A Pink Shadow
by Byron Bailey
Diana glared down at her four-inch long killing toe.
Gorged on raw steak, she wasn’t about to eat any children even if they chopped off their sweet and tender legs themselves and served them to her on paper plates drenched in her favorite sweet and sour sauce. And besides, who knew what diseases could be contracted from eating them? AIDS slicing through her immune system? Annoying. Ebola shredding her capillaries until she bled from every orifice ? Disconcerting. Cooties? Any disease that made the adults silent while sending the children scurrying could only be terrifying.
The door to her dressing room opened an inch. The tang of stale adrenaline and fermented fear crept into her nostrils. Rick probably had hired a sniper with a .410 rifle to climb up into the rafters and keep a bead on her just in case. Better not even flick her tongue out at a kid if she knew what was best for her. Gut claw that, Allosaurus!
No carnivore should ever sacrifice meat for ratings. The moment Albert started getting pudgy and pink with every child wanting to hug him, he should have gulped down the nearest bovine. But he just had to keep eating those bean salads and tofu casseroles. A meat-deprived Allosaurus could eat a child every twenty seconds. Albert lasted seventy-three seconds before his bullet-riddled body ceased to feed.
Rick slid into her dressing room, his cowboy hat tilted to the left. Almost in counterbalance, his thin smile tilted to the right. Diana felt tiny bats flapping about inside her stomach. They had to be bats. Only mammals could cause such discomfort to her digestive system. Diana couldn’t help but notice that producer and director Rick was also a mammal. “I got good and I got bad,” he said. “What’ll it be first?”
She flinched and then remembered the first rule of the Cretaceous. Always gulp down the juicies before the packs, thugs, and carrion feeders swarmed the kill. “The good.”
“It’s a tough sell. There’s nothing on the tube but bloody bits any more.”
“What about golfing and cooking?” She would rather eat tofu than return to the dinosaur reservation and deal blackjack to the tourists or even worse, wait for the Velociraptor thugs to scalp her. No one was going to turn her hide into wallets!
“Remember Pebble Beach? But I guess there’s still cooking for now. Anyway, there’s something you need to understand. Albert’s actions have put us in a very difficult situation. Enough bombs seem to be going off without our cast being one of them.”
“I’m not going to eat anyone.” The elephants rampaging across the wallpaper of her dressing room taunted her with their tusks. Four inches versus five feet. In the last sixty-four million years, the world had truly gone to the mammals.
“Of course you’re not, darling. And I’m not even saying that Albert is in the same class as the terror mongers. Still, the decision wasn’t finalized until a few minutes ago. Anything that makes a kid’s life sweeter right now can only be good. Therefore, The Vera Velociraptor Show will get its first season.”
Velociraptor ? No Velociraptor gang was going to slice into her if she had any say about it. Her eyes darted to the closet. No room for her tail. The window ? Just jump through and keep running. Maybe she’d be okay. Suddenly she remembered. She did have a say. She could speak. “Who is Vera Velociraptor?”
“That would be the bad news.”
“Who is Vera Velociraptor?” she repeated. Bad news always tasted foul like innards that had marinated too long in the sun. The carrion feeders might revel in the extra seasoning but she always preferred her meals sweet and juicy like she preferred her news.
“Well, Vera Velociraptor would be you.”
“Me?” All ten feet of her stiffened from jaw tip to tail tip. “But I’m Deinychus.” She forced her neck and back to relax, the natural curves returning to her body. Like all Deinychus, though, her tail remained stiffened except near the base where it could flex easily in any direction. “And my name is Diana.”
“Well, yes. You are Deinychus. And your name is Diana. But you’ re also an actress. As an actress, you’re going to play the part of Vera who happens to be a Velociraptor.”
“It should be easy for you to play the role of a Velociraptor. You both are dromaeosaurids with that killer toe sticking up when you walk. By the way, the kids just love the toe. Makes them think you’re giving them the thumbs up all of the time. And you both have stiffened tails, two legs, and long arms.”
