Night Harvest: “(Don’t Fear) the Raptor” by Anne Marie

Posted by on Oct 12, 2015 in Night Harvest, NightHarvest, Writing | 4 comments

Night Harvest: “(Don’t Fear) the Raptor” by Anne Marie

Welcome to the Night Harvest. For the entire month of October, we’ll be featuring scary stories and illustrations from talented authors and artists around the globe. I hope you stay awhile. After all, the Night Harvest is quite a scream. You can see the live list of participants and their posts dates on this link.

 

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“(Don’t Fear) the Raptor”

by Anne Marie

 

“In all my wanderings I have never discovered anything quite so powerful as the relationship between a young man and his velociraptor.”

~ Sebastian Tyranno, explorer and first human to reach the Inland Sea

 

 

Earth, 78 million years ago

 

 

Nothing’s safe with a velociraptor in the house.

Ma’s hollers pierce through my bedroom door, but I don’t understand any of the words. Must be one of Victor’s indiscretions. I finish buffing my brachio-leather wingtip shoes, trying not to get polish all over my clean shirt because Emma Troödon’s visiting today for the first time in five years.

“MATTHEW LUCAS FARMER!”

I cringe when she uses my full name, and trace my fingers along the puckered scar on my upper arm. When I was eight, my older brothers convinced me to sear the brand of our triceratops ranch into my flesh like an animal. Steve and Joe held me down, and Patrick stuck the white-hot branding iron into my melting flesh. The pain erupted like a super volcano. The sizzle made me vomit. The brand—a reverse “F” backed with an “R” for Farmer’s Ranch—continued to pus and scab over, then split open again before healing into a ropey-pink scar.

Ma fitted all three boys with matching brands, and I was rewarded for my bravery with the pet I’d been begging her to let me keep: Victor. I’d do anything for him, including facing Ma’s wrath.

Here we go, I think as she bursts into my room with Victor tucked under her arm. One hand grips down on his back claws and the other’s clamped over Victor’s mouth; it drips with albumen and blood. There are sparks in Ma’s eyes. She tosses him onto my bed where he shakes himself off, flinging yolk everywhere.

“Victor!” I flick pieces of eggshell off my cuff. “What did you do now?”

Ma stares me down. “It’s not what he did. It’s what you forgot to do.”

I run through my mental checklist of things I forgot to do today. It’s way too long. Victor crawls over unmade sheets and sticks his head under my pillow; shamed when it isn’t his fault. I smooth the feathers along Victor’s back, avoiding Ma’s steely gaze.

All the while Victor’s chirping, “Bad Victor!” Only, it comes out “Vic. Torrrrr.”

Something flimsy and slick hits me in the face. Before I say, “Rexing hell?” my calendar crumples into my lap. Ten days are circled in red. Every third day I’m supposed to feed Victor fresh protein instead of his daily raptor kibble. He never complained when I missed his feedings twice this week. Evidently, he found a way to feed himself.

“I’ve been getting things ready for the Sauropod Festival,” I say, folding the calendar back to the current month. I take it to my desk. “I honestly forgot.”

While Ma was throwing things at me, Victor managed to slip off the bed and now rests his head against her shoe. He chirps, clicks, and repeats, “Bad Victor!”

She ignores him. “He broke into the archaeopteryx roost. Before anyone could stop him, he ate sixteen eggs.” The fire creeps back into her eyes. “And he ate enough of Paul that Paul will be today’s lunch.”

“I’m sorry. I know you loved Paul.” I despised Paul, and I’m not really sorry. As the only male archaeopteryx on our property, he cawed and hooted all night long. The coops aren’t far from my window either. I glance over to find the bottom frame is suspiciously bent open. Better not point this out. “I’ll pay for the eggs and a replacement male from my savings.”

Ma bends to scratch Victor along his jawline. He leans into her hand, forgiven. “Don’t let it happen again. We—you!—can’t afford to replace every animal Victor eats when you neglect him.”

I nod. She gently untangles herself from Victor’s grasp, petting him on the head, and then leaves my room. The air’s lighter and brighter when she’s gone.

The ground rumbles, announcing the arrival of another guest from a far-off compound like ours to celebrate the harvest. I jam my feet into my shoes and race down the hallway, Victor close at my heels.

 

***

 

Emma Troödon stands next to their stegocart. She bears a striking resemblance to her father, tall and lean, yet her cheekbones mirror her mother’s softer face. A hundred braids of long hair are piled on her head, held in place with polished carnosaurid finger bones. The strap of a rifle crosses her filled-out chest. My heart beats in three-quarter time when I catch her sizing me up. Her eyes, warm and bright, match the sky at midday. Her lips are the color of sunset after a controlled burn in one of the fields. I want so badly to taste them.

