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What rough beast

 

Hungry and impatient vultures circled overhead, not realizing the two lone humans were not stranded and that their jeep could return them speedily to civilization.  The two paleozoologists ignored the loud cawing above and focused on their work.  Prof. Douglass wiped the sweat from his brow for the hundredth time that afternoon.  The desert sun was setting now and they were in for a cold Jordan night, but it didn’t feel that way yet.

 

“The dentition is simply amazing,” he declared, and his partner, Prof. Greene nodded and gently brushed away more sand from the half-unearthed fossil.  He blew forcefully, clearing away the dust and debris from the large skull.  They had half the head uncovered, along with one powerful shoulder and foreleg, nearly as big as a man’s torso.

 

“The body certainly seems leonine,” Greene posited, “but the cranium… my God, it’s something else.”

 

“Yes, yes,” Douglass breathed giddily, “quite a brain it must have had—hominid in shape but massive in size.”

 

“Well, I think we know what we shall be calling our discovery,” Greene said smugly.

 

“Indeed, indeed.”  Douglass rubbed the sweat from his hands onto his shirt.

 

“Panthera Sphinxus!”   Greene announced ceremoniously.

 

“What?” Douglass spluttered, “Panthera Manticorus!”

 

“Manticorus?  It’s a sphinx!”

 

“Manticore!  We’re thousands of miles from either Egypt or Greece.”

 

“Well, were equally far from Persia, don’t you think?”

 

“Well, how do we decide?”

 

Greene pondered.  “Well what’s the difference between a manticore and a sphinx?”

 

Douglass scratched his chin, three days of stubble ran rough on his hands.  He snapped his fingers.  “A beard!  Manticores are always pictures with a beard, and sphinxes never are!”

 

Greene looked down at the fossil.  “There’s no hair.”

 

Douglass grumbled.  “Well let’s look closer.”

 

The two scientists crouched low in their shallow pit, pushing their eyes close to the petrified bones.  The world grew dark around them as they worked, huffing and puffing as they tried to clear more dirt from the ancient face.

 

“My God, Greene, you’re going to pass out if you keep breathing that hard!”

 

“Me,” replied Greene, “I thought that was your breathing?”  The two men turned toward the sound and found the massive shape blocking out the setting sun.  Douglass had time for one final thought as the jaws closed around him.  “Yes, quite amazing dentition.”

 

Greene’s last thought, as something sharp and hot pierced his side, was some muddled recollection about poisonous tails.

 

The birds overhead circled lower, cawing in delight.  And as It shuffled toward the setting sun, for It headed West as certain as if guided by the hand of God,  It cast a shadow as long as history, swallowing everything in It's wake in darkness.

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And as It slouched toward Jerusalem, the rest of us slouched toward the weekend... ;)

February 2009

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