Welcome to chapter 18 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 18: The Beasts
“Let me see that.” Stone took the skull from Alex and turned it over in his hands. Sure enough, these bones were not exactly fresh, but neither were they old.
“It’s a dinosaur. It has to be a fossil.” Trinity’s eyes remained glued to the skull. “Doesn’t it?”
“These are actual bones. There’s even some tissue left on the carcass.” Alex jabbed a heap of bones. “When you consider how quickly things decay in a hot, damp environment, these are very new.” He picked up a black, curved claw and held it up.
Stone grimaced. The thing looked razor sharp.
“What kind of dinosaur is is?” Trinity bit her lip.
“Velociraptor, I think.” Alex handed the claw to Stone and returned to poking at the corpse. “They were discovered in Mongolia about eight years ago.”
Stone gazed down at the remains as Alex cleared away more dirt and rock. Something bright green and gold caught his eye. “Is that a feather?”
Alex frowned. “It is. And it’s attached to a bone. But that doesn’t make sense.” He picked up the bone, letting the feather dangle. “The bone is light. Perhaps it’s hollow like those of birds.”
“You can study on that later. What I want to know is, are they dangerous?” Moses turned around slowly as if more of the creatures lurked in the shadows.
“Possibly. They weren’t very large— six to seven feet from snout to tip of the tail and only three feet tall. At least, that’s what archaeologists believe.” He hefted another bone— this one had three smaller claws attached to what looked like a hand of sorts. “These are what made them dangerous. The talons on the manus, or the hand, plus the larger one on the feet. They could deal out some damage, especially if they attacked in a group.”
“The teeth weren’t anything to be trifled with either.” Stone ran his hand along a line of sharp, serrated teeth, perfect for ripping and tearing.”
“Y’all keep talking about them in the past tense,” Moses said. “But it looks like they’re a concern right here and now.”
“Nothing we can do about it now except keep on our toes. Come on.” Stone consulted the map and headed off through the jungle.
They soon found themselves on a something akin to a path. Here, the foliage was less dense and some of the native plants had been trampled. It wasn’t well-worn, but it made for an easier passage. And it made Stone uneasy.
“I think we need to get off this path. I think it’s a game trail, and where there’s game…”
A rustling in the undergrowth cut him off in mid-sentence. Trinity screamed and sprang back as a huge, furry creature barreled toward them. Stone had only an instant to register that the four-legged beast was not a bear, as his first instinct told him, but a giant rat. The thing was a good three feet tall at the shoulder and must have weighed four hundred pounds.
Everyone sprang to the side, Stone and Moses leveling weapons at the bizarre creature, but it paid them no mind. It dashed along the game trail, headed in the direction from which Stone and his friends had come. A loud crashing sound came from somewhere up the path.
Stone wasted no time. “Follow me!” He broke from the trail and hurried into the woods, moving quickly and quietly. His companions did the same with varying degrees of success.
“Where are we going?” Trinity whispered.
“I’m not sure, but that thing, whatever it is, is being hunted. And anything big enough to hunt it…” Stone left the rest unsaid.
“Was that a capybara?” she asked.
Alex shook his head. “Much too big. I don’t know how it’s possible, but that’s a giant huitas.”
“Why isn’t it possible?” Trinity frowned.
“They’re supposed to be extinct.”
The crashing sound drew closer and they all hunched down and looked back in the direction of the game trail. Through the trees, Stone saw a ten foot tall, bipedal creature with stunted arms, a long tail, and a mouthful of sharp teeth. Its hide was light green with muddy brown stripes. A fringe of dark green feathers ran along its spine, down its tail, and along the backs of its arms. As they watched, the creature paused, turned its head from side-to side, and sniffed the air.
Stone gripped his Webley, wondering if he could do enough damage to this beast to bring it down. Far in the distance, the scurrying of the fleeing rat rose above the sound of the wind in the trees. The dinosaur cocked its head to the side, let out a whistling sound, and took off again.
They breathed a collective sigh of relief and sagged to the ground.
“That was too close.” Alex ran a hand through his hair.
“Maybe we should get off this island before we get eaten.” Trinity glanced at Stone.
“That thing is between us and the beach,” Stone said. “Besides, I’m not turning back. If the three of you want to go, I understand.”
“How are we going to get back?” She asked. “Our raft no longer floats.”
“We’ll build a new one. In any case, I’m moving ahead. I want to see this through, and I figure I’m as safe in the jungle as I am sitting on the beach. Besides, my grandfather survived this island. I think we can too.”
“We should stay together,” Moses said. “We can do this.”
Trinity and Alex exchanged nervous glances and finally nodded in agreement.
“Good,” Stone said. “We’ll keep going.”
They made their way through the jungle, frequently stopping to consult the map and look for landmarks. Thankfully, they saw no further sign of dinosaurs, though Alex jumped at every sound. At long last, they emerged from the dense foliage onto a ridge line. A steep gorge ran down to a river far below. Across the way, the high peak they sought loomed against the sky, its waterfall cascading white foam down to the ground far below.
“How do we get across?” Alex folded his arms and looked up and down the gorge.
“We’ll find a way,” Stone said.
“I think we’d better do it fast. Look.” Moses pointed along the ridgeline where, twenty yards away, dozens of snouts protruded from the forest, beady eyes fixed on them.
The creatures began to chirp, the sound rising higher and higher until, in a rush of leaves and feathers, they charged.
Come back next week for more!