“And here,’ said the docent, ‘we come to the Eustreptospondylus.’

In death, the Eustreptospondylus was a treacherous thing. Her head was horse-like, and her teeth were sharpest: knife-like and serrated, pitting jaw against jaw until they split her skull in a scissors grin. Her body was bone, and her spine was a skeletal hangar: appendages hung limp, hammered in place by iron and metal joints. Here a leg snaked to the ground, guileless and undeceiving until you spotted the talons piercing through. Here an arm mistook itself for a twig, dwarflike and arrested in growth, attempting offshoot at an awkward angle. Whatever tail that had once possessed her was long gone: bone clutched at bone, and in the light of the hall, she looked feline and avuncular, crouched in a pose startlingly familiar – like a jungle cat feigning civilization.

The docent dabbed at the sweat across his brow. It was sweltering in Jurassic Hall.

It was a dream that was worrying him: a recurrent dream, the kind that had you waking up in a cold sweat night after night after night, wrapping its rhymes around you until you were no longer sure of the difference between night and living day. For weeks now, he had seen these monsters stir. For months now, he had trembled in fear, quivered in corridors as colossal shadows lengthened, tautened, roared. 

Every night, he watched the fossils move.

‘Excuse me,’ said the father of a family of four politely, clutching a curious toddler by the hand. ‘But I’m afraid the yoo-strepdododylus wasn’t what we were looking for. My daughter wanted to see the fish.’

Eustreptospondylus,’ he said testily. ‘And you don’t mean fish, you mean the plesiosaurs. They’re down the hall.’

Of course, he had told no one of his dreams. For one thing, he was not sure of them himself: his mind was a sieve, sifting detail through detail until they jumbled and blurred into pale pastel waterworks; until the bat that swooped down from the ceiling was a pterodactyl no longer; until the calculating amber eyes that pinned him in place lacked a face, multiplied in teeth, dwindled in shape. For another, he was sure they meant nothing. He was twenty-three, after all, very smart, about to graduate summa cum laude, almost certainly going to be engaged in a brief while, well on his way up in the world. Someone had told him dreams were nothing more than elaborate wishes: there was nothing he could wish for. And in his world, no one wished for nightmares.

But, still, they troubled him. Always, they would happen in the same way. He would find himself deserted in one of the museum halls, in the dread hours of a deadened morning. He would hear a click and a rustle, and he would turn, and there, behind him, there would be nothing but thin air, and a shadow he was sure had not been there before. Was the darkness darker? Did it press slightly more oppressively? Did he hear – could he hear – the sound of a rattled breath, sucked hungrily through narrow lungs, ever so softly in the murk?

So he ran, and then his memory become mazelike, and woven through by holes no expert seamstress would have left behind. But he remembered the ending. He remembered the taste of ivory teeth, and the tap-tap of claws on marble floors. He remembered the stench, and the hot musky breath that blew through his hair and warmed his cheeks. He remembered being eaten, very slowly, recollecting in excruciating detail as every limb was gnawed off, scarfed down and swallowed piece by piece till only his head remained, wide-eyed and frozen in an expression of permanent horror. He remembered the choking, deafening quiet, and the last sight he ever saw by the sliver of moon that chanced through the window, ominous and forbidding as he read the words scrawled metallically over the plate.

Jurassic Hall.

Why had he led them here? He wondered, as he watched the family of four walk away. Of all the places in the world, what had drawn him back again to this one?

And he thought he saw the diplodocus swivel its head to look at him.

Dreams weren’t real. He told himself this as he stared at the diplodocus, daring it to move, holding his breath. Dreams weren’t real.

But the diplodocus stayed where it was, and he let out his breath, relief suffusing his limbs. He rubbed his eyes. Sleep was a fickle mistress, he decided. Sometimes she slept with you. Sometimes she stayed away. He was beginning to see things where he shouldn’t. Tomorrow he was going to ask for a day off, he thought, and pop a pill for sleep. Really, this was no way to live.

He was turning away when his sleeve caught at something, and a tear ran up his uniform’s arm to end at his elbow. Mentally, he cursed. The museum charged for uniforms, and he was scrounging up every penny he could to buy that exquisite engagement ring Claire had wanted. It was not until he looked to see where it had snagged that his blood ran cold, and the hair on his neck stood on end. Many days later, he would still not believe it, and in the end his wife would take him to a psychiatrist, where he would gabble, incoherently, about what he swore had somehow, impossibly, improbably, happened.

There, on the teeth of the Eustreptospondylus, dangled a piece of the docent’s clothing. Her eyesockets glinted: pale, malevolent amber, in the light of the afternoon sun.

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