The Dinosaur Keeper

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Chapter 19

Chapter 19

More than a little confused Rex checked the clock again and was given the same reply.

The tiniest bit worried, he went to the toilet, relieved at the normality compared to last night.

Returning, a good five minutes later, but still the clock said the same, only obviously five more minutes had been added.

Eleven o’clock was brightly dancing on the face and yet the room was if not pitch black, very dark indeed. Having had a good long sleep, more than aware of this was he, but surely not slept through until the following night.

Besides, it felt like morning and although his stomach was empty it didn’t feel like it had missed three meals.

Pooetesleap nudged the door open and boldly jumped on to the bed, something seldom done.

Unless it was?

This thought half finished in his head Rex grabbed the rough cotton dressing gown and ran full pelt down the stairs.

Bolts clattered as they were swung back and so hard did Rex pull on the door, that it was a miracle it didn’t come away in his hand.

Still there was no sign of the Sun, but then again no sign of the Nus either, further adding to Rex’s current conviction. The morning mist had turned to a thick fog and to make certain his thoughts, Rex jumped off the veranda.

His slipper less feet confirmed everything as they crunched back at him, turned slightly blue by the snow, it was Christmas day!

Rex stood there silently for a while enjoying a cold morning on an otherwise season free planet, breathing in great lumps of air that froze both his lungs to the core.

With all the work recently it had completely escaped his mind to tick off the days until Christmas.

Looking at the Total Fruit Tree it burned brightly with Rex’s expectancy, not a bud in site and but a few hours later not a single item would be harvested, apart from one rather precious Plum Pudding Fruit.

A thought struck him and as pleasant as the infrequently savoured coldness on his feet was, Rex dashed into the house to retrieve his work boots.

A minute later, with the Velociraptor paddock rapidly coming into sight, as the side pocket of one standard issue Dinosaur Keeper dressing gown bulged with its heavy load, Rex beamed with what was to come.

But all was not as it should have been, the fog was thick and so Rex could have been forgiven for making the odd mistake, fumbles even, as he trudged along the familiar route in unfamiliar weather conditions.

But tripping over a Velociraptor and falling into the lap of another, really was a blunder above anything else ever achieved.

“Morning Rex!” Rupert cheerfully said, “Nice of you drop by, merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas”, Rex replied, knowing not what to say whilst nestling in Ruperts knees.

“Be careful if you’re roaming about today”, Rupert continued, “Especially if you go near the pit, with all this fog about you could fall down it!”

Everybody giggled, Rex included, and as he brushed a bit of dirt from the front of his pyjamas, standing in the process, noticed that they were all in a circle an apple in the middle of them.

“What are you doing?” Rex enquired

All the Velociraptors smiled back at him, and then to each other, chests swollen with pride,

“It’s Christmas, in it!” Rupert eventually said, “Were doing the apple giving”

Rex scratched his head, searched inside it for a bit and eventually conceded that it meant nothing to him.

“Apple giving?” was the thoughtful and well constructed reply.

Everybody looked at Rex and then at Rupert. That’s the Rupert that we know as Rupert, although you would be forgiven for picking another one, them all being called this apart from Ruben.

“Well”, Rupert began, standing up and breaking the circle, “We all sit in a circle like this and then talk about the Velociraptor to the left of you and why you think they deserve the apple this year. Hope you don’t mind about the apple by the way, we only ever take one a year on Christmas Eve”

“No, no, no! Of course not”, Rex shot back instantly, “And you all do this do you, I mean all the herds?”

“Of course not!” said Rupert and Rex officially felt foolish for the first time that morning. Of course they didn’t, the Diplodocus’ for one, even though he had grown quite accustomed to them over the last few weeks, were a reserved bunch and there is no way they would display this public admiration for each other.

“You couldn’t have an apple as a prize for the Diplodocus’” Rupert went on, giggling erupting round the group again, “They use a melon”.

Walking before he knew it Rex looked at the other Dinosaurs. All of them were in their own little groups, gathered in a circle round their prize, taking it in turns to speak well of their fellow herd members.

The Diplodocus’ did indeed have a melon and yet it still looked more like a grape beside their colossal bodies. The Stegosaurus’ also had a melon, which seemed a bit greedy in the scheme of things, but being Christmas day Rex let it pass.

The Pterodons couldn’t really be seen to be perfectly honest, they were flying around the very top of one of the more gigantic trees, a large banana in one of the higher branches, circling and shouting to each other, presumably compliments but it was hard to tell such was the pitch of their squawk.

