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Authors: Kathryn Meyer Griffith

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Dinosaur Lake (9 page)

BOOK: Dinosaur Lake
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“Flashlights off, too,” Justin breathed.

They blinked into darkness. It’d been a moonless, overcast night, with creeping fog to help hide them. Henry felt as if he were floating in outer space, no stars, no other light source, just endless eternal blackness.

“Justin–”

“Shhh,” Justin hissed, yanking the ranger down next to him.

The wild pitching of the boat ceased but Henry’s stomach remained in turmoil.

They waited for a long time for the creature to make its next move. Nothing. It was as if the disturbance had never happened.

They huddled on the wood of the deck, silent, barely breathing, their craft dead in the water, for what seemed like an eternity, the rest of the night. It wasn’t until the first rays of sunlight filtered through the mist that Henry restarted the engines and gratefully took them home.

“I want to thank you, Justin,” Henry said after the boat had resumed chugging along. “You probably saved our lives. I was ready to shoot at the thing. I think you were right–it would have just angered it more.”

Peering at Henry through water-speckled glasses, Justin gave him a weary grin. “No need to thank me. I was saving my skin, too.”

“Well, thanks anyway, quick thinker. You didn’t panic as most people would have.”

“Ha, I was too scared to panic.” Justin released a shudder. “And I only used common sense.

“I thought I’d never say this, but as unique a creature as it might be, it doesn’t belong here in our world. Here, it’s a nightmare. You’re right, it belongs to the ancient past.”

“That it does.”

“Henry, since you know the park and the lake area so well, where do you think it hides during the day?”

“Let’s see…underneath the lake there’s a honeycomb of caverns and caves formed thousands of years ago by lava streams when the volcano originally erupted. An amphibious beast could live, hide, down there in the connected waterway caverns forever.”

“I don’t like caves. They make me claustrophobic.”

“And you don’t like the water, either.”

“I hate caves more.”

“How did you ever become a paleontologist then?”

“I figured I’d be excavating mostly on dry higher land. Most paleontological
sites are up in the mountains or in deserts. So far I haven’t had to dig underwater or in caves.”

“That’s too bad because after what happened last night, what we saw, if it keeps destroying boats and people keep popping up missing, we might have to search for the creature. Might have to find out where it’s hiding, or living; maybe even explore the underground caves.”

“You’d want me to accompany you?”

“If you would. You’re the only paleontologist I know. I could use your expertise in dealing with the, er, dinosaur, if that’s what you think it is.”

Justin’s face was ashen as he nodded. In the dawn’s light he looked a hell of a lot older than he’d looked the day before.

“It, they,” Justin muttered, “could live down in the caves.”

“You mean there could be more than one of those things?”

“Why not?” Justin replied as their boat pulled up to the dock. “Heaven knows how long the creature we saw has been living in the lake. There could be more.”

“Why has it only become a problem lately, then?”

“I have a theory. The earthquakes could have roused it out, opened new underground entrances allowing it access to the lake. And, remember, the water temperatures have been rising steadily. The lava flow deep under the earth could have incubated and hatched ancient eggs the earthquakes have unearthed as well as lured a full grown specimen out into the caldera. Hell, there could be a whole prehistoric world uncovered down there. All I know is that that water beast we saw last night was real. Wasn’t it?” he asked as if he expected Henry to deny the experience they’d been through.

Henry didn’t deny it. “Yes, it was all too real. And this creature’s existence–whatever it is–is about to cause more havoc. If it keeps attacking I’ll have to restrict people from the lake. Until the, er, problem is taken care of.”

“What do we do if it’s aggressively hostile and it leaves the lake?”

“Then we’ll have to close the park or ask for help to deal with it.” Henry’s eyes met Justin’s. “One way or another we’re going to have to make sure the lake, the park, is safe.”

“If I can help, count me in.” Justin’s faint grin was sincere. “If you need me, but I warn you now, I don’t do underwater caves.”

The ranger laughed softly and shook the scientist’s hand. “You got a deal.”

As they collected their things and hiked to the lodge, Henry’s mind kept seeing frightening images from the night before. He was more than aware they could have died as horribly as the two missing men probably had. They’d been lucky.

