The Dinosaur Keeper

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Chapter 8

Chapter 8

“Don’t be ridiculous, he’s not been seen in weeks”, continued Rex grabbing his satchel and coat, trying frantically to find the second arm hole,

“Besides he only ever comes at twilight, it’s almost eleven o’clock”.

“Maybe he’s changed his pattern,” Rupert stated, shuddering and staring Rex angrily in the eye,

“They do that you know, murderer’s! Or perhaps you thought sitting on your backside day in, day out, would solve the problem“.

Rex just carried on trudging toward the plains through the pouring rain. He was resigned to the fact that his new companion, like everybody else, wasn’t about to give him an easy ride.

The attack had happened just as Chunk flipped into pitch black, he half heard a hurried Rupert explain, whilst scanning the horizon for the predator. The facts after this seemed muddled, as the Velociraptor continued, which was briefly explained away by the confused panic that had swept through the herds as they ran for their lives.

The one fact that did stick in his mind, was Rupert’s vivid description of his cold, murderous eyes, flickering with hate and rage. This was only matched by the detailed report of razor sharp claws and teeth, sharpened to slice quickly through flesh. These teeth, Rupert continued, had come dangerously close to him and his pack as the beast sprang from the undergrowth.

The rest of the Rogue Creatures movements were seen through blind panic. Mere time slots of quickly stolen glances from the Velociraptor as he had ran as fast as his legs would carry him. What was clear this time, was that the attack had been more intense and far from the random terror normally dispensed by the immense beast. However, whatever the Rogue Creature had come for, he had left without as quickly as he had appeared.

“You’re meant to protect us! The Dinosaur Keeper must look after the Dinosaurs, that’s what it says!”, Rupert added through genuine fear.

Rex hated it when they quoted this at him. The only subject that the Manual took any kind of firm standpoint on and it was continuously used by the Dinosaurs, on the rare occasions they bothered to talk to him.

If the dung wasn’t cleared up fast enough, or he took more Dumdums than they thought acceptable, one of them would quote the rule and then go back to ignoring him again until they wanted something else.

Trying to pay no attention to Rupert’s ranting, which proved harder by the minute, Rex attempted to think straight.

He carefully assembled in his mind, what had been done in previous situations like this, and then, step by step, started to apply it to the current circumstances.

He had to ensure that Bob was no longer in the vicinity. This was the most important thing and if he was, then, well he’d worry about that if it happened.

Normally, he continued to ponder whilst trudging toward the hazy masses that were Dinosaurs, the attacks were normally at twilight. Rex cursed this change to the terrifying routine, mainly because it was one of the cornerstones of assumption about the Rogue Creature. This being that he was getting on a bit and so used the dusk light to help blur his own outline, but wouldn’t attack at the dead of night as his own eyesight was failing.

It was dark, this was the thing constantly going through Rex’s mind, and with it he turned round, picked up a stick and headed back to the kitchen.

Wrapping a tea towel around the top of the branch he lit the stove and plunged the stick into the blue flames.

A moment later the tea towel started to glow before a healthy yellow flame licked the sides, as Rex exited the house for the second time that evening.

Rupert was gone, but as he headed back toward the plains again he saw him in the Nus light marching around the perimeter of the fields with the rest of the Velociraptors.

Rex didn’t quite understand the total fear of the Dinosaurs, and now he had time to think about it, thought that Rupert’s ‘Murderer’ comment was a bit out of line as well.

Bob had never killed any of the Dinosaurs, not while he had been in charge anyway. There was only one creature that suffered the wrath of Bob and Rex was more fearful about this than any of them.

Well apart from the victim at least.

The rain continued to pelt down on Rex and he began to wish that the weather wasn’t quite so predictable, the occasional hot and pleasant evening would have come as some relief.

Lighting the fire next to the Velociraptor paddock first, the rest of the Dinosaurs began to flicker into sight, the immense bulk of one of the Diplodocus’ coming into view right in front of him.

The fire had obviously startled the Diplodocus, as they had taken a step to the side in shock, making the whole of the plains shake.

All the other Dinosaurs had turned toward where Rex was standing, frightened by the sudden movement and physically shaken as the vibrations had rippled along the field.

