Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 51
It wasn’t so much a bad feeling as a feeling of complete dread. Doom and gloom never had such a hold on Sam as it did at the moment that Lin and Tiger Lily tried to convince him it was right to go on. Despite all the injuries he’d sustained on the trip, none of them throbbed to the tune of continuing this doomed mission. But Girlfriend had made no argument against continuing, so he had to assume they were all in agreement, and he wouldn’t be the one leaving the car to get Clive. If they’d all chosen to put themselves at risk, he could do nothing to prevent them even if he’d wanted to. So despite his better judgment he allowed the trip to continue.
Lin and Tiger Lily had taken up sides by Girlfriend and kept watch for Clive and his front loader. Sam wished he could do more, but he couldn’t, and he hated that. It should be him driving the car. He should be the one to get Clive and keep the girls safe inside the car. They shouldn’t be putting themselves at risk. He shut his eyes and willed his body to heal faster.
Every bump on their way tortured his body despite the padding of the mattress and pillows. He would need to endure this pain all the way back as well. And none of them had any idea what condition Clive would be in. For all they knew, he could be stark raving mad and try to kill them all. Why hadn’t he thought of that before? They could be walking into the clutches of a mad man waiting to kill them all.
“You’re letting your imagination get away with you,” Sam mumbled to himself.
This would all be over soon enough and they could do as Lin said, get on with their lives. And for Sam, when they got out of this and he felt far better, his getting on with life would include asking Girlfriend to marry him. If Lin and Tiger Lily would leave her side, he could try to approach her and ask her now, but he knew they weren’t going anywhere, and he hadn’t the strength to move, but the first chance he had, he was going to ask her. That much he’d resolved to do. Why wait?
Girlfriend slowed the car and Lin pointed out the front window. “There it is!” she squealed.
Sam struggled to get up, but pain lanced up his side and shoulder and he fell back down. He wanted to see their goal. He wanted to be there with them when they arrived. He gritted his teeth and hauled himself out of the bed. He limped his way up to stand alongside Lin, who put her arm around his waist and steadied him.
“Sam!” Girlfriend snapped. “You shouldn’t be up.”
“Had to,” Sam said and looked out the front window.
Off in the distance standing out like a sore thumb was the big, yellow front loader. It wasn’t small, as Sam had suspected, but much more like one of the larger loaders they use up in the iron range. The upper cabin had been converted to be actually more like a house. It was possible that Clive could have lived in there for quite some time. Perhaps he’d modified it without Doc knowing about it as he planned to head out.
Everywhere around them were herds of hadrosaurs; alive and walking around. Many of them tilted their heads and honked at them as they passed, the sound muffled by the car’s thick walls, but most just scurried out of the way to protect their nests. Sam stared with the rest in awed fascination. They’d seen all the dead herds, but to see so many alive around was overwhelming. He felt bad that Myra would never get to see them.
The front loader puttered along slowly and Sam could see that the entire upper surface of the vehicle was covered in solar panels much like the car. He had just assumed it would be a diesel engine to help it power through the muck, but that was accomplished by the massively wide footprint of the tires, similar to the car but far larger. Each must have been nearly seven feet wide, giving the vehicle ample surface area to keep from sinking too deep in the mire but it obviously slowed it down.
Girlfriend slowed and sided up along the loader. Tiger Lily had opened the hatch and looked around with several bobbing movements. The camera for the back of the car had been crushed when it’d been turned over, so they had no way to know if they were being followed. Sam was thankful she was so careful.
“Are you going up top to greet Clive?” Lin asked.
“I think I’ll try.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Girlfriend countered.
“And I don’t think it’s a good idea the three of you, all women, greeting a man who’s been in the distant past, alone, for as long as he has. I don’t care what shape I’m in, at least the appearance of me with the three of you will give him pause.”
Girlfriend snorted her disapproval at his insinuation that they couldn’t take care of themselves, but didn’t express her displeasure. Instead she took his other arm and she and Lin led him to the ladder. He could just make out Tiger Lily’s voice yelling up to someone.
