I just went public on social media yesterday saying that it’d be out in July… and then the e-book version came out last night.
That was a nice surprise from the publisher!
The paperback should be out in a couple of weeks. I approved the formatting this morning at 5:45 am when I realized what was happening and that I shouldn’t be holding up the print copy!
Here is the link.
So, SPOILER NOTICE. If you haven’t read the first one, I recommend you do before you read the excerpt below. This part of the book is the first 10% or so.
ENTER PREHISTORIC – Second in the West of Prehistoric series.
Erik ‘Tracer’ Testerman
Four miles north of Granite Falls, Wyoming.
The summer sun beat down on me as I watched the massive dinosaur feasting on Jason Harper’s corpse.
Hunched over on all four legs, the top of the dinosaur’s back was eight feet high and from blood covered snout to the tip of tail was easily sixteen feet in length. A scarlet fin rose between its eyes, increasing in height over a sloping skull before running down the neck and fading away between the beast’s shoulder blades. The rest of its body, corded with thick muscle and sinew, was a light green, with smudges of brown for added camouflage.
It was the biggest dinosaur we’d found yet on this side of the tunnel. So, of course, it had to be a predator and not one of those cute plant eaters with the long necks.
The beast raised the mangled remains with both front claws and crunched the man’s skull between blood-stained teeth. Even from this distance, the sound was sickening. The dinosaur shook the corpse and a severed arm fell. The torn limb landed amongst scattered remains of Harper’s ill-fated herd of sheep that he’d apparently died trying to protect.
Carbine stomped his hooves impatiently. He was anxious to be away, but I knew the soldiers needed more time to prepare, so I watched and waited as the dinosaur feasted.
Wrapping my fingers on the black Allosaurus claw that dangled from its leather cord around my neck, I leaned forward on the saddle pommel and thought about the events of the past couple of months.
Battle of the Apes.
That’s what newspapers across America called it.
At the time, we just called it survival. And the only reason I was there at all was because I was hiding from my vengeful outlaw past. I was just trying to make a fresh start. Then a dinosaur killed one of my horses and tried to eat me. I barely survived by filling it full of lead and finishing the beast off with a crate of dynamite. Then I ate it, and now I wear its claw as a memento of the occasion.
After that, some prehistoric, Triceratops riding, giant apes visited my ranch and tried to kill me. I backtracked them to their home where I saw their leader ritualistically rip a man’s heart out of his chest. That ticked me off, so I killed a bunch of them in return, possibly sparking a war in the process. But the apes didn’t seem fans of peaceful coexistence anyways. Then, as we prepared our town’s defenses against an army of invading apes, I crossed paths with the Union raider that’d whipped me near to death as a child. The same man I’d spent my entire outlaw life searching for, was now the owner of the East-West Railroad. He’s still alive, and I still owe him a great deal of pain and misery. That’s coming soon. You can bet your bottom dollar on that. The thick strips of scar tissue across my back are a constant reminder that some debts can only be repaid in blood.
Then came the attack on the little town of Granite Falls. We were outnumbered, a paltry four to one. I thought for sure we were all going to die. Which was a shame, because I’d just met the love of my life, Skyla, a paleontologist from the Smithsonian Institute. Did I mention she’s beautiful? In the rarest of ways, because she’s beautiful inside and out. But she doesn’t know who I really am or the terrible things I’ve done for mostly good reasons. That’s a problem for another day that will hopefully never come.
When the battle joined, things got real bad, real quick when waves of hairy, savage monkeys swarmed our town. We slayed them by the dozens but they just kept coming. They quickly overwhelmed our defenses, slaughtering us with spears, clubs, and arrows while their tamed raptors bounded amongst us, shredding men apart with tooth and claw.
But with the help of the local Shaynee Indian tribe, willing to bury the hatchet between white and red men to kill a mutual enemy, and timely reinforcements arriving by railroad brought by my mortal enemy, we managed to turn the tide of battle and soundly defeat them.
We still lost over eighty percent of the men and women defending the town that day, including a good friend of mine and his two nephews.
Sighing, I arched my back to work out a kink.
I must have moved too quickly, because the finned beast whipped its fearsome head in our direction and snorted loudly as if trying to get my scent.
Carbine tensed beneath me, and I took in a sharp breath, realizing my mistake.
Apparently still hungry, the dinosaur growled and charged.
Dropping onto all fours, the clawed feet sent tufts of prairie grass into the air as it raced towards us. It moved faster than I’d have thought possible for an animal of its size.
Whipping Carbine around, I kicked my heels to his flanks and he surged forward into a dead sprint towards where we’d left the soldiers.
My current name is Jedidiah Huckleberry Smith.
And this is my story.
My dun mustang stretched his legs out, black mane and tail waving in the wind as we raced across the rolling plains.
“Good boy,” I told him fondly while resting a hand on the grip of one of my twin Colt Peacemakers. Twisting about in the saddle, I considered trying to put a .45 caliber slug into the dinosaur chasing us. At this distance, the chance of hitting was slim, but just running and not shooting seemed foreign to me and I’d have felt better if I could wound it a little.
Because it was gaining on us.
The large reptilian head opened its mouth wide, exposing jagged teeth and let loose an ear-piercing roar as it closed the distance between us in large bounds.
Carbine responded by stretching his neck out and giving his all as he charged up a grassy hill toward a pair of Gatling guns waiting on the crest. Groups of soldiers stood by the weapons under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Carson. The young officer stood tall between them, sword raised, waiting to give the order for the multi-barreled guns to open fire once I was clear.
The dinosaur was dangerous enough, but worrying about a man getting fearful and firing before I reached safety certainly didn’t help my nerves any. I crouched lower over Carbine’s back and urged him on with a yell.
With less than a hundred yards left between us and the angry dinosaur, I raced between the Gatlings.
It was close.
