A new year has dawned and there are dinosaurs in the streets of Vienna. I climb from the underground station, up the wide, worn, stone stairs. The icy fingers of a Vienna January dance down the open promenade of Mariahilfer Straße, where I have come in hopes of finding a gift to send back across the width of the Atlantic. The wind searches for unprotected flesh and finds mine. My hand freezes in the act of tightening my scarf, arrested at the sight of a prehistoric creature prowling the paving stones.
The dinosaur looks to be a cross between a stegosaurus and a tyrannosaurus rex, if such an unlikely breeding were possible. Stranger yet, it is only three feet tall. Its skin is a bright green, the painful emerald of a cartoon spring. The bright hide is dotted with circles of yellow and purple. Matching purple and yellow fins trail down its back; alternating colors descending to the tip of an upturned tail. The tail itself has a jaunty quality, bobbing along just above the pavement. It swings back and forth, suspended from an almost invisible string. The string shimmers against the backdrop of the skin, a faint gleam of light where it rises from the tip of the tail to the dinosaur’s back.
The dinosaur’s left arm is raised above its shoulder. A tall, smiling woman is holding the dinosaur’s paw, seemingly unaware of its razor-sharp claws. The woman and the little dinosaur walk down the street slowly, paw in hand, up-curled tail dancing behind. They are closer now. I can see the dinosaur’s face. The bright green skin is pulled tight across the creature’s head, framing the happy face of a little boy. The boy is the age of the son I carry in my memory, grown now into a man.
The little dinosaur turns his face upwards, causing the purple and yellow fins at the back of his neck to flop about. He has a small voice matching his diminutive stature, clear and bell-like. From where I stand, I can hear the elongated ells of his Austrian accent. The dinosaur’s German is better than mine by the sound of it. The woman smiles down at the little creature, says something I cannot catch. A peal of laughter bursts from the boy-dinosaur, causing the suspended tail to shake.
Then I remember: The sudden appearance of a Mesozoic life form makes sense to me now. It is Fasching, the Germanic version of Carnival, the long lead up to Lent. This is the season of reversal rituals, pagan rites peeking from beneath a brocaded Catholic cloak. For the Austrians, Fasching begins on New Years Day, and the New Year has come to pass. There will be processions, parades, and parties leading to Faschingsdienstag: Fat Tuesday. It will soon be Mardi Gras in Vienna, and today there are costumed dinosaurs.
They are close now, the woman and the dinosaur. The Dino Kid’s feet are over-sized, with plush claws reaching forward as if to rend the pavement. The claws make a soft swishing against the cold flagstones.
Then I see the glow, the palest grass-green light imaginable. Stubby dinosaur legs move forward and the glow moves as well. It is a shimmering hemisphere radiating out from the Dino Kid, hovering above him, taller than the woman beside him. He takes two more lurching steps and I am engulfed in a radiant bubble.
It is warm inside the glimmering verdant glow. The warmth of it banishes the creeping, flesh-seeking fingers of winter. The building façades vanish; cold, grey stone replaced by a canopy of tree ferns towering far above my head. Inside the bubble, everything is tinged with the pale promise of spring. For the briefest of moments, I am transported to another place and time, both familiar. In that distant long ago, I held the hand of another small boy, that precious child who was the center of my own safe sphere.
The little dinosaur moves forward, pulling the hand of the woman, and the glowing dome follows. The frigid wind finds the exposed skin on my neck where my scarf has pulled loose. The tree ferns are gone; the cold stone returns.
The Dino Kid and his pulsing bubble move off down the broad sidewalk. Busy Viennese shoppers stray into the glow by turns. For a fleeting moment their bodies straighten, heads raise. They smile, unsure why. Then the moss-green bubble moves on, and they hunch against the cold once more.
I know why they smile, for I can see the shimmering membrane that has passed over them, even if they do not. It is two decades passed and six thousand miles away, yet I have been at the center of the glow and I know it still.
The woman stops under a stone archway, hand reaching for the ornate handle of a heavy wooden door. The door opens, she takes a step, disappears from view. Only her arm remains, still tethered to the Dino Kid. He looks up and down the sidewalk, yellow and purple fins flopping about, a grin plastered over his face. Then the arm is pulling him and the Dino Kid vanishes. The shimmering emerald bubble vanishes with him, shrinking down to squeeze through the doorway. In my head I hear a cartoon popping noise, but it is just my imagination.
The hand of an inner clock ticks, a tumbler falls, and I am once more able to move. I raise my hands to my face, breathe a fog of warmth across my cold fingertips. My eyes search the promenade for a shop from which I can purchase a gift, a token that will be shipped to another continent. I imagine the package arriving, picture it being added to a stack of unopened letters bearing foreign stamps. The freezing wind bites deeper, and my feet begin to move of their own accord, as is their habit.
Marco Etheridge lives and writes in Vienna, Austria. Marco’s short fiction has been featured at Literally Stories, Dime Show Review, Five on the Fifth, and Storgy Magazine. His flash piece “The Rosary” was short-listed for the Anton Chekhov Very Short Fiction Prize. He is the author of The Best Dark Rain Series, and the stand-alone novel Blood Rust Chains. Marco’s third novel, a political satire thriller, is now available at online booksellers world-wide.