A short story about one family's struggle against the new world order.
At the end of a long, dirt road in East Texas, Irene bustled around the house as the 24/7 news channels played from her television in the living room. The latest news report was white noise, keeping her mind occupied while preparing for her daughter’s family visit.
“After a year of dinosaur sightings throughout the Southwest United States, Dino Watch is now our most popular segment. Download our app to track your favorite dinosaur’s latest movements across the country. Stay tuned for more information on the ankylosaurus herd that caused a 25-hour traffic jam in Dallas and the dilophosaurus that ventured into a local grocery store in Phoenix.”
Irene paused to glance at the smiling news anchor on her television before shaking her head. No one knew for sure where the dinosaurs had come from, but they seemed to be causing a mess of things everywhere. While the herbivores were more of a nuisance to human civilization, the carnivores proved dangerous and difficult to predict. She’d been lucky enough to avoid the previously extinct creatures thus far, but all reports indicated that the dinosaur settlements were expanding. It was only a matter of time.
The phone rang, and a photo of Irene’s daughter, Evelynn, popped up on the screen. Irene tossed the throw blanket she was carrying across the couch before answering. “Hello.”
“Hey Mom, we’re a couple of hours out, so we’re going to stop for lunch. I wanted to make sure you weren’t cooking for us.”
“No worries, I figured as much. How’s my grandbaby doing?”
“Becky is fine. She’s enjoying her first road trip without a booster seat.”
Irene chuckled into the phone as she sat on the couch and muted the television after the news anchor announced that Congress was still undecided on whether to declare the dinosaurs endangered species’ or a national security threat.
“How about my favorite son-in-law? Is he excited about the move?” Irene asked.
“Uh, I think Travis will be more excited once we get off the highway. There’s a lot of traffic leaving Dallas, and it’s causing some...road rage.”
“Well, if people would just pay attention...” Travis said through the phone, and Irene shook her head.
“Let’s just say that it’s going to be a long drive, but...” Evelynn paused, and Irene heard Becky yelling from the back seat.
“Look, Mommy. Look!”
Irene stood from her couch and pressed a hand to her chest. “Evelynn, is everything okay?”
A scraping noise emitted from the phone, and Irene frowned until her daughter finally responded.
“Yeah, yeah. No problem. We just...” Evelynn giggled like a young girl. “We just saw some pterodactyls flying above us. I don’t know what kind, but it’s pretty amazing.”
“Flyers. Mommy, they’re called flyers,” Becky said. Irene could tell that she was on speakerphone now, so she responded.
“Well, be careful. Some flyers are dangerous.”
“Did you learn all about them in vet school?” Travis asked, and she could hear his sarcasm through the phone.
“No. Since my retirement, I’ve developed a loving relationship with the Discovery Channel.”
“Should Dad be worried?”
“Randy has been known to join me from time to time.”
Evelynn laughed, and Irene smiled at the familiar sound. “Okay, well, I’ll see you guys soon. Be careful.”
They said their goodbyes, and Evelynn hung up the phone as she sat back down on her couch. Randy should be returning soon for lunch. He’d spent most of the day repairing downed fences. It was unusual for this time of year, but they’d had several calls from the neighbors about escaped cows. Perhaps the new bull was causing trouble among the herd.
Irene lifted the remote to unmute the television but paused at a quiet rumble that fluttered throughout the house. She stood and glanced around her home, searching for an appliance that could be malfunctioning. A louder rumble sent her adrenaline skyrocketing as she briefly considered the possibility of an earthquake, but they were uncommon in Texas. As the thunderous sound grew louder and faster, Irene realized that it was coming from outside.
She stepped out onto the back patio to scan the vast horizon. The house stood at the top of a grassy hill, surrounded by sporadic woodlands that framed the dirt driveway and lead to the edge of the 300-acre ranch to meet the county road. Over the years, she’d enjoyed the scenic view many times, but today it took her breath away.
A herd of triceratops strolled across the hilltop toward a nearby hay meadow. The three-horned dinosaurs bellowed at each other and bumped their boney heads against one another lazily as they waddled toward the green grass. After a moment of awe, Irene recognized their destination and wondered what damage they could cause the valuable hay meadow. She decided to call her husband, Randy, before the dinosaurs ate all of the next year’s hay. His response was to ask what the hell she expected him to do about it.
Evelynn smiled as they drove up the dirt driveway that led to her parent’s house. She enjoyed growing up in the country as opposed to spending the last decade in Dallas building a loving family with her husband and a successful career in business. Her recent promotion meant more money and the flexibility of working remotely, which coincided with the dino sightings plaguing the metroplex. It seemed like the best time to make the move they’d been considering for years. With everything in storage, Evelynn and Travis could plan and build their dream home and help Evelynn’s parents maintain the ranch.
When Travis parked the car, he unloaded bags and boxes that would get them through the next several months while Evelynn carried their sleeping 8-year-old to the couch and covered her with a throw.
“Where’s your Dad’s gun safe?” Travis asked while holding a stack of gun-carrying cases.
“He doesn’t have one big enough for all of those. Especially that new one,” Evelynn said, sucking on her cheek.
Travis frowned at his wife but didn’t respond. He opted to set the large stack of weapons in their designated bedroom and double-checked the locks on each before closing the door.
“We were only supposed to bring the essentials. Everything else went into storage,” Evelynn said.
“My guns are essential.”
Evelynn opened her mouth to argue, but her mother stepped in from the patio and offered a joyful greeting.
“Hi, I’m so glad you guys made it,” Irene said with hugs.
“Nana?” Becky said as she woke from her nap. “Did you see the flyers?”
“No, they haven’t been around. Be we do have some interesting visitors. Do you know what a triceratops is?”
“You saw a three-horn? That’s awesome,” Becky said.
