Hegemon of the Honeycart
by Tony Colella
The final sign for the dinosaur park is spray-painted on plywood, the
same as Dani expected for roadside fruit stands hawking eight avocados
for a dollar. But this wasn't farmland any longer, and she'd seen no
houses for miles and miles. The isolation was the goal, the park
somewhere in Nevada, or maybe it was Arizona now? Some endless
grassland, warm in March, almost too much so for her open windows.
She hoped, though she barely admitted, to hear the dinosaurs by the
time she rounded the final corner, saw that sign. A roar, a bellow, a
whalesong. Something, over the whispers of the grass, her tires on the
maintained but still dirt road. But, nothing.
Until she coasted that final rise, and found herself with a vista both
mundane and sublime: The high, blank perimeter walls of the park,
several stories tall, and acres of poor parking in dusty, unmarked
lots. From where she'd have to park, it would be half an hour's walk
just to get to the admission gate. Never mind. She'd arrived, and she
covered her mouth as she walked.
She wore the laminated business partner badge, though she wasn't, that
she'd received in the mail a week ago. She assumed that any of the long
lines would allow her in, but as she shuffled slowly closer, she was
recognized. No, more like spotted—her badge, its bright orange against
the gray of her blazer. Because she didn't know him, a man she
immediately and palpably disliked: for a smile that insisted she come
with him, the quick hug he gave before his name, the gentle hand he
left resting on her elbow. Ten thousand white teeth, a trustworthy
beard, and a casual suit that fit easily.
It wasn't quite that she disliked him. No, she was disappointed:
because she knew his type, knew he would steer their conversation as
much as he steered with his hand on her arm, and that she would leave
today with nothing if she followed his rules. Her other hand toyed with
an old receipt in her jacket pocket, crumple and tear and crumple
again. In fact, she suspected she might be his job, since his badge
told her he was a PR Lead Liaison II. Presumably he was
excellent at occupying journalists.
She would have to be the better occupier.
"Dani, please come with me. You don't need to wait here," with a
half-smile she couldn't emulate without practice, that somehow told her
she was better than these masses and simultaneously reassured anyone
watching that the park valued their visit. He was skilled, no doubt. "I
thought we'd go first to one of our overlook conference rooms so that
you can ask me any questions you have, and then I have a VIP tour
package for you so that you can see the park."
So well planned. So kind, to do this all free of charge. So useless to
her. "Thank you, Mr. Umberto—"
"Almost!" and there was his first sliver of irritation. "Put the I in
Evan and you have me."
She lost him in the crowd for a moment as they scraped through the
turnstiles at the entrance. Even with his pass through the scanner, she
still managed a quick escape—around a stroller and a school group—for
long enough to have her first experience be hers alone. Tall coniferous
Araucaria flanked the park's start, separating the various
paths: Spineback Swamps, Fellows of the Forest, Ice Queens, Deep Divers—
"There you are," and Eyvan was at her side, pulling her from the main
stream so that the occasional family eddied around them. "We'll take a
private path up to the main complex."
"But you do remember why I'm here?" she asked, as they began. They were
nearly free of the main walkway, their only companions a handful of
parents smearing sunscreen on squealing toddlers.
"To write about the park and the tour you'll take," he said, as if by
saying it would become true.
"To tell the story of the people who work here," she reminded him. "To
write about what really happens. My bosses and our readers are
interested in what really goes on at," and a little flattery couldn't
hurt, "one of the world's most successful attractions."
"I'm sure," and this is such a classic noncommitment that she balled up
the receipt in her pocket, dunked it in the nearest trashcan. Which,
she noted, was about to be emptied by a woman who didn't glance at her,
kept her eyes down. But then they passed and they were alone on his
private path. "Now, the Tithonian Room has one of our best views—"
I wait until they've rounded the corner to pull the bag from the cutesy
Allosaurus mouth, with the speech bubble covering half its chibi
body: ONLY TRASH IN ME PLEASE! Not that the corporates are likely to
dash back and toss a wrapper the same way kids on the concourses like
to do, but you never know.
