The Dinosaur Keeper

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Chapter 6

Chapter 6

The wind picked up all of the sea, only to throw it squarely at the boat, making waves smash into it’s starboard side and hurling everybody inside from right to left.

Bodies crashed, bones cracked and skulls thudded, people onboard dancing like marionettes taking terrified actions, twisted with doubt.

Rex stood firm in the middle, clutching the side of the boat, until his fingers bled and nails throbbed as if being pulled out one by one.

Sickness was a distant memory, and his stomach lurched trying to rid itself of contents that were no longer there.

Then, in a single moment, calm, absolute calm.

Silence pierced the blue sky and the Sun beat down, drying the decks.

Warming his face, hope grew from Rex’s toes to his very head.

Letting go of the side he stumbled sharply toward the nearest person, still cloaked in a bright yellow jacket and trousers, head hidden under their hood.

Yanking at it sharply, he pulled the covering down to the shoulders, desperate to see a face and return an expression of joy, elated at his luck, happy to be alive, ecstatic at the calmness of the sea.

But no such prize stared back at him.

Completely smooth and featureless, the head looked back, bobbing on its neck, vacant of any recognition.

Rex stood for a while, staring at the creature, its egg like appendage, moving from one side to the other.

Then he began to run, tearing at all the other jackets, only to be greeted by the same round flesh that offered no solace, no sound, no thought.

As he began to take in the newly warmed air, his chest tightening, bracing itself to scream, the boat started to shudder, groaning for a final time. Eventually it smashed to a halt, throwing Rex forward, landing on his already battered back.

The Suns heat increases and the brightness starts to blind everything he sees, only for it to be broken by one, then two perfectly round, darkened circles.

Their faces fuzz into focus, and Rex feels secure as his own reflection stares back at him. Older and fatter, the first face smiles, the other Rex is soothing and confident, his parents stood proudly.

Then he feels their hands take his, and steady him under his shoulders, making him stand in a moments peace.

But where they should stop, they don’t.

Launching him over the side of the boat, he starts to fall, further and further, green rushing toward him.

There is no pain and, on his back again, he turns with just enough time to see the familiar faces smile back at him, eyes with tears but hearts with pride.

‘Don’t leave me here’, he starts, but stops short, knowing it would do no good.

The boat vanishes as fast as his memory of being on it.

Then the running, always running.

Running and forever looking back, knowing that if he just looked straight ahead, the beast behind him would fade away.

But as the magnet draws his gaze more frequently, he can only see the closeness of his ill found companion, as fear takes over the body, slowing legs and clouding the mind.

The branches tear and grab at his clothes, bruising arms and cutting his face, but still Rex runs and runs and runs.

Then, as he falls down, his arms frozen to his sides, looking at the clearing he will never reach.

Maybe he could crawl, or stumble, or just pull with his arms toward it, and everything would be alright, nothing would harm him, he won’t of failed.

Still, glimpsing at the clearing with no chance of ever reaching it, the gaze is prolonged, just so his face doesn’t have to turn the other way.

Then he hears the movement, feels the breath, and the face stares back at him, embarrassed to be there, ashamed to be victorious.

The older Rex glares at the one on the floor, and the triumph of humiliation is his.

Rex, woke with a start, springing upright so fast, that his hips creak with the new sensation.

Still shaking he reaches to the chair beside the great cast-iron bed and sips, deeply from a glass of water, as it streams down the corner of his mouth, until finally he finds some order in the familiarity.

His head pounds, as the adjustment to reality subsides, and the mist of dawn splinters through the half drawn curtains.

Rex falls back, lying perfectly still for a moment, turning slowly to the clock, convinced that it’s display will mock him.

Eight o’clock beams back at him, with a cheeky wink, and for once Rex feels fine.

The nightmare is fresh, but this must be the first time in weeks he has woken up early, ahead of himself and ready to embrace the new working day.

Augustus Montague Quentin Smith - The First, seems to be a little bit happier than last night, as Rex rubs his stomach, aching with hunger and readied for a massive breakfast.

The problem with being early, Rex had found in the few times he had managed such a thing, was that you always tend to over calculate what these actual minutes mean.

This he first realised, whilst dozing in his colossal bed, only to turn over and see the clock cheerfully reply eight-fifteen.

