“It’s just like a doggie door,” I said to Trel as she demonstrated walking through Hope’s swinging gate.
It took us two weeks of hard labor to get to this point, but the extra-wide door was the last big piece of our fort we had to complete. We still had a five-foot section of wall to finish, but I was confident we’d move in by the end of today.
“I don’t know what a ‘doggie’ is, but whatever,” she said with a tired laugh. “And please teach Hope not to crash into the door when she goes in and out, or it might break apart.”
“I doubt that,” I replied. “You designed it to last.”
“I am a genius,” Trel agreed while letting the door swing backward once she came through, “but this is my first time designing structures for dinosaurs.”
We’d spent every waking moment of the past two weeks working on the new and improved fort, and even though the birds were the reason for us moving, everything about the fort, including the stout wooden door, was designed to protect us against much bigger dinosaurs.
We were on day thirty of Sheela’s timeline, which was well into the red zone of when the orange-feathered nightmares were supposed to swoop in and take over. I had a bad headache from not enough sleep, every muscle in my body was sore from endless labor, and we would soon be out of daylight. However, we were so close to finishing the fort that nothing could get me down.
“We’d call you a scholar-athlete back home, Trel. That means you are the whole package of smarts and muscle.” As I spoke, I did my best not to check out her work outfit. When she first started offering advice, she’d do it by walking around and pointing at things while in her beautiful silk dress. But a few days ago, when it looked like we were going to miss our deadline, she came down to the job site dressed in a silk sports cut bra and form-hugging yoga type shorts. It looked like she had cut up her dress to make them, but I didn’t ask for fear that she’d change her mind and go back into the cave.
Nothing was said, but Trel picked up a log with Sheela and set it into the ground like she’d been doing it all along. Today she was working as hard as I’d ever seen her.
“I’m going to go get Hope and test the gate,” I stated. “I want her safe in here while we finish up.”
“What can I do?” Trel said, sounding even more stressed than I was.
“You need to take a little break or do something easy for a bit,” I suggested as we both walked a few paces toward our new hut. “Maybe help Galmine with the leaves.”
“Okay, but I’m not stopping until we get this done,” the dark-haired woman said with exasperation. “You remember how close we were the last time. I’m not going to be responsible for another disaster.”
She got to a pile of flat, pillow-sized leaves, picked up an armful, and threw them onto the top of the hut. Galmine was up there laying the leaves like shingles over the sloped wooden slats of our roof, and she caught most of Trel’s bundle with an easy movement.
I also threw a batch of leaves since I was standing right there. Trel had designed our yurt-like home to sit inside the larger circle of the outer wall, though part of it leaned against the sequoia’s trunk. The inside was just big enough for us to sleep like spokes of a wheel around the cooking fire. There was no time to make it any bigger, but I didn’t mind sleeping so close to the alluring women.
“Thank you!” Galmine called down in a happy voice.
“Wait. You think losing the first fort was your fault?” I said to Trel after my over-exhausted brain figured out what she meant.
“I was too proud to help back then,” the black-haired woman said as she gave a determined heave to an armful of leaves. “If I’d contributed for even one day, the fort would have been completed and built right. We would have survived the stampede and now be living in safety. I’m not going to risk that again when we are this close. Besides, you’re the one who needs a break, male.”
The spider-woman glanced at me, smiled, and then brushed away some wild hair from her sweaty brow. It looked like she’d been working hard, and she had, but she was still drop dead gorgeous.
I returned the grin though I could only imagine my own appearance.
“She is right, Victor, you need a rest,” Sheela said as she finished tying off another log on our wall. The feline woman was sweaty and dirty from our laboring, but the endless work never seemed to slow her down. In fact, my only worry about her was which half of her torn bikini was going to fall apart first.
I hadn’t slept at all the past two nights even though I tried. I’d end up sharpening axes, twisting cord, and cutting new arrows because my brain would not stop worrying about protecting the women. After throwing a couple of armfuls of leaves with Trel, I knew it was time to go on to more critical tasks.
“Trel, thanks for helping me with the door, but now you have to help Sheela finish the barricade,” I said as I moved toward the five-foot hole in the front side of our wall. “I’m going to get Hope and then finish the fort.”
“Then we can relax?” Galmine asked from up above.
“As much as possible in this world, yes,” I replied while snagging one of our spears leaning against the hut.
“I am looking forward to relaxing with you,” the emerald-eyed woman suggested in a teasing way.
I savored her words as I looked where I had to go.