Completely lost at the sight of this spectacle, Rex almost forgot why he was there and quickly patted his pocket, pleased with the still bulging reply. There in the cloth were the last packets of biscuits and not a Garibaldi amongst them. He ran a finger over them one last time and then spent a joyous few minutes handing them out to everyone, thanking them for all their recent hard work. Even the Diplodocus’ accepted the offering graciously, despite the fact that a biscuits looked smaller than a chocolate drop in their vast mouths.

As Rex decided what to do next, looking at the pit in order not to accidentally fall down it, a ripple of stamping came from the Diplodocus’ making the ground shudder, until one of them then bowed and ate the melon whole. The Pterodons were perched in a tree now and squawked loudly as another gobbled up the banana.

The Stegosaurus’ followed suit, although mooing softly to each other and the melon was gone faster than Rex could turn round.

Running back to the house, the cold finally getting the better of them, Rex and Pooetesleap thoroughly enjoyed the chase through wintry mist. That was until the unfortunate Dinosaur Keeper collided with the shed and decided enough was enough, walking carefully toward the porch.

There next to the door, was the usual swollen red sack bursting with presents a large card next to it. As he stood looking at all the neatly wrapped gifts Rex read aloud to nobody in particular from the card.

“Merry Christmas Rex,” he began, “No milk this year? Not even a sandwich?”, and Rex winced, thinking that as he had forgotten about Christmas he had also forgotten about Christmas Eve, nothing being left for the annual visitor.

“Never mind!”, he continued slightly blushing at the thought, “I know you’ve been busy this year, especially lately, so I’ve put in a few extra’s to make up for all your trouble”

Rex looked at the sack again, it did seem a little fuller,

“Mind you I expect two sandwiches next year! And a bit of cake!!! Love Santa xxx”

Good old Santa thought Rex, the most selfless man in the whole of Chunk, or Dinosaur of course! He could even be a Dumdum for all I know, Rex surmised, having never once seen him. Wondering if he did the other deliveries as well, had to do something for the rest of the year, he eventually supposed.

Pulling down on the door handle, eyes fixed in front of him and deciding to read the card again, Rex was greeted by a hard round object.

Turning a tightly coiled hand over slowly, the ball still securely in it, there was the slightest flash of green and then a greeting of the vision of an apple.

An apple on the only day of the year that fruit didn‘t appear, how strange, he thought.

Then in the distance was a faint round of applause and although the fog was thick, Rex was sure he saw Rupert smiling back at him.

Putting the presents by the fireplace, Rex thought he would open them later, certain he had just had the best gift ever as he took a bite out of the apple.

Pooetesleap jumped up and down, snapping at the hand with the fruit in it, the one time he wasn’t trying to get some of his masters food.

“It’s a gift, a gift! I have to eat it”, said Rex quickly biting of as much as he could and swallowing hard,

“Alright alright, I’ll throw the rest out”, he conceded, tossing the plump core away but managing another sneaky bite on the short distance across the kitchen to the bin.

Blimey it tasted good, as a huge chunk got stuck in his throat eventually scraping its way down his narrow neck. Rex wasn’t sure if it was because of the first fresh food in weeks, or the fact that the apple seemed to be wrapped in the gift of acceptance, esteem even.

But Pooetesleap was right though, they only ate once today, together and strictly that of Christmas Dinner.

Storming to the garden Rex ripped out everything he needed. Potatoes for roasting, yams to be candied, fresh carrots and peas, some herbs for the stuffing, and as he walked back to the kitchen, passed a burnt out fire to gather a Dumdum for roasting.

Arms heavily laden with fresh food, the raw aromas making Rex’s mouth water at the memory of proper home cooking, was far too much for an already excited ginger dog, and Pooetesleap darted in and out of his legs yelping every now and then, forcing Rex to burst out laughing and almost fall over a few times.

He didn’t care though, and took the opportunity to relish the day ahead without back breaking work, or worrying about the greater task ahead.

A few hours later and everything was laid out in front of him, sipping a cup of coffee with the chair tilted on two legs, resting on the kitchen table rocking slightly, Rex admired the uncooked feast.

Bowls of cold water were in front of him with batons of carrots or great mountains of potatoes bobbing gently beneath the icy liquid.

The Dumdum was laid out on a tray, smothered in oil, a lemon in its mouth and small balls of stuffing placed defensively around it.