Irene glanced at Evelynn. “Three-horn?”
“It’s from a cartoon,” she answered with a shrug. “There’s flyers, three-horns, sharp-tooths, longnecks, swimmers, and all kinds of names that are easy for kids to remember.”
“I suppose the word triceratops is a little hard for some.” Irene nodded at her daughter then smiled at Becky. “Would you like to see a three-horn, too?”
“Yes,” she answered with an excited squeal. “That would be amazing.”
“There are three-horns here?” Travis asked as Irene waved the small family out onto the patio.
The three were amazed at the herd of dinosaurs grazing on the hay meadow at the bottom of the hill. The cows on the opposite end of the field were not as impressed with the three-horns. The two herds kept their distance for the most part, but Evelynn could see some of the cows were curious, and the new bull felt ornery.
“Grandpa,” Becky called to the old rancher that sat in a lawn chair half-way down the hill. A jug of ice water sat on the grass beside him, and his rifle hung from the corner of his chair. Randy raised his hand in greeting, and the little girl raced down to meet him.
“Becky,” Evelynn called, but Travis reassured her as he followed after his daughter.
“Don’t worry, I’ll head down with her. I want to hang out with your dad anyway.”
“Okay, but you have to watch her. It’s not safe.”
He waved a hand, dismissing Evelynn’s concern, and a ball of anxiety formed in her stomach that was hard to ignore. She watched Becky climb into her father’s lap, and Travis sat in the empty chair next to Randy. They smiled and chatted while pointing at the dinosaurs.
“Do you think we’ll be safe here?” Evelynn asked her mother.
Irene took her daughter’s hand. “Of course.”
“You don’t think we should’ve gone to one of the safe zones instead? Travis and I talked about doing that, but they’re so overcrowded now. We worried about crime and food.”
“I think you made the right choice.” Irene sat on the patio bench and motioned for Evelynn to join her. “I’m much more afraid of people than I am of dinosaurs.”
Evelynn raised an eyebrow at her mother. “I don’t know. I’ve seen the movies. Being eaten is not the way I’d choose to go.”
“I agree. That sounds awful. I didn’t really believe the reports about the first dino sightings. I thought it was a hoax.”
“I think we all did, Mom.”
“Yesterday, I watched a report about the new Dinosaur Response Units. They’re supposed to be like SWAT but for dinosaur issues.”
“Yeah, I heard about that. They are rolling out a pilot program in Dallas and Phoenix. If it’s successful, they’re supposed to add resources to every police station across the country.”
“Until then, we’re on our own,” Irene said, pointing over her shoulder. “My shotguns on the mantle, and Randy has his rifle. He keeps it on the mantle too when he’s not using it.”
“What about the regular police?”
“You can call them, but they’re about 45 minutes away.”
“Of course they are,” Evelyn said. “Why would you want help from the armed men and women that’ve sworn to protect you?”
Irene smiled at her daughter and shrugged. “Welcome back to country life, dear.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Evelyn said with a bitter chuckle. “My husband probably owns more firepower than the whole police department. Did you know that he bought a new gun without discussing it with me? It’s some jumbo monstrosity that cost half my paycheck.”
“When I brought it up, he said I was too controlling. I swear, it felt like some passive-aggressive hit against me for making more money than him. He says he’s fine with it, but I feel like I’m walking on eggshells all the time.”
“It sounds like you need a beer,” Irene said.
Meanwhile, Travis chatted with Randy about their new dino guests, and Becky climbed down from her grandpa’s lap.
“Have you seen any others out here?” Travis asked.
“No, just them. I’ve been out here watching them for a while. I thought they were going to give my cows a problem, but they seem to be getting along alright,” Randy said before taking a sip of his ice water.
Travis spied Becky sneaking closer to the three-horns, and he shook his head. “Becky, don’t get any closer. You stay with us.”
She plopped into the grass with a sigh and glared at her father from over her shoulder. Travis smiled at her pouting lip and turned back to Randy.
“I see you fixed up your rifle,” he pointed to the gun hanging from Randy’s chair.
“Yeah, it’s just an old 45-70 lever-action rifle that my father left me. I cleaned it up when I realized this whole thing wasn’t a joke.”
“Are you planning to hunt dinosaurs?” Travis asked with a chuckle.
“I, sure as hell, don’t plan on getting eaten by one. I’ve been keeping this one on the mantle for emergencies and carrying my 9mm with me, just in case.”
“I don’t blame you. I’ve been carrying my .45. I’ve tried to talk Evelynn into carrying, but she doesn’t like the idea.”
“She’s never really liked guns,” Randy said. “Have they figured out where these dinosaurs are coming from? There seems to be more every day.”
“I called some friends from my old unit oversees, but no one knows for sure.”
“Figures. The world’s turned upside down, and no one knows how it happened.”
Travis smiled at the typical Randy remark before asking, “So did you shoot any of the three-horns?”
Randy stared at his son-in-law like he’d grown a second head. “Now, why in the hell would I do that? They aren’t hurting anything. I’m more worried about the hogs tearing up my land. I broke another wheel on the Mahindra today.”
Travis jumped up at the sound of his wife’s voice calling for their daughter. He spotted Becky several feet from a baby three-horn. She reached a hand out to the large creature, and it sniffed at her fingers. A long tongue darted out of its jaw to crawl across her skin, and Travis heard her giggle.
“Becky, get back here before that thing’s momma sees you,” he said. Becky frowned but twisted around to return to her family.
“Look out,” Evelynn called from the patio.
The new bull decided one of the three-horns had stepped too close to his herd, so he charged at the dinosaur, only to stop a few feet away, turn tail and run back to his kin. Most of the three-horns ignored the display from the smaller animal, but a few jostled among the group. In the bustle, the adult three-horn nearest to Becky spotted her and expressed its displeasure. It stomped its feet, snorting loudly, and then bellowed a warning.
