Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 22
They had giggled like school girls. Sam couldn’t believe how quickly Myra and Girlfriend started chattering and giggling, of all things. He cringed. He hated that woman. She was so rude and abrasive. Even her apology sounded half-hearted. If he had his way, he’d send her away until she had to be there, but he was just trying to be polite while Girlfriend was there.
Sam topped off the tank on the quad and pushed it out of the shed. He loved his shed and would spend more time in it if he could. It was long enough to fit all his toys, and then some.
Once the quad was outside, he went back in and pulled out the trailer. He knew the girls would want to go into the woods to do the mapping, so he hitched the trailer up and set a long, padded cushion inside. He’d drive, slowly, and they could draw out the line as it went around the trailer park. His guess was that whoever lived in the middle of the circle would be the culprit. He’d want to have words with that person.
For now, he’d have to shove that thought aside. While those two were inside, he’d have to get anything else ready and set up by the door. He went to the gun safe and opened it.
“What would bring down a dinosaur?”
He grabbed his 9 mm and the twelve-gauge shotgun. Those would do the most damage, as he packed his own bullets for the nine mil and had some hollow points. The snub-nosed .38 would be a good one for Girlfriend to hang onto just in case she needed anything to make her comfortable. And just out of comfort for himself, he got out his father’s hunting rifle. He’d taken it with him hunting anywhere he went no matter what he’d been hunting. It brought him luck. Even though he had no intention of doing any hunting that night, he wanted to keep it near just in case.
The wood of the stock was almost black with age and use. His father had gotten it as a present from his grandfather during his first hunting trip and it’d been passed down to Sam when his father had finally succumbed to cancer. Sam rubbed the stock with the same care he’d use to caress a child’s cheek.
“If I’ve never said it before, I need your help.”
He didn’t know if he was talking to his father, or The Father. He’d never been religious, much to his mother’s dismay. She’d been a devout Lutheran and had so desperately tried to get Sam and his father into church. But they had hunting to do, or fishing. Always the woods would call when the church bell rang. Church was something the women did to pray for their men. It wasn’t something men did.
Sam was glad when he found out that Girlfriend wasn’t religious and going to try to hound him into going to church. In a way, he felt as if he’d let his mother down yet again for taking the easy way out.
In fact, he felt as if he was doing as his father would want him to; spend his time being a man. Part of being a man was looking out for your friends and doing right by them. He needed to do right by Casper, and that was to know exactly what happened and do what he could to make things right. He owed that much to Casper and Pops.
“Who are you talking to?” Girlfriend asked, scaring Sam out of his wits. So much so that he nearly dropped his father’s rifle.
“Girlfriend,” Sam snapped, he saw Myra with a smile on her face and didn’t like it. “I’m not talking to anyone.”
“Good. I found the map.” She held up the cartoon map of the park and the more detailed map that showed the lake and surrounding area.
“Great. Are you two ready? Do you have pens or markers or something?”
“Yup. Ready to walk.”
“Oh, I wasn’t going to make you walk.” Sam pointed to the trailer hooked up to the quad. “I figured it’ll be faster if I drive and you two can just worry about mapping.”
Girlfriend nudged Myra. “We get to ride in style.”
They put their heads together and giggled. It grated on Sam’s nerves like nails on a chalkboard. The only thing worse would be if they started baby talking. Then he’d really have to get them separated.
Sam put the rifle on a small bench next to the safe, along with the rest of the guns, and locked the safe back up. He’d get the ammunition ready when they returned. He then locked up the shed and mounted the quad. At least while he was driving he wouldn’t have to worry about listening to them talk to each other. That was one small blessing.
As the girls got into the trailer armed with maps and markers, Sam started up the quad. He waited until they were both in, even though he was tempted to lurch forward and dump Miss Prissy Pants. He refrained. The wagon trailer was more than large enough to accommodate them both, as it was designed to carry large game out of the woods.
“Hold on tight.”
Sam took off slowly. He wondered where the best spot to start would be. He decided to start up by the road since their maps would give them the best reference. As he pulled out of his driveway he looked to Pops’s trailer and saw the old man looking through a pulled back curtain. Sam nodded to Pops and drove on to the front of the park.
He drove around the park, as he didn’t want to cut across anyone’s yard. He wouldn’t like it, so he didn’t dare do it to anyone else. No one was outside. He wondered if that was because of what happened to Casper or if people had other reasons to stay inside. It was a warm enough day that it might keep them inside with the air turned on, but usually someone was out and about.