She wasn't a corporate, anyway, despite the badge, and I'm half-minded
to take what she threw and see what it might be. But I don't think
she's that sort either, and I'm fully minded of my best friend,
she who's right now over by Carnotaurus Café, and what Florence always
tells me: "Don't bother, Iris. Just don't, whatever it is." Words to
live by when you work for nothing, as do we, at the richest theme park
in the world. It's not bad advice, but then I'm not Florence and my
hands are gloved (but to be fair so are hers, always) and I pluck the
crumpled paper from the top of the trash pile in the bag. A receipt,
for a few gallons of gas, and nothing else. I toss it back. Nothing
this time, but that doesn’t mean nothing every time.
Into the nearest dumpster go the bundled trash bags, and thankfully the
emptying of those falls to the night crew. Unfortunately, the trash run
means I'm back to the honeycart. I won't lie, I do grumble. Because no
matter how much sawdust I use, no matter how insulated the cart's
insides, it and I can't help but smell like shit by lunchtime. It is
just for the herbivores, whose poops are nothing like the stink of the
big carnivores, but even hay and leaves makes for a smelly cart when
you push it around all morning and have no choice but to breathe in the
enjoyable eau de prehistoria.
The cart doesn't help. It's meant to be as inoffensive as possible,
which meant to its designers—and I have no idea who they were, but
certainly they weren't me—that it should also be as excessive as
possible. It's covered in more chibi dinos, dancing in bright
primaries, and HONEYCART is splashed across every available surface in
fat neon lilac. To the kids, I'm another pushcart full of candies, and
any walk across a main concourse comes with a dozen rebuffs and the
slow realization on their sweet little faces that I don't smell like
cotton candy or kettle corn but something much fouler. Often as not, I
receive looks as though I've personally betrayed them.
"Good thing I don't have any dignity left," because I certainly do
mutter to myself. The glamourous life of a poop shoveler.
A roped-off back path leads me over rock and mud to the honeycart's
entrance to the Therizinosaurus enclosure. There are none
around the clearing on the door's other side and so I sidle through.
They've been made as a communal latrine species, which means I can
scoop all their poop in that particular clearing. Which suits me just
fine, as even though they're supposed to be herbivores, I'm not dumb
enough to futz around with any oddity with claws the length of my leg.
This enclosure was full of pines and I heard those claws at work some
distance beyond me, bringing down the boughs, along with the therries'
low hooting. Beyond that, I heard the low murmur of the crowds,
gathered around the raised rails several hundred feet distant.
Marveling at Dino Scissor-Hands, as the signs call them. A dated
reference, and kind of dumb to me, and one we janitors tend to ignore.
They're Therizinosaurus to us, or therries if you're like, or
you're tired of –osauruses. "Call 'em what they're meant to be,"
Florence always says, and everyone else just sort of nods along because
Florence is that sort of lady. But I get it, and we always share a
wink, because Florence and me both know that what a thing is meant
to be isn't necessarily what it is.
Speaking of: with the honeycart full of footballs of therry dung, I
back out through the door and trundle back up the path. Uphill, which
means I always get the best aromas during that first push. But it also
lets me see what others don't, and today that actually means something.
Because I'm hidden by several chubby cycads from a little sitting area
with a few benches and a trashcan. It's empty save for one well-dressed
man, and he might well be acting the part of Suspiciously Disgruntled
Park Employee. His lanyard tells me he belongs easily enough, but he's
edgy, nearly bolts when I trundle loud wheels over a partially-buried
boulder. He tosses a crumpled note at the trashcan, misses, and is
Of course I went over to take a look. Triumphantly, I might add,
because Florence said something like this would never happen, and here
it was. Not that the note made any sense to me: Roost & nanny
7.5 @8894*. I remembered it, recrumpled, left it where I'd found
it, and returned to the honeycart. No, I didn't know what it was or
what it might mean, but it was something, and on a day when dinosaurs
had become routine—which, for me, was every day—you took whatever you
The Tithonian Room was a small conference room dominated by a round
table of polished petrified wood, though this excess was next to
nothing when its entire south-facing wall was windowed, overlooking the
park. Dani had made no promises to herself to disavow awe or
enchantment, and she fell toward the window, stopped short of pressing
against it, but still guzzled the view beyond. The grasslands spread
out until the mountains many miles distant, but the park had filled in
the natural grasses with patchworks of trees and shrubs, and smaller
enclosures within the huge outer walls to hold more extreme
environments: one massive dome for the cold-lovers, another for the
dripping tropics. The crowds swirled, colored dust on the brightly
colored paths that snaked between habitats, and scummed at the fences
and rails of the enclosures.