“…but what are you doing here?” a man’s voice asked. Sam knew that had to be Clive.
He struggled to climb the rungs of the ladder, Lin and Girlfriend pushing him every step of the way. He had to lay on his stomach and wiggle the rest of the way out and finally right himself.
Clive stood on a small platform facing the car. His brown hair had grown overly long and he had a full beard as well. Both in wild disarray. He wore a simple, one piece jump suit, green and brown, possibly for camouflage, as well as heavy, black boots. He shaded his face from the sun with his hand.
“We’re here to get you back,” Tiger Lily said.
“But who said I wanted to go back? I never asked for anyone to take me back. Who told you that I wanted to go back? I’m not going back. I don’t care who sent you.”
“Your father is worried about you. You’ve been gone for a long time. We’re here to bring you back.”
“Again, who said I wanted to go back? I’m nearly where I need to be. It’ll take me another month to get back. I don’t need your help. Just go away.”
Sam stood next to Tiger Lily and Lin, and Girlfriend also stood there. Girlfriend took over the conversation.
“Your father needs to speak with you about what you’re doing. We can drive you back quickly in this car and you can return on your own after that if you need to, but he was pretty insistent.”
Clive’s brow furrowed and he looked off in the distance to where he was headed and shook his head.
“No. I’m not going. You can’t make me leave my research. I _need_ to find out why. Just leave me alone. Go back where you came from. Go! The dinosaurs are dying.” Clive turned around and headed back into his cabin.
Girlfriend looked up at Sam. He shrugged. “I guess we need to go get him and take him home by force.”
“Sam! We’re not going to do that.”
“Then what do you suggest we do? We came all this way, and he doesn’t want to go home, but his father wants his boy to come home. It seems that we’re at an impasse here. I’m in no condition. It’s up to the three of you to go over there and get him so we can take him back and get out of here before anything else goes wrong.”
“And just how do you propose we do that? How do we get over there? It’s not like there’s a catwalk to get there, and it’s too far to just jump over there.”
Sam looked back and forth along the length of the loader. Sure the platform was even enough with the roof of the car that they could just jump across, but if they missed, it was quite a drop down. The front loader still crawled forward at a painfully slow pace. Perhaps if they got in front of it…
“I have an idea. Girlfriend, pull forward and we can get close and Lin and Tiger Lily can jump across and into the bucket. It’ll be a safer jump.”
“And once over there?”
“I don’t have all the answers. We just need to get over there and grab him and get him back over here so we can all go home. I don’t care how it’s done.”
The pain from Sam’s leg and arm, for that matter his entire body, threatened to shut his body down. Just thinking hurt. He had to trust that Girlfriend would be able to follow through or come up with a better plan. He couldn’t keep his footing and sat down.
“Sam, are you alright?” Lin asked.
“I’ll be fine. Girlfriend, you need to steer the car around so Lin and Tiger Lily can jump into the bucket and stop the front loader and get Clive into the car.”
“What?” Lin and Tiger Lily said in unison. Girlfriend just frowned.
“It’s the only way. You two don’t know how to steer the car. We need to get him out of there. I doubt he has any weapons.”
“But you heard him,” Tiger Lily snapped. “He’s fine. He just wants to be left alone.”
“He’s not fine. Something is wrong. And look at the trail of devastation behind him. Myra might have been right that he is the reason the dinosaurs are dying off. Until we know for sure, we need to get him out of here. If I had the strength, I’d just jump across and get him, but I don’t So it’s up to the two of you to do it.”
The car and the front loader both idled along slowly. Perhaps one or two miles per hour, but they still continued forward. Further away from where they needed to be to return home. Sam didn’t want to be stuck here. He wanted to go home. He not only felt weak, he felt hot and sick. Unless he was mistaken, he needed to be in a hospital. But he wasn’t about to admit that to the girls. He needed to help them deal with this situation.
He took the time to scan the horizon. The sun gave everything a reddish hue as it continued to rise into the sky. They’d passed a few groups of trees but for the most part everything was wide open. The hadrosaurs still honked and howled along the path the car had come. Sam squinted his eyes and looked. At first he thought they were baying at the car, but they were facing the wrong direction. They were baying and barking along the path they’d taken at some small mound. A small mound that moved through the water!
