Moises hadn’t seen another dinosaur in years. He remembered that allosaurs bully from middle school. There was the stegosaurus at that NOFX show back in ‘96. The pterodactyl bus driver in his old neighborhood. These whispers of his species had all but died out amid gentrification and what seemed like a million years of human encroachment. He was a novelty and a vestige of something long gone, and so was this triceratops standing in front of him. He felt an instant kinship but also a strangeness and hesitation because it’d been so long since he bared his teeth and thundered his voice in conversation with a real dinosaur. The triceratops spoke first, easing the tension that he knew was drowning them both: “What brings you here?”
Pilar had no memory of other dinosaurs. Not even her parents. She had pictures. She knew they existed, but she could not recall feeling them, holding them, being held by them. Even the memory of the memory was gone. If she tried to think hard enough, she could maybe approach the idea of other dinosaurs, but it was entirely based on museum exhibits—all bones and plaster. She had no concept what her own skin felt like. She wanted to reach out and touch this tyrannosaurus standing on front of her. She wanted to ask if he had nightmares too. She wanted to know if he hated humans. She wanted to know if she hated humans. But all she could do was ask “What brings you here?” in her best attempt at casual intonation.
Moises felt the weight of this question. The accusation that he should have been by her side all along, coupled by the genuine curiosity inherent in the question. This triceratops had suffered in this human city by herself, and he had given up looking for other dinosaurs after the last ankylosaurus was reported dead. He wasn’t sure why the ankylosaurus was the tipping point; maybe its armor and seeming indestructability had something to do with it. Moises knew that any of them could be next, and any ideas of a dinosaur collective were long dead and hopeless. His nightmares of heat and pressure and ash were burning brighter. He could almost taste the blood in his mouth every morning.
So rather than fight it, he ignored it; he kept his head down and did his job. Job after job, he did whatever he needed to do for a paycheck, only occasionally letting his desire for dinosaur companionship bleed through. There was the meat packing plant for two months. He was fired when a pallet of ground chuck when missing; his jagged tyrannosaur jawline made him guilty without a second thought—never mind that Moises had gone vegan years earlier. There was the shipping company that hired him after a five minute interview; the manager had dreams of tenfold production built on the back of a massive prehistoric creature. He assumed that trucks would be loaded quicker and cheaper and all for under-the-table wages less than minimum. In reality, the shipping center’s cramped ceiling made it impossible to work. On the whole, Portland’s vocational landscape was entirely humanoid, with its tight doorways and low-weight-bearing structures and delicate levers demanding opposable thumbs. The shipping job lasted three days before Moises accidentally put his tail through a wall. Next, he got a gig at a used car lot, standing by the side of the road holding a billboard and shouting about the latest deals on used Geo Metros. Then there was the roadie position where he lugged amplifiers and suitcases of methamphetamines, and he got FTW tattooed on his arm back when FTW meant Fuck the World instead of For the Win. For that brief period, he lived his life according to heavily distorted power chords with intermittent palm muting. He talked about anarchy, and for a brief interlude he once again believed that one day dinosaurs might topple the human government, and the other roadies talked about how capitalism was to blame for the disappearance of dinosaurs. Eventually, the band went on an overseas tour and left him behind—the cargo plane necessary to bring Moises simply cost too much. Then there was busking outside of Trader Joe’s and selling plasma and eating out of dumpsters. There was his brief stint as a nude model for Portland State University’s life drawing class. He dealt weed until it became legal and his hipster clients preferred brightly lit white orchid-lined showrooms to alleys and dive bars.
Job after job, he made rent for a couple months at most, he made workplace friends that vanished within a few days of his termination, he found the best fetid pools to take baths and the nearest all-you-can-eat salad bars that would serve dinosaurs. Until one day, he found himself following a track-marked skinhead who knew a speakeasy hiring dinosaurs for fights and stripteases and shit like that. And here he was, staring at this triceratops that he’d soon battle for spare change and applause and a minuscule cut of anything the bookie brought in.
“I’m here for the money,” Moises replied, though that was only half true. He felt the hot judgment emanating from this triceratops as he lingered on the word: Money. Survival. The two might as well be interchangeable for Moises, but the response reeked of triviality. “You?”
She genuinely wanted to know, but she also hoped he’d reciprocate the question. She wanted to understand what this other dinosaur had gone through, but she also wanted to tell her story to somebody who might understand. She wanted to let this t-rex know that she’d only been in Portland for three months and had already worked her way through the S&M circuit as both dom and sub to whoever paid the most. She enjoyed taking out her anger on humans. She wanted to stomp them into paste and impale them on her horns, but the typical limit was a simple bone crushing now and then. She also enjoyed having her skin flayed and her appendages jolted with electricity because it was the only way she could feel anything through her thick skin, seemingly muted and dead to an outside world that never wanted her.
