A retelling of the Discovery Kids' show "Dinosapien" set in the Equestria Girls universe at a summer camp, where the possibility of living dinosaurs ties into one girl's quest to discovery how one of them is connected to her missing father
"Everyone knows dinosaurs are extinct... but what if they're wrong?"
Maia Search of Canterlot High School, after spending a year in recovery from a gymnastics injury and longer time recovering from grief; goes to her mother's summer camp to serve as a counselor. While there, she and her friends, Babs Seed's older sister Sunflower Orange and nature lover Sandalwood, find themselves wrapped up in a mystery 65 million years in the making. It's between five and six feet tall, covered in feathers, and much smarter than they could have imagined. And it's not alone...
A retelling of the original Discovery Kids' 2007 show, DinoSapien, set in the Equestria Girls universe along with elements of the IDW comics, with background characters leading the roles as well as updated paleontological science.
This takes place in the same Equestria Girls altered continuity as The Bridge after it's version of Rainbow Rocks, however that is not required reading as it deals with different characters in a remote area and will not star any of the kaiju roster.
================================= Canterlot High School, three years before EG1 =================================
“And next up to the bars, Maia Heart Search!”
The roaring speakers elicited a small uproar of cheers from the students across the school gym who’d piled in to support their classmates at the gymnastics competition, both out of kindness to their friends as well as because a freshman named Rainbow Dash whipped them up into an uproar so the Canterlot gymnastics team got a bigger shout than Crystal Prep’s. Having double- and then triple-checked that her locket was securely safe inside her backpack and her backpack was securely safe inside a locked locker, Maia stepped out of the waiting room and onto the mats. She wasn’t an exceptional name at the school, about average looking with freckly dark teal skin and curly dark red hair tied back in a ponytail with a fit build; though a certain friend of hers was one of the top dogs on campus so a not-so-small portion of the crowd was there to support her.
Flashing a toothy grin she briefly glanced over to wave at her classmates as she stepped up to the swing bars. Slapping her chalk-covered hands together and rubbing them, she steadied the butterflies in her stomach and focused on doing her best. And after jumping up to grab onto the first set of bars and using her momentum to immediately swing onto the highest set, the best she was doing. Her classmates were ecstatic and the faculty was beaming, infecting the gymnast with a grin. But late into her routine after building up momentum for the final launch, her eye caught a glimpse of something in the reserved seating that shot through her like a bullet. A pair of empty seats with signs that in her psyched up state of mind she could read plainly.
Reserved for Mr. Paleo Search. Reserved for Mrs. Gentle Heart.
Maia puzzled. Why weren’t her parents here? The momentary distraction, however, cost her dearly. Her hand slipped off the bars and she flew off the set at high speed going the worst direction possible to land outside the mats. The last thing she’d distinctly remember that day was the loud crack in her leg and an amazing pain.
================ Three years later ================
Maia, now dressed in a large jacket, shook herself awake at the sound of the ferry horn. Taking a moment to groan and stretch, she got off her seat and collected up several bulky travel bags after slinging her backpack on. As she made her way off the boat amongst a crowd of children ages nine to thirteen, it was evident time had helped heal some old wounds given the limp in her right leg was barely discernible. She wasn't inhibited much anymore, months in the hospital and a year of physical therapy to readjust to her leg had helped see to that but she wasn’t going back to the competition circuit. Physically she was doing pretty close to optimal within the year, mentally she was still a depressed wreck for two and a half. While missing out at the gymnastics circuit was a bummer, it was finding why her parents hadn’t made it that had caused the biggest drain.
Something had happened to Paleo Search, her father. One day here on the island helping her mother, Gentle Heart, run the camp; the next day he went out on survey and didn’t come back. The searches lasted weeks and each time news came back to the hospital that they’d come back empty handed, Maia had felt herself taking another fall. It was part of the reason she was coming to camp this summer instead of staying with family, her mother thought bringing her to a place that brought so much joy might help keep her from relapsing to how she was before. No good parent wants to see their child wither like she had.
The summer camp itself was pretty nice, if remote given the nature of the island which only had a bi-weekly ferry. A reasonably-sized compound bordering the coast with five camper cabins, utility building, docks for kayaks and the ferry, a larger counselor cabin, mess and crafts hall that could double as a theater, and the administrator's building that also served as the Search family house. Some basic fencing surrounded the camp and docks, with a dirt road leading off to the various activity trails.
Various campers piled past her, eagerly rushing into the campgrounds with the same eagerness their youthful ages of eight to thirteen would suggest. Stepping out of the administrator's office to greet both the crowd and Maia was a kindly woman with a warm smile that caused the teenager's spirit to feel lifted just from seeing it. Dressed in a pair of Capri pants and a blue long sleeve shirt with the campground symbol; she sported a shoulder-length cut of curly brown hair and a similar shade of green skin to her daughter. Maia’s face lit up and she sprinted up into Gentle Heart’s arms, not complaining when her parent gave her a kiss on the forehead that elicited childishly disgusted noises from some of the campers.
“Welcome back, Deary.”, Gentle Heart said with warmth, rubbing at her daughter's back and head.
“Good to be home mom!”, Maia snickered, tightening her hold briefly.
Gentle Heart giggled and broke off the hug as she glanced at her watch. The woman rolled her eyes and snickered.
“Three. Two. One.” Gentle Heart noted, tapping at her watch with a punctuated countdown.
“What are yo-”, Maia muttered with narrowed eyes.
A loud shriek called out to the side-
-and a pinkish yellow blur tackled Maia in a full-on glomp that nearly bowled the both of them over. When Maia’s mind stopped spazzing out she could feel a grinning cheek pressing against her’s and a pair of thin arms constricting her around the middle. Before any thoughts of trying to get her affectionate attacker off could sink in, however, she quickly realized who it was. Naturally, she recognized the extremely, almost chokingly strong orange blossom perfume first and gleefully returned Sunflower’s bear hug even before needing to see the hip length orange-blonde hair, sunflower tucked above her ear, and peachy pink skin. The older sister to Babs Seed, cousin to the "Apple Siblings", and heiress to the infamous Orange family, one wouldn’t have thought much for a preppy, stuck up prima donna like “Sunny” to be close to crop like Maia; but actions spoke louder than words. Naturally given ages, there was a bombardment of questions from Sunflower to Maia and back again.
“Took your time MaiMai!”
“Hey, the ferry was slow, cut me a break Sunny!”
“Ooooh loving the longer hair, works wonders. Ten years I’ve been telling you and you finally took my advice!”
“Kinda forgot and it got away from me, ehehe,” Maia mumbled, rubbing at the back of her head.
“Girl time. You. Me. Nails, braids, I got four cases of skirts,-”, Sunflower quipped, stars already in her eyes.
Maia rolled her eyes at her best friend, who had more than enough fashion love for the two of them by herself, shrugging with a bit of deadpan in her voice.
“-You know I wear pants, Sunny,” she grumbled.
Unfettered, Sunflower merely pulled out her phone and cycled through some pictures on it to take inventory.
“Hey, I brought plenty of Capri styles! I hear khaki is in.”, Sunflower defended.
Maia chuckled, patting Sunflower on the shoulder and speaking with a coyly raised eyebrow. “Movie night?”
“Movie night, I'll even put up with the geek-a-thon series you always pick.” Sunflower quipped with a nod and smirk.
Gentle Heart smiled and chuckled upon seeing Maia and Sunflower cling to each other with mutual shrieks of glee. It came as a surprise to her the young Miss Orange had volunteered as a counselor for the summer, not thinking her to be the type for this sort of thing. Though seeing her daughter lighting up like this because of her best friend for the first time in what felt like years gave her reason to sigh in gratitude. She walked up and patted her daughter and Sunflower on their shoulders.
“I can see this summer will be off to a good start. I need to get and file the forms from the campers, young mister Wood can show you to the campers introduction. I take it you remember this place well enough, Sweetheart?” She noted.
Maia smiled and nodded. Why shouldn’t she recognize the place she was practically born at? “Like the back of my hand mom.”
“Good, your counselor shirt and vest is in the counselor cabin.” Gentle Heart said with a warm smile before picking up a clipboard from a signpost and walking off to head back to her office.
Sunflower and Maia waved with their free hands and hooked one arm around the other’s shoulders. After a moment of thought, however, Maia puzzled.
“Wait, Woods? Did she mean?-”, her muttering was cut off by a rapidly approaching noise. There were some footsteps behind them and Sunflower smirked while bracing.
“Yeeeeep!”, she bleeped, looking off to the side in a jesting manner and earning a confused glance by Maia.
“AAAAHG!”, the shout heralded a pair of strong arms hooking around Maia and Sunflower’s middles and hoisting the two up into the air. A hearty bellow of laughter called out as the perpetrator, a strongly built young man with pale skin and green dreadlocks spun around with the two still lifted up in his underarms.
Maia jokingly flailed around as Sunflower frantically held her hair down to keep it from fraying.
“Gak! Sandal put us down!”, Maia shouted. Another loud chuckle later and Sandalwood did so, speaking in laughter.
“Look who grooved her way back to the island, welcome back M!”
Maia rolled her eyes but still snickered. Sandalwood was still in his typical get up from Canterlot high, just with his typical red shirt swapped out for the tan camp logo bearing one underneath his opened peace-sign vest.
“Shoulda figured you’d pile in first chance you got.” Maia noted with a sideways nod towards the campground.
“Hey, love the woods and watchin’ over kids; so this stuff’s PB and J to me.” Sandalwood said with a smirk, patting the side of his fist to his chest. His eyes perked up at the sound of beeping and he checked his watch with a grin.
“Orientation and intros in ten minutes, show time for the tots you two. Try not to hog the spotlight Sunny,” He chirped, earning a quipping retort from Sunflower.
“I only promise to try.” The Orange noted coyly as Maia roped her arms around her two friend’s shoulders, Sunflower and Sandalwood picking up her dropped backpack with their free hands as the Tres Amigos made their way to the counselor quarters. Maia was smiling so wide it almost hurt when she took it all in. Already any lingering gloominess was starting to lift. There was some stray ill on her mind for sure, but there was too much good to really care. She was back with her mother, had two of her oldest friends in a place she remembered fondly; and was set to be doing something she enjoyed for the season.
Lost Lands Isle Campground.
Best. Summer. Ever.
================= Ten Minutes Later =================
“Helloooooooo campers!” Gentle Heart shouted cheerfully as she walked up on the mess hall’s small stage to the elicited cheers of the young audience. Maia, Sandalwood, and Sunflower stood at the side of the stage, glancing over some note cards as they waited for their cue. “Welcome to Lost Land Isle Summer Camp, where distance and the past don’t mean remote. I’m the camp owner and coordinator Gentle Heart. Some of you might have noticed a bit of a theme around the campground so far, as you can observe on the ceiling~?”
Pip, Button Mash, Featherweight, Apple Crumble, and the other camper children all looked upwards to a flurry of wide-eyed “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” after some high set lights were turned back on; illuminating the rafters of the mess hall to show it had a prehistoric motif. Many beams bore facades to make them look like big dinosaur bones, toy pterosaurs dangled from the rafters, and castings of many shells, teeth, and claws sat perched on the nooks and crannies. The camp logo, which bore the image of a large, three-toed footprint suddenly would make a lot more sense.
Gentle Heart giggled before continuing. “Side effect of my husband. We founded this camp so he and his colleagues could bring the kids and family along for the digs, refurbishing some of the old mining worker camp that used to be here and the camp grew from there. Not as old as the establishment at Camp Everfree, but we like to think we keep a more time-tested aesthetic-”
Sunflower put her hand up to the side of her mouth and leaned towards her friends.
“-plus we didn’t need to find a way to market a giant hand print and wrecked bridge like Everfree did,” She mumbled, whispering to her companions as they zoned out of Mrs. Gentle Heart’s speech momentarily.
“Set to get a closer look at it later when I head there. Man the last year of stuff at Canterlot got weeeeird. First Demon Sunset, then the hospital blowing up, then the Everfree’s landslide.”, Sandalwood muttered after leaning into the conversation, counting the odd events on his fingers with the count going up enough to start needing to use both hands.
“-I thought they said the crater meant it was a meteorite?” Maia chimed with a tilted head, having not been out and about as much as the other two lately.
Sandalwood lifted his palms up and shrugged, “Hey, after seeing that burning blue-fire spitting dude, weird pale guys, and the giant glowy things at the Spring Musical Showcase; I’ll believe anything.”
The trio tuned back into Mrs. Gentle Heart's orientation speech.
“-the mining baron was a supporter of the sciences and let groups come to study the fossils the miner dug up even after the mine closed down. My husband was one of them. Now because the badlands near the mine are off limits due to recent earthquakes-”
A small chorus of deflated grumbled and sighs poured out of some campers.
=============== In the Badlands ===============
In a dramatic shift of terrain from the forests surrounding the camp, the badlands on the far side of the isle were more akin to a rocky, temperate desert. The old mining installation still stood next to the quarry and tunnels alongside a myriad of abandoned digging and hauling vehicles, rusting in some spots and creaking in the howling wind. The creaking of old metal only gained in volume as the earth began to tremble.
“-however, I have an old friend coming in who’s made a discovery near the camp and is looking for some eager young volunteers to help with the dig. Any takers?” Mrs. Gentle Heart said with a grin, correctly anticipating the uproar of cheers and applause she got from the campers. Making a lowering motion with her hands, she managed to settle the crowd back down.
Mrs. Gentle Heart's grin showed through in her voice, “Well, I see we have some eager volunteers! As many Bone-Heads once said, never too early to start. Now, in addition, we have a great variety of activities and learning set up for you all. If we stay on track, I’m sure you’ll all have a wonderful experience!”
The tremor coursed through the badlands, rattling machinery and shifting boulders. One large set of boulders settled on the slopes of the quarry were jostled loose, some cracking open and some rolling away to reveal a cave. There was a flash of light in the cave, followed by two more after a pause.
Something scampered forward at such speed it was a blur, diving through the curtain of falling sand and dust to exit the cave. Scaly feet beat the ground and dust rolled off mottled green-brown feathers as the shape jumped a dozen feet to land on top of a pickup truck roof before leaping even higher onto a short crane. A long tail and curved claws helped keep a balance and grip even as their owner let out a shrieking alarm call after seeing what it saw coming through the collapsing cave after it.
Finishing her speech, Mrs. Gentle Heart nodded to the counselors and let Sandalwood have the microphone. After a quick tap-check to make sure it was still working, eliciting a metallic screech from the equipment that earned a lot of grimacing and an embarrassed back-of-head rub.
Sandalwood cleared his throat and restarted, “Hehe, sorry about that folks, not much of a techie... Well! Heya little dudes and dudettes, names Sandalwood and I’m the lead counselor for your stay here. Now we are out here in these awesome woods to have fun but you gotta remember three basic rules. One, don’t go off alone. Easy to get lost here and there’s like- some critters out there who may not like you tramping on their spots. Rule numb’r dos, if you see something weird or get some trouble; come get me or Mrs. Heart immediately. And lastly, keep your chins up kiddos! You’re here for fun so relaaax. Nothing bad’s gonna happen to ye’ at this old place; we got a plan for everything!”
To clear enough distance the newcomer ran up the incline of the crane and jumped off the edge, landing on the cusp of the quarry wall and managing to claw its way over to the top. Panting hard and only taking a moment to glance back at the source of the screeching behind it, the creature quickly bolted for the cover of the forest; leaving a trail of two-toed tracks in its wake.
================ Some hours later ================
Maia stepped into her parent’s house, also known as the administrator's building, still reading through the sticky-tag list she had compiled after another visit to the counselor cabin. She and Sunflower had helped unpack her luggage into the rooms but there was still plenty of spare space with a few things missing given she wasn’t the best packer and had forgotten a lot of things. And seeing as she practically grew up here and could see her old room from the outside, didn’t seem like any harm in getting some of her stuff back that was on the list.
“Mom?” She called out and paused for a few second to await a response, only to get none.
Maia shrugged and headed up the old stairs anyways.
-Sure she wouldn’t mind. My stuff anyways.-
As she reached the top of the stairs, however, a stray sunbeam caught her eye and attention. It was coming from another room down the hall, one Maia recognized well even if she was shorter the last time she’d seen it.
Stealing a moment to glance around the house as well as between the study and her own room across the short hall, Maia made her move towards the former almost as if it was drawing her in like a magnet.
-I’m… sure mom wouldn’t mind this either… Not like I’d break anything.-
After a moment’s hesitation at the door, she bumped the old wood with her finger and nudged the cracked entry open. It might have been only three years but the place already smelled old, and the contents it in didn’t dissuade the notion. Shelves stocked with a mix of old dinosaur models, fossil castings of bones and teeth, actual bones and teeth, tons of notebooks half stuffed with tags and slips to keep a bookmark; and Paleo Search’s old fashion computer sitting below a family photo. It looked as if Gentle Heart hadn’t touched it or let it be touched since her husband died.
