The Deadly Past
The horror started without warning.
Adam Freeman and his friends were not far from home when they were attacked, just a half mile north of Spooksville, in an area where they seldom went. The woods they had hiked through to get there were not nearly so thick as the others around Spooksville. Resting on top of a hill, they saw nothing but rocks, desolate valleys, and a few bushes. Sally Wilcox, who had led them to the spot, said it looked like the far side of the moon.
“I bet they used to do nuclear testing here,” she said as they continued climbing to the top of a rocky bluff that gave them a view of the ocean and Spooksville itself. “That’s why not much grows here.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Cindy Makey replied, brushing her long blond hair back from her cute face. “The government only performs nuclear tests in Nevada.”
Sally stared hard at her with brown eyes that matched her brown hair. “I wasn’t talking about the U.S. government,” she said. “Remember Spooksville used to be part of ancient Lemuria, which went under the Pacific Ocean more than twenty thousand years ago. New Agers believe the Lemurian culture was peaceful, but I know for a fact that they built just as many bombs as we have today.”
“Like you would know,” Cindy snapped.
“Bum does say that Lemuria really existed,” Watch said tactfully. Watch was known for always wearing four watches and having no last name.
“I hate to disagree with Bum,” Adam Freeman said, catching his breath and wiping the sweat
from his face. Adam was the shortest one in the group, and very conscious of the fact. Yet he was also the group’s leader. “But how come there isn’t more evidence of Lemuria and Atlantis still lying around?”
“You heard what Bum said,” Watch replied. “When the two lands warred, they completely wiped each other out. But Bum says that Lemuria and Atlantis were descendants of even more ancient cultures. I believe him. I think our history books are very limited in their scope.”
“But do you really think this place used to be radioactive?” Cindy asked, uneasily glancing around. “If that’s true, we shouldn’t be here.”
“Why?” Sally asked with a snigger. “Are you afraid you might mutate into a plain-looking girl?”
“It looks like that happened to you already,” Cindy replied.
Watch raised his hand before the two girls could get going. “If there was radiation here,” he said, “there would be no plant life at all. I don’t think we have to worry about it.”
Adam cocked his head to one side. “What’s that funny sound?”
“I don’t hear anything,” Sally said before pausing
to listen closely. Then a puzzled expression crossed her face. “It sounds like wind blowing through a narrow valley.”
Watch shook his head, as he also listened. “It sounds like a distant heartbeat to me.” He scanned the area with his thick glasses. “But I don’t see anything that could be making the sound. Do you guys?”
Cindy pointed. “What about that bird way over there?”
The brown bird to which Cindy was pointing seemed to be flying over a mountain range far beyond Spooksville. This puzzled Adam who didn’t understand how they could even see something as small as a bird at such a distance. The sharp peaks over which the bird swept were at least three miles away. Also, it was kind of a funny-looking bird, with a long pointed head and an especially wide wingspan. He shook his head as he stared at the creature.
“That can’t be a bird,” he said.
“Of course it’s a bird,” Sally said impatiently. “What else could it be? A plane?”
Watch—who didn’t see very well even wearing his glasses—stared at the strange creature. “I
think Adam is right,” he said after a long pause. “That’s much too big to be a bird.”
Sally shielded her eyes from the glare of the sun. “How can you tell how big it is?” she asked. “It’s so far away.”
“That’s our point,” Adam said. “We shouldn’t be able to see it from here.”
The brown bird appeared to see them.
It turned in their direction. The peculiar sound grew louder.
“Whatever it is, it’s definitely making the sound,” Watch said. “And look how fast it’s coming. Now it’s twice as big as it was a minute ago.”
Sally was getting worried. “No bird can fly that fast.”
“So it can’t be a bird,” Cindy insisted.
Adam began to back up. “Let’s argue about what it is later. Right now it’s coming our way at high speed and it’s big. I think we should take cover.”
Sally slowly nodded. “It might be hungry.”
Cindy giggled uneasily. “We’re going to feel stupid running from a bird.”
Watch had also begun to back up. “I would rather feel stupid than dead.” He paused and
squinted. The bird—or whatever it was—let out a screeching cry. It pulled in its wings and seemed to go into free fall, plunging toward them like a missile. Even Watch, who seldom showed any sign of fear, stammered as he spoke next. “That looks like a pterodactyl.”
“What’s that?” Cindy asked.
Sally gasped. “A dinosaur!”
Watch shook his head. “It’s not technically a dinosaur. But it lived at the time of dinosaurs, and was just as deadly.”
