Swept out to sea, the whole colony struggled to survive. After the earthquake their instincts had sent them to higher ground, but the highest point on their hidden island wasn’t high enough. The resulting tsunami had destroyed their ancient habitat in seconds.
Battered and beaten by back-to-back storms, all of them were exhausted. Although they were comfortable in water, they still needed air to survive. Sadly, most of the colony was lost.
A mated pair followed the racial memories of their species and swam toward a place where their kind had lived before. Several cycles later, they made landfall and the male dug a hole just past the wet sand. Gently, he buried the female’s dozen eggs before they both collapsed onto the beach.
That’s exactly where a fourteen-year-old girl named Winona found the pair of dinosaurs.
“It’s time to wake up, Winona,” Sedona said.
Win only groaned in response to her mother’s voice.
“Go wash up, Sweetie.” Sedona knelt down beside her only child. “We’ll have some fresh fruit for breakfast before you head out for the beach.”
“Too early,” Win mumbled.
“What? Last night you were so eager to go exploring that you could hardly wait for the storm to end.” Sedona paused. “I guess I’ll have to give your chore to somebody else.”
“No, I’ll do it,” Win said, bolting upright. “Besides, I’m the best beachcomber.”
“Yes, you are.” Sedona smiled. “Now, go get ready for breakfast.”
Win quickly braided her black hair into a single ponytail that fell halfway down her back. She changed into a sleeveless shift, which showed off her deeply tanned skin. Although she was small for her age, she was surprisingly strong and capable being both physically and mentally agile.
She washed her face and hands before gulping down her breakfast. Now that she was awake, she was eager to get going. Grabbing her head covering and nets, she made her way out the door.
“Bye Mom,” Win said, giving her a quick kiss. “I’ll bring back all the wonderful gifts the ocean has washed ashore for us.”
“Bye-bye. You be careful,” Sedona admonished.
Leaving her house on the cliff, Win enjoyed the panoramic view from her corner of the 130,000-square-mile island. The stunning diversity of the landscape was always a revelation; the terrain had been carved by numerous lava flows and layered with deposits left by long-absent glaciers, rushing rivers and inland seas. It was a fantastic place to grow up.
“It’s a beautiful day for beachcombing,” Win said. Then she laughed all the way up to her twinkling brown eyes.
Win came onto the beach at a run; she’d raced down the cliff at her habitually reckless pace. She sank to her knees just shy of the wet sand while she caught her breath. This was her favorite place on earth. She loved how the red-stone cliffs gleamed in sharp contrast against the vivid turquoise backdrop of the ocean.
From long habit she scanned the scene before her, searching for treasure amongst the usual storm debris. About thirty yards to the left, she spotted a strange shape that was slightly darker than the reddish sand, with rust-colored markings.
“I wonder what that is.” Curious, she walked toward the area to investigate. “Uh-oh, it’s standing up.” The creature took a protective stance over an almost invisible sand-colored shape.
“Wow, it’s twice as tall as me,” Win said in awe. Oblivious to the danger, she stepped closer.
The dinosaur stood less than ten feet away.
It was extraordinary. It had the endearing face of a sheep, perched on a long, multi-maneuverable neck similar to a flamingo’s. The two-legged creature also had proportionally short arms over a rounded middle, and the addition of its thick, tapering tail gave it an oddly tilted look.
Win was so eager to learn all she could about this fascinating creature that she wasn’t even aware of her own movement as she stepped even closer. To her amazement, the creature’s rust-colored markings changed to red while she watched.
“What are you?”
She was more intrigued than frightened as she took yet another step closer. An ominous growl finally alerted the brave young girl. She looked up and saw that the creature’s eyes were now glowing a deep red. Win froze. She realized too late that she was way too close.
Softly, she began to sing the ancestral songs of her people. Singing aloud was her secret weapon. It was how she mastered her fears.
