Lizard Tales

I used to work at a company called Gen-Probe in San Diego. The company was involved in developing medical diagnostic tests using a patented system of genetic markers. The idea for this story came to me out of the blue while at work one day, and I went home afterward and wrote it. I originally use the actual names of my co-workers, which pleased some and horrified others, but I have since changed the names to ones I made up. This story did not require any major revisions and only a little editing. It was never published, mainly because I only sent it out once and then gave up. However, it’s sort of a children’s story, but it has adult characters, so the market for it is essentially nonexistent. Nonetheless, I still like it.

Jim Mastro

Glenn Youngman, Research Supervisor for GenTrix Technologies, stared at the frog on his desk. The little amphibian hadn’t been there a few minutes ago. Glenn had stepped out to get a Pepsi, and his desk had been free of fauna. He was sure of it.

Glenn swallowed. It was a joke. Someone was playing a practical joke on him. Had his secret been discovered? He glanced around the group office. It was empty except for Connie Kilburn, pouring over data at her desk a few feet away. She seemed unaware of his presence.

He looked at the frog. The frog stared back with its large, protruding eyes. Glenn blinked. The frog blinked.

What am I supposed to do? he thought. This is ridiculous. He looked back at Connie and cleared his throat.

“Um…” he began hesitantly, “Connie, do you know why there is a frog on my desk?”

“Hmmm?” She was immersed in her work.

“A frog,” repeated Glenn. “On my desk.” He glanced at the motionless amphibian and licked his lips nervously.

Connie looked up from her DNA sequence probability calculations. “A frog? No, I don’t know anything about a–Oh my! There is a frog on your desk!” She stood and moved toward Glenn. “How on earth did that get there?”

“That’s a very good question,” Glenn said. He hesitated. “Uh…I wonder if you could…uh…” He motioned with his hands.

“What? Me?” Connie asked. “Forget it. I’m not touching it. It’s on your desk.”

The frog, as if sensing the intent to relocate it, suddenly jumped off the desk and onto the floor at Glenn’s feet. Glenn leaped back in horror, tripped over a chair, and fell on his back. The commotion agitated the frog, causing it to jump around randomly, which in turn caused Glenn to scramble frantically to stay out of its way. Connie almost fell over with laughter. Finally, the frog slipped under a desk. Glenn stood up, flushed and indignant.

“It’s not funny!”

Connie was laughing too hard to reply.

Glenn returned to his desk and grabbed his phone. “I’m calling security,” he said.

“Glenn,” Connie said, gasping for air and holding on to her sides, “It’s just a frog. It won’t hurt you!”

“I hate frogs!” he said. “I hate reptiles! They’re slimy and they–Hello? Jon? Could you come down to the Research Office? There’s a…problem. Yeah. I’ll explain when you get here. Thanks.” He hung up the phone.

“It’s not a reptile, Glenn. It’s an amphibian.”

“They’re all the same! They’re all slimy!” Glenn sat down at his desk and studied his papers carefully, looking for frog slime. A thought occurred to him, and he looked up. “Don’t tell anyone, okay?”

“What?” Connie asked. “About the frog?”

“No. About the fact that I…you know…” He glanced at the desk the frog had chosen for shelter.

“That you’re scared to death of frogs?”

“I’m not scared!” Glenn said. “I just don’t like them, that’s all.”

Connie shook her head. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.” Then she chuckled softly.

Jon Sorensen, the security chief, came in and removed the frog. Glenn made up a story about being allergic to reptiles and amphibians. Connie smiled and said nothing.

A week later, the incident was nearly forgotten. Work went on as usual at GenTrix Technologies. Two weeks later, Vanessa Borella found a lizard in the women’s bathroom. It was an iguana, actually, but the finer points of identification were lost on Vanessa, who came screaming out of the bathroom as though Tyrannosaurus rex were snapping at her heels. Glenn tried his best to calm her down and find out what was wrong. Vanessa told him a lizard had appeared out of nowhere and had tried to crawl up her leg (at a very awkward moment). It was still in the bathroom, as far as she knew. Glenn was not inclined to investigate personally.

