This is a Short Story With Long Title. No time to read it? I have helpfully provided a link for you to download a .pdf and take it with you to read while you are, say, waiting on line at the grocer's.
A story in which the main characters are a dinosaur and a baseball player but they never meet and may not, in fact, have anything to do with each other at all, depending on how much you think about it.
Word meanings were important, Piatnitzkysaurus knew, because you could say a lot with words if you knew what they meant, and people especially were really really good with words, even if the words they used when they saw Piatnitzkysaurus were mostly words like
Piatnitzkysaurus wondered what those words meant. Once he tried imitating one of the words that he heard someone say. He had been watching two people sitting around the glowing things they made, called fires he was pretty sure, and he'd heard them doing the thing they called talking, which Piatnitzkysaurus had used to do with his own buddies.
The human with the longer hair had said it was cold.
The human with the shorter hair and the little packet of paper in its hands had offered to go get a blank-ette.
The longer-haired human had invited the shorter-haired one to put down the buque and "cuddle" and Piatnitzkysaurus had turned that word over and over in his mouth, feeling the strangeness of it echo through his crests. Cuddlecuddlecuddle it kind of feels when he says it like chewing on something soft, no bones to crunch through.
Then he saw the humans looking scared and he tried to tell them no, I was just trying out your word but they pointed and stared and ran away in their metal thing.
They left behind the fire and some chocolate. Of all the things humans had, Piatnitzkysaurus loved chocolate the most. In order of favorite things, Piatnitzkysaurus figured it was:
2. The Cretaceous period because it had been warmer then.
3. Humans. But not to eat. Well, not always, but sometimes Piatnitzkysaurus got hungry.
"I call this one 'Casey at the Bat'," Mooch said to the guy next to him. He fanned out the cards and held them up for Tim to take one.
Tim glanced over.
"Don't you even watch the games?" he said.
Mooch shrugged, blew a bubble, and popped it loudly, sucking the gum back in.
"Sometimes," he said, and held the cards up, waggling them encouragingly. Off in the distance, there was a crack! and the crowd sounds got louder and Tim absently took a card from Mooch as the center-fielder, Jack, jogged out underneath the lazy fly ball, caught it, and hurled it towards the second baseman. He waved at Mooch and Tim and the other relief pitchers in the bullpen.
"You've got to look at it," said Mooch.
"What if the cameras are on us?" Tim said, and glanced down at the card.
"It's 10-2," Mooch told him. "The cameras aren't looking at us."
"Do you know what your card is?" he asked, after a second.
"Yeah," Tim said. "Ace of spades."
"No, don't tell it to me," Mooch sighed. He took the card back and shuffled them in. "That's not the trick."
"How do you think these things up?" Tim asked him, taking a card from the now reshuffled pack.
"Can't tell you," Mooch said, and even if he wanted to, he couldn't have. Casey At The Bat had come to him, full-fledged, in a dream. He'd watched in his dream as he himself had done the trick for himself, the dream just him and himself sitting at the old kitchen table in his apartment in Brooklyn where he lived in the off-season, with Louisa. Louisa loved card tricks, so he was surprised that he hadn't been showing her in the dream, but he hadn't: he'd been showing himself.
Tim had handed back his card to Mooch, who had set it down on the bench between them.
"OK, watch," he said, echoing himself in his dream. "You've got the bases loaded," and he laid three cards out into a diamond. "There's two outs," he said, putting two cards in between the three bases. Tim watched him. "And Casey's up to bat." Mooch picked a card off the top of the deck and laid it face up where home plate would be on the diamond.
"That's my card!" Tim said, appreciatively. It was the 7 of hearts.
"Yes, it is," Mooch said. Just like in my dream. "OK, you're a pitcher, what pitch do you throw Casey?" This was the trick part of it: don't tell the person what the pitch means.
"Um. Slider," said Tim.
"Slider," Mooch said. "1-2-3," he counted out cards, laying them on top of the card at home plate, the 7 of hearts, and then flipped them around. "Strike one," he said, winking at Tim.
"Strike one?" Tim said.
"Yeah," Mooch said. "OK, count 0-1, and the runner on first is leading off." He flipped the first-base card over and Tim said:
"Hey, that's my card!"
The 7 of hearts sat at first base.
"How 'bout that," Mooch grinned.
The crowd in the stadium groaned. Neither of them looked up.
"Alright, what pitch you throwing next?" Mooch asked.
"Um. Not a slider. Not again. Curve."
Mooch nodded. "Curve it is. Curve. 1-2-3-4" he counted out cards, and laid them on home plate, flipped all the cards upside down and said "Strike two."
Tim laughed. "My curve is great."
"OK," Mooch told him. "2 out. 0-2 count. Bottom of the 9th. Runners got to take a big lead. Guys on 1st and 2nd get a couple of steps," and he flipped the 2nd-base card.
It was the 7 of hearts.
"Nice," Tim said.
"So. 0-2. What do you throw?" Mooch looked at Tim, who looked him straight in the eye, as Mooch had looked himself in the eye in his dream.
"The heat. Fastball," Tim said.