Hope hung out eating leaves near the ramp. I kept her close to the cave entrance as a way of making the birds think twice about going in that direction. We’d been running back and forth from the cave as we transferred our belongings to our new hut, and some of the orange birds had begun to gather in the thirty yards of open ground between the fort and the ramp. It was still possible to cross the field and avoid them, but more birds kept trickling in.
“Victor, wait,” Sheela shouted with urgency.
“Try not to antagonize them,” she added while pointing to the orange birds. “Once they think the cave is theirs, we have to be very careful of them. I shot them after they claimed their roost the last time because I did not know better. After that, they chased me for a mile anytime they saw me.”
I did a double take.
“You think they already own the cave?” It had only been a couple hours since we got our last things, but we didn’t send up a red flare to announce we’d abandoned the cavern.
“I can only tell you of my experience, and I should have thought of this much earlier, but I suggest we be overly cautious around this breed,” Sheela said as she bent down to get another log with Trel. It also backed up the decision as to why we had to build the fort a few dozen yards out in the grove rather than right next to the cave.
“You think they’ll overlook that we’ve killed a shitload of their scouts?” I said with a nervous laugh. We’d battled groups of ten and twenty birds almost every day, but we stopped trying to kill them all. It just wasn’t possible.
“We shall see,” Sheela replied.
There was nothing more to say, but I always trusted the athletic warrior when it came to strategy, so it seemed prudent now to leave the birds alone instead of kicking the shit out of them as I wanted to do.
I jogged toward Hope and avoided the birds as much as possible. Most of them fluttered away from where I ran, but one fat bird squatted in the dust and wouldn’t get out of my way. That forced me to go around it, and I thought of Sheela’s words that the little orange devils might begin aggressively defending their new home.
“I’m just passing through,” I suggested to the flock as I stepped around more and more birds. “Nothing to see here.”
“Hope! Lower that pretty neck,” I called out to the gray and brown parasaur when I felt I was close enough not to frighten all the birds.
She was on her back legs while eating from some of the small tree branches overhead, but I sensed that she understood my anxiety. After scanning left and right, her front feet returned to the ground and then she lowered so I could mount her. I felt like an action hero as I took a running leap, flung my leg over her neck, and perfectly landed the maneuver just as Sheela had demonstrated.
“Go!” I commanded. “But don’t step on the little bastards.”
Hope trotted through the loose gaggle of noisy birds, but they cleared a path for the big dinosaur. I guided her over to the sequoia and had her walk all the way around our massive home tree. Despite everything, I was always amazed when I got close to the imposing redwood, and I gawked up the clean, straight lines of the giant until we were on the back side of the fort.
“This is your new home,” I said to my dinosaur steed. “You are going to share space with us, so we can keep each other safe.”
She tooted a friendly note as I edged her right up to the doggie door on the back side of the fort.
“Just push it open,” I suggested.
Hope gingerly placed her snout against the middle of the door, and I encouraged her to push. The gate swung from its overhead hinge and began to open. The door scraped over her crest, and I had to hold up both of my arms to keep it from coming down on top of me. I held the wooden gate above me as long as I could but had to let it drop onto the ridge of Hope’s back. From there it slid down and off the end of her tail.
“Fantastic!” I proclaimed.
“Your spot is right there.” I guided her to the large open area which served as the courtyard of our circular enclosure. A pile of logs took up some space, but there was just enough room for the big dinosaur to curl up against the outer wall.
I hopped down from Hope and suggested she eat the fern leaves we’d placed for her. Then I ran back to the gate and weaved a long rope through the slats of the door and tied both ends to the outer frame to keep it shut. It was a temporary solution until we had the wall finished and could make a better lock.
“Sheela, can you take a break and check our weapons?” I asked when I jogged over to where she and Trel worked on the final bit of wall. It only took two people to move the big logs, so I wanted my weapons expert checking our defenses one last time. Once we were out of the cave, we’d have nowhere left to retreat.
“I will do as you wish,” the feline woman said as she stepped away.
“Another log done,” Trel said as she tossed her axe down to me.
“Looks like we have about seven to go,” I said as I caught the axe and set it against the wall.
“We’ll need to be outside to place the last one,” Trel reminded me. We’d discussed the final keystone log during planning, but I’d pretty much forgotten about it because the end seemed so far away. Now it was time to consider how that last pole was supposed to fit.
“I remember,” I replied. “It makes sense because of the circle design. We won’t be able to squeeze the last log in place from the inside. We can just take it through the door and then leverage it up from outside.”