“You forgot scales and blood,” she snorted. She was no more like a Velociraptor than a human was like a baboon. A Deinychus could look a human eye-to-eye, two bipedal predators marveling at each other’s efficiency. A Velociraptor, though, could only look a human in the solar plexus and take glee at the thought of biting the human in the groin. It was no accident that all of the coprolite jokes involved at least one Velociraptor. “Why can’t I just be Diana Deinychus?”
“Because our surveys show that most people think Deinychus is the name of a terrorist organization. Velociraptor, on the other hand, says dinosaur.”
“Velociraptor says dinosaur? This ignorance about Deinychus is exactly the reason that I need to be Diana.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll gradually expose the kids to Deinychus. When Deinychus becomes synonymous with dinosaur instead of car bomb, we’ll introduce one to the show.”
“Played by a Velociraptor, I bet.”
“Possibly. But I had in mind an episode when Vera comes out of the closet and admits she’s Deinychus. It’ll be beautiful. I’ll probably cry.”
“I feel sick.”
Rick patted her on the shoulder with clammy hands that left a damp imprint on her scales. At least he wouldn’t give her cooties unlike the children. Cooties had to be a childhood disease. Otherwise, why didn’t any of the adults ever talk about it? Yet it was odd that no one actually seemed to die directly from it. None of the obituaries ever mentioned cooties or complications of cooties.
“Let’s get to work. We have a show to make,” he said.
“Okay,” she grumbled. She had no choice. She had to be the tail. When most people looked at a Deinychus, all they saw was the so-called “terrible claw” on her toe which gave her species its name. But she was more than those four inches of sickle sharpness capable of disemboweling a bear. She was also the tail and like the claw, it too was special. When prey fled and then turned sharply in a move that would evade most predators, she could throw her tail to the side, turning her body with equal sharpness. Few creatures her size were as nimble. Tails lacking stiffening snapped when put to a similar use. She needed to turn sharply now. Be the tail! How hard could it be to play a Velociraptor, anyway. All she needed to do was learn a few coprolite jokes.
Diana stepped onto the set. Kiwi and strawberry drink saturated the air, tickled her nostrils. The children had arrived. She sniffed deep. She could almost imagine the aroma of fermenting scrub berries clinging to scraggly-limbed trees. In the Cretaceous, the Tenantosaurus herds would invariably gorge on the berries until they staggered and stumbled with drunkenness. A ton of juicies for the taking! Maybe kiwi and strawberry punch might make a decent marinade for her steaks.
Maria, Mario, Nicole, and John, raced across the set, new tennis shoes squeaking. Two boys and two girls supposedly. Diana could scrutinize those smiles, an occasional baby tooth missing, for days and not be sure which were the boys and which were the girls. But then she noticed their colors. Brown and a hue she could only describe as sickly. The brown ones had to be the boys. Wasn’t brown a human male color? Consequently, the sickly-colored ones had to be girls. She looked closer at the sickly ones. Splotches of white, pink, and peach oozed together forming what could only be described as a mess. Wasn’t pink considered a female color? Pink was probably even their natural color beneath the mess.
“Now let’s do the opening dance,” Rick said.
The children lined up fifteen feet from each other forming the corners of a square. Suddenly, a shattering cascade of xylophones raced up and down the musical scales. Diana ran. As soon as she passed Mario, she turned and lashed her tail out. Mario giggled and leaped over her tail. Then she sprinted to Nicole, let her have a turn at playing dino jump rope. Then on to Maria. Sprint, turn, swish. Sprint, turn, swish. Sprint, turn, swish.
She could almost imagine being home again, the grass caressing her legs, the sun washing down upon her. With every sprint, turn, swish, she could see the Tenantosaurus in front of her turning to escape. Sprint, turn, swish. The gap closed. Sprint, turn, swish. Her victim’s tail lashed out at her in a futile effort to stave off the inevitable. Sprint, turn, swish.