Sunlight glinted off the Lieutenant’s blade as he swept it down and screamed, “FIRE!”
Immediately, the gun on the left fired on the rampaging monster.
A steady pop-pop-pop-pop erupted from the rotating barrels as the gunner cranked the handle, sending bullet after bullet towards the red crested beast.
The first few bullets hit the dinosaur, the heavy slugs causing the snarling creature to stumble to the side and the other rounds to miss. Swearing, the soldier fought the traversing mechanism to line the gun up on the rapidly approaching predator as the rest of his team dumped more cartridges into the gun’s hopper to keep it firing.
The monster roared in pain and anger, circling away from the loud contraption. The gunner twisted the weapon after the dinosaur, struggling to catch up to the moving beast.
The other Gatling remained silent. A soldier jerked the handle back and forth, but it appeared jammed. He shouted for help in frustration.
Without that second weapon, we were in for a world of hurt.
I pulled my Eighty-Six from its tooled leather scabbard. Racking the lever, I sent a large .45-70 cartridge into the chamber of the custom prototype 1886 Winchester rifle.
Dinosaurs never go down easy.
“Get that gun operational!” Carson shouted as he rushed over to the crew served weapon. Soldiers manning the gun worked feverishly to fix it. The officer shoved a man aside and slid underneath the wheeled carriage, jamming his hands inside the gun from below. His young face contorted painfully as he worked to free the gun.
The beast slowed, hesitating, and a jagged row of bullets stitched into the beast’s chest and hind quarters as the Gatling gunner found his mark. The monster roared fearsomely and rushed further to our right side, circling around our position to flank us. Blood trickled from puckered wounds, but the beast seemed unfazed.
Tucking the polished wood rifle stock into my shoulder, I fired into the creature’s chest at twenty yards away. The bullet hit, sending a splash of blood across the green pebbled hide. The finned dinosaur didn’t seem to notice and charged directly towards us.
“Oh hell,” I muttered as I worked the lever, slamming the action open and close, and sending an empty brass shell spinning to the ground.
Soldiers working on the malfunctioning gun grabbed stacked rifles and began to open fire with their small arms.
Two more large strides and the monster was upon us.
With a swing of its red-finned head, the working Gatling was knocked aside and the soldier operating the weapon snatched up in the creature’s teeth. With a savage twist of its sloping head, the shrieking man was bitten in half. His legs flopped beside another soldier who scrambled away and ran for the picketed horses fifty yards behind us.
Another followed, throwing down his weapon to flee the monster among us. The rest, braver, and perhaps more foolish, stood their ground and fought. They circled around the beast, firing rifles upwards into its large body as it twisted and thrashed, ripping men apart with tooth and claw.
The young Lieutenant crawled out from under the malfunctioning gun and was immediately flung a dozen feet into the tall grass with a slap of the dinosaur’s tail as it twisted about on the small grassy crest.
Claws swiped across the front of another soldier to my right. Blood sprayed in an arc and splattered Carbine. My horse jerked his head and fought the bit to get away as I hammered the beast with large rounds from my rifle. Bullets cracked past me as soldiers missed from the other side of the dinosaur. I swore and ducked involuntarily before firing again.
Behind us, the pair of fleeing soldiers leapt onto horses, whipping them frantically with reins as they rode away.
Kicking my heels against Carbine, I put him into a trot, moving in a circle to maintain distance away from the beast as I concentrated on putting as many bullets from my expensive rifle into the dinosaur’s finned head as possible. It was difficult with the thrashing, roaring, biting dinosaur rampaging amongst the remaining soldiers. Only a couple of shots connected, tearing hide away and glancing off the thick bone of its skull. The beast seemed to be weakening and slowing, but it still contained enough life in it to kill us all.
The dinosaur’s tail smashed into the other Gatling, sending it tumbling over a pair of disfigured corpses. It rolled, crushing mutilated bodies under the iron clad wheels before bumping down the hill and toppling over.
Rifle empty, I thrust it into the scabbard and drew my matching Colt Peacemakers. Not the stoutest of fire power against such a large beast but they were faster than a reload and this dinosaur needed to go down fast as soldiers were dying quickly.
Carson burst from the tall grass, armed with only his sword. Bleeding and limping, the young Lieutenant raced towards the beast, slashing and hacking at its back legs and tail. The blade did little damage, but the temporary distraction allowed the two remaining soldiers time to flee to the horses and mount.
“Run!” I yelled at the officer and kicked Carbine’s flanks, sending him rushing towards the dinosaur and wounded Lieutenant. Firing both pistols, I screamed a rebel yell at the beast to distract it from the officer standing before it with bloodied sword raised high in defiance.
Ignoring me, the dinosaur raised a clawed foot and stomped down.
Thick talons sliced through Carson’s face, chest, and stomach. Loops of severed intestines fell as the officer grabbed at his mortally wounded body and collapsed.
The beast viciously bit the officer’s face and savaged his body with front claws.
Screaming in rage, I let Carbine race us away from the gruesome scene.
The dinosaur didn’t seem interested in pursuing us, and we stopped on the next ridge by the remaining staged horses of the now dead soldiers.
From where we’d set our ambush, there was nothing but broken Gatling guns and mangled corpses. Dismounting cautiously, with an eye on the dinosaur, I dropped to my feet and kicked a rock in frustration. All those men, dead, because one of our two guns malfunctioned. And Lieutenant Carson had been a good man. Smart, funny, filled with the youthful enthusiasm that I barely remembered having… now also dead.
Raising its blood-covered face towards the sky, the wounded beast roared dominance over mankind then took two steps and fell. It struggled to rise, pulling its legs beneath its large body, but only managing to raise its head off the ground.
Drawing my rifle from its scabbard, I began reloading the Eighty-Six as I looked after the other soldiers who’d escaped. Trails of dust showed they were riding towards town with no intent to come back. Cowardly, but I couldn’t blame them. Only four of them survived and their commanding officer was dead.