“Someone is pulling a practical joke,” Sorensen told Glenn later, after he had captured and removed the iguana.

Glenn was not amused. “We have a lot of serious research to do here. We can’t afford these ridiculous distractions. I want this nonsense stopped.”

Security was tightened and employees were required to wear I.D. badges at all times. Glenn sent out a memo declaring that any employee caught bringing an unauthorized animal into the building would be immediately terminated. Sorensen, after all, was certain the pranks were an inside job.

On Friday, three days after the iguana, a rattlesnake was discovered in one of the laboratories. The place was cleared out until reptile experts from the local zoo could safely remove it.

“This is a very rare animal,” said Steve Speerman, curator of reptiles. “It is normally found only on one small island in the Sea of Cortez.” He looked at Glenn and raised his eyebrows. “It is quite illegal to have one, even for research purposes.”

“We don’t keep any live animals on the premises, Mr. Speerman,” Glenn said. “Someone is playing a practical joke. Rest assured, we will get to the bottom of it.”

Sorensen was not so sure, but he waited until Speerman had left before he said anything. “Glenn, I’ve closed this building up tighter than the Pentagon. There’s no way someone could be bringing these animals in.”

“Even the Pentagon has leaks,” Glenn replied. “Who are the obvious suspects? Who is currently working with reptile material?”

Glenn called researchers Dr. Janice Bouchard and Dr. Mano Ingemi to his desk, but they adamantly proclaimed their innocence.

“You are working with reptile genetic material, aren’t you?” Glenn asked.

“Of course,” Janice said. “You know we are. But we have no need of whole animals and, frankly, I don’t much care for snakes and lizards anyway.”

“Or frogs,” Glenn said, sympathizing.

“Or frogs,” repeated Janice.

Glenn looked at Mano, who just shrugged his shoulders.

“Besides,” said Janice indignantly, “we have better things to do with our time.”

“Well…” Glenn sighed. “Tell me if you hear anything.”

The two scientists left and Glenn propped his chin on his hand. They were very close to perfecting a new cloning method that would change everything. Not only would they be able to produce perfect farm animals every time, but they would even be able to clone endangered species to save them from extinction. Already, Bouchard and Ingemi had nursed a skin cell from a rare frog into early fetal development. Soon they would all be very famous and very rich. Who would want to play a practical joke now?

The weekend came, and Glenn did his best to forget about problems at work. Anyway, he was certain that the prankster would tire of his little game sooner or later.

On Monday morning, however, the Gentrix building was full of geckos. Thousands of geckos. Geckos dotted the walls and ceiling of every lab, office, and restroom in the building. Gecko droppings littered the floors and desks.

“My data is covered with lizard kack!” wailed Vanessa.

Glenn was furious. “Who is doing this? I want to know who is doing this!”

Sorensen shrugged his shoulders. “The building was locked all weekend. There wasn’t anyone here.”

“Someone was here!” roared Glenn. “Someone filled the building with lizards! Or do you think they all got in by themselves? Huh? Just unlocked the door, called up their lizard friends, and decided to have a party? Is that what you think?”

“Well, of course not, but–”

Glenn shoved a finger at Sorensen’s chest. “I want to know who’s doing this! Barry Eisenstein will have a screaming fit if this is going on when he gets back! Now, you get me some answers, or I’ll find someone who will!”

Sorensen swallowed and nodded.

Connie was swatting geckos off the ceiling with a broom. Two of them landed in Glenn’s hair. He yelped and tried to brush them off. The geckos, having already been swatted with a broom, seemed anxious to avoid a second swat by a flailing hand. They scurried toward Glenn’s open collar and down his shirt, their suction-cup toes pulling at his skin.

