“Flank” by Albert Berg

TWA 70 AL-01

Just a couple of things to start with. First off, thank you for coming, we hope you’ll enjoy the tour, but we ask you to remember that the factory floor is an active workplace and health and safety protocols are more than just suggestions. Also, those with weak stomachs might wish to abstain, for obvious reasons.

Feel free to ask any questions you might have as we go along.

What’s that?

“Shift in perspective?” Ha! That might just be the understatement of the year.

It’s kind of a shame what happened really. When I was a kid they were still “cool.” People used to make movies about them, about what would happen if they came back. There were whole museums dedicated to the fossils people dug up over the years. Probably still are somewhere.

I don’t know if they could have ever lived up to the hype. I mean, in the end they were just big animals, dangerous enough if you got too close, but then again so are lions and elephants, and some horses I’ve known for that matter. You put a bullet in Rexy’s head she goes down, just like any other critter.

No, ma’am, not anymore, we have more efficient ways of doing it these days.

“Tyrannosaurus.” It means “tyrant.” Ya’ll know that?

I don’t know the science of how it all worked. I know that they’re not “really” dinosaurs, but until someone invents time travel, they’re as close as anything you or I are going to see.

No sir, it isn’t true that they were engineered from chickens, but it’s one of those things that sort of halfway used to be true and people have said it so many times you can’t convince them otherwise.

Watch your heads here.

I’d say the thing that really did them in was the teeth.

See, the thing about the chickens isn’t true, but it is true that the military was responsible for a lot the research that went into designing these creatures. After all, we were fighting wars those days in places that tanks couldn’t go, and robots break too easy, but I guess they figured they could design the ultimate soldier. Or at least, the ultimate soldier’s companion.

Only soldiers aren’t generally inclined to fight alongside something that could eat them. So some bright spark thought, “We’re designing these things from the ground up anyway, what if we made ’em eat plants?” And it turned out that they could. And some other bright spark said, “But these big sharp teeth aren’t great for chewing up grass are they?” So they gave them big flat chompers. Just like a cow.

It worked good too. It worked real good. The only problem was…well you know. They look kinda silly with those doofy flat teeth.

A thing like that, maybe it shouldn’t matter so much, but people are weird fickle creatures. And despite the fact that these creatures were pretty much the height of human accomplishment, well, you just couldn’t get around how GOOFY they looked.

No one wants to go to war looking goofy. Oh, sure, they tried. Sent a platoon of men up into the mountains with a couple of them silly looking tyrannosaurs. And from all accounts the animals performed admirably. Something most people don’t know is they can carry a tremendous amount of weight so they make great pack animals, and I’m told they even performed up to their training in combat.

That’s the kind of thing I wish I could have been there to see. There’s a lot of debate about exactly how smart these things are, but with a brain the size of a walnut there isn’t room for much up there right? But they say they trained them and everything, so I guess at least some of that is true.

I know it’s true because Mr. Dafoe was there. Ya’ll didn’t know that did you? That’s right, before J. G. Defoe started this business, he was a special forces soldier over there in the war.

What’s that sir? Well I expect it wasn’t the kind of thing he liked to talk about that much. Or maybe it wasn’t the kind of thing other people like to hear about.

Of course you know he built this company from practically nothing. If it hadn’t been for him the tyrannosaurs might have gone extinct again. After all the fighting died down over there, the military brass started to get a little sheepish about these goofy looking Frankenstein’s dinosaurs they’d brought to life. A lot of money goes into something like that, and the return on investment wasn’t what they were hoping for.

There were a few in zoos, but even there, there wasn’t much appeal. They were just so darned funny looking you know?

But Mr. Dafoe made it back from that war and got his hands on a small pack of them. Even today the stories of how he scraped up enough money differ. But what we do know for sure is that he started raising them down on the old family ranch not two years later. You saw the pictures on the wall of the lobby when you came in, yes?

What’s that? Well, I think that if anyone had any thoughts about it at all, they must have assumed he was sentimental. After all, he’d worked with the crazy looking critters in the war, and it would make sense maybe he’d like to have a few around, right? And maybe that’s closer to the truth than most people know.

But of course folks back then didn’t know what we know now.

Now watch your step here, they’re normally quite docile, but they’re still big animals and they could crush you to death without knowing it.

No ma’am, we’ve never had an accident yet, but that’s no reason to start getting sloppy.

Anyway as I was saying, Mr. Dafoe had his ranch up in Utah, and little by little he grew that band of tyrannosaurs from ten to a hundred, and from a hundred to a thousand. Of course one of the great thing about our genetically crafted tyrannosaurs is that they have a relatively short gestation period, so they reproduce like rabbits.

Oh, and here comes one now. My, she’s a big one isn’t she? Now some of you might want to look away for this part. We’ve got a small bag of corn at the back of that chamber and she’ll just nuzzle her head right up there and…pop. And then the boys go to work on her.

No, no, ma’am, it happens so fast I promise she doesn’t feel a thing.

I’m sorry what was that? Hard to hear over the sound of the band saw.

Oh, yes, I was just coming to that.

See it turns out when Mr. Dafoe was stuck up in those mountains fighting off a bunch of terrorists or freedom fighters or whatever they were, the tyrannosaur he was assigned to got killed.

