I'm driving with the top down, minding my own business, when a young woman appears overhead, in the sky. She's enough to make any man's heart forget to beat—girl-next-door lovely, long-legged, boyishly slim save for large, succulent breasts. From end to end, she's approximately the size of a Zeppelin. And she wants to have sex with me.

No, actually, she wants to sell me a new soft drink, but I'm too quick for her. I thumb up the power on my sunglasses. Her dulcet voice goes skeeek, she shimmers and breaks up into scintillae of light (all primary colors) and vanishes. I say, "Good riddance," and I think, Flogging's the least of what's coming to the man who invented airvertising.

Returning to the modern world—becoming part of it again—has entailed some readjustment on my part, of course, but it's not as if I'm suddenly seeing, hearing, and smelling a 21st-century city for the first time. Sure, I'm still getting used to the way the air tastes (worse), and there're more damn airverts than there were just a year ago, but it's hardly as if I'd never noticed that oily yellow-brown smudge hanging over the skyline until now, or wished I could avoid commercials without having to buy special equipment. And not all of the comparisons are unfavorable to the present. The world today is green, and there's nothing like greenery for softening the contours of a landscape. There were hardly any land plants where I was. It rained every day, too, and without rooted plants to hold soil in place, the cut-up terrain was almost lunar in its barrenness and angularity. Although I was never indifferent to the plant kingdom before, now I'm awed by trees, awed by flowers. I've seen their distant ancestors struggling for purchase on the inhospitable land.

I turn onto Ramrod Drive, which is in a subdivision given over to street names like Gunsight, Hollow Point, Exit Wound. The theory seems to be that members of the criminal class will be warned off. My sister Dala, her husband Tim, and their two children live in an artfully rustic stone house on a full-acre lot at the end of Ramrod. Dala appears at the front door as I pull into the driveway; I see her turn her head and call over her shoulder. I've barely had time to shut off the motor before my ten-year-old nephew Ethan and seven-year-old niece Alesha push past their mom. They come at a dead run, arrive before I can unbuckle my seat belt, dart back and forth like excited puppies, squealing, "Uncle Roge! Uncle Roge! Uncle Roge!" One Uncle Roge fewer than I got last time. Nevertheless, they practically fly into my arms as I emerge from the car, and I have to tell them not to be so shy. Alesha tries to climb onto my shoulder. Ethan accepts a hug, gives one in return, then pulls back in my embrace and tries to regain his dignity. The neighbor kids are watching, and he's just old enough for dignity to have become important to him, sometimes. Alesha wraps her arms around my neck and asks, "What did you bring us from way back when?"

"Show you later, Little Bit."

During the year I was away, I may have missed children more than anything else. Certainly, I've missed these children.

On the patio, Tim turns his attention to building a charcoal fire, Dala's indoors, building a salad. The back yard boasts big old oaks and a fine willow. The kids and I stroll about, Alesha holding me by the index and middle fingers of my right hand, Ethan walking on my left, not touching, in case somebody is still spying on him. I hear birds singing, a dog barking, cars passing on the next street over, a squirrel telling everyone to shut up. The world of long ago was too quiet.

Alesha says, "Did you see dinosaurs?"

Before I can answer, Ethan gives her a superior look. "There weren't any dinosaurs then," he says, in a tone of voice that matches the look. To me he says, "I told her that already, but—" and shrugs, one-guy-to-another eloquent.

Alesha has to hear it from me, though, so I tell her, gently, "Your brother's right. It was before there were any dinosaurs. Before there was much of anything."

"Oh," she says, then adds, very solemnly, "that's too bad."

"Well, at least I didn't have to worry all the time about getting eaten by a dinosaur," and I pull my hand free of hers and assume the theropod position, torso more or less parallel to the ground, arms drawn against my chest, fingers curled into talons. A ferocious expression and a cry of "Roww-ar!" complete my transformation from uncle to giant carnivorous dinosaur. She shrieks delightedly and runs for cover among the drooping limbs of the willow. I start to charge after her but notice Ethan hanging back. "Come on," I growl, "let's go get that little mammal!"