In her hometown—out in the sticks of Idaho—she had wanted to be a doctor back when a formless version of her mother said: “You can do anything if you dream it.” She tossed and turned and dreamed about being a doctor who one day died in an inferno after some horror fell from the sky. She woke screaming. She woke to a place without her parents. She woke to a foster family who put her to work in the fields. She went to a school that wasn’t big enough for dinosaurs, and she was handed an IEP with lesson plans like “Here is a BBC documentary on VHS. See you next week.” She never graduated. Her small town didn’t have a GED program, so she persisted diploma-less. She worked at a Blockbuster video two towns over and memorized her favorite horror movies. She liked the ones where everybody dies. She took a second job at Dominos and ate pizza every night on the cheap. When that didn’t fill her, she devoured any crop not fenced or guarded. She used up whatever the town was willing to give—which wasn’t much.
When the Blockbuster went bankrupt and the Dominos stopped employing and/or serving dinosaurs, she hit the road. She hitchhiked her way west—like the pioneers of old—riding the backs of semi-trucks. She crushed at least one vending machine at every rest stop. She talked about how she was going to star in horror movies one day. She bought an oversized wig and practiced her best humanoid smile. She never made it far enough down the coast to find out if there was a market for dinosaur actors. She stopped in Portland for a meal at a soup kitchen and found herself ripping off somebody’s arm in the restroom for twenty bucks and an ounce. She started working the stage at reputable joints like Dante’s, but once the patrons had seen one dinosaur, they had seen enough. The shock and awe lasted a hot second, and she had to go underground. She got good at her job, though. In those past three months, she made enough money to rent a warehouse—most of the walls were temporary and some rusted millwork equipment remained bolted to the floor—but it was affordable and big enough for her to stretch out. She secretly still thought that her new life could lead to acting—maybe in a snuff film, but better than nothing. But she didn’t tell anybody. Who would she tell anyway? Her clients? She went through friends daily, changing them more often than her various wigs; most of them were only interested in saying they had a dinosaur friend. When she heard that the speakeasy’s dinosaur fights were filmed and distributed on the dark-web, she thought maybe a portion of the footage could be usable if she ever wanted to make an acting reel.
“I’m here for the money,” the t-rex replied. His hoarse, barely audible reply reeked of rotten teeth. “You?” he intoned, his eyes urging for something honest in response, but if he wasn’t willing to share the reasons beneath his reasons, Pilar didn’t feel the need to let down her guard.
“Fame,” the triceratops said, though it seemed disingenuous, and a quick look at their pallid surroundings didn’t square with her response. Moises considered calling bullshit, but then he’d feel compelled to be more honest too. He’d need to explain that money was just the façade. Maybe he just wanted the chance to sink his teeth into something again with a clear conscience, or maybe he was hoping to lose and die, or maybe that was bullshit, and something had beckoned him—something other than the skinhead and his small wad of singles. It was like there was a gravity to this city that had left him behind. Like something was beckoning him to its bloody dinosaur pit. Like it was a nexus of Americana and nostalgia where two prehistoric creatures could become what they once were. They could growl and fight and give into the despair that he knew they both felt. They could surrender to tooth and talon and horn, or they could fight back. They could prove themselves alive and momentarily forget about their nightmares. As he considered how to best phrase this, he felt heat emanating from the moment. It reminded him of a waking version of his ongoing night terrors. It was getting warmer, and a sonic boom resonated through the air, and he knew that somewhere on the horizon a meteor might be striking the earth. He knew exactly what would come next; he snorted air through his mighty nostrils and let out a roar, giving in to a tragedy that was both distant and familiar.
“Fame” Pilar said without missing a beat. A half-truth to match the t-rex’s standoffishness. If he didn’t want to let her in, then fuck it. All the humans she ever knew were assholes, why shouldn’t this dinosaur be the same? Had he proven the tiniest bit empathetic in this few-word exchange, maybe she’d divulge more. But for now, how could she explain that she wanted to finally kill someone, that the last three months prepared her for this. Or maybe something had beckoned her—something other than the promise of a sample for her reel. It was like there was a gravity to this city that had called her from Idaho. Like something was beckoning her to its bloody dinosaur pit. Like it was a memory of her lost family and a monument where two prehistoric creatures could remember their roots. They could growl and fight and give into the despair that she knew they both felt. They could surrender to tooth and talon and horn, or they could fight back. They could prove themselves alive and momentarily forget about their nightmares. As she considered how to best phrase this, she felt heat emanating from the moment. It reminded her of a waking version of her ongoing night terrors. It was getting warmer, and a sonic boom resonated through the air, and she knew that somewhere on the horizon a meteor might be striking the earth. She knew exactly what would come next; she snorted air through her mighty nostrils and let out a roar, giving in to a tragedy that was both distant and familiar.