The only two people Sam saw, and they dispersed before Sam arrived, were Patty and Mrs. Jenkins. Patty grabbed her daughter Ashley’s hand and went in the direction of her trailer, but Mrs. Jenkins just sat on her scooter and watched Sam as he drove by. He couldn’t help but tip his hat as he drove by.
Sam puttered up the slope of the drive and up to the highway. He stopped and turned the quad off.
“This is where we’ll start. I’ll follow that line as best I can into the woods. There’s some overgrowth that I’ll have to go around, but see what you can do.”
They both nodded and thankfully didn’t start their snickering again. He only wanted them to take this seriously. That was all. It wasn’t too much to ask, was it? They both made lines marking their starting place on the maps. He assumed they could see the line and the way it arced across the highway.
Sam started the quad up again and slowly entered the ditch right along the path of the line. He was amazed at just how obvious it looked when he was dead on with it. Almost like seeing a trail of telephone poles going through the middle of the woods. It was creepy. He went slowly and tried to listen if one of the two asked for him to stop, which they did several times. They kept looking at the park through the trees to make sure they were still lined up with the park as they drew the line. He’d wait patiently and when they were ready, he’d start out again.
The strangest point was when the line passed directly through the middle of a tree. They were at the far end of the park and quite a distance away. Sam could only just make out the silhouettes of the trailers in the distance. The strange part was not that the line passed through a tree, (they’d seen that and Myra had made them stop so she could take a picture), but that something odd protruded from the tree. Sam had stopped and turned off the quad. Somehow he thought they might be a while.
Girlfriend asked “Why’d you stop?”
“Ms. Tolie, you’re going to want to see this. I’m pretty sure of that.”
Protruding from the tree was what looked like another plant that Sam didn’t recognize. Along the path they’d seen branches on the ground that had been there for an obviously long time, the limb severed with surgical precision. This, however, wasn’t severed. The tree had been merged with a mammoth fern. The frond was partly inside the tree, but mostly out. Sam wondered how that could have happened.
“This is amazing,” Myra said as she walked to the frond. It was taller than she was. “This is only part of the plant, but I’ve seen fossils of these leaves.” She snapped several pictures and rattled off some scientific name of the plant that Sam ignored. It only gave him more confidence in his time machine theory.
He wondered how the leaf got stuck like that. Perhaps the wind had blown it into the circle so that when the time machine was turned off, it got stuck inside the tree before it could fall to the ground.
He waited for about two minutes while Myra snapped pictures and recorded everything she said. Sam wanted to be patient, but couldn’t. He had to know as much as he could and he had to know it now.
“Let’s go. We’ve still got a long way to go. We’re not even halfway around yet.”
Fortunately she listened and walked backward toward the trailer. Sam started up the quad and she gave him a momentarily dirty look as she put the microphone in her pocket and sat back in the trailer.
Up until the circle neared the lake, the trees had been thin enough that Sam could mostly follow the trail, but near the lake, the undergrowth was such that he could go no further. Going on foot wasn’t even an option. He banged his fists on the handlebars.
“Just go around.”
“What?” Sam could barely hear over the quad’s engine. He turned it off.
“Just go around. Looking at what we have so far,” Girlfriend held up her map to show how far they’d gone, “It doesn’t look like we’ll miss much if we don’t include that part. Besides, doesn’t it get mushy down there?”
Mushy wasn’t the word for it. They’d bog down for sure, and have a difficult time getting back out. Sam started the quad, but Myra screamed. He promptly turned it back off and turned to see what was the matter. Myra had leapt from the trailer and ran into the underbrush, her shoes sinking into the mud.
“Ms. Tolie! Stop!”
She didn’t. Sam ran after her.
“Ms. Tolie, you’re going to get stuck.” Sam’s own boots sank into the muck. He was thankful he had the extra-wide tires on his quad to keep it from sinking too deeply.
Myra kept going in deeper and deeper. Sam couldn’t see what she was so up in arms about. He couldn’t see what she was running toward, but the stench reached his nose quickly enough. Whatever she’d seen, it was good and dead.
“Sam, bring a cable or something! Quickly!”
Sam, without thinking, turned and ran back to the quad. He also had a front winch, but he’d never needed to use it. He hoped he’d be able to figure it out.
Girlfriend had gotten out of the trailer and stared intently into the woods, shading her eyes with her hand.
“Do you see it Sam?”
“I didn’t see anything,” Sam said as he quickly read the instructions for the winch. Looked just like any winch, so he flipped the switch that would allow him to draw out the cable.
“It’s right there. How could you miss it?”
Sam pulled the cable out and looked to see where Myra had gone. Then he did see it. And dropped the cable. It was huge. It was a dinosaur. A big, dead dinosaur.