She, like the largest multitude below, was drawn by the central and
largest pen, a wildlife preserve measured in dozens of acres, still
mostly grassland with a wide lake and several dense copses of conifers.
Sauropods' heads rose well above the pines' tops, and even from this
distance she could see their longer front legs and the way the necks
rose straight up: brachiosaurs of some sort. They were tiger-striped in
crimson and lime, a jarring scheme that rattled uncomfortably against
the muted backdrop of the grass and lake. But perhaps that had been the
point, she thought—and the better, too, to set them apart from the
other animals that shared the lakeside: hadrosaurs with half-moon
crests whose backs rose barely to the brachiosaurs' bellies; a small
herd of cerulean stegosaurs she thought from their long necks might be Miragaia;
and a boxy, enormous three-horned ceratopsian that could only be Triceratops.
"We keep them well separated from the carnivores, of course," Eyvan
said. "Even so, Fellows of the Forest is our biggest visitor draw.
Something about seeing them all together like that, emulating a true
"Except that you're cohabiting genera that are separated by millions of
years." She cringed but showed nothing more: She didn't care for her
own pedantry, but it was the fastest way to show him she wouldn't be
placated by a few pretty dinosaurs.
"Of course," he agreed. "But that's not our goal. We aren't recreating
dinosaurs. We're mining DNA to make something very new, in a way that
resembles what people want most to see from one hundred million years
ago." She can just about see his reflection in the clear glass, and she
catches the motion of his quick wink. "You should see the sales numbers
from the food carts down there, compared to the rest of the park.
Everyone wants lemonade with their Lusotitan."
"You know dinosaurs," she said.
"As do you. Or maybe you thought that was not a requirement for working
at the park?" He raised an eyebrow. "I assumed, too, that you arrived
here knowing your 'saurs. I'm not disappointed."
"But," she reminded him, "I'm here to—"
"Yes, I know. You want to know what really goes on here. Ms. Xuan, let
me ask you a question about stories." She, not expecting this, was
taken aback for a moment, but nodded for him to continue. "What are the
sorts of stories that a park such as this can tell?"
"Awe," she said at once, "and wonder, and the power of science."
"True. We show people what they could never see except in their
imaginations: and for this we profit. But the converse is also true,"
and he licked his lips. "Barely a day goes by when I, personally, to
say nothing of the rest of the PR staff, don't handle a request for the
'true story' of the place, the backdoor, the dark underbelly. The
hubris of our mad science, we playing gods, etcetera ad nauseum."
She saw where this was going, and headed it off: "But I don't want that
story. I'm not looking for cackling megalomaniacs rubbing their hands
together over gene sequencers—"
"Which does happen sometimes, to be fair. Not that our geneticists are
"Only natural. But what I want," she said, "is what no one else sees. I
don't know exactly what that means—"
"Then let me suggest a third story. People want our park to be a true Jurassic
Park, which is to say that they want it all to break down, for our
fences to fail, for the wreaking of havoc and their unspoken fantasies
of outrunning a T. rex to come true." He shook his head. "They'll be
waiting a long time, and you, if that's what you're after. We have
minor failures, occasional escapes regularly. Our Garudimimuses
are always hopping fences. Those long legs, you know. But we've never
had a fatality, never had a major visitor injury due to a dinosaur
encounter. So," and he spread his arms wide, "what stories are left to
"There's plenty that goes on at other zoos," she said.
"True. Conservation, mostly. Education, too, but that comes to the same
thing. Moneymaking, of course. But that's about it." He rolled his
eyes, and she nodded again: because he had his axe honed, clearly, and
sharpened it on people like her. He's heard it all, but he hasn't yet
said anything about what she wants to know: about the stories that
don't belong to the place, the stories that sleep beneath those grand
narratives. The story, say, of the janitor they passed on their way up
the path, or the ticket-taker whose line they bypassed. The person
whose job it is to polish this table. The table itself, the journey of
the petrified wood to this conference room overlooking the park.