Betsy was her name. Her and Mr. Dafoe had trained together for two years. He’d raised her up from a baby, trained her to take orders, trained her to fight. I guess after that amount of time with a critter you start to get attached. That’s why I think he didn’t like to talk about it. He loved that dino, goofy looking teeth and all, and then they got stuck up in those mountains halfway around the world, and they got flanked by a couple of evildoers with AK47s. Two years, I tell ya. Two years of training all gone to hell with one lucky round through that walnut sized brain.

Anyway, the rest of the squad fought off their attackers, and hunkered down in a cave for the night. Accounts vary exactly how, but here it was, this dead dino Betsy in the middle of the mountains and these soldiers a thousand miles from home with nothing but stale MRE’s take it into their heads to cook up this funky looking critter and see how it tastes.

And you have got to know that Dafoe wasn’t having it. This thing was somewhere between a pet and a foxhole buddy to him after all, right? But he gets overridden by popular demand, so the boys slice a good chunk out of old Betsy and cook it over the fire.

Now I don’t know any of what I’m about to tell you for a fact, but in my mind, Dafoe wasn’t having it. He’s over in the corner of the cave, sulking and feeling sorry for old Betsy, poor, sweet stupid-looking Betsy. And then the smell of that meat cooking floated up his nose for the first time.

You all know what that smells like, and you even get your mouth watering for it don’t you? Well, imagine with me what it must have been like to smell that sweet smell for the first time, out in the desert away from the comforts of home, when you’ve been going on military rations for three solid weeks. Imagine that incredible aroma of cooking dino steak wafting up your nose holes then. And slowly Mr. Dafoe’s anger and sadness broke down and turned into this incredible hunger. He had to know, had to taste it for himself. Even if it meant betraying the memory of good old Betsy

And that, as they say is the rest of the story.

There’s been no less than six books written about how he went about marketing dinosaur meat to the public, but none of them get to the heart of the matter. None of them tell the story I just told you. And maybe it don’t matter. Maybe dino meat would have been a hit no matter what. But when I see what this company has become, I can’t help thinking about Mr. Dafoe in a cave somewhere on the other side of the world mourning the death of old Betsy, and smelling her flesh cooking over the fire for the first time. And when I think about that, I can’t help but think no one else could have done what he did. Because no one else understood the power of that taste like he did.

Thank you for your attentiveness on our little tour ladies and gentlemen. Don’t forget to visit the Dino Dafoe Deli on your way out. I guarantee you here at the Dino Dafoe Meat Packing Plant the cuts are freshest you’ll ever find.





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albertAlbert Berg: Albert was born in the swamps of Florida and quickly developed a gripping writing style by wrestling with crocodiles. It is said that he hypnotized five gators in a row by the age of nine with his melodic prose and infinite imagination. Albert is a true menace in the arena because of a steadfast ability to remain true to his roots of thoughtful contemplation despite the hurricanes that pass all through his state. You never know what you will get from Albert, be it sentient paper products or religious squirrels, but you do know that behind the flash there will be a well thought out story that will make you reflect on your own life.  Albert is the author of The Mulch Pile and A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw.

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  1. I should have figured that throwing a prompt like “dinosaurs” at Al would result in anything but what I was expecting. I was thinking I’d get some crazy dinosaur-attacking-a-city story or maybe some hybrid DNA spliced prisoners or something. I dunno.

    I got a meat-packing plant.

    The arena never fails to surprise.

    So I liked the voice of the tour guide, and I’m glad we opened with him. But using him for the entire story was a mistake I think. I didn’t get to even “see” the dinosaurs. I just got to hear them being talked about. A tour of this factory is very much wanted by me, but at no point does Al use his skills to really show me what’s happening visually. It’s all second-hand, told to me through another, and that sort of bummed me out. With an idea this full of “what in the hell” and imagination, we don’t really get to experience much of it for ourselves.

    So I liked the concept, I liked the story, but I wanted it told in a way that landed better for me.

  2. I can see this story. If I close my eyes, I can picture the tour group and the guy leading them. What makes it work for me is the other stuff, the stuff I can nearly see.

    I think the line that sells the whole thing for me is “Hard to hear over the sound of the band saw.” This is the moment when it stops being a shaggy dog story and it becomes something out of a Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker movie. The cast are playing it deadpan, but there’s mayhem going on behind them and, best of call, they’re aware of it but believe it’s perfectly normal.

    I really enjoyed the T-rex backstory: from fearsome predator to something that looks like it would be voiced by Eddie Murphy. The reduction of something that iconic to the status of pac animal, and a delicious pack animal at that.

    Can you tell I had a lot of fun reading this? I had a lot of fun reading this.

    As an exercise in how tastes differ, I thought the way it was told stuck the landing perfectly well and the whole thing did the stuff I was hoping it would do. Mileages may vary, but this worked for me.

  3. I’m going to need a much bigger freezer for when I order a half T-Rex to split with the family. Grass fed and a great source of protein. I seriously got so hungry reading this. That probably shouldn’t happen in a story about a packing plant.

    This story was so clearly written, and the way you used just the guide’s answers to insinuate the questions let it flow much more naturally. Like David said, I felt like I was there. It was just great fun.

  4. Pingback: TWA 70 – Dinosaurs – JUDGEMENT! – The Writer's Arena

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