“Yes. Once set, we’ll have interlocking logs supporting each other all the way around the wall, just as I said we would.” Trel seemed very proud, and she had every right to be. Our fort was badass, and it was all her design.
The spider-woman walked with me to the woodpile and we rolled another log from the dwindling stack. We’d used the central pile as a staging area for building the barricade these past weeks, but now it was almost empty. The six remaining large poles sat on top of a few of the smaller twenty-footers left over from our original fort.
“Ready?” I asked Trel after we'd dragged the log next to the hole in our wall.
“Always,” she replied.
We lifted together, and it easily went up. Once we’d propped it almost vertically, it fell a few feet into the hole so only the top seven feet was above ground.
“Please hold,” Trel said as she stepped backward.
We’d done this so many times it had become second nature, but I was still impressed as I watched her in construction mode. I reached down and picked up the axe without taking my hand off the log or my eyes off of the sweat-drenched spider-woman.
Trel grabbed a length of rope with one of her human hands, and then used her spider legs to climb the wall next to the opening and position herself on top so she could pull the loose log in her direction. With remarkable speed, she twisted the rope, so it held the two upright poles together.
“Axe,” she said as if she was a surgeon standing over a patient.
That was another part of our routine, and I tossed the tool she had just given me back up to her. She snatched it out of the air with lightning-fast reflexes and started chopping madly at the charred top of the log as if it had personally stranded her on this planet.
While she worked on the top end, I used another length of rope to tie off the bottom part. When each log was in place, they’d be locked into the two poles on either side. Just as in Trel’s example with sticks, it made each section of the fort’s curved wall very secure. The dirt at the bottom was just one more safeguard in her design.
By the time I was finished with my rope, Trel just about had the top wood chiseled away so it formed a rudimentary point. We’d done the same with all the other logs on the assumption that anything big enough to lean over the top might find it painful.
“Are you done yet?” I asked Trel as a joke.
“Hold your horses, male,” she snapped back with her pretend attitude. I’d taught her that saying after she and I worked together to create a small saddle for Hope. Once I explained what a horse was, and how humans typically rode them, she was able to craft a seat out of cord and some giant leaves. She designed it to wrap around Hope’s neck and tie into the towing harness. Trel even included some extra rope netting so we could carry the water jugs or lash spears to the parasaur’s beefy flank.
Somewhere during that project, “hold your horses” came up, and I had to fill her in on what it meant. Each of the women seemed to enjoy learning my phrases and did a pretty good job using them in the appropriate situations.
“The main flock is arriving,” Sheela reported as she jogged up to us.
“Are we sure we don’t need anything from the cave?” I asked, worried we’d left something important in our old home.
“There is nothing left in there but the fire ring, Victor,” Sheela responded.
“We have plenty of rocks out here,” I said with a laugh. “We’ll make a new one. But for right now, grab a weapon and be ready.”
The squawks of the orange birds grew like an approaching storm, and more Pelagornis Cardiffirus started dropping out of the redwood pine boughs above us.
We all stopped what we were doing to watch them fall like snow toward our cave. Galmine nervously held a spear, as did Trel, but Sheela and I both had bows. The blonde woman had hers at the ready but didn’t fire at any birds even when they were close.
“I hope they do not remember me,” the cat-like warrior said quietly.
“As you said, we will live and let live with our new neighbors.” I stepped closer and offered Sheela a reassuring smile.
In just a few minutes, there were hundreds of birds swarming around the entrance to our cave.
“How did they know it was open?” I asked my friends. “We aren’t out of the cave an hour and they flock in to take over.”
“I bet it was Jinx,” Galmine suggested. “I brought him to his new home out here, and the other birds knew our cave guardian was gone.” She giggled while she stepped down a small ladder to get off the roof of the hut.
“He did an awesome job,” I replied. I didn’t see my little blue friend at that moment, but we’d put him down in a pile of leaves we’d stacked inside the hut. No matter where we put him, he rarely came outside when the hungry orange birds were near.
“They have been watching us go in and out for weeks,” Sheela said, “and I believe they made their decision when they saw the four of us together out here for most of today.”
“Ah. That makes sense, though I don’t like to let anything go without a fight,” I added.
“We have killed many of them over these past weeks,” Sheela said. “We would need twenty hunters with a hundred arrows each to wipe out all of them.” Sheela looked at the still-gathering flock as if sizing them up for battle. “We held them off only as long as we needed to get our new home done, and that is a victory just as surely as if we killed every last one.”
“Okay, let’s get back to work,” I said as I tried to keep things moving.
I gave the finger to the birds over by the cave, but then noticed the odd looks from my companions.
