cw: mention of scars, implied threat of violence
I hopped off the train at my old hometown and found no one there to meet me except the dinosaur. It was a scruffy, bristly thing, busily knocking over rubbish bins with its bird-bent arms and rooting through the trash for any bits of discarded chicken or half-eaten sandwich. Some things never change, I guess.
My suitcase had a wonky wheel that stuck and scuffed along the platform. The dinosaur’s head perked up and she eyed me over the benches (made narrow and uncomfortable at considerable expense to prevent any homeless folks from taking any rest).
Shit. I’d had some run-ins with these guys before. People love to idealize the old days when kids could disappear with their bikes into the pines until dinnertime and no one but the paterfamilias had their face glued to a screen of their own. It had been nice to learn how to kiss a boy without any other eyes around to raise the alarm and light the torches, true, but my thigh and lower back still bore the scars from the damn theropods out by Rampart Mesa. They ached and itched whenever the wind turned to the north. I gripped my suitcase just in case I needed to throw it at the bastard, but she narrowed her eyes, huffed in my scent, and went back to her garbage.
That didn’t help my ego at all.
Mom wasn’t answering the phone. I still had a few bucks left, but decided I’d rather drag my suitcase through the dark than call an Uber. A drizzle that was half mist glittered on the deserted streets of what passed for a downtown. The housing boom meant that the dead vacant streets of the ’00s were gone, replaced with identically minimalist bistros and dispensaries and brew-pubs, equally dead under the sodium lights this time of night. I almost preferred the dusty windows and cracked adobe of the old days. At least there was a memory of color back then.
Step, scuff, step, scrape. This damn suitcase gave me a headache. The shoes I had worn on the train weren’t doing me any favors, either. I paused in front of a bygone rail warehouse that had become another brew-pub with a name like Ghostly Canyon. I winced and scratched my undercut where it had begun to grow out ever since Bell had left me for some art major half our age. A car slowed as it swept by. Not a cop, thank Christ.
Skittering sounds behind me. Tiny chirps, the familiar sounds of scaled feet.
There she was—the dino from the train station. And she’d brought friends.
Coelophysis, my brain supplied, dredging up some unhelpful information from goddamn grade school. About as big as a greyhound, just as lean and ten times as mean. They’d been known to eat their own kind, fossilized that way, their bits and bones buried together.
Four or five of them slipped and swooped up the street behind me, falling back behind lampposts and the shelter of a bus stop when they noticed I’d spotted them.
No trees to climb here, no rocks to throw. Everything had become too clean, too neutralized. Wouldn’t want anyone to be able to break a window or start a riot here, after all. It would hurt tax values.
I swung my suitcase into a defensive posture, and backed myself up against the brew-pub’s corrugated metal shutters. The Coelophysis gang fanned out, their bristly feathers suddenly flushed red in the light of the automatic stop light.
Talking. In all the movies, you talked to wild animals to ward them off. “So w-which were you?” I stammered. The leading lady’s head perked up, eyes aglow in the sodium light. “Were you the rich who ate the poor, or the poor who ate the rich?”
The dino cocked her head as if listening. Then all of them turned and scattered as a car made a left against the light and swung its high-beams over them. Its tires crackled as it pulled over in front of me. I blinked my vision back. Still not a cop, thank Christ.
Mom rolled down the window. “Why aren’t you at the station? I’ve been looking for you for half a damn hour.”
I sighed. This already. Maybe I’d been better off with the dinosaurs.
I threw my suitcase in the back and closed my eyes as we drove away. A litany of complaints about the inconvenience I’d caused and my irresponsibility in losing my job, and didn’t I know employers were desperate right now, and my generation had never learned the virtue of hard work. I opened my eyes to catch just a flicker of waving tails disappearing in the mirror, lit red in Mom’s taillights.
Maybe I’d see if my old bike was still in the garage when we got home.
Rick Hollon (they/them or fey/fem) is a nonbinary, intersex, bi/queer writer from the American Midwest. Feir work has appeared or is forthcoming in perhappened, Whale Road Review, HELL IS REAL, The Madrigal, Stanchion Zine, Kaleidotrope, and other publications. Find them on Twitter @SailorTheia.