Maia’s brow furrowed briefly and she flared her nose at the thought of the words “died” and her father being in the same thought. Releasing her anger and replacing it with stubborn perseverance, she let a hand trace over the family photograph which showed her parents and a toddler-aged version of herself at a dig site in the badlands.
-Missing. He just.. went… missing.-
A mix of determination and masked melancholy filtered through her whisper as she looked up at the massive wall map her father had been working on, which showed an overlay of the entirety of the Lost Lands.
“I know you’re out there dad… What exactly were you up to before you vanished?”, she thought aloud with the words spilling out.
Glancing over to Paleo Search’s work desk, her eyes drifted upon one notebook that was less dust covered than the others.
-Probably the newest one…-
Picking it up, she bit her lip as she started to thumb through it. She recognized its messily written pages, her father never was one with stellar handwriting especially when excited, as field notes and shorthand annotations of his mile-a-minute thoughts.
-Might give a clue where you were last. What made you go into the Badlands that last time?-
The last page showed an illustration, but not of a bone or map; rather it showed an animal of some sort. It was covered in something fuzzy, walking on its hind legs with a slightly S-shaped neck and pointy snout or beak. It looked like some kind of emu with a long tail and thicker neck. A single word was noted on a tag stuck to the page, dated to three years ago to the day.
Maia unconsciously mouthed it, as it was written with quotation marks to indicate it was a word or transcribed sound, “...Eee-... no? … Eno?”
She pursed her lips, still confused at what the sketch meant. Her father was most certainly not an artist, that was her mother’s forte. All the other sketches in the book were just simple maps or outlines of fossils, so what was a fairly detailed depiction of some bizarre bird doing in the book? Hoping for some clarity she looked at the following page, which showed a familiar sight circled with a red marker. A picture of her dad standing in the abandoned worker village just a few kilometers up the trail, taken as he was approaching the old general store.
Maia kicked her boot to the old dirt trail and ground to a halt at the end of the half overgrown dirt road. She couldn’t help but grimace slightly at the sight before her. The old miner worker village was a piece of work even if it originally had been built to look the opposite. She could wonder if the reason some of the buildings were now missing walls and the fencing had completely fallen down in some spots was due to the village being built to look nice for the employees rather than built to be sturdy and to last. Rich sometimes did have oversight on issues like that even when he meant well. Once a lodging for workers complete with a diner and general store, it was now effectively a ghost town that had been abandoned overnight in a way that would make for a good ghost story for the campers. Checking her pockets to make sure she had the bear spray and stun light on a quick-draw just in case, Maia nudged the bike’s kickstand into place and started off.
Pulling out the notebook to check the picture, Maia looked between it and the town to find the match while she absentmindedly touched at the locket on her neck. Steeling herself as she worked the necklace between her thumb and fingers, Maia pursed her lips and approached the matching general store building.
The building had fared a bit better than the half dozen worker houses and other smaller buildings, probably due to its size. A few of the windows were busted up, paint was mostly worn off, parts of the roofing and walls were scuffed up, and the door looked like it had partially come unlatched, but otherwise, it didn’t look too bad. She stopped in the exact same spot her father had in the photograph, a window on the outer wall facing the middle of town. The window itself was one of the broken ones, all the glass having long since fallen out, but the view inside was partially obscured by a shelf that had fallen over on the inside. Just as Maia leaned in somewhat to try and get a better look inside, the sound of movement made her freeze like a deer in the headlights.
She could hear it just barely, footsteps on the inside. Footsteps so quiet she couldn’t have possibly heard them if there was so much as a stray breeze making noise. Before she could entertain the worry it was possibly a bear or deer moving through the store, one observation threw all of those options out the window. The footsteps were simple in repetition, pit-pat-pit-pat. Only two legs, like a person.
Maia swallowed a lump in her throat and said a single word as she tried to lean in a bit closer to try and see who was inside, “... Hello?”
The footsteps stopped and suddenly there was a fantastic crash.
===================== A few moments earlier =====================
Its legs were tired of running even though it knew it was safe. More distance the better even if it wouldn’t be followed near the buildings they avoided. Relief came when they found a door intact, clicking contently as they managed to open it and get inside. No people around but it was good shelter and most importantly, safe especially since it was getting dark soon. They’d just managed to slow their breathing back down and begin to pace around their new surroundings when the air shifted. They smelled something. Breathing scents into a long, pointy snout they could tell something new had definitely just come by. It smelled like something familiar. They started towards it with cautious steps backward, the strength of the scent in the air indicating it was coming from a window behind them.
Just as they were about to turn around; however the sudden noise of a human voice caught them by surprise, “Hello?”
In the brief confusion a footstep was misjudged and landed inside an old paint can, causing a slip. During the sudden twist of motion, their tail smashed into one of the tables and sent it crashing to the ground along with all of its contents and the unfortunate slipper. The sudden crash and commotion was answered by a human screaming. By the time balance was restored and a pair of reflective eyes looked out the window, Maia was already sprinting to her bike and heading out of the camp. The creature chirped, tilting its head to the side like an owl before pivoting it down towards the window frame at something shiny that had snagged on the seam. A snapped necklace chain connected to an opened locket with a picture inside of it.
The bird like noise called out in tandem with the motion of a tilted head, “...Rhawk?”
Night came fast, faster than Maia could get back to camp but only just barely. She could see the lights to the camp less than three hundred meters away just as dusk was breaking. She was in such a flurry of mind she almost didn’t hear the sound echoing out across the forest.
A very distant human voice called out like a whisper, “My’ha.”
She hit the brakes and stopped, breathing hard as she looked around half expecting it to be a stray camper. Then the sound came again, this time a bit less distant and less distorted but the nature of the forest still caused it to bounce around and make it hard to tell which way it was coming from. “Mi’ha.”
Maia felt her pulse increase as did her fervor to look around. The voice was masculine, deep, familiar; familial. It sounded just like-
Maia's lips quivered at the recognition as she blurted out a single word response, “Dad?!”
There was a rustling in the shrubs due east of her slightly further back on the dirt road by about five meters. Something was approaching slowly, pushing through the ferns that layered the ground. The moon might have been partially out but the dense canopy of pine trees along with a span of forest fog above made it hard to see well, but she could detect something. Someone stepped out onto the trail behind her, standing on two legs. Maia froze as the figure, who was about five and a half feet tall though it looked hunched over, seemed to stare at her. The winds shifted, blowing away the fog as well as sifting new smells into the air. Instantly Maia’s eyes widened with shock at both what she could see and didn’t see, shaking all over.
The figure standing less than five meters away wasn’t much more than an outline, but the reflective red eye shine, like an owl or alligator, blinked at her to show the newcomer was most definitely not human before its chirping sounds could show such. It barked a simple, two-syllable utterance that roughly sounded like, “Eee-no ee-no!”
Moving, the figure pitched up slightly, turning its head to the side and pivoting up and down slightly like it was smelling at something to the east. Whatever it was doing its demeanor quickly shifted from relaxed to loud after it turned back towards her, taking a step forward and sharply barking a string of hisses and chirps like a hawk would, “Risssss paaaahwk! Ka-cuu ka-cuu!!”
The wind also brought a smell, one that instantly filled Maia with fear without her knowing why. People tend to forget humans still have instincts, latent traits coded into one’s genes that proved beneficial enough at a time to be kept and not overwritten. And right now whatever she was smelling was causing Maia’s instincts to scream at her to get out of there now!
The figure made a motion towards her and approached. Seizing her only defense, Maia drew up the stun light and flicked it on. The powerful flood light rapidly flashed on and off, briefly offering a glimpse of the creature in full illumination. It looked like a bird and not at the same time, like an emu and hawk mash-up that had been stretched out with some body parts to the point its proportions made it resemble something else. The principle color was a mottled green with rusty red trimmings and a “raccoon-mask” over the eyes. Said colors were mostly displayed by an array of feathers that ranged from defined, broad feathers on the arms to downy-fuzz on parts of the belly and chest. When it recoiled and squawked to cover its eyes from the light, she could see three fingered hands sticking out from under its wings as the crest of longer feathers sticking out of its head fanned upwards in surprise. Had she not been so startled she might have noticed something shiny dangling from one of its fingers but she was paying too much attention to the recurved claws on said digits to care.
Having momentarily blinded the creature, she took her escape. Maia jumped on her bike again and pedaled so fast she felt like her legs were about to explode when she got through the front gate to the campground fencing, jumped off, and slammed it shut to lock it behind her. She wouldn’t say it aloud even after she calmed down hours later, a fact helped by the detail that the strange bird hadn’t chased her any distance, but her mind stayed transfixed on the glimpses she’d gotten in the flashes of light as well as the sounds the beast made.
The oddly-proportioned body covered in a mix of feathers and scales, a bird with teeth instead of a beak, the transcribed noise it made when she first heard it…
She dug out the notebook and flipped back to the second to last page she’d been on. And in the light of the camp night lights, she saw the creature again on the page of the book. She’d seen an unknown species… A species her father documented right before he went missing.
-This summer camp just got a lot stranger…-
=============== Moments earlier ===============
“Risssss paaaahwk! Ka-cuu ka-cuu!!”
It called out to the Human-That-Smelled-Familiar, trying to take another step forward before being flashed in the face with a magnificent burst of light. It instinctively closed and shielded its eyes from the momentary flash to spare them further blindness. Had the human also smelled them and was trying to defend herself? Maybe, but as the blindness cleared and the sounds of the fleeing human trailed away, the creature turned back to the east in hopes of a sign they had been subject to the momentary blindness like he had.
Unfortunately, the repetition of the slightly distorted voices coming from the foliage said otherwise, “Ma’ia.”“M’aia!”
He hissed as his vision returned, fanning up his tail fan, wings, and crest like a cat would arch its back to make himself look bigger. It was them, probably drawn out by the chance to off a rival species while also giving a chance to have a go at a lone human away from the settlements they avoided. Powerful legs and skilled timing helped avoid the explosion of motion that lunged out at him, fang filled jaws snapping shut where he’d been a half second earlier. Screeching in surprise and jumping onto a tree, recurved claws including a scythe shaped one the inner toe helped give a purchase and along with the clawed hands; allowing him to half run half shimmy his way up high. Another set of feet with sickle-shaped talons on the inner toes started up after him in pursuit. Knowing his new perch would only offer a moment of reprieve, he jumped off and landed on the trunk of a neighboring tree and clung to it. The landing was followed by a woody crack from the old tree, the pine’s trunk just barely supporting his weight. He quickly took in his surroundings.
The tree trunk was going to give at one more impact. One pursuer was about to jump after him from the first tree, the other was clawing their way up the cracking tree. And said tree was leaning over the dirt road which was right next to the river flowing away from the campgrounds.
He squawked and barked, almost like he was intentionally trying to egg the both of them on. The one on the other tree took the bait and snarled, flashing a row of serrated teeth as it braced to pounce. Just as it did, he jumped away from the tree and avoided the other climbing after him. The combined weight of the pair high up, as well as the force of impact from the leaping one landing against the trunk, was too much for the old pine to handle. The trunk roared with a loud snap and split a meter above the base, sending both it and its unwilling occupants careening into the river.
Panting hard after the exertion, Eno as he had been labeled once, watched the tree and the pursuers float rapidly downstream. The current was strong even if they’d get free of it and the river eventually, so he’d bought himself enough time for safety to head back to the ghost town in time. Snorting and kicking some dirt behind himself towards the river, the feathered saurian started back into the forest to find some food to forage from. Plenty of meat and ferns out here, for however unfamiliar this world was.
It was just after sunrise and Maia was already hitting the water in a kayak. Officially, she was going out to place the buoys down the river to act as a boundary line for the camp’s boating activities to keep the campers from going too far downstream. Unofficially, she’d left an hour early so she could drop the buoys early and then have an hour to check out of the ghost town downstream. Last night it took time to calm down, but there were simply too many questions to leave the “issue” idle. Said issue being about meter and a half tall and covered in feathers. Maia didn’t know much about it, but she had figured out a few things. Namely while it was a large animal and she was coming prepared with bear spray and the stun light again just in case, even if it didn’t seem aggressive or predatory. If it could keep pace with her on a bicycle then it would have ambushed her instantly instead of calmly approaching while making no effort to hide. It certainly wouldn’t have stepped out in the direction she was facing if it was trying to attack, as she remembered from a documentary that even a serially man-eating tiger would rarely be bold enough to rush a human head-on, attacking from behind almost exclusively.
So for however big or odd looking it was, she could take solace in it seeming more curious than anything else. Might explain why in the tiny bits of notes her father wrote about the creature, he never made note of any danger. He obviously had to have seen it more than once to make that detailed of a sketch. But confidence that it was relatively safe aside, she had another reason for rushing out early without telling anyone of her plan.
Maia dropped the last buoy in the water and paddled further downstream, seeing the fringes of the ghost town emerging from the woods a few hundred meters ahead.
-Dad’s last work was studying that bird. If I retrace his steps, might get a better idea what exactly he was doing right before he disappeared.-
Maia struggled, absentmindedly touching at her collar to feel for a necklace that wasn’t there anymore and frowning.
-Probably lost it rushing back to camp last night… And if I blow the whistle I’ll lose any chance the bird-thing can give me too…-
A slow groan snapped Maia out of her dour mood and she whirled around, almost smacking the moving mass in the tarp behind her with the oar. But after a moment of hearing the incoherent mumbling, she rolled her eyes upon recognizing who it was. Maia reached back as the boat coasted to shore, pulling the tarp back to reveal a stretching Sunflower.
“Thought the boat seemed a tad heavy,” Maia muttered.
Sunflower just cracked her neck and fingers, getting up from a small set of life jackets she’d set up as pillows under the tarp. “Aaaah goodness, sorry about racking out. You just row so smoothly I dozed off. Gimme a break, it’s early!”
“And you’re in the boat to begin with, why exactly?”
“To help you out of course! Saw you up early and loading the floaties so I came to help... Well, least I meant to. Sorry!” Sunflower snickered awkwardly while putting her palms up and at her sides.
“You wanted to help with labor?” Maia muttered with a bit of incredulousness in her tone, raising an eyebrow and pursing her lips. Sunflower snorted while she put her hands at her hips.
“Camp rule MaiMai, no one goes off alone. Besides Sandal can handle the campers for a bit if any of the tykes get rowdy….-” she paused, looking over Maia’s shoulder at the miner village turned ghost town now coming up upon them.
“... Um, why are you steering us onto the set of a slasher movie?”
Maia went quiet as the boat was beached, trying to think her options through. The choice to say she was here to look for a dropped locket was tempting, so tempting she had to grapple with it to avoid blurting that exact thing out. But, she managed to stop herself short. Shoving others away was exactly the thing she did three years ago while choking under the leash of depression. Secrecy was going to be needed, but in some cases honesty was as well.
-Besides, better than if Sunflower bumped into it and shrieked loud enough to blow its ears out.-
“Okay, remember how I went on a bike ride yesterday?”
Sunflower nodded and Maia continued, “Well I… found something here. I think it might be some kind of big bird.”
Sunflower raised her brow skeptically, “Like an ostrich or elmo?”
“You mean emu? Well, kinda. Looks like an emu crossed with a big owl or something. I found a picture of it in my dad’s notes. Here,” Maia muttered, pulling the book from her backpack and handing it to Sunflower while tapping at the bookmark leading to the sketch of “Eno”. Upon turning to the page, Sunflower cooed adorably like she was looking at a puppy, putting a hand on her cheek.
“Awwww, it looks adorable! Weird tail, but... pretty cute! Where is the little peeper?”, Sunflower chirped as she eagerly looked around the ghost town. At the word “little” however, Maia pursed her lips and rubbed at the back of her head.
“Eehehee uuum, ‘bout that,-” she chuckled, hopping out of the boat and onto shore, offering Sunflower a hand up to get her out too before the both of them started towards the town. “It’s uuum- ‘bout yea big at the hip I think?”
Maia held out her free hand to her upper chest level, just below her collar; indicating a height just shy of one and a half meters or around five feet.
Sunflower’s eyes widened and her lips flattened against each other. She took one look between the sketch, Maia’s indicated hip height, and the ghost town before rapidly beginning to shake her head while turning around and walking back towards the boat. “Aaaah nooooooo! Nope nope nope nope nope nope! No way we got a bird cage big enough for that thing, nope!”
Maia grimaced and ran after her friend, taking Sunflower by the wrist and stopping her; “Sunny please!”
