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Authors: Greg Bear

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction, #Adventure

Dinosaur Summer (25 page)

BOOK: Dinosaur Summer
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"Father!" he called. "OBie! Ray!"

No response. The wind subsided. A front of cloud settled over the plateau in billows and streamers. Cloud filled the alleys and passageways between the rocks. Peter looked up and saw the late afternoon sun surrounded by millions of water-drop sparkles; then the sun was shut out and a gray uniformity enveloped him. Water condensed on his clothes and soaked him through. He sneezed. He wiped his face and beaded hair with his fingers, then sucked on the wet fingers for moisture.

Finally, too exhausted to go on, unable to see more than a couple of feet ahead or behind, Peter stepped into a muddy pool and knelt to get a drink. He pushed aside grass and algae, hesitated, then thought of making a kind of grass filter to screen the larger pieces of muck. He sucked up the water through a mesh of grass blades and had his first good drink in hours.

Something wriggled in his cheek. Tonguing the wriggler to his lips, he plucked an insect larva from his mouth and flung it aside.

After a few minutes of rest, Peter began to twitch. He had to do something, keep searching at least until dark or he thought he would go crazy. He wondered what his mother would think, seeing him in this situation; he could hardly believe where he was himself. Too tired to be afraid, his body tingled at the obscene prospect of ending up in some animal's stomach.

Peter felt his way through the cloud by hand. He advanced a few dozen yards down a series of zigs and zags between boulders. His neck hair prickled. He sniffed a colder kind of air. Something was different. Something had changed. Up ahead, the dense cloud seemed to swirl.

He took a tentative step--

And his foot came down on nothingness. With a surprisedyawp, Peter tumbled out into space. He grabbed a tree branch and hung for a dizzying moment with one foot braced against rock and one hand slipping slowly along the bunched leaves of a slick green limb. The clouds cleared beneath his feet, showing him with nature's blind perversity just where he was: about a mile above the Gran Sabana, spreading far beneath his kicking foot like a lumpy carpet of bread mold.

Peter did not make a sound. He had to put all his energy into holding on. His grip tightened, yet his hand continued to slide. Clumps of torn leaves fell spinning and whirling past his head. He saw birds wheeling thousands of feet below and realized he must be on the western edge of the tip of the plateau. Had he made it to the eastern side, he would have encountered the overgrown roadway, not this cliff edge.

He brought up his free right hand and tried to grab the branch, but that only made his grip slip faster. His balance shifted, his foot skidded loose, and he whirled about, slamming into the rock with his chest and nose. In a starburst of pain Peter saw a brown creeper hugging the cliff face. He grabbed that with his free hand and prayed it would hold. His numb left hand slid to the thin tip of the branch and tore more leaves free as it slipped completely off.

His feet skipped down the rock and one boot's tip fetched up against a small ledge. Peter closed his eyes, certain he was going to sail out into space, but the creeper held. He dug both boot toes into the ledge. His eyes opened again and he scooted himself up a few inches, saw a crack in the rock, reached up and jammed his fingers into the crack, propped his toe against a knob, shimmied his hand up the creeper . . . Pulled with his left arm, causing more pain in his shoulder. And again . . .

Every muscle tense with the certainty he was about to lose his grip and fall, his fingers clawed against sandy rock, he pulled on the creeper, pulled and clawed, dug in the toe of his boot and hung, and minutes later he slung his leg over the edge and rolled away from the cliff face.

His heart hammered, but he did not care about being hungry or thirsty or about his bleeding hands and bruised face and knees and chest. He was alive and that was more than enough.

The cloud flowed aside for a moment and Peter saw the sun setting over distant tepuis, limning their silhouettes like the hulks of ancient ships carved from dirty ice. They appeared frozen in the golden light, floating in a rough dusky sea of jungle and plains.

He could not believe an entire day had passed. It seemed only a few minutes since he had scared off the dog-lizards.

His left shoulder throbbed. The ache grew as he watched the sunset until he cradled his arm and moaned. His father had jerked that arm hard, saving his life the day before. Peter had jerked it again falling over the edge. Now the abused limb was taking the opportunity to complain. The sweetness of simply being alive passed too quickly. In a few minutes, as dark closed and cloud damply blanketed everything once more, Peter felt himself wrapped in fire. He crawled into a narrow space between two rocks, made sure it was empty of vermin--scaring away a large brown spider with a mouse in its mandibles--and curled up. Body throbbing, forehead hot as a furnace, he closed his eyes. He envied the spider. At least it knew where it was and had food. He should have fought it for the mouse.

