The Dinosaur Theme Park
I left the party and drove toward the dinosaur theme park, cigarette in my hand, window cracked only enough to let the frosted winds carry the smoke from the cabin. I never turned the radio on, the ringing in my ears from the music at the party was enough to help me feel less alone. The alcohol sang lightly in my blood, rippling under my skin and dancing behind my eyes. From the clouds snow fell like confetti on a hangman’s parade. I looked up through the sun roof and saw a sea of white motes backed by an unending canvass of darkness. No stars. No moon. Only the interminable black of night.
I parked in the back of the half-mile deep parking lot, slipped out of the car and threw on my suede jacket, popped in another cigarette. I walked slowly, measuring the length of my steps against the just-barely visible lines of the parking spaces. The more the snow fell the more the lines disappeared, and the more my gait became haphazard and uncertain. I wanted to delay the arrival, to prolong the journey. I had no idea why I had come, but I knew that speed was not my objective. The decision to leave the party had been instantaneous, but not hurried.
At the gates I paused and inspected the padlock and chain. Ran my fingers over the chipped, cracked facade of teeth and scales. The faux-wood material was splitting lengthwise. I grasped high on the bars and hoisted myself up, digging the toes of my shoes into the frangible material to create footholds. I swung myself over and landed in a heap, the ache in my joints bolstered by the cold air seeping in through my jeans.
Around me lay a world long abandoned. Concession stands dressed up like grass huts lined the midway. Plywood and stucco caves housed arcades and gift shops and exhibits related to the ancient beasts. Everywhere their faces glared down from roofs and balconies, silently terrifying, endless in their vigil.
Velociraptor. Tyrannosaurus Rex. Triceratops. Iguanodon. Apatosaurus. From time we recovered them, from the stones beneath our feet we rescued them, and ever since then we have brought them to us to serve as reminders of the harrowing past, the wonder at the heart of our world.
Walking deeper into the park I felt the wind pick up and rush past me, rustling my clothes and jacket as though I were caught in the rush of a crowd. I remembered coming here as a child.
Autumn. The leaves brown, red, orange; the ground carpeted with them. The trees above diffused the sun, casting shadows down on the forest floor. Golden light trickling through the canopy, rippling in the wind like water on a lake. Tangible like falling chaff. The smell of grilled food filling the air and co-mingling with the shrieks of frenzied joy coming from child and adult alike, the former real, the latter feigned by still heartfelt in its genesis. Chilled air invigorating the senses, rouging the skin. Looking forward, the world seemed populated by the trunks of trees, the vast plains of existence an endless expanse that grew more and more obscure the deeper and farther you looked. Slow reveals of the forested landscape as you stepped further inward only proving the true impenetrability of the ceaseless forest. Nature the god of all. Wonder the priest.
At the back of the park there was a wonderland of dinosaur sculptures. Full sized replicas with ropes and stairs you could climb. Obstacle courses and tree houses to ferry you through the expanse of saurian effigies.
As a child I picked up sticks, testing each one for strength, rigidity. Finding the most sturdy and trusty switch, I would manifest it into a sword, wielding it with zest and potency. Each flick of my wrist slew a new enemy, conjured out of thin air and projected onto reality, each as present and real as any other object before me. This was no feat of imagination. It was a matter of concentrated will, a triumph of spirit. Find me one truth more real than those visions of raptors and compsognathus. It couldn’t be done. Nothing could convince me of their unreality. My mind didn’t know the bounds of common human understanding; it was still liberated, wholly my own.
They leapt at me from atop the gentle herbivores, gnashing teeth and glinting fangs. I stabbed and sliced and parried their attacks with all of the grace afforded a natural swordsman. I learned all I knew from Errol Flynn, I imagined myself in the garb of Robin Hood. Around me the sounds of life hushed and the bodies of others melted. I was alone in my world. I was protecting the diplodocus, the stegosaurus. This was my world, and within it I was king, in need of nothing more than space and time and agency in order to create everything I needed to stay alive, to be engaged and fully awakened to life.
Music. Television. Drinking. Drugs. None of these things, nor anything else, could aid me in my quest to bring peace to the world of the dinosaur, and as such I thrust them away from me; those I knew being forgotten, those I was ignorant of being further ignored. I grasped the knotted rope and pulled myself up the tail of a brachiosaurus, making my last stand on its shoulders, swinging my sword as though the air around me were thick with my foes. My world was not chaos, though I understood nothing. My life was not pointless, though I had no goals or objects. I was not lonely, though I was by myself. All that mattered lay within me, projected upon the world at large, a world filled with violent, angry, savage creatures that needed but a single swipe of my scavenged sword to be dealt with.
At the end I dropped my stick, watching it clatter down the shoulder of the great long-necked dinosaur, skittering down the leg and landing in the snow. I sat down and looked out into the forest, made all the more opaque in its mystery by the dark of the night, and felt fear. What was out there was nothing that could be known, and wonder was a trap laid by ignorance. Creatures did exist that could not be turned back by bravado and daring. No sword of cedar or oak can tame the world at large. These are things I know now. I lit a cigarette and patted the beast beneath me, the hallow rumbling evoking memories of when I could hear them roar.
But dinosaurs are extinct. No amount of will can recover them. In my pocket I felt my phone vibrate, calling to me, reminding me of my new, shared existence among the living.
(Title by Chris Cabrera, originally published June 29, 2011)