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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2308726
A curator in a museum discovers an exhibit is a fake and starts to wonder if they all are
Eugene Albright had been working as an assistant curator at the Melbourne Dinosaur and Reptile Museum, in Lonsdale Street for the past ten years, when in November 2023 he had a serendipity, a fortunate accident.
While trying to clean a leg bone of a Megalosaurus he accidentally broke off a piece.

"Holy shit," he said, picking the piece up off the aquamarine-coloured porous tiled floor. He looked around to see if anyone had noticed. Seeing no one, he turned and headed for the maintenance room to get some bone glue to restick it before anyone found out.

As he was looking for the glue, he dropped the piece, and leaning to pick it up, noticed that it had left a white streak across the tiles. He rubbed at the mark with a finger, then lifted the finger to sniff at it and said: "Plaster of Paris?"

Bending he tried writing with the 'bone piece' on the ground and found that it wrote as well as hardened plaster, or chalk for that matter.

He took a tentative lick of the shard and realised: "It is plaster! The Megalosaurus skeleton is a fake."

After a moment's hesitation, he took the elevator upstairs to the Museum Director's office. Somewhere that he had been warned many times, under the pain of being dismissed to never go. Nonetheless, this forgery seemed important enough to risk being discharged to bring to the Director's attention.

He knocked on the door, then after a muffled, "Enter," tentatively opened the door and hesitantly crept into the office. Seemingly thousands of books in mahogany bookcases lined the room. A huge mahogany desk took up a third of the room. On a luxury executive chair sat Mortimer C. Boggs, the Director of the Museum. A short, fat, balding man, with long grey sideburns.

"Ah ... " said the director, as he realised that he didn't know who the hell this young man was.

"Albright, Eugene Albright," he identified himself.

"Well, Albright, Eugene Albright, what can I do for you, young man?"

"This," said Eugene placing the small shard on the desk before the director. Who stared at it for a moment, then tentatively picked it up.

"What is it, a new and important find?" asked the director. Although it was no larger than a man's thumb, he knew that important discoveries were sometimes less than a tenth the size of the small object.

"No, sir, it's a fake," said Eugene.

"Then why are you bringing it to me? We don't house fakes in the Melbourne Dinosaur and Reptile Museum."

"I'm afraid we do, sir. That broke off our new Megalosaurus skeleton."

"It what?" asked the director, sounding shocked.

"It broke off our new Megalosaurus skeleton, I'm afraid that the Megalosaurus skeleton is a plaster of Paris fake."

"That is outrageous," said the Director. He picked up the green phone on his desk and dialled, then said: "Smithers? Get to my office immediately. Immediately I said!"

"Ten minutes later, Humphrey Smithers the Head Curator at the museum, a tall, lean forty-five-ish man with dark blonde hair, was standing before the director's desk."

Picking up the fragment the director handed it to Smithers and asked: "How do you explain this?"

Taking the shard, Smithers examined it for a few moments, then said: "It looks like a piece of the Megalosaurus skeleton." Turning to Eugene, he demanded: "Did you break this off?"

"Never mind about that," said the director. "Mr. Albright has brought to my attention that this, and therefore the whole Megalosaurus skeleton is a fake! How do you explain that?"

Thinking fast, the head curator said: "Not a fake, sir, a replica. Despite what most people believe there has only ever been a couple of hundred dinosaur and flying or swimming reptile skeletons found in complete enough condition to exhibit. So when a good skeleton is found it is replicated, and the replicas are sent around to other museums around the world."

"Are there many more of these replicas in the Melbourne Dinosaur and Reptile Museum?"

"No sir," assured Humphrey Smithers, adding: "Well, three or four maybe. But out of our dozens of historic dinosaur, plesiosaur, and pterosaur skeletons, that is only a small percent."

"Three or four?" asked the director.

"Maybe as many as five," amended Smithers.

"But most of them are real?"

"Absolutely, director," lied Humphrey Smithers.

"Thank goodness," said the director: "It would have closed us down, destroyed our reputation if they'd all been fakes."

"Not fakes, replicas," corrected Smithers.