Her father jumps off the cart to talks with Pa, low and serious. Two thick braids fall down his back; one for each of his daughters. A closely shaven patch of skin between them marks where his wife’s braid hanged. He’ll keep it shorn for a year while he grieves. I’d almost forgotten why Emma missed so many yearly harvest celebrations. Her mother fell ill, and then she died.

“Sorry about your mom.” I lean in Emma’s direction, not daring to run a thumb against her wrist, but finding my hand reaching toward her anyway.

“Thank you,” she whispers, her voice thick. My own parents stand a few feet from me, and imagining life without them is impossible. Emma swallows, stands straighter.

“How’s Sophia and Aiden?” I’m embarrassed how fast I change the topic to avoid painful things.

“Sophia’s eight month’s pregnant. She sent a case of her mango salsa.”

I heft the box carrying twelve glass jars of mango salsa from their cart into our compound. Emma gives me a weak smile. I don’t want to do anything to upset her. It’s enough that she’s here. As we walk, Victor hops between us, begging and twirling his plumage. Emma claps. Victor jumps higher. He sniffs for a strip of jerky or better: an egg.

I laugh. “Show off.”

“Good Victor. Treat. Treat,” he chirps back.

Placing the jars on the counter in the kitchen, I glare down at him. His eyes are wide with anticipation. “No more treats.”

Emma’s bottom lip pouts. I cave. “Fine. Give him a jerky stick.” I point to the metal canister with the childproof lid.

Victor’s the happiest velociraptor that ever lived.

 

***

 

Not long after sunset, a group of us sneaks away from the festival lights, music, and adults to dart across the fallow field. We pass one of the wind turbines, rotating high above. The outlying forest offers leaves for cover and promises to keep our secrets. First, we have to cross the line of tyrannosaurus urine without getting any on our clothes. The acrid smell burns my nose. Victor, riding in my backpack, hisses against my ear.

“It’s piss, Victor. There are no ‘Big Tooths.’” I use his term for the various large carnivores that wander near our property and sometimes prey on stray triceratops calves.

Sean waves a hand. “There’s a downed tree over here. Let’s climb over the river of t-pee.”

“Gross!” Emma groans beside me. Her melodic voice tickles down my spine. “We use allosaurid urine around our compound. Less caustic to the land … and my nose.”

I grab her hand, and when she doesn’t pull away, butterflies the size of my fist flutter inside. I lead her to the natural bridge. “What do you do during rutting season?”

“Keep my stego-gun close,” she pats the rifle strapped across her back, “and hope I don’t resemble a male allosaurus.”

We both grin. Heat creeps up the back of my neck when I hold out my other hand to help her climb the bridge. She waves me away, bounding up the roots like she’s been doing this all her life. I get a nice view of her ass. Being a gentleman has its perks. She lifts the collar of her shirt to cover her nose, revealing a thin band of skin above her waistband. I break out in a nervous sweat that has nothing to do with the heavy humidity. Fingers itch to prove her skin’s softer than the diaphanous wings of a pterosaur. I blink hard, cross and uncross my arms, then climb to join her.

We race across the tree bridge and into the waiting undergrowth where it’s warm and sticky from the day’s heat. Gathered moisture splashes our faces as we batter through thick green ferns. The full moon sits low on the horizon like a perfect egg. Even Victor couldn’t eat an egg that large, but he’d stuff himself until succumbing to a food coma.

Six of us follow one of our farmhands, Hayden, single-file along a worn path until we stop at a small clearing surrounded by tangled vines and thick-leaved plants. It’s the same spot we’ve been sneaking away to for years. When we were much younger, we’d play Hide-and-Seek, but now we come here to tell stories while luckier couples sneak off to make out. The thought terrifies and delights me. Ahead, Emma walks, all long legs and purpose, as her stego-gun bumps against her lower back.

When we get to our spot, Sean and Tim disappear to gather wood for a fire. Claire and Grace spread out blankets. Emma and I remove the debris inside and around the smoke-blackened rock circle. Hayden’s scanning the forest with his night vision goggles. Satisfied there aren’t any threats, he plops down onto one of the blankets with a bottle of spiny fruit wine. Victor remains in his harness, leash trailing behind him, sniffing and licking everything. He stops to snap up a dragonfly half his size.