This was terrible! He was almost in danger of being up when he should have been and gaining no time at all! And with this Rex sprang to the bathroom, not forgetting to stub his toe on the blanket box and fall over the end of the bed.

Standing manfully above the basin, Rex pondered what was the best way to do exactly what Max had asked, and therefore regaining their ability to talk and not talk comfortably, without appearing to change his normal routine, and look too needy.

The easiest route, he decided, was to go about his business as usual, but look deep in thought, maybe even scribbling a few notes on a bit of paper occasionally. Then when Max tiptoed passed trying to spy on Rex, as he always did, he could simply say something like, ‘of course, of course I’ll start with a sweep of the perimeter fence,’, which would prove to Max that he had taken his comments on board, decided it needed careful planning, and best to keep up with his current duties in the meantime.

A few days of this and he might not actually need to do the search at all, or at the very least spend half an hour waving a stick about shouting ‘is anybody there?’.

Feeling a lot better than last night, Rex charged down the stairs, eventually over egging it slightly and missing out the bottom four, almost ending on his back again.

Pooetesleap was overjoyed by his masters change in mood and showed it by growling angrily, demanding food and turning his back on Rex, still remembering being rudely locked in the kitchen last night.

With time in hand, and having enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast, the Dinosaur Keeper casually dressed even managing to find matching socks, this time with each other, and glanced briefly in the mirror to put his hat at a jaunty angle.

Nonchalantly, he hung the battered brown satchel over his shoulders looked at the front door and started at the top, sliding the bolts to one side, detaching the chain and finally turning the lock.

Swinging the door open to its fullest, Pooetesleap charged passed him, still slightly unsure of Rex’s actions at this hour, today of all days.

Rex couldn’t care less and, if there had been bluebirds on Planet Chunk, he felt sure they would have sang a beautiful little chorus to him.

Skipping slightly, he made his way to the Velociraptor Paddock, and secured most of the Dumdums from the Fire pit. This was a lot easier than normal as most of them were still asleep, and the few that were awake were so stunned at Rex being there at this time, that they didn’t notice his arms laden with the greyish, blue animals.

Counting about twenty, he placed them at the base of the Total Fruit Tree and admired the huge pile. Of course he knew it was all relative, as a huge pile to him, would be a small snack to Max, but felt safe in the knowledge the gesture would be appreciated.

It wasn’t until Rex sat on his front step, that he began to feel slightly sick at the realisation of what may happen.

Waiting for the whistle he couldn’t help but worry.

What if Max wasn’t happy with him just making the occasional grunt about the Rogue Creature, or merely waving a stick in it’s general direction?

What if Max didn’t turn up at all?

What if whilst going about his normal duties, pretending to be searching, the Rogue Creature just appeared?

He hadn’t been seen in months and, although this was very comforting, surely only meant that he was due another visit.

Rex trembled, finally coming to terms with the fact that this moment was bound to come, and would more than likely come today.

So it was with some relief that he looked at his watch, saw ten passed nine and realised why the whistle hadn’t sounded.

Sure he felt stupid, as he passed Pooetesleap already asleep in his basket and noted the dog had worked it out before him.

But at least as he crashed, fully dressed, on to his bed and began to welcome back sleep, he knew there was no searching going to take place today.

The clock next to him sizzled with the word ‘Sat’, and Rex began the weekend deep in the arms of slumber.

Bleary eyed, an hour or so later, he looked at his ‘weekend clothes’.

There were a pair of black and white trainers, two pairs of blue jeans and two red t-shirts with the emblem ‘Can. 111668882’.

Slipping on the clothes and slowly lacing up the trainers, Rex felt completely happy and relaxed. There was part of him that was just pleased he wouldn’t be endangering his life today by searching the blackened woods, but he always felt kind of happy at the weekend anyway and as the cotton of his t-shirt brushed his skin, it distributed the warm glow of contentment.

Slowly he made his way down to the kitchen, and casually started to butter some bread whilst he looked at Pooetesleap, wondering why he hadn’t come over for a quick fuss and stroke, and why all four of his legs were so far apart, bracingly tense.

Of course, as Rex was hurled across the kitchen ending upside down next to the refrigerator, it all made complete sense.

A quarter to eleven had just passed and Planet Chunk merrily turned into full daylight.