Becky took it to heart and scrambled up the hill with fearful tears streaming down her face. She raced past Travis and crashed into Evelynn’s open arms. Her mother whispered comforting words while Travis and Randy joined them on the patio.
“Are you okay?” Travis asked, and Becky nodded. “You have to listen when I say to stay back. These things can be dangerous.”
“You should’ve been watching her,” Evelynn said.
“I’m not going to watch her every second. That’s impossible,” Travis said. “Besides, when I was growing up, my parents didn’t hover, and I turned out fine.”
“When we were growing up, our parents didn’t have to worry about dinosaurs.”
The next morning, Travis lumbered up the hill from the woods and through the fog that wrapped around the lowest valleys. With his M4 rifle slung against his back, he spotted Irene enjoying a cup of coffee on her front porch, and he waved at his mother-in-law. She smiled and retrieved a second cup of coffee for him when he joined her.
“Thank you,” Travis said then glanced at his watch. “Is everyone still asleep?”
Irene shook her head. “Oh, no. Evelynn’s at her desk working, Becky is finishing up breakfast, and Randy left a little while ago to work on one of the downed fences.”
“I’ll go help him as soon as I finish this cup of coffee. Man, this is good.”
“I’m sure he’ll appreciate the help. Did you shoot any hogs? They tore up the hay meadow by the big tree last week, and Randy broke a wheel on one of the tractors again.”
“Well, I don’t think they’re going to be a problem anymore,” Travis said as he glanced toward the woods with a concerned frown.
“Really? How many did you shoot?”
“None. They were already dead.”
“I found a large herd up on the other side of the creek, and they’d all been torn apart. Those little scavenger dinos were in a frenzy over the remains.”
“Scavenger dinosaurs?” Irene set her coffee mug on the porch railing. “I haven’t seen any of them around. How many were there?”
“Should we be worried?”
“They were too busy with their meal to care about me. I don’t think the little dinos are a problem-”
“What little dinos?” Becky asked as she stepped out onto the front door with an eager smile.
“There are tiny sharp-tooths in the woods,” Travis said. “You need to stay away from them, okay?”
The young girl sighed with a dramatic eye roll. “Fine.”
“You know what.” Travis glanced at the woods again and shook his head. “I don’t want you going into the woods at all. Not without a grown-up.”
“Daddy, that’s not fair.”
“I thought you said they shouldn’t be a problem?” Irene asked, ignoring her granddaughter’s whining.
“It’s not the little dinos that I’m concerned about. They were just scavenging what was left. I’m worried about whatever was big enough to kill those hogs. By the size of that herd, it’s more than one sharp-tooth, and they’ve got to be pretty fast to catch pigs like that.”
“That’s not good,” Irene said. “I mean, I’m glad they’re solving our hog problem, but the solution may be worse than the problem. From now on, no one leaves the house without a rifle or a shotgun. No one is getting eaten on my property.”
“Eaten?” Becky said, mouth agape.
“Don’t worry, baby. You can stick with me.” Travis nudged his daughter with his elbow and winked at her. She giggled at him.
“When you go down to help Randy, take his rifle with you. He only has his 9mm,” Irene said.
Later, Travis and Becky drove down an old cattle trail toward the back pasture. At the top of a hill, Becky squealed from the passenger side of the ranch UTV and pointed at the three horns on the other side of a trampled fence. At the edge of a small forest, the herd seemed content to graze on the tall grass. Travis parked the small vehicle next to Randy’s old pickup truck, and the older man waved in greeting from what remained of the barbed wire fence. Becky darted across the grass with a big smile, and Travis reminded her to keep a safe distance from the dinos.
“Look, Daddy. The cows are friends with the three-horns now,” Becky said as she circled around the herd while maintaining a safe distance.
Travis peered out across the field to find the cows mingling amongst the three-horns. Neither seemed concerned with the other as both herds enjoyed the open space.
“Yeah, everyone seems happy to munch on my hay meadow after them dinos trampled my fence,” Randy said as he joined Travis next to the parked vehicles. “At this rate, I’m not going to have any hay to cut and nothing to feed the cows during the winter.”
“Especially now that you have three-horns to feed too.”
“I’m not feeding them giant things. They are on their own. I’m hoping they move on before then anyway.”
“Are you kidding?” Travis laughed. “With hay meadows like this, they’ll never leave.”
Randy chuckled at his son-in-law and waved him to the tailgate of the pickup truck. Travis set the two rifles he’d brought from the house into the truck bed and out of Becky’s reach. She’d been trained at an early age not to touch their guns, but he preferred to take extra caution when possible.
Randy pointed at a pile of posts, wire, and other fence supplies in the back of his truck. “We’ve got to replace at least five fence posts that were -”
One of the three-horns bellowed, and both men spun around to investigate. More three-horns joined the chorus of cries and rallied around the spooked cattle. The large dinos lowered their horned heads and swung them toward the forest. In unison, the three-horns backed away from the trees, pushing the cows away from the hidden danger.
“What’s going on?” Travis asked, and Randy shook his head. He snatched the rifles from the truck bed and handed the M4 to the younger man. Travis spotted his daughter standing on the opposite side of the fence between the men and the herd.
“Becky, get away from there.”
Ignoring her father, Becky squinted and raised her hand against the bright morning sun as she glanced between the herd on her right and the forest on her left. Movement in the trees caught her eye, and she pointed at four tall figures darting out of the woods.
The pack of velociraptors bolted around the threatening three-horns and tried to snag a straggling heifer, but the larger dinos were not backing down. One of the three-horns barreled into the pack, tossing its horns side-to-side as the raptors screeched and danced out of reach. Two raptors snarled at the three-horn, while the other two flanked him then jumped onto his back. The three-horn tussled with the pack as they tore into his flesh, and Becky screamed.