Looking at his watch, Rex was surprised to see it was only one o’clock and decided it best not to put anything in the oven yet, wanting to make sure that after the main course, pudding wasn’t much later coming.

Thinking of the Plum Pudding Fruit caused lips to smack and a tongue rolled round an already wetted appetite.

He remembered the presents, so pouring himself another drink grabbed the sack and dragged it to the side of the armchair in the lounge, sitting himself firmly in the middle of it.

Routing around whilst a much bouncier friend became more and more impatient, he eventually found the package that had alluded grappling hands.

‘To Pooetesleap, Love Santa xxx’, he read aloud, waving it in the general direction of the dog.

No seconds later and the ginger mutt’s jaws were clamped around it, paper being torn of instantly.

For a couple of seconds he looked at the prize, a plastic snowman this year with a green moulded scarf and matching hat. One paw poked it a couple of times, overjoyed with the squeaky response, not even noticing the cheap dye bleeding from green to white and back again, before biting hard and ripping out the squeaker itself. So there lay the decapitated snowman, whilst Pooetesleap held the squeaker in his teeth pressing it once more, before ripping that to shreds too.

Happy with a job well done he returned to his basket, enjoying a doze before the need to wake for Christmas dinner.

Rex sat slightly bemused.

Every year the Pooetesleap would do this, the anticipation, the joyous receipt of a rubber toy, the quick play before total destruction. Never really understood it, thought Rex, and tossed the remains of the snowman in the bin.

As most of the other presents were now out of the sack, he arranged them in size order. The largest one had a label from Max attached to it, and so Rex tore it open. The red paper aside was greeted by an even more red cloth inside, with a bit of blue poking out beneath that.

A new t-shirt and jeans, hummed Rex, the other ones had got a bit torn! Placing them carefully to one side, deciding to try them on later at dinner time, he was touched by the thoughtfulness and practicality of a best friend’s gift.

Most of the other gifts were marked ‘From Santa’, save the odd one from Max, a particular one being very odd indeed, a book entitled ‘The Amnesia of Sea Travel - how to avoid the pitfalls, by Augustus Montague Quentin Smith, Junior’.

A bit puzzled he placed it next to The Dinosaur Keepers Manual on the shelf, musing that it was frankly dwarfed by the papery companion, being only fifty pages long, but still looked quite handsome in its brand new green cover with fancy gold lettering. Not entirely sure if he was going to read it, Rex walked away but noticed that his right green eye, kept staring back at the spine as he went to sit down again. Max had never given him a book before.

The other presents were placed at the bottom of the stairs, most of them needed to go up to the first floor of the house, the soaps and bubble bath for instance and other things, like the assortment of chocolates, he would keep in the chest of drawers, only indulging in them every now at bedtime, hoping they would last a few months into the year and still a bit sick from all the recent processed food. There was also within the haul of presents a handsome torch, rubberised black and water proof to fifty metres according to the label. It came without batteries of course, but Rex found some under the sink, gently slotting them in place and ensuring they were the right way round. Carefully placing this in his satchel and looking forward to going out at night, Rex dreamed of darkness swathed in light without a flaming stick for once, when he returned to work of course.

Standing still for a while, not a care in the world and simply thinking happy thoughts, he hoped that everybody else was relaxed and enjoying the day. The only day where nobody ever worked and you could be sure about absolute tranquillity, at least until the next morning.

Idly wandering into the kitchen and with one hand placed on the oven knob, it clicked to start under the Dinosaur Keepers hand, the blue flames inside merrily dancing about, only to freeze with the flood of realisation.

The problem with forgetting your actual problems is that they have a nasty habit of rushing back into your head when you really don’t want them to. In fact the best way to solve any quandary is to simply forget about it, letting your absent mind naturally come to a conclusion when least expected.

Which is what happened now as Rex turned the knob left, forcing the flames to stop their little jig and the oven to return cold.

It was the perfect time to start cooking, an hour or so and they could be eating, two and the Total Fruit Tree would explode bearing the best dessert of the year, but still Rex‘s hand twisted firmly to the left reassuring him that he had stopped what had barely started.

It was no use, the truth was that Christmas is the most peaceful day of the year and it was also true that you could be sure about absolute tranquillity.

This would be the perfect opportunity for an interruption.

Pooetesleap was currently receiving a very long stare, with more than a trace of guilt from Rex, and wasn’t entirely sure that he deserved it. Even when Rex walked calmly over to him, patting him gently on the head and relinquishing the look instantly, Pooetesleap still was slightly concerned. Normally the hapless dog would enjoy this, but there was something in this caress of finality, or emphatic uncertainty.