"Whatever," said the director. Then to Eugene Albright: "Good work for bringing this to my attention, Albright."

"Thank you, sir," said Eugene.

"Back to work, Albright," said Smithers, less impressed than the director had been. Picking up the shard, he said to the director: "I'll just get this reattached."

Outside the office, Eugene wasn't sure what to make of the discussion that they had just had. The director seemed an honest straight-shooting man. But he was less sure about his immediate supervisor, Humphrey Smithers.

Coming out of the director's office, Smithers said: "Back to work, Albright, no daydream on the museum's time. And no more troublemaking."

"No more...?" asked Eugene as the head curator walked past him, tossing the fake bone fragment up and catching it again repeatedly, like a bad copy of George Raft in an early gangster movie.

Returning to the dinosaur rooms, Eugene began cleaning other 'skeletons' no longer sure if that was what they really were.

The only way to be certain, he thought: Is to break a fragment off another exhibit. He picked up a small scutch hammer used to break away tiny clay or mud deposits, then chickened out at the last second.

"Ah, the Acanthopholis specimen," said Humphrey Smithers: "One of our best specimens. Be sure not to damage this one, then go around making unfounded claims."

"It was hardly unfounded, sir," said Eugene, "you yourself admitted that it was a replica."

"Of a real skeleton in another museum," said Smithers pointedly. "Now get on with your work."

"Yes, sir," said Eugene doing as instructed. Trying without much success to get the nagging doubts out of his mind.

About a week later there was another accident at the museum. This time without Eugene being involved. While constructing a new Plesiosaur skeleton in the marine reptiles section, the workmen dropped the skull which shattered into a hundred pieces.

"Uh-oh, we're in the shit now," said one of the workmen, whose nametag indicated him as Leroy Fulstack.

"What's happened?" asked Eugene running in from the dinosaur section. Seeing the shattered plesiosaur skull he said: "Oh boy, are you blokes ever in the shit now!"

"I just said that," pointed out Leroy. Going over to pick up one of the pieces, he looked at it clearly puzzled, and said: "Hey, this looks like chalk, not bone."

Picking up a piece, Eugene said: "More like plaster of Paris. Must be another replica."

"Replica?" asked Leroy.

Eugene explained that there were only a couple of hundred prehistoric reptile skeletons in the world. The rest being plaster of Paris replicas."

"So most of them are fakes?" asked Leroy.

"Yes," said Eugene: "But don't let Mr. Smithers hear you say that. According to him, there's a world of difference between a fake and a replica."

"Well, I can't see it," said Leroy: "If it ain't real, then it's a fake."

Looking around to see that Mr. Smithers wasn't there yet, Eugene said: "Frankly, neither can I."

Seconds later, however, Humphrey Smithers raced into the room demanding: "What the Hell happened?"

"Sorry, Mr. Smithers, Larry and I dropped the plesiosaur skull and it shattered to bits."

"You careless cruiseaways," said Smithers.

"Don't worry, sir," said Eugene: "It was just another of your replicas."

"Very funny," said Smithers, not remotely amused.

A few days later Eugene's nagging doubts had not ceased, so he crept into the marine reptiles section as the museum was getting ready to close. Taking a small bone from the skeleton of a Purussaurus, an eleven-metre-long ancestor to the modern crocodiles, he broke the bone in half and gasped in shock. It was clearly another plaster replica.

How many more of them are there in the museum, he wondered: "Are there any real prehistoric skeletons in the museum? In Australia? In the world?"

He recalled the Fundamentalist Christian teachings of his paternal grandfather Proctor Albright, who swore that the world was really only ten thousand years old, a Catholic teaching that did not come from the bible, but had been made up by some megalomaniac Pope.. According to Grandpa Proctor dinosaur, pterosaur, and plesiosaur bones are fakes put in the ground by God to fool gullible scientists into thinking that the world is billions of years old instead of ten thousand years.

But Eugene had rejected this idea since it would mean that God was either insane or mentally retard to do such an infantile thing. And Eugene had decided that it was safer to believe that the world was five billion years old than to believe that the world had been created ten thousand years ago by an infantile, insane, mentally retarded deity.