The remaining horses were uneasy. They could smell the scent of blood and death in the air. I pulled up their stakes and gave them a gentle slap on the rump to send them on their way. They’d wander back to town in a day or two. Unless something ate them, or they were caught by the Indians. After the battle, the local Shaynee tribe had so much U.S. Government marked equipment that another dozen horses wouldn’t be noticed. The Indians got away with a lot now, because without their sacrifice, we wouldn’t have survived until the railroad reinforcements arrived. Also, they were no longer our main concern. Apes and dinosaurs were. For the moment, we were at peace with the Indians.
Picking a spot that looked relatively comfortable, I crawled into the prone position with the Eighty-Six. Lying on my belly in the tall grass and cradling the gun in my hands, I flipped the peep sight upright and squinted at the ivory bladed front sight. The lone Gatling and soldier’s bullets had done their job, the beast was dying. But until it stopped breathing, it was dangerous.
I waited for a clean shot. The Lieutenant and his men were going to be avenged by my bullet. Skyla wouldn’t like it. She’d want the head as unmutilated as possible. But we’d already shot the creature to rags and it still didn’t quit.
The dinosaur struggled again, thrashing its tail against the ground. This time it managed to stand. Blood oozed from puckered wounds along its chest and side. It took one careful step and halted, swaying slightly. The finned head swung towards me and glared. A long gash from a bullet ran along the side of its head from snout to jaw line, revealing a row of jagged teeth and the white of bone beneath the flap of torn hide.
I squeezed the trigger, letting the break of the hammer be a surprise and sending the large 200 grain bullet into the dinosaur’s skull. The beast staggered, the large toothed head dipping as the creature wobbled. It clawed a front leg at its face, then toppled over. The beast spasmed, legs and claws tearing up chunks of prairie dirt in death throes.
Racking the lever, I waited, much longer than was probably necessary, to make sure the beast was dead. The skull was thick, probably a inch or more, and I wanted to be certain that I punctured it instead of just knocking the dinosaur out. The risk of being eaten wasn’t worth the time saved by impatience.
After fifteen minutes had passed, I put another bullet into the dinosaur’s chest. This time it didn’t so much as twitch. Ejecting the shell casing, I stood and rested the rifle over a shoulder.
All manner of dinosaurs had made it through the tunnel before Fort York was built to block off the entrance to our side. Most of the things that passed through were relatively harmless. But some, like this strange red-finned predator, were menaces that needed to be put down.
And put them down we did.
My ranch was on the way back to town, so I stopped by to check on the place.
Looking back on when I first came to Granite Falls, I realize I didn’t have a plan. I just wanted to stop outlawing and settle down somewhere. That I accomplished. But I never truly planned for the rest of my future. I never thought about getting married, having kids, or doing whatever it is that normal folks do. I just wanted to disappear from my past, and for two solid years, I did.
And except for the recent appearances of apes and dinosaurs, I couldn’t have found a more ideal place to lay low.
With a large field in the front with a flowing creek, and surrounded by forest on the other three sides, my ranch was a pretty place. And a steal, because I’d bought it with stolen loot from the final heist I was involved with.
But it’d seen better days, namely before an Allosaurus attacked. During that small battle, the barn caught on fire and I blew it apart with the dinosaur inside with a crate of dynamite. It’d been a near thing. I’d almost been eaten.
Before I discovered the tunnel to the lost world, I was already reaching the end of my rope for taking care of the place alone. Afterwards, between helping Skyla and being paid by the government to help track down and dispose of dinosaurs, I had more money and less time than I needed to be a cattle rancher. After asking around town, I settled on a pair of men well-known for being honest and hardworking. Both were veterans of the ape battle. Currently, the two of them were nailing rafters into place for the new barn when I rode down the wagon trail and into the open fields around my house.
I was halfway across the field before the youngest one noticed me and shouted a greeting with a wave of his hat that I returned.
The pair climbed down from the partially constructed barn and waited for me.
Bo was an older fellow, a little shorter than my six feet and with shoulders as broad as the barn he was working on. With short white hair and a deeply tanned face cragged with wrinkles from a life in the sun, he was a wealth of hard-earned wisdom. Jim was younger, more of a hot head, but a good solid kid and more of a man every day he was under the influence of Bo. His black hair was long and hung around his shoulders.
“You know, if we did a barn raisin’, this could’ve been built within two days,” Bo wryly said as I approached on horseback.
“Then you two would be out of a job.” Slowing Carbine to a stop, I laughed the suggestion off. A barn raising was a big to do out here. A big social gathering with lots of good food, music, and dancing. There was also the benefit of free labor. But being a wanted man had its dilemmas. For instance, I had to skirt around having a barn raising. It’d be fun, but since the battle, I was already entirely too well known around these parts to be comfortable with everyone whooping it up on my ranch.
Jim’s face was sour. “But… Jed… there’d be girls…”
The opportunity to mingle with womenfolk was a rare treat, and for a young man, it was just about the only way to meet a nice girl unless you bumped into her in town.
“You’re too young for ladies.” Bo shoved him playfully.
“Am not! I just turned sixteen!” he protested weakly and swept the dangling hair from his eyes.
“That does makes you a man,” I agreed and eyed the pile of dwindling lumber stacked to the side of the partially constructed barn beside a pair of saw horses. “It looks like you’ll be taking the wagon into town soon anyways. I’m sure some farmer’s daughter will be hoping to catch your eye.”
The young kid grinned at the compliment and shoved Bo back. The big man barely budged.
They’d been taking care of the place in my continued absences. First thing they did was build a bunkhouse across the yard from the house to live in, then they started rebuilding the barn for me while keeping an eye on the critters.