Win’s voice became stronger and more melodic, and the creature was mesmerized. At that point, Win knew she was singing for her life. The high cliffs behind her formed a natural amphitheater, which altered the sound of her voice and created a haunting, echo-like effect. These haunting echoes resonated with the creature on a level that a normal human voice never could. The dinosaur remained standing but the red glow slowly disappeared from its eyes and its red markings reverted to rust.
Win’s voice woke the second creature. It was similar to the first, only slightly smaller. She correctly assumed it was a female, which explained the male’s protective stance. However, the female’s voice was totally unexpected. It began to sing along with Win, attempting to mimic her singing. Win was so shocked that her voice faltered in mid-song. The female took over the lead and began to sing her own version. After a pause, Win joined in. As they sang together, the female inched closer to Win, eventually sitting within a foot of the standing girl.
Looking around, Win was amazed when she saw the male lying down, fast asleep. She was so relieved that her knees gave out and she collapsed onto the sand. She was still frightened, but her curiosity was stronger than her fears. Impulsively, she reached out to pet the female; the texture of its skin had the consistency of a dried apricot. Within seconds, the female was also asleep.
Now Win was stuck. She had to stay still unless she wanted to risk waking both of the creatures. Deciding it wasn’t worth the risk, she settled down to wait until they woke up. Eventually, the sound of the waves hitting the shore lulled her to sleep, with her head coming to rest against the soft belly of the female.
This final act of trust was the cement that bonded the new friends together forever.
Win woke up later that morning, nestled by the female. She named the female creature Chelly and the male she called Chandler.
“Chelly and Chandler,” she said. “Sounds like music to me.”
Chandler was wading into the surf. She was amazed to see his colors magically change from dark sand with rust-colored markings to deep turquoise with aqua-blue markings.
“Chandler,” she exclaimed, which woke up Chelly. “Chelly,” Win greeted her.
Chelly sang a greeting to Win, which Win mimicked.
Chandler returned with a half-eaten fish in his mouth. He stayed behind as Win accompanied Chelly for her turn to romp in the surf. As soon as Chelly entered the water, her color changed from sand to turquoise and Win realized that the creatures had chameleon-like abilities, which allowed them to blend smoothly into the surrounding scenery.
She would’ve loved to take them all around the island just to watch their colors change from the forested, snow-capped mountains, to the ancient desert formations, to the red sand at her feet.
Chelly came out of the water munching on a string of seaweed. Since Win had already seen Chandler eating fish, she figured the creatures were omnivorous. It gave their species a significant advantage as it allowed them to swiftly adjust to any changes in their surroundings.
Something about them being omnivorous left Win feeling vaguely uneasy, but she didn’t figure out why until later. She finally understood how close to death she’d probably been when she first approached Chandler.
“Mom,” Win exclaimed. “You’re not going to believe what I found.”
“What did you find, Winona?” Sedona asked.
“You’ll have to see them with your own eyes,” Win said. “Please come.”
“Okay, let’s go see what you’ve found.”
Win led her mother down the cliff. Once onshore, Win began to sing.
“Why are you singing now?” Sedona asked. “I thought you wanted to show me something?”
Win raised her right index finger to her lips, but she kept on singing. Suddenly, another voice began to sing along with Win.
“Whose voice is that?” Sedona asked while looking around.
Win pointed to Chelly.
“Dinosaur,” Sedona said. Just before she fainted.
The trio established a comfortable routine. Win and Chelly spent each morning singing and beachcombing, while Chandler stayed behind to protect the dinosaur’s section of the beach. Although, since Win had discovered the dinosaurs, nobody had gone anywhere near that stretch of beach, and that included her mother.
Win arrived as usual one morning, but Chandler blocked her path.
“What’s wrong?” Win asked. He stood his ground and Win sank to her knees. When she was still, Chandler moved to one side, which allowed Win to see Chelly seated in front of several large eggs.
“Oh, I see why I was banished,” Win whispered. The dinosaur eggs had begun to hatch. Alas, only three of the eggs had any cracks in the shells—a good indication of life inside.