Thinking about it was bad enough, but accepting he was going to have to tell people about the thing in the lake was worse. He’d be laughed at, ridiculed. But he had no choice. As a ranger he was sworn to protect the people in the park. It was his duty.

Worse, he was sure the lake was dangerous, at least at night.

“What species of dinosaur did that thing look like to you?” Henry inquired as they walked; hoping Justin had seen it clearer than he had. To him it’d just been a huge blur in the water.

“Not sure. It was too dark and foggy and I was too scared.”

“It was big, though. Wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was…big…and loud and as quick as a laser in the water.”

Henry sighed. “I can’t wait to see the monster Ann draws from
that
description.”

They both laughed and it felt good after what they’d been through.

Chapter 6

Henry dropped Justin off at the lodge and headed home. He wanted to clean up, eat something, and talk to George Redcrow about what should be done. He felt too keyed up to sleep anyway.

The park was serene and lovely at that time of morning, a footstep behind dawn. A nip in the air from the chilly night lingered, yet the sun was warm on Henry’s back. He drove his jeep slowly along the asphalt road past the campgrounds and through Rim Village, his mind whirling over what had happened the night before.

Not many people were up and stirring, not even park visitors. Too early. But the season was only beginning and the visitors weren’t many yet. In a few more weeks it’d be so crowded one wouldn’t be able to move anywhere in the park and not bump into another person, except in the wilds of the back country. A fact that weighed heavily on his mind, because as much as he joshed with George about the pesky visitors, as all the rangers did, he never meant any of it. Visitors were the park’s bread and butter. His job, as he knew it, wouldn’t exist without them.

Henry sucked in the fresh air and rubbed his tired eyes with one hand as the other turned the wheel.

Golden squirrels and hares scurried across the road before his car’s wheels; and he drove carefully so he wouldn’t accidently hit one of them. Birds sang in the trees like any other morning. So deceptive, the normalcy. Henry knew the creature was about to change his little world as he knew it forever. And he didn’t want it changed.

He loved the park, and wanted to protect it from the hectic outside world. How was he going to do that when the news got out?
Real dinosaur in the Lake! Come one, come all!

It was too late to get Ann and Zeke to kill the upcoming newspaper articles. Knowing what he knew now, it would have been a good idea if the stories had never been written. They didn’t need any more people in the park, hiking to gawk at the fossils up on the rim and peering into the lake searching for possible monsters. Too close. Way too close.

The park would be overrun with nosy reporters and the thrill-seeking curious. People trying to make a buck, or steal a buck; people who wouldn’t care about the park’s delicate natural balance and who’d trample over everything, throwing cigarette butts around like confetti and dumping litter over everything in sight. They wouldn’t be there for the natural beauty of the land, as the usual visitors were, but for the hoopla surrounding a water monster in Crater Lake.

Henry was thinking about those strange tracks George had discovered weeks back on Wizard Island around those animal carcasses. On land. If those tracks had belonged to the thing in the lake, and it’d located the only way in and out at Cleetwood Cove, did that mean the beast could come out of the water and crawl around on dry ground?

A shiver of dread spread through Henry’s body.

He couldn’t get that look of terror he’d seen on Justin’s face, before they’d doused the boat lights, out of his mind. He couldn’t erase his own horror as the creature was lifting their boat up. It lingered like a foul taste in his mouth. If not for Justin’s quick thinking, and pure luck, would he even be here now to recall the experience? Probably not.

He pulled into his driveway, got out, entered the house and went into the kitchen. A note from Ann was propped on the table next to the summer bouquet centerpiece of silk yellow roses in a straw basket.

Honey, couldn’t wait any longer,
it read.
Went into town. I’ll be at the paper. Call me when you get in. Love Ann.

Henry made coffee and slumped into a kitchen chair. The previous night, a lead suit, collapsed on him. Feeling the exhaustion, he wished he could crawl into bed and sleep, as Justin had; lose himself in black oblivion. Better yet, he wished last night had never happened because now something would have to be done about the beast in the lake.