Besides it's belittling God, thought Eugene: God is the original and greatest ever scientist, he made all things. Why would he want to dupe and belittle other scientists, they are his brethren. What do they think, that God sprinkled round some magic God dust, like Peter Pan shaking Tinkerbelle to spread round magic pixie dust, to create the world? What a put-down to God that crazy idea is!

Over the next few weeks, Eugene continued to stay late each night to investigate the museum's exhibits. In time he had established that not one of them was made up of real bones. Over a hundred exhibits in the multi-storey museum were all plaster of Paris.

"Are 'real' dinosaur bones so rare, that we couldn't get a single genuine exhibit?" said Eugene thinking aloud.

"What are you mumbling about?" demanded Smithers.

"Just excited about our new exhibit, coming in tomorrow, sir."

"Oh, yes, the Anurognathus. A very interesting type of Pterosaurian skeleton." said Smithers: "We were very lucky to get it. Bidding was fierce. It will be one of the showcases of the museum."

I wonder if the bidding would have been so fierce if they had known that it's probably plaster of Paris? thought Eugene Albright.

The next day Eugene was at the museum bright and early, barely a quarter to seven.

"You're keen as mustard today," said Humphrey Smithers.

"Yes, sir," lied Eugene: "Can't wait to see the Anurognathus skeleton. As you said sir, it will be one of the showcases of the museum."

"Yes, indeed," said Smithers, giving Eugene a peculiar look, thinking: Hopefully that means we've fooled him and that he's not going to rock the boat anymore.

Ninety-four minutes later the crated-up Anurognathus skeleton was brought into the flying reptile section.

"This time take care!" ordered Smithers: "We don't want you destroying another precious artefact!"

Leroy Fulstack and Eugene Albright exchange a look. Both thinking: Precious artefact? It was made of plaster of Paris!

This time all went well, the remains were unpacked and assembled perfectly. Forcing Eugene to risk breaking off a small segment of the tail, while Smithers was looking away. Looking up Eugene saw Leroy watching him. He placed a finger over his mouth and Leroy gave him a tiny nod of the head.

After Smithers and Larry, the other workmen, had left, Leroy came over and asked Eugene:

"What's the verdict?"

"Fake just like all the other skeletons."

"All of them?" asked Leroy, not sure if he was hearing correctly.

"That's right. Every so-called skeleton in this museum is made of plaster of Paris."

"What does that mean?" asked Leroy.

"It means that it's time for me to go see my would-be girlfriend at the Melbourne Recorder."

"What do you mean, would-be?"

"Well, she would be, if she would be. But since she won't be, I have to settle for us just being good friends," explained Eugene.

"You poor sap," said Leroy.

"That's what she calls me," said Eugene, walking out into the dinosaur section."

Eugene sneaked out fifteen minutes early for lunch and was soon on the third storey of the Melbourne Recorder building in Collins Street Melbourne.

Looking up from her PC, Virginia 'Ginny' Morrison, a beautiful redhead said to Eugene: "How the Hell did you get in? I left strict instructions to the security guards out front not to let you in!"

"Yeah, but they like me, so they let me in. Actually, I think it's as much to piss you off as anything else."

"Those bastards," said Ginny.

"So my beautiful would-be girlfriend..."

"I am never going to be your girlfriend!"

"You say that now ... and in fact the last six or seven hundred times. But if I keep stalking you, I'm hoping that one day you'll crack and agree to go out with me."

"All right, albatross around my neck, is this just a social slash stalking call? Or have you, heaven forbid, actually got a news story for me?"

"Have I got a news story for you," he said spreading his arms wide.

"I asked you first," said Ginny.

"I have the biggest story of the century for you."

"Even bigger than Anthony Albanese trying to disenfranchise ninety-six point six percent of Australians by introducing Aboriginal Apartheid so that the three-point four percent of Aussies with indigenous blood would rule this country. Making the rest of us virtually slaves?"

"Far bigger," insisted Eugene: "It makes Watergate look like the trivia that it was." He went on to tell Ginny everything that he and Leroy had discovered at the Melbourne Dinosaur and Reptile Museum.

"Every single skeleton is a fake?"