“Stop it! You’re hurting him!”
The two raptors on the ground sat straight up and jerked their avian-like heads toward the small girl. They hissed in excitement at the easy prey within reach. The three-horn knocked one velociraptor from its back with its bony head-shield while the other stumbled from the rough ride. The three-horn ran back to its herd as all four raptors stared at Becky from across the field.
“Becky, run,” Travis yelled when the pack of raptors dashed toward his daughter. She obeyed and sprinted into the forest while Randy and Travis fired at the raptors.
The two men rushed to intercept the pack before they reached the woods. Randy’s lever-action rifle was slow and cumbersome, but he managed to shoot one raptor in the leg. It fell, screeching in pain, and Travis sprayed several rounds into the creature with his M4. Forgetting about Becky, the three remaining velociraptors snarled and snapped their tails in agitation as they surrounded the men.
“They’re flanking us,” Travis said as he retreated toward the three-horn herd between bursts of fire. The nimble creatures maneuvered like a well-oiled machine, and he found lining up a shot more difficult than any of his firefights in the military. He’d never seen a man or beast move in such a way.
Behind Travis, Randy’s gun jammed, and he struggled to clear the old rifle’s barrel. One raptor noticed his hesitation and leapt at him with its clawed feet extended and jaws open. Randy stumbled back, dropping his gun and falling to his back as the raptor landed in front of him. Surrounded by the tall grass of his hay meadow, Randy peered up at the hissing creature and raised his arms to shield his face from the oncoming attack. Instead of ripping the older man to shreds, the velociraptor retreated with an angry growl, and Randy lowered his arms in surprise. Travis dove into the grass next to his father-in-law when the ground rumbled against Randy’s back. He lifted his head to find two three-horns barreling after the velociraptors as the herd shifted around the hay meadow.
“I don’t think they know we’re here,” Travis whispered.
Randy nodded his head and sucked in a deep breath as he looked up into the hot Texas sky. He’d always known that he’d die on his ranch; he’d just thought it’d be of a heat stroke or tractor accident. He’d never dreamed that being eaten alive was even an option. He silently prayed to Almighty God that he and his family never come that close to it again.
The defending three-horns returned to their family and the cattle with triumphant bays, unaware of the two men hiding amongst the tall grass. Travis popped his head above the blades enough to spot the velociraptors retreating into the woods. He hoped that they wouldn’t catch Becky’s trail.
“We have to find Becky,” he said, dropping back down.
Randy nodded. “She ran toward the house. Call the girls. Let them know to be on the lookout for her.”
Travis tugged his phone free of his pocket and dialed his wife. Evelynn answered with a pre-occupied greeting.
“Hey, babe. Let me call you back, my next video conference is about to start-”
“No, listen to me. There are raptors on the property.”
“Raptors?” Evelynn frowned then gasped. “You mean velociraptors?”
“Yeah, and Becky is alone in the woods.”
“Oh my God, what? You left her alone? Travis-”
“Listen to me.” His voice rose, and Randy nudged him when the closest three-horn seemed to notice. Travis paused until the dinosaur settled again, then he whispered into the phone.
“We saw Becky run into the woods towards the house. We’re going to look for her-”
“I’m going to help,” she said. “I’ll ask Mom to stay here in case she makes it to the house, but I am going out there to find my daughter.”
“Evelynn, there are raptors-”
“Where did you put my shotgun case?”
“Shhh,” Randy said, but it was too late. A three-horn bleated at the human voices and stomped toward the men. Randy knocked the phone from Travis’s hand and tugged him to his feet. “Run for the truck.”
The two men darted across the field with the three-horn in pursuit. Randy tried to snatch his gun from the ground during his escape but stumbled. The large dino barreled over him as it continued after Travis. Randy covered his head and laid flat as the mammoth hooves stomped around him and the massive body zoomed above him. He screamed when one ill-timed foot crushed the lower half of his left leg.
Hearing his father-in-law’s anguished cries, Travis whipped around with his rifle drawn. He fired at the charging three-horn, striking its massive head shield several times. The bullets didn’t penetrate, but the pain seemed to deter the triceratops. It stopped, shaking its head, and bellowed a warning at Travis before returning to its herd.
With the three-horn at a safe distance, Travis rushed to Randy and hoisted him to his feet. Leaving behind Randy’s crushed lever-action rifle, Travis helped the older man limp to the pickup truck. Once inside, Travis shoved the truck into gear and sped across the pasture toward home. Randy cringed against the dull ache in his leg, but shock and adrenaline kept most of the pain at bay.
“I’m taking you to Irene,” Travis said. “Maybe she can help.”
“Maybe.” Randy nodded. His wife had treated nearly all of his numerous injuries over the years. That was one of the benefits of marrying a veterinarian. “What I really need is another gun. My 9mm won’t do much against these things. What do you have at the house?”
“I’ve got another M4 and sniper rifle that nearly ended my marriage. But I’d only recommend that for something really far away or something really big.”
Irene paced across the front porch with her arms crossed. She couldn’t believe that Evelynn had stormed off into the woods with only a shotgun for protection. Irene had been horrified to learn that her granddaughter was alone on the property with a pack of raptors loose. She’d wanted to go with Evelynn and search for Becky, but someone had to stay behind in case the young girl made it home. Irene hated having to sit around and wait; she’d never been any good at it, and today was no different.
Irene stepped off the porch and decided to circle the perimeter of her home. From the top of the hill, she could see across the nearby pastures that bordered the tree lines. Around the fifth time she passed the back porch, Irene spotted Becky rushing from the forest. The girl stumbled against the slope of the hill and fell to her knees in exhaustion. She looked up at the house to find her grandmother racing down to meet her. Tears streamed down Becky’s face as Irene bent down to wrap her arms around her.