He stared out the window at the sunny day and tried to wipe his mind clean. But pretty soon he was back worrying over the next step to take. Worried about getting help with the situation and what he was going to say to Redcrow, without coming across as being plumb nuts.

When the coffee was ready he poured a cup, black, and drank it. Then another. He figured a good meal and a shower would revive him; keep him awake for seeing George and the long drive into town. So he fried some bacon and five eggs, plus toast with butter. Once he took that first bite, he realized he was hungrier than a starved bear.

Stark terror must do that to a person.

After cleaning up the dishes, he stood under a hot shower and afterwards put on civilian clothes, a pair of gray slacks and a casual shirt. At least he wasn’t going to look like a crazy.

Henry drove the speed limit to headquarters. George’s car was parked outside along with a couple of others. Shift change. Taking a deep breath, the Chief Park Ranger strode in.

Redcrow was heading out the door. They nearly collided.

“Just the man I came to see,” Henry said.

“Thought this was your day off, Boss?”

“It is.”

George took one look at his face and, gripping his arm, guided him outside into the sunlight.

“Let’s take a walk,” George suggested. “I need to work off those crullers I just gobbled down.”

They walked.

“You were right, George.”

“About what?”

“There’s something, some huge water creature, in the lake. Maybe it’s the explanation for the wrecked boats and those missing men. Could be it’s what’s been butchering the animals on Wizard Island as well.”

George leveled Indian-black eyes at him. “I knew that. I’m the one who was with you when we found the remnants of Sam Cutler’s boat.”

“I remember.” Henry kept walking. His face was turned away from George’s, his shoulders slumping a little.

George understood. “You found it, then?”

Henry slid a look at his friend. “It found us. Last night. Justin Maltin, the paleontologist sent up here from John Day’s, was with me. We were patrolling the lake after dark, as we have been on and off since the first boat disappeared. Looking for…something. Anything. We found it. It came up under our boat. I thought we were dead men.”

“You should have been. You were protected. The water spirits were watching over you and your passenger. You’re a charmed man, Henry. I’ve always told you that.”

Henry threw Redcrow an amused look.

“What did it look like?” George’s troubled eyes glinted ebony, as if he already knew what Henry was going to tell him.

“It was hard to see. But the creature, whatever it was, was enormous. It either had a long neck or a real long body and it appeared to be a dark color. Not really sure. But it did have lots of big white teeth because they gleamed in the dark.”

George’s shaggy eyebrows rose. “Even though I’ve seen the mutilated animals, seen the tracks, I’m still flabbergasted,” his lips pulled back away from his teeth as he inhaled, “and frightened. If it’s as aggressive and as big as you say it is we have a hell of a problem.”

“Tell me about it. A huge problem. It’s an immediate threat to anyone on the lake.”

“Yes, it is.” George whistled softly, dodging a tree.

“I thought it was going to belly flop right on top of us. I froze like a scared kid. Just gawked, dumb-struck, at it. Wasn’t for Justin, who made me cut the lights, the engine and play dead in the fog, I might not be alive to be talking about it. The beast went away.”

Henry stopped walking and leaned tiredly against a tree. In as few words as possible he described the night he’d had and everything he could remember about the leviathan.

“What do we do now? It’s not going to stay gone, is it, Boss?”

“Imagine not. I’m going to need anyone who’ll believe me. I thought you might fill the bill.”

“I might,” George replied with a reserved smile. “What are your orders?”

“We’ll need to keep everyone off the lake, make it off-limits, for now, I’m afraid. Don’t see any other alternative.”

Henry fell silent as a group of chattering visitors swept by and went into a souvenir shop. He had the urge to run after and warn them not to go near the water because a monster would get them. But he didn’t.

“You’re going to report
this
sighting to the National Park Service, aren’t you?” George’s voice had that same sarcastic humor it usually had when he knew the answer.

“Again I don’t have any choice, the way I see it, George. That creature is dangerous. We’re going to have to do something.”

“Capture or kill it?” George inquired curiously.

“Well, those are possibilities, if we can find it. Or, we can leave it alone.”

“That last one’s not an option. It’s a threat to humans. It’s proven that. And we both know it won’t leave us alone,” George murmured in a troubled tone. “Gonna close the park?”

