Authors: David Lubar
“Spinosaurus,” I said. The name wasn't as cool as
but the spinosaurus was bigger, and its head would look awesome in my game room.
“Very good.” Mr. Fuller smiled and nodded, like the waiters do at the fancy restaurants Dad takes me to when he's celebrating a business victory. “Let's get you trained and outfitted.”
“Trained?” I asked.
“You will be using an extremely high-powered weapon,” he said. “It's been engineered to reduce recoil as much as possible, but it's still best to get the feel of it before starting your adventure.”
“I'm an expert,” I said. One of Dad's businesses sells weapons. He's let me try out most of them. I could handle whatever they gave me. I've even fired a rocket launcher.
“Very well.” Mr. Fuller pressed a button on his desk. A guy dressed in safari clothes came in through a side door. He looked tough enough to fight a rhino bare-handed.
Mr. Fuller introduced us. “This is Darrin Claymore. He's our top guide. We reserve him for only our most important and valued clients. He'll take good care of you.”
Darrin held out his hand. We shook. His grip was so solid, I felt like I'd wedged my hand between two rocks. “It will be the experience of a lifetime, lad,” he said.
I normally don't like being called things like
But the way Darrin said it, the word sounded right.
I followed him to a private room that contained an assortment of outfits for me to choose from. “The environment will be wet and hot,” Darrin said. “The Cretaceous is pretty much a swampfest.”
“Mosquitos?” I asked.
“As big as your head.” He tapped a holster at his belt. “I'll handle them.”
I selected lightweight but strong clothing that would protect me from scratches and bites, but not get too hot. After that, Darrin took me to the armory.
“This is the only one that will stop the biggest brutes,” he said, handing me a rifle with a muzzle that was at least three inches wide. I couldn't even guess the caliber, but it had to be enormous. I could see a variety of mechanisms, including springs and counterweights, along the barrel, and a small canister of compressed CO
right in front of the trigger. I guess that was the stuff that suppressed the recoil.
Darrin showed me where the safety was and how to load a round into the chamber. Then he picked up a bandoleer with extra ammo. Each bullet was about the size of a bowling pin.
“Are you sure you don't want to try it out on the range?” he asked. “The kick is pretty impressive.”
“I know what I'm doing,” I said.
“Good enough, lad. I can see you're a man of action. So am I. Let's do it.”
I followed him down the hall to the other end of the building. The huge room we entered was filled with the sort of electronic equipment you'd see for controlling a space launch.
“This way.” Darrin climbed the three steps that led to a platform in the middle of the room. There were two padded chairs on it.
“Take a seat. You'll feel a bit dizzy for a moment,” he said.
I sat. So did Darrin.
The room grew brighter. I felt as if I were sliding headfirst down a steep hill. Everything around me stretched out, like the universe was made of taffy. Then it all shot back into place.
I wasn't in the room anymore. The cool air of the lab had been replaced with steam. I was surrounded by giant plants in a damp, hot forest. I blinked and tried to adjust to the sudden change. Even though the air was steamy, the sunlight was bright enough to make me squint at first.
Darrin held up a device with a screen in front and a large antenna on top. “Tracker,” he said. “It picks up all life forms larger than two tons.”
That would include the spinosaurus. It weighed twenty tons. I could see various blips on the screen. I pointed at the biggest dot. “Is that one?”
Darrin shook his head. “Too small. But we're in the right region. Come onâlet's take a hike.”
I followed him, sticking to the path he wove through the towering plants. Fairly soon, we saw a large herbivore grazing in a clearing. “Want something easy?” Darrin asked. “You can bag this monster and be home in time for lunch.”
We pushed on. It was hard moving through the jungle, but I was in great shape. Last year, Dad bought me a membership in the best gym in town, and my trainer made sure I got a good workout. After about two hours, Darrin stopped in his tracks and tapped the screen.
“Thar she blows,” he said.
“Huh?” I had no idea what he was talking about.
