Dinosaurs of the Unwinnable West (Sample)

Back Cover Description

By Act of Congress, Dinosaur Territory Was Created…

But it was by the act of some other power that the DINOSAURS first appeared. No one outside of the Territory knows how it happened, and the folks inside the Territory don’t bother to ask. You don’t question the science when a one ton allosaur is sniffing at your barn door.

All Hutch knows about the Territory is that he wants to keep his skin as he journeys through it. Luckily, he’s made some friends along the trip—a young explorer, a mail carrier, and a stego convoy leader with a reputation. Ahead of him are a number of thrilling encounters, some with the Territory’s flesh-hungry wildlife and some with the ruffians and scoundrels that call the Territory home.

What else awaits Hutch?

Motion sickness from a guanodon ride, an escape from a trike stampede, a job shoveling sauropod manure, and much more…

So climb into a stego carriage or throw your saddle on a pachysaur to join Hutch and his companions on their first Dinosaur Territory Adventure!

More about Dinosaurs of the Unwinnable West: 15 Chapters, 13 simple illustrations, and over 60,000 words!

Below is a chapter from Dinosaurs of the Unwinnable West

Chapter 4 ~ Tagalongs

When morning came, they dug themselves out of the drying gumbo, loaded up, and headed back on the trail. The convoy continued west for over a week without trouble. Then one day, just after Cookie served a lunch of bean sandwiches, Dorgin announced that the convoy wouldn’t go any farther for the rest of the day. During lunch, one of the stegos had stepped in a nest of giant ground wasps, and its leg had gone lame from the stings. The creature needed some time to recover.

Most evenings, after the stegos stopped their march, Wendy and Hutch would explore the area surrounding the trail. That only gave them an hour or so before sundown. But today, because they made camp early, Wendy figured they had maybe four hours to explore the surrounding forest.

As part of his duties as junior butler, Hutch prepped the gear for their outing. He had a net for bugs, a large knife, and a small shovel (of course). All secured and fastened around his waist with a drab, dino-skin tool belt.

He put on his hat and crawled out of the carriage. Wendy and Jo’ joined him outside of camp.

With Jo’ leading the way, they left the trail and tramped into a nearby stand of trees. After a while, they entered a clearing of low plants. A narrow stream with one high bank formed the clearing’s far boundary.

Wendy was admiring one of the horsetails when Jo’ started to growl.

She pointed toward a thick of low ferns. A few quiet seconds passed. Then something burst out of the leaves and rushed toward the group. It was a baby trike, unsteady on its stout legs. Without stopping the charge, it began honking excitedly.

Three men appeared from the trees. They ran after the baby trike. One of the men swished a lasso over his head. The other two carried long poles capped with metal hooks. They were gaining on the trike.

The little trike’s honks grew louder, and the men shouted commands back and forth to one another. They hadn’t yet noticed the three explorers.

The one with the lasso flicked it out toward the trike. The rope landed around the dino’s neck. He yanked, and it sprawled out on the forest floor. The men with poles rushed forward and used the poles to hold the trike steady.

While the trike squalled horribly, Wendy stepped toward the men.

“Gentlemen!” she yelled over the squeals. “What are you doing to this poor creature?”

“Gentlemen?” snickered one of the polemen. He wore a small rounded cap over what Hutch suspected was a baldhead. “You talking to us, missus?”

The other men continued their work with the trike, oblivious to Wendy. They were strapping its beak closed. The squealing abruptly stopped.

“I most certainly am,” Wendy answered. “Why are you manhandling that poor thing?”

“Who are you, missus, to interrupt and meddle in the business of others?” said the poleman.

“A traveler,” answered Wendy uncertainly. “See, I was decent enough not to return your question with another. Now, I ask you to answer mine. Why manhandle that dino?”

“I see, traveler,” returned the man. “It’s your job to interrupt and meddle. But notice, I ain’t asking you to give me the details of interrupting and the particulars of meddling. I see you’re doing a fine job of it. What’s the need for you to explain yourself?”

Wendy’s cheeks turned to a splotchy pink color, as she realized that the bald poleman was making fun of her.

“See here, missus,” he continued, snickering again. “We’re doing our job. Hunting trikes. My boys and me are doing fine at it. We were, at least. Then we was interrupted, and our business was meddled with. It’s okay. You’re doing your job, traveler. But still, we’re not obliged to explain how we go about doing our job, are we? Our technique is proprietary, a trade secret, after all.”

The other men snickered along with their leader.

“We’re low on time, boss,” said the one with the lasso. He had roped the little trike in between the two poles. It squirmed hopelessly.

