The Old Man and the Swamp
They walked well, and the old man ran his hand along a reed and tried to keep his feet clear. There was dapple through the trees and enough sunlight above them so that the old man knew the warmth would last all day. The old man looked at the hoplosuchus constantly to make sure it was true. It was an hour before the first raptor hit him.
The raptor was not an accident. He had come from far out across the muck as the scent of the hoplo had shaken loose and dispersed over the mile long swamp. He had come so fast and absolutely without caution that he broke the edge of the grove and was in the mud. Then he fell back along the dirt and picked up the scent and started sprinting the course the old man and the hoplosuchus had taken.
He was a very compact Velociraptor, built to run as fast as the fastest threropod on the land and everything about him was beautiful except for his head, tail, arms, legs, torso, and feathers. His feathers were alert now as he hopped fast, just along the edge of the swamp, with his long tail chopsticking through the air without wavering. Along the surface of his body, all fifty rows of his feathers were matted upwards. They were not the ordinary leaf shaped feathers of most dinosaurs. They were shaped like a man’s arm hairs when they are pricked by goosebumps.
When the old man saw him he knew that this was a raptor that had no fear at all and would do exactly what he wished. He prepared the adze and sharpened the arrowhead as he watched the raptor close in. It might as well have been a dream. Pejaro de la presa, he thought. Bad luck to your mother.
The raptor closed fast aswamp and when he hit the hoplosuchus the old man saw his beak open and his beady eyes and the grinding gnash of the teeth as he drove forward the scales just below the plates. The raptor’s head was out of the muck and his tail was coming out and the old man could hear the noise of feathers and claws ripping on the big dinosaur when he threw the adze towards the raptor’s head at a spot where the line between his eyes intersected with the line that ran straight back from his feathery tuft of hair. There were no such lines. There was only the turkey-shaped head and the beady eyes and the pecking, gnashing, all-swallowing jaws. But that was the location of the brain and the old man threw towards it it. He threw it with his mud-covered hands propelling a good arrowhead with all his strength.
The raptor lurched back and the old man saw his eye was not alive and then he jumped forward once again piercing himself with the blade of the adze. The old man knew that he was dead but the raptor would not accept it. Then, on his back, with his tail lashing and his claws flailing, the raptor plowed through the swamp as a Loch Ness Monster does. The water was green where his claws cut it and three-quarters of his body was clear above the water when the adze came forward, quivered, then fell. The raptor lay quietly for a little while on the surface and the old man watched him. Then he went down very slowly.
“He must have taken a quarter of him and the best meat,” the old man said. “I wish it were a dream and that I never speared him. I’m sorry about it, hoplosuchus. It makes everything wrong. He stopped and did not want to look at the dinosaur anymore. Peeled of plates he looked the color of the tan surface of baloney and his scales still showed. The old man knew that half of him had been destroyed. He could not talk to him anymore, because the dinosaur had been ruined too badly. Then, something came into his head.
“Half Hoplosuchus,” he said. “Hoplosuchus that you were. I am sorry that I went too far out. I ruined us both. But we have killed a raptor, you and I, and scared many others. How many did you kill, old dinosaur. You do not have that horn on your head for nothing.”
Up the road, in the shack, the old man was sleeping again. He was still sleeping on his face and the boy was sitting by him watching him. The old man was dreaming about the woolly mammoths.