“How’s there any room left?” I tease. He answers by breaking off the insect’s quivering legs and swallowing them whole.

Tim, his arms full of dead wood, returns before Sean. Long raised scratches show up along his skin where the bark slashed him. Claire and I help him stack it neatly inside the stone circle. Sean crashes through the undergrowth, shushing the calls of night lizards and cicadas. Emma grips the cuff of my jacket, tugs, and lets go. She glides away from the group. I follow, consumed by her teasing smile.

We stop at the outskirts of the clearing, far enough away so no one will overhear us. Emma twists her thumbs through the loops on her jeans. She kicks at the ground, opens her mouth but says nothing. I take her lead and stare down at my wingtips. This morning they were polished so brightly I could see my face in them. Now they’re smudged with wet earth and grass. I don’t really care, but I can’t tear my eyes away.

“How’re you doing, Emma?” I ask to cover the sound of my erratic heartbeat threatening to explode through my ribs with the nearness of her. “I mean, after your mom and everything.”

I snap my mouth shut, unable to take it back. It hangs between us, ugly and raw. Emma gazes at me before turning her eyes to the canopy. We stand there, toes almost touching, but we couldn’t be farther apart.

She finally offers, “I can’t believe she’s gone. It’s like a nightmare without the waking up part.” Her eyes shine with unshed tears.

“Sorry,” I mumble. “I shouldn’t have brought her up. Again. I’m such a pachy.”

“It’s okay,” Emma says. “No one at home will talk about her. I want to talk about her. About how we burned her at dawn and ground her bones to spread on the fields. About how we fought the day before she died. I … miss her.”

Emma shivers. I remove my jacket and wrap her in it. It’s five sizes too big. She clutches the edges, pulling them close. It might be the spiny fruit wine, or the fact that I’ve crushed on her since I was twelve, but I don’t stop myself from stepping closer. Her cheek’s like corn silk beneath my thumb. I wait for her to tilt her face up, and then I press my lips against hers. My heart stops, my knees shake until she kisses me back. I run my fingers through her hair releasing mint and citrus.

She tastes like rose plums and sunshine. At first, I’m spinning in space without an anchor. And then Emma’s breath is in my mouth, grounding me. All too soon it’s over. Emma kisses the corner of my lips. She whispers, “We should get back.” I hesitate, but her eyes promise more later.

We find seats near a blazing fire. Victor won’t go near the flames. He rests against my hip and curls up to sleep. Absently, I pet his distended belly while Hayden clears his throat. A hush settles over us, as we wait for him to spin a tale. Emma twines her fingers with mine and leans against my shoulder. Tim gives me a goofy grin. I brush a strand of hair off Emma’s cheek, praying this isn’t a dream.

Hayden’s mouth shapes the words of the ancient language like a famous raconteur. The harmony of his voice and Emma’s warm skin on mine almost lull me to sleep. The entire forest goes eerily quiet, hanging on his every word. I don’t recognize what he’s saying because I’m better with numbers than languages, but it ties me to the old world. Back to a time when we were one land, one people, instead of scattered like stars across the sky. His voice rises; this must be where the tale takes an unexpected turn. He holds every set of eyes in rapt attention.

A dark shape obstructs our view of Hayden. Screams shake me from my peaceful state. The shape clamps down, a spurt of arterial blood arcs across the fire. Warm and wet, it splatters across my face. Another shape erupts from between the trees to slash off his arm.

Chaos follows. Everyone runs in different directions from the shadows sucking the marrow from Hayden’s bones. I scoop up Victor, who’s baring his teeth and hissing, snatch Emma’s sweaty hand, and gulp a lungful of copper-infused air.

We bolt from the clearing, screams and ripping flesh echoing around us. Emma yanks her hand from mine. In one swift movement, she has her gun cocked and positioned against her shoulder. She scans the path behind us through the sight. I’m waiting for Tim or Grace or anyone to race past. To prove my family and friends are alive. That Emma and I aren’t the only ones who made it.

“Let’s go!” Victor’s heavy in my arms.

She doesn’t lower her weapon. “Those were megaloraptors. They hunt in packs.”

“Megaloraptors?” I ask, putting Victor down. “They went extinct millions of years ago.”

“Says you.”

My voice cracks as I plea, “Says the fossil record.”

Victor crouches low to the ground, hissing. He chirps out, “Big Tooths,” before the giant head of a megaloraptor explodes from the foliage. All thoughts flee in the face of gnashing razor-sharp teeth.

“Convince him he’s extinct!”

