Welcome to chapter 19 of Arena of Souls, my new, Doc Savage-style, pulp adventure. A new chapter every week! If you missed the previous chapters, you can start at the beginning here:
Arena of Souls
Chapter 19: The River
“Run!” Stone took aim and squeezed the trigger. The Webley barked and the lead dinosaur dropped in its tracks. He turned and dashed after the others as they ran along the ridgeline. Trinitys’s eyes were wide and her face a mask of terror. Moses turned and slowed but Stone waved him on.
“Get them out of here!” He shouted. “There’s got to be a way down. Keep running until you find it.”
Gritting his teeth, Stone whirled, leveled his Webley, and dropped to one knee. He was gratified to see that several of the dinosaurs had stopped and were now fighting over the remains of the fallen dinosaur. Stone grinned. He was an excellent shot, and three well-placed bullets dropped three more of the small dinosaurs in their tracks. Once again, the flock of vicious creatures descended on their fallen comrades and began to shred their carcasses with ravenous fury.
The predators distracted for a moment, Stone turned and chased after his friends. As he ran along the precarious ledge, keenly aware of the steep dropoff only inches away, he remained alert for the sounds of further danger but he neither heard nor saw anything. That was fine with him.
He broke through the thick tangle of jungle growth and emerged into a small clearing. Here, a single shaft of bright sunlight pierced the veil of jungle greenery. He heard the sound of something heavy approaching from up ahead and saw a shadow moving toward him. He raised his weapon but lowered it immediately as he spotted Moses’ sturdy frame emerge from the foliage.
“We found a place just up ahead,” Moses panted. “Mister Alex and Miss Trinity are on their way down already. I come to find you.”
“I’m fine. Let’s get out of here.”
Moses turned and headed back into the jungle. They fought their way through the jungle’s clutching grasp until they came upon what looked like a staircase carved into the stone, descending at a steep angle down into the gorge.
“It’s plum strange,” Moses said. “They must’ve been somebody lived here before.”
Stone didn’t reply. Perhaps there would be time enough later to learn more of the history of this island, but right now they needed to get away before the dinosaurs finished their meal.
They negotiated the steps as quickly as they dared. The way was narrow, scarcely wide enough for Stone to remain balanced. What was more, the steps were not perfectly square. Some angled downward, others outward, and the passage of time had eroded many of them, so that Stone and Moses had to choose their footfalls with care.
Alex and Trinity waited at the bottom, twin looks of trepidation marring their faces.
“Where to now?” Trinity asked. Sweat dripped down her face, but she seemed to be holding up well. Alex, by contrast, gasped and rested his hands on his knees.
“I thought you kept yourself fit,” Stone kidded his friend.
“Fit… by… city boy standards… I guess,” he gasped.
“Well, you’d better catch your breath quickly because I’m not carrying you.” Stone ignored the look Alex sent in his direction. He consulted the map. “We need to go East. And that means we need to cross the river.”
“It’s going to be a rough go,” Moses said. “It’s fast-moving. I can hear it from here.”
Stone craned his head. Over the sound of the breeze through the trees and the faint cries of dinosaurs fighting over fresh meat far above them, he could make out the roar of white water. “We’ll find a way across.” He wished he felt as confident as he sounded, but they had no choice. Their destination lay on the other side.
The sight of the river didn’t raise his level of optimism. Jagged rocks jutted up like through the churning foam, their sharp edges shining like blades in the sunlight.
They gazed in silence for a moment before Trinity voiced what they were all wondering.
“How are we going to get across?”
Stone needed only the briefest of glances to see that his companions were losing faith, and who could blame them? Predators from a forgotten era at their backs and a deadly river before them. He needed to act fast before they gave up hope entirely.
“I’ll take a rope and swim across.”
“Stone, you can’t!” Trinity tried to grab his arm but he was already on the move, and her fingers closed on air. “It’s too dangerous. You’ll be killed.”
“It’s fine. I’ve crossed worse.” That was somewhat true. He’d swum wider rivers, rivers teeming with crocodiles, rivers so frigid he thought he’d die of hypothermia before he made it halfway across, but never one so powerful as this. Nevertheless, he wanted to try. He dug into one of the packs and pulled out a length of rope sufficient for the task at hand. He lashed one end to the trunk of a nearby tree, and wrapped the other end around his waist, securing it in a bowline so it would not cinch up on him should the line go taught.
“I’ll swim across and secure the line on the other side. Once I’ve done that, tie another rope to that tree and use it as a safety line as each of you crosses,” he instructed. That way, if someone loses his grip…”
“Or hers,” Trinity added.
“…or hers, you can pull him… or her… back to shore.”
“Except for whoever goes last,” Trinity pointed out.
“That’ll be me,” Moses said. “I’m strong and a good swimmer. I can do it.”
Alex looked as if he were about to argue, but he hesitated, then nodded his agreement.
“All right,” Stone said. “I’ll see you on the other side.”
“Wait.” Trinity took his face in her hands, raised up on her tiptoes, and kissed him soundly. “That never gets old,” she said.
Stone managed a grin. He slipped out of his boots, secured them to his belt, and dove in.
The frigid water sent a shock through his system the moment he broke the surface. The vicious current tore at him, pulling him downstream at a breakneck pace. He let the water carry him— as long as he kept moving forward, he could live with being taken downstream a short way. His powerful legs drove him forward and his thickly muscled shoulders fueled the deep, rapid strokes that drove him through the churning froth. He banged against jagged boulders, but kept going. The sodden rope and his wet clothing slowed him down, but not enough to prevent him from finally making his way, exhausted, to the other side. He scrambled up the bank and secured the rope to a tree.
Stone watched, nerves on edge, as Moses helped Trinity across. His muscles felt like rubber, but he remained tense, ready to dive in should one of his companions fall, but they all made it, though Alex nearly lost his grip twice during the climb. Stone hauled his bedraggled friend onto dry land, where he collapsed in a heap beside Trinity and Moses, both of whom.sat catching their breath. He knelt in front of Trinity and laid a hand on her arm.
“Are you all right?”
She gaped at him, eyes wide, but did not reply.
“I think Miss Trinity might be in shock,” Moses said.
“No,” Trinity managed. “Look!” She pointed a shaky finger toward the sky.
Stone whirled around and bit off a curse. A dark shape swept down toward them. His first instinct was that it was an aeroplane looking to land, but he quickly recognized the long, pointed head, sharp beak, and massive wings.
“A pteranodon!” Alex sprang to his feet, his weariness forgotten.
Stone thought fast. His grandfather’s map indicated there wa a cave on the other side of the river. That was their next landmark. “There should be a cave just up the hill. Run for it!”
They ran. Razor sharp leaves on primitive plants sliced their skin. Loose rocks turned under their feet, but they kept going. A dark shadow engulfed them and a high pitched screech pierced the air. Stone stopped running and turned around. The beast’s wingspan must have been a good forty feet. Shaking off his shock, he fired his Webley at the creature that seemed to be on top of him. The first shot tore through the membrane of its right wing, but the second took it in the abdomen. The creature’s screech turned to a shriek and it wheeled away, not wanting another taste of lead. Stone was tempted to take a few more shots, but why antagonize the creature when he had it on the run? He took one last look at the deadly, yet magnificent beast before turning to spot his friends farther up the hill. Trinity and Moses stood looking down at him.
“He found the cave,” Trinity said. “It’s just up here.”
Stone hurried up to meet them just as Alex emerged from a dark crack in the rock.
“This is the place, all right.” He brushed back his damp hair. “And you won’t believe what’s inside.”