Ace told Tangee he had a surprise. They took the bike path up Embarcadero to the Port Beach. Cars passed on the left as they hugged the curves and rode in sidewalk gutters, chains circling as their feet pedaled. Small silver waves broke in the ocean beyond the chain link fence.
A throng of people had already gathered by the time they arrived. The entire beach took on the atmosphere of a touristy affair, with crisp wind and nothing to block the sun. Tangee leaned over a pier railing and watched people splash their ankles in the ocean, sunbathe from beneath large-brimmed hats, and whip Frisbees like spinning nimbuses through the air. Fluffy cumulus moved across the sky.
People barbequed their meat on a portable grill. The scent of fried fat wafted toward them. Ace photographed a young couple bouncing their skinny-dipping baby in shallow waves.
At the Port, less than a mile off, the shipping cranes loomed like flat-headed beasts with long necks and straight backs. They stood erect, port cranes made of steel and wires, several stories high as they looked over the water.
The grill on the beach seared and smoked as people threw a raw slab onto the flames. They stoked the fire and arranged piping stones around the carnage. Tangee tried to ignore the growing rash on her back that throbbed each time she saw someone poke at the meat with a stick. She wrinkled her nose in disgust, “That thing is nasty! Why are they roasting it here? Are they cooking an entire goat?”
“It’s part of the surprise I promised you. Make that face again,” Ace took photos of Tangee’s disgusted expression, her fingers locked in the bristled hair she kept shaved on one side. “Yeah, that face. Pinch your mouth up again just like that.”
The crowd around the roasting pit thickened, people chattered, watching the searing flesh. Most people on the beach held platters with assortments of meat on them. They looked toward the sky as they stood on the rocks.
“This is so weird. I’m starting to freak out. It smells like a horror movie here.” Tangee covered her nose, and wished she’d brought a bandanna to wrap across her face. Smells swirled in the air around her: smoke, rotting road kill, and quarter pounders. “There gonna be fireworks, or something?”
“It’s not the right time of day for fireworks, you know that. This is all part of the surprise. We’ll need something to draw attention though,” Ace threw his head up, blonde dreadlocks shivered down his back. He pointed toward a line of food trucks across the throughway, doling out carnitas, raw fish, and steak, “Stay here while I get some barbacoa. It won’t be hard to find today.”
“We’re vegetarians,” she said as Ace walked off, since he acted like he needed a reminder. Tangee watched people gather at the shore, ankles lapped by water.
A shipping crane lowered its head in the near distance. The steel moaned as the uppermost plank descended toward the second board to line up as a long, flat platform with the lower level. The mechanical surface flattened and it looked like a prehistoric reptile dipping down to sip bay water.
The crowd became more and more raucous as the meat seared and the crowd grew. Her back itched. She’d been trying to ignore the hives that caused twinges of pain for weeks. She even woke scratching herself in the middle of the night once, drawing her fingers away with sinewy blood under the nails, but just rolled over to sleep again.
The people hushed. Tangee followed their pointing fingers to the sky where a group of pterodactyls breezed through the air. The dino-birds lowered in groups to the beach. They soared with wings spread, open like eagles spying prey on the ground. There was a large mass of them, some small like bats, others larger, fully developed and easily discernible from a distance. They flapped wings above their heads, thrashed long talons toward the people who held up roasted or raw offerings. Their beaks were long, with serrated edges. They bawled in the air, tremulous, primal, and loud, daring any speck on the ground to challenge them.
Tangee watched as they soared. She scratched at her back as the creatures came closer. They picked at meat then flew up again. Some of them squabbled over the cooked bits, others dove with their beaks, or swooped down with open claws.
“What the fuck is going on?” Tangee said as the world around her moved more quickly than she could think.
“I’m surprised too,” A woman said, turning away from her phone. “I thought those Belgian eco-culturists were pulling a good one when they said they’d incubated pterodactyl eggs found in a fossilized womb after millions of years. Especially after they said they’d release all 250 hatchlings right here, off the coast with those cranes that look like…” She pointed toward the cranes. “Belgians must be huge sci-fi fans.”
Tangee watched the flying prehistoria without breath. Her skin prickled with goose bumps and she couldn’t control an eye twitch. They were magnificent, with jagged, stork-like beaks and leveled heads.
Then she remembered: Ace might want photographs. He would want to see it for himself. This was his surprise. Tangee ran partway down the pier, looking back as the influx of creatures in the sky thinned. She didn’t want to miss the last few.
If she’d looked for Ace when the pterodactyls first littered from the sky, instead of being struck dumb, her and Ace could’ve caught the arrival together. If she could satiate the gnawing annoyance on her back, just to keep it still and calm so she could ignore it for a few seconds longer while she decided the best approach, the problem would solve itself. Ultimately, she stood on the pier watching the ‘dactyls, and wondered if she could pretend she hadn’t seen anything when Ace came back.
The raptors had flown off by the time Ace returned. The pterodactyls swooped in for carnage, but after the meat and a baby or two had been plucked from the crowd they’d flown off to inhabit the Earth elsewhere.
A shipping crane creaked as it moved again, head facing the pinnacle where water meets sky. Ace asked if he’d missed the surprise. Tangee just scratched at the rash on her back, and wondered if it would heal on its own.
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