Back home, when I was a kid, dinosaurs roamed the hills behind our house. The Experiment opened up a couple of portals and dinosaurs in Helsinki was one of the strange occurrences.
They spooked easily and typically stayed away from humans like the plague. Some of the theories said that this was a portal to a dinosaur-and-human world. Like, the dinos stayed clear of us because they’d learned a long time ago that humans were bad news. Seemed plausible, I suppose.
Whatever it was, an airhorn was typically enough to scare away a whole herd, so there were two on every shirt and pair of pants I wore. Lots of kids were dressed like that by our moms. The dads shook their collective heads, though quickly stopped when the glares shot in their direction.
Jalo was in my grade at school. His dad was in jail, went in right before the Experiment. Jalo’s mom was in a wheelchair, and didn’t speak much. Jalo didn’t talk about his home life.
We explored and roamed the countryside, rode our bikes up and down the road, scouted every lake for miles around.
One of those days, about the time we were fourteen, we followed the tracks of a dino herd. They moved through a sparse forest on top of a hill. We climbed up and saw about two dozen in a meadow below, in front of the hill, below the forest. We watched for a while. Jalo pulled out a notebook and began to draw.
It was a nice way to spend a summer afternoon. The forested hill was a forty minute ride back home, and I needed to get back early, it was my turn to cook dinner.
Jalo didn’t have such concerns. He pulled out a sandwich and munched on it. His drawing was coming along well, but there were a lot of dinos, so Jalo stayed. I looked back at him as I pedaled down the hill and toward town, but only saw the sandwich waving back and forth for a beat.
The next day he showed me the drawing, finished. It was amazing. Great detail, he even captured some funny expressions on the dinos’ faces.
Over the next few weeks Jalo drew the herd more and more, and individual dinos. Of course, so did every other kid in school, but Jalo had a talent for it. He really got the details right.
We started spending less time together. There was a girl, Maija, and I was a boy, so some things started to click. So me and Jalo spent less time together. But he still continued to show me his work.
A year went by, then another. The dinosaurs migrated or were rounded up or something, but we didn’t see them anymore. I roamed with Maija through the familiar groves and along our favorite shores, but we only saw the dinos one time.
A month after Jalo turned eighteen, his dad was released from prison. Jalo’s mom had a restraining order. Some of the factory workers spoke with Jalo’s dad, using their fists, though they swear they didn’t break any bones, and put the bastard on the next bus out of town.
A week later, the police found Jalo’s father’s body. His lower half. The upper half looked chewed off. In his wallet was a bus ticket, back into town. He was back just six hours, according to the ticket stub. Plenty of time to be munched by a dino, apparently.
Jalo was missing. We searched the ravines and the lakes, the whole town came out for it, multiple days.
Eventually, we found the shack. It was built partially into an old abandoned mine. Most maps didn’t even have the mine on them, so no one knew it was out here, not even me. A dino was kept there, very recently. It spent time in the mine, locked behind the barred gate. The mine was littered with chicken bones, apparently that’s what the dino ate. They said she must have been about four years old, based on the feces analysis. On the other side of the gate was the shack. It looked like someone lived there, as well.
A zoologist found Jalo’s dad’s wedding ring in the dino’s feces. That bastard’s fate was pretty clear. But there was no sign of Jalo.
He was eighteen, though, and his mom didn’t push the issue. Sometimes people just walk away, they say, and maybe that’s for the best, for them, for us.
About a month after that I got a large envelope in the mail. No letter, just one of Jalo’s dino sketches. It was almost photorealistic, Jalo had gotten very good at drawing dinos. This one had a creepy smile, its teeth glittering prominently between green lizard-like skin. One of the teeth was splotched, very faintly, with blood.
Maija thinks I’m one of the Dino Generation, and I don’t correct her on it, so she doesn’t mind that the picture hangs in my office. I miss you, Jalo. Hope you’ve found some happiness out there.