The Dinosaur Girl by Maria Rose
Once upon a time there was a little girl, who awoke one morning to find she was turning into a dinosaur. At least, a dinosaur was the first thing that sprang to her mind, but she had to check her picture books to be sure. She had gotten out of her small bed and stretched as usual in front of her mirror, only to notice a peculiarity in her reflection. Standing in profile, the girl scrutinised her appearance with her forehead crinkling in sharp curiosity.
What caught her eye first were her elbows and knees. She was only wearing her short frilly nightie, and against her ivory smooth skin the dark patches made themselves obvious. Upon the ridges of her flesh had formed scales of a peculiar glittering green, rough as her Grandmother’s old leather handbag, and when she peered closer she noticed little hexagon patterns upon the surface. As the girl cautiously stroked the alien skin, sinister chills shot down her spine,
Just then, her father had called her down for breakfast, so she had thrust on a jumper and some woolly stockings and checked that everything seemed normal, not bothering to comb her hair. As she tumbled down the stairs and entered the kitchen, she smelled the waft of bacon, eggs and toast and her stomach groaned. She realised she was vociferously hungry. Her father had been very startled when she’d gulped down the plateful in less than five minutes and scampered to school with barely a moan of her usual complaint.
The girl and her father lived in a cottage by the edge of a forest, a cottage which was overshadowed by an enormous pine tree that had stood there for centuries. In the crevices of its roots were the hieroglyphics and sketchings and writings of many generations of children from the nearby village, where the girl went to school. Often in the summertime, the girl would get up early at dawn, while her father was still snoring in his room, and she’d curl up with the roots and watch the sun rise in splashes of pastel over the hilly landscape. She liked to feel the steady hum of nature and the solidness of the ground beneath her little hands.
When she came home that day, the first thing the girl did was rush into the little parlour where she and her father would eat. She opened all the cupboards and gobbled up all the cold hams and cheese and bread she could find. When everything was gone, she stood in the middle of the room, gasping for breath. She could feel her stomach churn, and she was still very hungry. Perhaps her father would bring a rabbit home for dinner. Although she was flushed from running and eating, she barely noticed that she was not sweating, and that her hands and face and indeed whole body remained cold as stone.
The little girl then dashed upstairs and threw her schoolbooks upon her bed and stared once again in the mirror. This time, she noticed something new. She grinned and flashed her small white teeth, and saw that her canines had grew longer and sharper, giving her a face a menacing appearance. The girl shivered and draped a blanket over her shoulders and prayed that perhaps she was still dreaming.
The next day, getting undressed to wash in the tin tub her father had filled with steaming water, the girl noticed with horror another change to her body. Her toes had become webbed with an elastic, scaly membrane, like a duck’s. Her nails had grown narrow and sharp and when she got into the tub, she kept accidentally scratching herself as she washed. The tears spilled from her cheeks and plopped into the water, mingling with the swirling trails of her blood. No matter how hard she pinched herself, she would not wake up; it was not a dream.
A few days passed and, having no other choice, the girl tried to get along as usual. Her father, however, had observed a peculiar change in his daughter. She had taken to spending evenings in her room, instead of going out to play with her friends after school. He found that food was going missing. She was normally a bright, laughing child, but now she would only respond to his attempts at conversation with stuttered phrases and grunts. Luckily, he didn’t notice her physical changes, and so just thought his daughter was going through a phase.
The girl already sensed her father’s suspicions. She avoided him more and more as her body transformed before her eyes. Each day she awoke with more scales, and now her thighs, her tummy and her shoulders were coated with the green platelets. She awoke in the middle of the night, starving with hunger, and had to sneak out of her window into the woods to find food. She was out the whole night, sparking fires and hunting. With a strength she did not know she possessed, she would seize small animals, skinning them alive with her long nails and roasting them to eat. Before dawn, she covered her fire with dead leaves and kicked away all the evidence of her nightly feast. It made her sick in her heart, as she walked to school, thinking of all those sad glossy eyes of all the animals she had slain. But she could not help herself, it was becoming beyond her control.
School was becoming difficult, too. She had to lie to her teachers to skip gym class, and it was becoming excruciating sitting for hours in the stiff little classroom chairs, as if her legs had grown. The girl had never thought of it before, how sedentary people were. She longed to run and stomp across the landscape and swallow the air of mountains and valleys, taste earth and flesh.