Win watched in awe as the tiny transparent dinosaurs fought their way out. First one, two, and finally, the last one opened; Win was overwhelmed as she watched this miracle unfold.
“They’re beautiful.” For the first time, Win felt the pull of her maternal instincts. Tears fell unnoticed as she watched the amazing birth of these perfect little dinosaurs.
Chelly sang softly as she gently cleaned each one of her babies and Win leaned in as far as she dared, straining to learn her lullaby.
Chandler approached the nest; heard them whimper, and left in search of food.
Win instinctively knew not to approach the nest. She stayed where she was all morning, fully absorbed in the newborn’s endless cycle of feeding, pooping, sleeping and waking, which, of course, was followed by feeding, pooping, sleeping and waking.
It took a week before Win was allowed into the nest. There she sat quietly, mindful of Chandler’s watchful presence. She made no attempt to touch the babies, but she took in every detail of their progress. All three had doubled in size and they were no longer transparent. They also displayed distinct personalities while playing or competing for food.
Win was fascinated by the runt as he continuously rotated through a kaleidoscope of colors, while the other two—like their mother—stayed the same red color as the sand. The incessant changes must have put a strain on his energy reserves, but still he kept trying to stand up and sniff out everything in sight. To Win, it seemed like an amazing feat for the frail and fragile dinosaur and he owned a large portion of her heart from that moment on.
She named him Phoenix, because of the unwavering strength of his spirit.
Several more days passed before Win decided what to name his two sisters. She chose Florence for the elegant one, while the rough-and-tumble tomboy she named Fredonia. Overall, Phoenix, Florence and Fredonia had a very nice ring.
Everything had changed. Chelly no longer wandered the beach with her every morning, as she was too busy caring for her babies. Chandler spent most of his time in search of food for his family. Win loved to watch the babies’ reaction when Chandler arrived to feed them; they jumped up, trembling on their shaky little legs, and squealed with excitement.
Win became a fixture at the nest and soon the new parents let her hold the babies. They even allowed her to help feed them Chandler’s pre-chewed food—a task undertaken with extreme caution, given their sharp little teeth. She also herded the babies back to the nest when they’d wandered too far away.
However, singing was her most important job. Florence and Fredonia needed to learn her songs; Phoenix, like his father, never sang at all. It seemed to be a peculiarity of their species that only the females could sing.
The young dinosaurs’ rapid growth continued and soon they were taller than Win, although they were still awkward and vulnerable. Summer was coming to a close as they neared their full-grown height. Their parents still watched over them, but they had the freedom to roam anywhere they wanted.
“C’mon, Phoenix,” Win said as they trudged up the cliff. “We’re almost there.” Phoenix followed her around like a puppy dog wherever she went, which charmed everyone, even her mother.
“Hi Mom, we’re home.” Win removed the modified saddlebag draped over Phoenix’s back. He’d get his own custom-fitted saddlebag when he was full-grown.
“Welcome home.” Sedona gave Win a kiss but Phoenix was ready to be scratched. He wiggled his multi-maneuverable neck every which way, enabling Sedona to reach all his itchy spots. It was a daily routine they both loved.
Win smiled as she watched their playful antics, but she was worried. The summertime gathering and processing of food and supplies was almost done. Traditionally they moved inland to their permanent home at the beginning of Fall, and Fall had arrived.
Win knew by now that Phoenix would accompany her when she left with her family, which was why she’d made sure he was accepted by them. The tough questions remained: what would Chelly and Chandler do when they left? Would they follow them, bringing Florence and Fredonia, too? Or would they stay behind and let Phoenix go? Worse yet, would they try to stop Win and Phoenix from leaving? Win had no answers, but she didn’t want anyone in either her human or her dinosaur family hurt.
