There’s an old proverb we godparents like to quote: do not wish on shooting stars, for they are meteors and you are dinosaurs.
What? I did say it was an old proverb. One of the oldest, not counting that one about giving a fish a leg and he eats for a day, but teach a fish to grow a leg and he eats on land for the rest of his life, but we aren’t encouraged to meddle with evolution anymore, so we don’t get to use that one as often.
But back to the dinosaur proverb. It’s a Memento Mori. A reminder that death is inevitable. Death finds a way.
No matter how much you wish, you can’t stop a meteor from carving out the Chicxulub crater like a melon baller and wiping out the world as you know it. Everything will not be okay just because you believe it will be, and there’s nothing you can do in the grand scheme of things.
I know, I know. Depressing as heck. But it’s not like you modern humans are so cheerful in the metaphor department, with your multiple methods of cat skinning and needing to remind people not to discard children with bathwater…
For millions of years, I would warn the little hatchlings I protected, try to prepare them in case they were the last generation. Oh yes, I have many powers, my dear, but even I can’t see the future. I could only tell them with certainty that extinction came for everyone.
I would help them with the smaller wishes in life, opportunities to find mates and feeding grounds, the occasional transformation of an allosaur into a stegosaur, that sort of thing. All the while, reminding them not to waste what precious little time they had wishing on extinction disguised as streaking lights in the sky.
In the end, when it finally happened, I found myself wishing someone had warned me how much I would miss them.
Sixty-five million years. That’s how long I grieved.
Alone. On the edges of existence. Waiting. For what, I have no idea. It wasn’t as if they were ever coming back.
In retrospect, I could have moved on. Evolved into a fairy godmother for birds like the rest of them.
But dinosaurs had been my darlings for so long, longer than they had been gone. You don’t just move on from three geological periods of dedication and love that quickly.
I don’t even know if moving on after that is possible. They were the loves of my life, every single one of them from the first plateosaur I took care of when I was a bumbling newbie to the last little triceratops who didn’t have time to get her wish granted before the universe violently thrust us into the Cenozoic without regard for our opinions on the matter.
That kind of love forms a connection that can never be broken. Once a godmother, always a godmother, and I knew when my godhatchlings needed me.
Even after 65 million years, even after her bones had mineralized.
She needed me.
Earth had moved on, even if I hadn’t.
In the absence of dinosaurs, Time had redecorated, drying up our shallow sea and the valleys where we frolicked. All right, I didn’t do much frolicking. Not much of a frolicker. But I was frolicking adjacent.
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised at the changes. In my time as a godmother, I had seen the Triassic become the Jurassic become the Cretaceous, seen continents move and mountains form, seen grasses evolve into trees.
But I was part of that.
This…all of this happened without my knowledge or consent, the landscape turned to rocky desert populated by birds and little lizards and those peculiar fuzzy creatures that gave birth without eggs and fed their young with a white liquid produced from their breasts.
Mammals. Oh, mammals. Baffling things that had never been much of an evolutionary factor in my time, but my tyrant lizard kings had left an empty throne, and somehow, mammals had seized it.
In a distant way, I could sense the change in the air. Pollution. Noise. Chaos. Not overly harmful, but it was beginning.
Angry, unfamiliar vocalizations carried on the wind, in the same direction that I felt the pull of my last godhatchling. I hurried over a hill and found two groups of bipedal mammals shouting, performing what I can only describe as threat displays.
These were the animals destiny and chance chose to replace the dinosaurs?
But I couldn’t ponder on that for long; my attention was drawn to a huge, ugly gouge in the earth. A wound, perhaps, would be the better word.
And protruding from that wound, a fossilized dinosaur skull.
I swear, I felt the meteor hit a second time because I would know that face anywhere.
The mammals–humans, basically a specialized sort of primate too smart for their own good–stopped their fight immediately upon seeing me. Most froze in place, several let out terrified screams and ran for the tents, and one fainted outright.
Now perhaps I should have altered my appearance, as I did once upon another era, making myself resemble the species I was showing myself to. Perhaps nothing in their lives could have prepared them for the sight of an iridescent white and pink, 30 foot long triceratops fairy hovering over the landscape on dragonfly wings.
Well, nothing in my life had prepared me for the sight of a bunch of overgrown lemurs desecrating the final resting place of my Asha, so the feeling was mutual.
I glared at them, analyzing the social hierarchy. They were of two separate packs, that much was clear, but none of them had the aura of an alpha. Where were the matriarchs?
Something struck my foot. I turned slowly. A rock.
