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That's when I heard the strange sound: a kind of forlorn mewing, like the note of a horn being drug out too long, coming from just around the corner, just beyond the liquor store—and paused, holding up my hand.
"What? What's going on?"
I waved her into silence, dropping the rein, then hustled to the edge of the building—where, after peeking around the corner, I saw a juvenile sauropod of the Diplodocus family (meaning it was the size of a typical school bus) collapsed in the middle of the street—its right front leg stuck in a manhole.
"What is it? What do you see?"
I looked from the sauropod to the corner of a nearby building, where something had moved, then across the street to an overgrown alley. Yes, I thought. There. And there. Between the tattoo parlor and the marijuana dispensary …
"Allosaurs," I said, gravely. "An entire pack of them. In desert camouflage. They—they've got something trapped."
"Omigod. It—it's not your dog, is it?"
I returned and picked up the rein, began leading Blucifer forward, into the intersection. "No."
"Wait … what are you—"
"We're going through," I said.
"But what if those things—"
"They don't care about us; they want the bigger game. For now. Just hold on."
The horse's hooves went clip-clop, clip-clop as we passed, the bluish-gray sauropod coming into full view ...
A moment later she said, "It—it's stuck. In the manhole. Do you see that?"
I eyed the predators warily, continuing to lead. "There's nothing we can do about it."
"But she'll be helpless against—"
"That is the way of it," I insisted. "The way of the—"
"Look, would you stop with the Indian clap-trap? I'm not even sure—"
There was a thwomp as the allosaur by the building leapt into the road—not by us but about fifty feet away, near the sauropod.
"Jesus, can't you do anything? What about your bow?"
"And risk bringing them down on us?" I intensified our pace, sprinting toward the Stratosphere. "No!"
And then they were coming—the allosaurs from across the street—passing so close we could smell the meat on their breath; closing in on the frightened herbivore … until we passed the scene completely and sought refuge in a nearby gas station (its storefront had long since collapsed) and gathered there trembling as the sauropod cried out—for it wouldn't be long now until they fell upon her.
"Jesus," said Essie, listening. "What a world."
"Yes," I said, remembering. "My father used to say it had a demonic sublime; every tree and every rock, every animal, including man, down to the lowest insect." I listened as the sauropod moaned, seeming already to give up, to resign its fate. "And yet."
"What do you mean?"
"You said, 'and yet.' What did you mean?"
I un-shouldered the compound bow—rubbing my aching deltoid, stretching my arm. "Nothing. It's just that … maybe it doesn't have to be this way."
When she didn't respond I looked at her—found her already looking at me: calmly, meditatively, her eyes seeming to glimmer. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
"I mean … that I could end it. Her confusion and terror. That I—could prevent her from suffering." I looked at the bow and the dark, poisoned bolts attached to it. "That it's in my hands to do so."