Up bright and early the following morning, John stopped at a tiny cafe in town to grab a bagel for breakfast. The cashier was young and friendly. “So where are you headed today?” she asked, wrapping his bagel in a to-go bag.
“Out to the Douglas farm,” John replied.
The girl paused for a moment, “Oh. You new here?”
“Yes, just passing through.”
“Ah, nobody ever lasts for long at the Douglas farm.”
“Why is that?” John asked as he paid for his breakfast.
She shrugged. “Everyone has their own theory. Personally, I think its River. She's intimidating and a horrible boss to work for. You watch out for her.”
“Will do; thank you, miss.” John took the small bag, smiled politely and left.
At the farm, River had John milk the cows and muck out all the stalls like the previous day. He had to drop a new bale of straw down from the barn loft to put down in the stalls and ended up with little itchy bits of straw sticking in his hair and clothes for the rest of the day. Despite her threat the previous day, River did not have him dig a ditch. When he was finished with the barn work, River hauled him out to a far corner of the farm on a pickup truck. “This fence needs a few poles replaced and the siding patched back up with these boards,” she said. “You know how to build a fence right?”
“Yes, ma'am,” John replied.
The wooden fence which he had first seen by the front gate extended all the way around the entire farm. This particular section was not eight feet tall though; it was at least twelve feet and something big had crashed into it recently, breaking more than a dozen boards and three poles. The ground around the broken fence was a mess of tire and boot prints, making it hard to distinguish individual tracks. After surveying the damage, John decided that it must have been a large wild animal or maybe an enraged bull that broke the fence.
Feeling a little better after making that decision, John spent the next couple of hours taking the fence apart and digging new holes for the poles. Tired from his efforts, he sat in the shade of a nearby tree with his lunch and took some time to rest. In the middle of his lunch break, John heard some odd squawking. Remembering the bald chicken from yesterday, he looked up.
Circling in the sky not very far away were three large birds. John squinted. The birds looked like large pale bats with huge beaks and giant crests on the tops of their heads. They squawked again and continued to circle in a pattern searching for food.
A memory pinged in his head and John frowned before looking down at his sandwich. He muttered, “What the heck is in this thing?”
Discarding the remainder of his sandwich, John went back to work on the fence and listened as the squawking faded away in the distance as the weird bat-birds flew off in their quest for nibbles.
When the fence was finished, John left the tools in a neat pile beside the broken bits of the old fence and set off on a hike to find his way back to the farmhouse since River hadn't come back to check on him. As he walked down the dusty road, he spotted some large round white buildings. Thinking they were greenhouses, he took a side-road and passed several fields of young green crops. Leaning against a blue pickup truck outside the greenhouses were two men John didn't recognize. Seeing him approach, they straightened up and greeted him.
“Hi, you the new guy?” One said.
“Yes, I'm John,” John replied.
“Name's Carl, that there is Todd,” the first man gestured at his companion and shook John's hand.
“Boy, this place is wild, isn't it?” Carl continued.
“You were just hired yesterday right?” Todd asked.
“Yes, sir,” John replied, shifting his weight to one foot and eying the greenhouses. There were no windows.
“Todd here has been here for six months and I've worked here for at least a year,” Carl explained. “It never gets old, does it?”
Confused, John shrugged again.
Oblivious, Carl continued. "I mean, we are literally seeing the impossible every day, man! It is incredible!"
On the verge of asking for clarification, John was distracted by the sound of a truck driving by.
River hit the brakes hard, causing a giant cloud of dust to drift toward the men. She stuck her head out of the window and yelled, “John! Get in the truck!”
John waved at his coworkers and jogged over to River's truck.
“Did those idiots say anything to you?” River asked, gunning the engine as John scrambled to find his seatbelt.
“Good. That fence all fixed up?”
“Excellent; I'll have you work in the garden then. The sprinkler system is down so you'll need to drag the hose out and hand-water everything. Got it?”
Later that evening after he got off of work, John drove to the tiny library and wandered through the shelves till he found what he came for. Pulling the thick volume off the shelf, John leaned against the sturdy bookcase and flipped through the pages until he saw what he was looking for. The artist's depiction of the long-dead monster looked eerily similar to the strange bat-birds he had seen earlier that day. But that was impossible, right?
It couldn't possibly be a real-life dinosaur still around today.
John went to bed early and had strange dreams.
Early the next morning, River found John hard at work mucking out the stalls, having already milked the cows and taken care of them. She leaned on the railing and watched him for a few minutes. “You are a hard worker,” she commented.
“Thank you, ma'am.”
“Let's see how good you are at fixing things,” and she led the way out of the barn toward the garden. The sprinkler system was high on the agenda for the day.
