Watch Out for the Megafauna by Brenda Anderson [fantasy]

Imprint - Fantasy Imprint Logo 200wWatch Out for the Megafauna by Brenda Anderson [fantasy]

The long train slid across the West Australian desert. In the seat beside Bert, a sleeping man shifted position. A sheet of paper slipped from the man’s lap to the floor. Bert reached for it, but his neighbor’s hand closed on the paper, produced a pen and wrote:

Wirth’s Circus, coming soon to a window near you.’

Bert looked at his neighbor. The sleeping man’s eyes remained closed. His chest rose and fell slowly. Some sort of trick, maybe? Bert looked out of the otherwise empty carriage. Telephone poles ran parallel to the train line. The clear blue sky was as empty as the desert. Bert looked back. The words ‘Someone always dies’ now trailed across the paper.

The sleeping man slumped sideways. Bert leapt up. A passing attendant sprinted past him, leaping over seats to get to the window. Outside, a colossal kangaroo thumped into sight, jumped, sailed right over the telephone wires and landed, thunk, on the other side.

Other attendants rushed to the window. Bert elbowed his way between them.

“Wow, Macropus titan,” said one attendant, with awe. “I can never get over these giant kangaroos. Think the Mihirung will put in an appearance?”

“Giant flightless birds aren’t famous for their acrobatic skills,” said one. “But, you never know.”

Bert cleared his throat. “Er, my neighbor back there seems to have fainted.”

The attendants nodded, eyes glued to the window. “Yeah. It happens.”

Bert peered out the window. “Is this a projection or something? Some type of entertainment?”

“Are you kidding?” said one.

“If these guys turn up,” said another, “it’s always round about here, half way across the Nullarbor. Look!”

A massive marsupial with enormously strong forelimbs padded forward like an outsize lion. An even more massive giant emu followed. A smaller giant bird with longer legs leapt forward, bounced up onto the lion’s back and sailed up into the air, landing with ease on the telephone lines. It ducked its head and took short, mincing steps forward.

All the attendants cheered.

Dromornis stirtoni,” said one. “Giant demon duck of death. Look at that! I’ve seen it. I believe it.”

“Wow,” said the other. “Megafauna and demon ducks. It just doesn’t get any better.

The funambulist emu ducked its head as if acknowledging their applause.

Inside the train carriage, a sudden high pitched scream made everyone turn round. A passenger hyperventilated and pointed at Bert’s slumped neighbor. Attendants left the window and rushed up. A uniformed employee touched the man’s neck and looked solemn.

The official turned to Bert. “This is your seat, sir?”

Bert nodded.

“Your neighbor’s dead,” said the official.

Bert said nothing.

“What were you doing? Enjoying the scenery?” said the official.

Bert looked out the window. The megafauna had vanished. Now only featureless desert slid past the windows.

“Sorry,” Bert said.

The official bent down and picked up the sheet of paper from the floor.

“I never get used to it, myself,” said the official, studying the paper. “There’s always a note, you see. Odd, really. Automatic writing used to be popular, centuries back. An old parlor room trick. The subject could be comatose but his fingers still wrote some message or other. I guess that’s what stands out with this Circus. They’ve dug out all the oldies.”

“Oldies? Circus? You mean you know about those animals?” said Bert.

The official nodded. “We don’t like to advertise, though. Too random. Every now and then a passenger sees something and probably puts it down to stress, or alcohol. Very popular, those items.”

“But,” Bert said, even more confused. “I saw them. They were huge. Mega big kangaroos and emus and something else built like a tank …”

“That would be the Thylacoleo carnifex,” said the official. “Commonly called marsupial lions. Absolutely massive muscle power. The Circus sure loves the shock factor.”

“Circus? You said that before. How, by any stretch of definition or imagination, could this be called a circus?” said Bert, wide-eyed.

The official looked down at the sheet of paper. “Yeah, well, we’ve done some research, believe me. Best we can figure, in the 1900’s something called Wirth’s Circus toured rural Australia. Animals, tightrope walkers, a magician, someone doing automatic writing, the usual stuff. Nothing special.” He paused. “There’s no record of what happened next, or why that circus turns up here, much later, half way across the Nullarbor, mixing time and megafauna circus acts. All we know is that it happens at roughly this point on the Nullarbor Plain. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a type of afterimage, but all mixed up. Massive, extinct animals doing aerial tricks. One thing in the program never changes, though. The guy who does the automatic writing always dies.”

Bert stared at him.

“Always?”

The official nodded. “Always.”

“I’ve never actually seen anyone die before,” said Bert.

“Yeah, well.” The official turned to his colleagues. “Guess no-one got a photo?”

The attendants shook their heads.

The official pulled a face. “One day we’ll get lucky.”

Bert took himself to the dining carriage and stayed with a bottle of scotch for the rest of the day. When he returned to his seat, all trace of his dead neighbor had vanished.

Years passed. Whenever business took him to Perth, Bert opted to fly rather than take the train. One day on a plane cruising at 550 mph, focused on nothing but his laptop screen, he passed over the same section of the Nullarbor Plain.

It was quiet. Too quiet. He looked up. All the seats were empty. Everyone crowded round the windows. Bert opened the blind on his window just as a massive kangaroo leaped over the plane’s wing.

On his laptop his slackening fingers tapped words. Bert felt his heart slow down and as the laptop slid from his lap, he made out the words:

We’ve got trampolines.’

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