“But that’s impossible!” Cindy cried.
“Nothing is impossible in this town!” Adam yelled. He grabbed Cindy by the arm and began to pull her backward. “Let’s get out of here. Now!”
They half-ran and half-slid down the bluff into a narrow valley. But then they became terribly confused. They each began to run in a separate direction, having no idea where to go. Adam stopped them.
“We have to find a cave!” he yelled.
“We passed one a few minutes ago,” Sally cried, stopping, pointing. “It was back that way!”
Watch pointed in the opposite direction. “I thought it was that way. But we’ll never make it that far. We have to find something closer.”
They searched the area anxiously.
The pterodactyl screeched again. Now its leathery wings were clearly visible, as well as its huge mouth. The monster seemed to be coming at them at a hundred miles an hour. It would be on them in seconds. Already the creature was flexing its sharp claws. Adam knew they had to get out of the open.
“If we can find a rock overhang,” Adam said, “it could stop the pterodactyl from swooping in and snatching one of us.”
“No!” Sally protested. “We need a cave to be safe!”
Watch grabbed her arm this time. “Adam is right! We’ll never make it back to that cave! There’s an overhang! Let’s go to it!”
They took off for the far end of the narrow valley, which dead-ended at a wall with a sharp overhang that jutted twenty feet out from it. Unfortunately, the overhang would be at least twenty feet over their heads. So it afforded little protection. As a group they pressed themselves against the limestone wall.
“I wish I had a hand laser,” Watch said, staring up at the approaching monster.
“A strong stick might help,” Adam said, spying
one halfway up the side of the stone wall. He pointed. “I’ll try for it.”
The pterodactyl screeched a third time.
It was maybe five seconds away.
Sally grabbed Adam’s arm and pulled him back against the wall. “Stay here, you nut!” she cried. “It’ll kill you!”
Adam shook her off. “It will kill us all if we don’t frighten it away.” Glancing up at the pterodactyl once, he braced himself and then leapt toward the stick. The monster bird had incredible control of its seemingly wild plunge. It immediately veered toward Adam, who was just putting his hand on the stick. Suddenly the pterodactyl extended its massive wingspan, which was at least twenty feet across, to slow itself enough to grab Adam. Even so it was still traveling at high speed, and that may have been what saved Adam.
The creature tried to grab him but missed.
Sort of. The claw scraped Adam’s right shoulder.
Adam felt a wave of searing pain.
Blood stained his shirt.
“Adam!” the others screamed.
The pterodactyl was making another pass at
him. This time Adam could smell it—like a cloud of rotting vegetation—blowing over him. The creature was not coming so fast this time, but rather, seemed to be plotting its moves. Adam could see the hungry intelligence in its huge black and red eyes. Red saliva dripped from its mouth, and Adam wondered what it had eaten last, if it had been human.
“Get back here!” Watch yelled.
Yet even though Adam was in pain and bleeding, he still wanted the stick. He understood that they needed it in order to beat back the pterodactyl to reach real shelter. The overhang would not discourage the creature for long. It could always land, and peck at them with its long beak.
“Coming!” Adam shouted as he grabbed the stick. His wound was serious. Blood dripped on the ground in front of him as he bent over. But with the long hard stick in his hand he felt a wave of confidence. The pterodactyl wasn’t going to scratch him again!
Too bad the monster didn’t share his conviction.
The pterodactyl swept in again, its wide wings stirring up eye-stinging dust. In spite of its great
size, the creature was remarkably agile. It must have been smart as well, because seeing Adam’s stick, it went for that first. With one swipe of the monster’s claws, Adam almost had his hard-won weapon ripped from his hand. Quickly Adam adjusted his strategy. He started swinging the stick frantically, rather than hoping to land one solid blow.
“Take that, you overgrown chicken!” he shouted as he struck at the pterodactyl. By chance, one blow caught the flying reptile on the top of the head and the thing let out a bloodcurdling scream.
“Kill it!” Cindy yelled from beneath the overhang.
“The pterodactyl probably thinks you’re talking to him!” Sally shouted at him. “Get over here, Adam! Quit being such a hero!”
“You guys get to the cave!” he shouted back. “I’ll keep it busy!”
“We’re not leaving you!” Sally hollered. She turned to Watch and asked, “Should we leave him?”
Watch hesitated. “I hate to, but maybe we should. It could come after us any second, and we have only one stick.”
“I’m not going to leave Adam,” Cindy said firmly.
