D e c e m b e r   2 0 0 2

Guest Writer

Game called on account of dinosaurs
Tar pit
by Edward Morris Jr.

ssssht," said the telephone. "Amtrak is still experiencing trackage issues in the following areas: Portland Metro. Medford. Outlying ..."

"Meep!" I screamed. "Would you give me five minutes, please?!"

I set the faux-old-timey brass receiver back down in its forked cradle and carefully detached my cat Meep's claws from where they hung in the skin of my back like one of those piercing freaks that swings on hooks from bungee cords in front of a camera. My baggy work shirt was showing several more holes.

Every animal in Portland had been flipping out since the first outbreaks, a month or so ago. And all of them were now apparently out to mess up my day.

The Compsognathus yearling multitudes tripping over their snake-like necks up and down the fire escape of my building sounded like a herd of turtles. After the second outbreak, the Compys had invaded the recycling bins downstairs, breaking most of the returnable bottles while looking for the last dreg or two of Carlsberg or St. Pauli Girl. What an utterly counterproductive breed.

But now they skittered over the fire escape like nobody's business. Their three-toed feet clanged and bonked on the metal struts of the painted 1920s idea of safety. A lot of them were almost falling off, catching and holding with their sewing-machine teeth, then swinging back up with a snap of the neck that made them look like little chameleon yo-yos.

It made me really stop and watch, as so many things about them and all their kind did. What had we forgotten to learn from the lizards? Some of the knowledge might be recoverable, but for now we were all treated in actual fact to the idea that they had died out for one reason: Two major strains of hostile parasite could not exist on planet Earth.

Any way around, Meep was going absolutely ape. His black-and-white tuxedo of longhaired fur was streaked with dust from jumping at the cobwebbed upper corners of our windows. I couldn't really blame him for going nuts at what he saw outside the window by the couch.

But if I relented to my permissive instincts and let Meep out to lay waste ... the Compys would gang up on him like Gulliver, and then it would be a slaughterhouse. Sam Raimi-style. Funk dat. Meep was an indoor cat to stay, at least as long as I had anything to say.

Anarchy hadn't taken long, I reflected, sipping my coffee and trying to chisel from my eyes the bloodshot rheum of too many five a.m.'s lately, woken up with too much needing to be done. Things had been pretty wacky the past couple of weeks.

Soon enough, the humdrum would click back onto its relentless track. Soon enough, the government and the press would pick up right where they'd left off in the mad rush of blame-game ratings sweeps.

But now ... what was actually going on down at the street was kind of nice. Because it showed me the way things really were, with no more masks. If only for a short while.

I had covered most of the upper windows with newspaper. You might say it was a line-of-sight issue. I learned it from the radio news. Kat's heavy stage-curtain had been pulled back from the wall of windows a bit. Lower down, above the tangled green-brown living sculpture of Compys running up and down the fire escape like obnoxious little kids, the first visible article, opaque in the gray-translucent storm light, always drew my eye when I was sitting on the couch.

It was from the Oregonian, the second week in September, and accompanied by a color photo of our Republican Senator, Gordon Smith, grinning an oleaginous grin into the cameras (looking, for all the world, like a sick old Dylan Baker in that movie about the pedophile psychiatrist).

Yet even in the wake of repeated protests in Salem, Portland and Eugene, Smith was still standing behind the bounty system, which is being paid for from the recent 68-cent tax increase on cigarettes.

"The Army and National Guard will be supervising this," Smith stated at a hastily convened press
conference on Sunday. "Every dead predatory reptile will be paid for by the ton. Our farmers and ranchers, the lifeblood of rural Oregon, cannot for one second suffer these attacks if we are to maintain our agricultural base."

Ha. In other words, park the guns of the population behind the old money. Smart. I had to give him that. He'd read his Machiavelli, apparently. Farther down the page, I had to smile.

"Sen. Ron Wyden could not be reached for comment. Wyden's latest attempt to ease the morale of his constituency has been to ram through the now-famous grocery-voucher system. Wyden has supervised National Guard security for all grocery stores left abandoned in the wake of the outbreak."

Wyden' s initial speech that day began: "Oregon's poverty and homelessness rates are embarrassing enough as they are. My fellow Oregonians, we cannot let our elderly and disabled starve in their SRO hotel rooms while stores full of food rot in the noonday sun. Vouchers may be obtained at any local social service agency or YMCA. In rural areas, they are obtainable at any grange hall, post office or convenience store."