"Aha. The curator, Humphrey Smithers, insists that they're replicas, not fakes. But with every one of one hundred plus skeletons being plaster of Paris, that counts as fakes in my book," insisted Eugene.

"Well, my would like to be, but never will be boyfriend, sounds like we do have a great story here. Do you and this Leroy bloke want to be mentioned in the article?"

"No way," said Eugene panicked: "We'd like to keep our jobs if possible. With Albanese shutting down the public services, tens of thousands of new people are going to be on the dole. We don't need to compete with them."

"Whatever you say, never-to-be boyfriend."

"I'll break you down one day, gorgeous."

"How does that Buddy Holly song go?" she asked: "Wishin' and Hopin' and Dreamin'."

"Actually it's Cryin' and Wishin' and Hopin'."

"In your case even more appropriate."

The next day Eugene was carefully cleaning the fake Anurognathus skeleton when the shit hit the fan big-time.

"Who the hell is responsible for this?" demanded Humphrey Smithers waving around a newspaper angrily.

"For what, sir?" asked Eugene innocently.

"This," said Smithers thrusting the newspaper at him.

"Melbourne Dinosaur and Reptile Museum Exhibits All Fakes," he read aloud. "According to our source in the museum in Lonsdale Street, all one hundred 'skeletal' exhibits in the museum are actually plaster of Paris fakes."

"Don't read it aloud," said Smithers snatching the paper off him: "We open soon, the public might hear."

"The Melbourne Recorder sells four hundred thousand plus copies a day, sir. I'm fairly certain a lot of people have already read it. Maybe we should take this matter to the Director of the Museum?"

"What? Are you crazy?" demanded Smithers: "The longer we can go without him finding out ... I mean about the article ... the better."

"Surely such a big story will be on all the TV and radio stations by the end of the day," said Eugene. "Not to mention in other papers, and even podcasts."

"Oh, God, we're ruined," said Smithers.

"Not, if the story's not true, sir," teased Eugene.

"No, not, if the story's not true," said Smithers, sounding as though he was about to start crying.

At that moment the phone on the wall nearby started to ring. Making Smithers look like he was about to faint.

"Shouldn't you answer that, sir?"

"No, it's probably Mortimer C. Boggs."

"The director, sir? Then won't he be angry if you don't answer it?"

"He'll be livid if I do."

"Perhaps I should answer it, sir."

"No, no," said Smithers, as the phone stopped ringing.

Thirty seconds later the elevator doors ching-chinged and out stepped a very red-faced-looking Mortimer C. Boggs.

"What is the meaning of this?" demanded the museum director holding up the Melbourne Reporter.

"Of what, sir," muttered Smithers.

"This claims that our exhibits are all fakes?"

"I'm sure it's not true sir," said Smithers.

"For your sake, I hope you're right."

"Pardon me, sir," said Eugene, introducing himself to the director: "But assuming it's not true, all we have to do is get a paleoanthropologist in to check over our exhibits and give them the all clear."

"What! No!" cried Smithers.

"Excellent idea, Fulbright," said Mortimer C. Boggs.

"That's Albright, sir."

"That's what I said," insisted the director.

"I'm dead," said Smithers, reluctantly following the director, and Eugene up to the third storey to watch as the director rang around to get three different experts to examine their exhibits.

A few days later the verdict came in: "They're all fakes," said one expert.

"Plaster of Paris," insisted the second.

"Not worth a brass five-cent piece," said the third.

"I'm ruined," said Smithers.

"You're also fired," said Mortimer C. Boggs. "Fulbright, you are now the head curator of the museum."

"Thank you, sir," said Eugene, not correcting him this time.

As they disposed of the fakes, it was part of Eugene's job to locate genuine replacements. Not an easy matter as it turned out.

He went to a dozen different museums around Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane and after careful checking determined that all of their exhibits were fake too.

Looking up from her PC, Ginny Morrison was dismayed to see Eugene standing there with a three-kilogramme box of Turkish Delight in his hands.

"Rose, your favourite flavour, my soon-to-be girlfriend."

"What's the occasion my over my dead body boyfriend?"

