Carlos Wrzniewski v. the Walking Dead Pt. 2
This is my third fan fic, others being "Aliens vs. Exotroopers" and "AliPuns" on the AVP page. This is, strictly speaking, a sequel to one of my original novels, but I think it can be appreciated as a fan fic for the Romero "Dead" films.
A surprising discovery
The interior of Australia is one of the most inhospitable deserts on Earth. But not so long ago, it was green with grass and trees, and teeming with the most curious of game, from monitor lizards as big as bears to wombat-like creatures as big as rhinoceroces to still more exotic creatures like the bygone native "wolf". The aborigines' legends of the Dream Time give some recollections of this age, and to geologists, it is as a moment ago, like the fresh print in the mud of this morning's rain. And to the rocks themselves- who knows? Perhaps to whatever beings or forces guide the course of eons, the bygone age is like a fond, slumbering friend, while the reign of man is but an annoyance to be endured like an hour's drizzle.
Beneath the desert are many caves, worn in limestone by water. They are probably quite young, in the geological view of things, but old enough to hold bones of the creatures that roamed the bygone forests. Paleontologists, professional and amateur, search the caves for bones. So do less scrupulous duffers, who sell bones to whomever offers the best price, and the occasional outright vandal, who smash what they find for reasons known only to themselves.
Jeff Kettering stood in the grey area between amateur fossil collector and duffer. He had no formal training beyond a few college classes, and so could not claim paleontologist as a professional title. He frequently sold his finds, so he could not claim to be a paleontological volunteer. But, he was genuinely curious about fossils, and sincerely desired to cooperate with professionals in advancing the science of paleontology. He routinely told himself, as well as others, that if he ever made a find of genuine importance, he would gladly give it to a professional for study. He had as yet never been put to that test, as the most significant discoveries he had made so far were a 2000-year-old spear head and a dozen mid-1800s rimfire casings. But that would change within moments as he stepped into a small side chamber of one of the more isolated caves.
The thing against the cave wall was unquestionably dead, but looked like a fresh carcass. For that reason, he nearly turned away, but looked just long enough to take interest. It was the size of a dog, and at first glance looked just like a dog. Kettering leaned in for a closer look, and knew better, but took another look because it seemed too fantastic to be true. He saw the stout, straight tail, subtly unlike a dog's. He saw the stripes on its body. But he was not convinced until he counted the toes. He murmured as if enraptured: "Thylacine."
The thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian wolf, was a memorial to the cruelty of man, not to mention the stupidity of his governments. As far as could be determined by paleontologists, it vanished from the Australian mainland around the time of Christ. It lived in the southern island of Tasmania until settlers encountered it. Even then, it lived long enough to be despised as a killer of sheep. In the1800s and early 1900s, though it was known even then that more sheep were taken by dingoes and human thieves (the original "duffers") than by thylacines, bounties were paid for dead thylacines. Over 2,000 pounds in bounties (at one pound per adult pelt) were paid by the government alone. In 1936, the killing of thylacines was outlawed, and assigned a fine of $5,000. The law was passed three years after the last known thylacine was caught in the wild, and two months before said specimen died in the Hobart zoo. Sightings had continued for the following 140-plus years, however, and laws protecting it had never been revoked, presenting the conundrum that, if anyone ever killed a specimen to prove the survival of the species, he could conceivably be fined or arrested for killing a protected species.
Kettering stooped to pick up the carcass. The skin was soft, and the limbs moved; it was not mummified or even in rigor mortis. "This could have died only a few days ago," he said aloud. He realized immediately that this was a momentous find. He walked back the way he had come, almost in a daze, contemplating what to do.
Unfortunately, he did not look closely at the chamber. If he had looked at the floor where the carcass had lain, he would have noticed a substantial depression, matching the outline of the carcass, where limestone deposits had formed around the body. He would have realized that these deposits would have taken years to form, and might represent the passage of decades, centuries or even millennia since the thylacine had laid down to die. If he had looked at the walls, he would have seen badly faded paintings of the aborigines. He could have been forgiving for not knowing what the paintings meant, for even the grandfathers of the grandfathers of the eldest of the first aborigines to see white men had already forgotten it: They were sigils for holding back evil spirits.
Two hours later, as dusk fell, his four-wheel-drive car met another, more rugged vehicle on a dirt trail. The two men in the vehicle were brothers Leonard and Christopher Peterson. They were notorious as "duffers" of the traditional sort: They "recovered" stray sheep for a fee, and hunted as a sideline. The brothers got out. Kettering remained in his car, trembling. Leonard, the younger but more intelligent and charming of the two, walked up and tapped on the window. "What's this? You ask us to drive 70 kilometers, and now you won't get out of the car?"
Kettering rolled down his window. "I need some advice," he said. He leaned in and continued, "Is it true you can go to jail for killing a thylacine?"
Leonard politely raised an eyebrow. Christopher politely kept a straight face. The elder spoke first: "O-Kay, I can see which way this is going. Someone says he killed a thylacine, and knows someone who will be a reward for it, but can't take it in himself because he could be arrested, so he's offering to let you take it in and collect a reward, in exchange of course for small compensation. That right?"
Kettering shook his head. "I found a dead thylacine. A recently dead one."
Leonard pursed his lip. "Look, there's no need for pretenses. The thylacine was declared extinct by international conservationists almost a hundred years ago. If anyone were prosecuted for killing one, it would be an open-and-shut appeal. Anyway, the laws that were passed to protect it were specific to Tasmania, and we're hundreds of kilometers out ot that jurisdiction. But, seriously, who offered this thing? Did you already pay for it?"
"I told you, I found it. And it's in the boot."
"Well, we can take a look-see," Christopher said noncomittally. Kettering popped the trunk from inside, and got out toopen it the rest of the way. Just as he was reaching out, a five-toed paw thrust into the opening to send the trunk all the way open. Shouts and screams were heard but unheeded by the wildlife.
A half-hour later, the Peterson brothers hustled into their car. Christopher had a bandage on his hand, already soaked with blood. Kettering's car was concealed in a dry wash a hundred meters from the road. Not far from there, Kettering himself lay in a shallow grave. And in the dust, a trail of prints, with five toes on the front paws, wound into the desert wastes.