The nearest diplodocus quickly whipped his head round, scanning the ground as his immense neck turned, and upon sighting Rex, his face had turned to that of contempt.

“Any chance of you lighting the other fires?” he had said dripping with sarcasm whilst lowering his neck down to Rex’s level.

“Seem to be making a habit of this don’t you?” was the next comment spat at him, and with this Rex realised it was Henry, as he wrapped his arms part way round the colossal neck and waited to be deposited at the next corner of the field.

As the wind rushed against Rex’s face and the rain fell like bullets from a gun, Henry somehow sensed his passengers questions and pre-empted the answer,

“I hit him with my tail, that’s what got rid of him.”

he began in a not too disagreeable tone,

“By accident to be honest, he startled me by leaping out of the bushes. But it seemed to do the trick, we haven’t actually seen him since then”.

Rex didn’t push his luck though, and for the rest of the journey remained silent, hoping not to fall from the great Dinosaurs neck, and praying that if they were to see the Rogue Creature, that Henry‘s tail would accidentally clobber him again.

Having used this quite frankly, scary mode of transport a further two times, Rex stood and looked at the fields. His arms ached again, as hanging on for dear life whilst being hurtled through the air didn’t half make your muscles twinge.

Landing back on the ground with a gentle thud, Rex looked across the plains toward the house.

The Diplodocus’ had arranged themselves round the edge of the fields, the larger adult ones taking key positions at the corners and the more adolescent, equally spaced along the sides under the watchful eye of their parents.

The Velociraptors then marched underneath the vast stomachs of the Diplodocus’, weaving in and out, hunched menacingly over with arms at full length, the razor sharpness of their claws only matched by their presently cold eyes.

The Pterodons circled above the plains in a constant rotating loop, occasionally falling into a dive if a tree rustled in just the wrong way or if the one of the other Dinosaurs looked in distress. Every so often a squawk would come from one of them and they’d arrange into a giant ‘V’, before breaking into a different order and circling the plains once more.

The Stegosaurus stood completely still, as if they were statues never blinking or moving a millimetre, looking petrified at the mere thought of Bob. But upon closer inspection you would notice that every single one of them was looking outward, creating an even smaller inside ring, right in the middle of the plains.

Any infantile Dinosaurs were protected in the middle of the ring the Stegosaurus’ had made, snugly cocooned by a mass of fleshy walls.

Rex took a moment, just to admire this, and revelled for a short while in his impending authority.

He was the Dinosaur Keeper, the organiser of everything he surveyed, and even with panic and fear taking over every thought, pride ran through his veins, an adrenaline rush to conquer the nerves.

He walked toward the centre circle and the Stegosaurus’ armoured plates stood to attention and blushed a violent red, before they realised who it was and returned their gaze to the perimeters.

Rex took out a pencil and pad and forced himself between two of the Stegosaurus’ immense bottoms, so that he could observe the inner sanctum.

It smelt a bit, and the memory was still fresh from the last time he had been this close to the wrong end of a Stegosaurus, but from here he could count the juvenile Velociraptors and Stegosaurus’, and at the end was pleased with the tally received.

Not one second had passed since he had totalled their numbers before Henry’s neck appeared and Rex clung to it once more.

With a great whoosh, and not enough time on this occasion to close his eyes, Rex was deposited at the edge of the plains nearest the house.

Somehow managing to control his stomach, and trying to concentrate on the important task about to be undertaken, he breathed deeply.

Opening the shed door, Rex lassoed the axe to his belt and picked up a pitch fork that was resting in the corner.

Stepping outside and drawing another large breath, the sickness still somersaulting inside. Pooetesleap’s cold nose nudged his hand, shocking him initially until the familiar rough tongue passed over his skin.

This is the moment he appreciated Pooetesleap the most.

Rex knew that he was terrified of Bob, and for good reason, but as a true friend would not let Rex undertake the next actions alone.

Henry’s head appeared again, and Rupert appeared standing just behind the Dinosaur Keeper, as he faced the edge of the forest in front of him.

At this point Rex would like to think he was brave, courageous, without fear or consequence of what was to be done next. But to be truthful was in the dense undergrowth of the forest before he had even realised what had happened.

The Nus light was sparse, but the glow from the distant fires was just enough to make out a few shapes.