“How are our little dinos?” I asked, trying to distract the two men from their jokes while walking Carbine towards the fenced pasture beside the barn. In addition to my small herd of cattle, I managed to add almost two dozen heads of something no one else in the world owned.
Protoceratops, or Protos as we called them, milled around the fenced pasture, munching on thin prairie grass and playfully butting heads. The size of a large sheep, they looked like small, colorful Triceratops. Their bodies were white with large red spots. Blue dabs dotted the frill that extended behind their skull, and their heads were adorned with a single small raised horn bump between their nostrils, and a hawk-like beak used for ripping up plants from the ground. A mane of thick brown hairs rose vertically from their thick tails. On their sides was my new brand, a circle with a Triceratops outlined in the center.
I owned the only Protos this side of the tunnel. Before the battle, my group crossed paths with the small herd, and once I’d hired the help, we found and herded the peaceful dinosaurs back to my ranch for safe keeping.
“They’re doing well. Seem content enough also,” Bo said as he leaned on the split rail fence. “They haven’t tried escaping or digging under the fence.”
A pair of braver Protos walked to the edge of the fence, twisting their heads to the side to stick beaked snouts through the corral bars. Jim stooped over and gave one a scratch. “They’re getting pretty friendly, boss.”
I tugged my saddle bags off then opened the gate to the small horse corral where Bo and Jim’s horses stood side by side, flipping their tails in each other’s faces to chase off flies. Carbine stepped through, nipping playfully at my hat as he passed. I swatted him on the rump with the battered Stetson and shut the gate behind him. Eventually I’d need another horse to give him the occasional break, but he seemed to enjoy having all my attention as he tormented me with his tricks and mischievousness.
“I’m not looking forward to finding out if they are good eating,” Jim said sadly. The second brave Proto butted the side of the other, pushing it out of the way to get a rub. The young man chuckled and scratched both their heads.
“Me neither,” I admitted. “But right now, they’re too rare to do anything with but breed. I believe we’ll make a fortune off these little critters,” I glanced at the men out of the corner of my eyes. “Assuming we get the barn done before winter.”
Bo looked insulted at my skepticism of their progress on the building. “She’ll be done in time. Although the Protos don’t seem to be bothered by the cool nights as it is, they may handle winter just fine.”
“We can’t bank on it and we can’t afford to lose any of them either. With luck, we’ll get more in the spring… or whenever they lay eggs and they hatch.”
Skyla had spent a good amount of time with the little beasts. She suspected they’d lay eggs, since the Triceratops did, and they were of the same scientific family. But we had no idea when, or what they might require to lay.
Jim pointed at a large one. “She’s been spending time over in the corner of the corral, by the tall bushes. Kind of twisting grass and hay around. It’s odd seeing something like her making a giant bird nest.”
I looked in the direction he pointed. Sure enough, there was the beginnings of a large nest.
“That’s a good sign, maybe she’ll lay soon,” I said hopefully.
I’d seen Triceratops nests before, and the one she was making looked similar but on a smaller scale. Compared to the difficulties of calving cattle, I hoped dinosaurs laying and hatching eggs would be like chickens; you just provided food, water, and shelter with ample protection and they did the rest. It was amazing how many cattle you could lose during birthing.
“Question, boss. You don’t think the gov’ment is going to take them like they did your land?” Bo spat on the ground and kicked at the spot with the toe of his boot. He was talking about the tunnel; after discovering it, I’d staked the land and filed claim. But once the battle was over, my land was taken under the premise of eminent domain as soon as the Wyoming Territory was granted statehood a couple of days afterwards.
“I think they’d be harder to lay claim to than an entrance to a lost world.” The thought had crossed my mind before; it wasn’t one I liked to dwell on. “But in the meantime, keep your mouths shut about them, or dinosaur rustlers will be a new problem.” I put my hands on my hips and looked around. “Where’s Sara?”
The two men grinned at each other. “Watch this, boss,” Bo said. He stuck his fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. From behind the house came a thumping sound as Sara burst around the corner at a full run.
The little triceratops rushed towards me, kicking up small clods of dirt and dust as she ran. I leapt out of the way as she skidded to a stop in front of us and wagged her thick tail.
Laughing, I reached down and scratched her jaw line beside her beak. “Good girl. Is Bo teaching you tricks?”
“There’s more,” Jim raised a hand, palm up. “Sit, girl!” he commanded.
Sara dropped her rump in the ground and tilted her sloped head at him questioningly as if expecting a reward. At three feet long, she’d grown significantly since I’d found her in the apes’ abandoned canyon. Her budding horns were already four inches long and the sloped shield at the base of her skull protecting her neck was beginning to get small protrusions of bone. With a tan and yellow streaked body, and dark nubs and beak, she was as cute as a button.
I’d found her, but she’d taken to Skyla more than me. Whenever they were together, they were inseparable. She was like a dog, we had to lock her in the house when Skyla left, or else Sara would chase after her. Even then she’d bellow pitifully from inside.
I patted her pebbled back and stood. “I just swung by to check on things before heading back to town.”
“Did you get that big dinosaur?” Jim asked.
Nodding my head, I sighed. “We got it. But not before it killed Jason Harper and was munching on him and his sheep by the time we located it. Then it played hell on the soldiers, killed almost all of them and that fresh Lieutenant from back East.”
Bo whistled under his breath. “Tough break. Harper was a good man and it’s a shame about those soldiers. Glad you made it out okay though.”
“I bet you are, I’m the one that pays you!” I teased, trying to make light of all the death and mayhem that’d just occurred a couple of hours ago. Sometimes you’ve got to laugh to keep from letting it get to you.
Jim shook his head and patted Sara. She nuzzled him with her bone shield and her tail swung back and forth.
Bo shifted the hammer in his tool belt. “Well, things are going good here. We’re staying busy.”
