Sheela and I returned to the cave to report the presence of the pterodactyl to the other two women. The cat-like warrior went right inside, but the smell of food stopped me in my tracks at the entry. The small clay pot was still on the outskirt coals of the fire, and all threats to the cave seemed distant once I took another deep drag of the incredible turkey dinner smell. The last meal I’d eaten was a pair of strawberry Pop-Tarts I hadn’t even bothered to toast before I drove to work the morning I was abducted.
I overheard Sheela mention the pterodactyl, then compare it to the orange birds, and finally, she pointed to the food on the fire. That’s when I realized I needed to be a part of their conversation, so I took a few steps into the cave. My hunger pangs spun up like a train’s diesel engine, and the three beautiful women cocked their heads toward me at the interruption.
“Um, sorry about that. I’m kinda hungry,” I said with a good-natured chuckle and a little boyish pride at the impressive protest by my stomach. The smell was overpowering, and I was in danger of floating into the air, drifting over to the cooking pot, and diving in head first like a cartoon character.
“Laugh it up, male. The delicacy is not for you. You’ll have to get your own,” Trel spat.
“Okay. How do--” I began.
“Victor, please do not worry,” Sheela replied. “I caught this turtle for the benefit of all who live here. You are welcome to some. Sit and enjoy it, please.”
Trel turned to study me, and I felt her eyes scour my body. After a few moments, she finally reoriented on the sexy feline woman.
“Sheela, before you sit down I wanted to remind you it is getting late and we are out of water,” Trel said while tapping one of her sandals against something hollow on the floor near the fire.
I turned to Sheela and saw exhaustion flicker across her beautiful features, but then she looked at me, and her eyes were determined.
“I have not forgotten,” Sheela replied as she bent over and picked up a medium-sized clay pot that might have come from my mom’s kitchen. She held it upside down as if to prove it was empty and then carried it toward the door.
I gently grabbed her arm before she could get too far.
“You have to go back outside? Now? Where are you going?” I stammered.
“To get water from the stream. There is a drip of water in the back of the cave, but not enough for all of us. Three times a day I go out to fill this. I have been away from the cave for too long, and our supply is gone,” Sheela explained.
“You mean you just rescued me, brought me to your safe home, and now you have to go right back out into the wild? Don’t you have time to recharge with some food?” I asked as I tried to ignore the rumbling in my own stomach.
“Trel is correct,” Sheela replied. “We must gather water from the creek before it gets too late in the day. That is when the forest becomes dangerous, so I must go as soon as possible.”
“How far is it?” I asked.
“It is only a half a mile through the trees, but delays are common if I see wandering predators. There will be more threats if I do not leave immediately.”
“And you expect me to sit here and eat while you fetch a pail of water? That doesn’t sound fair at all,” I said while pointing to the fire and the simmering pot of goodness.
“You are tired. You need rest,” Sheela said as if they were dull facts.
“I’m not-- well, yeah, I’m tired,” I said. “But we’re all beat down. You’re living in a cave in the forest. You take care of your friends. There is no way I’m going to sit here while you take a risk for me. I’m coming with you.”
“Ugh. Take the male, then,” Trel said with her voice full of frustration that kind of surprised me. It almost sounded like she had wanted me to stay while Sheela left.
The blonde cat-woman looked at me with her beautiful eyes. Then she nodded to me with gratitude, and we walked over to the spears near the front door.
“One of us needs to carry this while the other guards,” Sheela instructed as she held the small pot. It had no handle or lid, so there was no easy way to carry it and grip a spear in the same hand. It would be even more cumbersome when full.
“As the male, you may wish to carry the spears and protect me,” Sheela said quietly as if explaining the rules of a game. I glanced at Galmine and Trel, waiting for a snappy comeback from the spider woman, but she must not have heard Sheela’s use of the word “male.”
Her statement tapped into my man brain in a way I hadn’t felt since snagging Ernie, the snake, at Lacey’s pool party. I could protect this beautiful woman in this carnivorous dinosaur world. I could be her hero even if the task were something as basic as collecting water.
My gamer’s brain argued it was better to align the skills of each player, so everyone was utilizing their best assets. I’d witnessed Sheela’s prowess at slaying that mega crocodile and knew her assigned skill was ‘critical strike.’ Even if I was the kind of asshat who said women were second-class citizens, which I sure as hell wasn’t, I’d be a fool to try to compare myself to her when it came to fighting with spears.