Wendy was furious. “I only asked why you were harassing that poor creature. It doesn’t have horns yet. It’s no good for ivory. It did you no harm. Such treatment is needlessly cruel.”

“Again, we don’t have to explain how we do our job.” At this, the leader turned his back on Wendy and Hutch and walked off.

“It’s not right to hunt such a helpless animal,” Wendy shouted. “What could you gain?”

The man with the lasso and the other poleman balanced the poles on their shoulders. The three marched a distance over to a low part of the stream bank. Then, with the dino secure, up the bank they went.

Hutch noticed that Jo’ was gone too. A roll of thunder shook the surrounding forest. Oddly, the skies were clear.

Wendy turned to Hutch. “Can you believe they’d torture that poor creature?” Her face was bright red.

Hutch shrugged. Because of his dad, he didn’t have warm feelings for trikes. Still he felt a little sorry for the squealing animal.

More thunder rumbled. It was louder this time and the rumbling didn’t stop.

“Wendy,” Hutch said quietly, “maybe we should follow those fellas. Get out of this clearing.”

“Follow them?” she hissed. “So we can watch them butcher the little trike?”

Hutch looked around. They were exposed. He started backing toward the stream bank. The rumble grew louder and included crashing sounds.

Wendy looked around for Jo’. She just noticed that the dino was gone.

“Something ain’t right,” Hutch whispered.

“That sound,” Wendy said at last. “It’s not thunder. It’s a—“

“Trike Stampede!”

A row of trikes exploded through the horsetails. Splinters and leaf-shreds burst into the air. The trikes were enormous. Much larger than the baby. And their bony neck frills made them appear even bigger. There were about a dozen of them side by side. The largest trike was in the middle of the herd. They charged through the clearing in a sickle-shaped line. If they kept their course, the leading portion of the herd would soon sweep across the edge of the stream.

Wendy was awestruck by the scene until Hutch yanked her toward the stream bank. It was the only high ground and their only chance to escape being gored.

“What about Jo’?” she shouted as they dashed toward the bank.

“I believe she’s taken care of herself!”

The nearest part of the stream bank was high and bare of roots. If they were on its top, they could protect themselves from the trikes. But climbing the bank proved to be difficult, and they were stuck.

Scraping with their horns, the trikes continued to upturn foliage and soil. They clobbered all obstacles as they bore down on Hutch and Wendy.

Hutch boosted Wendy up a portion of the bank. It crumbled as she struggled up its side. Her fingertips clawed the soil just a couple of feet below the edge, but she could go no further. The trikes were closing in. They snorted thunderously. Hutch strained beneath her, still providing most of her support. His hands now held the tips of her boots. He pressed himself against the bank, hoping the onslaught would just roll by.

He looked up. His arms almost buckled as Wendy planted herself for one last jump to scramble over the bank. But Hutch knew it wouldn’t be enough.

From the top of the bank, a hand and a long arm shot out suddenly. It grabbed Wendy and pulled her over. Hutch recognized it as the long arm of the man with the lasso.

Again the man lowered himself over the top of the bank. Hutch jumped up and grabbed his arm. Together with the two other men, he pulled Hutch to safety.

In the clearing below the edge of the bank, it looked like a tornado had touched down. The trikes were still wheeling through, but they had slowed. Some pranced and flipped their horns in the air aggressively.

The largest trike circled toward the spot where the hunters had captured the little one. She must be the mother, Hutch thought. She stamped her feet at the spot and halted. The rest of the dinos halted as well.

Hutch turned to face his rescuers. The man with the lasso crouched on a dead tree. His face was stony despite the fact that he had just risked his life. The other poleman leaned over the bank to look at the herd of trikes and the chaos they had created. He gave Hutch the feeling that they were still in danger. Farther away, Hutch could see the baby trike squirming under a tree, still tied to the poles. Sitting nearest to Hutch and Wendy was the leader, sneering.

“Well, well, well,” he whispered, “if it isn’t the meddling travelers.” He stood up and then turned to the man with the lasso. “Make sure they follow us.”

Hutch and Wendy were still exhausted from their effort to climb the bank. But, either because of the danger from the trikes or the underlying threats from the hunters, they felt compelled to follow. And on top of it all, night was falling. Reluctantly, they stood and walked after the men.

***

On the march, Wendy and Hutch learned that the leader’s name was Mallet. The other two men were too busy to share their names. They kept a brisk pace, despite the dense plant life and the wiggling dino that they were hauling. As he marched along, Hutch sensed they were getting farther and farther away from the stego convoy.

