From time to time, Lauren Davis at io9.com provides writing prompts in the form of concept art. Yesterday she offered Simon Stålenhag’s sweet blue dinosaur in front of a rustic shack, with the request to “Share your tale of a place where dinosaurs spend their days behind fences and their nights sleeping in barns.” Here’s mine.
“I know she may not look like much,” the old man said, between drags on his cigarette, “but she’s fast.”
He must have thought I looked skeptical, because he turned away from me, stepped through the gap in the fence, and approached the raptor, electric dino prod in one hand and bridle in the other. The raptor tilted its head to look at me.
“Her name’s Juno’s Pride. Almost won the Preakness in ’35,” he called back. “Did win three times at Saratoga and once at Belmont, before they changed the class rules. Once they did that, she woulda had to carry so much handicap weight, it woulda broken her. She’s a thoroughbred, built for sprinting, and her bones – well, they’ll support her, and you, you’re little enough, but she’s not some goddamned T-Rex.”
He clicked his tongue twice, getting the dino’s attention.
“Come on, you. That’s right, be nice. Got a pretty little lady rider for ya.”
The raptor shied away from him, but he moved to cut it off. I stood by the fence as he bridled the dinosaur, which jerked its head when the rancher pulled the bit too hard, cutting into the hinge of its mouth. The rancher kicked the animal in the shin and it reared, but the rancher juiced it with the prod, then yanked on the reins and drew it back down, holding its head low. The dino tried to pull away, but the bit was barbed, and after throwing its head around in protest, the animal settled down.
Despite what the rancher had said earlier, she was magnificent – mostly gray, but with an iridescent blue blaze and comb and a row of brilliant orange markings down its neck, and those teeth and talons that could still shred someone if they weren’t careful and if the dino wasn’t so beaten down. And there was plenty of power in those legs. If I could take those reins, she’d take me like the wind.
“How long have you had her?” I asked. “Did you raise her yourself?”
“Nah. I’ve had her about three years. I bought her from a breeder out in New Kansas when she was a yearling. She was bridle-broken, but whoever did it was too easy on her. I had to show her how to really pay attention, if you know what I mean.”
I knew what he meant. I could see it in the dino’s eyes
“Whadda ya want –”
The rancher coughed, and not just to get my attention. He hacked up a glob of something dark green and spit it on the ground by his feet. He dry-coughed a few more times and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He ground out the cigarette he’d lost and lit another one.
“Damn things’ll kill me, I know. So what? We all gotta die sometime. Goddamn it –” The dino had backed away from him again, and he grabbed the reins with both hands and pulled, dropping the raptor to its ankles. I winced. Raptors don’t show pain, but that had to hurt.
“So whadda ya want her for? Can’t race her in the Continental League anymore. You and your girlfriends got some little lady league I haven’t heard about?”
“Yeah, something like that,” I said. “Okay if I try her on for size?”
He shrugged, so I took the reins. The raptor watched me closely as I walked gently to her side and softly stroked her muzzle. The coarse pinfeathers scratched the palm of my hand. The dino chuffed under her breath and her eyes half-closed with pleasure.
“That’s right, girl,” I whispered. “Yes. Real easy, okay?” She opened her eyes fully and looked straight at me, and she made a sound almost like a purr. I bounced on one foot and threw the other leg over her back. She stood up and held her head high. With a light hand, I drew her left, then right, then round in a tight circle. I backed her up, then leaned forward and whispered to her some more. This time, when I just flicked the reins, she hopped.
“What, the –” The rancher stood back. I clucked in the dino’s ear. She craned her neck to look at me. It’s hard to tell when a raptor’s smiling, but I’d swear she was. I gave the slightest touch on the reins, and together we turned to face the rancher.
“Her name’s Amaryllis,” I said. “She was stolen from my parents’ ranch three years ago. And even then, she was fast.”
I smiled, although I’m not sure the rancher would have called it that.