The urgency in Maia’s tone instantly stopped the Orange in her footsteps, having not heard her best friend’s voice like that in three years. Maia took a deep breath in and shrugged, “Listen. It’s not dangerous, I promise. And, I brought some defensive stuff just in case!”
Sunflower turned her head back and pouted, “Why couldn’t you go hunting after something, you know, smaller?”
“After seeing it I… I have know more about it.”
“Why not get your mom? She could call park service and they could look in on it. Heck, Sandal’s parents are rangers, they might know something.”
Maia’s expression and eyes began to slump downwards, “The last thing my father did three years ago was him discovering and drawing it. If I can find it, maybe I’ll get a hint as to why he-....…”
She stopped short, but the moment Sunflower’s mind processed the word’s implications and the sight of her friend beginning to resemble how she looked three years ago in a hospital bed, Maia found herself getting yanked into bear hug by a pair of skinny arms with her face getting buried into a mass of orange perfume-scented hair. Sunflower might not have been a geek like her two closest friends, truth be told her toys growing up were less Jurassic Park and more Barbie, but she’d sat through enough movies to know what happened when some weird animal got discovered by some group who’d want to study it; usually in a place of convenience to the humans and not the critter or monster. She held the bear hug until Maia started flailing her hands for breath.
After catching the wind in her lungs, Maia looked back up to see Sunflower pulling the can of bear spray from her bag and smirking.
“Just a precaution, best-friend swear-” she quipped while nodding her head towards the can she was holding daintily with her pinkie finger outstretched, “-let’s find this tweetie!”
Eno stood up from the improvised nest and hissed, stretching out from his rest by extending his tail and arms in a way that spread the fan of feathers and short wings mounted on them respectively. The night was relatively peaceful after “they” were dealt with. Drowning was a hopeful, but sadly unlikely outcome given the river wasn’t very deep and only a dozen or so meters wide at its largest span. More likely they’d been flushed far downstream before catching a shallow area or paddling to shore. It was a good thing he knew of this place and the Smelled-Familiar human ran to the human nesting grounds, or else they could have gotten either of them. They didn’t like daytime when the humans were mostly out and they didn’t like human grounds or buildings like he was in now or what humans stayed at during the night. So barring an incident like last night, threat wasn’t too dire.
Still, probably should keep safe and forage more in day time even if bright lights took a lot of time to adjust to. Finding out where They had ended up would be useful as well.
Eno squawked, walking through the general good store until a distant sound stole his attention. The avian pitched his head up and sniffed at the breeze coming through a half opened window, catching a familiar scent which was confirmed upon peeking out.
Smelled-Familiar human was back and with a-... Eno sniffed again, puzzling as he sensed two different things. His eyes told him there was another human but his nose told him it was a walking pile of orange fruit. When he saw the device Smelled-Familiar was holding however, Eno chirped in surprise and made himself scarce.
Gentle Heart hid her inner confusion and concern as she stood before the campers gathered in the mess hall for breakfast, Sandalwood thankfully managing to solo-man the entire food line at impressive speed that first made her worry he’d fling the scrambled eggs across the hall in his haste. Taking in a deep breath, she tapped at the microphone mounted on the center of the stage at the back of the hall to call attention.
“Alright campers! We’re still on schedule for our boat rides in an hour, we’re just in a momentary holding pattern. So to help out, I’ve called over someone to talk to you more about our camp’s theme!” she quipped, nodding to the curtains off to the side of the stage.
Sandalwood, having just managed to flip a pair of flapjacks literally over his head and onto a camper’s plate, stole a glance over his shoulder and was soon raising his brow at the sight of a young woman stepping out onto the stage. She was definitely older than him and the other counselors, but much younger than Mrs. Heart. Eyeballing it he’d guestimate her to be around the early to mid twenties range. Light teal skin with blue hair that was mostly middle blue with a baby blue streak, indigo eyes, hair styled back into a bun save for one wavy bang; and wearing tanned boots, a set of khaki pants, a plaid long sleeve shirt, and a tan vest. Give her a pith helmet or wide brim hat with a whip and she’d look right at home in a Daring Do story.
Flashing a pleasant smile, the newcomer waved to the campers and took the mic from Gentle Heart; whom seemed to mouth the words “Thank you” with no small amount of urgency. Snickering, she nodded.
“Saaaaaalu-tations campers! My name is Petunia Paleo… No relation to Paleo Search- And I’m a Paleontologist, that means I’m one of the people who digs up dinosaurs and studies them!” She yelped with a smirk, pulling out something from her pocket. After a glance and mentally rereading the curriculum Mrs. Heart gave him, Sandalwood realized what she was holding up was an four inch long, sickle shaped, pointed claw. Evidently from all the “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” she was getting, the more Dino loving campers or at least ones who’d seen a Jurassic Park movie came to the same realization. Mrs. Gentle Heart walked over to Sandalwood just after he finished serving the last camper, Pip, whom eagerly ran up to the front row to get a better look at the claw.
“This is a claw from Dromaeosaurus, the namesake of the family we often call ‘raptors’. A wolf sized, feathered predatory dinosaur with one of these claws on the innermost toes.”
One of the children, a brown skinned young boy Gentle Heart knew as Button Mash, groaned and slapped his forehead, “Aaaah feathers? Like a six foot turkey? That’s dumb.”
Petunia chuckled, shaking her head, “Would you say the same for a big eagle or scary vulture? Because that’s what they would have looked like in life. If you saw a ‘raptor’ or many other types of predatory dinosaurs in life, you’d probably think you were looking at a big hawk. And just as dangerous of predators to be sure.”
She pulled out a rolled up note card from the aforementioned pocket to show a recreation of the species by an artist and showed it around.
“New counselor?” Sandalwood muttered, leaning towards Mrs. Heart whom shook her head.
“No, just someone who’s staying here from Baltimare. She’s doing research in the badlands for her thesis, that dig I mentioned yesterday is a side project… By the way, have Maia or Sunflower come back yet?”
Sandalwood wiped his hands off on a towel and glanced over at his watch, counting fingers for a moment to reaffirm span before puzzling his lips at the realization; “They’re not due back for another thirty minutes buuuut they did leave ‘bout an hour early Missus H. Should be back by now.”
Gentle Heart again had to take in a deep breath and hold it to avoid fretting. Putting her fingers together, she sighed a tad coarsely; “Sandal, would you mind checking the docks before going on break? Current gets strong at this time and might speed their journey back from whatever is holding them up. I shall ask Petunia if she can help me busy the campers should something come up.”
Sandalwood saluted, flicking a few of his dreadlocks back, “You got it Missus H!”
As Gentle Heart went over to Petunia, who was passing an ammonite around, Sandalwood wrapped up his apron and headed for the docks.
“So you think you heard Big Bird in there?”, Sunflower muttered while leaning over to peek through the general store’s busted window while maintaining her distance.
Despite having the nerve to keep to her promises, the Orange wasn’t soon to take her hand off the bear spray can. Bird or not this place looked like a creepshow and she wasn’t taking chances on something jumping out and doing worse than shouting “Boo!”.
Maia was a touch more adventurous, reaching up and slowly opening the creaking front door after a turn of the knob; “Keep close. If we end up surprising each other after splitting up I don’t want either of us using the panic buttons.”
“Because pepper spray does not taste like pepper and I don’t want to get flashed.”
They looked around the dark but not unseeable interior to confirm safety before stepping inside. The inside of the store was still in some measure of disarray, with what looked like spilled white paint on the ground that was freshly dried and a lot of dust coating some shelves and floor space. However, what puzzled Maia was the fact that the interior looked different from when she saw it yesterday. The fallen aisle and cupboard that half-covered the window she looked in from yesterday wasn’t doing so anymore. When she and Sunflower looked in from the outside it looked like it had fallen over and under the window, but now standing in the interior she could see it was actually pushed back onto its feet and sitting up straight.
“Hey, check this out-”, Sunflower muttered, earning Maia’s attention. The Orange pulled out her cell phone, for once not grumbling about the horrific signal of the isle and instead flicking on a flashlight app. When she did so, she shone the beam of illumination on the door and floor, “See that? The knob and some of the floor has no dust, but the door itself and some of the surrounding floorspace does. Someone used it recently. Know that from having to clean my sisters room growing up. You sure there’s not like some woods-hobo living here?”
“I heard two footsteps but not any voices, just the bird. Why you ask?”, Maia puzzled, trying to think up a scenario of her possibly missing someone or misidentifying who was making the footsteps she heard last night.
Sunflower shrugged, “Just saying, never heard of a bird knowing to use the front door; let alone a knob.”
Maia pursed her lips and put a finger to them, thinking back to the brief glimpses of what she saw last night. While the sketch her father made of this “Eno” only showed its forelimbs from the sides, thus they were obscured by the short wing feathers mounted on them; she did remember glimpsing hands poking out of the feathers when she surprised it with the stun light. Birds with functional digits were rare, but not unheard of; ostriches and hoatzin even still had spurs or claws on their wings. But fully functional hands with distinct digits? That would be a new one for her.
-It must be extremely distinct. Is that why you kept it secret Dad?-
Eno was doing everything he could to remain absolutely silent, not an easy feat when one was startled, hanging onto something, and unlike a human, couldn’t control their breathing. Smelled-Familiar passed under him with Smells-Like-Fruit following, verbalizing to each other in their human calls. Eno clutched the rafter a bit tighter, digging in his scythe shaped inner-toe claws while trying to both spread himself out to not put his full weight on the beam and use his tail sways to maintain balance to not fall off.
Once he found his balance, the avian’s body locked up like a statue. Akin to how a fawn or owl will remain perfectly still when anxious, he kept himself prone against the rafters and didn’t even move his head to look around in spite of the fact that like some birds he couldn’t move his eyes independently of his head. Instead he only kept his snout tilted down somewhat, transfixed on the light device Smelled-Familiar was holding as an involuntary shake crept up his tail and dislodged a loose feather.
Maia and Sunflower milled about the general store until the latter found pause in something. It was settled on a table with a booth near the front wall, probably a small seating area to read newspaper or enjoy some coffee when the workers were making use of the town. And sitting upon the table was an opened, brown plastic bag with some other packing set to the side and crumbs of food still on the table.
“What’s this? A snack bag?” Sunflower muttered as she held the bag up and tried to read the faded label, “MP3?.. Huh?”
Maia’s brow raised as she recognized the bag more for its coloration and small print writing rather than the label which had been mostly scratched out, “MRE. Meals ready to eat. Military and people living out in the sticks often use them since they don’t go bad for awhile. This store must have stocked them.”
“Well that thing must have eaten it all recently, stray breeze could have blown this thing around. Nothing but-... Hey wait a minute,”, she quipped, giving Maia a perplexed look. “If this bird thing was living here and maybe ate this bag, why is all the plastic wrapping inside undone? Animals shred these things when they open them, like that raccoon that got into our sandwich bags at Brownie camp.”
“...Huh! That’s true,” Maia said as she was handed the MRE bag by Sunflower. Sure enough, instead of being ripped or bitten open, it had been opened along the seam with none of the internal wrapping torn open significantly. Whoever opened it knew to avoid the plastic, not something common in animals.
“Any chance it’s just a hobo?”
“This far out in the middle of nowhere and on an island?” Maia grunted with a bit of snark. Sunflower just shrugged.
“Just saying, don’t know many bird brains who do that.”
Another ten minutes of searching and while Maia was looking over some curiously stocked shelves missing dust, suggesting someone had been putting things on them recently, Sunflower called out from across the shop.
“H-Hey, I dunno critters like you do buuut-”, Sunflower grimaced as she pointed to a bed mattress that had been dragged behind the check-out counter. Maia walked over as her friend finished her sentence, “-that doesn’t look like something a hobo would do.”
No, no it didn’t. The foam mattress was torn open and covered in ripped-out chunks of other foam and stuffing from some assorted pillows that lay off in a corner. It looked like a bed aisle had been turned inside-out and roughly placed in a circle. And within the stuffing and foam were several loose feathers. Some were long and stringy, like what one might see on an emu, and were a mottled green hue with some browns. Others were short, curly, and extremely fluffy like a chick’s down with a grayed hue. And poking out of the rim of the nest was a longer, more developed specimen shaped like what one would typically think of for a feather, quilled with a fan of filaments on either side and sporting a rusty red coloring. Maia’s eyes widened as she knelt down and picked up the last feather, Sunflower apprehensively picking up two of the other kinds with a slightly uneasy expression. The former remembered the glimpses she got of it in the stun light. A body largely covered in foresty hues with a lighter underbelly, and red accents across parts of the back, head, and limbs. She couldn’t recall the exact colors, the flash of the light drowned them out then, but she could see them now.
“This isn’t a squatter… This is its nest,” she muttered, eyes wide with awe.
Sunflower’s mouth was wide for a different reason when she eyeballed the size of the nest and feathers, “We’re gonna need a much… much bigger bird cage…. Sooo, where is it?”
“I don’t know,-” Maia muttered with a widening smile, “-but it’s definitely been here recently. See? Feathers and nest still feel warm. Birds are warm-blooded like mammals.”
Sunflower was about to remark about the tears she saw on the mattress and pillows, which looked an awful lot like tooth and claw marks. It reminded her of when her dog went to town on one of her plushies and tore Mr. Fluffles asunder, only magnitudes bigger. But she held that retort up when she reached out and pulled something stuck in the fabric of one pillow case. It was about the same size as the last section of her thumb in both width and length, but ended in a sharp point that was flanked on both sides by raised, upwards pointing serrations of noticeable size.
“Thaaaat looks like a… tooth… Are you sure this is a bird and something didn’t just have a chicken dinner in its pillow fort?”, Sunflower quipped while grimacing and passing the tooth over to Maia.
Maia couldn’t argue, it did look a lot like some kind of tooth but not any she was familiar with. It looked fresh, with only some wear and tear on the crown. But the base of it was completely worn away with no sign of roots. She and Sunflower stood up and puzzled over it, holding it up to the window to get some more light without the glare of Sunflower’s phone.
“It looks like it’s just the crown, root is all gone. Like it was shed and fell out like baby teeth do.”
Sunflower laughed awkwardly and shook her head, “Haha noooo! No way is that a baby tooth. I don't want it to be a baby tooth! Don’t some kinds of critters keep losing teeth like that and just grow more?”
Maia shrugged, “Well there’s sharks but, this is on land. Alligators?”
Sunflower could only puzzle with a flabbergasted expression on her face as she turned around, pointing her hand out to wave it across the general goods store, “Soooo a hobo who eats MP3s is bunking out with a big green bird whom hates pillows and may or may not have had an alligator over for dinner?”
Maia pouted. No way could that sort of scenario sound remotely possible. She was about to say something when a raspy, clicking sound called out from above them.
Both young women looked up, instantly calling out in surprise when they spotted a pair of eyes looking down at them from the rafters that begot a huge body. Maia and Sunflower reacted as any person would upon suddenly finding themselves in an enclosed space with a large animal that seemed to come out of nowhere, try and break the land-speed record as they sprinted for and out the door.
================== A few moments earlier ==================
Eno watched the two humans mill about the store and for the most part made good on staying quiet. He didn’t even complain when they went through his food and got near his nest. In truth he wanted to hop down and greet them. Scary flash stick aside, Smelled-Familiar seemed nice and Smells-Like-Fruit had a very pleasant scent to her. Neither of them brought anything else to fear so it seemed pretty safe. Last human he knew was interesting too!
That said however, he was young and impulsive. When the humans were looking at one of his teeth that fell out while making his nest, spurring another curiosity as to why they or the last one seemed to like what was worthless so much, Smells-Like-Fruit turned around to wave her arm around and stepped her dirty shoe on his bed!
Eno’s red headcrest instinctively flexed up and he rapidly rattled his jaw up and down while emitting a throaty series of clicks from his syrinx, the voice box organ found in birds, “Raaakaka raaakakakaka!”
He didn’t mean for them to try to have a shouting contest with him, humans are always so loud! Eno winced and tried to cover his ears, losing his balance and falling off the rafters and onto his nest.
“So why look at alligators and birds so much if they don’t look much like dinosaurs?”, Rumble muttered, looking up at the stand-in counselor.
“Due to the animal dying and leaving an impression of what was on the outside, we know many types of dinosaurs had feathers, scute-like scales, or some mixture of the two. In fact between the parental care, some species having armored scutes and others having plumage, skeletal builds, and other traits with corresponding behaviors; that the closest thing we have to look at for dinosaurs are their descendants, the birds, and their cousins, the crocodilians. The crocodilians had a common ancestor with them in the Triassic so they share features like caring for young and advanced brains, and birds are living dinosaurs starting in the Jurassic that retained their ancestral traits like warm bloodedness and feathers. Even today in regards to internal organs and DNA, birds and crocodilians are closer to each other than any other type of animal. Dinosaurs were no different.”, Petunia Paleo noted as she sat at the center of the campers.