"To thank you for getting me a promotion. And that idiot Smithers the sack. Also to give you a story that will top the last one."

"You said the last one was untoppable. That it was the story of the century."

"This is the biggest story since, 'The Romans Murder The Son Of God'."

"So tell," said Ginny. She took copious notes on her PC as he related his latest discovery. "So what's going on? Are all the dinosaur bones in Australia fakes?"

"Technically flying or swimming reptiles aren't dinosaurs," said Eugene: "And the real question is, 'Are all of the prehistoric skeletons in the world fakes'?"

"Holy shit?" said Ginny. "If this pans out I might even go out on a single date with you."

"I knew I'd break down your reserve in time."

"Of course, it would be a no kissing, or even holding hands type date," insisted Ginny.

"I'll settle for that for now," said Eugene: "But I'll break you down in time, gorgeous."

"I've had sexier men than you try to break me down."

"You sure know how to hurt a bloke, don't you."

"Yep!" she said, smiling at him.

Deciding to widen his field Eugene started to investigate bone museums in other states.

He was looking at a 'bone' fragment in the South Australian Museum of Ancient Artefacts, when he was suddenly grabbed from behind.

"Trying to steal from us," said the security guard who had grabbed him.

"What's going on here, Leonard?' asked a tall fat man in an expensive three-piece suit.

"Caught this bloke trying to steal one of our artefacts, Mr. Carstairs."

"Oh, you did, did you?" said Carstairs, grabbing the small bone fragment from Eugene.

"I was checking it to see if it's real."

"See if it's...?" began Carstairs: "Wait a minute, you're not that troublemaker slandering all the dinosaur museums in the Eastern States are you?"

"It's not slander if it's true. None of them have the real deal. They all have plaster fakes."

"They're called replicas," shouted Carstairs.

"Not when you have a hundred of them and no real skeletons," insisted Eugene: "Then they're called fakes."

"Hold him while I call the cops, Leonard."

"You got it Mr. Carstairs," said Leonard, twisting Eugene's arms a little tighter than he needed to be: "You bloody troublemaker, you'd put us all out of work, without a qualm, wouldn't you?"

"If your work is defrauding the public, yes gladly."

To his dismay, he was arrested and held for trial in a week's time. During that time Leroy Fulstack and Ginny Morrison arrived to support him. Leroy took a leave of absence, which might end up in unemployment; Ginny was following the trial for the Melbourne Reporter.

During the trial, he pleaded not guilty but then made the mistake of admitting that he was checking to see if it was real or a plaster replica.

"Why should it be a plaster replica?" asked the King's Counsel.

"Because all the prehistoric artefacts in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland are fakes," said Eugene, going on to explain in length how he knew this.

"All of them?" asked Chief Justice Ellen Carmichael.

"Yes, your honour," said Eugene: "I believe all the dinosaur and prehistoric reptile bones in Australia are fakes. And possibly throughout the entire world."

"You're not one of those nutty Fundamentalist Christians who believe the universe is only ten thousand years old, are you?" she asked.

"No, your honour."

"Even so, I believe it would be best to send you for psychiatric assessment before we proceed with this trial."

"I'm not insane!" insisted Eugene.

"That remains to be seen," said the Chief Justice.

During his psychiatric assessment, Eugene was asked hundreds of complicated questions, mostly seemingly irrelevant.

Then in court again, the three psychiatric assessors all proclaimed that he was incurably insane and should spend the rest of his life at the newly reopened Queens Grove Sanatorium on the border of Glen Hartwell and Westmoreland in the Victorian countryside.

Leroy was refused permission to talk to Eugene after the verdict, however, with her press card Ginny Morrison was allowed to talk to him in private for five minutes only.

"Don't worry, I'll keep on fighting until I get you released," she promised, kissing him on the mouth, before leaving.

"Wow, it's almost worth getting framed now," said Eugene making Ginny laugh. Not telling her that it was his first kiss by a woman, other than his mother and two sisters.

"All right lover boy, time to get moving," said a female guard built like she hulk, pulling him to his feet: "You've got a long train ride to Westmoreland in Victoria."

"Thanks for sending me back to my home state."