“On the other hand,” Sheela continued, “it would be useful for you to see my methods and learn my route before taking on the task of protecting the water carrier.”
“Yep. I don’t really care who leads or fights as long as we have the best person doing it. Right now, that person is you,” I said while reaching to get the pot from her.
“Thank you for trusting me,” Sheela said as she handed me the pot. “It is very dangerous out there.”
She selected the wooden spear with crocodile blood on it as well as a second one for her other hand. Then she strode out of the cave but waited at the top of the ramp as I grabbed one of the remaining spears. The one I took was as tall as my chin and arrow straight. They were all impressive weapons considering she didn’t appear to have any tools around.
“The stream is that way,” Sheela said while pointing straight out into the redwood forest, almost directly below the pterodactyl watching our cave. “We will run for a distance, and then we will stop at a hidden safe spot to watch and listen for predators. If there are none, we will run for another period until we find a place to stop.”
“You mean predators like that bird thing up in the tree?” I replied with a little nervous laughter.
“Yes. And worse. It would be best if we could hide or climb a tree. But if we must, we will fight.” She angled one of her spears in my direction as emphasis.
“I’ll do my best,” I offered.
“Do not worry. On my planet, women are expected to fight to the death to protect the males. I will ensure you make it back.”
“No way, Sheela. I, uh, respect your customs, but it’s the women who should be protected at all costs. That’s how it is where I come from. It’s called chivalry.”
“To die in combat is an honor, Victor. Women on my world may not hold land or choose who to marry, but we may always choose to fight and die for those who are worthy.”
I didn’t think dying in combat was an honor, but it wasn’t the time or place to argue. She didn’t invite me to discuss it, either. She was already scanning the surrounding forest with her hunter’s eyes, and my heart started to race when I thought about the danger ahead of us.
“Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that,” I said after a slight hesitation.
“Are you ready?” she asked as if the game was about to begin.
I nodded grimly and looked beyond her at the jungle, but who was ever ready to run into a world full of dinosaurs? Those green-feathered monsters could have been hiding behind any of the redwoods in front of me. I shook my head to get rid of my thoughts and looked up at her.
She nodded and began trotting down the ramp. Her long hair flowed and bounced to each side of her tightly packaged glutes. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred I’d have found that super hot, but this was the one deadly exception. I needed to focus on not getting eaten by dinosaurs right now.
When we reached the forest floor she picked up her pace and ran directly for one of the largest trees about a hundred yards away. I had trouble keeping up with her at first, but her sprint slowed to a fast jog as we entered the grove of ancient redwoods. I’d taken an elementary school field trip to a similar forest back in California, but I didn’t remember much about it other than the trees were hundreds of feet tall and it took most of our class to link hands all the way around one of the bases. The giants in front of us looked just about the same size.
Sheela ran directly into a large clump of bushy green ferns mixed with long cattail stalks. When we reached the trunk of the first tree, she squatted down in the leafy undergrowth and motioned for me to do the same. I set the water pot next to me and tried to calm my hammering heart and heaving lungs. Even though we hadn’t run very far, my breathing was a freight train of noise compared to Sheela’s.
“Shh. Just listen,” she whispered.
The sun was low in the sky, and it cast its orange rays almost sideways into the great forest. Some of the rays met Sheela’s soft face and caught her golden eyes just right. I admired her watchful gaze as those shimmering feline eyes scanned the deadly but beautiful forest around us. If we weren’t in mortal danger, and if I wasn’t in Dinosaurland, I would’ve whipped out my camera and snapped a picture of her.
Except my smartphone was sitting on the passenger seat of my truck back on Earth. Even if I did have my phone, it wasn’t like I’d get reception here, and there would be no way to charge it.
As my heart rate and breathing slowed, I began to hear the sounds of the forest around us and smell the scents of abundant life. Birds squawked from high above. Crickets and cicadas provided a constant background hum. The smell reminded me of family camping trips in the woods. With the familiar ferns and redwood trees, I could have been back in southern California rather than a world of ancient dinosaurs, and I was amazed at how close to normal it all seemed.
Pine needles were everywhere on the ground, and I absently rubbed my hands through them while waiting. Of course, my curiosity was rewarded with a dab of sticky sap on my fingers that I promptly rubbed on my pants.