Soon the girl lost the patience even to read her books. One night she was squinting her eyes, trying to do her homework by the pale moonlight that gleamed through her window, when all of a sudden she felt a shooting sensation surge through her fingers. As she shook with terror, a layer of scales crept out of nowhere over her skin. And then there was another blaze of pain in her fingertips as a set of claws – curved sharp talons – sprung forth and expelled her nails, which scattered around her.
She tried to flex her fingers – if she could call them fingers – but could not move them as easily as before, and soon she had dropped her books all over the floor. With a scrambling effort, she tried to pick them up again, but it was no use. Wherever she moved, she tore something, and soon her clothes were in rags. Burying her little face in her pillow she cried and cried.
She would not come down for supper when her father called. Eventually, she heard him go to bed and she sat up, trembling. She could not get to sleep. She listened to the owls hooting around her and the other night-birds making their calls. She wished she was a child again, her soft body entwined in the roots of the great pine tree.
The thought did not last long, before she realised how hungry she was again; how positively ravenous. Involuntarily, the image of her father, slumbering next-door, entered her head. How delicious he would be to eat, she thought. Her gut stirred hungrily, and her nostrils flared, but her heart shrivelled in horror. She could not help but think of his ample, meaty flesh and how it would feel to sink her teeth into his arm, or his leg; to chomp down on all that muscle and soft skin and sinew. Her mouth watered and she felt dizzy and dazed. It was all she could do not to squeal with her longing as the craving consumed her.
So the little girl crept from her room, following the gnawing throbs of her stomach. Her shadow loomed on the wall of the hallway and then shifted into sinuous lines of darkness as she approached her father’s bedroom, which emitted gentle snores like a long trail of zzz’s.
Her claws clasped the cold handle with a delectable scratch.
She was about to turn the door knob when an unearthly chill passed over her and she felt herself turn around. Floating there in the hallway was an old lady, a shimmering ghost with tumbling tresses of silver hair. Around her neck was a little hourglass pendant, and her translucent eyes seemed to stare straight through her.
“W-who are you?” the girl stammered. All at once her appetite had left her, and now she was chilled with fear.
“I am Mother Time,” came the uncanny lilt of the ghost’s voice.
“And what are you doing here? Am I dreaming?” The possibility formed itself, hard and bright as a diamond, in the girl’s mind. Perhaps, indeed, none of this had been real.
“You are not dreaming, child, you have become entangled in a destiny that is not your own. Pray, come away from the doorway now.” The ghost’s voice captivated the girl, and yet there was a note of anxiety in her words, as if she were tempting a lion away from its prey.
“Go back into your room,” the ghost commanded. The girl automatically obeyed, and found herself once again in front of her bedroom mirror, with the apparition of the woman hovering behind her. Beside the ghost’s perfect female form, the girl felt hideous, disfigured, a monster. Her green scales gleamed with the light of the moon.
“Come, child, I must show you.” The ghost removed her hourglass necklace and carefully placed it over the girl’s neck. She felt a frosty shudder pass along her nerves as the transparent arms passed through her flesh.
All at once the four walls dissolved around her, and the little girl found herself in a towering landscape of mountains and enormous trees and colossal boulders, of strange shrieking birds and monsters that stomped and trampled and sent tremors through the ground. The sky was an acrid amber yellow, and a stifling heat dried up the shine from her scales until they were coarse as bark, or weathered sea-rock.
“Where are we?” the girl asked, her eyes marble-wide, perceiving all around her.
“This is the land of the dinosaurs. A land which had its own time…A land where I leave you.” The girl was slow to take heed, she was so caught up in the wondrous, terrible sights.
“Wait!” she cried, but it was too late – the ghost had vanished.
And so for ten days and ten nights, the girl – half human, half creature – explored the land of the dinosaurs. She saw beasts that resembled herself, and at the sight of their scaly, grotesque forms she felt sick of herself. She watched them devour each other and consume the landscape. From behind giant rocks and from lofty tree branches she spied on them and felt the whole weight of her humanity rest itself on her chest, as if she had fell ill with a cancer that stopped her breath. The scenes of savagery, of base hunger and horror, that she witnessed before her, made her sick and she was reminded of all her little friends, her little teacher, the little animals she’d hunted, her father – who even seemed little now. How fragile and perfect were all the people she knew, and how awfully she missed them! But she could not go back, not looking like this. Not with the dark, inexplicable desires that burned in her body. She supposed Mother Time had taken her back to where she belonged, back in the Age of Savagery.