"Don't thank me," she said: "If it'd been me, you would've been sent to Guantanamo Bay to be water-boarded until you confessed to working for the Ruskies."

"Why would I be working for the Russians?" he demanded: "All of their dinosaur remains are probably fake also."

"Shut up," she said: "Or I'll water-board you myself."

It took twelve hours to get from South Australia to Victoria by train. Then another nine hours to reach Westmoreland in the Victorian Countryside. In 1978, after some now-forgotten tragedy, Westmoreland had been abandoned. But due to the super-inflation in land and housing prices in Australia over the last thirty years since the early 1990s, the land had become too valuable to leave untenanted, so a couple of shyster land developers had bought up thousands of hectares of land in and around Westmoreland and Wilhelmina and had built cheap houses on small lots, to resell for a million dollars each.

People had flooded back into the area, and Queens's Grove Sanatorium in Westmoreland had reopened. It was a great rambling three-storey white weatherboard manor house, with iron bars on most windows. It was surrounded by large gardens and high steel, spike-topped fences. With none of the trees or large shrubs within thirty metres of the fences.

Being led down the long white hallways, Eugene saw a number of people in striped prison uniforms walking down the corridors, to his surprise without supervision. From time to time he saw people in their bedrooms reading or listening to music through headphones.

There was also a computer room, with no internet connection, and a TV-games room, all painted in boring white.

"This is your room," said a guard leading him to room 311: "I hope you like it," he said with a snicker.

Inside he found an adjustable bed, a tiny bedside cabinet, a built-in wardrobe, an empty bookcase, and a small en suite with shower and toilet. The bathroom mirror was mirrored plastic, presumable so that he couldn't break the glass to harm himself, or worse attack the guards.

Pointing at the bookcase, the guard said: "We can bring books or CDs from your home to fill it up if you like."

"No thanks," said Eugene: "I don't plan on being here long."

The guard roared with laughter: "That's what they all say. We've got a bloke who didn't plan to be here long, who's been here for over fifty years now."

After he stopped laughing, the guard said: "Lunch will be served in the dining room soon, so once you've unpacked, you might as well follow me."

With only his outside clothes to change out of, to put on the striped uniform, unpacking took almost no time. The guard took his outside clothes saying: "You can have these back when you leave." Then roared with laughter again.

In the hallway, they went across to an iron-doored cupboard, which the guard unlocked with a key card to place Eugene's clothing inside.

"Aren't you going to mark them with my name?"

"No need, you won't be seeing them again."

Then he led him down to a large dining room with two-person round wooden tables.

"You can sit opposite Herman," said the guard: "Herman Munster we call him," he said humming the theme to the Munsters' TV show.

"That's not very nice," said Eugene.

"Who the Hell asked you?" demanded the guard.

After the guard had left, Herman asked: "You new here?"

"Yes, but I don't intend to be here long."

"Neither did I, when I came here forty-two years ago. But nobody ever leaves here alive." Then Holding out his hand: "Professor Herman Collier."

"The nuclear physicist? Winner of the Nobel prize for your work on nuclear reactor theory?"

"That's me?" agreed Herman.

"Eugene Albright," said Eugene shaking his hand.

"So, you're the troublemaker who revealed that all of the dinosaur, pterosaur, and marine reptile skeletons in the world are fakes," said Herman with a laugh.

"That's me."

"Good on you, mate."

"What are you in for?"

"I discovered that nuclear fission doesn't work," said Herman to the shock of Eugene. "All the 'nuclear power stations' in the world are actually coal operated."

"What, but what about Chernobyl and other nuclear meltdowns?"

"Sacrifices. From time to time they fake a meltdown and murder thousands of people so that no one would ever consider the possibility that nuclear fission doesn't really work."

"But that's diabolical."

"Yep, sure is."

"What you two talking about?" asked the waitress coming to take their order.

"The price of fish in China," said Herman.

"Ha-ha, it is to laugh," said the waitress. A two-metre tall, well-muscled brunette who looked as though she could break either of them in half with her bare hands.

"So what're you want, fish and chips, or chicken sausages?"

"They do great fish and chips here," said Herman.