Giant dragonflies and horseflies bounced from leaf to leaf or flew around each other in aerial dogfights. I felt an itchy pinprick on my neck and then groaned as I slapped the tiny mosquito away. It was one piece of home I wished the aliens would have skipped because I’d already been bitten a dozen times since I came here.
“Those little ones are the worst. They are everywhere,” Sheela whispered.
Roars in the distance reminded me of even bigger threats. It might have been a Tyrannosaurus Rex telling the jungle it was in charge, or one of god knows how many other carnivorous hunters and killers. Less powerful roars, chirps, and growls carried on the wind from far away like the background soundtrack from a packed Jurassic zoo.
“It sounds chaotic out there. What are you listening for?” I asked as quietly as I could.
It took her a few moments to turn and respond.
“The best hunters will remain quiet as they stalk you, but they cannot stay silent. I am listening for the sound of brush or ground clutter being disturbed. Sometimes it is the lack of sound which gives warning. If the forest itself falls silent, beware.”
I gave her a thumbs up sign, hoping the gesture made sense to her.
A minute later she seemed satisfied that we weren’t being stalked and motioned for me to follow her again. Sheela kept our path close to the base of the trees. I didn't know her exact reason, but the undergrowth seemed to accumulate there, so I guessed she used the ferns as our cover. We ran in and out of several more clumps of the green brush always heading in a line. After several more minutes, Sheela turned us a bit, and we went toward a massive redwood which probably fell over decades ago. The base of the trunk had come out of the soil, and the severed roots poked out from the dead giant like a fiery torch lying on its side. The ruined upper branches were almost a football field away.
She jumped over some rotting bark and ran into the downed tree through a gaping hole in its side near those roots. Our footfalls echoed into the empty space, and bugs of all sizes and shapes scurried into hidden lairs as we arrived. I felt like a dinosaur-sized woodpecker had drilled through solid wood from one side of the tree’s trunk to the other. The sunset leaked through numerous smaller cracks and holes, giving a hazy glow to the earthy interior.
“There is the stream,” Sheela said as she gestured to the hole leading out of the hollowed out tree.
I got up next to her to see a fertile waterway that reminded me of something from Bambi. A small flowing creek ran over large boulders as it meandered through the redwood grove, and it seemed to attract flowering plants, cattails, and ferns like a magnet in the junk drawer. A little pool of clear water sat almost directly in front of us, and it presented a happy pastoral scene fit for a small talking deer and his woodland friends.
A few little black birds pecked in the mud of the far shore, but there were no big dinosaurs anywhere in sight. Still, Sheela studied the scene for a full five minutes while I waited and watched too. I had just set the pot down when she spoke.
“I believe it is safe. I see and hear nothing of concern.”
I gulped, aware of what was next.
“You can leave your spear here. I will stand by the water while you fill the container,” she said.
“Sounds good,” I said dryly.
“And do not forget to drink from the stream while you are there,” she said. “Though not too much, we might have to run.”
Sheela gestured for me to wait a moment, and then she ducked through the front hole of the tree. I watched her athletic body leap up and over a few prominent rocks, and then she stopped at the peak of a small boulder right at the water's edge. She crouched there and then looked around cautiously before waving me over to her.
I hopped on the rocks like she did until I knelt at the edge of the twenty-foot wide pond. Then I flipped off my hat while inspecting the surface for anything that was going to try to eat me. I didn’t see anything remotely like a giant crocodile, so I dipped my hand into the cool stream and then drank my fill right from the source. The clear water was way more satisfying than my almost-fatal drink from the dirty lake and a million times better than the tease I got out of the cup back in the cave. I tried to limit myself, but I was so thirsty I drank until I felt it slosh inside me.
I submerged the clay pot into the clear water, and dozens of tiny colorful fish scattered. The orange light of the late evening sun reflected off their scales, so they glittered like coins. The rocky bottom was also lit up by the soft light, and I imagined walking the refreshing knee-deep water to the other side. Maybe Sheela could step in and we’d both fall over and get sopping wet. She already wore a bikini.
“We must go,” Sheela interrupted my fantasy after she took a moment to drink from the pond at my side. “Back home we have many streams like this one, so I would enjoy staying on the shore longer. However, it is too dangerous. We must return.”
“Yeah,” I said with a nod.
I lifted the now-filled pot and followed her back across the boulders. When we reached the shore, I one-handed my hat off the ground, expertly slapped it over my head, and balanced the unwieldy pot while we made our way back to the fallen redwood.
