A group of writers in Chichester coming together once a month for inspiration, collaboration and sensation
The mob, formerly known as the Concerned Citizens Alliance of Equalsville, advanced slowly, their eyes hard. Phones and hand bags they had discarded, to claw at bricks and paving slabs; they had even torn off their beige jumpers to wrap about their placards, which burned merrily in the cold night. They stepped in blind certainty, stuffed with righteousness and indignation, to save their children, to kill an abomination.
Sophie, as pale and dishevelled as her white birthday dress, begged and pleaded but the mob was beyond reason; they could only see a monster where she saw a friend. Sweat beaded on Sheriff Gizetti’s receding hairline. He was split between decision and indecision, between the Mayor’s orders and that greater steely thing that lived in his head, that thing he imagined the law to be. Between them was the focus of the mob’s anger, a silent but looming figure shrinking into the shadows.
Gizetti gambled. “This is my suspect and she’s under arrest!” Moving his hand slowly and deliberately to his holster, for all to see. “That means she is now under my protection and if any of you interfere that means you’re breaking the law!”
The crowd murmured and stopped, a few people began to look uncertain, but then a voice shouted. “It’s too late for that Gizetti! It’s a crime against God! It’s a murderer and it’s been brainwashing our children!” Others joined in with the shouting, anger bristled and rippled through the crowd. Gizetti and Sophie looked at each other, and they both grabbed one of scaly hands beside them, backing towards the edge of the cliff.
“Gizetti if you want to do your job, get that idiot girl away from it and let us do what we’ve got to do. That freak of a lizard shouldn’t even exist, Dinosaurs went extinct for a reason!”
It had started with a mob; they had stormed into the film studio and ruined Sophie’s birthday. It had been a present from her foster mother, to go and see her favourite TV show being filmed live. Sophie normally liked to escape into books but this TV show was different, for a start the presenter wore a big purple dinosaur costume, which was a bit childish in Sophie’s opinion. She had only started to watch the show after the presenter, Julie the Jurassic Dinosaur, had come to her school to talk about evolution. Julie had whispered facts to flesh on ancient bones; she had filled Sophie’s head with the rush and roar and struggle of life, of all the forms it had taken on Earth in the aeons before people had ever existed.
What had really intrigued Sophie though, was that she had recognised Julie’s voice from somewhere else. Sophie loved animals and often went to the Zoo by herself after school. At the Zoo she often saw a strange and very tall lady always dressed in Winter clothing. The lady completely covered herself so that Sophie could never see her face. She always had scarves, gloves, hats and a big baggy coat that trailed along the ground behind her. Sophie took as much of an interest in spying on the lady as she did looking at all the other animals in the Zoo. Though one day the lady noticed Sophie and beckoned her over. Sophie was worried that she’d be in trouble, but the lady had just wanted to tell her stories about the animals in the Zoo. From then on Sophie always hurried to the Zoo to hear more of the strange lady’s stories. Once she told Sophie a very sad story, one she couldn’t quite believe, about a very old and long forgotten race of creatures that could talk, think, and feel, just like people. She told Sophie of how the ape rose and the old races fell; of the wars between those wanting to protect and those wanting to destroy the new apes; from wisdom to ignorance and fear, and now of the remaining few living on, in the desolate margins of the world.
Sophie knew that the lady in the Zoo and Julie must be the same person, they had the same warm but softly hissing voice. This had made her even more excited about the trip to the film studio, Sophie had hoped that her friend would show her around the studio.
The mob were protesters, they had shouted things like “Evolution is a lie!” and “Stop brainwashing our children!”. This had made Sophie and all the other children in the audience boo and shout back at the annoying adults. When one of the protesters grabbed a toy dinosaur from a little boy in front of her, Sophie had got angry and tried to wrestle it back. The man had been too strong and she had only managed to fall over and hit her head. That was when she heard a roar and saw Julie fighting to get past the protesters, to get to her. In the scuffle the head of Julie’s suit fell off, and then people started screaming and shouting. “Monster!” One man even fell down in shock clutching his chest. Sophie screamed too, but not out of fear, out of surprise and excitement because Julie wasn’t human!
Before anyone could stop her Julie had grabbed the head of the suit and had run from the studio.
