Just for the record, below is my daughter’s entry to the short story competition I mentioned in my previous post.
A CHANCE FINDING
Novice palaeontologists bend a couple of rules, leading them to a once in a lifetime career break.
“Come on, what’s the worst that could happen?”
“We don’t find anything, we get caught, we get fired, would you like me to go on?”
Dan hesitated and then said, “No, that’s enough. James, aren’t you tired of just sitting in this office day after day, studying fossils that other people have found. If we don’t find anything, no one will even know that we went. There’s something waiting for us out there. I can feel it! And if we don’t go out there tonight, someone else will find it. Do you really want someone else to find our discovery?”
“Honestly, I wouldn’t really mind. Plus, does it really count as our discovery if we haven’t… discovered it yet?”
“Yet! We haven’t discovered it yet! Tonight is our night, James. Just put your negativity on pause for one night.”
“But why can’t we wait until we officially get sent out onto the field?”
“We’re fresh out of Uni, of course they’re not going to send us out onto the field immediately.”
The two of them had met in university. They did not appear to be the most compatible couple of friends at first glance, but they bonded over a shared interest in the intricacies of coprolite analysis which, funnily enough, was not the most commonly-chosen topic to base a dissertation on.
“James, you call yourself a palaeontologist but the closest you’ve ever been to a dinosaur bone is in the Natural History Museum; palaeontology to you is like watching a foreign movie without subtitles.”
“And I’m perfectly okay with that.”
“But we didn’t even get that close to Dippy the Diplodocus because there was that colossal tour group there that day!”
James contemplated Dan’s words for a few moments.
“I’ll do it,” he sighed.
“Tonight,” Dan said. It had to be that night. The rest of the team were on an overseas expedition, but they were set to return in two days’ time. This meant that Dan and James would have to spend their last day alone ensuring everything was in order in preparation for their return, leaving only that night available to execute their plan.
“You seriously want us to hike up there? In the dark?”
“No,” Dan stated, which left James confused and forgivably suspicious, “we’re taking the Land Rover, and then we’ll walk after the road ends.”
James’ eyes widened. Before he could start to refuse, Dan said, “Look, if we’re going to get fired we might as well have fun and use one of the company cars.”
“Or we could just scrap this whole idea and not get fired!”
Dan glared at James until he eventually let out a long sigh of defeat.
“Fine,” James muttered.
“Yes! Yes-yes-yes!” Dan jumped up and down, punching the air with joy, ironically enough.
And so, at 7pm, with the sun already setting, they locked up their office building, took all the supplies they anticipated they might need and got in the car. They drove up the long windy hillside roads until they reached the end of the road which was a short distance away from the main field.
Dan got out of the car first and ran to the other side to open the door for a nervous James.
“I’m not getting out.”
“Yes. You are.”
“If you don’t take risks in life, then what’s the point?”
“Comfort is just a scheme created by the government to-“
James scrambled out of his seat.
“Fine! Fine! I’m getting out! Just, please, don’t make me listen to another one of your nonsensical conspiracy theories.”
Works every time, Dan thought to himself.
They took the bags out of the boot of the car and made their way up the rocky hillside. With the sun steadily setting and their surroundings becoming noticeably darker, the two of them had to guide themselves to the main field using flashlights.
About twenty minutes later, they reached the spot that was best known for its prehistoric fruitfulness. However, recently there had not been as much luck and some palaeontologists were beginning to lose hope, thinking they had found all that could be found in that area.
“The Promised Land!” Dan exclaimed.
“That makes me Moses and you… you are my… people!”
Dan spun around to James with a grin and almost jumped at the sight of his glare to end all glares.
“Or we could be co-Moseses?” Dan suggested, his voice suddenly an octave higher.
He cautiously turned around and kept walking before James could respond with another one of his cynical comments.
“So where do we start?” James called out.
“I assumed you would know.”
“D’you know who would know?” James taunted.
“Nope, but I probably should’ve invited them instead of you.”
James ignored that comment. “Our boss. Our boss would know where we should start!”
“Why do we need the boss when we have my gut feeling to guide us? I’m like a metal detector for prehistoric bones and fossils. I can feel it in my bones,” he smirked at the most overused pun among palaeontologists worldwide, and then proceeded to picture the bones they would find.
“Go on then,” James said, a slight smile tugging at his lips, curious as to how this would play out.
Dan started walking to his right, imitating the movements and sounds of a metal detector, “beep… beep… beep… beep… beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-“
“Please stop making that noise,” James said, but you could hear the smile in his voice, “You sound more like the Road Runner than a metal detector which would make me Wile E. Coyote, and that means I will soon be falling off a cliff. I get the point. We’ll start where you’re standing.”
Dan could not help but raise his eyebrows at the sight of James finally loosening up. He chose not to mention it at the fear of ruining the moment, but when they both turned away from one another and to the ground, they were smiling.
After a solid half hour of digging, Dan looked up from the hole he was gently scraping away at to look over at James who was a few metres away from him, “I feel like a right Indiana Jones, don’t you?”
