Neither foaled nor hatched, you came to life in a Cretaceous swamp with a waterlily in your lap and a dinosaur’s teeth at your throat. No time for petal-soft shyness—yousprouted barbs and claws and thorns and instincts all, muscles bunched to fight before you could fly. Your fists grappled slick teeth. Your legs kicked and found a feathered chest and kept kicking, driving breath from the jaws snapping at your face. The waterlily was lost in those first seconds of life, and you dropped a moment after, tangling wings and roots and plunging deep into mud.
The coelurosaur sneezed, backstepping, blinking at the loss of its meal and at the unpleasant sting on her tongue. She scuffed the mud where you had disappeared. Threads of roots and mycelia shivered before they embraced the coelurosaur, laddering up toes and shins and pulling her into the earth, her eyes wide and her throat choked with hyphae. You rose above her, wings torn and barbed skin bloody, cocking your head to watch her struggles. You grew needle teeth in imitation, fashioned your own eyes wide to gulp down binocular daylight, conscious only of one thought: protect the flowers.
You feasted then, the first feast of many.
The loss of that first waterlily never left you. Your wings mended with food and sunshine. You spent hours cross-legged on waterlilies, watching kite-tailed pterosaurs and sharp-toothed birds and dragonflies half again your size slice and soar on their errands. In time you tested your own wings and found them willing to part the air for your passage. You spent long years buzzing above the swamp, your wings growing surer, your carapace beetle-bright, but though lilypads grew riot across the water, not once did another flower ripen its petals in your path.
You came to understand the meaning of sun and season. The Gondwanan floodplain lay ashore from the great monsoon cycle of the Tethys Sea, awash half the year in typhoons and cracking beneath the sun the other half. The rhythm mirrored something deep within the cells of you, something you didn’t yet understand.
Protect the flowers, urged your instincts, but there were none to be found.
You felt kinship with the beetles and hymenopterans that ripened and hatched and roved from the swamp’s edges, only to be chased and devoured by the inexhaustible teeth of the coelurosaurs. While sheltering from monsoon rains beneath some cycads, you discovered a trick: if you shook your wings just so, you scattered pollen that hymenopterans were pleased to feast upon. They soon learned to follow you by scent, a glistening horde of flies and flying ants that carried you in greater grandeur than any tyrant.
You were surprised to discover an affinity with the great herbivores that ate their way across the floodplains. Listening to your plants, you learned the destruction suited them, freeing earth from the clutches of ferns and conifers and tenacious moss, opening possibilities for new things, new powers. You found delight in riding astride the neck of an Iguanodon as it browsed with its herd across the drought-hardened swamp, singing to it of fallen stars and the wickedness in the heart of the Moon. The iguanodonts learned to follow your tune, as did the club-tailed ankylosaurs and the strangely quilled Protoceratops. Youdanced them this way and that, and bared your teeth at any little coelurosaurs that fled from their march. Your friends the flies and beetles delighted in the dinosaurs’ fur and dung
One day you discovered you were not the only folk of your kind in those forests. When the great conifer woods atop the ridges released their pollen after the monsoon, you felt tiny stabs of unwelcome. Voices previously unnoticed in the wind now pitched themselves to your hearing.
Unmake yourself, they hissed. Unevolve. Dry, our love—dry to dust, wither root and branch. Perish your leaves. Un-be.
You raised your quills and showed your fangs, fluttering atop the head of the largest iguanodont. A phalanx of armored ankylosaurs trundled into place, surrounding you.
Upstart. Callow spirit. Know your place. You are mulch, our love. You are food for us. Un-be.
You willed your tongue to fashion similar sounds. “Who are you, then? Who dares to challenge me?”
The wind hissed around you, pine pollen scratching and biting at your eyes, your lips. Sylphs made themselves known, a cloud of them, millions of them dusting the air, just out of range of your teeth.
Ours is the forest. Ours is the earth and its air. Crawl back into nothingness. Shrivel away.
For the first time since you came to be, you knew fear. Youhissed and lunged at the sylphs, who drifted out of reach with the ease of untold millions of years. And beneath you, your dinosaur friends grunted and grew uneasy. Something stalked through the conifers, a vast thing of shadow and tooth and sharpened eye.
The ankylosaurs knew one way to face this thing—they locked shoulder to shoulder, turning their club-tails toward the beast. The iguanodonts, however, knew quite a contrary way. They fled, ignoring your shrieks, sending you spinning helplessly into the cloud of sylphs. They bit and stung and clawed at you, a million motes bent upon your unmaking. Youfought your way down, wingstroke by wingstroke, pummeled by the dust and commotion of the fleeing herd, only to find other beings: toothy goblins in mossy fur, will-o’-wisps with skulls spiked like cycads, all waiting to pounce upon you, all delighted to feast on their newfound kin.
With a keening cry, the tyrannosaur lunged from the ridge, aiming not for the armored phalanx but for a knot of straggling iguanodonts, lost and honking for their herd. You flinched away from a goblin’s maw, tumbled into an infestation of sylphs that burned and stabbed at your eyes. The ankylosaurs lowed to one another.
Un-be, screamed the voice of the wind.
It came to you then, the possibilities you had never quite sounded, the dimension you had never fully explored. You went inside yourself and beside yourself, and sang a wail of petals and pollen, mourning that which you had lost, oh so long ago.
You doubled yourself, and doubled yourself again. Two newmade selves came to be in a rush of teeth and claws, holding tight to newmade flowers. The sylphs shrieked above them, lashing them with needles, pelting them with cones. Goblins gasped out spores. The tyrannosaur pounced, slamming a young Iguanodon to the mud.
You smiled at yourself, and smiled again. You felt wistful, seeing the lilies in the hands of your twins, knowing you would never again know such petals of your own. Their wings gleamed star-bright through the dust and pollen.
“Protect the flowers,” you said together.
Your two new selves rallied the flies and ants to them and cut through the sylph cloud, racing back to the safety of your lilypads. You let your first self sink through the claws and tongues of the goblins, alighting upon the earth, where once more the mycelia shivered to embrace you.
“I will be,” you said, “I will be, and I will always be.”
Rick Hollon (they/them or fey/fem) is a nonbinary, bi/queer writer and dinosaur enthusiast from the American Midwest. Feir work has appeared in perhappened, The Daily Drunk, Cool Rock Repository, Moss Puppy, and elsewhere. Find them on Twitter at SailorTheia.