Eventually, they made it to a small campsite with no campfire. In the center, though, a lamp glowed with an odd green color. Surrounding it were a half dozen small canvas tents. Also someone had stacked wooden crates just at the edge of camp. Hutch guessed that these were for storing the trike horns and shipping them back east. There were so many of them. Aside from the strange lamp and the over-sized stack of crates, the camp looked like many of the hunter camps they’d passed on the trail.

Mallet sent Wendy and Hutch to a tent. He gave them fresh water and a type of salted meat that he called “three-horned mutton”. They sat just outside the tent to have their meal. But Hutch was suspicious of the mutton and gave his portion to Wendy, who wolfed it down.

They wondered what Mallet’s plan was for them. There were rumors about kidnappers in Dino Territory, and Hutch knew that a famous person like Wendy could be held for a high ransom. Also, Jo’ was still missing and that worried him.

While they sat outside their tent, Mallet and the other two hoisted the baby trike up a tree. It continued to squirm miserably, but Hutch guessed that dangling it from the tree would keep the little creature safe from predators. Once the trike was settled, Mallet returned to speak with them.

“Hope you enjoyed your supper,” he said. “You’ll be comfortable here for the night. Safe from the dinos, I think. At dawn, one of my men will return you to your convoy leader. He’ll have been worrying about you, I’m sure.”

Hutch and Wendy were relieved. Mallet clearly had no plans to ransom them.

“Tonight,” he continued, “you just need to remember one thing: stay put. No harm’ll come to you so long as you stay put.” He focused on Wendy. “Especially you, missus. No meddling. No interrupting. Just. Staying. Put.”

After Mallet left, Hutch settled down to get some rest. He entered the tent and then removed his tool belt. The tent was small and there were no blankets inside, so he and Wendy would have to sleep on the bare ground. The only light was the faint green glow shining through the tent’s opening. But Hutch didn’t see the need for any more light. He was ready to sleep. He wanted to get up early and make it to the stego convoy for Cookie’s famous breakfast (cold beans). Since he had passed on the “three-horned mutton”, his empty stomach grumbled. Hutch was also worn out from the afternoon’s excitement.

Wendy, on the other hand, was restless. Hutch heard her search through her belongings, where she found the whistle that she used to call Jo’. She blew it several times, but she seemed to know the effort was hopeless. Wherever Jo’ was, she was probably out of earshot of the whistle. Wendy spent a few minutes outside scribbling in her journal. Hutch was almost asleep, but then she flopped down on the other side of the tent.

“Hutch,” she whispered, “are you awake?”

“I don’t know,” he yawned. “Well, I suppose I am now.”

“Listen, I’m going to explore a little. There’s something strange about this camp. I think Mallet’s hiding something.”

“What’s strange? That green light?” Hutch had his own questions about these trike hunters, but he also really wanted to get back to the trail in one piece. From what his dad told him, many of the trike hunters that he worked with were used to bloodshed and easy to upset—a bad combination. He didn’t want to cross Mallet again. “Why don’t you just wait and ask him about it in the morning?”

“Because I don’t think he’ll tell me the truth.”

“You may be right about that, but I’d rather get back to our convoy with my skin. He wants us to stay put, remember?”

“You stay put. I’m going to have a look around.”

Wendy slipped out of the tent.

Hutch squeezed his eyes shut and tried to make himself comfortable again, using his hat as a pillow. A creature roared in the distance. It was no use. He couldn’t sleep.

“Wait, Wendy. I’m coming along too.” He crammed the hat back on his head.

***

They crept along the edge of the campsite, just outside of the lamplight’s glow. They made it to the stack of crates. Because the stack cast a great shadow, they could get closer to the center of camp while staying out of the light. They were nearby Mallet and his men, but, with the insects buzzing all around, they couldn’t hear what the men were saying.

Wendy peered out from behind one of the crates. As she was looking at the glowing lamp, Hutch noticed some text emblazoned on the side of a crate. Nat’l West’n Ent, it read in large letters. National Western. As far as he could see in the gloom, all the crates were stamped with those letters. National Western must be working with these trike hunters somehow. They provided the crates—that was easy enough to see. But what else did National Western have to do with Mallet and his men?

“Hutch, you won’t believe this,” Wendy whispered, as she slipped back completely in the shadow. “That glow is coming from bugs. From the look of it they’re baby bugs, probably the larvae of a giant firefly. They just stuff them into a jar and voila: instant, low cost lighting. Can you believe how much light they give off?”

“Wendy, we need to get back to the tent. These hunters are more dangerous than we thought.”

“Dangerous? Listen Hutch, I was wrong about them. They’re smart. What else could we learn from them? Take a look at the bugs.”