“Aaaagh!” screamed Glenn, jumping around, his arms flying, his hands clawing at his shirt.

“Hold still!” Connie yelled, as she chased him around the room.

“Get them out! Get them out!”

“I’ll squish ’em!” Connie shouted. She swung the broom at Glenn’s back.

“Not while they’re on me!” Glenn cried. He turned around just in time to be smacked in the face by the broom and knocked over backwards.

The geckos took this opportunity to scamper out from Glenn’s shirt, which was not the sanctuary it might have at first seemed, and under a desk.

Glenn had forgotten all about them. The fall had placed his face a few inches away from an enormous monitor lizard. The lizard’s tongue flicked out and briefly tickled Glenn’s nose. Glenn jerked away and banged his head on a chair.

“Yikes! Ouch!” He jumped up and backed away. “Yikes!”

“What?” Sorensen and Connie asked in unison. “What?”

Glenn held the back of his head and pointed with a trembling finger. “There’s a bloody dinosaur under that desk!”

Before anyone could move, Glenn whirled around to face Sorensen. “I want these reptiles out of here! All of them! Every last one! Now!” Then he fled the building to wait in the relative safety of his car.

Try as he might, though, Jon Sorensen could not make Gentrix reptile-free. For the next three days, hundreds of reptiles and amphibians were captured and expelled. Yet others seemed to appear almost as fast. Turtles lumbered down the hall in the morning, frogs croaked in the toilets, lizards skittered underfoot, and snakes hung from the bookshelves. Curator Speerman was ecstatic. He had practically taken up residence at Gentrix.

“All these rare species!” he shouted gleefully. “Some I’ve never even seen before! They could be completely new!” Then he paused. “But if I catch whoever is responsible, I’m going to hang them by a hook in their cloaca.”

After I’ve finished with them,” Sorensen said.

Glenn had to steel himself to walk into the building in the morning. He began coming in an hour late, after most of the night’s brood had been scooped up. Even so, the odd iguana or desert lizard would still scamper across the floor of his office every couple of hours.

Eventually, however, Glenn grew accustomed to it. After all, it was either that or get no work done. “As long as they don’t touch me,” he muttered.

The following Monday, Barry Eisenstein, Chairman of the Board of Gentrix Technologies, returned from his business trip. He called Glenn into his office. “The Japanese were very interested in our technology,” he said. “They want to clone whales to get Greenpeace off their backs.”

“That’s good,” said Glenn.

“Yes. Now, would you mind telling me why my office is full of tree frogs?”

Glenn looked around. There were indeed tree frogs all over the bookshelves and walls. He sighed. “Well, the same reason the equipment room is full of turtles, I suppose.”

It was not the answer Eisenstein was looking for. His mouth smiled but his eyes didn’t. “Ha ha. And what reason is that?”

Glenn swallowed. “I don’t know. It’s been like this for a few days.”

The Chairman nodded. “You will know soon, though, won’t you? You will straighten things out? Before you have to look for a new job?”

Glenn kicked at a lizard as he left the office. No animal was so slimy that you couldn’t kick it across the room, he thought. Unfortunately, the lizard was too fast for him.

Glenn called in world class detectives and wildlife biologists, but the mystery got no closer to solution. In fact, the only piece of evidence Glenn was able to uncover just complicated the puzzle. As near as he could figure, the closer Bouchard and Ingemi got to actually cloning an organism, the more reptiles and amphibians appeared.

He called Connie over to his desk. Connie had taken to carrying a chameleon on her shoulder. In fact, almost every employee had adopted a pet. Jon Sorensen would walk his leashed iguana down the hallways during lunch. Cindy Urqhuart in accounting had developed a fondness for a box turtle. Even Vanessa had a cage full of salamanders on her desk.