There’s nowhere to hide. Emma backs up against me, her stego-gun trained on the megaloraptor’s head.

“Okay, two of them attacked Hayden. One’s here now,” she says, tapping a finger for each on the rifle’s stock. Beads of sweat dot her brow, and yet her gun’s not shaking with fear. She’s not shaking with fear. The megaloraptor cocks his head, as if calculating her words. “Which means the other one’s circling around to ambush us.”

“Or there are three of them out here,” I remind her, stepping forward to put myself between her and death.

She smirks and jiggles her weapon. “Who has the gun?” Then she whispers so low I’m not sure if I hear correctly, “I only have two bullets.”

From his place at my feet, Victor whistles and postures a warning at the dino easily ten times larger, then charges. I lunge to stop him and snatch air. The bigger raptor sizes up the smaller. With a flick of its head, it snags Victor with its teeth, flips him into its mouth, and swallows him whole. I scream. That did not just happen.

I rub the scar on my wrist where Victor bit me minutes after hatching. He’s gone; the scar remains. My organs liquefy, pour down into my feet, into the ground, and anchor me to the spot. A hole gaps inside my chest. Victor kept the pain away. All the nights he slept tucked into the crock of my arm. The mornings he woke me up with his cold muzzle. Loss is a lot like falling in love, except nothing stops the fall.

“Shoot it!”

“What about the others?” Emma shouts back.

“It ate Victor! Kill it!”

Emma shakes her head. “If I waste a bullet and there are two more, we’re rexed.”

Feeling floods back into my limbs with a snap. I bend down and pick up the nearest stone, put my grief and anger into the effort, and hurl it at the megaloraptor. Heavier than anticipated, the stone falls with a thud two feet away. The raptor peers down at it from its towering height with a mocking grin.

“You ate my best friend!” I dig around for another stone.

The raptor cocks its head. Waits. I scream at it again. It answers using a sound like one of Hayden’s story words.

Emma’s eyes go wide. “It said, ‘Egg-thief.’”

“Egg-thief?” I hold my ground. Search the megaloraptor’s eyes. “I didn’t steal any eggs.”

The giant head tilts again, the second eyelid closing over a yellow iris. It makes another noise, but this time it isn’t a word. More like an “urp,” then another, and another. When it bends over, Victor’s tiny body drops from its gullet. Emma steps sideways, blocking my path to him.

“It’s a trap to lure you closer.” She’s right, but I’m drowning in loss.

Emma holds the rifle trained on the raptor. Shots fire somewhere in the darkness. The earth thunders below as two more megaloraptors streak past. One of them brushes so near I tumble over and gaze up, the wind knocked out of me. The raptor stops, pirouettes on one foot, and towers above me. It leans down so close it exhales iron and rot down my throat.

“Back off,” Emma says through clenched teeth.

All three raptors screech and squawk and make guttural noises, completely ignoring Emma. They glower down at a very weapon-free me. All I focus on is one razor-sharp tooth, stained yellow and glistening. The animal grunts and snorts above me, inhaling every inch of my exposed flesh. Saliva spatters my face and arms. I don’t move a millimeter to wipe it away. Satisfied or bored, it growls low, so close my bones vibrate.

Then the megaloraptor turns away and shoots into the darkness followed by the other two. The forest remains silent and still, as if holding its breath for the next attack, until another round of gunfire shatters the quiet. I pat my jeans to check if I’ve pissed myself. My pants are dry, thank halibut.

I scramble to where Victor lies in a sloppy heap. Falling to my knees, I wipe away mucus and stomach acid from his nostrils. Long tendrils of it stick to my fingers, burning my flesh. Victor’s feathers are tamped down revealing pink and scalded skin. Emma pushes my jacket at me, then circles us with her rifle pointed at megaloraptor height.

The jacket soaks up goo before Victor’s clean enough to put my ear near his snout. He’s not breathing. I place my hand over his chest, finding a weak, erratic heartbeat. Raptors have air sacs and lungs. I don’t quite understand the mechanics, but I have to save him. I cover his nostrils and snout with my mouth and force in a short, hard breath

Nothing happens. I breathe again. Shouts and more rifle fire crackle in the distance.

“Please, Victor,” I beg him, “please don’t go.”

I give him three more quick breaths, observing his tiny ribcage rise and fall. Victor shudders violently. His eyes snap open. Shut. Open. Shut. I run a finger along his jaw, tears splash against his chest. He rolls over and hacks out a lump of slime and pieces of his dragonfly dinner. Gingerly, I pick him up, his muscles slack, body loose. Victor nuzzles his head against my throat.