On the day before her family was scheduled to leave, Win spent the morning with Chelly, Florence and Fredonia. It’d been awhile since Win had sung with them. After an hour of singing, Chelly, perhaps sensing the sadness in Win, nestled with her until they both fell asleep. Upon waking, Win hugged every one of them goodbye before she left with Phoenix.
In an effort to slip away unnoticed, Win’s family left before dawn the next morning. However, their departure was not only noticed, it was mourned. For a mile beyond the natural amphitheater at the beach, the entire caravan clearly heard the sorrowful singing of three distinct voices lifted in song.
“Welcome home, Phoenix.” Win proudly showed him their winter home. “Sorry, you can’t come in. It just wasn’t designed for a seven-foot pet.” Her Uncle Yuma built Phoenix a shelter for protection against the harsh winter ahead.
Win couldn’t help worrying about the other dinosaurs’ survival. Would their instincts tell them to move inland? Or would they go back to wherever they’d come from?
She never found out where the dinosaurs went, but they did survive. Whatever shelter they’d found must’ve been known to other dinosaurs as well, because when her family returned to the beach the next summer, there were three times as many dinosaurs as before.
“Hi everybody. What’re you doing this evening?” Win asked as she and Phoenix approached a small group of girls, all of whom scattered. She knew they were scared of Phoenix, who looked like a giant over-stuffed bird, except that he had stout legs, short arms instead of wings, and a powerful tail, which not only propelled him in water but also balanced his body on land.
Win kicked a rock. “C’mon Phoenix, let’s get the firewood so we can get home, too.” They wandered deep into the brush with Win grabbing up all the logs and kindling she could find.
Suddenly, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up; she was surrounded by wolves. Win screamed when the pack leader growled his intention to attack. In her panic, she had trouble seeing where Phoenix was in the low light of dusk.
“Run!” Win scrambled backwards as the lead wolf leapt toward her. She braced herself for the attack but it never came. Instead the leader was flung into the air, quickly followed by two more flying wolves. The rest of the pack fled into the shadows.
“Good job, boy.” Win trembled uncontrollably as she hugged Phoenix. “Good job.” Her normally peaceful companion had proven he was far from defenseless; this was the first time she ever saw his powerful tail used as a weapon. “I love you, Phoenix. Let’s go home.” Phoenix dropped down and Win jumped on for the ride back.
Win did love Phoenix; he’d been her best friend for almost four years now. He was much more than a pet, and yet it wasn’t enough. She needed someone she could talk to, someone who could also talk to her. Win had accepted that she’d never have a normal friendship with the girls in her village, but the boys there seemed equally scared. Come summertime though, she’d have a new reason to hope.
Win was excited. She was on her way to the Gathering: the summer-long event which began with the formal introduction of every young adult. The Gatherings were held every other year and you had to be at least seventeen to attend. The obvious goal was to find a mate within the other families present, since society expected them all to marry and begin a new family as soon as possible.
The journey from Win’s winter home to the Gathering was twice as far as from home to the beach. Everyone rode horseback except for Win; Phoenix carried her on his back. It created quite a stir when they arrived and Phoenix was very nervous around all those strangers. Win sang him Chelly’s lullaby to soothe him.
“Hello, what have we here?” asked a handsome stranger standing only ten feet away. He was tall, with dark brown hair and skin; his black eyes looked directly at Win.
A girl could get lost in those eyes, Win thought.
People usually scattered when they saw Phoenix, which was why Win found him so amazing. He continued to stare quizzically at her until she realized that he was still waiting for an answer.
“Oh, sorry! My name is Winona, and this is Phoenix.” She laughed. “I was waiting for you to run away like everyone else.”
“My name is Milan.” His smile was dazzling. “And I’m not going anywhere.”
“Then I’d better introduce you to Phoenix.” Win smiled back. “Walk slowly toward us and I’ll sing to him.” She held on to Phoenix with her right hand while signaling Milan forward with her left.
Moving closer, his voice joined in harmony with Win’s. He had a gift; his voice was like liquid velvet and it immediately charmed them both. In fact, Phoenix treated Milan as Win’s friend and fellow protector from that day forward.