I tossed the saddle bags over a shoulder and started walking towards my house. Sara followed. “Don’t let me get in your way then,” I called over my shoulder.
“Yes, sir,” Jim nodded to Bo who grabbed a board off the saw horses and the pair crossed the yard towards the ladders leaning against the barn frame.
Stepping onto the porch, I ran a fingertip along the broken ape spear shaft sticking out from the wall. That one had almost gotten me. Opening the door, I let Sara in, then looked around the one room house. Nothing appeared disturbed since my last stay a few days ago. Closing the door behind me, I crossed the room and pulled down a Wyatt Earp dime novel from the book shelf. Flipping it open revealed a hollowed-out space inside with a small brass key.
Tossing a pair of blankets off a large banded trunk at the foot of the bed, I used the key and opened the lid. Reaching inside, I pulled out several boxes of .45-70 for the Eighty-Six and tossed them into the saddle bags. I’d gone through a lot of ammunition over the past few months and was almost out of my stash. When I made it to town I’d need to order more.
As I pulled out one of the last boxes, a rough sketched face stared back at me from where it rested on the bottom of the trunk.
My wanted poster.
It was an old one from when I’d been in my teens. We’d always been careful to stay beneath the notice of the law, but I’d made a mistake one night and had been seen. Thus, the poorly sketched drawing on a wanted poster for a trivial amount of reward.
I don’t know why I kept it. Once upon a time I’d been proud to have been wanted for doing what I thought was the right thing. In my youth I wanted to feel like I was accomplishing something, and being a wanted man meant that I was.
Growling, I slammed the trunk lid shut with a bang. The poster needed to be burned. Sometimes a man needed to recall where he came from to see how far he’d come, but I’d bad memories and dreams enough to tide me over. And I couldn’t afford to have anyone find it.
I twisted the key out of the brass lock then slipped it back into its hiding place. Sara watched me lazily from where she’d curled up on top of the blankets that I’d pulled off the trunk.
It was time to get going.
The sun was getting low when I crossed paths with a hunting party of natives on the open plains. They were unusually close to town, but their game seemed intent on leading them straight towards it.
Slowing Carbine, I watched the group of Shaynee braves chasing after a large trike along the heavily rutted wagon trail. The green and yellow streaked beast was bellowing in pain as the Indians loosened arrows from decorated bows into the dinosaur at close range from the backs of racing ponies. Tattered remains of leather ape tack were still wrapped around its bone shield from an ape rider long dead.
The horned mount stumbled, regained its footing, and ran for another dozen yards as several more arrows thumped into its side and flanks. With the last arrow, the dinosaur dropped, horns and bone shield digging into the ground as it slid. The creature’s sides heaved heavily as it gasped for breath and kicked feebly.
A brave slid off his unsaddled mount and stalked to the trike. With knife in hand, he rested a hand on the bone shield and leaned down to cut its large throat.
The beast twisted its head around, slamming a black upper horn into the Indian’s chest and sending him sprawling. Braves circled the pair on their ponies, laughing as the humiliated man scrambled back to his feet. Tucking the knife into its sheath, he snatched a spear held out by a familiar Indian with an ugly scarring across his chest.
Stalking forward, carefully this time, the humiliated brave lined the spear up on the beast’s head then stabbed forward with all his weight behind it. The tip entered the trike’s eye, skewering into the brain. In its death throes, the dinosaur kicked and twitched, and the Indian danced aside from thrashing limbs.
The heavily scarred Indian saw me and spoke to the others. They stopped laughing and stared as he turned his pony and rode towards me alone.
I rested a hand on one of my Colt’s grips, the other held the reins loosely, ready to whip Carbine into a run. When dealing with Indians, you never knew what you’d get. Especially with an Indian who once wanted your scalp.
Slowing his paint pony, Otto stopped beside us and gave me a frown. “Huck Berry,” he said simply, using my middle name. The Shaynee’s chest was an ugly mass of scar tissue from shoulder to hip where a grizzly had tried to rip him apart for having the unfortunate luck of stepping between her and her cubs. I’d found him after and saved his life, sparking a feud that lasted over a year between us until he saved my life from an ape about to run me through with a spear. That act restored the honor he’d lost by being saved by an inferior white man.
I tipped my hat slightly with the hand that held the reins. “Otto.”
It was the first time I’d seen him since the Battle of the Apes when the men of his tribe rode down the valley to attack the ape army from behind. It was a magnificent charge, directly into the face of the ape’s mounted trike cavalry. Spear on spear, horse versus trike, uncouth Indian against savage prehistoric ape. From what I gathered, there was much mourning that night in the Indians’ village for the dead, followed by days of dancing and celebrating for the victory and honor won. Otto himself had taken many ape scalps.
“I see hairy men no kill you yet,” he spoke in broken English.
“Not yet.” My eyes dropped to the tomahawk stuffed into his beaded belt. A neat hole was punched through the center. Ashley James, a friend of mine, had shot that very weapon out of his hand when he threatened to kill me with it once.
He grunted, “Good. You eat hairy men chief’s heart. They come for you now. Eat yours and take your power.” I’d killed the ape’s leader by blowing his legs off with a shotgun, cutting his heart out, and then taking a bite out of it during the battle. Otto had witnessed that and approved of the act.
“They can try,” I grinned at him warily.
Otto smirked, no doubt recalling that not too long ago he’d wanted me dead. “Maybe I try.”
My thumb shifted to the hammer on the Colt and my grip tightened as my smile faded. “Be my guest.” I wasn’t looking forward to having him as my enemy again, but if we were about to resort back to our previous animosity before he saved my life, I’d just as soon kill him now than worry about him later.
Grinning mischievously, he spun the paint pony and raced back to the Indians beginning to butcher the trike.
I clucked my tongue and flicked the reins, leaving the Indians to their kill and making my way on to town. I hoped Otto was joking, but I wasn’t so sure.
