by Morgan Swim
“Nessa, didn’t you like anything at the park today?” Mom leaned against the wall of their motel room and pulled off her sandals. The tops of her feet, along with the rest of her, was burnt from the Florida sun.
“The dinosaur ride was okay, I guess,” Janessa said, her lips pouted to one-side, smug she hadn’t gotten sunburned in her hoodie, black pants, and platform boots. “It would have been more fun if everyone died at the end.” Her mother gave her an exasperated look, and her brother rolled his eyes.
“They can’t die—it’s Disney,” her brother said.
“I know that, Tristan,” Janessa huffed. “It just would have been way more metal that way.”
She folded her arms. She would have to endure another thirteen days of this. Thirteen days of tacky theme parks, being forced to smile for photos, and eating ice-cream shaped like mice and whales.
“Not everything has to be metal,” Tristan said, and then started singing “It’s A Small World” to prove his point. Their mother tactfully retreated to the shower.
Janessa refused to give her brother the satisfaction of her annoyance. She looked out the window to the dilapidated and over-grown mini-golf course that looped around their off-brand motel butted up against the interstate. She was about to crack and punch Tristan, but then she saw the glint of something metallic move in the overgrowth. She froze. No, she thought, it has to be one of the crappy dinosaur statues on the mini-golf course.
“Shut up!” Janessa yelled, distracted. Tristan began to sing louder. Janessa covered her ears, but kept staring out the window. And then she saw it again, for just a moment: the long, silver neck and massive claws of the strangest dinosaur she had ever seen.
“I’m going to go check out the pool!” Janessa yelled to her mother, over her brother’s singing.
Tristan stopped to ask, “What? You hate swimming. What are you going to do, go in your clothes?”
Janessa grabbed her phone off the nightstand and then turned back to give her brother a hellish look and said, “Yes, but I’m going to go and try to boil myself alive in the jacuzzi.”
Janessa hopped the fence, ignoring the CLOSED FOR RENOVATIONS sign, and searched the golf course until she saw movement on hole nine. She crept behind a plaster stegosaurus, paint sloughing off as she crouched down and touched its lumpy armored plates. She waited, and then the dinosaur she saw from the motel window emerged.
It was as big as a tree, sleek and fully metallic with smooth segmented joints, but oddly shaped with a pot-belly and a tiny head on a long neck. Janessa stared as it flexed its claws, each as long as a person, and in one clean cut, beheaded a palm tree. It fed the dead fronds into a port in its stomach, compacting them into a small cube that it expelled immediately.
Its head swiveled at the exclamation, and red eyes trained on Janessa.
Janessa stumbled backwards, and tripped on the border of the golf green. The dinosaur approached and stood over her, its head tilting as it scanned her Kittie band t-shirt. Slowly, it raised one massive clawed hand up and curled its middle claw down.
Janessa blinked. Is that? Hesitantly, she held up one hand and made horns back. The dinosaur chittered approvingly and then blasted the hardest metal Janessa had ever heard.
“Zinnia! No! Bad dinosaur!”
A woman emerged from the jungle of fronds and ferns. Her thick hair was black and red and braided down the middle of her head with shaved sides, and her dark skin was pierced in more places than Janessa could count. She wore a black collared shirt and work khakis, but her arms were covered in tattoos. Janessa almost forgot about the twenty-foot robotic dinosaur with razor-sharp claws looming over her. As the woman approached, the dinosaur stopped blasting music and folded itself down to sit.
“Are you all right?” the woman asked.
“I…” Janessa said, suddenly speechless; the woman’s winged eyeliner and heavy crimson eye shadow was flawless. “I, uh,” she said again and then blurted out, “I’m Janessa and I’m from Wisconsin.”
The woman smiled. “Hello, Janessa from Wisconsin. I’m Kennedy, from Hell.” Jenessa blinked. Kennedy pointed to the surrounding dingy motel chains. “A.K.A. Orlando.”
“And that,” Kennedy gestured to the dinosaur, “is Zinnia. I modeled her after a Therizinosaurus.”
“You made that?”
“Hell yeah! Engineering grad from UCF.”
“Oh. Wow. Then why are you at this crappy motel?”
“Like all grad students, I was unemployed, so I got creative. I picked a therizinosaur because they are inefficient, extremely slow moving, and can shred a car in seconds.” Kennedy pointed with her thumb to the interstate and added, “Just like I-4.”
“Metal,” Janessa said in awe.
Kennedy laughed. “We do landscaping. Therizinosaurs had woefully inefficient digestive tracts, but that’s not a problem for a robot. Florida is full of useless foliage that needs to be cut all the time. You know. Creepily well-maintained theme parks. Hurricanes. Old people who can’t reach or whatever.”
“So you made a dinosaur…?”
“Dinosaurs are cool! And I use her for shows.” Kennedy gestured to her appearance. “I’m in a metal band.”
Janessa’s face contorted in astonishment. “That’s—”
“I know,” Kennedy interrupted, “but it’s a good gimmick in this city. And you should see the bank I make when I do the landscaping for Dinosaur World. People plan their kid’s birthday parties around it. I can pay all the band’s travel expenses from that alone.”
“I was going to say that’s the coolest thing ever.”
Kennedy gave her a devious grin, and then turned to the dinosaur. “Zinnia, show configuration three.”
The dinosaur got up, flexed its claws to obscure its face, and then six lasers shot out from ports above the knuckle of each claw. It opened its mouth, and smoke began to billow out.
“Super metal!” Janessa said, incredulous.
“I’m glad someone out here has good taste,” Kennedy said. Janessa’s heart flipped in her throat and she looked away. Kennedy’s mouth quirked and she pulled out her phone. “Listen, Janessa, we’re on the clock, but let me send you one of our albums.”
There was nothing magic about this kingdom, but with THE XTINCTION’s newest album, CORPSECEOUS PERIOD, blasting in one ear-bud, Janessa was in a far better mood than yesterday. Her brother was still annoying, and her mother obsessed with “making memories” but somehow everything seemed more tolerable.
“Hey, Mom,” Janessa asked, later that night in the motel room. Janessa double checked the appearance schedule on Kennedy’s twitter feed. “Can we go to Dinosaur World next Thursday?”
“What?” her brother asked. “You hate that tacky tourist crap!”
“Yeah, but dinosaurs are metal.”
© 2018 Morgan Swim
June 15th, 2018
Morgan Swim is a non-binary writer and artist. Their work frequently features robots, A.I., and copious amounts of gender and blood. They live in Florida with their two cats. You can find them at @MarsChildWells on twitter.
The illustration is by Rica March!
Scene break dinosaur illustrations are by Kelsey Liggett!