Dusting himself down, Rex rubbed his head and thought in the sixteen odd years he had been here, the Planet still occasionally caught him out.

More than delighted to be the right way up again, Rex made his way to the door, grabbing the casual, denim jacket from the peg and revelling in the fact that it was ever so slightly softer than his work one, flung open the front door.

It really was the most glorious of days.

Well to be honest it was the same as any other day, apart from Christmas.

Happy to be free to do what he wanted, Rex strode purposefully to the shed, tripping over the step slightly, but managing to incorporate the momentum into his usual walk quite skilfully, slowing as he reached the wooden back.

Just because it was the weekend, didn’t mean there weren’t things to do. Rex would spend most of the day fixing, tinkering or burning things. But he was more than happy to do this, as it was his choice, rather than employment.

Sure if he didn’t do some of the chores he would starve, live in a rotting house or, at the very least, have a much less interesting diet, but he was casually dressed and even more casual of mind.

Picking up a few logs he stepped out of the shed and place them in the much used fire pit, exactly opposite the Total Fruit Tree on the other side of the house.

He rubbed two of the smaller sticks together for a good ten minutes, before getting bored and tossing all the wood to the bottom of the pit.

Returning with a flaming rag, lit freshly on the stove in the kitchen, he threw it manfully into the hole below. Immediately springing to life, flames licking at Rex’s toes, before the initial roar subsided to a constant crackle, warming an already hot Dinosaur Keeper.

The coals began to glow brightly and Rex turned to the house.

Retrieving his satchel from the hallway, he routed around in every fold of the cloth sack, before trembling hands felt the familiar ripple of plump berries.

Tipping them in the palm of a sweaty left hand Rex drew a deep breath, his nose an inch away from the rounds of fruit, and smiled as the vapour enveloped his every sense.

In the right, Rex held a solid but worn square pan, the handle tightly grasped in his sweaty hand, until the familiar wood warmed in his palm. Flinging this on the fire, the pit spat back at him before gently returning to the occasional crackle and warming the pan until it glowed like the coals, almost merging with the flames into one constant bright orange.

Quickly, Rex tossed the berries into the square metal surface, grabbed a thick cloth in one hand and the lid in the other, just to slam it tightly over the top, sealing the pan shut.

Rex began to shake and twist the handle, sweating as he did so, but determined not to burn a single bean.

Eventually, after five minutes or so, Rex tightened his grip on the handle and using the other side of the cloth threw the lid onto the ground beside him, tipping the pan slightly and pouring the beans onto a sheet next to the fire pit.

The berries were definitely beans now, and although only slightly browned, they were hardening up as they continued to cook, still remembering the heat that was slowly passing through them.

And there you had it, freshly roasted coffee.

Leaving it a good half hour, Rex pondered what to do with the rest of the day.

He should really do some odd jobs around the house, the tiles on the roof, for one, would need pinning down again, as Max had dislodged a couple the day before.

At the very least he should go and clean the bedrooms, maybe even change all the sheets that had been on the seven beds for longer than he cared to remember.

But none of this appealed.

He did need to pick some fruit, and there was no getting away from this unless he was going to starve, but he could do it later.

Grabbing the beans, still slightly warm to the touch, he made his way back in to the house. Slipping them into the glass jar next to the sink, leaving the top off slightly to allow them to cool further,

Rex prodded Pooetesleap, receiving a yawn and a bleary look in reply.

Stretching, begrudgingly he followed Rex to the door to see what was happening, and was delighted to see him heading toward the plains.

Pooetesleap’s legs gained momentum, springing into life and managed to force themselves into a gallop.

Running in front of Rex, then to the side, then back again, darting between his legs, Pooetesleap joyously embraced the rest of the day, happy at last that Rex had realised it was the weekend and time was their own.

Rex, on the other hand, decided that he should walk purposefully across the plains, to the other side, and this time he was going to do it.

There was no stopping him, his mood had blackened as quickly as it had lightened just an hour ago.

Brow furrowed with purpose, he was going to jump over the perimeter fence and make his way across the other, vacant fields.

For some reason, an explanation never came to Rex, but every so often he felt penned in.

If there was a fence, a dividing line, then it had to be there for a reason. At the very least he could spend the day walking across the empty lands, before eventually coming across the thing that took over every hour he was not awake.

The sea.