Two months ago, Granite Falls had been the home to almost five hundred people.
Now it held several thousand.
The place was booming.
Even now, as gas lamps were lit in small bursts of flame and light, probably over a hundred folks walked and rode along Main Street. But in a couple more hours, once the more reputable citizens were home, the streets would be empty except for whatever drunk or broke riffraff was trying to find a place to sleep it off.
I’d never been a fan of coming to town before. Now I really disliked it. More people meant a greater possibility that someone from my past might recognize me. More people also meant less room to move about in and I had a general distrust of strangers anyways.
A group of Chinese workers stood arguing loudly with a white man in a dark suit as we rode past the northern entrance to town. With the expansion of the East-West railroad in the area, Asian workers had been brought in large numbers to speed the rail through the tunnel and to the other side. There were a lot of blacks as well, many still bearing scars of slavery and seeking the freedom they’d been denied not so long ago. And in the mix, were a few handfuls of hard scrabble Irish, tired of grubbing potatoes out of barren rock fields back home I supposed. Like everyone else, they were looking for a better life and the railroad paid cash every week.
The Bucket O’ Blood saloon was packed. Laughter, smoke, and piano music drifted through the batwing doors and open windows as I rode past. The bar seemed to have trouble daily. Last time I was here, there’d been a knifing over a working woman. If the trouble continued, it might just earn the joke of a name that’d been given to it by its owner.
The original tent city that’d been built between town and the stockyards and rail station had begun turning into a regular bunch of stick framed buildings. The town was no longer made up of just a single main street running through the center; there were several back streets and intersections as the town expanded inside the large valley. Almost two dozen wooden buildings had been erected in the past couple of months. Small houses had begun to spring up as well around the outskirts of town, especially along the river that flowed to the west.
It never ceased to impress me how people overcame hardships.
This town had burned during the battle. Dozens died in the buildings, along the boardwalks, on the roofs. Yet you couldn’t tell now looking at it. The bodies had been buried and the blood scrubbed away. All that remained were the occasional discolored spot and some scorch marks from the flames.
Humanity certainly didn’t give up easily.
Clicking my tongue, I urged Carbine between a pair of parked wagons being loaded with sacks from the General Store. I knew staying here was a risk and if it hadn’t been for Skyla, I’d have been long gone.
The foolish things we do for love.
After letting Carbine drink his fill and hitching him to a post, I stepped onto the boardwalk and paused, looking sadly at the closed door to the Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Dan had been a good man, a good friend, and an even better lawman. His nephews, on the other hand, I hadn’t been a fan of. But as deputies they’d shown great potential in the days leading up to the Battle of the Apes, where they died courageously in a trike charge trying to save their uncle.
Sighing, I walked to the next building. It’d been the Mayor’s Office once, but the job hadn’t been filled yet after the former Mayor’s untimely demise. Elections were still a few weeks away. In the meantime, the military was using the office for their temporary local headquarters as their small fort and barracks buildings were being built near the tunnel entrance to the other side.
Loud voices came through the open door.
Removing my hat, I stepped into the room and found myself looking at the backs of a half dozen men standing before Captain Brandthorn. They were all heavily armed, each with a rifle, some with a shotgun, and all of them wore at least one pistol if not two. They reminded me of bandits… and a little of my old gang.
A man in the front, with a bandoleer of rifle cartridges slung over a shoulder, spoke earnestly, “You should have seen it, sir. The bullet just hit that monkey right along the scalp and knocked him out. A real fluke. Then Jimmy wanted to hang the big ape. Hang him! So, we tied his hairy hands together, threw a pair of ropes over a tree and it took two horses to raise the big savage into the air. Stupid ape woke up, kicked and struggled for half an hour before going limp. We dropped it, thinking it was dead. Once it hit the ground, Jimmy went to get his rope back. Damn ape jumped up and beat him to death with his fists before we could kill it. You just can’t hang these things, their necks are too thick. I tried telling him!”
A bald black man in the back of the group spoke up, “Jimmy always liked a hanging. He’d ride a hundred miles to watch one. He was a little off like that.”
Captain Brandthorn sat on his desk, legs crossed and looking out the dust smeared glass window at the darkening street. Short with a barrel chest and an Irish accent, he spoke in an almost detached, uncaring manner, “I’ve told you. Mr. Simon. Find them and shoot them. Do not try to etch out some small manner of justice. There’s none to be had when it comes to the apes.” Sighing, he turned to face them and noticed me leaning against the wall. He gave a slight nod to acknowledge my presence.
Simon shrugged, and the bandoleer almost slid from his shoulder. With a hand, he pushed the strap of leather and bullets back into place. “I know, sir. It just gets boring. We track apes for days with no entertainment. Some of the lads, like Jimmy, was just wanting to have some fun.”
Brandthorn looked down and flicked a speck of dust off his uniform. “And is he having fun now?” he said softly.
The man scratched the inside of an ear with a finger. “Well… no. On account of him being dead and all.”
“Then let that be a lesson to the rest of you,” the officer’s voice hardened. “If you want entertainment, the bar is across the street. Ladies, drinking and gambling… but no hangings.” The Captain looked at them, his eyes hard and showing that he was in no mood for an argument.
“Yes, sir. Understood, sir.”
The short officer stood and smoothed out the wrinkles in his uniform coat. “Do you have the proof for bounty?”
One of the men pushed through the group, a dirt and stained flour sack clutched in hand. Dried blood caked the edge of the bag. Unceremoniously, he dropped it onto the table where it thumped and fell over. A large black severed thumb slid out.
The Captain opened the bag and I watched his lips move as he counted silently. Seemingly satisfied, he bent over and wrote a script that was handed to the bounty hunter’s leader. “The United States Army, and newly formed State of Wyoming, thank you for your service. Happy hunting.”