As Rex’s eyes adjusted to the darkness he turned back and saw the neck of Henry to one side, and Rupert poised ready to pounce, at the other.

With razor-sharp claws prepared to attack and the largest animal in chunk watching his every move, Rex felt some kind of comfort as he began to go deeper into the forest.

With one swoop of the axe the Dinosaur Keeper began, his pitchfork strapped to his back, a burning torch and Pooetesleap at his side.

Sweeping from left to right, and occasionally stabbing at one of the thicker bushes, Rex made his way through the forest toward the plains, as Rupert moved with him at the side of the woods.

His eyes fully adjusted to the darkness before him now, picking out the shadows and dismissing the illusions for what they were.

Although confident that he wouldn’t mistake the Rogue Creature for anything else, his size would give him away for a start, every now and then a twig would snap or a bush would sway a little too vigorously and Rex would turn fiercely toward it, heart pounding in his chest.

It was with no short relief that some time later, he saw the edge of the plains and went slightly to the right, mapping out where the forest circled all the fields.

He slid on the occasional Dumdum carcass, and every so often a tree would do a good impression of Bob, but as Rex eventually came out the other side of the forest next to one of the corner fires, a sigh escaped his mouth that couldn’t be quietened.

With sweat as cold as ice dripping from all of his skin, Pooetesleap proved this part of the task was complete by running toward the house, to the safety of a warm basket.

Of course a couple of seconds later Rex was high up in the air again, looking down on the fields and being deposited by trees on top of the mound that hid the perimeter fence.

Still, as Henry’s face was coiled in by his great neck, Rex took a couple of minutes just to compose himself.

He hated and feared patrolling the most, and knew why he didn’t venture into the forest alone to search for the Rogue Creature.

If he was this petrified with the support of all the Dinosaurs, how would he be alone in the forest with just a pitchfork and his fears?

With this he took a swig of milk from the flask and wiped the moisture from trembling lips.

Rummaging around again in the battered leather satchel, he found a small lantern in one of the larger pockets and lit it.

The glow was not as strong as the nearby fire, but was needed for the next task.

Thrusting the pitchfork into the ground, it was left standing to attention wobbling from side to side, Rex made his way to the tightly knit trees in front of him.

He pushed the lantern as far as he could between the trees, checking to see if the light bounced off any scaly skin or deadly claws.

He heard the crack of a branch above him and thrusting the light into the air toward the top of the trees, was greeted by a mass of pointed teeth, the ones he feared the most coming fast towards him.

Falling to his knees, Rex couldn’t help but let out a small whine as he crouched in the damp, excepting his fate.

Shielding his face with his forearm, he peeked through half closed eyes again.

There the teeth quickly came, bearing down on him, before spring back, then down again, eventually bouncing some metres above a quivering Dinosaur Keeper. Shivering for a second Rex braved another quick glance, thrusting the lamp above like a shield and watched the teeth turn into gnarly thorns and twisted branches high up in the trees, as a more wooden threat than before gently swayed in the breeze.

Rex cursed his over active imagination and carried on his walk along the path of the mound.

Coming to the end he sat on the ground, exhausted from concentrating too much rather than the actual exercise.

The Dinosaurs maintained their positions, guarding everything they knew protectively, which to be fair only amounted to a patch of grass, a lot of dung and of course their young ones.

Rex chuckled to himself, blew out the lamp and started the dark descent down the embankment.

It was about half way down that he hit something cold and flesh like.

Unfortunately, Rex had been looking the other way, thinking if he dared to risk having a look over the bordering fence, to see if the wasteland changed at Nus time. He had dismissed this, needing to tell the Dinosaurs that everything was secure and let them get back to sleep.

But while turning his head to look straight ahead, his cheek had slammed into something hard, knocking him to the ground.

Looking back at it, slightly stunned, he had seen a leg.

A massive muscular leg, to be honest, that tensely rippled in front of him.

Rex blinked, hoping that it was just his imagination and that a second look would show him a tree, like the one that had previously frightened him.

But as he stared no such transformation occurred and the leg stayed in front of him.

His gaze followed the outline upwards to the top, where a set of claws tapped lazily on the hip of scaly skin.

Then the head started every so precisely to turn, slowly dipping towards Rex.