“I found one. Big one. Biggest I've ever seen. What a trophy this is going to be, lad. We'll both be bragging about this beauty for years. Come on, it's just across that ridge.”
I could feel my blood pumping through my veins in anticipation of the kill as I followed Darrin up a steep slope. We had to work our way around several gaping pits and past two thick stands of dense plant growth.
When we crested the ridge, I gasped. The spinosaurus was even larger than I could have imagined. It was like a bulldozer had grown spines and come to life. Not like a regular earth mover you'd see on a construction site, but one of the gigantic ones you see at the bottom of mines and quarries.
“Wowâ¦” I let the word drift from my mouth.
“Yeah, wow,” Darrin said. “What a beauty. Ready to kill it?”
A spark of doubt crossed my mind as I heard his bluntly phrased words, but it was drowned by the idea of blowing the spinosaurus away with one perfectly placed shot. “Yeah. I'm ready.” I raised the rifle.
“Hold on,” Darrin said, putting a hand on my arm. “It's too far away. Besidesâit's more fun to shoot them when they're charging straight at you. There's no feeling like it.”
“How do we get it to charge?” I asked.
do,” he said. “That's why they pay me such a generous salary. Wait here.”
He headed down the ridge until he was about fifty yards from the dinosaur. Then he shouted and waved his hands. I wondered whether something so big would even notice something so relatively small. But I guess you don't get to be that big a carnivore without paying attention to every opportunity for a meal.
The spinosaurus charged toward Darrin, who ran toward me. The earth vibrated beneath my feet like a massive coal train was passing by. I raised the rifle, sighted on the dinosaur through the scope, and waited for the ping that would tell me my target was within range. The stock and barrel were heavy, but I managed to keep them level.
I fired at the dinosaur's chest.
“Ahhhh!” The scream shot from me as I got slammed in my own chest with the recoil.
The kick knocked me right off my feet and sent me tumbling backward. The spinosaurus was still charging. I fell hard and kept rolling. I caught a blurry view of Darrin, halfway down the hill, leaping to the side and whipping around his own rifle as the spinosaurus thundered past him.
I felt the hill drop out from under me. I'd rolled into one of the pits. I slammed down to the bottom. Overhead, the sun was blotted out as the spinosaurus reached the edge of the pit. It stood there, looking down at me like I was lunch. From this angle, it seemed impossibly tall. Then, the head moved lower and the jaws opened.
The pit was narrow at the bottom. Probably too narrow for the head to fit. But I wasn't taking any chances. Ignoring the pain of the recoil, I fired three more shots, aiming below the head, where the heart had to be, emptying the chamber.
I could tell from its eyes that I had killed it. But it was too stupid to know it was dead yet. In a moment, the brain and body would agree that life had come to an end, and I'd have my trophy.
“Got you!” I shouted. I'd never felt my heart beating with such stunning force. Darrin was right. There was no thrill like shooting a charging beast. I loaded another round into the chamber and shot it again, just for fun. I wanted to get my money's worth. OkayâDad's money. But this was my adventure. This was my greatest moment.
The spinosaurus fell forward. It dropped right over the opening of the pit, sealing me in darkness.
My heart and body leaped from excitement to panic. I was trapped! For a moment, I lost control of my breathing. Then I reminded myself that Darrin would dig me out. Worst case, he'd go back for heavy equipment. They needed it to bring home the dinosaur trophy, anyhow. One way or another, all I had to do was wait to be rescued. The spinosaurus was no longer a threat. The pit was too narrow for it to fall in and crush me.
“Sit tight,” I said out loud. “You just blew away a dinosaur.”
To prove I was still in control, I fired another shot straight up at it.
Something splashed on my head.
I felt a warm, sticky liquid on my face. More of it flooded down around me.
It was filling the pit.
I dropped the rifle and scrambled for the side of the pit. It was slick with blood. I tried to climb, but I fell back.
