Jurassic Valley: Ex-Stinked
“Tyrannosaur!” declared George, with excitement, pomp and dignity, all of which defied rebuttal.
“Tyrannosaur, my eye!”, scoffed a gruff voice from behind him.
The interruption shattered the newlywed’s fixation on the Jacuzzi-sized cleft some dinosaur or another had left through the middle of the campsite overnight. He whipped around, indignant, a creased bridal blouse fanning out like a funfair ride’s roof about him.
George’s searing glare should have decapitated Ledley, one of the two guides on his honeymoon-come-bucketlist trip. It would have, if the low sun and an askew tent peg hadn’t formed an allegiance, conspiring to almost topple Ledley as he meandered towards the groom and the fresh paw print.
“Ah, Ledley,” George said, trying to rein in his spite, false disinterest underpinning his tone to augment valour before his new bride.
Getting in first, George had seen his new bride’s silhouette rustling towards their tent flap. Even Amelia’s outline was emanating an aura of disdain.
I mean, who spends their wedding night beneath canvas? What woman wouldn’t be livid after realising there was no source of electricity for who-knew how many miles?
George turned back to Ledley and jibed, “Good to see you up before the sun’s tickled the yard arm.
“Struggling to see dinosaurs through the bottom of that Jameson bottle? Some guide you are; look at it!” he almost girl-screamed, pointing at the huge print embedded in the earth outside the marital tent.
Ledley turned his palms to the ground, bouncing them in mime for hush.
“Even if I was under the influence, old boy,” Ledley replied in a whisper, “I’d wager that’s not Tyrannosaur track. Take a sniff; can’t you smell it?” the guide mocked, nodding and sniffing at the gigantic footprint.
“Besides, it’s way too big. That’s probably…”. Ledley didn’t get chance to explain; he and the groom saw what was coming and cried “Stop!” in unison…
…but too late.
Amelia, all wrapped in sleeping bag and little else, toppled forward into the mini crater. George dashed over to help his new wife; she beat him away.
Then George smelled it, instinctive disgust wrinkling his nose.
Amelia gagged and, it seemed, u-turned on her new husband’s offer of help. She wiggled to the side of the hole with her eyes closed, waving frantic arms in George’s direction.
From where Ledley stood, their hands seemed magnetised, but with opposing poles. Amelia’s arms went one way, her husbands the other, as if orchestrated by an invisible whirlpool current in mid air.
“…get the fire going, shall I?” Ledley smiled, shaking his head as he meandered to the middle of their outdoor digs.
Amelia looked at George, desperate for any sign of reassurance as their hands connected at last. He pulled her up, out of the paw print, she shedding her sleeping bag like a snakeskin.
He tried to grab the sleeping bag and use it to cover her modesty. He failed.
“George, you put that stinking thing anywhere near this tent and I’ll suffocate you with it myself!”, she spat.
He threw the sleeping bag into the hole as his wife’s bare behind disappeared back through the flap from whence it had seconds ago came.
Ledley looked at George in silent disbelief. Boy, I’m about to do you the biggest favour you’ll ever get, he thought. He took the meat that Barny, yet to surface, had caught during the night and impaled one of the birds onto a spit.
George himself had turned to look along the valley floor and its many, many miles. He did so until his eyes glazed over. What a sight: unchanged for millennia, as prehistoric as the swansong of reptilian domination as you could get.
Yep. One day, he and Amelia would look back at this honeymoon in awe. They will laugh at her indignant incident with a dinosaur footprint, too. He hoped.
“What is that awful niff, Old Bean?” a new voice piped up, some minutes later.
“Are you inferring my breakfast may be below par, dear boy?” Ledley asked, smiling from ear to ear as he looked up at Barny from over the Dixie can.
“No, I’m sure your Anchiornis huxleyi are quite adequate…oh, I say. Is that a snifter I spy in your pocket, bean?”
Barnaby, Barny for short, was Ledley’s fellow tour guide. He smiled back and took a long draught from Ledley’s hip flask before nodding at the spit-roasting dinosaur.
“You’d be as well to tell her that’s poussin, bean,” Barny suggested.