Hours later when he was wet and covered in mud, John turned the now-operational sprinkler system on and went walking off looking for River. The farm was a lot bigger than he realized as he stomped across fields he had never seen before.
Eventually, he cut across one field, hopped a couple of fences and found a wide-open grassy area. Assuming it was a feeding pasture for horses and cattle, John slowed his pace and looked around for any large easily enraged bovine. He stopped dead in his tracks and his jaw dropped.
Standing near a tree in front of him was a creature the size of a car and by all accounts, long since extinct. The plates angled down the spine of the creature ended at four sharp spikes at the tip of the thick tail. The large hind legs were longer than the shorter front legs and the whole creature had the kind of shine that snakes and lizards have after they have shed their skins. Peacefully oblivious to John's presence, the creature munched some grass contentedly.
It was a dinosaur and not just any dinosaur—a real honest to goodness stegosaurus dinosaur!
John felt his pulse increase and his breath begin to come in short gasps.
Looking beyond the lone stegosaurus, he spotted a small herd of green iguanodons stomping through and around a big man-made pond stocked with assorted green vegetation that his frazzled mind couldn't identify. As he watched, one iguanodon raised its head and snorted loudly at its neighbor before stomping one foot in the water and huffing indignantly.
“What the fu...” John whispered, edging away into some trees away from the stegosaurus and the iguanodons. He bumped into a fence post and jumped, almost yelping aloud.
The sturdy wooden fence was almost as tall as he was and was built to contain large creatures rather than little ones. On the other side of the fence frolicked a group of small protoceratops. They were different sizes which suggested that there were adults as well as offspring present. As John stared at the protoceratops, a few bald chickens ran by.
Visibly on the verge of panicking now, John ran to the nearest largest tree and stood under it feeling trapped with two different herds of supposedly extinct creatures on either side of him.
He was trying to take deep breaths and convince himself that he was dreaming when River found him. “Hey John, what are you doing?” She demanded.
John yelled and jumped up.
River instantly grabbed his arm and dragged him back under the tree. “Hey, calm down. What's wrong?”
“There are freaking dinosaurs over there!” He hissed.
“Okay, sit down and put your head between your knees. Take a deep breath; we can't have you pass out before payday.”
John did as she told him and when he felt calmer, he asked, “What exactly is going on here?”
"Well," River sat down next to him. "Ya know how most farms have cattle, sheep, and whatnot? We have dinosaurs."
“How does that work? Dinosaurs are all extinct!”
“Deep breaths. Listen, it's a lot to take in at first. I don't understand half the science so I will just summarize for ya. Remember to breathe.”
She waited for him to calm down again before saying, “So I have this uncle who is a paleontologist and he was on a dig where he found dinosaur eggs that were perfectly preserved. Like, amazingly intact and everything. Using his science training and probably some chicken eggs, he cultured and grew living dinosaurs from the tissue found in the eggs.”
“I don't know, I told you I don't understand the science stuff. All I know is that he tinkered with it for years before he approached my dad and they started sending baby dinosaurs down here.”
“How many dinosaurs do you have?”
"Oh lots," she waved her hand vaguely. "We have six breeds right now. You've seen the iguanodons, protoceratops and the compsognathus right?"
“They look like bald chickens on steroids.”
John nodded, “And the stegosaurus.”
"Yeah, we only have one of him. The rest didn't make it."
“What else do you have? T-Rex?”
"Gosh no, we aren't stupid. We don't have anything that will eat us or crush our house. Just some small guys we can easily handle. We have a small flock of pteranodons and a few oviraptors. They were experimental and since they bite, they are kept separate from the rest." She looked grimly down at her hand which was covered in small white scars.
John suddenly felt chilled. “River,” he said slowly. “How long have you been growing secret dinosaurs?”
She looked at her hand and then at him. Her eyes were grey like storm clouds. “I don't think you want to know the answer to that question, John.”
John stood up and walked to the edge of the shade under the tree. "River, you have real-life dinosaurs on a giant farm and no one knows about this. That herd of protoceratops had adults and babies in it. What the heck is going on here?"
“We're very proud of the prototops; they have rebounded and are thriving better than some of the other breeds we have tried to revive,” River commented.
He looked at her again. “You aren't going to tell me anything, are you?”
River stood up and faced him. “John, this is my family's business and my life's work.”
He nodded. "You know, if it is okay with you, I need to knock off early today. I'll dig that ditch for you tomorrow."
All business again, River said briskly. "Excellent. I'll take you back to the farmhouse." She stalked off toward her truck.
As John drove away, he saw River straddling the driveway with her arms crossed, watching him leave. She looked worried.