“Sir-” Simon looked at the paper and hesitated.
Brandthorn scowled, and the small white scar that cut through an eyebrow shifted. “Is there a problem? The fee has not changed.”
“Not that, sir. It’s them Indians. They been watching us.”
Several men whispered to each other, moving uneasily.
“If they attack you, kill them. Otherwise, do not bother them. At all. Don’t even approach them. Do you understand? And if you see a big one with a nasty scar across his chest, steer clear. He’s an angry Injun.”
“Yes, sir.” Smith turned and pushed back through the crowd, glancing at me as he stepped out the door. “Let’s get paid!” he shouted happily as he waved the paper overhead.
With a chorus of boisterous shouts, the bounty hunters followed.
I waited until the last one left before dropping into a chair in front of the desk. “Funny you should mention Otto, I ran into him on the way here.”
“You kill him?”
“Nope, but he seemed like he was interested in killing me again.”
Brandthorn pointed a scolding finger at me. “Didn’t you hear me with those ape hunters just now? Don’t stir up the Indians! We’re on delicate enough footing with the Shaynee as it is.”
I raised my hands in mock protest. “It’s not like I want to keep looking over my shoulder for a scarred Indian with a rusty scalping knife.”
“Uh-huh,” he grunted and sat heavily in the chair opposite me. “So, killing that monster of a dinosaur went badly, I hear. Any more survivors, other than those three who raced back here a couple of hours ago?”
“Three?” I cut my eyes at him suspiciously. “Four got away.”
“The fourth deserted. Told the others he didn’t sign up to fight dinosaurs and that he had a sister to think of down in Texas. I reckon that’s where we’ll find him. The fool. He was a good man too, but this decision will haunt him now,” Brandthorn swore colorfully, revealing his Irish background and temperament. “And you… they said you stayed behind. Why?”
“Perks of being a civilian I reckon. I can do almost anything I want.” I ran a hand through my mop of black hair. “The dinosaur was about dead, so I finished it off. I gotta tell you, Lieutenant Carson was a brave one. He charged the beast with just his sword, so the others could escape.”
Brandthorn shook his head. “Brave but stupid,” he said sadly. Reaching under his desk he opened a drawer and pulled out a brown bottle and a pair of glasses. Twisting off the top, he poured while speaking softly. “Close the door, Jed.”
Standing, I crossed the room and shut it.
“You know I’ve lost more men in the past three months than my entire career combined.” He passed me a glass with a small measure of amber liquid, then downed his immediately.
I didn’t know what to say, so I mimicked him. The whiskey burned down my throat and warmed me from the inside.
He held the empty glass up, turning it between his fingers. “You served. You fought the Nez Perce with Sheriff Dan. Why?”
That question had an answer that was hard to explain. The truth was I enlisted to try to get away from outlawing. I enjoyed the military at times, the comradery was something I cherished, but I hated the lack of freedom and the chaffing restrictions. Soon I found myself turning in my blue uniform to rob a bank owned by a Yankee in Kansas who’d robbed, threatened, and beaten his way through the war ravaged South to financial success.
I slid the empty glass back across the desk and decided to be truthful but vague with the officer, “Seemed like a good idea at the time. We ended up chasing the Nez across several territories… Lost some good men, and I’m sure we killed plenty of good Indians as well as the bad.” I watched his reaction carefully at that last bit.
He shrugged simply, uncaring that I was expressing an unpopular opinion. “Well, that’s changing now. After the Shaynee helped save us, public opinion has turned in favor of them. Now there’s less talk of moving them off their land. Which ought to mean less conflict and fighting.”
“Good. It’s theirs. Let them have it,” I guided our conversation back to more comfortable grounds. “That dinosaur, it’s the biggest I’ve seen on this side. I appreciate the job and the very good pay… But wire Fredrick in. He’s famous for killing things, and he’d be eager and willing.”
Brandthorn laughed mirthlessly. “Fredrick von Holsak? I couldn’t get a hold of him; he was somewhere in the mountains tracking a critter down. Besides, he can’t hit the broad side of the barn. That’s why he’s always armed to the teeth. For the life of me, I’ll never figure out what made such a terrible shot as him so popular.”
“I suppose it’s the books he keeps writing about his exploits. From what I gather, he’s writing one on the big battle.”
“That’ll be an interesting read. I hope he paints me in a good light,” Brandthorn mused.
“You and me both!” I chuckled, but I had concern for how he may describe me. That’s the problem with your friends not knowing you’re a wanted outlaw, they don’t know when to keep their mouths shut. Luckily, I was a pretty bland looking fellow so any description of me shouldn’t give me away.
Brandthorn laughed along with me then got serious. “I think I’d rather have someone accurate to dispatch these things from long distance. What about Wade and Ashley?”
“Last I heard they were still in Cheyenne, busy with show preparations.” Wolverine Wade Mackin and Ashley James were business partners and more. They’d both fought with us. Wolverine Wade killed the scar-faced ape leader’s trike before it gored me, and Ashley James was a sharpshooter who saved many of our lives from her position in the church steeple. She was the best shot I’d ever seen with a rifle.
He shrugged apologetically. “That’s it then. I don’t have anyone accurate enough that I’d trust right now. So, we’re back to using Gatlings,” he sighed. “Welcome to the New West.”
New West was a term that’d been bandied about by the papers. The Old West, that is the former Wild West frontier, had all but died under the onslaught of iron horses riding steel rails across the plains and connecting the nation together. The New West was the Second Age of Dinosaurs. Since my discovery of a tunnel to a lost world, things had changed for the west, significantly.
A knock sounded a moment before Skyla opened the door and stepped through. “Hey, Captain!” Before I could move, she’d crossed the small room, hugged me about the neck, and kissed my stubbled face. “Jed, I hear you got another one. Something new this time?” She bounced from one foot to the other excitedly.