Of course, I had gone through the roof when I read that, and it had been gourmet French cheese and New York steaks for a long time – which only added to the absolute surrealism of that time in my life.

The Army and the Guard maintained no more than a token presence in Portland. There were a few garrisons, and mostly what they were doing entailed propaganda missions to futilely convince Portlanders that Oregon was not now, nor would ever be, the independent republic that it sure seemed like nowadays.

Looking out the window and sighing, I reached for the fat joint that had been smoldering in the ashtray but had gone out. Meep had knocked my lighter to the floor when he hopped up on the end table by the window.

Being constantly stoned really helped to get a handle on the essential weirdness of living in an urban
version of the old "Land of the Lost" show every time I left my apartment.

I glanced, not quite idly, at the sawed-off pawnshop pump shotgun I'd leaned on the wall by the door after the last dying raptor had figured out how to jimmy the locks on the front door of our building. The shotgun sat atop 10 boxes of shells, and an orange receipt-tag stamped: "H&B LOAN. $50/pd. BACKGROUND CHECK: [OVERRIDE/NA]."

I had half a mind to go out and fire off a warning shot to get the Compys off the fire escape. But there was no one on the street. They weren't hurting anything. Still, though, they were predatory and would bear watching this afternoon.

The Compys were among the few and the proud of their type. Most of the larger predators had died out first.

Among the herbivores, the Stegosaurs were still out in force, but they were just funny. They acted like giant cattle, moving in great stompy herds along the waterfront.

I remembered the last time I had gone out on a run for provisions. My way had not been blocked by any of the lizards, which was a rarity. Exiting my building, seeing my breath for the first time that fall and watching the leaves swirl in the burnt-smelling October wind ...

I had walked down to the waterfront through Lovejoy Village, past Hot Pot City, now cold and dark, with no more good Chinese seafood in the foreseeable future. I was sad about that until I had gotten to First Avenue, and then my spirits rose.

Even taking everything into account, all the madness and terror since September, there was nothing to thrill the blood and quicken the heartbeat in quite the same caliber ...

... As seeing the shadows darken your path a bit farther down, hearing the big footsteps on the grass trying to be silent, and the weird lowing, smelling the smell like a rank iguana cage sweetened with cedar chips and time.

And then the Stegosaurs come into view. They nose around like cats sniffing a new space, mucking through the waterfront grass, stepping around homeless folks passed out on the lawns in the shadow of new condos now cold and dark, strewn with cinderblock rubble and
broken glass. On one of the lawns, a cellular telephone has been stomped into mica sculpture. On another, a Mercedes has plowed through the plate glass of the lobby.

The predators had laid waste at Riverfront Place before their genomes locked up and shut off. I'd actually heard a halfway-plausible theory come out of the Drudge Report on the radio, may wonders never cease. The good Monsignor Matt Drudge had advanced the
opinion that with so much Bovine Growth Hormone and such tainting all the meat nowadays, both two-legged and four-legged ... perhaps the carnivores of the Jurassic had been slipped a Mickey. I certainly was in no position to argue with that particular gift horse.

But the herbivores have lingered on, so far, and profited.

The bulls of the herd come first, cold and aloof, built like brick shithouses with their armor plates raising high like a back-mounted Stonehenge.

That day ... I gave one of the bull Stegosaurs an apple from my backpack, rolling it forward on the grass like a bocce ball. He took it and ate it, giving me an imperious half-lidded look that said: Cross in front of us, but be quick, or I shall give thee a cow-bite. Texas-style.

The cows of the herd walked back behind the bulls, from the second ring in, guarding their babies, chattering at each other. Their heads swung back and forth, back and forth – strangers in what must have been for them a strange, strange land.

And in the wake of the herd ... a few of the younger Stegos stayed behind, visiting with the people, eating right from the hands of junkies and tweekers who rose from their tarps and sleeping bags with the air of children seeing the world for the first time. Their open, callused hands were loaded down with clear cello bags of dried figs and trail mix from St. Vincent dePaul food boxes, freely offered with a raw kind of courage that, even now, still makes me cry.

In the other room, there were sounds of a garbled, nonexistent language and elevator music. Kat was playing "The Sims" on her computer. That was her drug of choice, lately. Maxis hadn't come out with a dinosaur expansion pack for "The Sims Downtown" yet, although afterward they would probably make some humorous nod at the outbreak.