"Fastball. 1-2-3," Mooch said, laying out three cards, flipping the 7 of hearts over, and looking up at Tim.
"Think you got him?"
Tim stared down at the cards.
"Did I?" he asked.
"Let's see," Mooch said, and flipped the card over at third base: "Runners are going before you throw!"
The 7 of hearts was at third base.
"How..." Tim said.
"You better look him back," Mooch said. "Here, take your card, put it in the deck." He picked up the 7 of hearts, and handed it to Tim. Tim looked at it, flipping it back and forth, checking it out. He shrugged and handed it to Mooch, who shook his head.
"You have to do it. You're the pitcher. Look him back." So Tim tucked the card into the deck and Mooch picked up all the cards on the bench, shuffling them in as he talked.
"OK, runner back on third, and you're on the mound. 2 outs. 0-2 count. Bottom of the 9th. You're throwing the heat, and Casey's at the plate." As he talked he laid out cards in the diamond shape, 1st-2nd-3rd-and home plate.
"OH," Mooch said. "Mighty Casey has struck out." He flipped the card over at home plate.
It was the 7 of hearts.
Mooch breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't known for sure if the trick would work.
Piatnitzkysaurus knew it shouldn't go too near humans, but it couldn't help itself. They were endlessly fascinating. He remembered when he'd first seen mammals, a billion years ago or maybe it was a million. Piatnitzkysaurus wasn't much for counting. That was another thing, like words, that was really hard but he'd had enough time, sometimes he felt, that he ought to get it by now. If humans could do it when they were only a few years old and still soft and pink and hardly able to walk, how could he not count, or do words?
He walked down the side street just away from the street lights, past the shoe repair shop that looked deserted but it wasn't really, he knew. Once, he'd hidden behind the dumpster in the alley all day long and watched as the person who worked in the shoe repair shop had come up to the door in the morning, pulled a key out, and opened the front door. Piatnitzkysaurus had pulled his long tail in to hide it better and kept a wary eye out for others as he'd watched the front blinds be pulled up, the neon sign that said
had been lit up, its neon glow seeming to slowly fade as the day grew brighter.
All day long Piatnitzkysaurus had watched and nobody had come in our out of the shop and at the end of the day the man had left the shop, turning off the
sign and walking away.
Tonight, Piatnitzkysaurus stood outside the shop and then curiously walked slowly down the street towards the "main drag," as Piatnitzkysaurus had heard it called. His head was slightly taller than most of the buildings on this little side road; had he wanted to he could have stood up straighter and looked onto their roofs but Piatnitzkysaurus knew from experience that there wasn't much to see up there, just some little chairs and bottles that were long empty and sometimes some old clothing or shoes, never chocolate.
At the corner, Piatnitzkysaurus looked left and right. There were street lights, all along both sides, but it was late enough that nobody was out. Piatnitzkysaurus did not know how to tell time and wasn't truly a nocturnal dinosaur; he much preferred the lushly-leaved forests of South America, the heat of the day stifling unless you were cold-blooded, in which case you welcomed it because it gave you energy to get up and eat, hunting down smaller animals and stopping to eat some carrion if you came across it, and occasionally fighting over a mate, roaring and gnashing teeth and clawing at your opponent with your giant feet and trying to get a good grip on the back of his neck so that you could tear his spine out and leave it there as a sign of your prowess.
But now he was here and needed to come out mostly at night because if you wanted to see the town you had to come at night, as humans thought Piatnitzkysaurus was extinct and were scared whenever he tried to talk to them. It's not like he was going to bite them, not always, because they were a lot of work for a small meal, and bony.
Piatnitzkysaurus turned right and strode along the sidewalk, glancing into the windows. A used-clothing store caught his eye and made him flinch until he realized the people in the clothing in the window weren't people at all, didn't have faced, and he leaned first his right eye up against the window and then his left, looking at the blank mannequins and wondering why they didn't have eyes themselves. He wouldn't want to hang around a bunch of pale-skinned faceless piatnitzkysauri, wouldn't find that fun at all, and he figured the dummies were there to scare others off.
A little ways down, he looked at a food store, the window stocked with breads and rolls and other brown, small round things. The taste haunted his nostrils as he sniffed for a hint of chocolate. He did not like the smell, at all.
He remembered once when he and two others had come across a half-rotten brachytrachelopan and they had gorged themselves, for days, there on the hot plains so far away from the jungle. The others had thought him crazy mostly, but he'd found that corpse and it had kept him full for a long time.
He hadn't like the plains otherwise. The other dinosaurs could see him coming too easily, and he wasn't fast enough to chase them down. He'd ended his exploratory trip early.
At the end of the street was a set of small metal boxes. In it, although he couldn't read, a newspaper told anyone who cared to looks that the Reds had won the World Series that day.
"So you get to stay in bed all day?" Louisa asked him.
"If I want," Mooch said. "Season's over, and I don't even have to report for a few days."
"Do you get one of the rings?"
"Yeah. I guess." He shrugged, a move that didn't quite come across when he was lying down. She wasn't looking at him, anyway. The shrug was more for himself.
"But you didn't pitch in any of the games."
Mooch tried not to sound defensive.