"All right fish and chips," said Eugene.

"Make that two orders. With extra chips for each of us, thanks, Gertrude."

After she left, Herman said, "I once made the mistake of calling her Gerty, and she almost snapped my spine. So now I'm more respectful."

When Gertrude returned she gave them each a generous plate of fish, chips, and potato cakes, as well as a second plate each piled high with chips.

"Enjoy," said Gertrude, looking as though she really hoped that they would choke on it.

"For a prison the food here is wonderful," said Herman. "The chicken sausages are great too."

"This isn't a prison," insisted Gertrude: "It's a care home for the mentally disabled."

"Then how come you act like you don't care whether we live or die?" asked Herman.

For a second Gertrude tensed up and looked as though she was going to strike him. Then she calmed down and said: "Of course, we care whether you live or die Herman Munster. It makes a lot of work for us if you die."

"Ha-ha, it is to laugh," quoted Herman, drawing a glare, then a mordant smile from Gertrude.

"Enjoy your fish and chips," said Gertrude, virtually spitting the words out before walking across to the next table to ask: "What're you want fish and chips or chicken sausages."

"Chicken sausages," said a frail old man who looked over a hundred, seeming terrified of Gertrude.

"He looks terrified of her," said Eugene.

"Aren't you?" asked Herman: "I know that Johnny O'Keefe said that he liked a real tough chick. But even J.O.K. would've been terrified of Gertrude."

After they had finished eating, including dessert of cherry cream pie and cups of coffee, Herman said as they stood up: "Let me introduce you to Malcolm."

So saying, he took Eugene across to the ancient man sitting across from them.

"Here, let me help you up, Mal," said Herman grabbing the old man by one arm. Eugene grabbed the other, and between them, they helped him to his feet.

"Many thanks," said Malcolm.

"This is Malcolm Hewitt," said Herman.

"I feel that I should know that name," said Eugene. He thought for a moment, then said: "The evolutionary biologist?"

"I was, said Mal, staggering out into the corridor, with their assistance: "Almost got a Nobel Prize for it. Then I discovered that evolution never happened, that it's all bunkum. I tried to publish a paper on it, and end up in this place."

"That was fifty-five years ago," said Herman. "Mal is our oldest living prisoner."

"Resident, they like you to say," corrected Mal.

"So you two are saying that evolution never happened and that it's impossible to split the atom?"

"Yes," said Mal and Herman together.

"You'd be surprised what is impossible that most people take for granted," said Mal as he sat in an armchair in his room.

"Or that never happened, despite being in the history books," added Herman.

"Such as?" asked Eugene.

"Such as the two World Wars," said Herman.

"What!" said Eugene, almost shouting.

"Shoosh, don't attract their attention," warned Mal.

"They don't like us discussing our discoveries with each other," explained Herman.

"But why?"

"To maintain the illusion that the world is over five billion years old," said Mal.

"Then you believe that the fundamentalists bullshit about the world only being ten thousand years old?"

"Oh, no, no," said Herman: "It's nowhere near that old."

"What?" demanded Eugene, wondering if the two old men really were insane: "Then how old is it?"

"Best that we can figure ... about seventy years," said Herman.

"What! But that's impossible! For one thing Malcolm here is obviously way over seventy years old?"

"I'm a hundred and six years old."

"Pardon my scepticism, but a hundred and six does not go into seventy very well."

"No, I was born, for want of a better word, at age thirty-six. My parents were sixty-eight and seventy-two when they came into existence. My younger sisters were thirty-two and twenty-eight respectively when they came into existence."

"Came into existence."

"You don't think Man has reached his current level of development in just seventy years," asked Malcolm: "No when the world started we were at the level of development of the early fifties. People like Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, Wanda Jackson, and so on came into existence as adults..."

"But what about human history?"

"All faked," said Malcolm.

"What about the Ancient Egyptian Empire five thousand years ago?"

"Never happened. The pyramids and the Sphinx are all fakes," assured Herman.

"What about the ancient Sumerians inventing written language six thousand five hundred years ago?"

"Never happened."

"Cro-Magnon Man and Neanderthal Man fifty thousand years ago?"