Passing under one of the great Diplodocus’ belly’s, with a moments glance at it’s massive feet, Rex took a second to appreciate the temporary shade from the intense Sun.

Then, as the second passed, stared intently at where the fence should be. The edges of the plains were bordered by steep banks, trees sprouting from the top, disguising the thin metal wire and high wooden posts.

It would take a good two hours just to get to the edge of the plains, but he didn’t care, there was nothing else to do, and the determination in his head would make the time pass without much thought.

Pooetesleap’s ears dropped and mouth sagged, as he trotted silently next to Rex.

Fearful for his friend, he knew the routine and locked in to the walk ahead, knowing that there would be no result.

The grass, more coarse as he approached the foot of the bank, crunched under Rex’s feet, cracking under the weight and springing halfway back to life.

The Sun was at its fullest, the Nus many hours away, as Rex looked at his watch and was replied with just passed two o’clock.

It had taken him a little over two hours, but as Rex crashed to the ground, he felt happy with the progress and routed thoughtfully through his satchel.

Swigging deeply from the flask of Dumdum milk, still there from yesterday‘s harvest, he looked at the steep hill that he had yet to climb.

A perfect angle of forty-five degrees, there was something slightly strange about this embankment.

All the other hills that Rex knew of, and there were only a few hemmed in by the perimeter fence, were, well, irregular.

They started slowly, or steeply, then petered off, or rose sharply, depending on which one you were one.

This one was constant.

Unfaltering in its ascent, an invariable lift from beginning to end, until you reached the perfectly flat summit almost an hour later.

Then when you did get to the top, there was a flawlessly manicured lawn, about ten metres in width, before you came to the tallest trees you could imagine, immaculately straight and lined up in a perfect row.

It was, and to describe it any other way may be preferable yet less apt, spooky.

To the left and to the right was nothing but an endless army of perfectly ordered trees, and this was the really weird thing, every tree looked exactly like the next.

Exactly.

There were no branches, on any of the trees, until about head height. Then they seemed to lock into each other, a barrier of branches impossible to break.

Rex always wondered how they grew, being planted so close together, but then again they didn’t seem to change in size at all, perpetually the same height, width, age even.

The bases were only about a quarter of a metre apart, making the passing of them a tight squeeze. Then, as you got passed one row, the other was bearing down on you, the base of the next exactly between that of the previous two, lined up like cinema seats.

Rex thought about this as he reached the top and lay panting on his back, exhausted from the climb.

He stared at the immaculate row of trees, and noticed Pooetesleap making himself comfortable at the base of one, half in the sun, half in the shade.

Rex grabbed a trunk and glanced at Pooetesleap again, knowing that he would stop here and wait, as the moving through the dense foliage bored him and the thorns would forever get stuck in his paws.

Rex began to weave in and out of the trees, making steady progress.

An infrequent twig would snap underneath his feet, but Rex was always amazed at how the ground that the trees sprang out of were almost entirely object free.

Sure there wasn’t much of it, as the tree’s bases took over most of the spare space, but it still looked like somebody had been round and vacuumed the very earth on which he stood.

It was cold now, as the Sun gave up breaking between the branches, and the trees huddled closer and closer together.

He stopped for a moment and found the remains of a sandwich, presumably that he had half eaten earlier that week, in the corner of his satchel.

Chewing on this, the stale bread jarred into his gums, softened only by the butter that had soaked into the crust as the days had passed.

Rex wiped cold sweat from his brow and tried to look back from where he had come.

It was impossible to of course, but gazing at his watch he estimated that about two thirds of the regimented forest had passed. Spurred on by this and quickening his pace, Rex began to see the faintest sign of a brighter light just in front of him. As he grabbed the nearest tree trunk that came to reach, he felt warmth, encouraged that the end was near.

Panting now with his t-shirt a dark maroon with sweat, he broke through to the other side and crouched breathless on the dirt.

Deciding to sit, Rex lent against a tree and gazed at the perfectly straight, dull metal wire in front of him.

Every two metres was a huge wooden post, at least three times the size of a skinny, gaunt Dinosaur Keeper.

Nailed to each one was a different brightly coloured sign.

The first, yellow with a black bolt of lightning, shouted ‘Caution, 100,000 volts!’.