"Not in the Series, no, but I helped get us there. I pitched in the season."
"I didn't mean it like that."
Mooch knew he would never wear the ring, though. Because everyone would say that, or think it, or he would imagine they were thinking it but not saying that.
"A five-letter word for separate," she said, pronouncing it like the adjective, not the verb.
"What's it start with?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said. "I haven't gotten any of the clues yet. And I'm all the way up to seven across. I might as well give up. I don't even know why I do these things."
She stood up, wearing just a t-shirt that didn't even come down to her waist. He looked at her naked lower half, the shapely legs tapering up to her waist, and secretly tried sucking in his stomach a little.
"Want to go get breakfast?" she asked.
"I'm not sure I want to get mobbed by people this morning," he said.
"..." Louisa said, and then shook her head. "We can order in," she suggested.
Mooch wondered if she'd been going to say Nobody's going to mob you. Sometimes Louisa said stuff before she thought about it.
But then, so did he.
He wondered if she would accept his proposal this time. Maybe if he used the Series ring?
"Let's just go out," he said, and sat up.
Piatnitzkysaurus ran and ran and ran, the sounds of the alarm still ringing in his ears as loudly as if he was still standing in the store itself. He hadn't known about alarms and hadn't known about glass and how it broke, and hadn't known that the humans could use their metal things to get there so quickly.
All he'd wanted was some chocolate. And they had so much of it.
The grocery store was closed; he'd known that. Because it was dark and nobody was in it, which meant closed, he'd gathered, and so he'd not paid it much attention but a tiny glimpse out of the corner of his eye had shown him a giant stack of chocolate, piles and piles of it all wrapped up and ready to eat just colorful and delicious and he couldn't resist.
He'd tried to just walk into the chocolate and get it, regretting that the chocolate had the skins on it, those little flimsy shells or whatever that humans wrapped chocolate in. He didn't like the taste of those, Piatnitzkysaurus didn't, but it was worth it to eat them to get the chocolate. Sometimes you had to eat some scales or bones or whatnot to get the good parts of the prey, and that included chocolate.
Something had blocked him, glass, the see-through stuff that humans have everywhere, but he couldn't bear it, not tonight. So much disappointment today, the deer that got away and his reflection in the swamp scaring him with how old he was getting and then the chocolate was behind glass, and Piatnitzkysaurus had leaned up against the glass and despaired, pressing his large crests and nose up against it, willing it to come to him as he nearly cried with the sadness of so much chocolate not his, and he pressed too hard and the glass shattered and he'd been inside the store.
The bells had started clanging and whirling and that as much as the sound of the glass breaking had scared him half to death but he was on top of the chocolate, it was falling around him and the scent intoxicated him, so he just began eating, pieces and pieces of it, feeling the skins tear under his teeth and swallowing some whole, the rivulets of chocolate and saliva dribbling down onto his hands as he repeatedly dug his face into the pile and grabbed more more more, his stomach swelling with the feast.
And then there they were, humans, in their metal with their own flashing lights and yelling their words "Ohmygodwhatisthat" and "weregonnaneedbackup" and "Forgodssakeshootthatdamnthing" and he first tried to talk to them but all they said back was meaningless things like "Cantyouhearitroaring" and "Keepfiring" and then one of their things they were aiming at him flared light and he felt a sting on his chest and looked down and saw he was bleeding so he ran forward to get back out of the store, crashing through another glass and holding one final pack of chocolate in his tiny hands and they kept hitting him with those things that made him bleed it was like he was being bitten by invisible things how did they do that so he ran, and didn't try talking to them anymore.
They followed him at first, but he knew the town pretty well and he took off into alleys, hearing their sirens after him "Wooowooowooowooo" and he dodged away from the sound. He wasn't used to running, had probably only had to flee something 1, 2 maybe 3 times if he was being honest with himself, remember that pterodactyl?, and so he wasn't sure how to do this, but he kept heading for the forest and he made it there, under the trees, where he ran far enough in to know he could get the better of them if they came after him.
He watched the rest of the night from the forest, as their lights came close but not too close. Once, something flew overhead with a terrible noise, shining lights into the trees but he hid underneath some branches. As the sun came up, he headed to his cave and went far far back into it, scrambling over fallen rocks to hide in the cool depths where the heat never came. It would be hard for him to wake up, he thought, but he would and later that day or the next he would have to come out in the sun to warm up and then begin to find a new place to live. He didn't want humans always looking around for him. As much as he wanted to be friends, he knew they didn't, always, and so he would have to move again.
He took the packet of chocolate and packed it against his chest, already sleepy from the cold of the cave. He would eat it when he woke up.
"Wonder what happened there?" Mooch pointed at the grocery store across the street from the bakery. Louisa looked up from the crossword puzzle, squinted in the early morning sun at the police cars parked across the lot, cops walking in and out of the broken front windows, newspaper photographers snapping away.
"Probably some kind of drunk driver," she said. "What's a seven-letter word for bullfighter?"
Mooch sipped his coffee and shrugged. "Toreador?" he guessed.
Louisa shook her head. "Too many letters."
"Let me see the sports page," Mooch told her.