“It means ‘fuck you’ back home,” I said while shaking my head. “It also means I’m not afraid of them.”
“We are not afraid of them, either,” Sheela said in her steady voice.
“All I know is that it’s a good thing you listened to me about putting a camp outside the cave like this,” Trel said with a deadpan delivery.
Despite the bustle of arriving birds and our pressing chores, the three of us froze and turned to Trel. But before I said a word about all the things wrong with her statement, she cracked a smile and then began to laugh.
“Hah! Too easy!” the sexy spider-woman taunted as she looked at me.
“You,” I growled while pointing to Trel, “get your buns over to the woodpile. We have a job to finish.”
I was still chuckling as she and I picked up and scooted log number six over to the open section of wall. We lifted so it tipped into the trench and we immediately began tying the ropes. Trel took care of securing the top while I kneeled and tied off the bottom.
A minute later, Hope made odd noises and began to stomp one of her feet.
“What is it? Out of leaves?” I asked my dinosaur without looking at her.
She continued to stomp, but it wasn’t until Jinx screeched annoyingly that I finally looked up from tying the rope.
“Victor, Jinx is acting really weird in here,” Galmine said from inside the hut.
“Oh, shit. Jinx and Hope are both warning us!” I shouted.
I peered around the log to see outside the gap in the wall. The orange and black birds weren’t doing anything unusual in the front, so the threat was probably out back.
“Trel, get off the wall.” I had no idea what was going on, but I wanted the spider-woman out of view.
I hurried to grab the ladder, so I could use it to see over the back wall. While I ran, Hope’s door popped open a few inches then closed again.
Hope’s gate was tied off and locked with rope, but the wooden structure itself wasn’t perfectly rigid, so the seal wasn’t airtight.
“Sheela,” I said with alarm in my voice, “there’s something--”
The door opened just far enough that a familiar green-feathered dino could poke its head through on the left side. The lock rope strained against the pressure, and the raptor’s claws threatened to sever it like a knife through butter.
“Oh, fuck no!” I screamed with emotion dredged from my deepest fears. The little raptor flashed about ten million razor-sharp teeth while it sized me up with its beady little eyes.
Eyes that looked far too intelligent.
“The door!” I shouted while I ran past Galmine to get a spear.
As soon as I had a weapon in my hand, I sprinted on fear-numbed legs toward my old enemy. My terror was compounded by the knowledge that five logs were missing from the wall behind me, and I prayed that this was the only green raptor to find our camp.
Even though I knew that they traveled in packs.
It only took two seconds to cross the remaining twenty feet, which presented two possibilities for me. I could try to spear the small head wedged in the opening or I could slam the door on it.
I went for the safest option and lunged for the door, but the raptor seemingly anticipated me and retreated just as I landed my shoulder. It yelped and lost a few feathers from its head, but I failed to smash it dead like I planned.
I slammed into the door because I assumed I was going to crush its fucking skull, but when the raptor pulled back, it created slack in the rope holding the gate shut. I assumed the lucky bastard also did some claw damage to the cord because it snapped apart under the sudden load. The gate tilted outward as if Hope was pushing it open to leave the fort. It was designed to swing from the top, so I dropped my spear and grabbed at the wood slats with both hands to try to keep it from opening too much. For a few seconds, I stood frozen in the doorway while in full view of the hip-high little monster and several others arriving behind it.
I used that frozen moment to snap the nearest one in my Eye-Q.
Identification: Dinosaur, Deinonychus antirrhopus, female.
The name meant nothing to me. The dino was the same half-sized version of the Jurassic Park velociraptor from the movie. I hated everything about them, but the oversized hooked claws on their toes were the worst. I thought back to how those hooks sounded when they ripped the flesh of Heracula and Kelg.
“Fuck!” I screamed as I took a deliberate step back from the group of raptors and struggled to pull the door toward me.
The peeping raptor seemed just as surprised as well, and it only sprang into action as I yanked down the door. The thing bounced off the outside just as I shut the gate, but more arrived and slammed into the wood where they’d seen me standing.
I struggled to hold them back for a few seconds more, but Galmine arrived and leaned into the door next to me as if to add her weight to my delaying tactics.
The raptors threw themselves against the gate again, and Galmine and I lurched back a few inches. Some of them tried to claw their way up the outside of the door, too, which scared the shit out of me. The rock woman and I were able to hold the gate closed for the moment, but I needed a better solution.
“We need another rope!” I yelled.