The makeshift maître de acquiesced, tapping his nose with a wink and a smile before retrieving his hip-flask. He’d made the mistake of leaving Barny with the Jameson once too often. Couldn’t risk that today, oh no.
Barny had failed at modern life and was, even now, remarkably useless. That was except his ability to endear himself to animals, in this case ones that should have died out 160 million years ago.
Orange-salmon sunrise — the colour of those old Refresher chewy sweets — flashed off the polished silver flask before it disappeared back inside Ledley’s khakis.
The Irish whiskey dispelled the dew from Barny’s joints, yet didn’t stop them popping as he haunched closer to the fire.
“What are the happy couple up to?” he whispered.
“Not the foggiest,” answered Ledley, in a less confidential manner, “and I don’t think they have, either.”
The newlyweds were about to bring their two tour guides up to speed, Amelia first dibs.
“We could have gone to Barbados, but oh, no. ‘Let’s go dinosaur-tracking,’ you said. ‘It’ll be fun’, you said…” Amelia whined, as she clambered out of the tent’s tiny flap ass-first, the same way she’d entered it a few minutes earlier.
“And what on Earth is that? My god, it reeks!” she demanded, pointing at the browning stain on their canvas, pinching her twee nose.
“Dinosaur musk, dear”, Barny interjected from aside the campfire.
It didn’t appease Amelia, but George appeared glad to have been rescued.
The amount he’d paid for this honeymoon, or rather, the way it was unfolding, bred in George a contempt for the guides. But he noted their contribution nonetheless, nodding before continuing to evacuate their ‘honeymoon suite’.
Within minutes, the inside of the tent lay sprawled across the lush, ferned green carpet of the campsite.
“Pah!” Amelia snorted, as she ferreted through their belongings. “Dinosaurs. What rot!?”
“And what, pray, do you think made this?” Barny asked, walking over to perch his boot on the lip of the paw print shaped indent outside the couple’s tent.
Again, the bride looked to her husband for an answer, but got none. George seemed more interested in the waft of roasted dinosaur-bird snaking across from Ledley’s barbeque.
He shrugged, and turned to his own quandary: how to fit their array of belongings into their rucksacks, yet keep them a safe distance from the ‘musked’ sleeping bag. The answer was not forthright in showing itself.
Barny turned, picked up a leg of ‘poussin’ and said to his fellow guide, “Ledley, old bean. I’m off to organise the…you know what….” He winked and disappeared into the undergrowth at the valley’s side.
The fronds closed behind him; it was as if he’d never been there.
Ledley looked disappointed. Was it that time, already? They’d been having such fun. But this boy needed putting out of his misery.
“Mm, nice chicken,” George complimented, as he wiped grease from the side of his mouth with the back of his hand. Amelia tutted, then habitually did the same. “What else is on today’s menu?” he asked the guide.
Ledley smiled to himself, then said, “Barny has a surprise for you.
“We’ll head along this trail, up toward the volcano. It’s a long trot, but it will fly by. I’ve got room in my rucksack if you want me to carry anything heavy.”
George nodded his gratitude from behind his third leg of meat.
Amelia was surprised at how much effort the guides had put into breakfast. She’d finished her second and was considering thirds. This poussin was to die for, and the most moist she’d ever tasted.
Ledley spoke next to Amelia direct: “Let’s put this extinction theory of yours to the test, shall we, Amelia? Then, we can…well; let’s not spoil Barny’s surprise, eh?”
Amelia looked along the valley, the same vista that had taken George’s breath before breakfast. They had that in common, at least.
Evergreens regimented the steep hillsides either side, deep, impenetrable and full of secrets.
Far ahead lay the expedition’s destination: the bubbling volcano. It belched sulphur, rocks and ash up to an impossible height beneath its umbrella of smog.
“Don’t worry,” Ledley assured her, seeing the look of trepidation on her face. “You won’t have to travel that far, honest.” Amelia remained unconvinced.
The three remaining explorers tidied up breakfast before packing the campsite away. Ledley doused the fire, then kicked the embers into the reptilian footprint.