He's visibly pained—embarrassed, I'm startled to realize. "I'm too old to play dinosaur any more."

"That's funny, I'm not," and I go roaring off in pursuit of his sister, in the expectation, the hope, at least, that he will follow.

Still, I'm thinking, Ouch. I taught him and Alesha how to play dinosaur (or, rather, we worked it out among ourselves) one afternoon when I was babysitting for Dala and Tim. I stole liberally from The Lost World for the scenario: they were the intrepid explorers who entered my, the Tyrant Lizard King's, jungle fastness and had to be chased out. Next, they wanted to be dinosaurs themselves—predatory ones, of course. Who would ever want to be a plant-eater? Yet, where there are predators, there must be prey, so, by virtue of my relative bulk and pea-sized brain, I was elected to the role of sauropod. In this capacity, I had to go on all fours and browse off the willow while the tyrannosaurlets set up their attack; then I got to lurch about some with them hanging off me before I tell into a twitching heap. Thereafter, I varied the theropod diet, at times impersonating a stegosaur (indicated by an arm held behind, with the fingers sticking stiffly upward to represent the spiky tail) or a ceratopsian (with arms extended forward to form the horns). At the swimming pool, we experimented with plesiosaurs, icthyosaurs, mosasaurs; once, I rose Kraken-like between them, all entangling tentacles, and Ethan broke character to protest. For openers, as far as he was concerned, if it wasn't Mesozoic, it wasn't squat—but if it wasn't even a real monster, as opposed to a mythical one, he simply wanted no part of it. He is truly Tim's son, as Alesha is Dala's daughter. I like Tim, understand, and think he and Dala complement each other very nicely, but he's an analyzer, a stockpiler of facts and solver of puzzles, while we Ovingtons have always been dreamers. Just before my departure a year ago, I made up a little song for the kids:

I have a pet, a dip-loh-doh-kus;
both his eyes are out of focus.
When I took him to the park,
he wandered off into the dark
and, being a myopic dragon,
fell upon a station wagon.
So I took him home to mend;
I'll never take him out again.

Alesha wanted to know what "myopic" meant; Ethan said, "It's pronounced dih-plod-ih-kus."

About the Author
Steve Utley first broke into print in the seventh grade with a poem about Hannibal (the Carthaginian general, not Samuel L. Clemens's hometown), but it wasn't until his freshman year of high school, when he discovered Mars — the Mars of science fiction's two great romantics, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury — that he somehow understood that he, too, must grow up to be a Writer, or at least a rich and famous person. This desire eventually led him to Texas (from Tennessee of all places), where he fell in with other young writers, including Lisa Tuttle, Howard Waldrop, and Bruce Sterling. Although his heart remains in Austin, family matters have brought him back to the environs of Nashville, smack on the buckle of the Bible Belt. He leads a quiet life, surrounded by his books, his cats and his dangerously inbred neighbors.

His work as a Writer (not quite so rich or famous) has been gathered in three collections: This Impatient Ape, Career Moves of The Gods and Ghost Seas (1997 Ticonderoga Publications). A new volume, The Beasts of Love, is now available from Wheatland Press and gathers 31 stories published between 1973 and 1997, plus a swell introduction by Lisa Tuttle.

A Silurian Tale © Steven Utley

About the Artist
Jaxon Renick is a multi-talented artist of Native American descent with a long history in the comics field. (Besides reading them!) He has worked on projects with DC, Marvel, and a number of independent lines, and has done artwork for published articles. He studied various media and styles at the Kansas City Art Institute. Renick is many things to many many people-beloved by millions in Thailand, despised by several in the U.S., and (so far) ignored by billions elsewhere. He is also known to be a bit of a smartass, but with a heart of plated gold. Jaxon may be reached at: renegadelizard@ev1.net..

Artwork © Jaxon Renick