by Paya (#2473)
The winter was brutal for the escaped dinosaurs that roamed the island's high plateaus and mountains. Lacking the enclosures that kept their domestic cousins comfortable in the snow and howling wind, they scratched for shelter in exposed rock. The farm-bound dinosaurs grew fat on newly-engineered herds herbivores. The wild dinosaurs starved. They hunted small birds and mammals and, failing that, each other.
It was a hard life. Many of them died as the cold and snow deepened. But it was their life, and they clung fiercely to it. No longer would they be fed when they'd prefer to hunt, or forced to run circles in a show ring. They were free, and freedom tasted of cold and hunger, hot blood in the mouth, the feathered warmth of a mate pressed close while storms raged.
The escaped pair of red-banded black Deinonychus were too large to burrow after hibernating rodents the way the smaller carnivores did. Their sickle claws, perfect for tearing the hides off larger beasts, were useless for digging. Their coloring worked against them, making them highly visible in a featureless white landscape, easy prey for a hunting Allosaurus. To survive, they had to adapt.
They learned new hunting techniques. One would flush game toward the waiting other. They never slept at the same time, or in the same place twice. They were fast enough to outrun the big carnivores who hunted them; they ran often. Their coal-black skins tightened around their bones. Muscle, tough and scarred by the accidents of daily living, rippled through hide with no fat layer to soften it.
The male's feathers were longer, his tail banded with red from base to tip. The female was darker overall, with short, dense feathers and a tail that looked as if she'd dunked the tip into a bucket of red paint. As they hunted in the night, the male followed her tail like a bloody beacon. During the day, he curled around her for warmth beneath the bole of a snow-laden pine or a shallow cave. His head rested on her flank when it was his turn to watch. When it was her turn, she did the same.
They were smart, they were free, they were together; wild things in a wild place, as happy as such creatures could be.
In early February, there was a brief thaw. The mountain slopes filled with the sound of water. Hibernating animals awoke briefly to scrounge for food. For a few days, hunting was good. The Deinonychus caught a lone deer and dragged it to to the ledge of a shallow cave they'd found, high above the treeline. The deer was thin and tough, but its hot flesh filled their bellies for the first time in weeks. Licking blood from his lips, the male glanced up over the carcass and saw her silhouetted against the stars. She turned her head to regard him, eyes large in her fine head. He went to her, sickle claws clicking on stone. They made the night their own, surrounded by the trickle and roar of life-giving water.
All too soon, the weather turned bitter and deep. The joys of the thaw were forgotten in the urgency of survival. The pair were forced to risk raiding garbage dumps in the valley. One night, a bullet nicked the male's hindquarters. He left a trail of blood in the snow as they escaped back into the hills. They did not go into the valley again.
The male's wound healed but left him with a limp. They moved to steeper places where the footing was too precarious for the bigger dinosaurs to climb up after them. They were always hungry. The female grew irritable and restless. She scratched deep grooves through ice and rock, and snapped at him whenever he came near. Then she hunkered down in her trench and refused to move. He watched her in silence. Every night, he limped down the slopes to hunt. On a good night, he brought back game. Good nights were rare. He let her eat first. She left him the stinking entrails.
Days stretched to weeks. One night, he didn't return. She waited, a motionless dark hulk, enduring the fitful wind. Daylight came, cold and grim and lonely. She ate snow to quench her burning thirst.
He came back on the fourth day, staggering over the rise. She rose from her trench and went to him. His black hide was shredded by claws larger than his own. Blood mixed indistinguishably with his red banding. But there was a rabbit in his mouth, which he dropped at her feet. He touched his nose to her cheek, tenderly, before he died.
She stood silent over him. Hunger was a gnawing that consumed her. She picked up the rabbit and carried it over to the trench she'd made. Then she curled around her mate, as he had so often done to keep her warm that winter, and allowed loss and starvation to carry her after him.
True spring came less than a week later. Snowmelt rushed to spread green among the valleys. Sun and warm air kissed the mountain's flanks. Moss grew out of crevices. Most of the wild dinosaurs that had survived the winter were recaptured.
A man came alone to the Deinonychus' ledge one morning, clutching a bouquet of wildflowers for his wife. He stopped when he saw the entwined corpses, their devotion apparent even in death. A swath of wildflowers grew in a trench near them. The man knelt to pick some and saw, nestled amid the blossoms, three mottled eggs. The man glanced behind him at the ruined bodies, then back at the nest. Without picking a single flower or disturbing the eggs, he rose and went quietly down the mountain.
He wasn't long out of sight when the eggs began to stir in their fragrant bed. A wet crack hailed the appearance of the first tiny, fierce head, coal black and streaked with red, just like its parents.
Posted: 25/05/2011 @ 06:44 am Edited on 9th Nov 11 @ 11:41am by Paya