I nodded and couldn’t help myself but grin at the raven-haired paleontologist. “You know I could have been eaten, right?”
“Oh hush, of course I do. I’m glad you’re okay. Now, when do I get to see it?”
“At first light, we’ll take an escort and go see what you think of it,” Brandthorn told her.
She grimaced, her face contorting in a cute pout. “Do we need an escort?”
The Captain chuckled and smoothed the front of his uniform with his hands. “It’s okay for these… locals,” he grinned at me, “to go running around foolishly. But there are still apes out there and who knows what else. Besides, no lady should go unescorted with such a ruffian as Jed here.”
I laughed with them. If only they knew.
“I know, but I hate tying up dozens of soldiers to watch an examination and butchering of a dinosaur.” Skyla tried to justify her point.
“Too bad-” I started.
“It’s their job,” Brandthorn finished for me.
She cut her eyes at us in mock indignation.
“When do your parents arrive?” I asked Skyla, changing the topic. I wasn’t looking forward to meeting them. Neither sounded like the sort to approve of me or my courting of their daughter.
“Tomorrow, and it’s only my mother. Father had to stay behind, his work as Regent of the Smithsonian keeps him busy.” She smiled at me. “Worried, Jed?”
“A little,” I admitted. I figured of the two, her father would be the hardest to deal with. A father’s love for his daughter is often hard on any suitors. But a mother can be a real stickler also, and Skyla had warned me before that her mother was fairly uptight about how a lady should act, behave, and who she should court. Which meant she was just not going to be pleased with her daughter being around me. I was also hoping to make our courtship official with her father’s blessing, although I expected that’d be hard to come by. I didn’t know if you could even call us courting. We did. But we were a very non-typical couple in the regards that Skyla was a scientist in a male dominated field and I was essentially a retired gunman, bank robber, and vigilante rolled into a rancher.
Skyla intertwined her arm in mine and leaned against me. “Oh, Jed. Just try not to be so… violent. She’s an easterner, remember?” She teased me with a playful wink. Skyla had been an easterner when she came west a couple of months ago, but now she was a certified gun totin’ westerner like the rest of us. Except she was entirely too polite to ever really fit in.
The Captain struck a match and lit the wick on a lantern hanging on the wall. “On to more pressing matters. I’m traveling through the Shimmer day after tomorrow, taking a bunch of supply wagons and troop reinforcements to Fort Jipson. I reckon you two are anxious to get back, so you might as well come along if you want.”
We’d only been to the other side twice since I’d led Brandthorn and his men through the tunnel and to the ape canyon after the battle. Since then, the canyon had been renamed, in honor of Andrew Jipson, a soldier who died at his post, firing our lone cannon one final time, instead of defending himself against the apes overwhelming his position. His body was barely recognizable after the attack. Having your head caved in by a stone club does that to a man.
“The Shimmer?” I repeated and winced. “That’s a terribly simple name for a magical, science-defying tunnel.”
“I think it’s a nice name, and of course we’re ready! All my notes have been written in detail and sent with sketches back to the Smithsonian,” Skyla radiated happiness at the thought of returning to the lost world. She loved the other side, and the only reason we’d come back last week was on account of her parents’ arrival. They hadn’t been too happy on her insistence on staying during the battle and not returning home afterwards either. I suspected she’d catch an earful from her mother about that… and about me.
“Good, and I’m with you, Jed. The name is terrible.” Brandthorn shifted a stack of papers to the other side of his desk. “But since no one knows what it is, and since the air shimmers as you walk through it to the other side, the name has stuck,” he sighed. “Personally, I call it a pain in my backside. I miss the good old days of worrying about Indians, outlaws, and the occasional rustler.”
I stayed silent since I was one of the outlaws he would prefer to hunt down and hang. I was deep in the lion’s den these days.
“We will be ready, Captain!” Skyla said with a pretty grin and a mock salute.
“I’m sure you will, Miss Skyla,” he wagged his bushy eyebrows at her and leaned forward and whispered, “but will you be ready for the expedition?”
I groaned loudly while Skyla beamed from ear to ear. Brandthorn and her both had been discussing taking a week-long expedition to survey the area around Fort Jipson. “Is it safe enough?” I asked, knowing full well that Brandthorn would never agree to this unless he thought so. But I still wanted to hear it from the officer’s mouth.
“We’ve patrols riding along the canyon edge. Other than the occasional ape track, it appears they’ve abandoned the area.” He shrugged. “We can’t wait forever. We need to know what’s around us. Lone scouts can only bring back so much information and at great risk to themselves. A full two dozen man expedition should be able to get around with minimal risk.”
“That’s fine. But there’s no need to risk Skyla’s life.” My voice hardened with my disdain at the notion of a female scientist riding with dozens of soldiers for a week in a prehistoric lost world full of dangerous creatures that we didn’t even have names for yet.
“Hey-” she started.
Brandthorn cut her off. “Jed, we’ve discussed this to death. I’ve my orders. And Skyla works as much for the government now as she does the Smithsonian. Unless you’d prefer Oscar come with us and get all the glory…”
Oscar Ellis was Skyla’s major rival now. A former boss of hers, he’d left the Smithsonian to work for Reydan White, my mortal enemy and the railroad tycoon, whose track was being laid to the cliff side where the tunnel was located.
“No. Absolutely not.” There was no way I was going to let Oscar take Skyla’s place. I looked at her. She glared back at me and I sighed. “Fine. Since I’m never going to win this argument, I may as well go along.” I looked back to the Captain. “Can you make that happen?”
Brandthorn shared a conspiring smile with Skyla. “Oh, we always planned on you going.”
I shook my head, exasperated with the two of them. “Of course.”
“We know you all too well, Jed,” Skyla told me with a grin, and the words cut me to the bone as I thought of how little she truly knew me.