Some of the adults started shouting for the police, to get guns, and to hunt the monster down. “No!” Sophie whispered to herself, she wouldn’t let that happen to her friend.
Gizetti swore at the erratic dog as it yanked on it’s leash. The dog was half enraged and half terrified, and it reminded him of the emergency Concerned Citizens Alliance meeting he had just been herded from. The people of Equalsville prided themselves on their welcoming attitude, but he’d too often seen how easily that gauze of a sentiment could be peeled off, to air the rotten flesh when it was deemed acceptable. In the meeting the opportunistic and unpopular Mayor had whipped concerns and worries into fear, outrage, and finally a frenzy of religious vigilantism; like some pot bellied Nordic hero promising to bring the them the head of all their troubles.
As far as Gizetti could tell from the video he had seen a poor woman with some very bad eczema, who had lost her temper when some idiots upset the kids where she worked. Which he thought understandable. Her costume head had fallen off and she had accidentally given someone the scare of their life, not quite normal, but then that guy’s heart could have gone at any time. Manslaughter was a joke, but those protesters had connections in high places. He’d laughed at first, seeing the presenter of the kids show fighting off the protesters like some Godzilla stunt double, but when he heard the roar he had felt some instinctual simian shiver and began to doubt. Then when he searched the presenter’s apartment, there had been the freezers full of meat, the scratches on the floor, and the dog’s reaction to the reptile like scales he had found.
The dog had lead Gizetti to the now closed and dark Zoo, he had called in for backup but decided not to wait. The dog seemed to be leading him towards the section with reptiles and crocodiles. Great, Gizetti thought, what better place for a big lizard to hide than with the other big lizards. The dog’s ears pricked up and it started growling at something in the entrance of the lonely reptile house.
“If you’re smart you’ll come out slowly.” Gizetti said, hoping who or whatever it was couldn’t hear the slight tremor in his voice. A girl with a mess of hazel hair in white dress stepped out.
“Please don’t hurt her! She’s not a monster, she’s my friend, she didn’t hurt anyone!” Pleaded the girl.
“Miss what are you doing out here all on your…”
The words died in Gizetti’s mouth. Something else moved in torch light behind the girl. The swish of something like a tail. Gizetti jerked the torch left and up. A tall figure in baggy clothing loomed into the light, but where a human face should have been there was something else, something wrong. Scaly, yellow eyes like an eagle’s, and needle teeth. The gun appeared in Gizetti’s hand, and the dog ran away, yelping. Something jumped on Gizetti’s back, screaming and kicking, it was trying to grab the gun. Gizetti panicked, stumbled back and knocked it off on a post where it fell into the enclosure below. Gasping he scrambled to find the gun he had dropped. Then he saw it, charging towards him. Gizetti let out a scream, raising his arms half to ward off the tearing teeth half to beg the that end be quick. The teeth never appeared, only a hissed word. “Fool!” Then a flash of air as it leapt over him into the crocodile enclosure below.
Realisation hit Gizetti hard. “Oh God no!” He had knocked the girl into the crocodile enclosure. “Please no!” Gizetti found his torch. The creature already had the girl on it’s back and it was grappling tooth and nail with one of the crocodiles. Gizetti found his gun and took aim. Four shots in rapid succession, five, six, and the crocodile slumped into the water. Gizetti collapsed to the ground.
“The girl is not hurt just unconscioussss.” It hissed softly laying Sophie gently on the ground. Calmer this time Gizetti marvelled at the creature. It was hurt, it limped, and despite the fight it still had most of its baggy clothing on. Gizetti wondered what it really looked like, what all the odd lumps and bumps on it’s back might be. It had lost it’s gloves and he could see it had hands like a man’s only longer and with powerful talons on the end of each finger. It’s face was very pointed and thin, with a long fore head that swept back to a bony ridge that hung over the back of its bald skull. It’s scaly skin was a mix of grey and turquoise, and the yellow eyes were fixed intently on him.
“What now Sheriff Gizzzetti? Will you arressst me?”
“You know my name?”
“Yesss I know you Sheriff. I have lived in thisss town for sssome time.” It tileted it’s head and looked mournfully at Sophie. “I have lived peacccefully alongssside you and I have never hurt anyone.”