But she smiled only, and said, "Will I be able to speak with anyone
His mask returned. His vulnerability amounted to his professional ire,
the unexpected repetition of grand narratives—and while that's a story,
too, she thought, there was surely more to find. The mask became a
rictus of smile, and he backed to the door. "I'll see who I can rustle
up. Stay put for now," and she knew now that he was as far as she'll
get. Unless, as the door snaps shut, she takes the time not taken by
the tour and molds it as she sees fit.
She gave him five minutes to get lost, made sure her lanyard was
visible, and trotted from the Tithonian Room.
What trash would you imagine is most common in a dinosaur park?
No matter my collection spot, most of each vile bag is food. I say vile
because the park's in the warm grasslands and the dinos, for all their
looks might say otherwise, are creatures of our time. Which is to say
that flies and beetles and crawlies of all sorts love their foods and
their shits and pretty much everything else that comes out of their
bodies, that our marinating trashcans must smell pretty good to a fly
during the warm days, and that in turn means that every full trashcan
features a thick smog of buzzing gross.
Of course for the flies it's heaven, each trashcan a particularly
appealing marinade of melted ice cream and unfinished chicken fingers
and smears of ketchup. Vomit, if it's a hot day and some six year old
can't hold their excitement in. And, especially near the restrooms,
diapers. Diapers that sometimes rival the food, if I'm particularly
unlucky. Endless diapers, and I never guessed before I began this job
that the dino park would see so many babies, but it sometimes seems
like there's six babies and four strollers for every adult.
All this to say that the trashcan from which I'd plucked that message
was the exception, its contents no more than plastic water bottles and
old paper wristbands. I purposefully ended my shifts near the food
court (Mesozoic Munchies) because that trash is always nastiest. They
fill up quickly, they're near the biggest restroom complex, and they're
also the only cans where I'm bound to be approached, some put-upon
parent complaining about the fullness of the bags and insisting that I
do something about it—as if they don't interrupt me in the act of
emptying. I only smile and keep my tally for Florence, who asks how
many bitched that day and then ends with an eyeroll and a "yeah, well,
they pay four-fifty for a diet Coke, so who's the real dummy?"
I'm still pushing the honeycart, though I've swapped its insides from
poop-carrying to bag-bearing. The sight of the happy cartoon dinos
coming is usually enough to deter even the worst complainers, and if
not, the smell from the inside does it. But once I dumpster it all and
stash the honeycart for the night crew—after sawdusting it down,
because no one needs that sliceable stink first thing—I usually have
about half an hour until my shift's over. The day I found the note is
the same, and I was lucky: because my job meant I knew every back way
in that park, including one that led to my own private overlook. It was
back near the admin complex, through a couple of gates I unlocked and
left open behind me, winding up a hill around a couple of stands of
trees. Then, at the top, the soft leaves of some saplings in full
bloom, and the full park spread out at sunset.
Sunset's not a popular time. The crowds swirl toward their cars,
recalling the park's distance and the drives ahead of them. The biggest
beasties are bedding down, and those more nocturnal are just beginning
But for those who stick around, the show's worth the stay. Florence
used to work more in the labs and such, and she's overheard plenty
about the making of dinos that are active specifically when the light's
most striking. Crepuscular Country is their place, an acres-huge
savanna that seems empty for most of the day, even when most crowds
assume 'crepuscular' is some creature that lives there. No, and I hear
the meaty wash of Florence's eyeroll in the back of my mind: because
crepuscular means that they're most active at twilight. And it's C
Country I'm above at my shift's end, and I can see them come alive.
The Amargasaurus group, long-necked and long-tailed sauropods
with a hefty sail along their necks, is first. Then, as the Amargasauruses
rock the trees as they begin to feed, there's a raucous chittering and
down pour the Yi, tiny dinos with bat wings and bright peacock
tails. Their cacophony in turn provokes the Parasaurolophuses,
with the trombones sticking out of the backs of their heads,
hunchbacked like buffalo and coming to life with a series of sad calls.
Like a foghorn from far away—or at least that's what I think, growing
up in the Pacific fog. Florence just calls it melancholy. Also
apparently nonsense, since the real creatures could never make sounds
like that, but "you see that head and what do you think? People wanna
A rustling in the bushes behind me. I work in a park full of
monsters—but even so, my first thought isn't of some escaped killer.
Rather, I figure some visitor's gone through the gate, come where they
shouldn't have come. If I get caught with them, then that's even worse
than an escape. To me, at least.