James glanced up at him and laughed, “Indiana Jones was an archaeologist, not a palaeontologist.”
“I didn’t mean literally, I just… I’m starting to understand his vibe, you know?”
“Not at all. Also, you’re 5’6”.”
“Who’s to say Jones wasn’t 5’6”?”
“Probably everyone who watched the movies.”
Dan didn’t respond.
“Oh my god! Dan! Dan, I think I might have something!”
Dan scrambled over to his spot, tripping over his own feet with excitement, and they both started scraping away at the sand and dirt surrounding the small object hidden beneath the surface. James pulled it out and they both looked at it expectantly as though it was going to spring to life and congratulate them on their find.
“An ammonite,” they said simultaneously, and then both slumped down onto the ground.
“My 4-year-old niece found one of these at the park the other day,” James said.
“Don’t give up hope just yet, my friend. They said that there was nothing left in this area, not bones, not fossils, not anything. But here we are, holding an ammonite that they couldn’t find. This means that there’s more here! We just need to keep looking!”
James looked up slowly at the pitch-black sky and held in a sigh, “Well, there isn’t actually a guarantee-”
“Maybe I am a prehistoric bone and fossil detector…” Dan whispered into the distance, like a detective when they make their big breakthrough in a case.
James just rolled his eyes and they both went back to work.
An hour went by and they found three more ammonites between them. They decided to keep them for when they would inevitably be studying them in the office, as it was beginning to look less and less likely that they would return as – in Dan’s words – ‘legends’.
Out of the corner of his eye, James noticed Dan’s flashlight flicker a few times before it eventually turned off. He shook it a few times, hit it against the palm of his hand, and flicked the switch a couple times but it wouldn’t turn back on. They looked up at one another with a sense of defeat.
They agreed to make their way back to the car before the other flashlight’s battery died, and they would have to blindly guide their way back to the car over a natural obstacle course of small hills and ditches.
As they started to descend down the hillside Dan suddenly lost his footing and started tumbling forward, his bag flying off his shoulder, landing him in a small ditch.
James ran down to where he was lying down and knelt down beside him.
“Are you okay? What happened?”
“There’s something digging into my back,” he groaned, unable to appreciate his incredible play on words.
James offered him a hand and lifted him up. After Dan had dusted himself off, he turned to James, whose jaw had dropped. He followed his line of vision to where the faint flashlight was pointing.
Just where Dan had been lying a couple moments ago, there was a small, dirt-covered object buried in the ground, poking out slightly. There was the possibility that it was a stone, but there was no certainty until they checked. They both dropped to their knees and started digging desperately, their tiredness had evaporated, replaced by more energy than a nuclear power plant as they frantically dug in the soil. Once they had fully dug around the object, Dan grabbed it and pulled it out, wiping the sand off. A dinosaur bone. Unmistakably. The shape of the three-toed foot suggested a theropod, quite a small one, possibly a Velociraptor.
They each let out a sigh of both shock and relief, and then they both started laughing, breathlessly.
“Our first discovery,” Dan whispered, completely stunned by the chance of their finding it.
James let out a joyous howl up to the night sky.
“Our first discovery,” Dan yelled into the empty space around them.
A couple of days later, when the research team returned home to find the bones of a theropod foot mounted like a trophy on the front desk, they were greatly confused. James and Dan formed a two-man welcoming committee and greeted their colleagues with two matching grins.
They had realised the morning after their nocturnal escapade that if they tried to take credit for finding the bones, they would be charged with trespassing on the dig site without security clearance and fired on the spot for using the Institute’s equipment without their boss’s approval, so they had to come up with a back-up story.
“How did this get here…?” Their boss asked, cautiously, as he approached it.
“Well, we completed the work you gave us early, so we decided to finish off our paper on the importance of coprolite research in micropalaeontology. We shared our findings on a Paleo dot com forum, and, a couple days later, voila, this beauty came in the mail, sent to us as a token of appreciation from a team of palaeontologists from Utah, who believe that our paper helped them enormously in moving a step closer to a final break-through in their own research. The foot is ours to keep and to work on as we please.”
“Wow. Impressive. In these circumstances, bizarre as they are, I think it’s only fair that the two of you should be given the first chance to work on it. Feel free to sink your teeth into it whenever you’re ready, boys.”
Dan and James’ eyebrows shot upwards in unison.
“R- Really?” James stuttered.
“Of course. Many of my colleagues would gladly give an arm and a leg for this foot”, he gave them both a warm smile.
That night a lavish party was thrown in their honour at the Institute. Or at least that’s how their retelling of the story developed over the years.
Dan and James thought about using their adventure as a basis for a smug motivational speech on how to succeed in their chosen profession, but they soon realised that perhaps what happened to them should not be used as career advice for newcomers to the field. What they would have had to say was that sometimes you need to take chances in life, and that success may come when you least expect it, or even when you have given up on it, and you feel like you are going downhill and straight into a ditch; and that it is sometimes best not to be entirely truthful with your boss about minor details of how you achieve your results.