“You’ve been doing this by yourself?” I asked after we were safely concealed inside the hollowed-out tree.
“I did what needed to be done, but fetching water is easier with your help. I am glad you are here.” Sheela gave me another half-smile, and I finally felt my heart hammer for a reason other than fear. She may have been a tough warrior cat-woman, but I was proud I’d made her happy. Her words soothed my anxiety, but I was still a bit nervous about the next part of our trip.
“How do you not spill this?” I asked as I looked down at the clay pot. I figured there was maybe half of a gallon of water in there. I’d filled it right to the brim, but I’d already spilled an inch in the first thirty feet of travel.
“There is no effective way to seal it. I have tried bark and leaves. Galmine even made a nice clay lid for it, but it broke. Once the water begins to slosh, it escapes anything I use to cover it.”
I looked at it as a problem to solve. On some TV show I heard of ancient hunters using the bladders of animals to carry water, or maybe I saw it in one of the billions of internet videos I’d watched. The details of my life kind of ran together over the last several years. What I did know was that there had to be a better way to get water to camp than what Sheela and I were trying to do.
“Are you ready?” she asked, calling me back to the moment.
“Let’s do this,” I responded.
Sheela hopped out of the downed trunk with all three spears in her hands and set off toward the cave at a trot. I tried to follow through the clumps of ferns as quickly as I could, but carrying an open pot of sloshing water really slowed me down. I kept my eyes on the ground just in front of me and focused hard on steadying my arms to keep the pot from swaying.
She stopped to check for predators, but I didn’t even have a chance to catch my breath before she indicated we had to move on.
“This way,” she whispered over her shoulder as she took off.
Everything looked the same in the forest. The largest trees were like pillars of brown stone in a giant room sealed by a pine needle roof. Smaller trees filled in some of the gaps but much of the forest floor was wide open. It was easier to cross those flat spaces, but it also exposed us to potential predators. Somehow Sheela knew where to go, and I stayed focused on my own job of not tossing out our drinking water.
At the next big tree, Sheela let me rest for a moment.
“I am taking us a little to the side of the cave,” she explained. “If something follows us out here, I do not want to lead them right to our home.”
I wanted to tell her how impressed I was with her hunter instincts, but I couldn’t catch my breath, so I used my time to take off my hat and wipe sweat from my forehead. Fast-walking home with the pot was as draining to me as jogging to the creek without it. And my lack of fitness wasn’t doing me any favors. I put my hat back on and smiled.
“We are almost there, Victor. Next time, I will carry the water,” she said with a grin.
“Deal,” I huffed.
We left that piece of safety, and I soon saw the familiar shape of the hill and ridgeline above our cave. There were fewer big trees on the slope but more of the smaller ones. Back home tree cover meant nothing to me; here it could save my life, so I was starting to notice the small details of terrain.
Sheela led us along the bottom edge of the slope, and I walked as fast as I could to keep up with her. A sigh of relief left my throat when I caught sight of the familiar rocks outside the cave. We were almost back and would be safe in the cave in less than a minute.
I froze in my tracks when I glanced up and saw that Sheela had stopped a few yards ahead of me.
She stayed in her stance for a little while until she motioned for me to come up to her. I tried to walk as silently as I could, but leaves crackled under my feet like a marching band drum line. When I reached her, she pointed to the rocky outcropping about a hundred feet ahead.
“The bird-dinosaur we saw in the trees has landed at the base of the ramp. It is moving toward the cave. We must hurry and protect our friends.”
“Got it. I'm your shadow.” My voice cracked a bit, and my heart somehow increased its already fast tempo. I didn't really want to fight another dinosaur, especially with a pot full of water in my hands.
She gave me a sideways glance and then took off toward the cave in full on Amazon warrior mode.
I followed at a slower pace, so I could alternate between looking ahead for trouble and down to my hands to steady the sloshing water.
I finally saw the dinosaur when I got closer. It blended into the underbrush of the hillside but was definitely now on the ramp.
And heading toward the entrance of the cave.
Almost like it knew the territory had been vacated by those most able to defend it.
When Sheela saw the intruder, she waved a spear and screamed to get its attention. The pterodactyl kind of lumbered around like I had seen bats do; it hunched over the elbows of its wings. The dino belted out a surprised squawk as it hopped up and started flying to get away from her. Dust blew from the side of the path, and the creature slowly climbed into the sky before the blonde woman could get too close.
