Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 34
Sam popped out of the open hatch and aimed his rifle in all directions. The sun was brighter than he’d expected and he allowed a minute for his eyes to adjust to the light. Nothing moved, but the stench of the place overwhelmed him. He looked out in all directions, taking in the small group of buildings that stood out in stark contrast to the vast, dense jungle that surrounded them. Sam had thought time travel would be painful for some reason. In fact, it was nothing more than a change of scenery.
“Is there anyone out there?” Girlfriend called up.
Sam climbed back down the small ladder and sat back in the driver’s seat, looking out the large front windows, tinted enough to keep the glare of the sun off them. Tiger Lily, Lin, and Girlfriend all looked at him expectantly.
“No one is out there. I saw her car. Let’s drive up there first. Maybe she’s still in there.”
Sam started to roll forward. Doc Brenner had told him that he’d have fifteen minutes to get the car off the pad before the pad returned to the present time.
The car, if you could call something the size of a school bus with six huge wheels a car, rolled forward with only the whir of an electric motor. The solar cells that covered the exterior of the space-age looking vehicle would supply enough power for the motor and all the comforts of home that Doc had installed. Doc’s son, Clive, had wanted to do some deep exploration, but obviously couldn’t wait until the car was built.
The car came equipped with three beds, a small kitchen, even a bathroom. This was a dream RV for someone like Sam. He could go anywhere in it, road or no road. Sam had driven a lot of vehicles from backhoes to trucks, from automatic to stick shift, but never had he driven anything that rolled so smoothly and effortlessly across the ground. Just a slight press on the accelerator joysticks and the thing moved.
No sooner did Sam start forward to investigate the severed car when he spotted Myra running out of a small cabin and waving her arms frantically. Sam slammed on the brakes. His body lurched forward.
“I guess we found her,” he said.
“Myra!” Girlfriend yelled. She was the first up the hatch and outside. Lin and Tiger Lily quickly followed.
Sam’s heart stopped pounding. The sudden stop jarred him even though he’d been only slightly rolling forward. He released his grip from the steering device, two handles like an old ATV would use to control the wheels on either side of the vehicle, and followed the girls outside.
Although the sun shone brightly and it was far warmer and muggier than it was in the future Minnesota, Sam was glad he’d convinced the girls to change clothes. They all had changed into pants and long sleeve shirts. Girlfriend and he wore plain shirts, Lin and Tiger Lily had put on black jeans and matching black, Metallica t-shirts. At least they’d changed. Sam had encouraged them all to bring coats just in case they needed something to keep warm at night.
The car had been equipped with blankets and bedding that would do if they needed to be outside at night, for some reason. Sam didn’t know what to expect and Doc hadn’t given them much to go by. Other than “Be careful,” and “Follow the GPS to Clive,” they were pretty much going to have to wing it.
At least the first step in their journey had ended well. They’d arrived and found Myra. Now they just needed to find the police officer that had fallen down and gotten lost. Once they’d found the two of them, they could head out into the wilderness and find Clive. That task would be simple, as the GPS device and the satellite link up would lead them straight to him.
It sounded that simple, at least.
Myra hugged the girls aggressively. She even hugged Sam when he’d climbed off the car.
“Thank God you’re here. I was so scared. I mean, not just being here, but of that thing. What is that?”
Sam said, “That’s what Doc sent us here in. He wants us to go and find his son.”
“No, we can’t go out there,” Myra pointed to the plains and lake that lay just beyond the trees.
“We’ll cause a time paradox. If we’re truly in the past, we could do something that could disrupt life as we know it on Earth.”
“We talked with Doc about that. He assured us that nothing like that would happen. We just need to head out there, not bother anything, and bring Clive back.”
“That’s Doc’s son. First, though, did you see the officer?”
“What officer? I heard gunshots last night.”
Sam’s ears perked up. “Gunshots?”
“Yes, over that way, I think. I was too scared to go and look, so I just…” Myra turned away. Girlfriend hugged her.
“I’m going to see what happened over there.” Sam pulled the rifle off his shoulder and walked purposefully to the woods. He looked back at the girls. “Why don’t all of you either go inside the cabin or inside the car. Just stay out of sight.”
Tiger Lily looked offended, as did Girlfriend, but they all went inside the cabin and watched from the window. Sam only started off again when he was sure they were all safe inside. He didn’t like ordering them around, but someone had to take charge, and he certainly wasn’t about to take orders from any of them. He was the only one who had any experience in the wilds of Minnesota, and he doubted it would be much different here. Sam took a deep breath and penetrated the foliage at the edge of the encampment.
The dirt sloped down and deep into the growth. The rising sun was instantly blotted out. Sam tried to enter the woods where he thought they’d found Casper’s body. He stepped slowly with the rifle at the ready. He wasn’t going to let anything take him by surprise. If the officer had fired shots, he might be hiding down here and shoot at anything moving. Sam cursed himself for not getting the man’s name.
“Hello!” Sam yelled and froze, waiting for a response. None came.
