The T-Rex’s lower jaw has fallen off.
The twenty-foot beast still looms over them, but his menacing roar has been reduced to an almost comical gash. I step over the fallen pieces of his face as I slip through the opening and into the woods beyond.
There used to be a road here. Thirty years ago, a little red tram took families on a Jurassic journey through the forest where life-size fiberglass dinosaurs stalked their prey. Now, there’s only a trampled path through the weeds, and a different kind of stalking. I don’t need the path. I’ve spent enough midweek evenings cruising Dino Woods to know my way. I know that a lopsided Triceratops is waiting just ahead, staring at me with his one remaining dark eye, his twin horns pointed skyward. The weathered strips of fiberglass that form his hide look more like paper mache now.
I also recognize the other shapes moving between the trees. If we see each other at the gas station down the road, or even in the old parking lot, we might say hello, even comment on the warm Michigan fall. But here, in the woods, we hold fast to the illusion of anonymity. A couple of hours away in the city, men like us are exchanging rings and marching in parades. I don’t know if they left us behind, or if we just never bothered to catch up. This is no time to get philosophical anyway, there’s already a tall figure moving toward me.
I lean back against a tree and he steps in close. I don’t recognize his silhouette, so I’m already excited. I give a nod, and he returns it, completing the official Dino Woods consent ritual. His hand is on my chest and mine is already fumbling with his jeans.
This is why I hate button flies.
And finally they are open, and it’s lying across the center of my palm. Except, it can’t be, because it’s also hanging over my thumb and brushing against my wrist. I strain my eyes in the darkness and see just what I’m holding, how it splits at the base and forks into two identical serpentine forms that are now draped over my fingers.
He’s an urban legend in these woods, a tall tale whispered between the trees and beneath the brontosaurus. I never believed that he and is double endowment were real. But here he is, well here they are. In the flesh.In my hand.
Despite my disbelief, I have imagined this moment. The things I would do. The feats of hand/mouth coordination that I would achieve. But I’m not doing any of those things. I’m just standing here in the dark. I’m not even looking at it, at them, now. I’m looking at his face, at his dark triceratops eyes. I’m wondering what it’s like to be a Dino Woods legend. Even more, I’m wondering what life is like for him outside these woods. When you see an urban legend at the gas station, do you talk to him about the weather? If he lived in the city, would he still be a legend, or is his brand of unique more suited to these forgotten cruising grounds?
He shrugs, like he already knows how this plays out. He shoves it, shoves them, back into his jeans and saunters off into the trees. I’m left standing with my palm out, wondering if he was ever there at all. I’m wondering if maybe I’ve spent too much time stalking silhouettes through herds of paper mache dinosaurs. Maybe I don’t know the difference between fiberglass and flesh anymore.
I head out of the woods, back to the old parking lot. Outside my car, I stop to shake a piece of tyrannosaurus jaw off my shoe.
Craig lives in Saint Petersburg, Florida, but he’ll always be a Detroiter at heart. He is a creative nonfiction editor for Marathon Literary Review, and some of his work can be found in The Eckerd Review, Glitterwolf Magazine, and Creative Loafing Tampa. You can find him on Twitter.