“Nana,” she said between breaths. “Sharp-tooths.”
“I know. Your father called. I’m so proud of you. You came home. You did so good.”
Irene pulled her cellphone from her pocket and called her daughter, but she didn’t answer.
“Evelynn,” she said into the voicemail recording. “Becky made it home. She’s safe. You and the boys need to head back now. Be careful.”
“Nana, the sharp-tooths.”
“Okay, sweetie,” Irene said as she tucked the phone away and lifted Becky into her arms. She glanced around before hustling up the hill as quickly as possible, given her age. Once inside, Irene set Becky onto the couch and looked her over for injuries.
“Are you okay? Were you hurt?”
Becky shook her head, and Irene sighed in relief and wiped the sweat and tears from her granddaughter’s face.
“I’ll get you some water,” she said as she stood. Irene grabbed a glass from a kitchen cabinet and stood in front of the sink, waiting for it to fill. Out of habit, she peered out the window above her sink and squinted at the bright Sun. She froze when something dashed across the front yard next to the porch.
Irene’s chest filled with a sinking dread as she realized the velociraptors were outside. She may have only spotted one, but she knew from the Discovery Channel they hunted in packs. One was the diversion to keep the prey distraccted while the others snuck in for the kill. Irene spun around, searching the windows and glass doors for signs of the other raptors. Could they get into the house? Of course, they could get inside.
She’d built this house with large, pane windows in almost every room. She loved how well her home captured the sunlight and brightened her days. For the first time since building this house, she missed their old one. She missed the house in which Evelynn grew up because it had fewer windows that dinosaurs could break through. This house left Irene and Becky exposed.
Irene turned the sink off and set the glass on the counter before tip-toeing closer to the living room’s fireplace. With a silent frown, Becky watched her grandmother lift the shotgun from the mantle and tug several shells free of the ammo strap. Irene’s eyes darted from window to window as she slipped each cartridge into the loading flap. When Irene racked the fully-loaded shotgun, Becky flinched then stood from the couch with tears in her eyes.
“Nana, what’s wrong?”
The girls jumped at a loud thump coming from the back porch. They spun toward the noise, and Becky hid behind her grandmother. They spotted a raptor standing on the wooden porch, looking away from the house and out over the hill. Irene grabbed Becky’s hand and led her away from the dangerous creature at their back door. She paused at the bottom of the stairwell, glancing up toward the second floor, but then shook her head. If they got cornered up there, they’d be sitting ducks. Irene needed a place to hide that also had an escape route if they needed it.
She ducked to the left and down the hall to the laundry room. The room held a washer and dryer, had a small window above a sink, and a door that led to the garage. When Irene and Becky slipped through the archway that opened to the hallway, Becky hunkered in a corner with her arms wrapped around her legs while Irene checked the door. She peeked outside to find the garage door open. Randy or Travis must’ve left it open this morning. She didn’t dare reach for the button to close it for fear that the noise would draw attention to them.
Irene considered taking Becky and making a run for it, but she knew the raptors would chase them down. Their best bet was to wait them out, so Irene leaned against the washer and aimed the 12 gauge shotgun at the open archway that led to the hallway. She glanced at Becky and pressed a finger to her lips before listening for the raptors’ whereabouts. Irene didn’t hear anything coming from the hallway, so she felt confident that none of the dinos were in the house. Animals their size were bound to make noise.
A shadow shifted over the window curtains above the sink, and Irene jerked her gun toward the obscured glass. One of the raptors’ silhouette twitched side-to-side, searching and sniffing its surroundings before its lizard-like nose pressed against the window. The odd purring sound sent an ice-cold shiver down Irene’s spine. Becky gasped and her grandmother shushed her. The raptor paused as though listening, and Irene wondered if the creature had heard them. She offered a silent prayer of thanks when the dino dashed away a moment later.
The girls sat in silence for several minutes, waiting for the raptors to find them. Irene listened, but she couldn’t hear them. She wondered if they’d left to chase after other prey. Then something loud and heavy fell to the ground inside the garage, and Irene jumped while Becky yelped. At the child’s noise, a raptor inside the garage hissed and clawed at the wooden door, and Becky screamed.
The velociraptor frenzied at the sounds of frightened prey, and Irene slammed her back against the door to help hold it in place. She wasn’t sure how long the door would last against the dinosaur, and she considered abandoning the washroom for a more secure space inside the house, but sounds of glass breaking in the living room destroyed her plans of retreat. Irene heard the heavy footsteps of the raptor in the hallway as it closed in on them. Ignoring the dino at her back, she lifted the shotgun toward the archway and waited with the gun braced against her shoulder.
The raptor stuck its long neck around the corner and hissed in excitement when it spotted Irene. She pulled the trigger and buckshot pelted the creature’s open mouth and exposed face. It screamed while she pumped the gun, and shot it a second time. Blood pooled around the twitching corpse in Irene’s hallway, and she chambered another. The raptor at the garage door seemed to leave, but she didn’t dare look to confirm. The older woman stood at the center of the wash room with her shotgun in hand, waiting for the next attack, while Becky stared at her in awe.
Irene jumped back when a velociraptor lunged through the window over the sink. The broken glass exploded from the impact, and Irene lifted a hand to guard her face. When she looked up again, the raptor hung half its body over the window sill and clung to the sink below with its claws. It growled and snapped at her, inching closer with each tug on the sink. Irene dumped buckshot down its gullet, and the raptor slumped in the window. Her heart racing from the adrenaline and her ears ringing from the gunshots, Irene didn’t notice the velociraptor that peered through the archway in time.