“What sort of things might a dino do that are like a bird?” Apple Crumble, an orange skinned girl with short green hair, piped, looking up from a seashell she’d uncovered.
“Many things really, given bird behaviors probably started in dinosaurs. One that is almost assured given crocodilians do it too is manipulation of their surroundings while collecting objects. Gators and crocs build burrows and nests out of specific types of dirt and foliage. Birds, likewise, also build nests or even homes to their liking with the same stuff.”
They’d moved out of the mess hall and into a large patch of land just outside the camp, where a layer of sandstone partially covered by dirt and loose sediment lay. After passing around a large supply of toothbrushes, as the paleontologist didn’t quite think them ready for picks and etchers just yet, she’d been guiding them through some excavation steps to get out some fossils. Nothing large, despite the children’s excitement, mostly just some shells, fossilized leaves, and a few shark or fish teeth. In the meantime she’d be taking and giving questions to the eager kids. That took a momentary pause when she looked up to see Sandalwood and Gentle Heart at the boathouse with the former looking out over the river with a set of binoculars.
Curious, Petunia tapped Apple Crumble on the shoulder.
“Excuse me for a moment, I just need to see to something. You seem pretty smart with your questions. How’s about you keep an eye on things for a minute until I get back? I’ll let you and anyone helping you look at a new fossil I’ve found here when I return if you do,” Petunia said with a smile that widened when she could literally see stars in the young girl’s eyes.
“Really!? Ma’am yes ma’am!” the girl piped with a salute, earning an annoying groan from the boy beside her named Rumble. Petunia Paleo chuckled as she got up and walked over to the boathouse.
“Oh, hello Petunia. Children behaving I hope?” Gentle Heart muttered as she stole a glance at the fossil pit across camp.
“Quite well, quite well. What seems to be going on here? I thought there was supposed to be a kayak ride today.”
“Well that seems to still be on hold, Maia and Sunflower aren’t back yet-”
Gentle Heart was interrupted by Sandalwood piping in after he adjusted the binoculars, “I see ‘em!... Ah crap.”
In an instant Gentle Heart went from sighing in relief to instantly fretting again as she shot a hand out for the binoculars. Sandalwood grimaced as he handed them over to her. Gentle Heart let her eyes adjust and focus on the bright red kayak. A minute later and Sandalwood, having hopped into the shallows, caught the empty boat as it drifted into him without a single soul on board.
“Nooot good.” he muttered under his breath, dragging the kayak by its line back towards shore.
Petunia and Gentle Heart helped him drag it ashore, the latter saying the question on everyone’s mind; “Where are the girls?”
Sandalwood surveyed the kayak interior, noting how it was largely dry and there was a decent size shore stone placed in the center. He picked up the stone, testing at its weight.
“Too dry to have capsized and spilled them out. This rock means they probably tried to beach it. Current likely, it probably was too strong as it kicked up a notch and dragged it offshore,” he said, handing the weightstone over to Petunia Paleo before looking over at Gentle Heart, “Why’d they do that?”
Gentle Heart shrugged, shaking her head and swatting her palm at the air, “Not a clue, Maia is never one to run late and there’s nothing downstream but-”
Petunia talked over her, tapping her hand against the rock, “The ghost town and badlands. This is from the first. I recognize the rock type.”
Sandalwood tilted his head, “You been here before Misses P?”
Petunia Paleo shrugged, waving it off with a tiny bit of coyness in her tone, “Geology background and I saw the map of the region. Settlements tend be near certain rock types and smoothness shows it was near a river.”
Gentle Heart sighed, tapping at her chin, “Well, least that means they’re on land; just a ways away. Sandalwood, can you take a bike down the river path and find them? They’re probably walking their way here.”
Sandalwood nodded, rubbing at the back of his head, “Sure thing Missus H, just might take a bit given the river path is all muddy right now.”
“Take the west path.”
Sandalwood raised an eyebrow and looked over at Petunia Paleo as she got out a small map showing the region. She put her finger on the path leading out the other side of the camp that looped around, “Take it and then turn towards the river, there’s a game trail just after you pass this hill. Go down it and you’ll avoid the muddy low area entirely.”
It pounced at them! It jumped down from the rafters and tried to pounce on them! Sunflower sprinted out of the ghost town alongside Maia, the two gripping each other’s arms to alternatively tow the other along. She could only thank blind luck the creature’s aim was off and it hit the pillow fort instead of them!
Sunflower and Maia blitzed out of the store and across the ghost town, coming to a skidding halt at the river shore when a sobering revelation made itself known.
“Wh-WHERE’S THE BOAT?!” Sunflower barked, throwing her arms out towards the now empty shore. Sure enough the sand and rocks on the shore had slide marks on them, but there wasn’t a sign of their kayak.
Maia pointed to the now audibly churning river, noting how much stronger the water’s flow seemed now than before, “This river is temperamental. Current must have hyped up and tugged it off shore while we were inside!”
The echoes of the door to the general good store opening sounded off behind them. Sunflower quickly drew the bear spray, though it was doubtful her shaking it like a can of hairspray would have increased its effectiveness. There was the distant pitter-patter of footfalls on the other side of the buildings, gradually moving closer and closer while staying under cover like it didn’t want to be seen.
Maia and Sunflower didn’t wait for it to get close, instead the former pointed ahead at the bike trail and gave her best friend a tug to start moving; “Okay, slowly now… To that path, it leads back to camp... Do... not.. run.”
Sunflower spoke through heavy breaths, “Are you crazy? That goes right past the building it’s behind! And why not run? You wanna be brunch?!”
“Sssh ssshhh! If we shout more or run we might excite it. S-So, quietly… and… caaarefully, follow me.”
Maia bit her lip, hand on her stun light as she began to slowly side step her way towards the building the thing was hiding behind with Sunflower close behind and the bear spray on a hair trigger. As they cautiously stepped around the building to get near the path, the worker cabin being less than four meters away, they heard the footsteps again. But rather than rushing out or coming towards them, this time it was heading away. It was circling the building again as they passed it, but rather than trying to flank to ambush them or do a sneak attack; it was keeping the building between them and itself at all times. For some rare glimpses, Maia thought she saw a pair of eyes looking at them through an opened door way or window. She saw them for sure, peering out from behind a set of blinds as they stepped backwards onto the trail, their owner making no attempt to follow them.
They got out of the borders of the ghost town and down to the bike trail, Maia looking back while Sunflower looked forward. After five minutes of walking, they finally let out a sigh of relief.
“That? That is not something I’m doing again. Your bird just tried to kill us!” Sunflower growled, though more from stress than anger at Maia.
Maia paused from her contemplation before she could speak. Out of the corner of her eye, Maia had spotted something in Sunflower’s hair and she pulled it out much to her friend’s confusion. It was a feather. A fully formed, thin feather that was chiefly stripes of pale and rusty red. And unlike the ones they’d found in the bedding, none of its fans were frayed. That meant it was very fresh. The realization caused her eyes to widen.
“One of its feathers! It was above us for awhile if this could fall into your hair...” she muttered.
Sunflower’s face scrunched up in mild confusion, “Stalking us more? Great! Juuuust great!”
“Sunny, why would it wait so long to pounce and then give its position away by calling out before it did? Predators don’t do that.”
Before Sunflower could retort, a set of leaves and pine needles audibly crunched off to their side upon the trail behind them. Sunflower and Maia looked over and saw a pair of large eyes looking back at them. The creature was back, about ten meters back down the trail and poking its head out from behind a tree. They could see it very clearly now as aside from its body and most of its shoulder being covered by the pine tree trunk, it was otherwise standing in a sunbeam sifting down from between the trees. The primary coloration was a mottled green with some browns, likely good camouflage for a forest. The underbelly was a more grayed hue and seemed, for lack of better terms, fluffier than the rest of its body with the same fluff going up the neck and curling partially around the shoulders. The longest feathers seemed to be on the arms and back of the head, resembling short wings and a woodpecker-like head crest with broad plumage. Said areas had a rusty red hue on the fringes, the same coloration being sported on parts of the face to give it an almost raccoon-mask of scarlet encircling its eyes. Hanging down from the body one could see a set of three fingered hands inside the wings with the palms facing inward. There was something dangling from one hand that was glinting in the sunlight but it was too far away to distinguish. It tilted its head at the humans, clicking its lower jaw up and down in mumbled chattering before squawking a familiar vocalization.
Instantly Sunflower and Maia’s hands were on the bear spray and stun light and just as quickly, Eno ducked back behind the tree and stayed there. The girls paused, expecting the creature to dart off but it didn’t.
“Somethings up, it knows we know it’s there and it's not moving,” Maia whispered.
“Yeah, and it knows we’re here so why isn’t it running at us instead of playing peek-a-boo?”, Sunflower retorted, shaking the bear spray again.
Eno poked his head out from behind the tree again while holding out one arm. The shiny object from earlier was still dangling from a finger and he almost seemed to wave it at them. Maia’s hand twitched and the stun light was tilted upwards like she was about to use it. Instantly Eno ducked back behind the tree and Maia paused. After a few moments it repeated the same action as before, head tilted downwards towards the object Maia was holding onto. Maia’s mind thought back to the night prior.
-It remembers the stun light!-
“Rawk...,” he squawked in an almost hushed manner, stealing another apprehensive peak at the stun light.
Maia took in a deep breath and pushed the butt of the stun light gently into Sunflower’s hip, “It’s afraid of the stun light after getting blinded by it. Sunny, hold this.”
Sunflower did as asked, but still scrunched her nose and cast a wary eye at her best friend; “MaiMai, what are you doing?”
Eno shook his arm slightly, letting the shiny thing dangling from it glimmer more. Maia sighed and started to cautiously step forward, picking up a thick stick as she slowly advanced, “It’s probably not dangerous, maybe was just startled earlier. I think it’s trying to show me something.”
“M-Maia!” Sunflower pleaded, nearly rushing up to grab and pull her friend back to safety.
Maia quickly put her hand out in a halting motion, turning her head back and slowly nodding to Sunflower; “Sunny. It’s gonna be okay. And if anything happens, you got both so unload on it. Okay?”
Sunflower puzzled, clearly grappling with the thoughts while shooting apprehensive glances at the weird bird-thing and her best friend. Maia bit her lip, giving the Orange a pleading look. Reluctantly, Sunflower gave a relenting nod before whispering, “I’ll be right behind you bestie…”
Maia smiled sweetly before turning back around. Gathering her breath and her courage, she slowly walked forward towards the pine tree with Sunflower two meters behind her with both light and spray at the ready. Maia got five meters away from the tree, leaning over to peek around it slightly before muttering a single word.
Her eyes were met with another pair as the creature poked its head around to look at her. It swayed its neck up and down and back and forth while not taking its eyes off her, giving her a glance over before tilting its head. It started to shrink backwards, spurring Maia to take a leap of faith. She dropped the tree branch that could serve as a makeshift club and held her hands out with the palms facing up to show she wasn’t armed.
She spoke in a calm voice like one would to a frightened or tense dog, knowing it couldn’t understand her but hoping the message of ‘Not a Threat’ would come across, “It’s okay. You can come out now. Sorry we got near your nest. It’s okay.”
Eno blinked a few times, first his visible eyelids and then a partially see-through, horizontal nictitating membrane akin to what a hawk or alligator would have.
He leaned out from behind the tree and after a few moments of glancing at the two humans, stepped out in front of them. Seeing him full on showed the duo that while not enormous, he was pretty big. Maia would guesstimate somewhere in the ballpark of one hundred to one hundred and fifty kilograms, but telling how much of the creature’s lean build was bulk or fluff was hard due to all the feathers. The only bare spots were a few patches on the neck where it looked like it had molted recently along with the fingers and legs from the last fifth down to the foot. The feet and hands gave Maia some pause, for the claws mounted on the three visible digits of each were long, pointed, and recurved to various degrees. The largest were on the innermost toe, being at least a decimeter and a half or six inches long and was partially held off the ground to display its scythe-like shape. The shortest was a small claw mounted on the innermost finger, which bent contrastingly to the other two fingers per each hand and made it look almost like a thumb. Eno slowly moved his right arm outwards and outstretched that hand, showing Maia what was dangling off his thumb.
Maia’s eyes expanded and her jaw dropped slightly. Swaying slightly in a breeze was a gold necklace with a oval shaped locket at the bottom, her locket. And to her growing stagger in amazement, Eno chirped at her almost happily and began to walk forward with his arm outstretched like he was about to hand it to her.
It just started to brush her fingers when a male voice called out from the trail behind them, coming around a bend in the path, “MAIA?! SUNFLOWER?! YOU TWO THERE?!”
Eno quickly stood up and hissed, turning around and bolting away just as Sandalwood came riding around the bend in the path. He skid the heel of his boot across the fallen leaves and dirt to grind to a halt. Letting his bike rest against the tree, he strode up to the two shaking his head and grinning, “Man I have been looking all over for you two!”
Sunflower, eyes spiralling from the stress relief, just slumped into the ensuing bear hug he pulled the two into that lifted both girls off the ground. Maia’s eyes were still transfixed on the route Eno had run off in, still hearing some of the foliage crashing behind him.
“You two okay? Something happen?” Sandalwood muttered with a raised brow.
Sunflower blew a raspberry, scratching at the back of her head in a manner that thankfully did not set the bear spray off; “Wheeeereeee toooo start?”
“Sooo, Spino or T.rex?” Rumble muttered, sitting back and dusting off the shark tooth he’d found in the dig zone.
Apple Crumble rolled her eyes, setting down the bit of coral she’d uncovered down in her bag, “Not every dino question needs to be a fight Rumble.”
“Yes, and you didn’t answer.”
Apple Crumble shrugged, “... T.rex of course. Can’t top those jaws.”
Rumble pouted and narrowed his eyes, “Hey, you remember the documentary we watched on the way here, Spinosaurus weighed up to twice as much. He’d just bowl Rexy over.”
“Yeah, and Rex hunted big game like a tiger would. Spiny was just a fish eater remember? Like a big heron.”
“Or a grizzly bear! And they were forty foot fish with teeth, remember?” Rumble barked, holding up and waving the shark tooth.
“You two seem pretty sharp,-” an adult voice called out as Petunia Paleo squat down beside the pair, “-but you’d probably be a lot smarter if you worked together.”
Both Rumble and Apple Crumble shot each other an almost disgusted look, still at the ages where boys had germs and girls had cooties.
They both pointed at one another, “I can’t work with him, he’s a boy!”“I can’t work with her, she’s a girl!”
Petunia Paleo cracked an eyebrow and snickered, “Can you two agree on anything?”
The children paused and looked at each other, realizing they just agreed. After a bit of childish leering, they shrugged and gave up before looking back up at the adult.
“All things good here with the other kids Ms. Paleo,” Apple Crumble piped as she and Rumble saluted.
Petunia cast a sweet smile and patted them both on the head, “Good job you two. And as promised-”
She reached into her vest’s pocket and pulled out a pale fossil tooth. It was roughly thimble size and pointed, with large, upturned serrations on either side. Both Rumble and Apple Crumble were gawking at it as she let them take a closer look.
“-recent find of mine,” she quipped.
“What kind of animal does this tooth belong to?” Rumble muttered, tilting his head at the oddly shaped fang.
“That’s something I’m here to find out about. In fact, how would you two like to be part of a little research team of mine?”
Both Rumble and Apple Crumble looked up at her with stars in their eyes.
“What do we gotta do?”
Petunia Paleo chuckled kindly and put the tooth away, whispering to the two and offering a handshake to the both of them, “I could use some extra set of eyes and ears, important finds are made all the time on chance. Find anything weird or not covered in the guides I or the camp gave you, come to me alright?”
Two hands were shook, “Right!”
The rest of the day at camp was pretty paint-by-numbers campground shenanigans and conversation, keeping campers out of poison ivy, the kayak rides, showing the kids where the bathroom was, doing headcounts every twenty minutes, etcetera. It was the conversation in the counselor’s cabin that night that was peculiar.
“Sooo, you gals got stuck at the spooky ghost town-”
Sandalwood, standing up and pacing, was interrupted by Sunflower, seated at the table, whom spoke up even while looking down to do her nails; “-like, slasher movie spooky.”
“-...Right. Scooby Doo episode ghost town and you were chased by a… giant.. green and red… bird?” he quipped, shrugging his shoulders as he spun on his heels to about-face and look at the two.
Sunflower tilted her head nonchalantly and held up an index finger, “Green with red face bird, with claws.“
Sandalwood squinted an eye and cocked his head back, “All birds have claws though. It’s like saying all birds have organs.”