Upstairs a moment later, resigned to what his head was telling him to do, Rex smoothed a fresh, crisp shirt down with his hands, a month since he felt the starch of a collar, a hand trembling, the other having to silence it. The nylon squealed on his legs as he pulled the navy trousers up, tightening a belt that needed to be let out a notch and slipping on the matching blue jacket.

Grabbing an old sock he rubbed at the slightly dusty boots, spitting on the toes until they were as shiny as could be, taking time to draw the laces so identical sides could make the perfect bow.

Tie adjusted, hat on straight, he admired himself in the mirror, but a smile wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

This would be a Christmas not to be forgotten, rather than fondly remembered.

The wooden stairs clunked loudly, for a house more used to the sound of canvas trainers recently, but they seemed to echo reassurance and for this Rex was grateful.

Going to the coat stand, there stood the thin bit of leather hanging from a never touched brass hook, with its silver clasp. Not once had it been moved from here, not once! Since the very moment of residence behind these four walls, he had never seen the point of it, until now.

Seizing the strap with one hand, Rex whistled, clamping the clasp onto Pooetesleap’s collar when he appeared.

The ginger dog did not like this at all and pulled away from the leash, only to be snapped back into position by Rex.

Swinging the front door open they walked toward the plains and Pooetesleap began to become familiar with being kept at arms length, but it was more because of the curiosity of his friend in uniform today of all days, that masked the hatred of being escorted.

The fog was thicker now, fields still further in the distance and Rex snapped on his new torch, a beam breaking the veil of mist, a shaft of light in an obscured world.

Shimmying up, at the top of the pole the chain was pulled, and the noise didn’t startle him this time, shouting as he did for everybody to meet at the pit.

Confusion reigned supreme and Rex paced for a moment, Pooetesleap still by his side.

He’d learnt a lot in the recent weeks and began with a sincere apology,

“ I’m sorry for dragging you out here today of all day’s”, the Dinosaurs were circled around the hole, looking worried now and passing more than a few comments on the return of a uniformed Keeper.

“But it is because of today”, he continued, “That I think we have our best element of surprise for the final part of the plan”.

Gasps rippled around the circle and Rex started to pivot on the spot,

“The fog will help disorientate Bob and hopefully his agitation will lead to more than one mistake”

With this he grabbed a large stick and rammed it in the ground, placing it at the side of the hole furthest away from the forest, half a metre away from the actual mouth.

“I’m so sorry”, he whispered to his four legged friend stroking an ear, “I’ll make sure no harm comes to you” and with this empty guarantee brushed the dog’s nose gently and ensured that the other end of the leash was secured to the upright wooden stick.

Pooetesleap seemed to understand and stood proud, licking Rex’s hand and making the moment even harder.

Wrenching himself away he gave one final order,

“This last task is mine and mine alone”, he shouted ensuring every single being present heard, “there is nothing further you can do, so thanks for all your hard work and let’s pray for success”

With this he tipped his hat to everyone and started toward the forest.

“What’s Pooetesleap tied up for?” asked Rupert,

“Bait” was Rex’s one word reply and he stifled a tear.

The forest was dark, terrifyingly so, and even with a beaming torch on full power, the sight was of woodlands turned grey rather than the green they normally replied with.

Even as he entered the Circle of Light an hour or so later, bleakness continued, but at least with a break in the branches overhead mist could only swirl up, offering some kind of perspective in an otherwise dense woodland.

Rex sat on an old log for a few minutes breathing in and out deeply. He was less out of breath than normal, but incredibly nervous, adrenaline powering his every move and fear making up for any momentum that may have been lost.

As the tree trunk’s dew beneath his bottom began to seep into already moist trousers, Rex pondered on what he was about to do. Having no plan and deciding that this was for the best anyway, all he needed to do was draw Bob out, and was sure that just the arrival on a normally event free day would be enough of a surprise to let a chase ensue.

Purposely choosing the longer route, rather than the one at the back of the house, he shuddered at how close Bob’s liar was to his own home.

But Rex wanted to lure Bob back this way, hoping that the undergrowth would add to his fatigue and confusion, disorientating him enough to allow a plunge to a sticky end, and thought it best to have one final look at the route, in case next time it was at a quicker pace.

Besides if they ran passed the house there was every chance that Bob would see the pit and the foil would be rumbled.