Rope to secure the door was one necessity, but so was getting Galmine the fuck out of danger. It cut against every ounce of my being to have the bubbly woman up against the gate.
“Sheela?” I yelled while turning to see where she was. I expected her to show up with the rope two seconds after I asked for it.
But my friend had problems of her own. She and Trel were using their spears to fend off more raptors from the hole in our wall.
“Oh, fuck!” I shouted as I realized how much danger we were really in.
The door shook again as the raptors continued to mass up on the other side. If they all hit at the exact same time, we’d probably collapse like wet paper bags.
I turned to Hope.
“Come here, girl,” I commanded. “I need you!”
She’d been standing there looking nervous and making those odd honking sounds, but I got the feeling she wanted to help. The parasaur turned herself around so she faced me and the gate.
“Stand right here,” I shouted while pointing her next to the door.
Galmine let out a little “Oomph,” as another jarring hit came from outside.
“Hurry!” I insisted to Hope.
She only needed to take a few steps before she reached the gate, and she seemed skittish when the wooden door slammed into her. For a second, the gate opened wide enough I was sure something was going to slip inside our fort, but Hope’s body became a second wall once she was in position.
“Galmine, can you get us lots of heavy rope from the hut?” I pleaded. I knew that she couldn’t move that fast, but I didn’t want to leave her here with Hope beside the wall.
“Y-yes,” she replied as she stepped back from Hope and the gate. I could tell she was shaken, and I was so glad to get her off the dangerous door.
“Go!” I added in an urgent tone.
As Galmine walked away, I glanced over at the other two women and was horrified to see a mass of raptors snapping and clawing through the opening in the wall. Sheela and Trel took turns jabbing their spears at the little green dinos, but it didn’t look like they were making much progress. One of Sheela’s thrusts went deep into the chest of a raptor, and it dove out of sight, but another instantly took its place.
I had to help them, but I couldn’t move.
Hope held the gate, but I had to stay near her head to calm her. I sensed her fear at having those predators inches away from her exposed side, but she listened to me and held position up against the door. It created a stalemate that would last until Galmine returned with more rope.
Or until something worse happened.
I flipped between both battles to see where I was needed most, but I returned my full attention to the gate when I saw a puff of dust shoot out from under the door. A few additional clouds appeared right after the first, and then a raptor’s head pushed between the crack at the bottom of the door. It was trying to squirm through the new hole under the gate. The feathered dinos were smart enough to tunnel.
I wanted to cuss like a motherfucker, but I kept calm for Hope because she was already on the edge of fear.
“Just stand here, okay?” I said with a quick pat to her neck.
Then I sprang toward the digging dino.
The black eye of the raptor saw me coming, but I had the initiative. I didn’t know karate or any other martial arts, but I did my best Bruce Lee impression, and I jumped through the air and then thrust the heel of my boot right into its eye.
The dinosaur bellowed in pain and attempted to wriggle out. I pressed my attack, but before I could kick that ruined eye again, the head disappeared back through its burrow.
I mentally commanded Hope to push the dirt back into the hole, and the parasaur followed my orders. She was a much quicker digger than the raptor, and the hole was filled back up in a handful of seconds. The raptors continued to slam into the door while Hope pushed dirt, but my dino didn’t need to move from her spot to finish the work, so the wood just smacked into her flank.
“Victor!” Galmine shouted as she arrived with an armful of rope.
I took the coiled strands and got underneath Hope’s flank while the big dinosaur kept the door from swinging inward.
The new rope was about the same size as I had used the first time, but now I slung it around the hooks on each side of the doorframe and lashed it multiple times through the ropes binding the door itself. Then I got a second rope and tied it to the door a couple feet lower, so there was no play at the bottom of the gate. It seemed twice as strong as before, but I wouldn’t be happy until we had a massive metal drop bar holding the gate in place.
“Can you keep an eye on Hope?” I said to Galmine. I planned to leave Hope against the door, just to be sure.
“Yes. Go,” she said with a weak smile.
“Okay, Hope. Listen to Galmine. She is a friend, right?” I tried to convey my message along with happy thoughts of the bubbly woman, and the parasaur honked what might have been a reply. I patted her on the neck and gave one last look toward the rock woman.
“Victor!” Trel screamed as she jabbed her spear into the cluster of raptors she was trying to fend off. “We need the logs to seal up the wall!”
“I’m on it!” I shouted as I sprinted to our woodpile.
When I reached our stack of logs, I wrapped my arms around the widest end of the closest log, tightened my stomach, and pushed with my legs. I was used to carrying this with Sheela, but adrenaline was giving me tons of strength, and the log lifted off the ground.