She longed to feel her scales soaked in blood. Sprint, turn, swish. Human beauty creams just didn’t keep them soft. Sprint, turn, swish. Sprint, turn, swish seemed so incomplete. Sprint, turn, swish. What was needed was the toe. Sprint, turn, swish. What would blood nourished on a steady diet of kiwi and strawberry drink taste like? Sprint, turn, swish. Sweet and sour children. Sprint, turn, swish. No fangs and no speed in their legs. Sprint, turn, swish. As defenseless as filet mignon. Sprint turn swish. How could she be hungry glutted on steaks ? Sprint turn swish. Fresh meat, they’d keep until she was hungry again.
The dance ended. Her killing toe throbbed to rip into intestine and liver. It was as if the Tenantosaurus had escaped, kicking up dirt in her mouth. For once, she could almost understand Albert. That glimpse of understanding didn’t change a thing, though. She needed blood.
“That was fun.” Nicole reached out and hugged her. Diana cringed. She could feel the cooties crawling across her scales, burrowing inwards with their own tiny killer toes slicing a path to internal organs. Then Maria clasped tiny arms around her. Diana couldn’t breathe. Maybe cooties was a lung infection ! Mario and John joined the group hug, surrounding her on all sides.
Soft children ’s hands slid across her scales. Maybe cooties couldn’t be passed to dinosaurs. She relaxed, allowed herself to breathe. She gazed upon Mario’s brown skin glistening under a sheen of perspiration like an egg in the rain. An egg in the rain? She stared at Maria. Another brown egg glistening in the rain. She always wanted hatchlings but career always came first. She gazed upon Nicole and John and felt her heart flutter. Poor, sickly eggs in desperate need of a mother’s attention. A string of snorts rattled from her nostrils. She wasn’t Albert! She would never eat any of the children now. The pink shadow that had been hovering over her faded into nothingness.
Suddenly, the blast ripped through the studio, engulfing Diana in a wave of searing orange and yellows. She gasped and found herself hurled to the floor, her ears ringing. The stench of smoke and burnt flesh flooded her nostrils. It was almost like being back home in the Cretaceous where wild fires would invariably bring easy juicies to the quick predator. A Deinychus was anything if not quick. But this fire was quicker than her.
The waves of searing orange and flame receded. She opened her eyes and staggered to her feet. Daggers of flame flickered sporadically across the mangled wall but what she mostly saw was simple destruction. Dolls and stuffed animals charred and dismembered. Chunks of wall missing and what wasn’t missing, cracked and scorched. And she saw Mario, at least all of him but his head. Poor little broken egg. She also saw Nicole. She had a head but she didn’t have a face anymore. And she didn’t have a pulse.
In the distance, she could hear sirens growing louder like the squawking of carrion eaters descending. She lurched forward and caught sight of Maria. Maria had a head and face. Maria also had a gaping hole where arm connected to shoulder. And Maria, too, had no pulse.
Rick staggered up to her. “Damn terrorists. They’re a disease that needs to be excised,” he hissed.
Cooties. There could be no other explanation. The symptoms of a disease that infected the adults and caused insanity ran like water through humanity. Physicists saying that light was both a particle and wave. Refugee camps where there was no refuge. The tax code. Burning oil as a fuel. Terrorists. The children had every reason to run from cooties.
She heard a cough. John crawled across the floor, tears staining his face. The last of her eggs. She wanted to vomit. At least he still had a face. Rick started to stagger toward him but Diana grabbed him by the shoulder. “Don’t touch him. You’re infected.”
He pointed to his ears indicating he couldn’t hear. Another symptom of cooties. He tried to break away with a backward lunge but Diana held on. No one was going to spread their cooties to her egg! Rick kicked out at her legs but she ignored the blows.
John crawled a few more feet and then collapsed in a heap, his chest rising in frenzied sobs. Her egg needed aid! She kicked out at Rick with her killer toe. Rick’ s entrails fell in a heap on the floor. So did Rick.
Diana felt the first and second bullet enter her chest cavity. She never felt the third.
Copyright © 2004 by Byron Bailey