TIME SPIKE – snippet 16:
A second later, Jerry was back, waving for them to follow him.
The three of them moved quick and quiet.
“There’s a corpse at the edge of the river, and I don’t think it’s very old,” Bailey said, as soon as they were close enough for him to be heard without shouting. “The guy was killed by humans, but his body’s been chewed up pretty bad by a scavenger of some sort. And by the looks of the blood trail, there could be others. Human and scavenger.”
“Damn,” Hulbert hissed. “Okay, we need to be careful, here. If there are people, we need to find them.”
When they reached the corpse, he knelt down to inspect it. “This guy was stabbed, with some sort of big knife. It’s not a wound caused by any sort of animal, that’s obvious. Okay.” He straightened up. “I guess it’s no longer an ‘if.’ We are not alone, and someone had to have done this.”
He glanced at the two men with him and then at the small brunette. “Remember, we don’t know who the bad guy is.” He waved at the corpse. “It could be him. He might have been killed by someone trying to defend himself. Or, he could have been a victim. He could have been robbed and then murdered. Hell, he could have been killed for the fun of it. We know that happens way too often. But it doesn’t matter. He’s dead and someone did it.”
Hulbert checked their ammo. They had enough. But the body armor was back at the prison. You didn’t need it when you were after anything but man. He considered going back to the prison for reinforcements and the proper gear but changed his mind. There were more than human prints in the mud and dirt. The animal tracking the people wouldn’t wait until he got back.
“Marie, haul the meat this way, then wait here. Stay out of sight, and don’t make any noise. We’ll check it out.”
The raptor—a large female weighting over a thousand pounds—stopped. The male that had joined her several days before also stopped. The two of them were inside the thick brush of tree ferns not far from the herd they had been tracking for the last half hour; their brown-red skin blended in with the brown-red of the dried ferns.
The large female sniffed the air.
The two of them stared at the lone iguanodon. The big plant-eater had been placidly feeding on the tender shoots of seedlings growing close to the rapidly flowing stream. While he grazed, his herd had moved downstream. He was young, not full-grown, and careless.
A female iguanodon bawled to her calf.
The three-year-old bull heard her and lifted his head. He looked around. He rose on his stocky hind legs and took a half dozen steps toward his herd. His nostrils flared. The cows were starting to bunch up, herding the yearling calves into their center.
The three men lay hunkered down in the dried fern, watching and listening, afraid to breath.
The two predators—they reminded Rod of raptors, except they were reptiles and not birds—moved from the edge of the fern trees toward the herd of huge vegetarian reptiles. The cows screeched a warning. Two adult bulls bellowed as the raptors raced past them, hunting the calf furthest from the herd. Their claws, three on each foot and one of them huge, cut through the calf’s upper skin layers and gashed the muscle and nerve layers below.
The calf, startled and bleeding, tried to run.
The raptors pressed the attack.
One moved to the creature’s left; the other worked its way to the right. Their claws sliced the prey’s flesh, leaving behind long slashes that were inches deep. Over and over, they struck at the beast. Warm, red blood flowed from the gaping wounds. Rod understood the logic of their hunting tactics, although it was not what you’d see from most predators he was familiar with. They weren’t going for a neck-crunching death bite. They were deliberately bleeding out their prey.
The calf lunged awkwardly at the tormentors. They jumped back, and then pressed forward, hissing and screeching.
The attack continued. Back and forth, over and over, the instincts and coordinated moves of the pack-hunter allowed the raptors to keep the adults of the iguanodon herd at bay without slowing the attack on the calf.
They lunged toward their prey—rip, twist, turn—and then ran at the herd—force the creatures back—and then returned to the attack on the calf.
More and more muscles and nerves were severed. More and more blood flowed. Blow by blow, the two raptors worked together, weakening the beast. It didn’t take long for the great creature to fall to the ground, bleeding and dying. After it collapsed, the herd moved away and the raptors began tearing the flesh from the calf, consuming the meat while the pitiful creature was still alive.
Rod pulled his cell phone from his pocket.
“What are you doing? Those things don’t work,” Brian Carmichael whispered. “There’s no satellites, no calling 9-1-1.”
“Pictures,” Hulbert hissed back, aiming and clicking his camera phone. “We’ve got to warn everyone, and I don’t even know what to call the damn things.”
“I do,” Jerry Bailey said. “They’re Spielberg’s monsters. Velociraptors.”
Marie Keehn sat impatiently, waiting for Hulbert, Carmichael and Bailey to return. It had taken her over forty minutes to haul the four bundles of meat to the river’s edge, and another ten minutes to scout the area. Now, three hours after sitting down on a fallen log, she was definitely getting spooked. She kept hearing something, over and over. It wasn’t loud, and it wasn’t continuous. It was just a soft sound that she felt she should recognize, but couldn’t.
Then the sound changed. It grew a little louder. It was a moan.
She circled the area. Back and forth, holding her breath, hoping to hear it again.
There it was. Soft. From…
She turned around, scanning the area. Yes. Behind the brush. She approached the area slowly and carefully. Behind the greenery was an opening. A cave. And inside the entrance, a… man, yes.
Bloodied. Broken. But alive.
She used her steel, prison-issued whistle to let the others know she had found something; then, squatted to get a better look. The man’s chest rose and fell. His face was swollen and misshaped. This was not an injury from a fall; his hands were tied behind his back. The man had been beaten. He had also been shot.
She could hear the guys coming and gave the whistle she wore around her neck a small puff, creating just enough sound to allow them to locate her. She didn’t want to move the man without help. He didn’t appear to be in imminent danger from his surroundings. And his injuries were extensive enough she could complicate them if she tried to move him into the sunlight. She leaned closer, trying to get a better look at him.
The breeze momentarily changed direction. The hair on the back of her neck stood up, and her heart raced. She could smell wet fur.
“Marie!” Bailey yelled. “Don’t move!”
She froze, scanning as much of the area as she could without turning her head. Her rifle was on the ground. Her knife was on her belt.
From somewhere to her left she felt, more than saw, movement. Hulbert was now in front of her. He was on one knee, his shotgun raised. One second after that her ears rang from a loud boom.
A big catlike thing lay on the ground less than two yards from her. Its head was the size of a bear. The body was stockier than that of any cat species she’d ever seen, but it was definitely some kind of cat. Its canines were enormous.
“Shit.” She stood up and looked at the giant “kitty” Hulbert had taken down with one shot. A head shot, right in the left eye. The kind of shot that only an expert marksman could pull off—and probably the only kind of shot that could have saved her.
“Thanks.” She blushed and picked up her gun. That was really stupid. She knew better than that. Her father and her brothers had taught her the rules long before the prison preached them to her. You had to know what was going on around you. Know your environment. Don’t get sidetracked. Be aware and be alert.
“I appreciate the help.” She gave Hulbert an apologetic grin and then nodded toward the cave’s interior. “I guess I was messing with its dinner.” She pointed toward the man lying just inside the opening to the small cave.