Win adored everything about Milan. He was intelligent, a good conversationalist, and he made her laugh. She also liked the way he moved his body, with the natural grace of a hunter.
Win fell hard.
Luckily, so did Milan. One glance at Win and he knew he’d found his mate. As was customary, he’d now go to live with Win’s relatives—her Aunt Kayenta and Uncle Yuma. After the closing ceremony, Milan traveled home with them.
“Winona,” Aunt Kayenta cried as they entered their village. “What are all those dinosaurs doing here?”
“I’m not sure, Auntie,” Win replied. She was riding Phoenix while Milan was beside her riding his horse, Gallup. “They must have missed us at the beach this summer. It’s the first year we haven’t gone back there.”
“Great,” Uncle Yuma said. “Now, what do we do?”
“Don’t worry, Uncle. I’ll take care of it.”
She led Phoenix away from the others, but before she could hop off, one of the dinosaurs rushed right at her.
“Chelly!” Win exclaimed. “How on Earth did you find us?” Win embraced Chelly and they both sang a snippet from their favorite song.
Win introduced Milan and the rest of her human family to her dinosaur family. However, there were several new dinosaurs that Win didn’t recognize, including a young female that immediately caught Phoenix’ interest.
“Oh no,” Win said. “I wonder if I’m going to lose him.”
“Well, you found a mate. Phoenix deserves a mate, too,” Sedona gently said.
“If the female feels comfortable here, perhaps they’ll both stay,” Milan suggested.
Just then, Chelly began to sing; she maneuvered Win and the young female into a circle with her. All the other dinosaurs, including Phoenix, backed away. Win had no idea what was going on but it appeared to be some sort of contest. Chelly chose every song they sang as well as the lead singer, alternating between Win and the young female. This went on for some time.
“Hey Win,” Milan said between songs. “I think you’re supposed to stop singing.”
“I think he’s right,” Aunt Kayenta said. “Maybe Phoenix’s new mate is supposed to win this competition.”
It was her turn to sing next, but when Chelly started her off, Win did not join in.
Phoenix approached, making a trumpeting sound that no human had ever heard. Chelly and the female made way for Phoenix. Win attempted to leave the circle, but Chelly stopped her as Phoenix moved into the center. Chelly sang a song unfamiliar to Win; when she was done she led Win away from the new couple.
Chelly joined the rest of the dinosaurs and the entire group began to make their way out of the village, going back toward the ocean. All the females were singing Win and Chelly’s favorite song. Phoenix stopped to look back as they crested the ridge, and then they were gone.
Win was in shock, watching her old friend depart; too frozen in grief to even cry.
Milan settled into Aunt Kayenta and Uncle Yuma’s home, fully realizing that this was a crucial test. If all went well, the entire village would help the couple build a new home nearby. However, Milan must first prove himself worthy.
Everyone watched how the young couple behaved individually and together. It was important to them that Milan, as Win’s mate, would be able to contribute to the community. If he failed to impress, then come spring when the couple was ready to build their new home, the villagers would sabotage the effort in order to end their union.
Strict traditions limited the time allotted for the couple to complete their new home. It must be finished—and completely furnished—before Milan’s family arrived to escort the couple to the next Gathering. If it wasn’t move-in ready, then the match would be off and Milan would be sent home with his family.
The truth was, Win would not have survived the loss of her beloved Phoenix without Milan’s support. Everyone could see they were very much in love, but the way they handled each other’s needs truly determined that they belonged together.
The first day of Spring, every able-bodied person in the village showed up to help the couple build their new home. They worked on it all through the Summer and it was finished in the Fall, well within the allotted time.
Clearly, the village approved of the match.
Milan’s parents, Gavilan and Lindrith, were welcomed warmly by the entire village. Milan’s resemblance to Gavilan was striking; he was a little taller and slightly more slender. His mother Lindrith, on the other hand, was as tiny as Win. She was also stunningly beautiful and that was daunting. That is, until the vivacious Lindrith laughed her charming laugh, which had everyone laughing along with her.