I locked eyes with the one foolish enough to throw a rock at me, and I may have resembled a herbivore, but I outweighed them 400 to 1 and my face was made for stabbing, with three horns that were half the length of their puny human bodies. I was, in a word, imposing.
And that was before I used my magic to bridge the communication barrier between us and speak to them in their language, my voice low and rumbling like a distant herd of stampeding brontosaurs.
“Get me your alphas.” For a moment, no one moved. I took heavy, snorting breaths, waiting. Then I added, in a voice that left no room for debate, “Now.”
As they ran, I gave a shake of my nose horn, the magic one with the little star on the end, casting a spell that would make them forget my appearance after they did as I asked. Then I sank to the ground, my rage leaving me for the moment, and went to nuzzle the earthly remains of my girl.
Had I known Asha would be my last, I would have done things differently. I would have granted her wish personally, let myself be the family she wanted. Needed.
She was an orphan. The only survivor of a nest raid, her parents having been driven out of the breeding ground never knowing one egg had been left behind to hatch in a lonely world.
She had one wish: to be loved.
Now, love is a tricky thing, even for fairies. You can’t make someone love anyone, you can only bring them together and hope.
“You love me,” she said one day after another herd declined to adopt her as their own. “Why can’t I just be yours?”
“I do love you. I love all of my hatchlings. But one day, we will both move on. I will need to help another hatchling, and you will grow up and have your own family.” I gave her adolescent neck frill a gentle nudge. “Now come, my dear. Let’s keep looking.”
At the sound of approaching footsteps, I raised my head from the fossil to see one of the alphas. Supposedly, anyway. In my day, pack leaders tended to be the most physically fit, agile specimens. And female.
Standing before me was a scrawny, pale thing with ridiculous whiskers that looked like an evolutionary holdover from when humans lived underground like moles. He introduced himself as Edward Drinker Cope, and he didn’t scream or faint or throw rocks at me because I decided being a triceratops fairy was not conducive to positive communication with the humans.
I hoped I made a good human. Accurate, if nothing else. I had made my hair longer than the male’s, my face more becoming, on a hunch that if any gender in this species was the flashier and more attractive one it could not possibly be the male.
And anyway, I had always wanted long eyelashes.
“Can I help you?” he said, more of a tired statement than a proper question, as if I had interrupted something important that he would rather be doing.
I faltered. Could he help me? I honestly didn’t even know what I wanted. He couldn’t bring her back, couldn’t give her the love I could have given her if I hadn’t been so preoccupied with whether I should.
I looked down at my gangly primate hands, at a loss. I think I wanted to blame him. Punish him because I couldn’t punish the meteor but still needed someone to be mad at after all this time. But there wasn’t really anything–
There was a strange choking sound. I glanced up. Edward Drinker Cope had finally acknowledged the existence of my wings, and no longer cared whether or not he could help me.
He fell to his knees, hands clasped together. “Oh, angel of the Lord, I thank you for blessing me with thy divine presence.”
I lowered the bushy bits above my eyes in confusion. “I beg your pardon, primate? What did you call me?”
“Are you not an angel? Sent by the Lord to bless my excavation and lay waste to that of my rival?”
“Noooo,” I said slowly, very slowly, drawing out the word while I tried to parse what he was talking about. “Tell me of this rivalry?”
He told me that he and the other alpha, Marsh, had been friends, but petty feuds had turned into a great war to discover the most species of dinosaurs. At first I thought war a strong word, but he went on to describe sabotage and physical altercations and…
“…and sometimes, if a site has been good to us and we do not want it to fall into their hands, we dynamite the rest.”
I stood very still, anger and revulsion broiling inside me. “Dynamite,” I whispered, prompting the man to provide me with a definition of this unfamiliar word that made me uneasy with dread.
“We destroy it,” Cope elaborated. “We get one skeleton, and we destroy the rest so they can’t get them.”
This was my first time having hands, and I found that I quite liked the way they felt curled into fists.
I was silent for a good, long while, seething. I don’t know precisely how long. Anything less than 65 million years may as well have been an instant.
I had to stop him. Not just for Asha, but for everyone. And that is why I forced my fingers to relax, turned the corners of my lips upward while being careful not to bare my teeth, and spoke with the same motherly voice I had used when introducing myself to all of my godhatchlings.
“No, my sweet little evolved ape. I’m afraid I am not this angel of the Lord creature of which you speak.”
Utter devastation came over Cope’s face.
“Oh, but don’t despair, my dear, for I am something even better” —And here I spread my arms and wings for maximum drama— “I am your fairy godmother.”
Death is a part of life. Always has been, always will be. That’s why you don’t waste time wishing on shooting stars.