Gizetti closed his eyes, struggling to comprehend the talking, living, breathing, dinosaur standing beside him. “I’m sorry…” Stammered Gizetti. Before he could go on the creature turned, raising it’s head to sniff the air. Someone else had been listening in on his broadcast for backup, the Mayor and the concerned citizens of Equalsville were streaming into the Zoo. The creature fled.
“Wait! I want to help!” Yelled Gizetti.
The mob were armed and angry, they had heard the gun fire.
“Where is it Gizetti? Where’s the abomination?”
“It’s not like that Mayor, it’s not like that at all. It saved the girl.” Gizetti said pointing at the .
“What are you talking about?” The Mayor shoved his face close to Gizetti’s, his eyes small and blood shot. “You find it and you kill it,” he hissed. “ Or you’re out of a job!”
They wouldn’t listen. They only saw the crocodile it had killed, the policeman it had beaten and the girl it had hurt. They only saw what they wanted to see. With dogs of their own they spread out into the Zoo.
The girl moaned and slowly awoke. Gizetti helped her up. “You OK honey? You’re safe now.” Sophie’s eyes widened as she looked about the now bustling Zoo.
“What’s your name dear?” asked Gizetti.
“It’s Sophie. What happened? Wha…what did you do? You had a gun!” Sophie jumped up and away from Gizetti.
“Woah Sophie, wait please!”
“You were going to shoot her! She never hurt anyone!” Sophie shouted, backing away from Gizetti.
“Sophie listen please. Your right. Your right about Julie, I believe you.” Sophie hesitated as Gizetti lowered his head and looked at the unfamiliar hands before him. “I was sacred, I wasn’t thinking, I just reacted, and because of me…” Gizetti looked up at Sophie his voice faltering. “You almost got killed.”
Sophie only stared at Gizetti “ I’ve never seen anything like it…”
Sophie’s eye’s blazed. “Her name is Julie, she is not an ‘it’! She’s my friend”
Gizetti’s brow furrowed as his definitions of friend, foe, living sentient feeling thinking beings expanded, and became a little bit more scaly. “She…Julie saved you. She jumped right into that pit and saved you. She’s a hero and I’m an idiot.”
“She saved me?” Sophie marvelled. “I think…I think maybe I can trust you.” She said, looking down thoughtfully at the gun shot form of crocodile below.
Gizetti sighed in relief. “Thank you Sophie, and I’m sorry, truly I am.” Gizetti walked over to Sophie. “It…, Julie ran off when the Mayor’s lot arrived, we need to find her before they do.”
Sophie stared up at the valley brow above the Zoo. “I think I know where she might be.”
They found Julie just before the mob did. She stood silently at the cliff edge staring out into the desert, at the bright twinkling night. She turned at their approach and smiled softly. Gizetti winced at the sight of the teeth, but tried to smile back. Sophie gave Julie a big hug, which she even returned.
Then the mob arrived.
Sophie told them that Julie was her friend, she told them of all the stories Julie had told her, but the mob did not listen. Gizetti told them how Julie had saved Sophie from the crocodile, but the mob did not listen. Then Julie prised herself free from Gizetti and Sophie, and stepped towards the crowd. Julie looked up at the sky. She breathed in that ancient sparkling glow and breathed out words the colour of tide and time, of the Earth waxing and waning from fire to ice, and finally to blossoming bright green life. She spun the infinite shapes and struggles of life about them, she spoke of her people, of the old races, of yellow savannahs, rust clouds and the first scared barks of the walking ape. She spoke of humanity’s sister species, their loss, the dissolution of her kind and of hope. Julie spoke of the hope that one day all the sons and daughters of the same soil would live together in peace.
Gizetti and Sophie stood with tears in their eyes, the sights, sounds and smells of the ages seared into their hearts. The mob stood dumb. They heard only hiss, grunt and roar. They could see the affect of the scaly siren on Sophie and Gizetti, and it only angered them. As they made to grab the talking beast, Julie flung off her ragged clothing and dived off the cliff edge.
Sophie screamed, Gizetti pulled her close and covered her ears, but that final thump never came, only the wump wump wump of beating air. Then reeling back in horror the mob could only point and gasp.
For years Sophie would dream of those fine light white scales, she would dream of Dragons, dancing in the desert.