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David Halliday

PTERODACTYLS!

A Short Story

It was never made apparent how, but allegedly the films of Nora Ephron had something to do with it.

It was October and the blue had been smudged from the sky completely, like a close-up of an old eraser from a year 7 pencil case.

Somehow the romance which Nora Ephron rashly re-instilled in the dry and wearied hearts of lovelorn forty- pluses like Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, etc., amongst the yellows, oranges, breezes, and piles of leaves as crisp as greeting cards in a cooling NYC, substantially altered the amount of pheromones being released into the air by the New York populace. Science is getting back to us with an answer on that one.

A chain reaction was caused by this spike in pheromones and love was quite literally ‘all around’. In a place as dense and compact as Manhattan, problems started to emerge quite quickly, especially when these love-critters of scent were flawlessly filtered into every office and apartment space in town via ubiquitous low-fi AC.

The next part of the story concerns pterodactyls.

Pterodactyls, you say? The reptilian birds-before-there-were-birds; the sharp-faced, giant flying dinosaurs that every child in the world wished he or she could ride at least once? The very same. Now you’re tempted to stop paying attention because the subject matter has become:

1. Frivolous and irrelevant

2. Stupidly fantastical through the inclusion of extinct and possibly magical creatures.

There’s no real reason for you to stop here, though. At paragraph… what? Paragraph Six? You knew what you were in for when you read the title. But let’s press on! Let’s finish this! Pterodactyls are not as far-fetched as you first thought when you opened this factual account of one of the most miraculous happenings in NY history.

And this next bit is ripped verbatim from the timeless annals of Wikipedia:

Pterodactyls have existed in the flesh since Professor Ethelred P. Hammer managed to clone pterodactyl genetic material in the spring of 1999, in a lab in Chicago, Illinois. It was in fact his early inroads in the area of genetics that inspired the late writer and sage of the modern era Michael Crichton to scribble the semi-ficticious roman a clef documenting the breakthrough in prehistoric genetics, Jurassic Park.

Due to a flaw in their genetic makeup, pterodactyls found human pheromones irresistible. Again, the abundance of these was thanks to Nora Ephron and every New York socialite over forty inexplicably and quite carelessly finding ‘love’. Science help us! You might say that the pterodactyls were irreversibly and scientifically ‘in love’. This blind love led the four original pterodactyl chicks to peck Professor Ethelred P. Hammer to death in July 2009 in a fit of passion when Professor Hammer was preparing to take them to a DNA research conference-cum- trade fair in Ventura, California.

No one knew how they broke from their cages, but like every other illicit animal in NYC, mythical or otherwise, it is assumed they escaped into the labyrinthine sewer system, much like Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, or the Ninja Turtles. Needless to say, it doesn’t really matter how they escaped, unless one were trying to prevent the tragedy from occurring again, and their existence was such finely orchestrated madness, so singular, it would be human folly to attempt to impose layers of understanding here when all one really needs is the wonder of observation.

Following the escape, the pterodactyls flew about the city in a sparse flock numbering around ten. The physical girth of each bird made their numbers seem greater. They would perch for hours on top of buildings, quite motionless, and keen onlookers would momentarily lose what they were keenly trying to observe. The birds would vanish in the stone forests of Manhattan, becoming just a few more shades and patches of grey in a city of greys, their taut reptilian skin folded like sails.

They would sit and squawk until it occurred to them that unlike the gargoyles they kept company with, they were alive and they could fly. And so they flung themselves about in any direction, blind, until their sail wings carried them heavenwards, where they wheeling about the sky in great silent arcs. They scattered on different roof tops, completely without goal or purpose and blinded by a love for something they could not name or see. They were driven mad by this futile pursuit. They believed they were incomplete as pterodactyls but didn’t know how or why.

The sporadic behavior in ‘The Birds’ (as they were referred to first by The Village Voice then the Times, followed by the rest of NYC) confounded the NYPD, who were immediately ordered to cease firing their service weapons in the air as the volley of bursts was frightening office workers. And since the pterodactyls were attacking no one, the police were unsure how to respond, other than to call the zoo, resulting only in repeated awkward conversations that benefitted no one.

The pterodactyls existed as every other nook and brick and steel beam in the city existed. They were carelessly left there, they were incidental, they slowly became forgotten and ignored, abused by a careless city of individuals acting alone.

The world was a world of reactions, not purposeful decisions.

The city itself was not the result of some great master plan, but rather a mess of now forgotten ambitions. All components of the visible city had been built by ambitious men and women long dead, and left there like abandoned cars. It was a place of accident, rather than design. And so the city absorbed the pterodactyls without great fuss, simply as new additions to the skyline.

It was only when a pterodactyl interrupted Woody Allen’s clarinet performance one Monday night at the Carlyle hotel on East 76th street that things took a turn for the worse. Sitting in the audience was none other than Tommy Lee Jones, listening to Woody’s exploration of sound as he routinely did every Monday.

A brief word about Tommy Lee Jones: Actor Tommy Lee Jones loathed being disturbed from any of his few pleasures in life and had long since viewed other humans as an elusive and disappointing ‘other’ far from himself, disheartening and disgusting. They were something which once held great potential for development but had since proved a dismal failure. When Tommy Lee was a boy, his dreams varied little from those of every other child growing up in the 50s. He dreamed of hovering cars, bubble houses in the sky, lunar cities, laser ray guns, robot servants, and moving walkways. It was in this idealised future world that the young Tommy Lee Jones intended on living out most of his adult life as a sheriff or US Marshall, something really tough, on the outer fringes of space where lawlessness was rampant and the District Attorney wasn’t watching over his shoulder. He would deal with intergalactic criminals in the manner he saw fit, which was with a merciless iron fist! But as he lived through decade after dreaming decade, his future space-world never eventuated. Jones held the frailty and stupidity of the human race as directly responsible. Human disenchantment had disenchanted him and now the task fell to him to disenchant others through the art and beauty of acting.

In the midst of one of Tommy Lee Jones’s favourite reveries at the Carlyle Hotel, where he dreamed of a post apocalyptic world where he and Woody Allen were the last remaining people and all they had to survive on was his wits, hardness of character, and Woody’s clarinet music, a pterodactyl blindly and mindlessly burst through the doors of the Carlyle auditorium. Its blank bird eye was locked wide open in permanent panic, constantly surprised as all birds are surprised. Tommy Lee Jones had had enough. This bizarre tolerance by the State and City of New York had led to the crime of him being nudged from one of his few minutes of pleasure.

At the flapping and clanging of the doors, Woody Allen kept playing, never faltered. His watertight professionalism was never called into account. His eyes were closed and his fingers ran along the keys of his clarinet like over worn buttons on a remote control. He flicked through the channels of the tune expertly, ignoring the ambient noise of the interrupting pterodactyl.

The pterodactyl, hearing something enchanting and attractive in the music, (and still driven by the unnamable smell of unplaceable desire) thought the bird call of Woody Allen’s clarinet was what it had been searching for —

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