were silly and young, and Cornelius’s eczema was still fresh and Bowler’s belly was considered a lucky totem to the girls who would rub it, flirting in the pubs in the streets around Goldsmiths. And Burton was the oldest by a few years, the first to reach fifty this year, just around the corner, fifty candles waiting to be blown out, make a wish, make a wish…

Not yet… not yet…

Burton’s mind gathered steam again. ‘It will be the ultimate artistic statement. We’ll out do anything he’s ever done. Pickle will thunder when he finds out. The BBC will love it.’

‘You have gone mad,’ said Cornelius softly, scratching his skin. The pygmies stared at his flaking arms. ‘You look OK but deep down you have no foundation. You never did.’ He turned his attention to the clearing where they all met. ‘This dinosaur is just going to stroll right up and fall into our clutches is he? And the midgets? What’s their role? It’s like fucking vaudeville.’

‘It’s a she,’ Burton tried to sound calm. ‘And the pygmies worship her. They don’t know what we’ve got planned. They only think we are here to observe.’

‘Can you believe this Bowls?’ rasped Cornelius softly, ‘I think I’m just waking up now. What are we really doing here? This is some sick joke of yours, Burton. You’ll probably make it into an artistic statement at our expense, up on the website within an hour, blogged into some perverse philosophy.’ His rasp turned into a whisper and he scratched his scalp, the humid jungle air was turning his skin to scale, falling into the clearing. ‘I’ve had enough. I’m not staying longer. Come on Bowler. Let’s leave this idiot in the jungle where he belongs.’

‘Think of what Pickle will say!’ despaired Burton.

This time Bowler snapped back, rubbing his own belly, no female had touched that for years. ‘Is this really all this is about? You’ve never been able to get over his success have you? He was your best friend until the world came along and wanted to know him… Does he ever return your calls? Ever come to your shows, look at your website?’

‘Please don’t go…’ Burton cried. ‘Not yet. Wait. They promise me …. The dinosaur…’

But it was too late. His friends had vanished, like the Congo sunset, sunk deep into the jungle, a last disdainful look. Burton turned to the pygmies. They had begun to tremble and point to other side of the clearing. The ground began to pulse. The trees shifted as something large loomed towards him.

Yet… Not yet… Yet…

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  View other short stories:
  Butterfly Kiss
  Le Temps et Le Reve
  The Burton Sisters
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