During this time the little girl dined on all the meat she could eat, and her body expanded and hardened and grew hungrier by the hour. With every swallow, she felt the sharp pangs of guilt. The brutal environment took her in with its fist and chewed her up – but it had not spat her out.
Yet more and more she felt as if she did not belong.
And so after ten days alone in this harsh wilderness, the little girl, stumbling over a desert terrain with her webbed little feet, suddenly remembered the hourglass around her neck. But then she remembered how close she had come – how close she had been to killing her own father!
It would be wrong to put everyone in danger, she considered.
She was there in the driest of desert landscapes, and she felt as if she had been sucked dry and left shrivelled and brittle as a discarded snakeskin. She felt hollow, barren as the landscape. Aside from the odd sweeping pterodactyl, unleashing its piercing cry over the barren air, the whole plain was lonely – more lonely than anywhere else in the universe.
It had been hours since her last meal, and though there were scorpions and snakes and other meaty reptiles beneath her feet, the little girl hadn’t the stomach to eat anymore. She was very, very weak. She missed her father terribly. Soon the warm, fat tears began to slide down her scaly cheeks, melting into the hot sand with a hiss. They came thicker and faster, until she was sobbing and wailing for the loss of her humanity.
And then suddenly, in the distance, blurred and shimmering as a mirage, she saw another girl. She was approaching her cautiously, a strange object in her hand. At last she stood before the girl, with her raven hair and ashen face and glazed eyes. The object she held was a bone, and she chewed it with a kind of unearthly longing, her little sharp teeth gnawing the smooth marrow.
“Hello, I’m Angelica.” Our little girl said, momentarily forgetting her tears and her hideous body and everything that had changed. It was as if she was meeting a strange new girl at school. The other girl didn’t say a word, only stared back with wide, alien black eyes. She didn’t seem to understand, didn’t seem to know what was before her. She just chewed. And chewed. The grating noise tipped Angelica over the edge, and she broke down again, the floods of tears streaming from her eyes, blue sapphires gleaming in the colourless desert.
“I have suffered!” she cried, her words dissolving with the dust bowl wind, “you must know how to get back! Please set me free!”
The little girl did not seem to comprehend Angelica’s words. She did not even seem to acknowledge the change in her behaviour. Instead, she put down her bone, and knelt on the ground as if about to pray. But then she lay right down, pressing her face into the scalding sand and clay. Angelica wept with confusion and grief, and could think of nothing but the primeval birds swooping like demons above, and her own rasping breath.
“I’m sorry. I wish I could help you. You must be lost too.” Her tears spilled upon the other girl’s face where they dissolved like water upon the surface of milk.
And then all at once, the ground began to shake. The little girl sat up, her eyes suddenly struck with life and fire. She began to metamorphose before Angelica’s eyes, and Angelica drew back in terror. Slowly, she stood up, staggering, her arms outstretched to the sky. A jagged, spiked tail thrust itself from her back, scales grew all over her marble-white skin and when she at last triumphantly smiled, her teeth flashed sharp as a row of knives.
At the same time, Angelica felt a clean rush of energy shower over her. It was warm and cool together, it was pure and smelt of everything she once knew, all the comforts and pleasures and all the beautiful freshness of soap and cut-grass and hot buttered toast. She suddenly felt lighter, as if she could fly. Her scales began to disintegrate, to flake off and fall like snow from her body. The skin beneath felt new and smooth as a baby’s.
She was whole again. She was human.
And then she stared up at the girl, the dinosaur girl, who crushed her precious bone beneath her leaden feet and flared her nostrils and flicked her eyes. With sudden realisation, Angelica became terrified. But now she knew what to do. What she could do.
She seized the hourglass and thought of her room, thought of the mirror and her dolls and the homework she had left on the floor. Of her father, waking up for his morning coffee, wondering perhaps where she was.
The landscape continued shaking and shaking, shuddering with increasing violence, until at last she had blacked out, and the world was nothing more.
Angelica woke up, at dawn, curled cat-like in a nook in the roots of her favourite tree. Clutched in her small fist was a miniature hourglass that had shattered, and the sand scattered pure as gold dust upon the earth. Somewhere in the distance she could hear her father, shouting her in for breakfast and for tea. Immediately she got up, feeling light and springy and very, very hungry.