He took several more steps into the woods. The undergrowth cleared slightly, but the overhead canopy kept much light from getting down to the ground, which was moist and spongy. Little footprints of some small animals littered the ground, as well as some larger prints the size of Sam’s thirteens. Something rustled in a bush; Sam spun in that direction and froze. Slowly he raised the rifle and took aim. His hunter’s instinct took over and he waited for whatever it was to reveal itself before he’d reveal himself by firing a shot.
“Don’t waste any shots and scare off the game,” his father’s voice said in his head. “Just stay still and wait. That’s all you need to do.”
Sam had no intention of moving until he knew if this was a threat or something else. Something jumped out of the bush and leapt to a nearby tree. The thing looked almost like a bird, blue and yellow feathers with a lizard head, and skittered up the tree and jumped off, then soared to another tree, and another until it was out of sight. Sam lowered the gun and started to breathe normally again.
He tried to remember what the area where the officer had disappeared looked like. He scanned about for footprints, human footprints, but nothing jumped out at him. He didn’t like being in an unknown area. He’d spent so much time in the Minnesota woods with oak, birch, and other trees he knew, smells he knew, and sounds he knew. The drone of bugs, smell of some rotting animal, and plants he could barely recognize assailed his senses.
“Stay focused, Sam. Stay focused.”
Sam looked skyward, as if it would do any good. He felt suddenly lost and his head started to whirl and spin. He turned left, he turned right, and suddenly he didn’t know which way the camp lay. He needed to get out of the woods. He felt in danger. Fear gripped his chest and his breathing quickened. He had to get back to the camp, but where was it?
“Hello!” Sam shouted in a panic. This must be what happened to the officer. He panicked. Sam had to keep his head. Never let fear overtake you. Breathe deeply.
Sam tried to take a deep breath, but the sound of a tree groaning in protest halted his intake. Sam backed up against the nearest and largest tree and waited. The tree eventually gave way and snapped. It crashed down next to the tree Sam laid against. He almost laughed. Would the tree have made any noise if he hadn’t been there? His dad used to joke that they didn’t because he’d been quiet enough to trick the trees into thinking he wasn’t there.
Sam needed to be that quiet now. He tried to will his body to become one with the tree, to become hidden just as his father had been hidden to trick the trees into thinking he wasn’t there.
Loud breaths blasted out of massive nostrils. The sound was muddy. Sam knew it was because of the blood pounding in his veins due to his accelerated heart rate. He’d felt this when he’d confronted his first bear. That had turned out well, but Sam had been told what to expect. This situation was all new and he had no idea what to expect.
Sam chanced a glance to either side. Large feet pressed into the mushy ground and grew nearer with each passing heartbeat. A massive snout, pebbled in texture and red in color, appeared to Sam’s right. Sam tensed. The snout swung toward Sam and rubbed against the tree. Sam didn’t move. Just like a rutting deer or bear, this thing must be marking its territory. If Sam made any movement, it’d see him for sure. All he had to do was nothing.
It moved on and Sam watched as it strode into the woods. The beast had to be at least thirty or forty feet long, but the way it walked stood no taller than eight or nine feet high, its head and tail perfectly balanced over massive legs. Tiny arms, held tight to its body, served no purpose.
It stopped and cocked its head to the side, as if it was listening to something. The head rose slightly and moved from side to side, slowly as if to listen more intently. What could it be hearing? Sam watched in horror as it turned and started through the thick undergrowth and up a small incline.
“No.” It was headed toward the cabin. Toward the girls. Sam was certain that had to be the direction of the encampment. He had to do something. He couldn’t let that thing get up there. He raised the rifle and took aim. He wondered, as he squeezed the trigger, just how much good a little bullet would do against a monster like that.
The report of the rifle caught the beast’s attention. Sam wasn’t even sure if the bullet had penetrated until he saw a small trickle of blood appear on the hindquarters. It roared and charged.
Sam had been charged at before. Deer and moose don’t take too kindly to being shot at. If you don’t hit them just right, they will come at you. Bears will usually charge just to frighten you off. This thing, with its beady eyes and massive teeth, had something else entirely in mind. It would charge down that little hill in a matter of seconds and eat him.
There was no time for thought, only action. Sam aimed between its eyes and fired. It stopped, shook its head, and restarted its charge.
“Damn!” The skull must be too thick to allow the bullet to penetrate.
Sam fired two more shots between the eyes. Again it stopped, but this time rubbed its head against a small, nearby tree, breaking the tree in the process. After a brief bout with the tree, it refocused on Sam. This pause gave Sam the only thought he could think. If the skull was too thick, he’d have to aim elsewhere. He aimed for one of the beady eyes and before the beast could charge again, fired.
The eye erupted in a gout of gore. The beast yowled in pain. A roar that made the woods quiet. It was so loud, Sam had to cover his ears, but he never took his eyes off the dinosaur. This is a dinosaur. I’m killing a dinosaur.
The beast had enough and ran into the woods, away from the encampment. Sam wanted to sit on the ground. He wanted to just let his body recover from the stress of encounter, but he didn’t have the luxury. The sounds of battle could attract more of those things. The smell of blood in the air might bring any assortment of monsters to this area. He couldn’t risk that. He had to hurry and see if he could find any trace of the officer and get back to the car so they could all be inside and safe. He had to hurry.