Sheela dropped two of her spears, twisted her right arm back, and hurled her javelin at the flapping lizard. It was an impressive display of athleticism, but the dinosaur was already thirty feet in the air, and Sheela’s spear fell short and sailed just under its feet. The beast seemed to understand that Sheela had almost hit it, and it let out a screech as it circled above her.
“It looks like it might try to dive!” I shouted as I weaved my way through the trees of the hillside.
As I reached the spears Sheela left behind, the pterodactyl fell through the leafy canopy like it had been dropped from a plane. It smashed through several branches and snapped them like dried twigs. At the last possible second the pterodactyl threw open its broad wings and came to a hover just a few feet over Sheela’s head. The down thrust of wind blew Sheela's long hair around, and it looked like part of the mane covered her face.
“Sheela! Above you!”
The blonde woman dove away an instant before the razor beak would have impaled her. The cat-woman rolled a few yards, got back to her feet, and hopped behind the trunk of a small tree. The pterodactyl made another dive toward her, but its wings were so large it could not fly under the low branches. It was the perfect defensive spot, and she was able to avoid its attacks.
The animal screamed in apparent frustration, beat its wings a few more times, and then circled back to land on the hillside close to Sheela. As soon as it landed, its leathery wings folded on each side so they became the odd-looking legs again. The dino didn’t appear quite as scary on the ground as it did in the air, but now could easily walk into the clump of trees where Sheela had retreated. Without a weapon, it wouldn’t be easy to keep that sharp beak from poking her.
She needed my help.
“Hey! Over here,” I shouted at the pterodactyl as I set the pot on some flat ground and then picked up one of Sheela’s discarded spears.
“Get away from her!” I yelled as I sprinted toward it.
I didn’t know how to fight a winged dinosaur from the Jurassic era, but I did know how to deal with rabid animals back home when they threatened humans. I closed the distance with my spear extended and cursed for all I was worth.
When I was within spear range, I got a good look at its black eyes and the thin, brown crest sticking backward from the top of its head. Maybe it could see into my eyes, too, and knew I meant business, because the creature spread its wings again and launched off the ground with a hop and several quick wing flaps.
A few moments later, the pterodactyl had gotten about ten feet in the air, and it was pumping its wings frantically to escape. I mimicked Sheela as I threw the long spear with as much muscle as I could put behind it. The primitive weapon hit the center of the monster’s chest, but I’d put a little tilt in my throw, and the sharpened point didn’t penetrate the flying lizard’s tough skin. The creature screamed, nonetheless, and I swear he flapped ten times harder to get away.
The spear cartwheeled down and came to a rest in a bush.
I flipped on my Eye-Q and requested info for the flying dinosaur before it could get too far away.
“Identification: Pterosaur, Pteranodon longiceps, female.”
I blinked off the Eye-Q just as Sheela stepped out from under her protective tree. She appeared ready for another attack, but her hair was a tangled mess and bits of dirt clung to her already-ruined bikini. Instead of a spear, the cat-woman held an egg-sized rock in her palm while scanning above us. I felt kind of dumb thinking she was unarmed because everything was a potential weapon to her.
“That was an excellent throw, Victor.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t kill it,” I replied with a bit of regret.
“We will never be able to kill everything on this planet. Sometimes it is enough to chase the enemy from the field of battle.” Sheela dropped the rock so she could pick up the fallen spear.
The dinosaur flapped back to its perch in the tree, but it concerned me it wasn’t leaving.
“My Eye-Q said that’s a female pterosaur, but we call them pterodactyl’s back home.” I said as I pointed to the creature. “You think she’ll try for us again?”
Since Sheela held the spear, I picked up the rock she’d set down so I had some sort of weapon.
“I would not be surprised,” Sheela said as we walked back to the water container. “She might wish to lay her eggs in the cave.”
“Well, she’s going to have to get in line,” I said with nervous laughter. “Somehow we’ve become the hottest spot in town.”
I was relieved to find the water pot was upright and mostly filled. I pocketed my throwing rock before picking up the clay container. Sheela grabbed the other spear, and we turned back. We both kept our eyes on the pterosaur as we hurried up the ramp to the cave, but the winged animal seemed content to preen herself rather than fight us again.
But she was one more problem for us. There were now two species threatening to cause trouble in our neighborhood.
Sheela went right inside our cave, but I stopped and looked into the forest one final time. What other monsters were looking to move in?