“On its hands.. Oh yeah, it had hands by the way... freeeeeaky,” she corrected.
Sandalwood deadpanned, “Oh… Well, think we should like, call up my folks? If some crazy bird got out of a zoo and is running around here it’s probably scared and hungry.”
Maia, leaning back on the wall with her arms crossed, shrugged tiredly and rested her cheek on her palm; “It’s not scared or hungry, we know it’s got a home and ate food. And we can’t call this one in Sandal.”
Having been filled in on the way back, especially after he saw the big two toed footprints where Eno had been standing, Sandalwood sighed and took off his hat to tussle his dreadlocks and roll the tension off; “Because of your dad knowing this ‘Eno’ bird right?”
Maia nodded. Sandwood puzzled, glancing over at her again after looking up at the roof, “We sure this thing isn’t dangerous? I mean with the kids around and all.”
Maia shook her head, “Would have attacked me three times by now if it was. It doesn’t seem to see humans as food and we know it eats other things. Didn’t even seem territorial given it didn’t attack us when we went into its house. Then there’s the locket…”
Sandalwood bit his tongue lightly as Maia touched at her own collar like she was trying to hold a lost prized possession, “You sure it didn’t just maybe, you know, pick it up because it was shiny? Some birds do that sorta thing.”
Maia pouted, unsure. She wanted to say no, given it seemed so much like it was trying to hand her the locket back to return it. But thoughts like that were what logic called fantasy. Can’t always tell what’s going through an animal’s head, they usually don’t think like humans. Even something like a toothy grin which might be pleasant to a human was virtually a death threat display to a chimpanzee, and chimps were far closer to a human than any bird would be.
-Just what was Eno trying to do?-
Seeing her best friend pouting and her guy friend confused, Sunflower had enough. She quickly stood up from her nail polish set and turned on her heels, strutting her way towards the TV and the rack of movies, “Alright! That does it! You two need to cheer up, movie time and I’m grabbing a nerd feature!”
Sandalwood instantly grinned, hopping over the chairs to head for the small kitchen, “Good call Sunny, I got the popcorn!”
Maia breathed in and sighed, unable to fight a smile. Amongst the many questions happening right now, a happy distraction was just what she needed. Before she could make her way to the couch to save a pillow before Sunflower constructed them into a mattress for herself however, she was distracted by a pinging sound on the window behind her.
Maia turned around and looked at it just in time to see another pebble ping off the window and bounce off into the darkness. She briefly narrowed her eyes and leered, getting ready to open the window to glimpse which camper was up past curfew and being an annoyance. When she popped open the window however, it wasn’t a camper she glimpsed but a distant pair of familiar eyeshine glinting in the moon’s and camp’s perimeter lights looking back at her from just inside the forest. And sitting on the windowsill was a glint of gold. Her locket soon rested in her palm, the picture of her parents and a younger, more cheerful Maia between them.
In the early morning hours; Maia, locket dangling across her collar, hurried up the stairs and towards her father’s study. Fortune and events prior hurried her steps along.
-Sunny and mom are with the campers today until noon. Gives me at least three hours to scout around for Eno before cycling back to help out for the rest of the day.-
She rounded the stairs and started down the hall.
-Just need to skim through some of Dad’s notes, he might have more besides the notebook I already have!-
She glimpsed light behind the door, obviously coming from a desk lamp inside because the sun was just barely rising at this hour. For a split second, Maia felt elation from nostalgia. The nostalgia of numerous times she’d walk in on her father’s study when he was busy going through some notes or rereading some survey papers. It made some part of her mind think he might be behind the door when she opened it, making the observation of it being a young woman she didn’t immediately recognize more painful than confusing.
“Oh, hello there Maia! My my you’ve grown! Last time I remember seeing you, you were barely up to this desk’s height!”, Petunia Paleo quipped with a giggle as she motioned to the short desk.
Maia blinked a few times in confusion, shaking her head to both try and clear it and throw off the slight frown that had formed when some distant dream of her father miraculously returning was proven faulty.
“I’m… sorry,” she murmured, “I think my memory is a bit fuzzy. Having trouble remembering if we met, ma’am.”
Petunia Paleo chuckled and extended her hand to shake it, “Understandable. I’m Petunia Paleo, hopefully Doctor Petunia Paleo soon if this project pays off. I was a student working with your parents and some of their colleagues some years back.”
“Oh, um, welcome back! Sorry, I must have been pretty young when we met,” Maia noted as she shook the woman’s hand and forced a small laugh.
She awkwardly crossed her arms before herself, “What are you doing back on Lost Land Isle?”
“Oh, I’m back to get some research on my project in the badlands. Since I needed a place to stay, your mother was kind enough to rent me the space. I’ll also be helping out with the camp on my off time, I always did like bringing in some new blood to the field of Paleontology!”
The woman’s jovialness was infectious. She seemed so much like a younger, female version of how Maia remembered her father. Maia would have been smiling widely had she not noticed Petunia’s hands all over her father’s notes with some other books pushed aside to make room for several microscopes and computers.
No longer did the room look exactly how Paleo Search left it. Maia’s expression flattened as she eyed up all the changes, seeing her lost parent’s notes put away in boxes and his trinkets nudged aside on some shelves.
“... Aaaand you’re in my dad’s study becaaaaause?”
The stand-off tone in her voice was evident. Petunia Paleo shrugged and was about to say something when a voice behind the both of them spoke for her in a stern tone.
“Because I let her when she asked.”
Several minutes later and the scene and tone had changed. From Paleo Search’s study and odd questions to Gentle Heart’s partially vacant bedroom and raised voices.
“That is my dad’s study!”, Maia snapped while practically gnashing her teeth at the offense.
Her mother, Gentle Heart, kept a stable voice despite clearly having some worn patience at her daughter’s rudeness towards a house guest.
“She’s an old friend and your father would be happy to help her, so I did. I’m surprised you don’t remember her more to be honest. She practically babysat you multiple times.”
“She’s got no right to do what she’s doing though. Did you see how it was in there? She was totally moving everything around!”, Maia barked while throwing her arm up to the side in an angered motion.
Gentle Heart narrowed her eyes slightly and pointed a finger at her daughter, “To make space! Your father never was tidy and no one has been in that room since he di-”
Maia, in a heat-of-the-moment passion, cut her off, “Disappeared!! …You were going to say “since he disappeared” right?... Or were you going to say something else that starts with “D”?”
Gentle Heart went silent with a frozen expression upon her face, “.....”
The teenager huffed in breath under her mother’s staring, tiny tears biting out of her eyes from stress and old pains. Gentle Heart said nothing, only reaching out and putting her hands on Maia’s shoulders and a stern, but not necessarily unkind expression on her face. She let Maia steep for awhile, waiting until her daughter’s huffs grew weaker and weaker, her grimace turning into a frown.
Maia slowly looked down and away in shame, “... Sorry, mom… I-”
The ringing of the camp’s wake-up bell and the surefire rousing of the campers cut her off. Gentle Heart sighed and put her hand up to cup the side of her daughter’s face as she waited for the bell to pass. Mrs. Heart slowly nodded to her child.
“We’ll talk about this later, okay sweetie?”
He was running, running for his life through the dark forest alone. Past the wide bills browsing on the opposite side of the clearing, past the flock of birds and one towering giant flier, through the scrub and over a hill. He kicked off the hill, sailing a good ten meters through the air before catching himself against a tree. His claws dug into the bark hard enough for him to feel the friction spurred by them digging trenches into the wood. But any relief was brief as he craned his head backward and shrieked in surprise. Prying himself off the tree, he just barely managed to dodge the dark blur's pounce. The dark form, similar in shape to himself but so different in other ways, hissed from missing its ambush. He dropped to the ground and grunted on the impact, managing to roll to the side just as his pursuer dropped down to the ground with sickle shaped talons stabbing down on the same spot he'd been no less than a few seconds prior.
Eno whirled himself up and faced the hostile, raising his feather crest and tail fan, holding his arm wings outwards, and bristling up all his body feathers to try and make himself look bigger. The avian saurian curled his lips back and raised his own inner foot born talons, straighter and more scythe-like than his enemy's curved sickle shapes, upwards. Even if he was fearsome in his own regard and barely any smaller than the rival species, Eno still found himself cautiously backing up as it stalked closer. Eno's shrill hisses were met by sharp barks, the former quickly pivoting on his feet with the help of his swaying tail to keep the enemy in front of him as it circled back and forth to get an opening. It was only due to the crack of a stick behind him that Eno realized the predator had been working him back towards a specific corner of dense foliage, and that it wasn't alone.
A second dark mass exploded out of the shrubs with outstretched jaws. Eno ducked, dodging by only such a slim margin that he could feel the hot breath on the top of his head as the exposed fangs sailed overhead. Everything moving in slow motion, he acted on the only thought he could; rising back up rapidly to ram his head into the second attacker's shoulder and knock the airborne attacker even more off balance. It gave him a horrible headache, but it did manage to knock the other dinosaur away and send it fumbling into its cohort. Shaking his wooziness off, Eno's legs tightened with tension that fed into the large muscle extending into his tail. Like a wound up spring, it helped him explode into motion and make a maddened sprint away.
They were both alongside him soon enough, snapping at his tail feathers with toothy chomps upon the whizzing air. He tried to lose them by kicking off a tree and rapidly changing direction, but they kept up. He tried jumping over a small gorge, but they did the same. He tried frantically, frightfully belting an alarm call to signal for help. But the only response was their distorted mimicry that burned fear into his mind. No sign of the group nor of any ally. The environment couldn't help him get away, family couldn't help him fight, Smells-Weird couldn't help him with his tricks, and they were going to get him. Out of any options, Eno could only sprint for the sudden burst of light and beg that whatever happened might save his life.
Eno startled awake, breathing heavily and rapidly kicking his legs up under him. The creature quickly jumped up, turning around to ensure his surroundings were of the human dwelling and not back in the forest; back with them. It took five minutes for him to finally calm down and even longer for his eyes to stop being dilated. Eno grumbled and shook his head as he let his muscles relax. Stupid sleep-story.
Eventually he breathed in relief, sighing if he were capable of such a thing, when he spotted the morning sun had risen. Dawn could still have its dangers and day time wasn't a cake walk back home either, but at least the rising light meant They weren't going to be out and about any longer. While he had some confidence this location, the abandoned human grounds, would keep them away due to the alien appearance of the not-caves and weird human-nests, assurance was a welcome thing where he came from and a creature comfort in this land.
Nudging aside the large shelf he'd pushed over the night prior to barricade the door so he could sleep a bit easier, Eno tapped his scythe shaped inner toe claws upon the ground and went about his agendas. Climbing up on the roof, he basked in the warm sun while setting himself to preening his coat. Some loose feather plucking and grooming, an ordeal made easier by a device he'd uncovered earlier when scavenging a human-nest. What it was he hadn't known the context for, but the odd half meter long prong was great for raking through his feathers and picking out pesky loose quills without having to do it himself with his teeth. Few things more irksome than feather strands stuck between the fangs.
Next came food. Standing ankle deep in the shallows of the river, still as a statue with his S-shaped neck cocked back at the ready. A slight movement betrayed the presence of a catfish whom was soon plucked out of the water in a manner akin to a heron fishing. Gripping the slippery prey with a hand, Eno chomped down on the head and twisted to the side; the resulting crack making it fall still. Content on the quick kill, he pinned the large fish down under his foot, stabbing his inner claws in and tore into it. The serrations on the backs of his teeth made them less suited for slicing in bites, but excellent at rending and pulling away food as more manageable chunks. To an outside observer, Eno would closely resemble a hawk when eating; using his talons to hold the food to the ground and pulling chunks out. After tearing off the flanks to get at the main cuts of meat, the dinosaur kicked the fish carcass aside and scarfed down some ferns as the more robust serrations on the front of his fangs helped in shredding the plants. The meal concluded, Eno turned his attention to the river rocks nearby. After milling through them for a moment or two, he gleamed his prize. Gripping a few smaller ones with the tip of his snout and snapping them up into his jaws; Eno swallowed the rocks and shook his neck and chest to guide them down to his gizzard.
The saurian cooed, scratching at his throat contently before shaking himself off and pacing into the woods.
Apple Crumble and Rumble peeked out from the corner of their cabin and out towards the back gate of the campground.
“Counselors sighted,” Rumble whispered as he put his toy binoculars to his eyes.
“Can you tell what they were saying?... And why are we watching them?”, Apple Crumble muttered as she glanced at her vitriolic cohort. To her, it was just Sandalwood and Mrs. Heart’s daughter talking to her cousin at the gate.
“Because Petunia Paleo said she could use us as an extra set of eyes and ears. The scout guide book said always be aware of everything and they’re acting funny.”
Apple Crumble rolled her eyes, “Yeah, and the Brownie guide book said sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong might result in losing it.”
Either ignoring the advice or too caught up in his own wild speculation, Rumble rubbed at his chin, “But what would two counselors be sneaking off alone together into the woods for?”
Apple Crumble was about to say something but the thought got caught in her mind. Soon enough they were both scratching their chins and humming. Thankfully they weren’t a few years older or they could have come to some very incorrect conclusions. By the time they finally looked back up, Sandalwood and Maia were already gone and Sunflower was pacing back towards the mess hall muttering something about-
“Flapjacks! Sandal and Maia made a ton of them-!”, Rumble was yanked back by Apple Crumble.
“Hey! Feet before stomach! Let’s go see where they were going first,” she whispered, her current investment showing quick persuasion to curiosity.
Rumble groaned a complaint, but soon followed along in the sprint to the gate as soon as Sunflower was out of sight. Stopping at the paths and game trails, they puzzled and surveyed the trees, shrubs, and riverside for any sign of the counselors.
“Hm… Where do you think they went?”
“Iiii think I saw Sandalwood mouth the words “bike”, so they probably went to go get them from the outdoors shack. We could probably find their footprints if we check the right trail.”
Rumble looked over to nod but his eyes widened. Mouth agape, he quickly pointed off to the side of the trail.
“Woah, they’re not the only footprints though; check it out!”, he yelped.
Apple Crumble followed the direction he pointed towards and soon had a similar expression as they scampered over to it. A few dozen feet from the trail, almost invisible against the brush and only seeable due to being in a light colored patch of sand, was a single, large two-toed footprint. Unknown to them, left by something far more wild looking than any teenager. Eno had stepped in the sand on his way back from delivering the locket.
“Is that a bird track?...”
Sandalwood and Maia, still smelling of pancake mix, pedalled down the bike path and towards the ghost town; a transport method Sandalwood insisted on and Maia wasn’t keen to argue with after the kayak debacle.
“Well, this is it,” Maia muttered as she leaned her bike against a tree and hopped off.
Sandalwood slowly whistled while surveying the abandoned worker village as he did the same and slung his backpack onto his shoulders. “Pheeeeeeeeeeeeeew, like, Sunny wasn’t kidding.”
He noticed the creaking, sunbleached old timbers groaning in the morning breeze, cracked or broken windows; and in one building’s case a partially caved in roof with half a small tree sticking out of it after evidently having been thrown through the ceiling during a storm. Run down didn’t even begin to describe some of the buildings.
“Soooo, which horror movie did they film here? The one with the chainsaw or the one with the hockey mask?”
Maia chuckled even as she groaned and elbowed him lightly in the ribs.
“Your pack sounds heavy, what all did you pack?”
“Usual wood-sy stuff,” Sandalwood quipped as he slung his bag out in front of him and opened up the zipper. “Flashlight, compass, water filter, plant guide book, pocket knife, striker, bear spray and stun light-... Yeah sorry, I know your bird isn’t dangerous but-”
Maia shook her head and tapped him on the arm, “No, it’s okay. Better safe than sorry right? Besides, plenty of non-avian stuff out here.”
Sandalwood sighed, knowing how serious this weird bird was to his friend and glad no offense was given, “-well besides that, I got this.”
He pulled out a large, double ziplocked bag of assorted dark mass in dry clumps that vaguely looked like meatballs mixed with trail mix. Maia raised an eyebrow and picked at the bag to test its weight; already knowing it had to be heavy given it took up about half the bag space in the pack.
“... About three kilos of trail mix?”
Sandalwood shook his head and indicated towards the food, “Pemmican, good stuff. My uncle’s recipe. Some lean meat, fats, cereals, berries.”
“And you got over five pounds of it in your bag becaaaause?”, Maia deadpanned, “We’re only a twenty minute bike ride to camp.”
Sandalwood shrugged, “Hey, sometimes I get the munchies. Really badly.... So, still got that feather?”
“Right here,” Maia noted as she pulled Eno’s shed feather that had landed in Sunflower’s hair from her vest, “Why?”