Gone was the first week of her doing nothing but playing "The Sims" and sleeping. I'd let her wriggle out of that shell on her own. She had come out of her rut one night, putting her arms around me where I'd been sitting on the couch, moodily rerunning "The Lost World" on the VCR like some sort of obsessed Goth kid.

"The Lost World" was Meep's favorite movie, especially the part where the T-Rexes push the mobile observation lab over the cliff and Julianne Moore is caught on the glass pane. I can't say I blame him. I loved her in "The Big Lebowski," but could never forgive her for "Hannibal."

"Hello," Kat had quavered, nearly smothering me with the hug. "I was wondering ..."

Without a word more, she had tugged me to the futon in the front room that had served as our bed since the previous winter, when we had discovered that the heater in the back bedroom did not work. Kat and I spent the night curled up under a mountain of blankets, and made long, slow, delirious love in the still, gray hours of the early morning while Humvees roared down Fifth Avenue outside and the pecking order of Pteranodons screeched and shit on the roof of our building, their hoodoo chicken-claws digging divots in the tar.

Kat was working on a comic-book screenplay now, and a musical to boot – rediscovering parts of her old music collection she hadn't listened to in years and, of all things, cranking out paintings on a mass scale. The outbreak seemed to have been a tremendous creative fire lit under her butt.

Every now and again, she'd kind of stop, throw up her hands, look out the window and blurt: "My God! School's out for the fall, game called on account of fucking dinosaurs!" and I would come over and give her a hug or hand her a cigarette. And that would be that. The thing that had held us together for a year and a half, above all else, was that no drama held any permanency. There was nothing the two of us couldn't get through when we quit tiptoeing around each other like a couple of British actors, and actually put our heads together.

I looked over at the table. USBank was still going strong, and my latest statement delivered, by an armed postman, lay by the napkin-holder like the hope of beginning anew.

Doubleday Books had signed the check responsible for that statement, a week before martial law had been declared. I still had my ATM card, and I could still get high. But Amtrak was still down in certain areas, and the planes were still grounded. So my current windmill at which to tilt was still at cross-purposes.

No one knew how all this shit had started. Right now, that was the least of my worries.

But one day, three weeks ago, when the phone lines were operational, I had pulled up www.fark.com and waded through the forum of theories, speculations and outright nonsense ... deep-linking, eventually, to some interesting research notes on The Smoking Gun.com, another old favorite:


LaBrea ... I had swallowed hard, my head in my hands at the computer. They cloned old mummified dino-meat from the LaBrea Tar Pits in southern California, that old petroleum-stinking wasteland of a national park. No more tour buses there, I'd warrant. Someone should have come along in the wake of all this and seeded those grounds with salt.

The notes were nothing that would hold up in court. Below that link was an equally tasteless scan of Michael Crichton's suicide note, written Sept. 7. The world would probably never know the truth.

In times of national disaster, it seems to me that it is a deep biological reflex to grab up the familiar in your arms and run with it as fast as you can.

I'm not saying that I was thinking logically. But the situation defied logic. I was thinking about the good times, when I was young.

I had a picture, on the wall of our front room, of my whole family ice-skating out on a backwoods pond on the farm where we'd lived after first moving to Pennsylvania. In those long, late nights, I stared at that picture for minutes at a time, wondering if the warning: "WE'RE SORRY, ALL CIRCUITS ARE BUSY," meant that the 814 area code in Pennsylvania should be given up for lost.

I was smoking on the joint very slowly, dragging deep and holding it in. When the phone rang, I jumped half a foot and coughed out the latest drag.

"Hlaaaugh," I rasped into the receiver in mid-hack. There was a giggle at the other end, like fast-flowing water.

"Ed?" I would have known Ravyn's voice anywhere, though the cell phone made her childlike, animated tone sound like she was talking through a white-noise generator. "Did you guys find out about ..."

"No, love," I replied instantly, my voice losing some of its rasp. "They're still not running trains from
Union Station."

"Aww." She sounded near tears, cheated and bone-tired. Her Steve had been gone for three weeks, and there had been no word for two days from his mom's in North Carolina. He'd made it back on a bus full of hippies to check on the folks back east. He was lucky.

I answered. "Ravyn, I swear to Christ, the second I can pull something out of my hat ..."