Just then the pterodactyl made another grab for Adam. He saw it coming, but it didn’t help much. This time the birdlike creature used its wings as well as its claws. Adam was knocked to the ground and for a moment lost his grip on the stick. The pterodactyl was indeed smart and immediately went for the stick. It was only Watch’s quick thinking that prevented them from losing then-only weapon. Watch grabbed the stick before the pterodactyl could, and swung at the creature’s legs, making contact. Again the pterodactyl screamed and flapped higher above them. Watch helped Adam up.
“I think I hurt it,” Watch said. “Now’s the time to make a run for it.”
Adam nodded. “I’m game!”
They raced toward the cave they had spotted. The monster seemed prepared to let them go. It flew high into the air and appeared to search around for an easier meal. But none of them let it out of their sight. Indeed, they all had trouble running because they kept looking over their shoulders. Watch continued to hold on to the stick.
“I wish we could find another one of these,” he said. “Even if we reach the cave, we won’t be safe. The pterodactyl could always squeeze its way in.”
“Maybe there’ll be another stick near the cave,” Adam gasped, his shoulder still bleeding. In fact, running was making it bleed even more. He desperately needed a few minutes to stop, put pressure on the wound, and catch his breath. But he was willing to run until he bled to death. Just the thought of the pterodactyl carrying him to its nest filled him with the strength to go on.
“I have my lighter,” Sally said, struggling to catch her breath with the rest of them. “If we build a fire, we could drive it off for good.”
Watch glanced over his shoulder again. “It’s still observing us.”
“What does it want?” Cindy cried, probably more scared than any of them.
“It wants to eat us,” Sally said grimly. “It will probably chew on our brains first and then begin to munch on our small intestines.”
“I am so glad we have you here to tell us in what order it will eat us,” Adam said.
Sally was concerned about Adam. Even as she ran, she reached over and tried to check on his wound. “You need a big bandage,” she said.
“Right now I’d rather have a big shotgun,” Adam replied.
The cave was only a hundred yards up ahead when the pterodactyl attacked again. They were caught off guard because the monster had momentarily disappeared over the rim of the valley through which they were running. They had taken its disappearance to mean it was leaving them. But then suddenly it appeared in front of them. Even though they all saw it, it was flying so fast that Watch didn’t have time to bring up the stick.
Claws extended, the pterodactyl swept over Sally.
She was lifted off the ground.
The others screamed.
Sally, moving faster than she had ever moved in her life, leaned over and bit the pterodactyl’s toes. The monster howled in pain and dropped Sally.
She rolled through about ten tumbles before she came to a halt.
The others ran to her.
“Are you all right?” Cindy cried as Adam and Watch helped Sally up.
“Yes,” Sally said in a calm voice as she brushed off her clothes. “None of my bones are broken and my brain is uninjured.” But then she began to
shake visibly and had to put a hand to her mouth to stop herself from moaning. “That dinosaur tastes awful,” she whispered.
Adam pointed toward the sky. “It’s coming again. Watch, give me the stick. I think I know how to fight him off.”
“Better you than me,” Watch agreed, handing over the stick. “We’ll keep heading for the cave.”
But they weren’t given a chance to head anywhere. The pterodactyl was obviously mad that his dinner had got away again. It attacked again once more, using its wings as its weapon. Adam swung at it with the stick while the others began to pelt it with rocks but the thing was simply too big and too fast to be stopped by such a defense. Plus the sound coming out of its toothy mouth was terrifying. It kept squawking as if they didn’t quit fighting back and hand over one of them to eat, it would eat them all.
Then an amazing thing happened.
Watch managed to throw a rock so perfectly that it went down the pterodactyl’s throat. There was no mistaking what happened next. The creature began to choke. Indeed, its struggle for air was so intense that it had to stop flapping its wings and land.
“This is our chance!” Adam cried. “Head for the cave!”
They took off for the dark opening.
Behind them the pterodactyl continued to gag.
The interior of the cave was dark and cool. It was a shame the opening wasn’t narrow, to keep out large monsters. Watch believed it was wide enough to allow the pterodactyl inside, and for that reason they needed a fire. If they had learned one thing about the pterodactyl, they knew it didn’t give up easily.
“But we’ve got nothing in here that will burn,” Sally complained as she searched the dusty floor of the cave.
“That’s not true,” Watch said. “We’ve got the stick and we’ve got our clothes. If we wrap pieces of cloth around the stick we might be able to discourage the pterodactyl so that it leaves us alone.”
Adam began to pull off his shirt. “Good idea. Take mine.”