Hutch peeked over the top of the crate. The lantern was indeed filled with bugs. The baby bugs, or larvae, each gave off a glow from a spot about the size of a pocket watch. There were probably a dozen of them. They wriggled inside the jar. Under their glow, Hutch could clearly see Mallet and his men. They seemed to be in a serious conversation.

Without warning, Wendy left the shadow and crawled along the ground. Hutch stifled a cuss and then followed her.

They crawled through the gloom and into the shadow of a tent. Once in the shadow, they were close enough to hear the trike hunters talking.

“—Tell ya we’re going to be rich!” Mallet declared. “Those dinos won’t know what hit ‘em.”

“Yeah, but how can we be sure there’s enough nearby?” said one of the other hunters.

“They’re all over the place—that’s how. Plus, they’ve excellent hearing. They’ll hear their little one squealing. Then Mama Trike will lead the herd right over the cliff and SPLAT! We’ll be rich as kings. National Western has already set up buyers in New York, Europe, and even as far as China! It’ll be easy.”

“Easy for you. You don’t have to strap an ornery little trike to the edge of a cliff.”

“You’re scared of a little baby trike, eh? Once we corner the trike ivory market, you can hire whoever you want to do the dangerous work. But for now, it’s me who has the ideas and you who does the dangerous work. You’re not smart enough for it to go the other way around, are you Shorty?”

At that, the one called Shorty was silent.

Wendy turned to Hutch and whispered, “So that’s what they plan to do with the little trike. They’re going to use it as bait. When they remove the strap from around its beak, it’ll start squealing. The herd will then charge toward the sound of the squealing trike—just like this afternoon. Except this time, the herd’ll charge right off a cliff. Those poor things. That’s slaughter. It’s unsportsmanlike.”

“Well,” whispered Hutch, “I don’t reckon these fellas are after trikes for the sport of it.”

“Now Shorty’s little outburst brings me to another thing,” Mallet went on. “If our outfit is going to have an edge on all the other trike hunters, we’ve got to keep my technique a secret. At all costs.”

“That so?” said the hunter with the lasso.

“Of course it’s so, Kurke. What’re you playing at?”

“I’m playing at nothing.” Then Kurke reached a long arm over to the tent. He pulled aside the canvas. The green light shined on Hutch and Wendy. “But these here tagalongs are playing at snoops.”

The pair grinned innocently under the light.

“We still gotta keep that secret?” asked Kurke. “At all costs?”

***

Below is an excerpt from the travel journal of Wendy Meriwether Lewis

Triceratops (meaning: three-horned face; pronunciation: try-SERR-a-tops; abbreviation: trike)

Scientific name: Triceratops horridus

Suborder: Ceratopsia

image009

The past few days on the trail had grown somewhat monotonous, but that’s all changed now that recent events have lead us away from our convoy and thrown us in with a small band of the Territory’s Ne’er-Do-Wells. The group has given us shelter, some food, and even recued us from a certain death. However, I’m troubled by their suspicious behavior toward us and their abuse of a captive dino. Because of this, as soon as I finish with this entry, I intend to find out what these men are hiding.

But this is a creature-oriented journal, and I must put to paper my most recent encounter with the mega fauna of the Territory. We didn’t have a good view of the herd until we were above the bank and clear of the stampede. However, once we were safe, I had a moment with a good view of the triceratops, an herbivorous quadruped—similar to the stego*. But unlike the stego, which is notable for its relatively small head, the trike may have the largest head of all the dinos. I could see that adult trikes measure about 30 feet in length, but—amazingly—their heads measure almost 10 feet. And what incredible heads they are! Jutting out from above their eyebrows are long, fearsome horns; capping the tip of their nose is a third shorter horn; and then swooping back from the skullcap is a bony frill protecting the neck. The points on the frill wrap around and above the head giving it an appearance almost like an Indian headdress.

Trikes are herd animals, and they are protective of their young. It was through this protectiveness that I learned an important lesson. Trikes can charge, and together they will stampede. Give the trike a reason to charge at you, and you had better get out of the way!

*The Linnaean Society has some concerns with the fact that trikes and stegos live together in the Territory. From research in other parts of the globe (collected by the Society’s librarians), trikes and stegos are from two completely separate epochs in earth’s history. The fossilized bones of these creatures are found in different layers of soil. The difference in the soil layers suggests that stegos lived and then died out millions of years before trikes ever appeared. The Society has further noted that these are not the only dinos in the Territory that never lived together in earth’s “natural” history. Such mysteries make the Territory a maddening place to professional paleontologists. To me it just adds to the excitement!

Advertisements