They’d arrived two nights before the traditional inspection of Milan and Win’s new home. After giving their gracious approval of the home—and by extension, the match—the village celebration began.
Tomorrow, they would all travel together to the Gathering place for the wedding.
Win was attempting to pack all of her gear in a horse-sized saddlebag; a much smaller bag than the dinosaur-sized one she was used to. She’d be riding Surprise, a horse her Uncle Yuma was loaning her, but the whole process was proving to be a challenge.
Last summer they hadn’t gone to the beach; they’d stayed in the village to build their new winter home. Therefore Win hadn’t traveled anywhere on a horse since before the dinosaurs had come into their lives. From then on, she’d always traveled on Phoenix, and this only reinforced how much she still missed him.
“Win, come quick,” Milan called.
“What is it, Honey?” She was trying to stay upbeat.
“It looks like Phoenix and his mate will get here just in time to join us,” Milan said, observing the pair of dinosaurs entering the village.
Winona’s face lit up. “I knew Phoenix would come back!”
Phoenix’s mate sang out Win’s favorite song in greeting and Win sang back through happy tears, embracing them both.
After the greetings, Phoenix nudged Win’s pack and dropped down just like he always did for her to settle her gear on his back.
Win laughed. “I guess we’re both lucky I kept all of your saddlebags, huh boy?”
“You stay here with them, Win.” Milan was so happy for her that he didn’t want this moment to end. “I’ll go get his saddlebags and transfer all of your gear over for you.”
“Thanks, Honey.” The female began to sing another song and Win was happy to sing along.
“There you go, Phoenix.” Milan placed the bag on his back. “We’ve sure missed you.”
The female nudged the other bag, dropping down for him to place his gear on her.
Win laughed. “I think she wants you to ride her and I wouldn’t argue.”
“Good point.” Milan transferred his gear into Phoenix’ old bag and it fit perfectly on the female. “Okay, let’s go.”
“You’ll have to think of a name for her,” Win said.
“Hmm. I’ll have to give that some thought.”
Today was their wedding day; they’d arrived yesterday but hadn’t been able to see each other since. Win and Milan and two other lucky couples would be married in a group ceremony; it was considered a great honor to be wed in this ancient holy place.
A huge crowd eagerly waited for the wedding to begin.
The speaker stood before them. “Brothers and sisters, we’re here not only to remember our ancestors, but also to bless a new generation with the continuation of the human race. Today, three couples honor us by taking their wedding vows at this special ceremony.
“Please welcome them. Our first couple is Aurora Ephraim and Jacob Lake.”
The speaker began clapping his hands and the audience happily joined in.
“Our second couple is Albuquerque Roswell and Ogden Moab.”
Once again, the audience applauded enthusiastically.
“Our third and final couple is Winona Mesa and Milan Las Cruces, accompanied by their dinosaurs: Phoenix and Arizona.”
The crowd roared.
He continued, “I’m glad to hear that we’ve kept the tradition of naming our loved ones after some of the rivers, lakes, cities, and states that no longer exist. Especially here, at the center of our island, in the place the ancients called the Four Corners Monument, which is all that remains of the old world. However, we have survived, and our civilization will continue on through us.”
“Let us pray.” The crowd bowed their heads for a moment of silence.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today...”
Sandi Reed-Chan is a native Californian and has been happily married to her husband Bill for over twelve years. She has been writing fiction since she was a child, mostly with a speculative slant. In an effort to polish her writing skills she has continued her education by taking new writing courses and workshops. Her fiction has appeared online at aurorawolf.com and writingshift.com; in three Whortleberry Press Halloween anthologies and anthologybuilder.com. She was also the Associate Editor for the 2013 Halloween anthology at Whortleberry Press. She is a full member of the Fictioneers; Praeclarus Intus Scriptum.