Going through the woodland also meant that they would break through the edge of the forest right next to the hole, with any other exit being blocked by the enormous compost heap.

With the seat of his trousers a little more damp than he would have liked, Rex stood up and mopped an already clammy brow.

He was sweating.

Not through exhaustion, he had never felt better or more energetic, but the cold, clammy response of fear.

Shining the torch north, Rex was greeted by the same black trees and easily broke through them, again they turned to dust at the merest touch.

It wasn’t long before the same fence like panel was staring at him as before, and he really did need to draw in as much oxygen as possible, to stop a dizzy head from swimming.

There was no need to sneak in this time, wanting to be noticed, and so with a violent shove he yanked the wood aside and let it tumble to the ground, now in Bob’s liar and very soon the Tyrannosaurus would know it.

Standing for a minute, the running river in front of him, Rex awaited a response.

Just making out the bridge, nothing beyond that, as the fog was still thick in the heart of the forest, and slowly, deliberately, Rex walked toward it, the leaves crunching with every step.

At the foot of the bridge, still nothing greeted him and no matter how consumed with fear, puzzlement took over at least part of his brain.

Almost all the way across, a familiar stony face broke through the mist some metres above him.

Rex recognised it instantly and stopped still, immediately taken aback and trying to make out part of the head, through bits of mist that obscured it.

It was one of the stone gargoyles, that guarded the other side of the bridge, and it meant he was now fully into Bob’s inner sanctum.

Having come this far there was no point being coy about his presence, and so Rex jogged across to where Bob’s bed should be.

There on top of a mound of logs, covered with soft twigs and topped off with velvety moss, was absolutely nothing.

A fire smouldered to the side, but it looked as if it had been unattended for some time, burning the last of its embers.

Not quite being able to see the other side of clearing, Rex ran toward where he had previously crouched, hiding from his mortal enemy, and narrowly missed falling into the great ditch that was Bob’s toilet. It gurgled to him, the smell of ammonia stinging his nostrils and forcing a sleeve to be drawn across a disgusted nose.

But looking round there was still no Tyrannosaurus and no sign of him anywhere else.

Fruitlessly Rex peered into the forest beyond.

Where on Chunk was he?

This is when he had his first terrible thought.

Slipping slightly in the rush to scramble away, Rex broke through the tall grass at the side of Bob’s home and was soon into lush vegetation.

Torch clamped in his mouth, jutting from side to side as he ran, Rex pumped both his arms, determined that he needed both hands free, as if they were pistons propelling him along.

For somebody who barely troubled four feet in height, Rex’s stride was massive. Both feet were in the air before one would finally come down and push harder than the last, causing the Dinosaur Keeper to thrust himself forward at break neck speed.

It seemed like seconds, but was much longer than this, heart almost exploding in his chest, before the back of the house was in sight. Just a few moments later it was behind him and an empty Velociraptor paddock further concerned an already worried Keeper.

As he approached the pit, Rex was greeted by the most awful sight.

There in front of him were all the Dinosaurs listless and desolately looking into the hole.

They were exactly in the same position as how he had left them almost two hours ago.

“Well very natural looking!” Rex remarked and panted heavily, stopping now, hands on his knees, bent over and for the first time feeling completely exhausted. The fear gone, the adrenaline waning meant that he had to rely on his own body to recover from the run and felt completely exhausted because of it.

However, he was very pleased to see Pooetesleap still there, fast asleep and curled up in a ball.

“He’s not here then?”, asked Rex, eventually regaining some composure and walking round the group of Dinosaurs, still in their regimented circle and looking as conspicuous as they possibly could.

“Who?” Henry said looking genuinely confused.

“Almighty Chunker himself!” he replied sarcasm rife on every letter, before adding “Bob of course!”

A little gasp came from the group, before mumbling and the faintest of discussions and a final consensus of no.

“We thought you were getting him?” Rupert enquired half as a statement, the other half quizzically asking as if they had misunderstood Rex’s previous orders.

“I was”, Rex said, “But he wasn’t there! So I just assumed, was terrified actually, that he had decided to come here!”

Still absolutely shattered, Rex let loose a little smile, before bursting into laughter, which the group happily joined in with.

Going over to Pooetesleap, Rex untied him, patting his friend on the head and deciding there and then that his four legged chum couldn’t be the enticement for Bob, no matter how determined he was that no harm would come to a four-legged companion.

“Honestly though!” Rex firmly added, “Good job he didn’t come down here! It’s obvious something is going on!”

“Yes, very suspicious” said Bob.

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