She racked another shell and twisted to shoot the dino, but it leapt onto her before she could get a shot off. Irene’s back slammed into the tile floor, and the weight of the creature knocked the wind from her lungs, but she clung to the shotgun. The raptor’s claws tore into her stomach as it clamped its jaws over her shoulder. Irene screamed, and Becky yelled from her hiding place in the corner.
A final gunshot echoed from the house, alerting Evelynn of her mother’s dire situation.
With her shotgun slung across her back, Evelynn stormed through the woods in search of her daughter. She yelled Becky’s name into the trees as she pushed through overgrown shrubs and batted at pesky flies. She wiped the sweat from her brow and cursed the Texas heat; not even the cover from the trees could protect her from the Sun’s wrath.
Between yells for Becky, Evelynn noticed an unusual bird call. She’d spent much of her childhood playing in the creeks, jumping from hay bale to hay bale in the pastures, and playing games with her friends in these woods. Everything about this property had a familiar smell, feel, and sound, but she didn’t recognize the powerful chirps from the hidden bird. As she trudged along, Evelynn searched the branches above and peeked through the trees to the bright sky, but nothing stood out.
She heard the bird again to her left but couldn’t see anything through the undergrowth. She slowed her pace and shifted the shotgun from her back, grasping the stock with one hand. Evelynn’s eyes darted across the foliage surrounding her when another trill echoed from her right. She realized with a cold dread that it wasn’t a bird following her; something was stalking her. Evelynn’s hands shook as she held the shotgun out in front of her, waiting for the creature to reveal itself.
It chirped again, this time from behind her. She spun around and caught a glimpse of a dinosaur dashing between bushes, then it disappeared again. Her heart pounding, she swallowed hard and questioned her decision to leave the house. She wondered if it were only one dino tracking her, or if she’d stumbled across a pack. Evelynn spotted movement from the corner of her eyes, so she twirled around, gun raised, and found a twitching branch among a large thicket. She stepped closer with her gun barrel aimed at one end of the foliage and stared into the undergrowth in search of her stalker. She sighed and lowered her gun when she didn’t find anything.
The dino chirped a few steps behind her. She spun around to find a creature that looked like a small velociraptor with two crests on its skull. It cackled like a rattlesnake, fanning a neck frill the size of an umbrella around its head, and flung a wad of spit at Evelynn. Before the sticky venom splattered harmlessly across her chest, she pulled the trigger and hammered a shell into the dilophasuarus’ head.
The recoil slammed the butt of the gun into her stomach, and she stumbled back onto the ground. She’d failed to brace the high-powered weapon against her shoulder as Travis had trained her. She cursed in between dry heaves while the dying dinosaur writhed a few feet away. During the excitement, Evelynn almost didn’t hear her phone ringing from her pocket. By the time she’d tugged it free, her mother’s call had gone to voicemail.
Evelynn sat in the dirt and leaned against a nearby tree as she caught her breath and listened to the voicemail. She said a silent prayer of thanks that Becky was safe and home with Irene. She contemplated never letting her daughter out of her sight again. A bird-like twitter pulled Evelynn from her musings, and she jumped to her feet with the gun in her hand.
The new sound was different than the dilophosaurus, but it still seemed alien amongst the familiar forest noise and sent Evelynn’s heart racing. A tiny scavenger dino with sharp teeth scuttled up to the blood-covered corpse and hissed at Evelynn. She pointed the shotgun, braced against her shoulder this time, at the creature and chambered another round. Not wanting to take any chances with this new sharp-tooth, she slipped a finger over the trigger and started to squeeze, but she paused when the tiny dino turned from Evelynn to munch on the carcass. The compsognathus screeched into the sky, and a chorus of chirps throughout the bushes and foliage responded.
A flock of tiny sharp-tooths descended on their latest meal as Evelynn stumbled back from the gruesome scene. She hurried away from the sounds of ripping, tearing, and frenzied, bird-like chirrups. She knew that her memories of the woods in which she grew up were forever tainted. She’d brought Becky here in hopes of sharing those memories with her child and letting her experience the ranch in her own way. Evelynn never expected those experiences to include dinosaurs. She had to get back to the house.
Evelynn dashed through the forest until a muffled gunshot echoed through the trees. She stopped to listen for another gunshot between her ragged breaths and a racing heartbeat. She frowned at the futility of hearing anything until she caught her breath, so she continued on her path at a walk. She hoped the boys weren’t in trouble. Another blast, and Evelynn realized that the sound came from the direction of the house. She ran as fast as possible toward her mother and daughter.
When she arrived at the top of the hill, Evelynn swung her shotgun around, looking for any dinos. She tip-toed across the porch and into the living room, grimacing at the broken glass door at the back porch. She heard a familiar sobbing down the hall and called out.
“Mommy!” Becky darted out from the hallway and nearly tackled her mother with a bear hug.
“Oh, thank god. Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“No, Nana saved me.”
“Where is she?” Evelynn asked, and Becky stared at her with sad eyes.
She pointed toward the back of the house. “In there.”
Evelynn kissed Becky on the head then stepped around her to find Irene. When she entered the hallway, she gasped at the dead raptor lying in a pool of blood. The large creature nearly spanned the entire length of the hallway, but Evelynn shuffled around it. Peering into the washroom, she yelped at the sight of a dead raptor hanging half-way through the window and a third dead dino sprawled across the washroom floor. Evelynn couldn’t help but wonder how her 65-year-old mother managed to kill three raptors on her own. Where was Irene now?
Evelynn jumped back with her shotgun raised when the raptor on the floor groaned. She almost pulled the trigger until she realized the dead dino was lying on top of someone. She pushed the large carcass aside to find her mother, covered in blood, and holding her shotgun. Evelynn noted the raptor’s obliterated chest and knew most of the blood belonged to it, but the bite wound on Irene’s shoulder and the lacerations on her stomach were severe.