Asha knew that better than most, having come into this world alone and surrounded by shattered egg shells. But she was a herbivore; she didn’t require death to live like the carnivores, and to say the concept of predation bothered her would be an understatement on par with saying continental drift was not the quickest method of travel.
We came across a carcass one day, a small hadrosaur that had been picked nearly clean. Asha pressed into my flank as we walked, though the kill was not fresh and the predator could be miles away.
I stopped, gently nodded toward the skeleton. “Bones are not for sadness. They are not for grieving. They just are.”
“It was someone,” she said quietly.
“It was. And now it is not, and it is sad that their transition from being to having been needed to happen, but they are not in those bones any more than they were in the meat on them. The instant the life left, it stopped being someone and started being something.”
She twitched her tail in frustration. “But. But they were here. Someone loved them. How could they just leave the bones for scavengers? It’s not…”
“Dignified?” I asked. “No, it certainly isn’t. But the bones don’t care. So neither should we.”
It wasn’t dignified. Disturbing her final resting place, ripping her from the earth just to win some asinine feud.
“I would like you to explain the purpose of all this,” I said quietly to Cope as we watched his men brush dust away from Asha. Much as I wanted to stop it, to magic away their tools and send a sandstorm to tuck her back to sleep, this was more than simply the pastime of a man with more resources than good sense. The way he spoke…he made it sound like this was common. Like people made a habit of digging for bones.
“I told you,” he grumbled. “I need to find more than he does, that no-good Darwinian know-it-all. Grant my wish, make it so he can never find a fossil again.”
He was nicer when he thought me an angel of the Lord.
“And I told you,” I reminded him, squinting in the bright sunlight, “magic is not as simple as that. I need to understand what it is, why it is.” I gestured to the dig. “Why does it matter what you do with her after?”
“It’s paleontology. We study them. Put them on display in museums. And there’s great honor in being the one who finds the most new ones.”
Down the hill, someone found a tibia. My own words echoed in my ear from long ago. So did Asha’s.
She was not in those bones any more now than she had been before Time meticulously replaced every cell with mineral. It was just fossils. A skeleton. It wasn’t her.
But it had been once.
They had all been someone.
“Mr. Cope,” I said, because I had a feeling that “you strange little egotistical monkey in a suit” was not the preferred way to refer to people. “I will indeed grant your wish, but first I must speak to your rival.”
Her horns were growing longer, curving; I found I didn’t have to lean down so far to nudge her shoulder anymore. Almost overnight, she had entered a new era of life. Adolescence.
And still, she was with me.
Was her wish really so difficult to grant? Had I lost my touch?
“Do predators feel?”
I blinked at her sudden question. “What do you mean, dear?”
She tilted her head this way and that, thinking, watching the shadow of her growing frill on the grass. “Are they like us, godmother? Do they have thoughts and feelings? Do they love?”
“Yes.” Of all the questions she had asked in her life, this was the easiest to answer. I’d been the godmother to uncountable predators in my time, each of them exactly as vulnerable and sweet and loving as Asha.
“But they kill.”
“They do. That’s how they were made, that’s how they work. It isn’t a choice.”
I paused, fondly remembering one little allosaur so distraught over the thought of being a predator that she wished for me to transform her into a stegosaur. And I did, only to turn her back after a day and a half when she desperately missed her family.
Granting her wish had more to do with helping her come to terms with the way things are and less to do with actual magic, but that’s the way it is sometimes.
To his credit, Othniel Charles Marsh, the alpha male of the rival pack, was larger and more imposing than Cope. Fascinating whiskers, as well. But that is the extent of the good things I can say about him.
He was just like Cope. Greedy, petty, having no regard for the sanctity of the bones he pried from the rocks and blasted into nonexistence for the sake of making himself feel less inferior.
He did not call me an angel of the Lord, but his wish was the same as the other horrid mammal.
“Help me beat him, I beg of you. His scientific ideas go against every rational thought! It infuriates me that his may well be the victorious side. I’ve heard he recently found a triceratops specimen. They moved in herds, you know, probably a whole family of them where that one came from.”
There was not.
“But he’s going to blast the site so I can’t find the rest. You know what I should do?”
I opened my mouth to say, “Retire from paleontology and return to the subterranean lifestyle from which your long touch-receptor-like whiskers likely evolved?” but he did not pause long enough for me to answer.
“I should dynamite his dig tonight!”
And with that, he confirmed for me that there was no good side in this war. There were only two predators, heartless men who had made a choice to cheat and destroy and hate. And for no reason at all.