Sally shook her head. “Yours is too bloody. Watch, give me your shirt.” Sally pulled out her Bic lighter, which she always carried no matter what. Watch quickly pulled off his shirt and the two of them began to tie it to the stick while Adam
held on to the branch. Cindy was by the door of the cave, watching the pterodactyl.
“Hurry!” Cindy yelled. “It’s coughed up the rock!”
The pterodactyl had recovered. But rather than fly toward the cave, it slowly began to walk in their direction. Perhaps it thought it had them cornered. The sight of the bird monster walking was even more disturbing than its flying and swooping in for an attack. Cindy began to freak out.
“We’re trapped in here!” she cried.
“We’re not trapped,” Sally said as she touched the flame of the lighter to Watch’s shirt. “But this shirt isn’t going to burn very long. Cindy, give me your blouse.”
Cindy stopped freaking out and looked embarrassed. “No. You burn your blouse first.”
“My blouse is brand-new and cost twenty dollars for your information!” Sally snapped. “Besides, I am by nature more shy than you.”
“I think the dinosaur is more shy than you,” Cindy said.
“Give me the stupid stick and quit arguing!” Adam said as Watch’s shirt began to catch fire. “I’ve got to scare it away!”
Adam pulled the stick away from Sally and
hurried toward the cave entrance. He was just in time to meet the pterodactyl head on. To Adam’s relief the monster recoiled from the flames. But once again Adam was struck by how smart the creature was. It seemed to know that the shirt could not burn long before going out. It withdrew several paces but didn’t fly away. Beside Adam, Cindy began to panic again.
“It’s not fooled!” she moaned.
Adam was grim. “It doesn’t matter how many clothes we burn. It’ll wait for us.”
Watch moved up beside them. “I’ve checked, this cave doesn’t go back too far. It doesn’t even narrow.”
Sally also joined them. “What if we draw straws or something?”
Cindy was horrified. “You mean sacrifice one of us so the others can get away?”
Sally shrugged. “I think it will better that it doesn’t get us all. While the thing is eating one of us, the other three can get away.”
“Would you stop talking about its eating us!” Cindy screamed.
“Well, it ain’t going to play catch with us!” Sally screamed back. “We have to face facts!”
“We’re not sacrificing anybody!” Adam
snapped, still holding the burning stick. “We need to come up with a better defense. Watch, you always have good ideas. Can you think of anything?”
Watch sighed. “No. And I’ve been racking my brain. There might be a dozen things that could drive it off, but unfortunately they’re all back in town.” He paused. “Let me take the stick. I’ll try to keep it occupied while you guys try to make it to town.”
Adam shook his head. “No way. You wouldn’t last long.”
“You offered to do it,” Watch said.
“That was just to give you time to make it to the cave,” Adam said. “How about if we try for another cave? A tighter one that the pterodactyl can’t fit into?”
Watch shook his head. “I know this area better than you, and I can’t think of another cave that’s even close.”
The flames from Watch’s shirt began to flicker.
The pterodactyl took a step closer, saliva dripping out of its mouth.
“It’s going out!” Cindy cried.
Adam felt desperate. “Is there any way we can block off the entrance of the cave?”
“With what?” Sally demanded. “Our dead bodies?”
“We are not going to die,” Adam snapped at her. “Sally, Cindy—you two get to the rear of the cave. Watch and I will try to hold it off with the stick.”
Neither of the girls protested. The sight of the pterodactyl slowly approaching on its long nailed feet was enough to shatter the strongest will. Even Adam and Watch began to back up, without consciously realizing it. The pterodactyl’s huge eyes seemed to swell in anticipation. It knew it had them, that there was no escape for the frail humans.
“If only this stick was sharp at one end,” Adam said bitterly. “We could stab it, make it think twice about attacking again.”
“We don’t have time to sharpen it,” Watch said quietly.
Adam glanced over at him. “Is this it? Is this the end?”
Watch took a deep breath. “Maybe not for all of us. But it will take one of us, that’s for sure.”
“And that one will die?”
Adam grimaced. “It can’t be one of the girls.”
“It can’t be one of us.” Watch paused. “You are brave, Adam. But even you cannot just walk in front of that beast and let it take you. No one could.”
The pterodactyl skipped toward them.
The flames at the end of the stick died.
The pterodactyl stuck its head in the mouth of the cave and screeched.
“Stop it!” Cindy screamed behind them.
Adam swung weakly with the stick. “It can’t get any worse than this,” he gasped.
