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by Jocelyn Paige Kelly

The following story won 2nd place in our Scary Short Story Contest! Enjoy…

He lit a cigarette, the Tyrannosaurus Rex in flannel and torn jeans, one hand by the gas pump. His oily hair dripped with sweat, as if he’d bathed in a tar pit at three hundred and fifty degrees. She held a book in her hand, a simple child curious about dinosaurs. She stood there staring back at me. I was gazing from somewhere else, it seemed.

She stepped into a puddle. The T-Rex lit another cigarette and threw it toward her. I gasped and then I became her. We became a firecracker named Whistling Pete, the one that shrieks like a banshee while it burns. We became charred remains, bones of an abused little girl, a ghost.

We hid where no one else could ever find us. We never wanted to come back, but the little girl heard her mother call and we rushed back with the flick of a light switch.

“People do such horrible things to one another,” our mother said.

Yes, we agreed.

She picked up a picture frame. Inside was a picture of us when we were just her.

“I wish you were still here,” our mother said.

Yes, we agreed.

We watched our mother as she withered. She was a sunflower who barely got sun. She spent her life clinging to the shade. Her hands, like branches, forever reaching out to the air. It felt like a matter of seconds. The petals of her face faded in the moments in between, and now I cling to remnants of myself.

A world exists between light and dark, but nothing breathes. I exist without color; a child lost, a supermarket: concepts have no meaning here. Feelings fall and the gist of everything floats upwards like fingers grasping at the string of a helium balloon. Only hope soars in a container filled with air. Bits and pieces stay with me, pleasures that tie me to invisible umbilical cords.

Mother, you need to leave here. Whispers. Thoughts. Parts of speech in fossil fumes. I have no idea why these words have bent around my essence anymore. Cryptic impressions, flashes, fragments where truth is translucent. The harder I try to understand, the further I seem to drift away.

I embrace the remnants. Ideas, a sense of what I was, who I was. They linger with me alongside the smell of burning rope, gasoline, tar.

I am like air now. In between.

Questions wax and wane between sunrise and sunset. Somehow I know about dinosaurs. This world seems small compared to pictures in a book. Where are trees that are as tall as these magnificent creatures? How did their children feel when they heard their parents’ footsteps stomping down the hall?

There are dinosaurs below us; their bones are trophies. We use them up, pump their life force out of tar pits. Hang the other ones for grand display. Museums are places where people visit captured pieces from the past. Visible treasures. People wish horrible things here. These words form around the memory of my mother’s mouth.

I detect tiny hairs in between that layer of consciousness linking them and whatever I have become. They come and go at the gas station on which I subsist. Mothers are my favorite. You need to leave here forms between the layers, and they always do.

Jocelyn Paige Kelly is a graduate of Clarion West, the intensive six-week science fiction and fantasy short story writing program. Her short stories and poems have appeared in Evergreen Review, Forge Journal, Cadillac Cicatrix, Willard & Maple, Sanskrit, Dos Passos Review, Louisiana Review, and Red Wheelbarrow. In 2014 she founded Helen: A Literary Magazine, a locally-based literary magazine.

Lead imageTyrannosaurus Rex (Cast) Hell Creek Formation, South Dakota Cretaceous (LL.12821) Manchester Museum (via Flickr user akhenatenator)