Her face isn't one that I know, which is to say that she doesn't work
with me. But I recognize her, after a moment: The woman who passed me
with the PR man earlier in the afternoon. She looks as surprised as I'm
not, and I'm about to tell her to turn right around when she says,
"Good. I hoped I'd find you."
Well, I can tell you no one's ever said that to me. I'm interested in
spite of myself and I'm silent to let her go on. "I want to talk to
you, about what you see. I'm a journalist and I've had the tour and the
runaround and all of it, but I'm not looking for all of it, I’m
looking for…" But she doesn't seem able to say what she's looking for,
exactly. Not slumming it with the honeycart, maybe, but I'm not too
proud to take my moment when it's offered. I pat the dirt beside me and
nod down to the bugling dinos below. "So. Business partner, huh? You
want to know what really makes this park run…?"
Of course Dani did, though this wasn't yet her question answered,
either. Nevertheless, Iris the janitor (though she had a fancier title
on her lanyard, Iris herself said "the janitor": "no need to hide what
I do with a fancy name") had plenty to say: about the garbage she
collected from the boardrooms behind them versus the concourses below,
the shapes and sizes of the dinosaurs' dungs, the complex community
that existed among the groundskeepers and janitors. Night descended and
the strangest calls, whistles, and shrieks yet zeroed in on Dani, and
she shivered slightly though the dark was warm enough for her bare
"Listen," Iris said, after her eyes flicked at the wildfire of
goosebumps that had swept over Dani, "I can tell you everything you
ever wanted to know about poop. But do you want to see something else?
Something I never expected either?"
Of course Dani did. Of course.
They entered the main building through a pair of industrial doors this
time, and then a metal staircase down. No carpeted halls or Tithonian
Rooms, though it felt to Dani as though this clean place—checked
linoleum, walls which had seen the brushes of mural painters—was
somewhere its people took pride in.
Iris, maybe sensing these thoughts, offered "We're janitors, of course
it's clean down here." Some truth there, certainly. But if it was Dani,
she would hate to clean her workplace if her job was cleaning.
"Would you say that you take extra pride in cleaning down here?" she
"No," Iris said at once. "You mean more than upstairs, don't you? Like
we do it up there 'cause we have to but we do it here because we want
to?" Iris rolled her eyes, but Dani wondered: Did she mean that? She
walked down Iris's assumptions, the story she's already begun to sketch
of the hardworking support staff, the real workers of the park. Salt of
the Earth, good working people, all that. "We're union. We do just
fine," Iris said, and then they're at the common workstation. She
clocks out with her biometrics, then led Dani upstairs. They passed a
few people before, but the upper hallways—which lead, behind biolocked
doors, to labs and the like—are deserted. It's dark. People go home.
"The lights are low, and the place will be deserted," Iris says, "until
the night crew are almost off-shift, at which point they'll mop it down
for the return of the day. There won't be anyone around, especially
not where I'm taking you."
"Which is where?"
"Nursery," Iris said. "Not that we're going in, you know. Just
to the windows. It's monitored so they don't have to bother with any
guards in person."
"There must be a bunch of nursuries," said Dani, and indeed they've
come to a long corridor of wide, thick windows. Every few steps,
there's a different door, each marked with several numbers. The
nurseries beyond are occasionally dark but mostly lit in very low red,
almost violet. To aid with night-watchers' eyes? Something to do with
vitamins? She doesn't know, but Iris does: at least, where they're
headed. A pair of doors marked 8894. Dani crowded to the windows to see
the fluffpile beyond, a brood of fluffy snoozing chicks that might be
chickens except that a display embedded in the window called them Velociraptors.
Iris, however, seemed distracted, checked her phone for the time:
"7:30," and her mutter marked her mind as somewhere else entirely.
"What is it—?" Dani started to ask, but there was a flutter of movement
down the corridor's end and both women whip to look. Whoever (or
whatever) it was, it was gone by the time they looked, but then Dani
heard a faraway alarm hastily muffled, and then the telltale suck of a
vacuum seal. Iris dipped down before Dani could react, and the other
woman pulled her into a quick crouch too, their eyes and just above the
only bits above the window's edge.
"What's going on?"