Watch put a reassuring hand on Adam’s uninjured shoulder. “But this might be the perfect chance to get a good shot at it. Maybe if you went for one of its eyes, partially blind it. That could be our only hope. Aim for an eye.”
Adam nodded. “I’ll try.”
He did try, but his effort proved useless. The pterodactyl was too quick for him, and the beast knew instinctively how to protect its eyes. It held its head back as it advanced, using its claws to lead its attack. Several times Adam almost had his stick ripped from his hands.
Each step backward brought Adam and Watch closer to the rear of the cave, to the girls, and to
the end of the line. In all the bizarre dangers Adam had faced since moving to Spooksville, he had never felt so helpless.
“I have an idea,” Sally said behind Adam as he neared the rear wall. “Let’s wrap another piece of cloth around the stick, set it on fire, and then crack open my lighter and douse it with what fluid is left in the container. That will create one huge flame that should last a few seconds. While it’s burning, Adam, try to get the end of the stick into the thing’s mouth. If that doesn’t chase it away, we might be able to slip past the beast to get outside.”
“We’ll be easy pickings outside,” Watch said. “Especially with no stick to protect us.”
The pterodactyl raised a claw and swiped at them.
Adam and Watch jumped all the way back.
The four of them pushed up against the back wall of the cave.
“We are practically dessert in here!” Sally shouted. “Let’s do it! Rip off the dry part of your shirt, Adam! Now!”
Adam did as he was told. In seconds Sally had the cloth wrapped around the end of the stick.
First she lit the cloth and then cracked open the lighter by smashing the top of it against the cave wall. Adam had to hold the tip of the burning stick close to her, and as a result the pterodactyl was free to approach within ten feet. Sally held the open lighter fluid container not far from the burning cloth.
“When I throw this liquid on the end,” she said, “there will be a burst of fire. But you’ll have to move fast, Adam. Understood?”
“I understand,” Adam said. “But we have to be clear about what we’re doing. If we’re just trying to get outside, then we’ll be lucky to create a crack where we can slip by the beast. We will have to go one at a time, in order. Cindy, you go first. Then Sally and Watch. I’ll follow you guys out.”
“That’s OK with me,” Sally said eagerly, nervously eyeing the pterodactyl. “Let’s do this on the count of three. One . . . Two . . . Three!”
Sally threw the fluid on the fire.
The end of the stick exploded in flames.
Adam thrust the stick at the pterodactyl just as the creature leaned forward to take a bite out of one of them. The pterodactyl had its mouth open. Adam got the end of the stick past its teeth and
tongue and partway down its throat. The pterodactyl let out a deafening screech of pain and bent its narrow beak down as it tried to be rid of the fire. The stick just flew out of Adam’s hands. He didn’t even have a chance to react.
But the uproar created the opening they needed to get outside.
Cindy shoved by Sally and dashed past the creature. Sally followed closely, with Watch and Adam bringing up the rear. Within five seconds of attacking the pterodactyl they were back outside in the fresh air. For a moment they all felt incredible relief. But then the monster screamed from the depths of the cave and they understood that it was far from defeated.
“Run!” Adam shouted.
“Where?” Sally shouted back.
“Anywhere!” Watch said.
So they ran, back the way they had come, back up to the bluff where they had first seen the pterodactyl. But the exercise was no solution. They were dealing with an enemy that was twenty times bigger and stronger than they were. One that was used to killing to live. Really, it had been hopeless from the start.
They were almost to the bluff that overlooked Spooksville and the ocean when the pterodactyl appeared in the sky once more. It rose directly above them, higher and higher, and for a few seconds it seemed that it would keep going into the wild blue yonder and they would be safe. But then it began to arc downward, tucking in its massive wings and pointing its ugly head toward the ground. Once more it raced toward them like a deadly missile, a blur of brown death. And all the while it screeched, a horrible sound of revenge. They had hurt it and now it wanted to hurt them.
They could only stand, frozen, and watch it come.
There was only one question in their minds.
Which one of them would it take?
At the last instant the pterodactyl spread its huge wings.
A wave of foul odor and sweeping air passed over them, as well as a dark shadow. Cindy screamed, maybe they all did. But it was Cindy who screamed the loudest because the pterodactyl had chosen her to be its victim. One moment she was standing beside Adam and staring at the horror in the sky. The next she was being dragged kicking and screaming into the air. Now she was a
part of the horror, and as the pterodactyl flew off to the distant peaks, it seemed as if they could hear her screaming still. Yet they all knew that was impossible.
Adam bowed his head. They all did.
Their friend was gone.