It is one of those days when the sun dazzles across the waves and the sky languishes in its warm blue appeal. Once upon a time, these were Angie’s favorite days; days when she would leave her shop door open, bask in the marine musk, and let herself be lulled by the sound of seagulls prizing in the distance, but now the smell that rises from the bay is that of gore and rancor, and the only sounds are the shrieks of constant human suffering.
Through her window Angie watches a Tyrannosaurus Rex demolish what is left of the pier. She sees the speck of a military helicopter in the distance and wonders idly if they will get there in time to stop it from killing her. Then she returns to the chore of inventorying her wares.
It is a needless task, which is the beauty of it. Her stock has not changed in weeks. Nobody is in the market for insect repellant or mouse traps anymore; those kinds of pests have either been predated into extinction, or just forgotten into invisibility. Either way, if commerce still exists, it doesn’t for Angie. When she counts her fifty-two cans of roach spray and her thirty-nine packages of SuperSonar Rodent Repellents, it is a meditation.
When Angie counts, she is transported. She no longer lives in an impossible world where extinct beasts murderously roam. When Angie counts, she is returned to the banal, comfortable existence of a shopkeeper. When Angie counts, it is as though she has never heard of Niles Rickman or his team of deranged scientists. There is no 70 million year wormhole ripped wide across the Cretaceous period, creating a passage for monsters to pass into modern times. There are no physicists inching decade by decade across their ludicrous mistake, trying to fix it before humanity ends. When Angie counts, her own wormhole opens, and she returns to the life where her house is not a ruins, and her son is not scattered bones sucked dry by velociraptors.
Angie is so entranced by her flypaper rosary that she does not notice the stranger. She startles when two blood blackened hands thump, palms down, on the counter before her. The feeling of fear is fresh and vital. Angie feels the deadened lump of her heart strum inside of her, and the heat of living blood rush into her cheeks. She inhales, exhales, breathes it away. There is no place for life in her, not anymore. By the time her gaze wanders up the leather clad arms and ambiguous torso to reach the face smirking at her, she has succeeded in replacing her fear with a now-familiar apathy.
At first Angie cannot tell if the stranger is male or female, but after a moment she identifies high, effeminate cheekbones sitting beneath scarred cheeks, and the vague mounds of breasts beneath the grimy leather jacket. The stranger can’t be much more than five feet tall, and skinny as a kid, though the expression on her face makes Angie certain that her heavy, gore stained clothes hide wiry muscle. Though her face is relatively clean, her cropped blonde hair is matted to her skull with blood. She stinks, but who doesn’t these days?
Angie stares at the stranger. She had wondered how long it would take for the apocalyptic marauders to show up. When they didn’t, she figured everyone was too scared and weak and grieving to do anything, just like before the world ended. Now this tiny, bloody woman with machete on hip and machine gun strapped to her back looks more comical than frightening. What is she doing? Putting on a show for the end times? And, even stranger, what is she doing in this junk shop? Hoping to buy (or kill for?) a relic from the times when the local vermin were small and domestic?
Angie doesn’t care. She doesn’t care. She doesn’t care.
The stranger’s smirk spreads slowly into a Cheshire grin, revealing teeth that are too straight and white for her gritty demeanor. Angie laughs aloud. If she is to die, better murdered by this B-movie phantom than by one of the monsters outside.
The stranger slides one hand across the counter and grabs one of Angie’s SuperSonar Rodent Repellents from their display. She glances at it and lets out a short barking laugh.
“Does that work on velociraptors?” she asks, in a voice more fluted than the graveling menace Angie had imagined.
Velociraptors. Her mind fills with their image. Barely two feet tall and covered with brown and white feathers, they had looked more like a group of strange birds pecking their way down the street than the lizard-like predators of the screen. She had not recognized them for what they were until a scythe-like claw was hooked through Sammy’s chest. Then there was the wail of an alarm as the raptors leapt across cars to fight for his flesh. Then there was Angie laughing, laughing as her son died, because it all looked so fake, so poorly directed, like those bad horror movies Sammy was just getting old enough to like. Dark, aortic blood fountained from his wound and his head lolled with dramatic grace while his eyes glazed into lifelessness. As the velociraptors frenzied to feed, the night was torn open by the terrible lost innocence of the child’s death cry. End scene.
“Hey, girly, come back.” Angie is brought back to the present by an awkward pat on her shoulder.
“Isn’t it a little too soon for PTSD?” the stranger says. Angie stares at her. She gestures at the window behind Angie. “Everything’s still going down.”
“I don’t care,” Angie whispers. Tears sting at her eyes.
The stranger moves around the counter and swings an arm around Angie’s shoulder. She lets Angie cry for a moment before she speaks again.
“Listen girly, Rickman’s dead.”
“Dead?” Angie murmurs.
“That’s right. He and his whole team. This horror show’s not going to be magically fixed. Not that it ever was but,” she scoffs, “now everyone knows it. Military’s not working out neither.” She nods her head toward the window again. This time Angie looks. The blade of the helicopter can still be seen as the craft sinks into the water. One lone soldier crouches below the beast, machine gun aimed and firing. As Angie watches, the tyrannosaurus stomps him out of existence.
The stranger sucks in her breath. She claps a hand on Angie’s shoulder. “So how about it? What do you say?”
Angie gawks at her. “Say? To what?”
“That’s a big beast for one person to take on. Gonna need some help. I got enough weapons and ammo, and we can definitely both fit on my steed.” The stranger gestures toward the front of the shop. Angie looks, and gasps. How had she missed the giant, winged dinosaur, crowned by a red spotted crest half a foot tall, crouching outside her window? It lifts a wing and leans its stubby beak to nip at an itch.
“You-you ride that thing?” Angie stutters.
“Sure. Real sweet birdy. Vegetarian,” she adds assuringly. “And technically not a dinosaur.” She wags a finger at Angie and grins.
Angie nods, mute.
“Listen,” the stranger continues, “It’s gonna be a steep climb to get up to that ‘rex. All you gotta do is take the reins while I fire. The big ones go down quicker when you get ‘em in the brain. You game?”
Angie laughs. “No,” she says. “Not at all.”
“You got something better to do?” The stranger cocks an eyebrow. “Way I see it, you can sit here and wait to die. That’s a fine choice.” She shrugs. “Or you can do something. Humans, we’re not gonna be around much longer. There are too many of these things and still more wandering through every minute. But we can at least get some action before the end, see what I’m saying?” She watches Angie for a moment. “And after we get that ‘rex,” she continues quietly, “I know where there’s a nest of velociraptors to ambush.”
Angie looks at the stranger sharply.
“Raptors killed someone you loved, didn’t they?”
“My son,” Angie whispers.
The stranger nods. “Me too. Not a kid, but…someone who mattered to me. A lot.” Angie begins to listen. “Killing ‘em’s not gonna make any of that better, but,” she grins, “it sure feels good while you’re doing it.”
The stranger extends her hand. Angie takes it. “Name’s Jules.”
Angie is startled by the beauty of the creature outside. As she grips its tough red feathers to climb up its side and mounts the bull’s saddle Jules has refitted for it, she feels a thrill shock through her body. The bird accepts its riders with the perturbed grace Angie remembers from horseback riding as a girl. Jules squeezes it with her thighs and they climb into the sky. The bird caws. It is answered by other pterosaurs wheeling in the glowing blue distance.
To Angie, they sound like seagulls.