Connie’s chameleon was the most bothersome to Glenn, however. Connie would change shirts in the middle of the day just to see the lizard change color. It’s globular eyes would rotate as she spoke, and it’s tail would curl and uncurl slowly. Glenn occasionally found it difficult to concentrate on Connie’s words when she spoke.

“Why do you suppose,” Glenn began, “that the number of animals appearing here is on the increase? We’ve had a twenty-four hour armed guard around this building, on the roof and at every door, and every day there are more reptiles than there were the day before. I don’t get it.”

“Actually,” Connie said, “I’ve noticed something else peculiar. I’ve been keeping track of species and numbers distributions. Each species that we’ve seen has appeared here in numbers exactly proportional to their populations in the wild. At least, as near as I can determine, anyway.”

“Exactly proportional?”

“Exactly.” Connie slid a piece of paper across Glenn’s desk. The chameleon’s eyes followed it. “Do you know what the probability of that happening is?” She pointed at the paper. “Vanishingly small if this is a practical joke, and almost one hundred percent if this is some sort of natural phenomenon.”

“Natural phenomenon?” asked Glenn. “You’ve got to be kidding. What kind of natural phenomenon is going to cause this?”

Connie shrugged and the lizard scrunched down to tighten its hold. “I’ve been thinking about that. What if, and I realize this is reaching, but what if, by attempting to clone these organisms we are fooling with the laws of probability that govern the emergence of species?”

Glenn sat back and furrowed his brow.

“I mean,” she continued, “what if, the closer we get to cloning an animal, the more that  and similar animals begin to appear?” She leaned forward for emphasis and the chameleon gripped her shoulder even more tightly. “What if no one’s putting them here, after all? What if they are simply appearing out of some probability limbo?”

“Yikes,” said Glenn. He glanced at a Galapagos tortoise lumbering across the floor. It had been there for several days; no one had figured out a way to remove an animal that weighed several hundred pounds. “If that’s true, how do we test it?”

Connie tapped Glenn’s desk with her finger as she spoke, and her eyes glimmered. “Try to clone some animal that has been extinct for a long time.”

A moment passed.

“A dinosaur,” whispered Glenn.

“A dinosaur,” agreed Connie.

It proved very difficult to locate dinosaur genetic material. Fossils were useless, since they contained no intact cells. Glenn spent days calling every paleontologist in the world, searching for some usable genetic remnant.

At the same time, he did his best to avoid an increasingly irate Barry Eisenstein. Nonetheless, on Friday he found himself once again in the Chairman’s office. Several lizards scurried across the floor, and a python hung from the room’s only lamp.

“I’m leaving for Germany in the morning,” Eisenstein said. “One of two things will not be here when I return.” He counted off on his fingers. “All these lizards and toads, or you.”

“Yes, sir,” said Glenn.

He returned to his office and slumped in his seat (after removing the horned toad that had claimed it). Eisenstein would never have bought Connie’s hypothesis, Glenn knew. But if it was true, and they could prove it, then his job would certainly be safe, lizards or not. And they’d all be very, very rich besides.


He sighed and picked up the phone.

Finally, after it seemed as though he had called every fossil picker in the world, he found a Russian scientist who had unearthed a frozen stegosaurus nest in Siberia. The eggs were not completely fossilized. Glenn tried to remain calm. He made up some story about DNA evolution studies. (Who would believe the truth?) The Russian agreed to send a tiny fraction of his find to Gentrix, with the assurance that he would get partial credit for any subsequent discovery.

When it arrived a week later via international mail, Glenn gave the shriveled, frozen cells to Bouchard and Ingemi.

“What’s this?” asked Janice.

“It’s DNA. Clone it,” said Glenn.

“What kind of DNA?” asked Mano.

“Does it matter?” Glenn said. “Just clone it. Use the same techniques that you’ve been using on the other species.”

Janice shrugged. “Okay. First thing Monday morning.”

Glenn shook his head vigorously. “No no no. It has to be done now.”

“Now? Glenn, it’s Friday afternoon!”

