Louise called in sick three days in a row to go to Mesozoic Mecca, the new dinosaur attraction on the outskirts of town. The opening Saturday had been a choked and chaotic affair, and she preferred the relative quiet of the weekdays.
The wide patch of woodland where the dino statues stood was filled with tall oak trees casting far shadows on the people ambling through. But after opening day, Louise didn’t wander the park like a tourist. She sat on the wooden bench carved to look like a fossil and waited for the dinosaurs to come to her.
And they did. Performers, dressed in hyper-realistic costumes made of silicone rubber and high-density foam roamed the area, appearing from nothing (their camouflage was excellent), often startling unsuspecting guests who would shriek, then giggle.
Sometimes two or three dinosaurs would converge in the wild and sniff at each other like dogs, before either continuing on their way, or stopping to frolic among the trees. If these meetings turned aggressive, with the dinos roaring, it was only, Louise noticed, when there weren’t any children watching.
By day three, the dinosaurs had realized Louise spent most of her time on the fossil bench, and they began to perform for her benefit.
During one of those performances, Louise’s boss Mark called. “You must be pretty rough. I don’t think you’ve used a single sick day since you started working here. Whatever you’ve got must have knocked you out!” Louise dropped her voice, clearing her throat a few times, before adopting a rough tone for her own performance. She coughed to cover up the dinosaur roaring in the background. The dinos stopped, intrigued by these new noises, and began to creep closer.
“Yup, it’s bad. Hurts to talk.” She coughed a few more times, and a T-Rex tilted its head at her.
“Hmmmm,” Mark replied. “Well, get some rest. Feel better soon. We need you back here!”
Louise grunted in a manner she hoped was befitting someone on day three of an unspecified illness, then ended the call. The curious T-Rex stepped forward, nudging Louise’s hand with its head and she held her breath. She’d never seen them initiate contact with a guest before.
Louise’s phone dinged and the dinosaur, staying in character, startled back. A message from Mark, asking about a file, even though there were at least three people in the office who would have the info he needed. She stared at the screen, unable to summon the interest to text back. Another message dinged. And another.
The T-Rex drew closer and lowered its huge snout into Louise’s lap as she sat still. She swore she could feel hot breath from its nostrils. It opened its mouth, revealing a set of perfect white teeth, painted with a gleam. The T-Rex eased its lower jaw under Louise’s hand, its eyes watching her, and Louise surrendered her phone to the beast’s maw. Prize obtained, the dinosaur drew back, snapping its mouth shut once Louise’s hand was free, and ran away. Good, maybe the dinosaur would answer Mark’s inevitable call. A few growls should buy her another day. Maybe two.
Louise remained at her post for the rest of the day, watching the dinosaurs as they watched her. After the second announcement about Mesozoic Mecca’s imminent closure, Louise made her way to the camouflaged storage unit at the edge of the park. She knocked on the tin door, and a young woman with short blue hair dressed all in black popped her head out.
“I think one of the T-Rexes took my phone,” Louise said. The woman laughed.
“That would be Tim. Sorry. I was going to take it up to customer service. Tim said you’d been here every day and he figured you’d be okay with a little prank. Hope it didn’t freak you out too much.”
Louise shook her head as the blue-haired woman slipped back into the unit, leaving the door open. Louise peeked in at a row of dinosaur costumes resting on the tables, the legs dangling behind. She took a tentative step forward, then caught the eye of a gorgeous raptor perched on a low shelving unit. In an instant she was by the dinosaur’s side.
The raptor’s cool skin rumbled under her fingers like mini speed bumps as she stroked its head. The skin on the neck crinkled like worn tissue paper. She drew her hand down the raptor’s back, along the stripe of iridescent blue running from eye to tail. Louise opened the dinosaur’s mouth with care and leaned closer. The smell of rubber hit her, and also the tang of earth, soft dirt after a rainfall. She slipped her arm around the raptor’s neck, cradling its head.
“That’s Dolly,” the blue-haired woman said, causing Lousie to jump back. “It’s okay, go ahead.” The woman held out Louise’s phone, and Lousie pocketed it without a glance. “Dolly’s retired, unfortunately. She only made it to the majors one day before they benched her. Injury.”
The woman pointed to Dolly’s thigh where a scar ran a foot and a half down the raptor’s leg. “Tim and I patched it up pretty good, but the boss doesn’t want any imperfections out there.”
Louise drew her finger along the rupture, feeling how the rubber had been sewn back together, a scar of pink foam rubber visible under the grey-blue skin. She looked back to Dolly’s head, held by the raptor’s amber eyes.
“You know,” the blue-haired woman said, “the boss is looking to unload her. Make space for a stegosaurus being shipped over. If you’re interested.”
Nothing bored Mark more than dealing with this particular HR rep. When Louise stopped even calling in sick and refused to answer her phone, Mark started the process of replacing her that day. He could make a decision immediately, but Jackson from HR took thirty minutes to decide if hard-working should go before dependable or vice-versa in the job posting they were creating.
In an effort to avoid rolling his eyes, Mark pulled out his phone and started scrolling headlines.
“Did you hear about this?” he said. “That new theme park, the dino-farm or whatever, is saying there’s an extra dinosaur roaming the forest. I guess some nut with their own costume is showing up, someone not on payroll. A bunch of the employees started sticking around in costume after the park closes to find this rogue dino. Play with it, or whatever. Weirdos.”
Jackson cleared his throat and pushed the unfinished job posting towards Mark, with several words circled in red. Mark put his phone down and visualized Louise’s face. “Just put whatever fancy HR words you use to get someone who will be here every day and do the same boring thing without complaining, and won’t bother me with questions. And someone who answers their goddamn phone.”
Mark left the conference room, passing Louise’s desk now riddled with pink messages, files towering in the in-box. Back in his office, he clicked on the video link attached to the dino-nutjob story. A grainy image, shot at dusk, began moving on his phone, of the rogue raptor tilting its head back and roaring at the night sky. Mark swore the thing was grinning. The beast roared again, then turned and crashed into the trees and brush.
Amy Neufeld is a perfectly fine person who lives, works, knits, and writes in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. She has one husband, one calico cat, and two daughters. She writes plays, novels, and short stories. Follow her quest to become a River Phoenix Movie Completist at www.amyneufeldwrites.com. Amy has been published in Daily Drunk Magazine, Frazzled, Little Old Lady Comedy, and has written for CBC Radio’s “The Irrelevant Show”. Find her on Twitter @AmyRNeufeld.