“Lin, Tiger Lily, do you think you can jump across and get our friend?”
More than having them get Clive, Sam wanted them on the front loader. It was far bigger than the car and if anything happened, they’d be safe and out of the way.
Lin looked at the distance between the car and the platform and then down at the water below. “I think so. If we miss, it’s all water below. We can just swim to the ladder and climb back up.”
Sam tried to keep his eyes from the moving mass. It was still far enough away. They had time, but little of it. “Go ahead and jump over there. We need to get Clive and get home. I don’t know what his problem is, so be careful. Take him by surprise if you can. And please be careful.”
Lin jumped first. Tiger Lily slipped on the platform, but Lin was able to catch her and pull her on.
“Girlfriend, I need you to go down below and get the rifle. Please load it and bring it back to me.”
Sam didn’t say anything. Instead he kept his stare fixed on the moving mass. Girlfriend gasped and hurried down the ladder. She returned a moment later.
“Here!” Girlfriend handed him the gun and tried to catch her breath. “It’s already loaded.”
“No, I’m staying with you. If something happens, you’ll need me by your side.”
“Dammit, now isn’t the time to argue with me!”
“Fine, then give me the gun and you get inside. I’m not the one having trouble standing on my feet.”
She had a point, but he wasn’t going to let her take the risk of being up here alone. It was far enough away, that he could get at least two shots out. That should hurt it enough to make it go away. Maybe if he could catch it in the eye…
He raised the gun and took aim. Just having the butt of the gun in the crook of his shoulder hurt. Firing it might cause him enough pain that he’d black out, but he was going to take the first shot.
He pulled the trigger.
He lowered the weapon and cocked the bolt. No bullet entered the chamber.
“I thought you said it was loaded.”
Girlfriend didn’t hesitate, she scrambled down the ladder.
Now he’d be lucky to get one shot in and he’d have to make that one count. He looked up. The thing sort of swam-walked its way through the muck, like a gigantic alligator with extra long legs. It made steady progress. Frighteningly steady. Its head never wavered from its intended target. The head of the beast stayed looking straight forward. Straight at Sam. He kept his stare on the beast and waited. Sam Stood up.
“Bullets.” Girlfriend was even more out of breath now as she fumbled to open the box of bullets. She finally managed to open it and hand one to Sam. He chambered the round and raised the rifle.
One shot. That’s all he had. He leaned slightly forward so he wouldn’t lose his balance, took careful aim for the thing’s eye, and pulled the trigger.
His vision blackened for a moment and he lost sight of where he was, but he remained on his feet. A bellow of pain came from the beast, but he didn’t hear it rise out of the water. As his vision cleared, he could see it in the water, laying still and not moving. Blood trickled from a small hole just above its right eye.
Sam dropped the gun and allowed his shoulder to slacken.
“What the hell was that?” Lin yelled.
“Hurry up!” Girlfriend screamed.
Sam had never heard her voice sound so harried. He lowered his head and looked at the cracked solar panels beneath his feet. He felt much like they looked. Hell, he probably felt exactly like they looked.
“What the hell is that?” He heard Tiger Lily yell. Sam looked up and the mass that was the T. rex had disappeared. How much time had passed? Minutes? Seconds? It didn’t matter. His bullet had failed to do its job and therefore Sam had failed to do his job. Before he could lift his gaze, the massive head rose up the back of the car. Girlfriend screamed. Sam tried to remain still.
The back of the car sank into the mud drastically as it stood on the back of the car. Solar panels cracked under its incredible weight. Without a sound, it opened its mouth and lowered its head toward Girlfriend. Sam, standing next to her, did the only thing he could. He pushed her aside, causing her to topple off the car and into the muck below. He tried to shift to the side to keep from getting bitten in half. He got his body out of the way, but looked in horror as the jaws closed on his arm just below the elbow and cleanly severed it.
The pain was far too much for Sam to bear and yet again he found the prehistoric world fading into blackness as he fell down.