“Mom? Are you okay? Can you hear me?”
“I’m not dead,” she muttered with her eyes closed.
Evelynn nodded with a tearful smile. “That’s good. That’s really good.”
“Where’s Becky? Are there more? They hunt in packs.” Irene tried to sit up, looking around, but grimaced from the pain. She lay back down when Evelynn insisted that she rest.
“It’s okay, Mom. Becky is fine. You kept her safe. I think you killed all the raptors. Now it’s time to help you. We need to get you to the hospital.”
“We have to stop the bleeding. Find my emergency kit in the bathroom. I need suture and gauze,” Irene said, and Evelynn nodded.
She helped Irene to the living room couch, and Becky searched the bathroom for the emergency kit. Once Irene was stable, Evelynn would need to take her to the hospital, and Randy would probably want to join them. So while Irene sifted through her medical supplies, Evelynn called Travis. When he didn’t answer, she called Randy. He didn’t answer either. Evelynn held the phone against her chest and glanced out the window with a concerned frown. Where were the boys?
“You need to slow down, son,” Randy said after wrapping a dirty rag from the floorboard of his truck around his left thigh to act as a tourniquet. His crushed limb wasn’t bleeding much, but every jostle sent an agonizing spark through his nervous system. He knew he’d have to grin and bear it until they reached the house because finding Becky was more important, but Travis’ reckless driving might get them stranded or killed.
They’d crossed two pastures before hitting a rough hay meadow that butted up against a creek at the bottom of the hill where the house sat. The old truck’s shocks were useless against the rutted ground and Travis’ heavy foot, and it bounced and jerked against every bump. Randy gave in and slipped his seat belt into place since it seemed to be the only thing keeping Travis seated.
“Damn it, Travis, slow down,” Randy said when they slammed into a deep rut.
“We have to find Becky.”
“We aren’t going to find anyone if you break an axel. Those damn hogs have torn up this meadow so much that I’ve already lost a tractor. This truck won’t fare any better.”
Travis huffed his frustration but slowed the vehicle to a reasonable speed.
“We’ll find her. Becky’s a smart girl. I’m sure she’s half-way to the house by now.”
“This is my fault. I never should’ve taken her with me. I shouldn’t have let her get so far away.” Travis stared out the windshield toward the creek ahead and squeezed the steering wheel in his hands. “I wasn’t paying close enough attention.”
“What’s that noise?” Randy asked, and the two men glanced around for an explanation of the rumbling all around them. Travis cursed when he spotted a stampede of three-horns coming up behind the truck.
“Hang on,” he said as he whipped between three-horns. He swerved to avoid one dinosaur and bumped another that bellowed at him but didn’t stop running. Just as most of the herd passed them, a straggler sideswiped the vehicle and sent it spinning into the creek. The truck landed bed down inside the deep ditch with the front-end stick up the air.
“Are you okay?” Travis asked Randy, who groaned before responding.
“What the hell was that? I hadn’t seen them three-horns move faster than a snail since they got here.”
“I don’t know, but we can worry about them later.”
The cattle, incapable of keeping up with larger dinos, hustled past the truck while Travis spun the tires in a futile attempt to escape the ditch. Unable to get enough traction, his back tires tore the dirt and grass apart while his front tires danced uselessly in the air.
“Stop,” Randy said, placing a hand on the steering wheel. “Listen.”
Travis did as he was told for a moment and frowned when a familiar rumble resounded in the direction from which the herd came. “Is it another stampede? Are there more three-horns?”
“I don’t think so. This sounds...different.”
Travis nodded in agreement as they watched the last few cows flee from whatever caused the stampede. A roar echoed across the pasture that made Travis’s heart jump into his throat, and he struggled to swallow when a tyrannosaurus rex stepped around the tree grove and into the open field. It bounded after a straggling cow and snapped its massive jaws around its unfortunate prey. Once the cow stopped struggling, the t-rex threw it to the ground and belted a triumphant roar before ripping into its well-earned meal.
“Will your M4 take that thing down?” Randy whispered as they stared at the massive creature twenty yards from them.
“It’s the size of an elephant.” Travis shook his head, unable to take his eyes off the dinosaur. “I got something at the house that might work, but this 5.56 ammo would be like a needle pricks to this thing.”
“Okay, then we’ll just wait it out. Be very quiet and let it pass us by.”
Travis nodded, and both men sat in a tense silence while the t-rex ate one of Randy’s cows. He recognized the old girl as a cow that had given him several calves over the years. He hadn’t expected her to last another year or two, but he never expected her to die in such a gruesome manner. A sense of dread seemed to swallow Randy as he remembered how close he’d come to the same fate earlier.
Travis glanced around the hay meadow through the windshield then down the creek through the door window. The t-rex was taking too long. He needed to find Becky. What if the raptors tracked her down? She’s alone and unprotected. Travis considered opening the door and slipping free of the truck. He could follow the creek into the woods for cover then make a break for the house at the top of the hill. But he’d have to be quiet so as not to garner the t-rex’s attention, and Travis couldn’t do that with Randy. His injury would slow them down and make stealth impossible. Glancing at his father-in-law of ten years, Travis sighed and waited in silence until a high-pitch ringing squealed from Randy’s pocket and echoed across the hay meadow.
“Turn it off!”
“I’m trying,” Randy said as he tugged his cell phone from his pocket. He silenced the offending noise, but the damage was done. Both men looked out the windshield to find the t-rex staring at them from 20 yards away.
“Don’t move. Maybe it won’t see us,” Randy whispered from the corner of his mouth.
“I don’t think that’s true.”
The t-rex barreled toward the truck with an angry roar, and the ground around them thundered.