Sandalwood perked up and to the side slightly, eyeing a building behind Maia.
“Because I see another, look.” he pointed upwards at a small building, likely once a tool shed or storage shack. Clinging to the roof shingles were multiple loose downy fluff and shed quilled feathers, along with an odd object lodged between the shingles. Pacing over and puzzling, Sandalwood and Maia eyed up the oddity.
“Here, can you give me a boost?”
“Yeah, hop up,” Sandalwood said as he interlaced his fingers with his palms facing up to give her a platform. Maia carefully stepped up and reached up as Sandalwood straightened out and held her aloft. Just barely able to reach up, Maia managed to grip and pry the strange object out of the shingles. Hopping back down, her and Sandalwood’s befuddlement didn’t cease. It was a straight piece of metal with a wooden, screwed-in handle. One end was tipped in several blunt prongs like a fork, with the opposite end curving downward slightly before devouring rust had apparently snapped whatever was attached to it off.
Maia fiddled with it, rotating it around before finally realizing what it was from her last family cookout.
“Looks like half a set of grill tongs. The other end must have worn down and broke off from exposure. Why was it in a roof though?”
“Couldn’t have been so for too long, look,” Sandalwood pointed to the prongs while drawing back out Maia’s feather. Lodged between the prongs was the unmistakable piece of a feather nearly identical to the one Sandalwood was now holding up.
“Hmmm… Wait a tic though. If it was stuck in the shingles, how the heck did a feather get in it? The prongs were buried in the tar.”
Maia didn’t answer, too lost in thought. She slowly reached up and shifted the handle of the tongs outside her hand to get a better look at it, spotting the claw marks on the wood. Her eyes widened, memory matching the visage of clawed hands with the tong as she fidgeted it around and wrapped her fingers around where the marks were.
“... Eno had been handling it. He stuck it in the roof when he was done using it.”
Petunia Paleo walked through the mess hall as the campers toiled and played with the partially assembled chicken bones, looking over a completed skeleton on her tray.
"Now birds and dinosaurs share a great many traits many wouldn't anticipate in addition to the feathers. Dinosaurs for instance might have had a muscular crop or gizzard for holding stones called gastroliths, which they used to grind up food the same way this chicken would have swallowed pebbles to grind up feed."
Concluding her little presentation, she walked back towards the front door and put the skeleton down, "Now, I'll be walking around to help any of you out."
With a smile and nod she sat back next to Gentle Heart.
“You sure you don’t mind doing this?”, Gentle Heart muttered with a worried brow. She stood together with Petunia Paleo inside the mess hall as the campers went to work with their arts and crafts project.
“Oh not at all, I rather like keeping busy; helps my mind keep working rather than dawdling.”
Her eyes perked up as she noticed two particular kids toiling at a table.
“Ah, excuse me,” she muttered before making her way towards the table in question.
At said table, Apple Crumble and Rumble were fiddling with the chicken bones they’d been given for the craft project. Right now their attention was on the foot.
“Was it like this maybe?”, Apple Crumble mumbled as she assembled the half put-together toes onto the leg bones into a shape similar to what they’d seen in the track.
Rumble puzzled, but shook his head while holding up two more toe assemblages for the chicken foot, “No, close. But birds have four toes.”
“Not quite always the case there.”
The two children looked up and soon had smiles stretch across their faces as Petunia Paleo took a seat across from them.
“Some kinds of birds have fewer than the typical four toes,” she paused and tilted her head, “Why the sudden interest in bird feet?”
Sunflower huffed as she brisked past the tables. Most of her mind was focused on trying to make sure none of the kids were putting the “non-toxic” part of the craft glue or paste to the test, but she couldn’t help but overhear some of the conversation as she passed one particular table.
“Oh, we found a weird track outside of camp near the trail. Big one too.”
Petunia Paleo struck a bemused expression, “Really now? A maybe bird track I take it?”
“Well we think maybe, it didn’t look like a mammal paw or human foot. Or even a bird foot really, only had these two toes.”
Apple Crumble held her hands up and outwards to indicate a size of at least six inches, “And it was biiiig!”
Sunflower stopped mid step like she’d been shocked by a jolt of electricity. Her quickening pulse was contrasted by the unbeknownst jovialness of Petunia.
“Well now, that’s not unheard of in birds. Ostriches, the largest living birds, only have two per foot.”
“Yeah, but we didn’t think we had them up here.”
Rumble puzzled, thinking up ow birds feet look and his memory of the track for comparison, “Maybe it’s something else?”
Petunia Paleo smiled and nodded, “Good thinking Rumble, perhaps one of the toes just didn’t preserve. Tracks can deform if they’re in loose ground.”
“So maybe it looked different, are there such things as giant robins?”
“Hmm, not that I’m aware of. Tell you what, why don’t I get you some plaster so you can pour it into the print? Ever heard of making a mold? That way we can keep a record of the cast.”
Sunflower was breathing a bit heavier as the her little cousin and Rumble yelped in glee.
“Ah yeah! Like in cop shows! We’ll get right on it Doc!”
Petunia Paleo giggled, opting not to correct them that she wasn’t a doctor yet and just have some fun. At this point Sunflower couldn’t even hear them, having too much of a heart attack as she power-walked into the storeroom and kitchen, slamming the door shut behind her.
She hissed through gritted teeth, curling her whited fists upwards at the wrist while stomping her foot. Still grimacing, she bit at the back of her knuckle and paced back and forth.
-MaiMai was clear on one thing last night and this morning. She trusts us with it, but no adults. Could mess up Mrs. Heart’s camp and snatch away any chance she’d get to study that damn bird of hers! If the brats really did find a footprint of it and get it to the science-lady, she could start sniffing the feather-brain’s trail!-
She stopped and peeked out the crack of the door, biting her lip as her little cousin and Rumble kept talking to Petunia Paleo. Sunflower bit her tongue.
-Gotta find some way to disrupt them without it being obvious…-
She scanned the storeroom and kitchen, milling through a half dozen hairbrained schemes a second. She wasn’t a chemist so trying to whip up some spectacle with stuff thrown around the kitchen was a no-go. Fire was out of the question. Sunflower’s frustration built to a growl.
-Come on, come on! Gotta be something in here that could clear a room…!!!-
She paused upon glimpsing a bit of black fur going by a window, memories of a picnic gone horribly wrong at Brownie camp with Maia ten years back rushing back into her head. And she was dreading every second of it as she opened the window. Spraying several squirts of her orange perfume onto her hand, she waved it about to waft the scent out and draw the critter in closer. She backed up slowly as it came through the window, leaving a trail of fruity scent going along the floor and towards the door. No creature could resist the scent of Valencia Orange Family brand.
“Hope you’re hungry, come and get it you little trog,” she muttered while mentally swearing.
Biting her tongue as she eased back to the door and opened it slightly, Sunflower hosed down the floor just outside the door to create a strong scent at the end of the trail and promptly rammed the door open, sprinting back into the hall.
Gentle Heart looked up in confusion as Sunflower came sprinting out from the kitchen and towards her and the exit. Unknown to her was the fact Sunflower Orange’s blind panic was most certainly her not acting.
“MRS. HEART WE GOT SOMETHING!”, the Orange heiress shouted, getting both Gentle Heart and everyone else’s attention.
“...Um, is it more craft glue? We’re not low quite yet,” Gentle Heart mumbled as Sunflower bolted up to her and gripped her shoulders.
“Oh my dear, what’s wrong with you?”, Gentle Heart said as she tried to calm the shaking girl down.
“IT’S A-”, Sunflower was cut off by Rumble jumping up and pointing at the dark furry mass that had waddled in through the open kitchen door with half a flapjack in its mouth, saying exactly what the counselor was about to.
Soon the mess hall erupted in children screaming and rushing out the front door, followed close behind by a baffled Petunia Paleo and Gentle Heart, who in turn were followed by a Sunflower whom was just now discovering that relief and terror were not mutually exclusive emotional responses.
The confused skunk just ignored the humans, waddling over to the edge of the serving counter and helped itself to the flapjacks stacked upon it.
“See what you mean, does kinda look like a big bird nest. Just with bed stuffing instead of branches,” Sandalwood whispered as he observed what Maia referred to as this “Eno” bird's nest.
“Look like anything you seen before?”, Maia poised as she watched on from the window.
Sandalwood knew what kind of question she was really asking though. He rolled his eyes and waved in an offhand gesture, “Heeey heeeeey I believe you and Sunny saw something really weird, and you’re way too smart to see some escaped emu or ostrich and think up something this crazy.”
“Sunny never would let me,” Maia muttered.
Sandalwood shrugged his shoulders, “Just want to see it in full myself. Least give me a context and all besides your dad’s sketch.”
He leaned away from the doorway and stepped out of the general goods store and into the ghost town proper. He reached into his back and drew some pemmican out of his bag and took a bite, glancing around to take in his surroundings.
“So where do you think it is?”
Maia puzzled and tapped at her chin.
“Not sure, he was definitely here. A nest that big means this is permanent lodging.”
Sandalwood gulped down the dried mix, “Unless we accidentally spooked ‘em yesterday. You did say it was afraid of your stun light and ran off when I was biking up.”
Maia had a moment of worry that just might have been the case, but just as her frown was starting to form another memory of yesterday presented itself and counteracted it.
“Wait.. Waait wait wait! When Sunny and I were trying to walk back, he would follow at a distance. But when I called out the sound ‘Eno’...”
Sandalwood’s eyes widened and he started slowly nodding in recollection with a smile forming over his crumb coated lips, “It came out and got close!... It also got close when you were on the bike that first night after you called out when you thought you heard a human voice.”
“Think I should call out then? Usually that scares animals off, but you got a point.”
“It did approach after you replicated one of its calls. So either like, maybe it’ll get curious hearing its own species’ call or maybe it’s docile around you because it’s learned what your voice sounds like. Try calling ‘em out!”
“Worth a shot,” Maia quipped while shrugging her shoulders.
Sandalwood’s eyes lit up and he smirked, “Hey, think I got an idea to help!”
“Don’t pay attention to me, just get in the open and make the call,” Sandalwood piped as he jogged over to the edge of the town.
“Huh... Well okay then.”
A few kilometers away, Eno pitched his snout down and sniffed at a gruesome sight. The bones of what had once been a large deer had largely been picked clean, even the scavenging flies dimming in numbers as most of the flesh had been removed from the kill site. The dinosaur turned his head upwards to observe the trees above, scanning them from trunk to top until he could find what he was looking for. Using recurved claws and strong legs to half jump and half shimmy his way up, Eno soon found himself perched upon the base of a very wide branch. He clicked quietly to himself, observing and sniffing the scratch marks in the tree branch ahead of him.
Eno’s neck recoiled backwards slightly at the familiar scent that made his muscles lock up in momentary fear. Shifting attention downwards and reminding himself yet again what he was smelling didn’t come out in the day time, he could see a few broken bits of foliage leading up to where the carcass was. The scenario played through within the creature’s mind, the complex process of putting observation and past knowledge into the sophisticated process called assumption and deduction getting to work. The prey mammal had been grazing nearby, as indicated by the clipping on some of the shrubs. Then the first attacker came at it from the ground level, intentionally scaring and driving it towards the tree. By the time the prey realized its attacker wasn’t alone, its killer had already dropped down upon it from the vantage point.
Eno hopped down from the tree, the five meter drop not even phasing him due to his tail granting him superb balance and the dinosaur’s springy, digigrade legs absorbing the fall. He clicked again quietly, swinging his head around to observe the canopy of the forest.
He’d have to make a note to keep an eye on what was above him and never assume one of them was alone.
He sniffed at the skeleton again, catching a scent coming from the serrated teeth marks on several of the ribs. Yep, it had most certainly been them; probably on that first night either before or after he came across Smells-Familiar. If before, it made sense they’d go for more prey after failing one hunt when they tried to ambush Smells-Familiar and himself. If after, it meant either their appetite wasn’t sated or they were finding mammals quite to their liking in taste.
Strange however, he could pick up something else had come to the carcass to feed after the fact. Keeping his head low, Eno traced the trail as best he could, wading into a thick bank of brush. The trail was mammalian, but unfamiliar. Definitely not something like Smells-Like-Fruit or Smells-Familiar so it wasn’t a human. Curious, Eno followed it for a kilometer before the quiet of the forest was disrupted by a distant call.
Eno popped up from the brush and looked around, swinging his head about.
Eno chirped, hearing it again and now able to tell which way it was coming from. In the distance he could just barely make out the border of the ghost town through the trees. It sounded like Smells-Familiar again. Eno tilted his head and began to pace forward when another sound chased the first. A booming bellow. He could make out a shout of some sort by a deeper voice, followed by one that sounded like when Smells-Like-Fruit and Smells-Familiar got startled at his nest. Eno’s eyes dilated and he squawked, jumping several meters up and over the brush and up to a tree branch, soon bounding off of it to leap over the dense brush and get to a game trail.
“Eno?”, Maia called out again, being sure to stand in the middle of the ghost town to make herself as obvious as possible.
A short distance away, Sandalwood crouched down in some of the brush to hide, his backpack at his side and his camera phone out. Given how this ‘Eno’ bird ran away when he approached last time and seemed to key in on Maia’s voice, it had been his intention to try and hide so maybe it wouldn’t get spooked by an unfamiliar presence. And he was still close enough to act on defense should something go south for Maia of course.
Maia shrugged, cupping her hands over her mouth and turning around as she called out to throw her voice as much as she could.
She waited, hearing nothing but the distant crackling of the river and occasionally the wind blowing through the trees. It was Sandalwood whom first heard something different. He’d been so focused on the ghost town he didn’t hear the soft patter of paws on the ground until his backpack had been knocked over.
“Eh? What the huh?”, he jolted sideways and tried to grab the bag to set it up straight again, only realizing something was inside it when he took hold of it.
A dark brown form popped out of the bag with his bag of pemmican clutching in its paws and jaws. Sandalwood levitated off the ground and jumped back reactively, mentally swearing. A shrill, scared whine called out, one Sandalwood recognized in a way that nearly made his eyes pop out of his head. It was a brown bear cub. And that meant-
A booming roar called out from the brush and a fully grown bear reared up from the foliage. Sandalwood scrambled backwards, unable to stifle a shout as a surprised call behind him said Maia did the same. Maia ran up and grabbed her friend by the shoulders and pried him back, helping him out of a stumble and back onto his feet. Both humans backpedaled as the mother bear stomped out of the brush. The bear didn’t charge forward immediately, for it wasn’t a predatory attack, but it was a matter of food and her scared cub; so she put her over 200 kilograms of bulk between the humans and her offspring. Lips curling back, she roared a sharp snarl and began to advance to force them back more.
Maia and Sandalwood backpedalled, grasping for options. The bear-spray and stun-light where in Sandalwood’s bag with a ticked-off bear between them and the tools. Sandalwood glanced backwards.
“General store’s about a dozen paces behind us, door’s still open. Back up toward it!”
“O-Okay, just remember,” Maia cringed as the mother bear growled and took another step forward, “Don’t… turn.. around. If we do it charges. Move together.”
Sandalwood gulped, “Right…”
The bear was about to bellow again in a fierce display meant to intimidate something away, when a different sound overtook the call. Coming in from the east was a piercing, shrill screech; much like a hawk’s call but deeper and louder. It was the only thing to herald a green and rusty red blur charging in from that direction and jumping onto the bear. Springboarding off the brown bear’s back, Eno dug the back of his feet into the ground and swung his tail outwards to spin himself around. The bear quickly shook off the impact’s daze and scampered about to put this newcomer in front of her. Intimidation displays were cast, the bear rearing up to show off her height and bellowing as Eno outstretched the wing feathers on his arms while puffing up his head crest and tail fan to look bigger. Mammalian snarls were met by avian cackles. The bear stomped forward, Eno bobbing back and weaving to keep out of the bulkier mammal’s reach while jumping about to circle the bear. Jaws snapped and and arms swiped, missing either by inches as they circled each other.
It wasn't a fight, at least not a physical one. More a dialogue or contest on who was going to back off first. Gradually the both of them separated, stopping the circling and backing up; the mother bear towards her cub and Eno towards the humans. The bear’s hairs stopped bristling and Eno flattened his feathers back down, snarls and cackles dimming down to strong looks and tense muscle as the distance between them grew. The bear grunted, turning and walking off into the brush with her cub climbing down the tree it had shimmied up for safety and waddling alongside.
Eno hissed a sigh and loosened up, turning around and facing the still stunned Maia and Sandalwood. The nictitating membrane that protected his eyes, giving them a whitened appearance, retracted and his pupils contracted back down to normal; quickly changing his appearance from fearsome to docile.