Half delirious, he dreamed of challenging spiders and scorpions with a stick and a rock. Finally, he ran into a nest of wasps shaped like a huge flower, and a delicate, buzzing voice invited him into the nest for nectar and roast tapir.Wachedi, the buzzing voice said.

He jerked himself awake before the queen wasp could sink her sting into his shoulder. It was so dark he could not tell he had his eyes open.

He called out weakly for his father, then fell back into troubled sleep. This time he dreamed of maggots burrowing in the Earth. He was one of them. It was so comforting to be surrounded by his fellows, so soothing not to be completely alone.

Chapter Three

Peter heard a voice. "You are lost, Peter Belzoni! I walked almost to the jungle, past the swamp, but I hear all these noises. So I come back."

Peter sat up and rubbed sleep from his eyes. Someone had a hand on his shoulder and the shoulder burned. He shrugged the hand away and moaned.

Billie squatted in front of him, brown face sympathetic, rich black eyes watching him intently. He wore a woven reed vest tied with pieces of cloth, muddy torn pants, and a hat plaited from palm leaves. His machete stuck out of his belt to one side.

"Real glad to see you," Peter croaked. "I'm a stupid gringo white kid . . . I'll die out here."

"I see where you scared away the dog hunters. You did that right. But you can't find food here, that's sure."

"Have you found my father and the others?"

Billie shrugged. "Footprints, but not as clear as yours. So I find you and wait to go after them. There are three--but who?"

"OBie, my father, Ray. We came across . . ."

Peter coughed and Billie offered him a cupped leaf filled with water. He drank it greedily. Billie pasted the leaf with a piece of gummy sap up against a rivulet snaking down the rock and it filled quickly. He gave it to Peter again to drink. Billie

"I saw the bridge is gone, and the cages broken," Billie said. "And the old devil. He knows he should be over here to help challenge me. Why did you come?"

"To get pictures. Just to stand here."

Billie thought for a while, then wrinkled his forehead and looked at Peter. "Did you have a jaguar dream?"

"No," Peter said. "Wasps."

Billie whistled. "Not good. What else?"

"I became a maggot," Peter said.

Billie raised his eyebrows. "Better. In meat?"

"In the Earth," Peter said.

"I think such a dream may be good enough to make up for the wasps. White people have different dreams. It is the way your mind is made, out of radios and newspapers since you were born. Maggots . . . that is good. Big, juicy maggots?"

"Big as people," Peter said.

Billie smacked his lips and shifted from one leg to another. "I could eat some right now. Roast them in a fire."

Peter's stomach, empty as it was, did not appreciate this.

"Did you see anybody on the other side, on Pico Poco?" he asked, pushing himself up against the rock. The leaf had filled again and Billie passed it to him.

Billie said, "There is nobody there, not even the soldiers. But I hear noises down below. And trucks. They will bring big guns. Only white men would shoot the Challenger."

"Dagger, you mean."

"Yes. That is what they will try to do. I do not know what it will mean to kill the Challenger with guns. No one of any people or any of the families has ever killed the Challenger."

"Why did you run away?" Peter asked. "To become a hero?"

Billie swung his arms out like wings, fingers spread. "It is what I have dreamed of," he said. "I feel my father's spirit here. This is where thewiriki comes from, that flows down the rivers, and that my ancestors traded for iron with theFanuru. It is Kahu Hidi, the Heaven Mountain of the gods." Billie looked up and squinted, though the sky was not bright. "My father found a door into Odosha's country," he said, "where the dead go, other side the Nona, the Moon. It does him honor if I find the door, too."

"I don't understand," Peter said. Billie's whole manner had changed, even his way of speaking. His voice now was lower-pitched and husky, with a different accent. He would not look Peter directly in the eye. His perpetual light smile was gone, too, replaced by a neutral mask. "This isn't like you at all . . . the way you were on the boats, before we got here." "This is me when I am in Kahu Hidi. You are lucky to be here, but you are not ready, I see. You do not know what to eat or where to drink."