"I know." With an effort, her voice resumed the bubbly, animated manner with which I was more familiar. "Eeeeeed, savior, light of my life, will you do me a faaa-vor?"

"But the goat's still sleeping, and I can't find the tube."

"I got a slip for groceries, but it's for the downtown Safeway. If you come be my wing man, you can get groceries on my slip. They don't check."

I glanced at the glass-fronted kitchen cabinets 10 feet to my right. A can of Rosy-Red Refrieds, half a bottle of vodka and a mound of bags of white rice and pinto beans that would have been big enough to sandbag a machine-gun nest.

"I can be ready in five minutes," I said. "I doubt Kat'll want to go, but ..."

"She will," Ravyn replied. "Trust me."

I glanced over at the shotgun again. This was starting to feel like a fucking Bruce Campbell B-movie masterpiece. It was very hard to stop laughing.

I loaded it quickly, with bored hands, my eyes at the window as I snapped back the breech and fed my security blanket a fresh helping of grooved red plastic double-ought buck. It really was an elegant weapon.

"Miaaaow," I called into the back room, putting the phone back on the coffee table and still looking at the article. For a moment I had expected Kat to save her game, but she flitted to the door between the back room and the living room as if she'd teleported there.

"Yes?" Kat brushed one blond-streaked lock of bangs behind her ear, her dark eyes twinkling and wakeful. "Who was that on the phone?"

"Ravyn," I replied. "She'll be over in about five minutes. Got a grocery voucher she found somewhere."

Post offices my ass, Ron Wyden, I thought, glancing back at the page. Only place you can get a voucher in October is from a yuppie, at gunpoint. It meant nothing to me, but six grand was peanuts for black market stuff, and any help was most appreciated.

"Ooh!" Kat beamed, only half-joking. Her face colored brightly. "People!"

I snorted. "You sound like Meep."

"No, this'll be cool." I followed her eyes to the coffee can full of pens by the computer in the other
room. Kat was an easy book to read, sometimes. But I was always grateful for the next chapter. "We're about three pages into act two, but Ravyn's stuck on the big hero-tells-all number. We were gonna brainstorm."

"You out of staff-paper?"

She shook her head, leaning with one small hand on the door frame. "Naw. I scanned the last blank page of what you made and ran off some new ones. Thank you, though."

"Oooh!" Now I'd be the one glued to the computer. "You got the scanner working."

"Yeah, but don't get any ideas." she said. "It won't transfer color, for some reason. I need to get ahold of my dad this weekend, anyway. He'll figure it out."

I held up one hand. "I'm not even tryin' to mess with that thing any more. I thought it fried your whole D-drive. Meep!"

Meep took his paw from the latch of the window. Kat padded into the room to see what he had been doing, and both of us burst out laughing. He was flattened out on the floor by the sill, hissing up at a lone Compsognathus peering in the window at him. They looked like baleful cousins circling each other with knives.

I stepped beside the door and lowered both barrels of the shotgun at the little lizard behind the glass. It looked up at me with terror in its eyes and scampered off.

"They know about guns." I looked over at Kat with amazement as she sat down on the couch. "They're not at all afraid of us, but they do know about guns."

"Good." Kat looked mistrustfully at the sawed-off. "Now go put it back."

I sighed, getting up. "So are you going to come with us to get groceries?"

"Of course." She looked thoughtful. "Is it TheftWay?"

"Yeah. The one by the old St. Francis."

"Hmm. You think any of the stuff in there hasn't gone over by now?"

I shook my head. "The Guard has Honda generators going out back. Main and backup. I watched them put 'em in. You can hear 'em 10 blocks away."

"Oh." That was all she needed to know.

Outside in the street, a horn began to honk. Kat and I both looked at each other.

I pressed my face to the cold glass under the article. A compy nose bonked against the glass on its way down. The fuckers had eaten my geranium right out of its coffee-can pot. I thought they were carnivores, but they probably just did it out of spite. Although that geranium had fed on so much spilt beer from all the residents of our building stargazing on the fire escape, I imagined the guilty party had probably gotten so wasted from the plant that it had staggered around for a while and fallen to its death sixty feet below. It would have served him right.

Below, in the street, an enormous 1954 Plymouth Plaza rumbled like a car from a children's book. Ravyn was hunched over the awkwardly positioned steering wheel with her knees somewhere near her face. We'd all solved the riddle of why old people drive in that position the day she'd bought the land yacht for three grand from the used lots in the Southeast, across the river.