Steam shot from it’s nostrils, in the cold of the night, and a mouth opened to display the largest teeth known on these plains, the size of carrots, if carrots could slice you in two.

“Quiet organised, for the chaos it was an hour ago, isn’t it?” the lips whispered.

Rex lay stock still, relieved at the tone and familiarity of the voice.

“Max”, he replied, “When did you get here?”

“Oh just a moment ago, I tiptoed round so not to alarm anyone.” with this the great Tyrannosaurus rubbed his stomach and Rex couldn’t help but notice a wince of pain, “Very well executed this, a lovely sense of occasion though, don’t you think?”

Concentrating on the last sentence again, he shook his head and decided he would never get used to this, Max’s enjoyment of these infrequent drills, as if they were some kind of ceremony and not the blatant defence mechanism they actually were.

He sort of understood it, I mean Max was the most organised animal Rex had ever met, but the perverse pleasure he got out of this display was still a little shocking.

“Look,” Max continued “I’m going to sneak off, no point alarming anyone. But Rex,” and with this there was a pause slightly too long for Rex’s liking,

“I’m going to come and see you first thing tomorrow, there’s something you need to put in motion don’t you think?”

and with that Max, crept away into the forest nothing else to be said.

Rex was stunned, he knew exactly what Max had meant but still his mind raced, trying to come up with a half decent alternative to the inevitable.

But he knew.

He knew that tomorrow would mean going into the forest searching and this time Max would watch him going in, to ensure the task was undertaken.

As much as the thought was frightening, there were more important matters to attend to at present, and shaking back into the now, Rex stared at the Dinosaurs and started to smile as he thought about telling them everything was okay.

With his thoughts elsewhere he stumbled on the descent down and as his ankle gave way on the smooth decline of the embankment, tumbled all the way to the bottom, banging his head on a tree stump as he eventually stopped, sitting bolt upright in the coarse grass.

The first thing that dizzily came into focus, was that of the huge face of a Diplodocus.

It stared at him for a while, until eventually the owner drew back it’s neck, shaking the colossal head in disappointment and tutting every now and then in Rex’s general direction.

Rex stood up and marched forthrightly into the plains, until he was right next to the Stegosaurus’. Standing with his legs slightly apart, cupping his hands to his mouth, the lurching in his stomach beginning again.

“It’s alright,” he started, slightly fainter than hoped for but increasing gradually in volume,

“nothing to be frightened of here. Go back to your, erm, bits of the plains and so forth”.

He looked around briefly, ensuring that all the dinosaurs had heard him, and then shut his eyes and waited.

And waited.

The ground had shook as the Diplodocus’ and Stegosaurus’ had passed him, the occasional one brushing passed his sweat soaked skin, but other than that there had been total silence. There were no loud murmurings, or hustle and bustle, that usually brought this kind of event to a close.

Opening one eye gingerly, Rex was stunned to see what was in front of him.

There, directly in sight, was his house.

Nothing unusual in that, however, either side of the pathway to his home, was lined with every single Dinosaur from the plains.

A pavement guiding the way back, and it did not look a happy one.

As Rex gulped, he saw Pooetesleap safely on the porch of the house, barking at the strange display.

But still not one Dinosaur murmured.

Rex straightened his coat, smoothing the creases and checked that his satchel was hanging at just the right angle.

Moving one of his feet forward, the deathly silence was highlighted by the crunch of the grass.

To the side a fire flickered, casting its light on the Dinosaur’s murderous faces and upon moving his second foot, convinced that he was going to be sick, he rested a hand at the top of his stomach as if to force it back down, noticing that his heart was racing and the cold sweat had grown fiercer, dripping from his brow.

Brushing it away, Rex gulped.

Slowly the steps turned into an unsteady walk, as he gazed up at the much taller animals in the distance.

His back began to stoop and head lowered, unsure of what was to happen, but taking comfort in counting each blade of grass on his way.

The walk should have taken a good fifteen minutes to make it to the first of the Dinosaurs, and it probably did, but sooner than he would have liked Rex approached the long line of them.

Sandwiched between the two rows, he began the path home, flanked by the unwelcome parade.

And then, nothing.

He looked at the first two Dinosaurs, both Velociraptors, at either side of him and they didn’t do anything but glare straight back at him, unflinching and motionless.