“Highest priority,” said Glenn. “Everything else on the back burner. Right now. Yesterday.” Glenn stepped aside to let a Gila monster trot by.

“Yesterday,” repeated Janice. She glanced at Mano, who folded his arms across his chest and shrugged.

“So to speak,” Glenn said.

Glenn chewed his fingernails down to nubs on Saturday.

Nothing happened.

On Sunday he paced.

Still nothing.

By Monday he was a nervous wreck.

“Why isn’t it working?” he asked Connie.

She was sitting at her desk, pouring over equations. “It will take time, I think.” She looked up. “Dinosaurs have been extinct for a long time, you know. The probability of one existing is very low. There is a lot of inertia to overcome.”

“How long?”

“Who knows? Weeks? Months? Years?” Connie returned to her mathematics.  The chameleon followed her pencil with one eye and kept the other one on Glenn.

Glenn sighed. “I could go crazy,” he said.

The chameleon’s head bobbed up and down, as if in agreement. Connie had worn a plaid shirt and the chameleon seemed to be having a difficult time matching it.

Janice Bouchard and Mano Ingeme came up to Glenn on Wednesday.

“That DNA you gave us was not in very good condition,” Janice said.

Mano folded his arms. “Lot of fragmentation, missing bases, very bad.” He shook his head.

“But,” Janice said.


Janice paused. “Glenn, you look terrible. What’s wrong with you?”

Glenn had to fight back the urge to grab her and shake the information out. “Nothing. I’m fine. My hair’s a little messy and I forgot to shave this morning. I’m fine. What about the DNA?”

“Looks more like you’ve forgotten to shave for the past week.”

“I’m fine, I’m fine, for Heaven’s sake! What about the DNA?”

Janice and Mano looked at each other, then back at Glenn.

“We patched it,” said Janice. “We substituted it for alligator DNA in a fetal cell. It’s incubating. Even as we speak.”

“Good good good!” said Glenn. He clasped his hands together. “Good job!”

The next day, Jon Sorensen was chased down the hall by an alligator.

“An alligator!” Glenn shouted gleefully, as Sorensen barricaded the door. “That’s good!”

“Good? What’s good? I could have been eaten!”

“No, Jon,” Glenn said, “it’s good. Believe me. It’s very good.”

On Friday, Connie came up to him. “I think I’ve figured out the mathematics.” She held up a sheet of paper. “I looked up the dates for every type of DNA we’ve used, when it was used, and when the animals appeared. The equation is fairly simple.”

“What do you figure?” Glenn asked.

“Soon,” said Connie.

There was a scream. Vanessa burst through the door, her eyes as big as glow-in-the-dark frisbees. “It’s Godzilla! I swear it is! It’s Godzilla! Oh my God!”

“Where?” Glenn and Connie shouted.

Vanessa pointed. “The packing room! My God! He’s probably eaten everyone in there! The Japanese were right! ‘Mrs. Takamura, you say your husband was a-stepped on by Godzilla?’ Oh my God!”

Glenn rushed by the babbling Vanessa and into the hall, with Connie on his heels.

“He’ll eat you!” Vanessa shouted after them. “Then Mothra and King Kong! Oh my God!”

Glenn burst into the packing room. There, in the middle of the room, swinging its spiked tail in slow arcs, was a full-grown stegosaurus. Boxes and supplies were scattered on the floor where they had been knocked down. Two packing clerks cowered in the far corner.

“My God,” Connie whispered over Glenn’s shoulder. The chameleon crawled over to Glenn for a better look at a very old cousin.

Glenn reached up and gingerly stroked the little lizard, while his eyes remained fixed on the dinosaur. “He’s beautiful,” he said.

The stegosaurus grunted softly.

“What do we do with it?” Connie asked.

Glenn shrugged. “Order some hay or swamp grass, or something.” He smiled. “The guy’s got to be hungry after all these years.”


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