I wanted to believe this was just the way of things. That the dinosaurs died and it was sad, heartbreakingly devastating, but that good could come from it if it helped humans learn about the world and their place in it. That maybe they would realize they were also dinosaurs, and stop wishing on shooting stars.
But they didn’t care about any of that. They just wanted to win. They wanted to enjoy destroying history, graves.
Before I talked to Marsh, before I talked to Cope, I thought it was just Asha in trouble. It wasn’t, but there was little I could do about that unless I brought about the end of paleontology. Not that I would be able to; I was still Asha’s godmother, and any magic had to be in service of her wish, not mine.
Before I talked to the rival humans, I thought perhaps I could convince them to stop the digs, but I was wrong about that, too.
I needed to refine my focus.
Asha. She was my godhatchling, not the rest of them. It was her I needed to protect, even if I couldn’t do it way back when.
Asha was on the cusp of sexual maturity, complete with all the angst and emotional upheaval I was not equipped to help her with.
I had raised her to adulthood somehow, not just as a godmother but as a mother. And not a good one, apparently.
“You said it couldn’t be you,” she roared, her voice bellowing in the lower frequencies. “You said I would find someone who would love me, because we would both have to move on one day so it couldn’t be you.” She reared up on her hind legs and slammed her front feet on the dirt. “But have you noticed, godmother? It was you. And if you had just let it be you from the beginning, let yourself love me completely–”
I snorted and made a mock charge toward her, my wings buzzing in a fury. “Do not,” I warned. “Do not suggest that I gave you anything less than my full–”
She didn’t flinch at my charge. “But you didn’t. You were so afraid of losing me, you wouldn’t let yourself.” She threw her head back in defiance, her frill and horns striking a powerful silhouette against the sunset orange sky. “I know this is true, because if I was really loved as much as I wished for, you would have had to move on and be someone else’s godmother.”
And with that, she stormed off.
I decided we both needed some alone time, and didn’t go after her.
Some alone time. Some, dammit. Not 65 million years.
I couldn’t have saved Asha then. It was a meteor and she was a dinosaur and no amount of wishing on a shooting star could change that.
But she was right. I hadn’t moved on because I couldn’t, not until I granted her wish, not until I did right by her.
I will admit, I didn’t know the first thing about dynamite. Only that Othniel Charles Marsh intended to use it on the dig site where her remains lay, and that it was dangerous.
That was all I needed to know.
“I did love you,” I told her, resting my chin on the ground beside her half-exposed skeleton. “As much as I could have. And it breaks my heart that it wasn’t enough for you, it wasn’t what you deserved.”
I fluttered my wings and twitched my tail; that always made her laugh.
“I hope tonight changes that. I hope it shows you how far I would go for you, how loved you were and still are.”
Just a little magic, and the dynamite would be useless. Both camps’ stash. And while they blamed each other of sabotage, I would wrap Asha in a blanket of sand, hide her away from the greedy humans.
I felt that pull again, our connection. But it wasn’t her needing me this time.
This wasn’t a solution and I knew it. The humans would blame each other, the war would escalate. That was no way to show my love, no way to grant her wish and move on. And I needed to move on.
She was still in the nest when I found her. Tiny thing, lost and alone and helpless.
She looked up at me with those giant eyes full of hope as I landed beside her. I think mine was the first friendly face she had ever seen.
“Hello, my dear,” I said gently. “I am your fairy godmother.”
She just stared at me.
“That means I’m here to help you. Make a wish, and I will make it come true.”
The little hatchling wasted no time. “I want love.”
“Love,” I repeated. “Well, there’s all different kinds of love, and all different things that we mean when we say the word. What is love to you?”
This question took some thought, but finally she had an answer. “Love is when everyone around you is happy because you exist, and their lives are better because you are in it. And. And…it’s forever. It’s in your bones.”
She was the star attraction of the museum. A perfectly preserved and intact subadult triceratops.
The men who found her, insignificant men whose names would soon be lost to history, had been embroiled in a vicious rivalry. Indeed, one of the groups had been intending to destroy her partially excavated skeleton in order to sabotage his enemy.
So imagine his surprise when he found her completely uncovered, as if the wind had done all the hard work, her bones arranged in such a way as to suggest she died striking a defiant pose, head held high and ready to fight some unknown predator. How could he possibly destroy something so beautiful? Even his rival agreed, and they took joint credit in her discovery.
She inspired everyone who saw her. She made them happy.
They loved her, forever, deep down to the bone.
I suppose I was right. No matter how much I loved her, she couldn’t be mine. She was everybody’s.
As I turned to leave the museum, I felt that pull.
But it wasn’t Asha this time. It was a little human girl. And it was time for me to move on.