Of course there was no electricity up here and so Rex chuckled at the absurd statement. The next, red this time but with the same black lettering screamed, ‘Danger Sheer Drop’.

This was Rex’s favourite and was the push he needed to get back on his feet.

Approaching the fence he clung to the wire, cold and lifeless, and looked straight down.

It was a shear drop of course, this was no lie.

Terrifyingly so in fact, a pure glistening, faultless abyss of a drop. But if you turned your head just so, and squinted in the right direction, every now and again you could see a little groove running down, and down, and down.

Tiny irregular steps, only about the width of Rex’s foot chased themselves perilously toward the end, presumably to the bottom of the glass like fall.

Having made himself quite sick, trying to see the end to the steps, Rex read the next sign which, being blue with white writing, rather lamely said, ’Safety Equipment to be used at all times’.

A louder laugh came from him this time, as he thought with a shear drop and 100,000 volts coursing through your body, what equipment would be safe enough to resist that?

He turned and stared at the trees again, before swiftly grabbing the wire of the fence and hoisting his leg around it.

Slowly, taking great care, he lifted himself up, until the top of a post was in reach and he could steady himself, allowing a moment to look to the distance.

Then in one fluid movement Rex pulled with all his strength until he was sat upright, perched on top of the thick wooden pole.

Placing both hands either side of his body, he rocked ever so slightly, until perfectly comfortable, sitting with his back to the trees.

And then he gazed.

Intently staring, he looked and looked at the more than familiar sight.

Nothing but scrubland, for as far as the eye could see.

He had reached the end.

But in this vastness, this smooth carpet of nothing, Rex was certain he could see another border.

It was hazy, miles away, at least three days walk, but was as positive as possible that there was something else there.

He cursed his own stupidity, having done this walk a hundred times, and yet never bothering to bring anything else with him.

No supplies, nothing to make camp, no extra food, no companion even.

He thought about this long and hard, and as he ticked off what was needed to finally go over the other side of the fence, to take the precarious steps down, he slowly turned round, one leg still on the wrong side of the fence.

This was his mistake, his every error.

The thing that happened each time the sensation of needing to launch himself into the place he knew he shouldn’t go ran through his body.

He looked back.

As the thought of packing food, making a tent and escaping the plains, ran through every single thought in his determined mind, he gazed at what was behind him, staring at what he was trying to escape from.

The Diplodocus’ came into view first.

They would do of course, their colossal bodies breaking the light in to shards, their long necks shadows in the Sun.

From this distance their graceful movements, were the perfect coordination of a thousand ballets, a carefully choreographed dance played just for him.

The Stegosaurus’ wandered aimlessly, slowly passing the darting Velociraptors, as the Pterodons swooped menacingly at the trees, stopping every now and then, before taking off again toward the blue skies.

At this moment, body limp and mind clear, he knew he couldn’t leave them, ever.

If there was another fence it was three days away, that was a six day round trip to something that may not be, and only two days off were allowed each week.

Besides think of the dung when he returned!

If all of the Dinosaurs had managed without him, not starved to death or been killed by a nasty bout of the flu, the amount of work he’d have to do to catch up would be enormous.

If they did cope without him, brilliantly so even, how would that make him feel?

No, he would go back and follow the simple rule,

‘The Dinosaur Keeper must look after the Dinosaurs’.

Although these occasional trips were by and large seen as pointless, futile even, Rex’s mood was happier and faith had been restored by the beauty of the place he lived.

It may be the same, day after day, week after week, year after year to think of it, but as Rex made the way down the glistening un-electrified fence, he didn’t feel too bad at all.

Still he thought, one day, one day he would do it. Pack a bag, bring a tent, force Pooetesleap through the trees, carry him if he had to, but eventually he would be at the bottom of abyss looking forward, not at the top of the fence looking back.

Elated by the exhaustion of his trek, and the effort needed to get back, Rex grabbed the trunk of the first tree and started his return.

Two eyes watched Rex cautiously.

Standing perfectly still, the rest of the head moved silently and started to peer hungrily over the tops of the immense trees.

Happy that Rex had gone, the eyes again stared enthusiastically at the plains, watching every move, calculating it’s own next.

As the stare strained, thoughts of the impending evening came to the beast’s mighty brain.

Best to sleep.

A deep sleep to recharge it’s energy.

Wait for the cover of night.

Then the dastardly deed.

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