The feeling was uncomfortable, unsettling even, but Rex could put up with this, in ten minutes he would be home and he had suffered much worse from them before.

He was moving on to the next set of Dinosaurs, the Stegosaurus’, slightly confused but relishing the silence, when it began.

Just as he passed the first set of Dinosaurs, the moment they were behind him, it started.

“Should be patrolling the woods, instead of gazing at the scrublands!”, was the first, from one of the Velociraptors that he had just passed.

“17 years almost up, and still we live in this fear”, came another as he passed the Stegosaurus.

One by one, moving along each of the Dinosaurs, the barrage of insults and criticisms came, less and less eloquently as he approached his front door.

Eventually, Rex was flanked by the occasional “Loser” or “Halfwit”, that hurt just as much as the more thought out comments.

The porch was close to him now, as he passed the last Diplodocus that was sheltering a Velociraptor underneath from the rain.

It was Henry and Rupert.

They said nothing, nothing at all.

They didn’t look angry or vengeful or even mildly upset, which Rex was uncertain about being better or worse.

As he reached deep in his pocket for his key, Rupert took a tiny step forward, his mouth opened halfway to speak, but stopped as soon as Henry glared at him.

Rex hung his coat up in the darkness of the house and then slumped into the armchair by an unlit fire.

The wind whistled on the windows, occasionally interrupted by the patter of rain in the gloomy night sky, as he drooped his hands lifelessly over the arms of the chair and breathed in and out deeply.

Pooetesleap came in from the kitchen, and nuzzled at the dangling limbs, but gave up after a few minutes, no response received.

Sitting slightly forward, Rex gazed at the wall at the other end of the living room where the diagram hung, the only one that didn’t hang in the bathroom.

It was positioned partially out of sight, next to the shelf that housed the Manual.

Its black background extenuated the chalky white lines which flickered in the Nus light.

Rex had moved it there the first time he encountered the Rogue Creature, to act as a sought of reminder. So that every time he reached for the book, wanting to know how to cure a Diplodocus with the hiccups or a Velociraptors with tonsillitis, he would be able to stare at it and come up with some sort of plan to rid the land of it‘s unwelcome presence.

The reminder didn’t work.

Quite frankly for the first few months it had scared the life out of him, to the point that he just stopped referring to the Manual quite so often.

This only made his chores harder and caused the odd stomach bug to go untreated.

Eventually Rex had thought this was stupid and had taken his first tentative steps to going back to the corner of the room.

As time had passed the reminder became just the reverse, another wall hanging to go unnoticed, gathering too much dust.

But tonight he stared at it, and it just stared back.

Its massive head mocking him with every glance, a muscular frame looming over the room.

It wasn’t his fault, Rex kept repeating over and over in his head. Not his fault.

He hadn’t chosen to be here, nobody had asked him if he wouldn’t mind looking after the Dinosaurs. Not that he could remember anyway.

Even if they did, why was the Rogue Creature here?

Who came up with that awful idea, and why was it his job to catch it?

Anger started to fizz in his newly returned stomach, replacing his sadness like a freshly kilned brick and Rex tensed every aching muscle in his body.

“It’s not my fault, NOT MY FAULT!”, he screamed.

With this he stood up and hurled a mug at the picture.

It’s hardened clay sides splintered into shards, flying in all directions, covering the empty bookshelf.

The sound of cracking gave slight relief to Rex as he turned and made his way upstairs, Pooetesleap whimpering in his basket.

Entering the bedroom, slowly he took off his trousers and socks, making a neat pile of the rest of the clothes next to the bed.

He turned and looked at the oil painting of the moustached man, but couldn’t meet his gaze.

Restless in bed he decided to move to the far end of the room, peering out of the window toward the Dinosaurs.

They were stood as usual in their places, most of them asleep, the occasional snore from a Diplodocus breaking the silence.

He had got over not being liked years ago, Rex couldn’t care less about that.

When they had eventually stopped making sarcastic remarks to him, as he had mastered his Dinosaur duties and the routine left them at least satisfied, he had grown accustomed to the silence.

But the mocking and the sarcastic comments, when he did the slightest thing wrong he couldn’t stand.

What right did they have to judge?

Curling up on the bed, Rex shut his eyes tightly and hoped the inevitable nightmare would bring some kind of relief.

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