I moved back for the door. "You ready?"

Kat snatched her leather jacket from the coat tree by the couch. (I'd considered impressing that big old cast-iron monstrosity into service as a battering ram if we ever got a visit from any friendly neighborhood anything that weighed more than me and two or three of the larger homeboys from the first floor. But Kat would never bear to part with the coat tree, and I respected that. )

"Okay," Kat said, looking at her wallet. "We got two hundred bucks, three packs of generic cigarettes, one sawed-off shotgun." She patted the pocket of her jacket. "A stun gun. It's almost dark. And I can't find my sunglasses. Did we forget anything?"

"Hit it," I grinned. After I snapped the new deadbolts shut (the one on the window had not been touched), she almost beat me downstairs.

ur army surplus boots whispered over the 1910 tile of the lobby like two pairs of padded paws.

Kat held her little stun gun like a TV remote, nervous but glad to be out of the house. I had the sawed-off at port arms. She'd offered to make me a trench coat holster to sling over my back, but that Antonio Banderas shit was impractical for someone who hadn't discharged a firearm since he was 14.

I'd rather have it right where I could use it, at least until I got a bit quicker on the draw. I bowed low at the doorknob, but did not hold the door open for Kat. I would be the point man this time.

As soon as the door creaked open, a few curious Compsognathi came toddling toward the steps, their big wedge-shaped heads bobbing, all eyes. I swallowed hard.

I had their number ... but the sight of them moving in formation like that (many of them still probably
disoriented from the malty dregs of whatever shopping-cart full of returnables they'd managed to
cowboy from some bum), still spooked me quite a bit.

But it didn't slow me down. I held up one hand flat, motioning for Kat to stay where she was. She ducked back and put her index fingers in her ears.

"Tequila! Arriba! Yee haaaaw!" I screeched to get their attention, and fired off both barrels into the
central knot of little visitors galumphing up the steps like prehistoric Mormons flocking at the front door.

The shotgun jerked against my shoulder hard enough to leave a respectable bruise. I was still getting used to that. My ears rang and I could smell smoke almost instantly.

The result at the bottom of the stairs could only be described as a collective, honking screech followed by a collective splat against the pavement like the sound of someone emptying a mop bucket from the fire escape. The shotgun blast echoed oddly off the wall of the PSU dorms across the street, and the Compys scattered in all directions with the uncanny speed of minnows scurrying back under a rock.

"Mind the mess," I whispered back to Kat, looking down at all the bones sticking out of the splatter. I would have seen it as a horrible waste, a heartbreaking poem of living fossils now snuffed out on the sidewalk of an uncaring, pollutive, parasitic human system and blah, blah ... if I had not, the last time around, looked out the window and seen more Compys feasting on the muck of their brothers and sisters that had stained the sidewalk chalk-drawings (still there from the last time Kat and I had tossed aside the humdrum and gone artin' on the pavement, one unbooked August

Kat put the stun gun back into the inside pocket of her jacket. "Fucking Rambo," she whispered with no real malice, walking down the steps to play in the gore with one boot-toe, and coo at it. I gave her the finger, and she grinned.

"Got two of those?" She ducked under my arm and held the door open for me. "Shove 'em up your ass and walk on your elbows."

We moved quickly across the sidewalk and into the street, ducking into the ancient lemony smell of
Ravyn's couch on wheels. She looked back at me from the driver's seat, her angular British face
registering a slow smile at the shotgun. Her bobbed hair, tied back into pigtails, was bright red this
week. It suited her more than the purple.

"Ha," she sneered jokingly at my sawed-off. "Keep your peashooter in your pants, little boy."

Leaned up clumsily to her left, against the door, with the business end tucked into the holdall under the door handle and the rest jutting over the left corner of the driver's seat, was what looked to my
semi-familiar eye like a Russian assault rifle.

"AK-74." Ravyn pulled out and headed for Broadway, two blocks up, her eyes fixed grimly on the road. The traffic light on Broadway had quit working weeks back. "It's Chinese. I still can't get the damn thing to quit lifting up in my hands about halfway through a clip, but ... it's a fun little toy."

We turned right on Broadway. There were sandbags stacked up across the whole front of the Campus Ministries building. An old homeless man with a rose rubber-banded to the end of his walking stick cruised a shopping-cart through the intersection, waving at us. His staff had compy-sized bite marks and blood on it. He looked like the ghost of Waylon Jennings, and now I couldn't get that damned "Highwayman" song out of my head to save my life.