Maia only now realized she'd been holding her breath, sighing a harsh exhale out after Eno curiously tilted his head.
“Eeeno eeno,” the avian grunted calmly.
Sandalwood caught his breath, “That.. was one of the coolest things... I've ever seen… in my life… Maybe second to the Spring Musical Showcase, hehe.”
Maia felt her heart rate slow and a small smile cross her face. She gently elbowed Sandalwood, “Sandal,-”
With a sigh she motioned towards the idly avian, “-meet Eno.”
“Um.. Hi, you are oooone,-” he let his eyes trail across to the creature’s taloned feet, toothy snout, and the clawed hands poking out from underneath the wing feathers, “-weeeiiird bird…”
Eno tilted his head at the human in a universally curious motion, bobbing his head up and down in a comical manner as he surveyed the human. Weird, he could swear the male human smelled like meat, but not human meat. Still, he didn’t see any real offense and they weren’t acting out, so Eno grunted quietly. If Smells-Familiar trusted Smells-Like-Meat, Smells-Like-Meat wasn’t a threat then. He trusted who the young female human smelled like and it was the best thing he had to go off of. Tapping his scythe claws against the ground, Eno straightened back up and clicked contently towards Sandalwood.
Maia chuckled, “I don’t think he takes any offense.”
Sandalwood still chuckled a tad awkwardly, “Hehe, thanks.”
Eyeing the shrubs the bears had disappeared too, Sandalwood sidestepped Eno and went to go and get his bag. Maia, content she was safe, looked about and shook her head in the slight awe. He definitely was something else as far as birds go up close. Oddly familiar in some way too, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Following where Eno was now looking, she realized his attention was on the small shiny object slipped over her neck.
-Sandal thought you might have just picked it up because it was shiny.. Time to test that.-
Maia gulped and pulled the locket out somewhat and held it up, not removing it just in case but curious to see Eno’s reaction; to see if he’d peck or grab at it like most birds would at something with their interest. Instead she found her brow raising when Eno curiously leaned down to get eye level with the jewelry, but did nothing. No attempts to nudge, peck, or seize. In fact she could swear it looked like he was trying to analyze it, leaning closer like someone might do when trying to make out small print on a sign.
-Was he trying to see something on it?... Does he think I’m trying to show him something?-
Maia puzzled and was about to say something, when beeping on her watch caused both her and Eno to get snapped out of the trance. Maia’s watch sounded off for the noon alarm, indicating it was time to head back to camp; a meaning lost on her company. Eno hopped back and squawked in obvious distress, looking around for the source of the noise as Maia scrambled to turn her watch off.
“It’s okay it’s okay, see!? See? Just an alarm? Ah damn it, turn off you stupid!-”, Maia growled as she scrambled to hit the silence button for the alarm.
By the time she did, she realized the dead quiet in front of her and looked back up just in time to see a mass of feathers push into her face.
“Aghppppf! Eno stop!”
Her muffled cries sounded off as Eno grabbed and pulled her in close, practically nesting on top of her like a protective bird would as he kept looking around for the sudden burst of noise.
He clutched Smells-Familiar close to shield her, yanking her off her feet and rapidly turning to try and see where that ticking was coming from. It couldn’t be, it just couldn’t! They never came out in the middle of the day when it was so sunny out! But it was Them, he was sure of it! Had he been wrong all this time? Did they only just prefer to come out at night and could strike by day? Had they found him? Smells-Familiar and Smells-Like-Meat couldn’t run very fast, they’d surely get picked off!
He could try and distract them, yes. Yes, he could do that! Distract them and buy the humans time! He’d have to make a lot of noise though, draw as much attention to himself as possible. Maybe a wounded leg gambit? They’d come running if they thought him crippled. But then he’d have to find an escape as well, couldn’t count on a lucky break like that stunt he pulled with the river and he couldn’t fight even one of them one on one and best them; not yet.
He was scared, scared out of his mind. But the poor human, she must have been terrified! Making all those human sobs even as he tried to protect her. Even Smells-Like-Meat was crying out, no doubt also keyed into the danger!
Eno hissed, still frantically looking around to try and find where that ticking had come from; where the ambush lay bound from!
He tried to tell them to get ready to run, “Risssss paaaahwk! Ka-coo ka-coo!!”
“Risssss paaaahwk! Ka-coo ka-coo!!”
“Huh?- HEY! LET HER GO!”, Sandalwood shouted after retrieving his bag and turning around only to see his friend clutched close by Eno.
Maia thankfully had a jolt of memory at Eno’s latest call, remembering how he emitted a similar call with the stun light. She fumbled around to get her face out of Eno’s puffed-up feathers.
-He’s not hurting me and he’s shaking, that must be a distress call! Watch probably freaked him out!-
“N-No! Sandal wait!”, she shouted and threw a hand out to halt Sandal, who’d drawn the bear spray and was about to charge in.
“I’m okay! I’m okay! He got spooked by my watch alarm! Show him yours!”
“Wh-What?! Maia what are you?!”
“Just do it! Show him it’s just a watch! He can recognize a human device, did it with the stun light!”
Sandalwood really wanted to say no, really wanted to do a thousand other things to secure his friend’s safety than take his watch off and turn the alarm on. But he ended up doing the latter, even if he was tense the whole time.
The instant the pinging of the timer alarm went off, Eno’s eyes locked onto him and Sandalwood winced. While Eno’s normal eyes were big, expressive, almost friendly looking, it seemed stress caused the nictitating membrane to flick over his dilated eyes like it had when confronting the bear. It gave Eno the appearance of blank, almost gray-white eyes, a pretty unnerving sight to say the least.
Sandalwood held his breath as he dangled the watch outwards as the alarm continued to sound off, Eno’s head twitching with the swings as a dead give-away that he was looking at it and it alone. Slowly the bird seemed to calm down. His feathers flattened back down, muscles lost their tensity, the membrane flicked back to its sheath, and his pupils contracted back to normal. He let go of Maia and tilted his head like a perplexed puppy, slowly walking over towards Sandalwood and poking the watch with an outstretched, claw bearing finger.
Sandalwood slowly reached over with his free hand and turned the alarm off. Eno stood motionless, blinking in clear befuddlement before grunting and poking the watch again.
“Eehehe, thiiink I’m gonna keep it off for now,” Sandalwood muttered while putting his watch back on.
Maia, brushing herself off and more importantly, knocking off some shed feathers that had become attached to her; giggled awkwardly, “Yeeaah, I guess maybe it’s like a dog whistle to him.”
“Sorry if it freaked you out there, buddy.”
“Good thing Sunny didn’t come or she’d snark about us apologizing to a bird.”
“Hey, a bird who can kick a bear’s tail; I ain’t arguing!” Sandalwood grunted with an impressed pout, “Sorry about nearly mace-spraying Eno.”
Maia shrugged, “Had it been you or Sunny getting a face full of fuzz at random, I’d have freaked out too. Hey, pretty awesome I got friends rushing to help like that.”
Her fond smile turned to Eno as well, applying that last courtesy to him as well.
Sandalwood sighed, “Well note to self, from now on no watches. Or ‘least like, silent ones. Sadly noon bleeping means we gotta jet MaiMai… Aaand I don’t think we can bring Eno back with us.”
Maia pouted at the lost time, “Well, this is his home so he should stay here. Didn’t follow us back last time.”
Sandalwood slung his backpack across his back and stepped towards the bikes with something else in his hand other than a watch or bear spray.
“Well, folks say don’t feed the animals but he’s already eaten human food with the MREs,” he muttered as he reopened the pemmican bag with Eno stopping to sniff the air being a clear indicator it had gotten his attention.
Sandalwood chuckled and held out the bag, “Apologies for the spook and thanks for the save with the bear. You earned it.”
Eno blinked a few times, leaning in to inspect the bag. It did smell good, smelled really good actually. Much to Sandalwood and Maia’s surprise, he reached out and gripped the bag with his paws before fishing his snout down into it to draw up a clump of pemmican and snapping it down. Eno’s eyes dilated and his tail puffed out.
He thought Smells-Familiar was nice. Smells-Like-Fruit screamed a lot and hurt his ears once but she smelled good as a perk. Smells-Like-Meat he worried with at first, both with the shouting again and then the weird Them-Call-Maker on his and Smells-Familiar’s wrists, but Eno unknowingly discovered one fact about the trio of friends. Sandalwood was the best cook.
Smells-Familiar’s flock was wonderful!
Sunflower could hear herself breathing due to the paintball mask she was wearing. The Orange was barely recognizable due to having raided the sports gear cabinet. Half covered in a jumpsuit, umpire padding, and holding a net on a stick; she slowly crept into the mess hall with her eyes darting around to and fro trying to spot the skunk.
“Your cousin is pretty brave,” Rumble muttered as he crouched next to Apple Crumble at one of the picnic tables.
Apple Crumble shrugged as Sunflower Orange disappeared inside the mess hall, “Or stubborn. She is the only counselor here at the moment.”
Sunflower’s voice slipped out of the mess hall with a noticeable edge in her tone, “Okay Flower, just you and me. Had your lunch, now let’s get you back to Bambi.”
“Huh, she named the skunk Flower.”
“Weird, bummer we couldn’t get the plaster from Doc. With all the chaos and no counselors she’s having to help Mrs. Heart.”
Apple Crumble however, wasn’t frowning. Instead she was smirking as she lifted up one of the craft project paste cans, rattling it in her hands.
“Got us covered. Paste hardens up just like plaster. Might not be the best, but this should work. Ever made fingerprints in glue?”
“Oh yeaaaah, and with the counselors gone, it’s the best chance we got! But what if the paste messes up the footprint?”
Apple Crumble shrugged as she got up, “Well the print was in sand so it’s gonna go ‘way anywho. Might as well give it our best shot.”
The kids flinched as a yell sounded from the mess hall, along with the sound of banging furniture and creaking wood. Evidently Sunflower was having the fight of her life reenacting a Tom and Jerry skit. Gentle Heart and Petunia Paleo quickly ran for the mess hall as another crash sounded off.
“Quick quick quick!”, Apple Crumble beckoned as she and Rumble made a break for the gate while everyone older was distracted.
====================== That night, counselor cabin ======================
“Did you see how fast he was?!”
“And those claws, whoooa- like, switch blade size! And he didn’t hurt you with ‘em!”
“I knooow! I checked the books on birds and he was nesting on me! Nesting on me! He was trying to protect me from a watch! Ahahaaa!”
Sandalwood was as eager a kid bouncing on the bed, “And he went ta’ town on that pemmican! Emptied the bag in three bites without one bite outta us!”
Maia didn’t need to be infected by the enthusiasm, she was already over the moon ever since they had to leave the ghost town to get back to camp, “I know! See, I told you he’s no threat!”
Sandalwood burst out laughing, putting a hand on his face as he leaned back on the couch. Stifling his chuckles, he shook his head while letting a “Birds of North America” book flop onto the coffee table.
“Hehehehe...Well, that tears it. Thumbed through all the birdie pictures here twice now and this ‘Eno’ of your’s isn’t any known bird. Looks like your dad totally found a new species!”
Maia, who’d been going through some of her father’s notebooks, still had the main one open to the page showing the sketch that started all this. Now that all three of them had seen Eno close up and in good light twice now, not a doubt was in any of their minds that he was the same species as what her father had sketched. Even if one or two details seemed slightly off, such was easily chalked up to artistic error as Maia knew her mother was the artist of the family.
The shower in the bathroom cut off and a few moments later, Sunflower walked out with her bathrobe on and a towel coiled around her hair. The emptied can of tomato juice she was holding and slight red tinting on her skin preceded her perturbed expression.
“Glad to see you two’s wildlife encounter was just as… exciting…”, she grumbled and earned a grimace from her friends.
“Sorry about the skunk, Sunny.”
Sunflower Orange grumbled, at least just glad to have finally got the skunk spray’s stench off her. She plopped down and reclined on the recliner chair.
“Took one for the team, but you two owe me..biiiiig time.”
Maia sighed and put a hand on her best friend’s shoulder, “You really did great Sunny. We gotta keep Eno secret for now. We’ll have to keep a look out for Eno leaving prints if he comes close again.”
Sunflower groaned, “Aaaagh, don’t tell me Featherhead is going to drop by here again?”
Maia grimaced, “He… does know where we live, Sunny. And he really liked that pemmican.”
Sandalwood rubbed at the back of his head, “Well, silver lining? Does seem like it knows to keep out of sight by people. Only came by here at the dead of night like last time, otherwise he’d be knocking at the window now wanting another batch of my cooking. That footprint was probably from last night.”
Sunflower begrudgingly shrugged, “Speaking of which. Did you two catch that print? Tykes got away from me when I had to deal with the skunk so I don’t know if they managed to sneak off or anything.”
Maia shrugged and stood up, “That’s just it, we checked right before you got into the shower. Same spot they must have seen it and there wasn’t anything there.”
Sandalwood chimed in, “It was in sand, those kind of footprints can break down quick.”
“Could they have gotten the cast out and literally covered their tracks?”, Sunflower muttered.
Maia furrowed her brow and shook her head, “If they were wanting to show it off to… Petunia Paleo-”
Sandalwood and Sunflower noticed a slight edge in her tone when she said that name.
“-they would have maintained it. Besides, it’s not like they could have gotten the plaster from her with how busy she was until we got back. Plaster wouldn’t have hardened by the time we got back to check as well.”
“And Rumble and Crumble were with us the rest of the day soon as we got back from the Ghost Town. No time to run off and do it when one of us was distracted even if they did get the plaster from the Doc,” Sandalwood added.
Sunflower nodded slowly, biting her finger in thought before shrugging, “Guess your right.”
Maia smiled proudly at her friend, knowing the caliber of what Sunny had done.
“Hey, really cool how you stuck your neck out for Eno like that. Thanks, in your debt Sunny.”
“Was some fast thinking of your perfume like that skunk, you rock Sunny-girl!”, Sandalwood yelped with a pumped fist.
Sunflower sighed, rolling her eyes and letting it melt into a chuckle as she waved her hand casually, “Hey, don’t think I don’t intend to collect on that debt! Steam baths and foot rubs, starting tonight-”
Her face suddenly morphed into momentary confusion followed by broiling anger with her tone to match, “-THOSE LITTLE TWERPS!”
She roared and levitated off her chair, much to the confusion of her cohorts. Before anyone could ask, Sunflower scowled and pointed out the window. Maia and Sandalwood hopped up and looked where indicated, soon spying a flashlight and two short forms heading out the gate.
Apple Crumble and Rumble tip-toed towards the edge of camp.
“You sure it was this way? I can’t see a thing!”, Apple Crumble whispered while trying to bring up her turned-off flashlight.
Rumble pushed her hand back down, “Hey, keep that thing off! You could wake up the whole camp. Wait until we’re out the gate.”
Barely able to see said gate in the pitch black, new moon night, Apple Crumble tentatively followed along as they inched their way towards the camp exit. Out of sight, the flashlight was ignited and swept across the trail leading close to the bike path.
After a minute of searching in a familiar spot, Apple Crumble furrowed her brow as the sight of the sand bore no visage of the footprint or their jerry rigged paste cast.
Rumble murmured as he looked, “Should have dried by now, where is it?”
Rumble and Apple Crumble froze in place, spinning around to see the cross-armed figures of Maia Search and Sandalwood behind them.
“Yooou kids do know about bed times, right?”, Sandalwood muttered.
Maia raised her eyebrow and loomed over the campers, “What are you doing out here?”
“Uuum uuuuh Ruuumble-”, Apple Crumble mumbled as she looked to the boy, “sleep walked! Aaand I ran out to get him!”
Rumble was about to say something but at the last moment, he caught the train Apple Crumble was trying to feed him.
“Oooh y-yeah! Sorry! The cabin door wasn’t locked! Glad you found us. A-Are we in trouble?”
Sandalwood rocked back onto his heels, “Only if you tykes don’t get back inside. Alright?”
“But-”, Rumble started and Apple Crumble finished, “-We dropped something! We were trying to find it. Can we?”
Maia’s eyes narrowed slightly, “... Did you know Sandal and I saw a bear today? A big one.”
“BEAR?!”, Rumble yelped.
Maia nodded while hiding a smirk, “Mmmhm! And they come out more at night too! Sooo how’s about Sandal and I help you look tomorrow morning? Okay? I’m sure we’ll find it.”
She didn’t need confirmation. At the words “bear” and “come out more at night”, Rumble and Apple Crumble tried to break the land speed record in diving behind Maia and Sandalwood. Neither counselor could resist chuckling.
“Hehe, Sandal can you take them back to the camper cabin? I’ll make sure things are locked up.”