The t-rex slammed its head against the truck’s hood, flipping it onto its left side in the ditch. The creek water flooded into the vehicle as Randy dangled from his seat belt. He screamed from the pain of his injured leg, and Travis slipped free of his seat belt so he could shift above the water line that threatened to drown him.
“We have to get out of here,” he said.
The truck shuddered from another impact from the t-rex as Travis kicked at the windshield. He stumbled and slammed into the glass when the truck bed pitched forward into the air, forcing the truck onto its nose. Still dangling from his jammed seatbelt, Randy watched his son-in-law groan against the shattered windshield. He felt the truck jolt again and knew they’d need to act fast. He snagged the M4 from between the floorboard and the steering wheel, where it had landed during their tumble.
“Travis, get up and take this,” he said. “You have to get out of here.”
Travis stared up at his father-in-law. “I can’t leave you here.”
“You can, and you will. Take the rifle, and go save your family.”
Travis shook his head at first, then he stopped. “Keep it. I have an idea, just...just don’t die while I’m gone.”
“Okay. You go save the day, and I’ll try not to die.”
Randy watched Travis push the broken windshield aside and dart out of the truck and into the nearby woods. The t-rex roared, but Randy kept his attention on the vehicle by screaming and cursing at the massive dino. He didn’t want to die, and he certainly didn’t want to be eaten, but Randy figured that sacrificing his life for the sake of his family was a good way to go. As the t-rex lowered its head and peered into the truck, a gust of the creature’s warm breath blew across the cab, and Randy gaped at its giant teeth. The gun shook in his hands as he tried to calm his nerves and prayed that Travis’ plan worked.
Travis dashed up the hill to the house, ignoring the sounds of screaming metal as the t-rex tossed the truck again. He yanked the front door open to find the girls huddled around Irene on the couch.
Becky jumped up and rushed to give her father a hug. “Daddy!”
“Travis, are you okay?” Evelynn asked, stopping mid-stitch with a suture in her hand.
“I’m so glad that you’re okay, baby, but I have to help Grandpa right now,” he said as he rushed around Becky to the bedroom. He pushed aside several gun cases until he found the largest one. He popped it open and lifted the .338 Lapua, loading the 5 round magazine.
“Stay in the house,” Travis said to the girls as he hustled outside to the porch. He heaved the heavy, high-powered rifle onto the railing and set his sights on the t-rex at the bottom of the hill. With the totaled truck upright again, the massive dinosaur stood inside the bed and ripped at the cab roof. Gunfire from Randy’s M4 echoed across the field, and the dino shook his head from the annoying bullets.
“Oh my god, is that my Dad?” Evelynn said from the front door.
Travis took several breaths as he lined up the shot. His time in the military taught him many things, but one of the most useful skills was staying focused on the job at hand. While the world went to shit around him, Travis did his job without hesitation. So he ignored his wife’s horrified screams and his daughter’s terrified sobs while he placed the t-rex between his crosshairs. As the dino leaned down to snatch Randy from the open cab, Travis pulled the trigger.
Too low, the bullet slammed into the truck’s hood and blew a hole the size of a dollar coin into the metal. The tyrannosaurus rex’s jaws ripped into Randy, pulling him free of the truck as he screamed. Travis chambered another round and adjusted his aim. The next bullet hit the dino’s chest, causing it to stumble and drop Randy’s body. The t-rex swiveled around, looking for its attacker, as Travis fired another shot that landed in the dino’s skull. The ground shook when the t-rex hit the ground.
A couple of days later, Travis drove up the dirt driveway to the ranch house with his cellphone against his ear. He’d rushed what was left of his family into town, taking Irene to the hospital. Evelynn and Becky were traumatized by Randy’s gruesome death, and so was Travis, though he’d never admit it. He’d put off returning to the ranch for as long as was practical, but everyone needed supplies, and he needed to retrieve Randy’s body.
Evelynn and Travis were at odds as to whether the family would return to the ranch. Travis still felt that it was the safest place for them; they just needed better preparations. Evelynn thought he was crazy to even consider returning. He supposed that the decision would fall to Irene after she fully recovered from her attack and the loss of her husband. If that were even possible. But today, Travis returned to the ranch for a list of necessities from his wife.
“Don’t forget my computer. You might as well grab it while you’re there. I’m eventually going back to work,” Evelynn said through the phone. “And Becky’s favorite stuffed rabbit. It should be in her room somewhere.”
“I know. It’s on the list you gave me.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just worried about you. Please be careful.”
“I am, don’t worry,” Travis said with a smile. “I’ve got all the guns and ammo I need to get the job done.”
Travis drove past the house and down the hill toward the creek. He wanted to get the most difficult part of this visit, retrieving Randy’s body, done first.
“You should’ve brought my cousin. He would’ve gone with you if you’d asked.”
“You mean the cousin that only talks about blowing stuff up with his very illegal rocket launcher?” Travis said with a chuckle as he parked next to the t-rex carcass. “I’ll pass.”
“Like you’re one to talk,” Evelynn said, but Travis could hear the smile in her voice.
As he stomped past the dino’s bloody head, Travis frowned at the massive size of the creature. The t-rex was king of the dinos, and nothing could stop it. Nothing except humans, of course.
“You know, the dinos were pretty easy to kill. We just weren’t paying enough attention,” he said.
When Travis walked by the t-rex’s stomach, he paused. The stomach contents were splashed across the ground, and the entire chest cavity was empty. Something had eaten most of the t-rex. Remembering the tiny, scavenging sharp-tooths that roamed the forest, Travis shrugged it off. Then he spotted a massive bite mark across the t-rex’s hindquarters. Something big had dined on the carcass recently, something even bigger than the t-rex.
“Babe, are you there?” Evelynn asked when Travis was silent for too long. His eyes darted around the field, and his breath quickened. “Travis, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“Call your cousin,” he said.