As if in answer to my fervent prayer, Ravyn clicked on the radio and dialed up and down.

"... Sunset Highway looks fairly clear, although wreckers are still making their way toward what appears to be a jackknifed Deschutes Brewery double-hauler. Looks like that one tried to merge in front of an Ankylosaur, although the Compys are makin' it kinda hard to tell ... Wow. Looks just like a big armadilla, don't it? (hffffffp) Skycam does not advise clearing lizard bodies off the road yourself, listeners. You never know what kind of millenial ... clap ... you'll get on your hands from ..."

Farther down the dial, Rush Limbaugh's glutinous harangue: "... It is plain common sense to anyone with more than three firing neurons that this was a deliberate cabal. The liberal-Democrat power structure in Oregon and California has wanted to secede from the Union ever since Mr. Bush was eeee-lec-ted president. Look at the evidence! Why did we see no major predators in Idaho? Or even Tahoe, for that matter? This was an unconscionable act of terrorism by the intellectual elite, sacrificing thousands of lives in the process when they turned their Frankenstein monster loose on ..."

"Oh, Rush." Ann Coulter's voice almost sounded off-mic. "Rush, don't you dare stop now, you're on a roll," Something that sounded like a zipper ...

After a rolling burst of static and faint music with lyrics that sounded like Russian or Slovakian,
our eardrums were nearly drilled out when we apparently caught a common frequency:


Ahead of us, a knot of Humvees went ear-assing through the intersection. One of them roared up over the sidewalk, clipping the corner of a phone booth and turning it into a ready-made sculpture in the space of one eye blink. Ravyn punched the gas, and the Plymouth walked it all the way up to its maximum wind-out speed of 50 miles an hour as she followed them.

I shrugged. Kat was horrified, leaning over and looking Ravyn in the eyes, trying to swivel Ravyn's
head toward her with one index finger and gesture with her hands at the same time.

"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!" she hollered.

Ravyn grinned. "I wanna bag a big one," she replied evenly, but her wide white grin was impish. Her gleeful spirit of the hunt made her look like nothing so much as one of her beloved PowerPuff Girls from the cartoons. I sighed in the backseat, fishing around for a cigarette and gripping the shotgun so hard my knuckles were white. Part of me wished that the Plymouth's last owner had installed seatbelts instead of a radio.

We charged up Jefferson Street, actually laying a tiny bit of rubber as we went. To my right, the bombed shell of the post office gleamed like a picked skull in the streetlights that were flickering.

The Park Blocks always looked to me like a pastoral 19th-century village street, missing only the smithy under the spreading chestnut tree. But tonight, they had become a battlefield.

Protest placards bounced like a marathon of umbrellas in all directions, pell-mell, spiralling out in the manner of a Monty Python track-and-field debacle.

I saw lots of Billy-Bob-Marley white-boy dreadlocks and L.L. Bean gear. The signs were interesting: "WE KILLED THE DINOSAURS"; "DINO BOUNTIES ARE CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT"; "P.E.T.A" and, way towards the back, "TOYNBEE IDEAS IN KUBRICK'S '2001' RESURRECT DEAD ON PLANET JUPITER."


There were muffled drum riffs of automatic fire from much farther up than the crowd fleeing Museum Place. But there was no tear gas being fired. The Guard could have cared less about the march du jour.

To the right of the museum, the courtyard full of statues was a smashed Dali nightmare. Its wrought-iron ornamental fence had been stomped down by ...

"Oh, fuck me sideways," I gasped, looking up as we roared over the flagstones. "Ravyn, turn around. Punch it. We can pick up Main on the far side, and ..."

"Eh-eh." She picked up the 74 by a black strap I had not noticed, and cracked her window. Kat took a deep breath, let it out ... and ducked below windshield level.

"Come on, Kitty. Where's your sense of adventure?" Ravyn asked down at the wide-eyed bundle in the area of the floorboards. Kat shook her head.

"I'm not getting blood on this leather," she replied simply.

"Oh." Ravyn nodded, steering the ancient tank of a sedan up over the grass and through a stand of
rose bushes. Kat bounced a little where she was, but said nothing.

