The Dinosaur Down the Street
By Elaine Viets
By Elaine Viets
So there I was driving down a four-lane road in South Florida when I saw a palm tree trunk in the middle of the road.
Except when I got closer, the palm tree had eyes. Evil prehistoric eyes.
Holy cow! I mean leaping lizards!
That wasn’t a palm tree. It was a giant lizard. A freaking dinosaur. The thing was gray brown and as long as my car – at least six feet. Jurassic Park was in the middle of the road.
I went straight home. I was not going to wander around with a dinosaur on the loose.
I called the local nature park and said, "It’s five o’clock in the afternoon. I am perfectly sober and I just saw a six-foot lizard in the road."
"Yes," said the woman at the nature center. She didn’t sound surprised, which was even more alarming.
"Those are monitor lizards," she said. "They’re related to the Komodo dragon. They get to be six to nine feet long. They live in the nearby mangrove swamps."
"They’re escaped pets."
I don’t know which was scarier – a six-foot lizard, or some idiot who kept that thing as a pet.
I did know this: There is a mangrove swamp near my home. The giant lizard had crawled out of the swamp to sun itself on the warm asphalt road.
"Are they dangerous?" I said.
"They can eat small pets," the nature expert said.
Small pets? If these things eat cats and poodles, they could also snack on a toddler or two. Tell that to Grandma: "Jared won’t be coming to see you this Christmas. He was eaten by a giant lizard."
"The bite can be dangerous to humans," the nature expert said. "The lizards’ mouths are full of bacteria. If they bite, you can get a bad infection."
At that moment, I wanted to go back home to the Midwest, where lizards do NOT grow to stupendous sizes. I wanted a nice, normal life.
I quickly smothered that urge. That’s why I like Florida. The place is wonderfully weird. It’s a challenge to come up with good fiction when everyday life is so strange. I decided to be a little more careful when I took out the trash late at night. I hoped that strange rustling noise by the Dumpster was a nice, lazy possum.
A quick check of the news shows that monitor lizards are only a few of the exotic pets that have escaped into not-so-wild South Florida. Abandoned boa constrictors and vervet monkeys are making nuisances of themselves. Cuban tree frogs are eating the native croakers. And recently, a Burmese python took on an alligator in the Everglades. The python tried to swallow the gator, and both died in the epic struggle. (There’s a moral in that story, but I’m not sure what it is.)
News reports say monitor lizards have sharp claws and teeth, and may attack humans if they’re feeling surly – and they usually are.
However, I did get this reassurance from the nature expert: "Monitor lizards are not native to Florida. They’re not a protected species. If one attacks you, it’s OK to shoot it."
I was afraid to say I was probably the only person in Florida who didn’t own a gun. I might be breaking a state law by going around unarmed.
Besides, I’m not a native of Florida, either. So it could be OK to shoot me.