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Tarpeian Rock

An Annual Literary Magazine

"Hinc ad Tarpeiam sedem et Capitolia ducit
aurea nunc, olim siluestribus horrida dumis."

                    --Virgil's Aeneid, VIII, l. 347-8
Articles from
the 2015 issue...

Bearer of a Thousand Wounds

A Cretaceous Carol

The Knight and the Flaming Arrow

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A Cretaceous Carol
In Prose

by Claudio R. Salvucci

In the evening after a heady conference of the Climatological Society, I quietly retired to my chamber, accompanied only by a lamp and Lyell's Principles of Geology. I had merely drifted into the pleasant antechamber of somnolence when at once a noise within my room rousted me quite out of it. It was a snuffling, breathy sound as such could only be made by some large beast—but I exhaled impatiently at the impossibility and forcibly shut my eyes again.
    When, however, a frigid breeze signaled some not insignificant displacement of the bedcurtains, I opened my eyes once more, and was terrified to see a massive reptilian
maw hovering over me. I started, my breath caught in my lungs, and leapt out the opposite side of the bed.
    But the creature had no interest in attack and merely sniffed disinterestedly. My alarm subsided as I beheld it more fully. It was a member of the ankylosauria—a quite harmless herbivore of the Mesozoic. Of which genera I could not be certain, as I was singularly unaccustomed to see them clothed in living flesh. The distinctive arrangement of its bony horns, however, suggested to me a specimen recently brought back from the frozen islands surrounding the southern continent. That specimen had been carefully chiseled from the frigid strata and, upon its arrival, classed as a holotype and bestowed the new genus Antarctopelta.
    “Evidently,” said I, “this apparition signals that I am still in a dream. Doubtless this Mesozoic monster is some bit of dyspepsia acting upon my memories of the evening.”
    “No, no professor!” the creature replied, to my astonishment, “neither dream nor delusion.”
    I crossed myself quite involuntarily as he continued.
    “You spoke eloquently this day of the signal dangers that the variations in climate has to man—you cataloged his great sins against nature and inveighed against his overweening pride. And with great alarum you essayed to convince your fellows what a global catastrophe would accompany a decade’s worth of ticks on Doctor Fahrenheit's scale.”
    Here, I was sure, he was poetically referencing the title of my afternoon address, which I had impertinently entitled “Ten Degrees toward the Apocalypse.”
    “Indeed, all those things…but…” I stammered, “what do you want with me?”
    “Come!” he thundered, shaking his massive head.
Antarctopelta    In an instant my eyes shut before a piercing light. I felt warm sun on my skin and heard strange sounds that, though wholly different ones from the American countryside, indicated that we had materialized out of doors. Between blinks I determined that we were in a great forest at the bank of a wide stream. But—what a forest it was!
    The trees were mainly conifers, but rather than the pines and cedars and hemlocks of our native land, these woods were thick with Araucarias and Podocarps. I judged we were in some meridional land; New Zealand perhaps.
    “This is my domain,” said the creature, as if perceiving my very thoughts. “The continent you call Antarctica.” He paused for a time. “Does it surprise you?”
    “Well,” I bristled haughtily, “I had known, naturally, from the fossils brought back to the Academy that it was once warm and verdant.”
    “You knew. But you did not consider,” he said in a tone at once sharper and heavier, “what that meant.”
    “I'm afraid I don't know what you mean,” I stammered in puzzlement.
    The great beast growled.
   “Before the Society this afternoon, you decried the global ascent in temperature and the concomitant melting of the polar ices that would attend mankind’s use of the Carboniferous deposits.”
    “I did,” I replied cautiously.
    “You trotted out before them every prophecy of doom. Every desert that would advance upon a neighboring prairie, every island or peninsula inundated, every polar cap melted into its surrounding sea.”
    “You wept at the polar bear losing his ice. The island dweller sinking into the sea. You lamented the poor Papuans, the Hawaiians, even the proud Manhattanites clustered upon their great concrete pier.”
    “But you thought nothing of us!”
    “I'm sorry?” I replied, still bewildered.
    “Look about you! Is the continent as you know it in your world?”
    The monster craned his neck as far around as his vertebral structure would allow.
    “Behold your apocalypse, professor! Behold the earth you have taught them to fear!”
    I gazed up at the massive conifers and tree ferns swaying under the caress of a gentle breeze, the summer sun barely filtering through to the forest floor below as the stream burbled past. Insects danced in the scattered rays.
    “This luxurious land, this fruitful land, this blesséd and beautiful land that we call our home…in your day is it not a barren wasteland of ice?”
    “It….it is….” I answered haltingly.
    “Then it seems, professor, that your world was our Apocalypse.”
    My thoughts, upended by this new perspective, raced through the geology of the Cretaceous. Did the fossil record not tell of great forests in the Arctic? Did plesiosaurs and mososaurs not glide majestically though the North American Inland Sea over great bivalves, ammonites and belemnites—a sea that in our day was completely drained and had turned into a barren inland desert?
    Was it possible that the catastrophism I saw in a ten degree increase was only a figment of my own careful selection of particular locales that, in our narrow human terms, would fare the worst under such conditions? And that, were I to choose others, I might well welcome a warmer Earth as a veritable Eden?
    As I continued these speculations, the trees shimmered, which at first I thought a trick of the eyes and then some humid exhalation of the air. But then the ancient flora melted entirely from my vision and about me was a cold darkness and the small glow of a dying fire.
    I heard a voice behind me whisper, “Remember, professor!” before I found myself once again alone in my room.
    I never saw the monster again. Dismissing him wholly out of mind as a product of some hallucinatory episode, I redoubled my urgent crusade against the warming of the earth, quitting my scientific studies at the Academy and entering into the body politic. Indeed, I nearly exhausted my energies demanding that the public treasuries of the nations be emptied, if necessary, if only to avert the deadly catastrophe that, I was sure, was soon to engulf our fragile earth.
    Yet all my days I could never quite forget the warmth and incomparable beauty of that lush polar forest at the bottom of the world.

Claudio R. Salvucci is a harmless armored herbivore thought to inhabit the lush deciduous forests of Quaternary northeastern Pennsylvania.

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