"I found a note," and Iris was breathless, excited. "I thought it might
mean here and now. I was guessing—but here you go, right? Here's
something you're not gonna see otherwise. Someone stealing dino
chicks!" Oh yes, that was a story, but Dani's heart sank: because she
sees the righteous Eyvan in her mind cross his arms, pronounce this one
of the park's stories. Of course there would be industrial espionage,
disgruntled employees, dino thieves… Boring, when you came down to it.
She hadn't been paying attention, but Iris had. There's a woman inside
the nursery, though the clutch hasn't woken nor noticed her. Iris stood
slowly, and the other woman approached. Behind her, Dani saw the bag
she brought in: not for the chicks, but like an upsized egg carton,
ready to take from the clutch of eggs Dani picked out of the half-dark,
arranged in a half moon behind the sleeping chicks.
When the woman spoke, her voice was muffled, the glass thick and
unforgiving. "You shouldn't be here, Iris."
"Go on," said the other, and Dani, who has almost forgotten herself
despite her disappointment, covertly clicks her phone's recorder and
takes a step closer. Even if this wasn't what she was there for, she
would be a fool to miss it.
"Nope," I tell Florence. I try to make it sound obvious: like, of
course I'm not going anywhere. How could I? I’m trying to inject some
sense into this nonsense, try to make Florence back into the woman I
knew. "You're not a thief."
Her smile has teeth but no humor. "Not yet."
"Is it really so right in Iris-land?" Florence asks me. I feel Dani's
presence on my right, but only for a moment. She hasn't gone anywhere,
but she doesn't matter. "So right, that you haven't noticed we're
getting floated all around the park?"
"All of us, girl! Remember, I used to just work around here? You and
your honeycart out at the perimeter? All the rest? And now we're
assigned everywhere, places we can't possibly get to, and we're written
up if we're late. Three write-ups and," and she draws a thumb's-up
across her jugular. "Today was my number three. I have another two
weeks and then I'm out."
"But you're union," Dani interrupts. Florence sniffs her out as
intruder, gives her a quick look, and returns to me.
"They can't legally do it. But here we are."
"But stealing eggs?" I remind her.
She coughs a laugh. "I'm not expecting to make a bundle with a
competitor. I just want 'em to know. They can make their dinos and
treat people however they want and no one's gonna say how, but
sometimes they have to deal with what happens next."
"What happens next?" and Dani's excitement is palpable, almost
indecent. No business partner, but a journalist. Not the starry-eyed
sort, not exactly, not that she wasn't impressed—but there was
something about her I hadn't seen before. She wanted more. She might
"You want this story?" I ask, rounding on her. "Here you go. Not
Florence, but what's happening here. How much this place makes, and how
much we make." Her head tilts, the possibility swimming behind her
eyes. Not that I need her approval, but her nod makes what happens next
easier. "Come talk to her," I say through the glass. "She'll hold your
name. She'll tell the story."
"Who hears it?" Florence asks. But she shouldn't be asking, which is to
say she's older than me, the one who gives advice. We should be
reversed. I should be doing something crazy, not she. I shouldn't have
been on her old route, and I shouldn't have picked up her trash. I
should be in trouble, not the wise old she.
"I don't know," says Dani. "But it's the sort of place that would
expose these kinds of things—"
"You think I won't know the name?"
Dani holds her eye for a moment, gives her magazine's name. Florence
hesitates, then turns from us both, back to the still-sleeping raptors
and the intact circle of eggs. I can barely hear what she says next,
turned from me and crouching: "I should at least take advantage of
Paul's broken cameras," and then she's down on her knees on the dirt,
stroking each downy chick with a single finger, as if they're kittens.
The chubby, sleepy chicks barely stir, so safe and comfortable are
they, and Florence slings her bag over her shoulder before she pushes
back into the access hall behind the nursery.
At the same moment Dani and I let out the breath we've both held. "This
isn't normal?" she asks. A joke. But suddenly I'm not in the mood, and
my return's a growl:
"This is the story you ought to tell."
"Yes," and any trace of a smile is gone. "Yes, I think it is."
© 2018 Tony Colella
Bio: M.C. St. John is a Chicago writer. His stories have been
published in Chicago Literati, Quail Bell Magazine, and the Word Branch
Science Fiction Anthology. His short story collection Other Music was
recently published; he is currently working on his next.
Website: Claire Fitzpatrick
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