“Nah, not yet. Just the lake area.”

George grimaced.

“I know. I don’t like the idea any more than you, but it’s better than losing more lives. We’ll close the lake, shut down the boat tours, and see what happens. I’m hoping it’ll be enough for now.”

“If the beast behaves and stays in the lake, right?”

“You got it.”

“And if it doesn’t stay where it’s supposed to?”

“Let’s face one nightmare at a time, please.”

George shook his head and scratched the scar along his left cheek. He’d gotten it a couple years before in the deep woods during a terrible storm. A tree fell on him and he was trapped, with night coming on. Henry had refused to halt the search until they found him which had probably saved his life. A whole night out in the sub-zero weather, wounded, beneath that tree and George might have been a frozen dead Indian.

Ever since that day, George believed he owed Henry his life. Since then, George, a hunter, often anonymously left gifts of fresh meat, rabbit or deer, at Henry and Ann’s cabin. The two men never talked about the incident, though. It made Henry uncomfortable being on the receiving end of so much gratefulness.

Henry shoved himself away from the tree and they meandered back towards headquarters.

As they parted, George said, “Give my best to Ann, Henry. Tell her I enjoyed that story she did last week on the old fur trappers of the area. Good writing.”

“I’ll relay the compliment. Come on by for supper tonight, if you can. Usual time. We’re having your favorite: liver and onions.”

“I just may do that. You know me, I’d never turn down one of Ann’s home cooked meals. Thanks.”

Henry saluted his goodbye, as George drove off to make his rounds, then climbed into his vehicle and aimed it in the direction of town.

The ride into Klamath Falls was soothing. A lovely sunny day for early July, for a change he didn’t need a jacket.

He’d gotten his second wind and could count on a couple more hours of feeling almost normal before the weariness would shut him down. But he was restless. The memory of what had occurred the night before ticked away, a tiny bomb, inside him.

Twice on the road he passed a park tour bus. One was loaded with people coming from Klamath Falls and one was empty speeding towards town. The visitors kept streaming in.

Klamath Falls was a tourist town, heart and soul, anchored on the south side of Klamath Lake, the deepest natural lake in the state. A large part of the city was subsidized by tourism, as the park was. People flocked to see the dressed-up rugged cowboys, Indians, and loggers strutting along the streets, just like in the old days. They came to gaze in awe at the beauty of Mother Nature as they ate steak and flown-in chilled lobster, as they overlooked the marinas, or had picnics in a lakeside park. Like the park, without tourists Klamath Falls would cease to exist.

***

Henry strolled into the cluttered building to the sound of his wife’s voice.

Ann was busy checking the layout of the new weekly shopper, an advertising circular, she’d finally talked Zeke into doing. It was the only survival tactic the old publisher would accept to keep the paper afloat. The only one. The shopper would bring in desperately needed revenue, Ann told him; it already had four times the subscription of the paper itself. Her idea. Though she still couldn’t get Zeke to take on commercial printing of business cards, fliers, and brochures, she hadn’t given up trying to persuade him because they had to do something to save the paper.

“Better enjoy the extra revenue while we can,” she was saying, “I hear the Schnucks store is going to close next year.”

“Uh, huh, I’ve been hearing the same thing for months. Rumors, I say. Merely rumors.” But Zeke’s tone wasn’t hopeful.

Henry, as Ann, knew the three town grocery stores were the last life supports of the expiring newspaper, and if one of them shut its doors, the paper would lose money it couldn’t afford. Food stores paid good money and advertised year-round.

“Postal rates are going up again, too, Zeke.”

“Always something going up…except our circulation,” Zeke lamented.

“Maybe these stories about the missing boats and the dinosaur bones, plus more feature stories once the scientists begin excavating, will boost the weekly numbers,” Ann offered.

“We’ll need it, once that story on the annual Spring Fest’s salmonella-infected barbecued chicken runs, if the local businessmen don’t lynch us first. Then we won’t have to worry about the paper at all.” But the editor’s tone held humor. “We’ll really catch hell on the street tomorrow, Ann, when this story comes out.”

BOOK: Dinosaur Lake
3.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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