One for the road
As expected, the honeymoon couple handed Ledley their heavier gear — laptops, tablets (why when there was no signal, as advertised: d’uh!?) and video and camera equipment — to carry.
“Excuse me just one second? Call of nature, won’t be a jiffy,” the guide explained. He disappeared into the thicket that spread itself between the trees to shore the valley wall.
His disappearing act was like magic, or a game show. The fronds opened like heavy curtains to welcome you, then closed with a swoosh as if they’d swallowed you whole. George was in awe of it, mesmerised.
By now, Amelia was approaching hysterical. Why hadn’t she listened to her mother and married Mark the banker instead of this dreamer?
Two minutes passed, no Ledley. Amelia began to show her vexation.
After five, George himself was getting unnerved. He wanted to walk over to where Ledley had disappeared to see where the guide had got to…but that evergreen forest? It was menacing!
On ten minutes, Amelia stomped, “Where the hell is he? Ledley, you son-of-a-bitch. Where are you with our kit? Get out here right now and don’t bother wiping your…”
“…do you want me to have to go looking for him in that lot?” George asked, grabbing his wife’s elbow while nodding at the copse.
George thought his sentiment gallant, that it would calm his new wife down. It didn’t.
He thought she’d say ‘No’, but her fierce glance — with thoughts of Mark the banker fuelling it — shot down that hope.
“Oh, you do?” George conceded.
With a deep breath (and a silent prayer) he set off into the bushes that had swallowed Ledley only minutes before.
Seconds later, Amelia heard twigs cracking, leaves and branches rustling and the screech of birds — by coincidence, Anchiornis huxleyi — who were trying to power flap their prehistoric feathers airborne.
The sound set her teeth on edge, but flushed her with relief that she was not alone.
Thank God, she thought, and was about to reprimand them both…
…when she sensed something behind her. The breath of a monster that had eaten a thousand rotted corpses was snorting down, either side of her shoulders.
She froze. Even if rigor hadn’t seized her, she did not want to face whatever it was making that awful stench…
…but, the rope of morbid fascination loosened from around her neck, relaxing her muscles and tugged her chin all the way around.
What confronted her was gross, it was madness: it just could not BE.
Rows of yellowing, blood-stained jagged teeth formed a solid stalactite/stalagmite wall. The reptile’s breath burst from its nostrils, drying her disbelieving eyes.
Dangling from one two-foot long tooth was the shredded remains of the musk-scented tent. That tent, their honeymoon suite, had lain trussed to her husband’s rucksack not minutes hence.
It wasn’t until her bladder broke, bodily fluids joining the already potent chemical mixture of blood and dinosaur musk, that she screamed.
The dinosaur’s triumphant, scaling roar drowned her out. It bent over her, teeth teasing shut around her neck.
Amelia sensed rather than saw a gentle elevation in her perspective as the jaw began to clamp shut, cutting off her nervous system from the neck down.
That ‘slight’ elevation didn’t last long. It soon escalated to the rush of a rollercoaster as the Tyrannosaur tossed Amelia heavenwards.
The forest and its ferns, the volcano and the valley — even the footprint at their abandoned campsite — span across her lateral vision in a kaleidoscope of colour. She soared upwards like a helicopter rotor blade, numb.
For a second, she hung, travelling neither up nor down, suspended on an invisible trapeze.
Beneath, the Tyrannosaur’s gaping jaw awaited her. Her plummet began, picked up pace before — SNAP! — Amelia joined George in one last meal.
“Good doggie,” Barny whispered, as the guides filmed from nearby inside the Tyrannosaur’s lair. Before rejoining Ledley, he’d been careful to secret the cans of musk way up the hillside out of meat-eaters’ reach.
“Honeymoon’s over,” Ledley sighed, and hit the Stop button as the Tyrannosaur ambled off along the valley to top up his hors d’oeuvres.
This short story was originally 874 words, and from a flash-fiction prompt on Google+. That was way back in 2011, penned and published under the moniker Aaron Alluring.
This is the 2017 ‘full edit’ version, and one more small step on the road to copy convalescence. Please, enjoy.