The blood rose to my knees, then to my waist. I listened for any sound of rescue, but all I heard was a gushing torrent, like someone emptying a large bucket. An endless bucket.
Soon, the pool of blood reached my chest. I floated up until I bumped against the body of the dinosaur.
Too soon, the blood reached my neck, and then my chin.
I'd killed a dinosaur.
And now, it was killing me.
There once was a
duck who sat on a nest near the edge of a small pond, tending her eggs and dreaming of the days when the hatchlings would follow her as she swam across the calm surface of the water. Finally, after what seemed like forever, one of the eggs started to wiggle and shake.
“It's time,” she quacked.
One by one, the eggs hatched, revealing little fluff balls of cuteness.
“Aren't they lovely?” she asked.
“Indeed they are,” said a passing robin.
Soon, there were six little ducklings drying their feathers in the afternoon sunlight. But a seventh egg didn't hatch. The mother watched it, fearing it might never open. The thought cast a shadow on this joyful day.
But, just after the sun set and darkness gripped the pond, the seventh egg shook as the shell was pecked at from within. Eventually, the seventh duckling emerged.
Even in the dim light of the moon, the duck and the other ducklings could see the new hatchling well enough to know that this one was different.
“Not pretty,” the mother said.
“Worse than that,” said duckling number one. “Look at those ugly feathers.”
“Too ugly to be a duckling,” said number two. “And what a strange shade of yellow.”
“Right!” said number three. “That's not a duckling. It's an uckling.”
“A duggly uckling,” said number four. “With a big, fat bill.”
Number five and number six were too busy gagging to add their comments.
As for the duggly uckling, she stood there, sad and lonely, wondering why her welcome into the world had been so harsh and cruel. In the morning, she waddled away.
The next day, as the uckling searched for somewhere to call home, she met a rabbit.
“What are you?” the rabbit asked.
“A duckling,” the uckling said.
“Too ugly,” the rabbit said.
The uckling didn't answer. But her heart grew heavier.
Next, she met a frog, who said, “You're so ugly, you make me want to croak.”
That was followed by a deer, a swallow, a turtle, a turkey, and a dozen other animals, all of whom agreed that the uckling was ugly.
The uckling traveled farther and farther from the pond, in search of someone who would appreciate her. Finally, after more than a year had passed, and the uckling had grown much bigger, she met a warthog.
“I know,” the uckling said. “I'm ugly.”
“Not at all,” the warthog said. “I know all about ugly, and you don't qualify.”
“But ducklings don't look like me,” she said. “And all the animals say I'm ugly.”
“Of course ducklings don't look like you,” the warthog said. “You're not a duckling. You're a dragon.”
“Dragon?” the uckling asked.
“Absolutely. A beautiful, yellow-green dragon, with shiny scales and a marvelous snout.”
“Are you sure?” the uckling asked.
“Try breathing fire,” the warthog said. “Wait! Turn your head first.”
The uckling turned her head and blew a puff of fire. “I didn't know I could do that,” she said.
“Now try flying,” the warthog said.
The uckling sprouted her amazing wings and gave a flap. She rose into the air. Then she flew off.
“Where are you going?” the warthog asked. “I like you. You can stay here.”
But the uckling had flown out of sight.
Happily, she returned a while later, clutching something in her claws.
“What's that?” the warthog asked.
“A present,” the uckling said. “I hope you like crispy roast duck.”
“Love it,” the warthog said.
And so the ugly warthog and the beautiful dragon had their first of many wonderful meals together. And they lived happily, and deliciously, ever after.
love old books.
My friends think I'm weird. They love clothing, jewelry, and the latest gadget. But books are my treasures. That's why I walk all over town every year during the community-wide garage sale. I didn't have much luck finding anything good this year until I was all the way on the other side of town. That's when I saw a stack of books on the corner of one of the half-dozen tables in the driveway of an old house on Sycamore Street. I picked up the top book from the stack and ran my fingers over its flaking leather cover.