But it wasn’t easy. The long length of wood probably weighed over three hundred pounds, and I’d never lifted one all by myself. My back, glutes, legs, abs, and arms strained against the mass, but I didn’t give a shit.
My friends needed me.
“Hold them off!” I yelled as I started to drag the massive log over to them.
Trel and Sheela increased the speed of their attacks to force the raptors away. I dropped the end of the ten-foot pole into the dirt, and I ran to the other end and lifted the log until it fell in the ditch. Trel jumped back to me, and used one of her spider legs to help me shift the log into position, even as the rest of her body focused on shoving her spear at a pair of raptors.
It looked like there were thirty of them trying to get inside.
“Trel, you need to tie it off,” I gasped as my breath tried to recover from pushing the log.
“Got it!” she said as she tossed me her spear. I grabbed the weapon with numb hands and ran to help Sheela keep the raptors out of the entrance while Trel tied the top of the log I just raised to the others.
“Done!” she said ten seconds later.
“Take the spear! I’ll get another log!” I tossed the weapon up in the air, and Trel snatched it.
Sheela jumped back as a raptor lunged for her, but Trel used one of her far legs to jab the predator viciously in the chest to get it to back off.
“We are fine! Go!” Sheela shouted, but then another raptor snapped its teeth a few inches away from her face, and she had to kick it back.
“Okay,” I said as my heart leapt into my throat.
I went back and manhandled log number four until it was in the hole. My body was screaming with agony, but I ignored the pain and helped Sheela defend again as Trel tied off the top. As I sprinted for the next one, Galmine waved me over to her.
“Victor! The door is moving!” the rock-woman pointed to the far side of Hope.
“Fuck! I need more rope.” The door wasn’t bursting open, but it might if I didn’t get another length of rope to tie it a little better. The little bastards really wanted to get in.
I spun around and dashed into the hut to pick up more cordage. Galmine ripped and twisted leaves whenever she could, so we had a ton of rope, but the pile had gotten a lot smaller over the last hour.
When I got back out of the hut, I glanced at Sheela and Trel. I would have loved to shoot some arrows at the raptors, but there was no time, and I didn't want to hit my friends by accident. Sheela was right about spears: they were the correct weapon for close combat like this.
“Watch out!” I shouted as I ran by Galmine, aimed under Hope, and slid up to the door like a ballplayer stealing a base. Once I was at the door, I could see it was still tied really well where I’d secured it earlier, but there was a bit of give at the bottom near the burrow. I cinched the rope around the lowest crossbar and yanked the shit out of it at each side of the doorframe. If that didn’t keep the gate from shifting, nothing would.
I slid out from under Hope and gave Galmine a thumbs-up.
Then I ran back to the log pile.
The next tree trunk became a nightmare to drag to the wall. It felt about twice as heavy as the others, and I almost couldn’t lift it from the ground. My muscles were spasming with fatigue. It had been “leg day” and “upper body day” at our outdoor gym for too many days in a row, and I’d just dragged and lifted two logs by myself. Still, I managed to get the log in place while the two women defended me, but I did a shitload of grunting along the way.
When I got back to the log pile, I looked over to Galmine and took comfort that Hope was nuzzling up to her while the rock woman was rubbing her snout. More importantly, my rope seemed to be holding the door in place and nothing was nosing around underneath.
Then I was on to the second-to-last log.
I dragged the ten-foot trunk into position, though I had to dig deep into my soul to summon the strength. Lifting four in a row while raptors chomped at every exit took its toll. I barely managed to get it standing up straight, and my breaths were entering and exiting my lungs with tearing pain.
“One left, male!” Trel shouted as she stabbed a raptor through the now much narrower vertical hole in our wall.
“The hardest one,” I said after I took a deep breath. I thought about asking Trel or Sheela to grab the log, but both women were better than me with a spear, and we’d all die if any of the raptors made it past the wall.
All the other logs created a smooth-looking line along the length of the curved wall, but each pole sat a little behind the one next to it, so they could form a reinforcing circle. If we didn’t position this last one correctly, the missing tree would rob the wall of a lot of that natural strength.
Trel explained it in one of her lecture using sticks, but basically, it meant there was a five-inch gap between the two finished sections of the wall. The eight-inch diameter log couldn’t fit between the existing poles, and could only be set in the ground from the other side.
The side filled with hungry dinosaurs.
“If I knew these raptors would be here, I might have designed this in a square,” Trel mused as I dragged the last heavy log to the wall. My arms, back, and legs were shaking from fatigue, and the edges of my vision were starting to dot with black spots.