"I'm very hungry," Peter admitted.

"There are things you can eat and stay who you are. Eat some things only if you want to see Kahu Hidi the way it thinks it is. I will show you those, even though you are white, because you probably want to avoid them."

"Okay," Peter said.

Billie rested his hands on his knees. "We should find your father and the others so you can be together."

"Yes," Peter said.

"I can't stay with you long. I have important jobs." He looked around Peter and patted his pants legs, concerned. "You have no machete."

Peter searched his pocket. The folding knife was gone. It must have fallen out while he dangled from the cliff. He didn't even think to use it on the dog-lizards. Suddenly, he felt very weak and incompetent and ashamed.

"Funny," Billie said. "I am glad to find you. Being in Kahu Hidi alone isn't easy."

He stood and pointed their way. Peter got to his feet slowly and went after him. They followed a seemingly endless series of curved fissures and turned dozens of corners, until Peter had no idea which side of his body was facing east or west, north or south. At one point, Billie paused over a muddy stretch and pointed out fresh prints. Peter bent to examine them: boots, too big to be his own.

"They are past the swamp by now, maybe into the forest. All this is Kahu Hidi's lips and tongue." Billie puckered his own lips and stuck out his tongue. "They do not know where they are going. They should wait for your people and theFanuru. "

"Who are theFanuru? " Peter asked.

"The Spanish in the cities," Billie said. "The Army. The Army is evilFanuru. They do not know why to kill."

"The dog-lizards didn't get them--my father? Ray and OBie?"

Billie made a quick face of disdain. "These are little lizards,makako. They scare you, but if you are brave, you chase them away. They are nothing like the Challenger."

Peter felt relief. "But the Challenger--Dagger--is across the chasm."

"There is Challenger wherever you go in Kahu Hidi," Billie said. He walked on and added over his shoulder, "He is a good friend of Odosha. Some say he is Odosha's brother."

A half hour later, the sun came out and they stood on the margin of a wet, dreary bog filled with the gray moss-hung skeletons of dead trees. Billie squatted by the rocks for a few minutes, tossing pebbles into a finger of still, murky water. "The three others went around, I think," he said. "This is where a really big lizard lives, like the crocodiles in the river, but bigger than the barges are long. I saw her yesterday, covered with her young. She was not happy, so I did not say hello." He flashed a smile at Peter, then returned to his neutral mask. "She is not of the Challenger, but strong enough, I guess." "Why are they going to the forest?" Peter asked, a tightness in his chest.

"I don't know," Billie said. "To get away from themakako, the dog-lizards, maybe."

"Maybe they know where a landing field is. That's it. OBie knows where Jimmie Angel cracked up, and they're going there." His eyes brightened and his head felt hot and he almost forgot his hunger. He thought of the roustabout waving his arms, as if signaling an airplane was coming. "They know a plane is going to land and pick us up."

Billie said nothing.

"Let's find them."

"I try to show you where they are, and then I go," Billie said.

"I'm grateful," Peter said.

"It is what my father would do."

They walked around the swamp, staying close to the rocky mounds. Peter heard something big thrashing among the dead trees, and a cloud of black and white birds with long pink legs ascended, blotting out the sun. He realized he did not know the name of anything and he was too ashamed to ask Billie. Billie behaved as if he had been born here, but maybe that was just his own kind of bravado.

The swamp was beginning to harbor a few living trees on grassy islands. Peter got his bearings from the sun and realized they were walking north, to the broad bowl-shaped depression and the forest.

"You're sure the others are going this way?" Peter asked Billie.

Billie, five yards ahead, stood on a low lump of sandstone surrounded by brilliant green marsh grass. He shrugged. "They leave little things behind, broken twigs, footprints. I suppose it is them. Who else?"

Peter felt his chest tighten even more. He did not want them to go this way, even if OBie did know where a landing site might be; he wanted to go back and stand by the chasm. Billie waited for him to catch up, then confided, "This Kahu Hidi, it is like a big body, and when it swallows you, you are pressed into the belly. No going back up to the lips."

"Oh," Peter said. He began to feel despondent again. This wasn't adventure; it was horrible.

BOOK: Dinosaur Summer
6.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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