“Are we safe camping here?”
“Depends on exactly what you mean by safe.” Rogers cracked a two-inch pine branch in half and tossed both ends onto the fire. Sparks rose, orange motes flickering then dying. “Safer than most inner cities, I’d say. Riskier than a suburban backyard camp out.”
Jeff Stewart downed the last of his IPA, tossed the can into the fire where the hours-old coals glowed glass-furnace hot. Before they broke camp, they’d dig out the aluminum slag: ‘Leave no trace, even on a private ranch.’ He popped the top on his fourth. “You said they hunt in packs?”
“Sure, they hunt in packs. But they’re not fully warm-blooded predators. Not like wolves or cougars or what-have-you.” Rogers again waved off Stewart’s offered beer. “Thanks, but no. Guides don’t partake in guests’ amenities.” Instead, he sipped cold chicory coffee from a stainless-steel thermos. “Cassaraptors, back bred from Australian cassowaries, they typically bed down at night. Deinoturkus, on the other hand, yeah, they’ll sneak through camp, maybe steal a nibble at some trash if we’re not careful. That’s why a clean camp is a safe camp.”
“I’ve seen your brochure. The claws on those dino-turkeys, they could do some damage.”
“Deinoturkus, I like to use the proper names.” Rogers tilted his thermos, wiped his lips. “So, yeah, not mammals, but it’s dangerous to think about them like they’re big dumb birds. You should consider them more like they’re African jackals. And yup, they’ve got talons that’ll leave you hurtin’ and teeth like a rusted cheese grater. But you can kill ’em with a machete if you have to.” Rogers swiped the air with the flat of his hand. “Their heads come right off.”
“Nice.” Stewart made fake Jackie Chan moves. “Maybe we’ll get the chance.”
“Mm, maybe. They’re probably faster than you think. Anyway. We’re safe tonight. We’ve got the lasers set up. That reminds me, you or your snoring friend, Tanner, get up to take a leak, don’t wander too far from your tent.”
“Roger that,” Stewart giggled, “Rogers.”
“One last thing.” The guide, Dustin Rogers, stocky, a bit portly, but as serious as a US Marshal, stood and doused the fire with a handy bucket. An atomic burst of steam rose up into the night sky. “The firearms are locked up. But in order to put your mind at ease, you’ll find a couple of dart-loaded Tasers near your cots. They won’t kill anything, or anyone. But they’ll sting a saurid something fearful.”
“Not pepper spray?”
Rogers kicked a glowing stub into the fire pit. “Only mammals are affected by pepper spray.”
“Huh.” Stewart struggled from his folding chair. “Tasers are cool. Ever got hit by one o’ them?”
Rogers stirred the sloppy ashes. The reptilian hiss continued to simmer. “You go on and get tucked in, Mr. Stewart. I’ll rouse you AM.”
“Oh, OK. Tasers, wow.”
Tanner moaned, swung his bare legs out from his cot and slipped his feet into a pair of Crocs. The October evening, dry and warm, had forced his body to sweat out the alcohol he’d consumed on his long flight to Edmonton. He smacked his gummy lips and looked around for a bottle of water or beer or something.
He tried to discern his mate, Jeff Stewart, passed out in the cot opposite, his ragged snoring a familiar sound given their history of past adventures. But all he could see was a dark sleeping bag in the weak glow leaking through the canvas roof.
“Better be a fuckin’ cooler here somewhere.”
Twenty seconds later, finding nothing to drink, he fumbled with the tent’s zipper and ambled into the starlight, crickets and stagnant air. He scratched himself, blinked hard and spied a meager path that led away from the three tents that made their camp.
“First we vent.”
Not ten steps down the path he spied an array of luminous red lines fading in and out of focus. He marched up to the barrier of light and wiggled his fingers through them. The laser light danced across his palm. He proceeded to urinate there, spraying his jet up to sparkle like liquid rubies in the alarm system.
Which, after a moment’s lag, triggered a klaxon horn wirelessly attached to the laser scanners.
“What the fuck?”
He spun and tried to focus on the source of the noise.
Inside their tent, Jeff woke from a deep slumber, acclimated himself to the time and place, jumped up and accidentally kicked the Taser he’d been fondling before he fell asleep. He grabbed it and groggily stumbled out, pistol in hand.
Rogers called after him as Stewart rounded the tent and went hunting his dino-turkey.
“I’ll handle this Mr. Stewart. Stand down. Stand down, I said,” called Rogers.
A dark lumbering shape rose up before Stewart. “Fuckin’ A. A goddamn Cassa, cassa-what’s it. A fuckin’ dinosaur.”
Tanner peered into the darkness. “What? Is that you J…”
Stewart aimed and pulled the trigger.
The pair of barbed darts, trailing hair-thin copper wire, shot out and embedded themselves in Tanner’s chest. Electric current flowed immediately. Tanner, rigid as a fir tree, fell straight back into the tall grass.
“Oh, fuck,” mumbled Stewart.
Behind him Rogers yelled out. “Duck, you stupid sonofabitch. There’s more of them.”
Stewart stepped forward, tripped and fell atop his friend.
Over their heads, Rogers’ military chambered shotgun fired again and again. Being down range, the sound exploded in Stewart’s ears. He started screaming. “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot. It’s Tanner. It’s not a fuckin’ dinosaur.”
Rogers ceased firing and brought around his high-powered flashlight. “I told you I’d handle this, Mr. Stewart.”
Stewart sobbed into his friend’s sweaty T-shirt. “I… I killed him.”
“No, Mr. Stewart. You Tased him. He won’t be happy with you. But the both of you are still alive.”
“Why were you shooting?”
“You came to hunt dinosaurs, did you not, Mr. Stewart?”
Rogers waved his torch around the surrounding area. Half a dozen bodies the size of Brittany Spaniels glowed iridescent green in the light; their feathers blotched with dark red buckshot holes.
“Well, there are your dinosaurs.” Rogers hefted one by a wickedly taloned hind leg. “We’ll be dining fine tomorrow.”