I didn’t have anything left in me, but I was going to have to lift this thing up and over the wall anyways.
“Yeah, uh, I know what we have to do,” I gasped as if I was hopped up on caffeine and adrenaline. My lungs burned like they were on fire, and my legs felt like jello. “Trel, you need to get up there, Sheela and I will send the log up to you.” I pointed to the top of the wall next to the remaining sliver of an opening.
She let down her spider legs and crawled up to the top of the wall while Sheela continued to fend off the raptors with her spear. As soon as Trel reached the top, she immediately began jabbing her weapon at the raptors on the other side.
“Keep them from coming in while Sheela and I lift!” I yelled up to Trel.
“I will,” she replied.
As soon as Sheela dropped her spear and went to help me lift, a smaller raptor head squeezed through the slit in the wall and started snapping at us. In the few seconds it took for me to grab my spear, it began wedging itself through.
I lunged with my spear, punched the point through its flat chest, and drove it right back out of the gap. Sheela had also grabbed her spear and used the weapon to help push it along.
But another was already in its place.
“I got it!” Trel screamed as she drove her spear through the beast’s head. It died almost instantly, but its body lay right in the gap where we needed to set the log.
“Sonofabitch!” I blurted. “Let’s lift!”
We set our spears down and heaved the heavy end of the trunk until it was over our heads. My arms were wobbly, my breath came out in ragged huffs, and it felt like my back was about to cramp, but I was able to maintain it until Trel could help.
“Got it,” the black-haired woman shouted to us as she grabbed the log. With her help, we slid the tree a few feet so it rested on top of the wall like it was a ramp.
I immediately thought of how shitty it would be if we let the log slide over the top to create a ramp on the other side. It would be pretty fucking steep, but I guessed the raptors would be able to climb it.
There was no margin for error.
“Hang on!” I huffed to my two friends as I grabbed my spear and shoved its point at another raptor that was climbing over the corpse of its buddy. I was a bit too slow to hit this one, and it darted back with an angry hiss. I had to make a few more stabs into the group to give me a little space, but then I managed to push the corpse off the top of our hole.
“I can defend!” Trel screamed as her spear came down to hit another raptor. I looked up to see her balancing the last log with one hand, attacking with her other, and holding onto the side of the fort wall with her spider legs.
“Sheela help!” I shouted as the cheetah-woman jumped up next to me and attacked the hungry shapes in the gap. “I’m going to get something from the hut!” It would take a bit of luck to get this done, but I had something that was going to give us a better chance. I hauled ass into the hut, grabbed the longest piece of rope left, and then took it to the log. In that short time, Sheela had killed another raptor in the narrow passage.
I tied the rope around the part of the pole balancing on our side of the wall. This would end up being the top when it flipped over into the hole, and my intent was to use the rope as a brake so it didn’t flip too far over and fall out into the raptors.
“Trel, buy us some time!” I shouted. “Sheela! Up and over!”
The blonde woman jumped back from the hole, and we both lifted from the far end of the log. Then we walked it forward so it slid on top of the four-inch slot. We managed to get it to the halfway point, and the heavy log seemed to balance on top of the fence like the top of the letter ‘T.’
“Trel, you have to keep it from tipping,” I yelled at her.
“I won’t let it go,” she said, though the spider-woman looked a little unsure.
“Stick with it. We’re almost there.” It hurt to talk, but then I saw a brave raptor push his face into the hole of our wall.
Fuck these guys. Couldn’t they just leave us alone?
“Sheela, guard the slot!” I ordered.
“Yes!” she replied. I didn’t pay attention to her spear thrust, but I did hear the raptor scream when she stabbed it.
I decided that someone needed to be up with Trel to help the log over the top, so I ran and grabbed our small ladder. Once I slammed it up against the wall, I had an idea for how to use it properly.
“Trel, buy us some more space! Sheela, we are lifting!” My orders came out in a hoarse bark, but the women jumped to execute my commands.
Sheela held the tree with both hands above her head while it balanced on top of the wall. Trel continued to poke her spear down into the pack of raptors and they hissed like angry train brakes.
We were committed.
The ladder was only about six feet high, which made it difficult to get a good grasp on the tree trunk, but it was still better than being on the ground. I used both hands to test the weight of the log, and I figured Trel and I could do the next step.
“We are going to lift together,” I said to Trel as I climbed up the ladder to be next to her.
“I don’t need your help. I am stronger than you, remember?” The spider-woman shot back with a quick laugh.