"Never happened," repeated Malcolm.

"The age of the dinosaurs ending sixty-five million years ago?

"There were no dinosaurs. You proved that yourself."

"The two World Wars?"

"Never happened. The second couldn't have happened since it's impossible to split the atom, so the atrocities against Hiroshima and Nagasaki cannot have happened," pointed out Herman.

"The American Civil War?"

"Didn't happen, just as slavery never happened in America," said Malcolm.

"The treasonous American uprising of 1776?"

"Never happened, just like the Indian Wars of 1865 and 1885 never happened. The War of The Roses never happened. The Crimean War never happened. Indian breaking away from the U.K. never happened," said Malcolm: "Because the U.K. never controlled India."

"Cleopatra? Caesar? Marc Anthony?"

"None of them ever existed," said Herman: "Just like Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, Alexander the Great, Catherine the Horse Fucker. None of the great figures in history ever existed: Churchill, Hitler, Kaiser Wilhelm, Mussolini, Napoleon, Henry the VIII, Vlad Drakula, Benedict Arnold, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, George Washington, Sir Francis Drake, Black Bart the Pirate, Captain Cook, Captain Bligh, Fletcher Christian, Florence Nightingale, Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx, the silent screen actors and actresses, the Wright brother... You name them, most people known before 1953 never existed."

"Most of history never happened. Virtually all of the history of the human race, the history of the world is faked," said Herman: "The classical painters: Goya, van Gough, Albert Namatjira... never existed. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and most of the great classical composers never existed. The era of prohibition, the speak easies, the jazz era, Benny Goodman, Louise Armstrong, Glenn Miller, none of them existed. Likewise with blues and skiffle music. Never happened till the early fifties, just before rock and rock started with Bill Haley in 1952."

"What?" demanded Eugene: "But how is that possible?"

"I..." hesitated Malcolm Hewitt, finally whispering: "I believe that the world is a gigantic experiment being conducted by an alien race. A race that we have come to think of as God!"

"What?" demanded Eugene Albright.

"I believe that at some stage the world leaders came to realise this and took part in a gigantic worldwide conspiracy to maintain the illusion that human history is real."

"But why?"

"Possibly they thought that the common man couldn't live with the knowledge that our entire existence is a massive lie. That we are someone else's biology experiment? Or..."

"Or what?" demanded Eugene when Malcolm hesitated.

"Possibly they feared that 'God' would end the experiment if he, she, it ever suspected that we know what really happened?"

"End the experiment?" asked a shocked Eugene Albright: "You mean...?"

Before Malcolm or Herman could answer the room started crushing down upon them until the roof caved in and a gigantic purple hand suddenly crashed through the roof to grab the three men. Lifting them screaming into the air above the Shady Grove Sanatorium.

The two dark purple children Zontak and Mordok were, despite their colouring, of reptilian descent.

Zontak, the boy, was crushing Eugene, Malcolm, and Herman in his left hand.

"Why did you do that?" demanded Mordok, the girl.

"They knew everything," said Zontak. He reached down into what looked like a little black box. then lifted out a small blue and green globe and began to crush it to a pulp in his hand.

"Mum!" shouted Mordok: "Zontak just crushed the Earth!"

Heavy footsteps outside the purple-smoke filled room, signalled the arrival of a huge reptilian creature who flicked out her lizard tongue as she looked at Zontak.

"Why did you do that, you silly boy?" she demanded.

"I had to," protested Zontak: "They had started to suspect what they really were."

"But mum!" protested Mordok: "That was our science project. We've been working on it for seventy years together, then he goes and crushes it."

"What's seventy years in the life of a Montag?" demanded Zontak.

"But Mum!"

"It can't be helped if they had started to suspect what they were," said Zeelak, their mother. "Besides you could always try creating life on Mars."

"We did that two hundred years ago," said Zontak: "And one careless slip by Mordok, and look what happened."

Turning, Zeelak walk-slithered out of the room.

"Oh, it's not fair," protested Mordok: "you're the favourite, you can get away will anything. I would have been grounded for a millennium if I had crushed the Earth."

© Copyright 2023 Philip Roberts
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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