“Bad Victor,” he croaks.

“No, Victor you’re a hero,” Emma dissents, reaching into her pocket and producing a small piece of jerky.

Victor snaps it up like nothing happened. I’m shaking with relief when Ma and several others crash through the trees. They’re wearing night-vision goggles and packing stego-guns with ropes of ammunition.

“Matthew! Emma!” Ma runs over and embraces us both. “We were so worried.”

I tell her everything. She winces as I describe Hayden’s death. Relief floods my system when she tells us everyone else is alive and accounted for. Ma wipes the blood from my face. I don’t mention it’s Hayden’s. While I talk, she reaches out and nudges my arm, my face, Victor’s tail, and Emma’s hand. As if touch makes us alive and real.

“What happened?” I ask, cradling Victor so close the remaining stomach acid burns through my shirt. “We need to get back and clean him off.”

Ma won’t look at me. Her words spill out as my stomach clenches. “During the festivities the grid was knocked out. Your Pa, thinking it was a power bump, went to fix it. He was attacked by two megaloraptors.”

Emma squeezes my elbow, preventing me from spinning away again.

“He’ll live,” Ma reassures. “The doc’s working on him.”

I clench my fists, not wanting to cry in front of Emma. “How bad is it?”

“He lost a leg and most of his arm before we heard screams. Emma’s Pa killed one. The other escaped.” She pauses. “He lost a lot of blood.”

Emma should have shot both her bullets. I should have brought my own rifle. I wish the expression on Ma’s face didn’t make me feel guilty down to my very marrow.

“With everyone inside”—she stares at me—“we noted you lot were missing and searched the entire compound.”

“Hayden had a story,” And I kissed Emma.

“I’m not mad,” Ma says. “You’re alive. That’s all I care about. Let’s get where it’s safe. We don’t know why they attacked. They’re intelligent. We need to plan for another snare.”

I hug her, more for my sake than hers. When we part, she hands me her stego-gun in exchange for Victor. She kisses the space between his closed eyes.

Victor tries to make himself comfortable. The odor of slightly digested-flesh hangs in the air. From his perch in Ma’s arms, Victor’s fragile but alive. I try to look strong for Victor. For Pa. I wipe my hands on my pants, streaked with stomach acid, blood, and sadness. Emma runs a palm down my arm, then laces her fingers with mine. I rest my chin on the top of her head.

“Guess you’re staying a while.”

Emma steps back, disentangles her hand from mine. Tears brim in her lower lids, then spill down her cheeks. She shrugs off my touch when I lay a comforting palm on her collarbone. She’s in shock, I tell myself.

But she whispers, “I’m the egg thief.”

I squint at her; one side of my mouth pulls taut in disbelief. “What do you mean? I don’t see any eggs. Just a girl and her stego-gun.”

Emma refuses to smile or take it back. She bites her lip, a calm settles over her features like a mask.

“Back home,” she begins and struggles to continue. After a long pause, she says, “An older girl dared me to steal a megaloraptor egg from the nest we’d found near a disused potash mine. They were supposed to be extinct. A find like that would bring enough money to keep our farm out of debt!”

Her words tumble inside my head. They attacked Pa because of her. One of them almost ate Victor because of her. They’re here because of her. Enough logic fills my head that I’m about to tell her to throw herself into a volcano, but tears glitter down her cheeks. She shivers and steps away from me. Something in my chest, maybe the stone around my heart, shatters. She’s terrified and in real danger.

“I won’t let you face them alone,” I say. “I’ll help as long as you promise to return the egg.”

The shadow of a smile crosses the edges of her mouth. She takes a deep breath. “Thank you,” she says, regarding me for the first time since we kissed. “We need to get leagues from here before the megaloraptors return.”

Determination wars with fear and anxiety inside me as we race toward home.

 

About the Author

anne-marie-author-pictureAnne Marie grew up in Aurora, Colorado. She attended the University of Colorado for a BA in English Literature, where she fell in love with folklore and myths from around the world. She adores languages, great white sharks, and the impossible. Her work usually includes two of those things. She edits for Swoon Romance, Month9Books, and Tantrum Books.

Follow her on Twitter @annemariewrites.

            

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Fantastic story! Great job building the world in such a short format. Really enjoyed it.

    • Thank you! World-building is one of my fav things in storytelling.

  2. This was great! I’m not normally a big fan of dinosaur stories, but I really enjoyed this one. You did a wonderful job of building the world up, and I found myself wanting to read more. Thank you for sharing it!

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