Instantly, the apes had descended. A wall of Humvees burbled and trundled over the grass ahead of us, backing hesitantly up around the Greek-column legs of sinewy, scaly marble, coated with mud and oak leaves and great sods of grass at the cloven, alien feet.

I was trying very hard not to piss myself. There were two of them. I don't know why, but they looked like a pair. Mates, I mean. What I took to be the female was smaller and gray, with wider eyes. Her slingshot forepaws were long and angular, and her stalactite-stalagmite wall of teeth was more curving and delicate.

The male was a rich mamba green, with iridescent scales like solar panels gleaming the whole way up, and up. Steam rose from his sculpted Chinese-dragon nostrils, and his forepaws were more like sausages, but with nails no less sharp.

The sense of size was so overwhelming to get around ... I thought of watching the giraffes and elephants at the D.C. zoo, years before – thinking that the size difference there was a pretty big deal. But now I felt like a very tiny ant under a very large magnifying glass, and had to conquer a deep instinct to duck and cover. Kat was studying the pair of Tyrannosaurs with a cold, clinical eye peeping out just above the door.

The wall of Jeeps and Hummers was currently only a horseshoe at best. The crowd was still pretty deep on the Park Blocks. It would be a moment until ...

The female snaked her head down and to the right. A young girl with ash-blond dreads, wearing a patchwork skirt, field jacket and gasmask tight around her face, was suddenly gone from the waist up. Her feet walked away from her, and the rest of her fell to the pavement with a thud I was glad to not hear.

The male's head was mowing down placards right and left, gulping in great choking swallows like a big dog eating scraps. I saw one placard fall: "NO DINO HOLOCAUST." I had to look away.

Ravyn was leaning out the window, bucking off single shots from the 74. I tugged at her coat.

"Is it really worth it?" I asked. "No one's filming. Let's just go get food."

Ravyn hesitated for a long time, then slid back in the window and put the 74 at port arms. "That's our problem," she said very slowly, backing up and peeling out on the grass as we rolled at a good clip back toward Broadway to bypass the crowd. "We should eat."

Kat sat back up in her seat. We looked at each other and burst out laughing.

afeway seemed like a dream to me now. Everything had been still and quiet and respectful in line as the gangly Guardsman had raised the chain across the doors in one hand. "Right. You, you and you." he said to us. I was last in line, and a 19-year-old kid elbowed me on the way by, with a sotto voce whisper of: "Holy threesome, Batman."

"Fuck off, Gomer," I answered without looking at him. Then we were inside.

Leaning on a cart as though it were a wheeled walker, I drifted through the Kafka aisles with half the fluorescent lights gone and the other half flickering, swinging by the meat counter for picked-over hamburger atop glaciers of ice. They really needed to thaw and drain those freezers. I was sucking on a grape juicebox I'd found near an empty shelf. Kat and Ravyn were off looking for vegetables.

Was this what it had come to, then? The military running the bread lines, industry split along the
lines of the war machine and the collective farm? A population gone underground, huddled round the radios, desperate for someone to tell us what to think and where to go?

My foot slid on something plastic and I looked down, irritated. Oh. Bonus while we were out. And it was worth a try.

I pushed the cart up to the front of the store where the pay phones were. The pickings were pretty lean, but I'd found some good pasta and half a dozen eggs. And even a Roma tomato. It was a start. Better than pinto beans and rice, that was for 65-million-year-old sure.

At the phones, I scratched off the gray wax on the back and carefully punched in the number on the little calling card ("Envio Dineros A Mexico," it proclaimed across the front), dialed the 814 area code first, and held my breath.

"Eddie?" My mom sounded surprisingly well. "Oh, hey. How are you guys doing?"

"Getting by," I answered, reaching for a cigarette. "I've been worried sick about you guys, and ..."

"It hasn't been so bad." She sounded like she wasn't lying."The people from our church have really helped us out, and your dad went out with the militia the other day. You know, he bagged him a Tyrannosaur, and they let him keep one of the teeth ..."

The calling card died with a boop and a sqawk of punctured minutes.

I stood there, looking at the windows that had been shored up with sandbags and jumbo-sized sacks of charcoal briquettes. The Guardsmen had made gun ports with glass cutters at strategic points.

I could call Mom when I got home, if the phone lines were still up ... but I began to smile slowly.

No matter how desperate and desolate things got out in this tar pit, it beat the hell out of Pennsylvania.

E-mail Edward at locutuspdx@yahoo.com, and don't miss his previous work.

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