“I do,” I replied, though I felt like a totally new man since we’d had that conversation about our strength attribute. “Just don’t lose your grip on the log or we’re shit out of luck.”
She gave me a grim nod.
“Here we go!” I shouted the second I was in position. “It’s got to go straight up, then we’ll drop it toward the hole.”
The log had been balanced on top of the wall, but now we let it tip over the far side. As we shoved it over, we also had to keep it as slow as possible. Trel and I bear-hugged the pole to keep the heavy end from shooting out of control.
The plan worked well until the log was low enough for the raptors to reach it and get in the way.
“Ahh, shit,” I growled through my teeth as I struggled to hold onto the log.
But Sheela was there with her spear. She shoved it through the little gap in the wall and jabbed the dino to get it to move back. Crushing a raptor would be so satisfying, but it would prevent the final log from seating properly.
Trel and I began to struggle with the pole as it became nearly vertical. I felt it give way and there was nothing I could do to slow it.
“Trel!” I shouted. “It’s going.”
But it was already gone.
The log slid through my arms and landed in the dirt near the base of the wall.
“Don’t let it go!” I yelped. The momentum of the fall yanked me halfway over the top of the wall, and one of the spikes almost impaled my stomach.
Trel was above me, also struggling to hold it from further tipping over. If we both let go, the log would end up on the ground outside the fort.
“Grab the rope, Sheela!” I gasped.
My cat-like friend yanked her spear out the gap and then grabbed the rope I’d tied on the log.
“Pull!” I shouted. I wanted Sheela to pull the rope, but I also had to hold on, so the top of the log stayed where it was.
I heard Sheela grunt as she really strained to yank the rope tied to the base of the upright log. She moved it a couple of feet toward the hole in the ground.
“That’s it. You’ve got it!” I said while looking straight down on Sheela.
A raptor made a last lunge, but the log had tightened up against the existing parts of the wall, and there wasn’t enough room to snap at Sheela’s hand.
Then the log fell into the hole with a satisfying sound.
I leaned back on the ladder, so I was no longer on the top of the wall. Trel backed away as well.
“I almost fell off,” I remarked as we went down to the ground.
“I would have caught you,” the black-haired beauty replied with a reassuring smile. “Maybe.”
“Ha. Thanks for watching my back,” I said to Trel as the three of us stood there panting.
We listened to the raptors outside the wall. I wasn’t sure if I should have been worried about the last logs we’d set. They weren’t bound together with multiple ropes yet, so there was some give to them, but the ditch and the natural strength of the rounded wall kept them from tipping over.
“We fucking did it,” I said when we’d all gathered in the middle of the fort next to Hope. “You are all amazing.”
“So are you,” Galmine replied. It said a lot that she was now smiling and happy. “I really wanted to help you guys, but I felt it was best to be with Hope.”
“You were key, Galmine,” I answered. “You kept the back door shut while we got the front squared away. We couldn’t have done it without you.”
“We were lucky, but Victor guided us true,” Sheela said while she leaned on her spear.
“I agree with the warrior woman. For a male, he did pretty well.” Trel laughed, and I knew she wasn’t insulting me.
“Can we rest, now, Victor?” Galmine said. “I have some ideas--”
“No. Not yet. Sorry, Galmine. The gate is fucked up, so we need to fix that lock right away. I also want to tie off those last few logs so they can’t budge. I know it’s almost dark, but if we get that done, I think we might actually be able to sleep in peace tonight.”
Galmine made a sound like purring.
My headache had slipped away during the fight, but my exhaustion was quick to return now that death was off the table. I took a few deep breaths and planned to forge ahead with the last items on today’s checklist.
Before I could do anything, the forest filled with color as beams of light punched through the sky in many locations. For a minute the lights dropped far away, and in places obscured by the trees of the surrounding pines.
But then one touched down super close to our fort. A blue shimmer sparked into existence a few hundred yards toward the stream with a sound like thunder. The spark became a glow that grew in brightness until it was a solid blue tower of light that seemed to go up into space.
The raptors noticed it, too, because they immediately stopped pawing at the door. I don’t know where the thought came from, but it all fell into place why the green dinosaurs were all over us at that beach when I first arrived on this world.
They knew the lights brought easy prey.
“That pillar of light was really damn close,” I observed, and Trel instantly climbed up the side of the wall with her spider-legs.
“It’s a woman!” my friend shouted as soon as she peaked over the side of our fort wall. “She’s right at the edge of the forest, and two dinosaurs are running toward her!”
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