“You got it MaiMai,” Sandalwood quipped while putting his hands on the kid’s shoulders to help guide them back to camp, “See you back at the lodge! Sunny’s gonna shove at least one chick flick down our throats tonight.”
“You do know I’m a girl right?”
“Naaaah, coulda fooled me!”
“Ah! Shut it!”
Rumble, burying his face into Sandalwood’s leg, cried out in a muffled voice, “Can we go back in now?!”
Maia snickered and shook her head, heading back after them. She did take one quick pause to look back. Flicking her flashlight back on, she swept it over the sandy strip the kids had been trying to search through.
-Hmm… That’s definitely where the print had to have been if they were looking there. Nothing though.-
She let the light guide to the fence and towards the still lit counselor cabin, mentally plotting out a trail.
-And it was definitely Eno’s, must have taken the route around the west side of the camp to get over the fence and to the cabin to give back the locket. I’ll have to try and make sure he doesn’t go over sand again or destroy any more of his prints.-
She sighed, deciding to close and lock up the front gate; unaware that a distant pair of eyes lay upon her.
-At least until I can find out more, find my dad…-
The eyes disappeared into the shrubs, trekking through several kilometers of forest with a hunk of hardened craft paste formed into a footprint clutched in their paws. Coming upon a rocky outcropping overlooking a short waterfall, its near pure black eyes met with a near identical pair. The creature cackled to its companion, who sat perched up on a low hanging branch like a reclined panther. The one on the ground, the slightly larger of the two, dropped the footprint cast at her feet. She walked up on two legs, covered in dark gray and pale feathers that let her kind blend in perfectly against the night to all but the sharpest of vision, similarly dark claws hidden behind short wings. The sickle-shaped inner claw upon either foot, larger and more curved than Eno’s, stabbed into the cast and pinned it as she leaned down and bit down. Serrated fangs ripped the cast in two with ease while shredding it beyond recognition. Tearing it to pieces and making it all but impossible to reassemble, she snorted and kicked the remains down the one story waterfall to be scattered by the river. Eno’s footprint cast was effectively destroyed.
She hissed, making a loud ticking sound. The Prey wouldn’t spoil this vendetta like one of them did last time.
Turning back to her mate, she clicked her jaw and called him down to rejoin her on a hunt. This forest was filled with good game beyond the major target.
Mrs. Heart stood at the campground entrance with her daughter, Sunflower, and Sandalwood in tow as the two park rangers tapped at their PDAs before one of them handed it to the campground owner.
“We’ll be doing a sweep to check for that aggressive bear your counselors reported in across these sectors,” the ranger noted as he ran his finger over the PDA screen to indicate a sizable chunk of the island’s immediate area around the campground.
“Better safe than sorry, wouldn’t want to frighten the mother bear again-” she cast a glance towards her counselors, “-even if I do question why the witnesses were where they were when the incident happened.”
Maia looked off to the side and Sandalwood scratched the back of his head while trying to give a nonchalant shrug, spurring a sigh and roll of the eyes by Sunflower. Mrs. Gentle Heart sighed and looked back to the PDA.
“We have a scavenger hunt plan for today for the children, I can move it to another day if need be so we don’t get in your way?”
The ranger smiled and waved her off, “Oh not a problem at’tall ma’am. We’ve already gone through sectors 1 through 3 in the immediate area around the campsite just to be safe. No signs of any bears so long as you set the hunt there, kiddos should be perfectly safe and we’ll already be off checking another zone. Sweep the whole area for few square kilometers to be sure.”
Maia Heart-Search’s eyes widened and she mutely choked on her own breath, freezing up stiff at the ranger’s words.
Mrs. Heart beamed and nodded her head, “Oh thank you! If you gentlemen and ladies would like some coffee and lunch later, just drop on in!”
“Be much obliged!” the ranger quipped as he tipped his hat and nodded to his coworker for her to come with him as they set off.
Mrs. Heart nodded to her counselors, “Are you three acquainted with where sectors 1, 2, and 3 are?”
“Like the back of our hands Missus H,” Sandalwood chirped, speaking for himself and Maia though not necessarily Sunflower. He had to given Sunflower’s lack of knowledge and the fact Maia seemed oddly pale in the face, not able to talk.
“Alright then! Looks like we don’t need to pack away the scavenger hunt toys today, so go off and set the hunt up! I’ll worry with breakfast for the children, Sandalwood already made pancakes to spare.”
Sunflower Orange awkwardly glanced between her best friend, who was still stiff as a board, and her employer. She forced a perky smile and jumped up in front of Maia while waving eagerly, “Your wish is our command, Missus Heart! Better get on the flapjacks, these rapscallions are ravenous in the morning!”
Gentle Heart beamed and waved as she departed. Soon as she was out of visible sight, Sunflower and Sandalwood whirled around to face Maia when the latter grabbed them both by the shoulder.
“Um, little clarity MaiMai?”
“Yeah, you look like a spook with all the color drained out.”
“They’re checking the woods for a bear.”
Sandalwood and Sunflower glanced towards each other before looking back at Maia, “And?”
Maia, still wide-eyed, frowned, "And who else lives in those woods?”
Sunflower thought about it for a moment before parroting out the first name she could think of, “... Feather Head?....”
Her eyes widened and jaw went slack, “Ah crap, your freaky bird is out there.”
“And those rangers are inevitably going to check around the ghost town because that’s where we saw a bear!” Maia yelped while she grimaced, “They’ll find him!”
Sandalwood bit his lip and try to think things over. He awkwardly smiled all trying not to flinch or shrugged his shoulders, “Um.. well. These are park rangers, not movie government agents. I don't think we can stop them either... Might not be that bad like we feared, two rangers out there are my parents and I can vouch for them. Not like they’d hurt him or anything no matter who it was. Nature lovers so I don’t think their first instinct is to dissect every animal they see.”
“Y-Yeah and uuum,” Sunflower sighed while she tried to sound encouraging, “They’ll be bound to call an expert in right? Bird expert? Birdologist? You wanted to know more about him right? That might be a way to do it. He’s a really weird bird, I’m sure some expert would love to look in on him.”
Maia frowned, drawing out her backpack and pulling out something she never parted with now. Her father’s old notebook. She turned to the page showing a sketch of Eno, the image of broad feathers and clawed wings shining in the early morning’s first sunrise light.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” She muttered glumly as she turned the book around and looked at Eno’s sketch, her father’s own handiwork. Given the level of detail, it must have been made during some extended period of time seeing Eno and not just some glimpse.
“Eno was the last thing my father was researching before he disappeared… Wherever Eno comes from, that’s probably the last place my father was. I-If someone finds out about Eno and catches him,” she frowned and sighed, “There goes my chance.”
Sandalwood was infected by Maia’s expression as he patted her shoulder, “You… dunno that. They may, like, wanna study him in the wild. Right?”
Maia shrugged, “There’s a chance of that… and…”
Sunflower finished her sentence for her, "Also a chance they’ll take him away to study him in, like, some zoo. Or at least swarm over this place.”
“And if I tried to work with them, someone would want my dad’s notes,” Maia whispered as she clutched the notebook closer to her chest, “Call it sentimental, but I’ve already lost some of his stuff. I don’t want to lose the last… Look, I know we can't keep it a secret forever. I'm being petty about this but, I just... want to have some time to try and figure things out on my own. Call it closure after what's happened and happening.”
Sandalwood and Sunflower looked to their friend sympathetically, knowing about what happened to Paleo Search’s study. Maia was still grieving, and the current situation was not helping. They glance to one another and paused for a moment before their frowns shifted into flattened resolve and they exchanged a nod.
“Well MaiMai,” Sunflower chirped as she perked back up and crossed her arms, “What’s say we get a plan so Ranger Rick and Big Bird don’t have a crossover?”
“Assuming we’re not already in a crossover and they found him,” Maia muttered, still downtrodden and pondering for solutions.
But if she thought she was going into depression again, her best friends were stubbornly going to yank her back up. Literally in this case, as Sandalwood hoisted her up around her middle and Sunflower grabbed her wrists to hold her arms up. The two cackled with a laughter as they spun Maia around until her woozy yelps turned into chuckles. When Sandalwood tossed her up briefly, eliciting a yelp from Maia, the two caught her and eased her down to the ground. Maia chuckled, letting the stress and worry ebb away as she hooked her arms around her friends’ shoulders and yanked both of them into a bear hug.
“Guess I’m stuck with you two,” Maia quipped.
“Yep,” Sunflower chirped before smirking, “So, what’s the plan?”
Sandalwood nodded his head, “Well, first we gotta lure Eno away from the Ghost Town. Probably where he is given both times we spotted him.”
Maia glanced over at him, “Well you got any of your meat mixes? He seemed to like it.”
Sandalwood rolled his head, “Yes, but you know we can’t keep giving him food, then he might keep following up all the way to camp. And where would we put him without any people? The camp?!”
Maia looked at him blankly before she tilted her head back to look at the camp and rubbed it her chin when she was thinking of something. Sunflower Orange raised her eyebrow before she followed her best friend’s line of sight to their cabin.
“Actually-”, Maia started but Sunflower cut her off.
Maia grimaced and raised her shoulders, “Soon the closest sectors will be swarming with campers and the rangers will go through all the other zones. And given we saw the bear at the ghost town and that’s where he lives, they’ll be sure to find him. Where else could he go where no one will be looking?”
Sunflower and Sandalwood grimaced, keeping quiet for a moment and contemplation to try to think of an alternative.
Sunflower Orange sighed and motioned to the forest, “A-Are you sure we would even be doing anything? I mean, he’s not nasty or anything but what about the ghost town? What if the rangers find his nest?”
“Well, they’re looking for a bear and bears don’t really go in human spots,” Sandalwood noted, “At worst they’d check lightly and keep going to survey more likely spots. Besides, didn’t you say Eno uses the door?”
Sunflower Orange rolled her eyes, “Yet another freaky weird thing about Feather Head but okay, fine… What about tracks? We did have that heart attack recently.”
Maia shook her head, “It did rain last night and ghost town is mostly gravel paths. So Eno wouldn’t have left too many to be found… as long as we get him somewhere they won’t look quick.”
Sunflower Orange took in a deep, big breath of insanity and released, “Okay… Oookay, and where pray tell are we going to stash a bird as big as a pony, and no one will notice him until it’s safe to come out…? And we’d be letting him out wheeen exactly?”
Maia pursed her lips and mentally ran through the layout of the campgrounds before her eyes widened and she snapped her fingers. With a smirk, she pointed at the dock house.
“Big, out of the way, easy to get in and out of without notice. No one would be in there today as the storm made the water too choppy for the canoes,” she chirped, “And we’d probably only need to hold him for an hour or two at most. Just long enough to get the scavenger hunt over and then we can release him back into the forest whilst all the campers are in the mess hall.”
Sandalwood let his mind drift but nodded, “Rangers move quick. They’d be way out of range by then and it be a needle in a haystack for them to find him over spots they might backtrack through.”
“S-So you’ll help?” Maia muttered hopefully.
Sandalwood kept nodding before flashing a cheeky grin and giving a thumbs up. Sunflower Orange waved a hand in front of her face.
“Hold up… I just want to say,” Sunflower shrugged, “This is the type of insanity my cousin Applejack usually gets into. I’ve been trying hard for years to avoid it but at this point, I’ve resigned to the fact this craziness is probably genetic. So!”
She interlocked and cracked her knuckles and fingers, “Besides the fact you owe me a foot massage and nail painting at the end of this, what’s the plan to draw in tall, green, and fluffy?”
Two other park rangers walked past, one holding up a walkie-talkie between the both of them.
“Team A to B, Mrs. Heart just gave the go-ahead to do a full sweep of both private and public land. Report on any bear sightings or traces. Coffee and food offered for lunch break when you finish up your sweep, over.”
“This is Team B to A,” the tallest ranger noted as he surveyed the landscape of the denser forest covered in pine trees and low ferns, “We’re scouting sector 4, southeast of the abandoned mining town. We have definite signs of large animal activity, but whatever it is was going by the creeks and rocks around them so no tracks as of yet. We’ll let you know if we find anything.”
The walkie-talkie chirped with static, “A to B, copy and keep an eye out. We’ll focus search in that area more intensely. Over and out.”
The ranger stashed away the walkie-talkie and tested the tranquilizer rifle’s sling around their shoulder before setting off with her partner. It was fortunate neither of them looked up, but when a piece of bark fell from the pine looming over them, making a loud snap as it hit the ground behind them they both spun on their heels and whirled around to behold. Nothing. They hadn’t seen the shape that had been stalking them from the largest tree branches the whole way, having picked the vantage point to avoid detection when it saw and recognized the long sticks across their back. It was silent when it leaped from its perch and glided to another, moving quietly with outspread feathers and wings to slow its fall enough that when powerful legs bent down to absorb the impact of landing on another distant tree trunk; they didn’t hear a thing over the crackle of the nearby river. What they did see and soon called in was the claw marks going up the high tree trunk, assuming they had found the first sign of the bear.
From the cover of a dense shroud of pine needles that blended in with his feathers, Eno watched the humans curiously before turning and climbing up higher from his perch. Careful to avoid the spots with loose bark now, he turned about and ran down a wide branch. Bounding off the edge, he spread out his arms and tail fan to increase his airfoil. He couldn’t glide anymore, he’d been too big for that since he was a child, but the instinct remained and it did help both prolong the jump as well as dampen the noise. Through the very high treetops over twenty meters off the ground now, he started to make his way through the forest intent on checking in upon someone.
The monsters were in the forest, but he didn’t know where. He was alone, but he knew how much they hated humans. Eno paused when he landed on another tree, an almost costly mistake as he stumbled briefly and had to dig his right arm’s claws into the trunk to hold on. A cold feeling slipped through his chest and his breath quickened. The avian saurian puffed his feathers out and flexed them up and down. He was out in broad daylight with thick cover under him, and yet he felt so chilled.
He could see almost the whole island from up here. The vast forests, a lake, the badlands and quarry, even a cleared space to indicate the human hatchling nursery; or at least that’s what he could presume it was given the large numbers of young ones. So much space, so much room.
And he was alone.
Eno tucked his arms in a bit more and his tail drooped. He silently clicked to himself, futilely hoping he’d get a return utterance.
Two enemies. Either one alone bigger and stronger than he was. Lots of humans in harm’s way if he wasn’t careful, but actions prior made their intentions abundantly clear. They chased him through the shimmering lights despite unfamiliarity. They tried to draw out Human-That-Smelled-Familiar knowing he was around… They nearly got him that night had he not come up with that idea with the river and tree. And the kill site after confirmed they survived.
They weren’t hunting the humans, not yet, they were hunting him. Because they knew he was alone. No pack. No allies like whom Smelled-Familiar smelled like to him. Just him against two predators stalking about each night trying to find him… And eventually, if they didn’t, they’d go after the other bipeds walking about. All those little human hatchlings were so close by and the monsters might lose their aversion to human structures eventually…
Eno lowered his head and curled his tail around himself. If one looked closer when they saw him look off over the forest, they’d swear he was frowning morosely. Some time passed as he remained perched before he clicked several times and ruffled his feathers. With a firm stomp, he shook the whole branch, visibly shaking the worries off back to the subconscious.
No hunting of any hatchlings today or other days! Eno snorted and growled to himself, almost human bravado emerging through the fear. He was going to try and find something to lift himself up, and then he was going to make some help. He bounded off again, hoping to find Smells-Like-Fruit or Smells-Like-Meat. Latter had such tasty food and the female’s hair smelled so pretty!
Maia and Sandal quickly cycled up to the ghost town with a wary eye out for the rangers, more to confirm whether or not they had reached this area yet than fear of being caught. Kicking down the brakes as quietly as they could, Maia quickly made her way to the general goods store’s front door as Sandal motioned with an open hand waving towards the forest to indicate he was going to keep a lookout for either Eno or the rangers.
Steeling herself, Maia pulled out the ziplock bearing the half pound of pemmican from her backpack. Cautiously gripping the doorknob, she slowly worked the door open and cringed with gritting teeth at the sound of creaking old timbers. She opened up the bag and waved it carefully to waft the scent about as she poked her head inside.
“Eno?” she whispered, knowing he’d recognize her voice.
There was no movement inside to indicate a response.
Maia chewed her lip and stepped inside to look around, “Eno?”
Again, no sounds or sights to indicate the presence of a man-sized avian. Maia glanced over and saw Sandalwood looking in through a window. He mouthed the words, ‘See him?’.
Maia shook her head and cued Sandalwood to move and keep checking around. She crept inside the general store with one hand on an open bag of pemmican and the other on a can of bear spray. She was thoroughly convinced at this point Eno was docile and not at all a threat, but with large animals, it never paid to be unprepared. Besides, this was the same town she’d encountered that angry mother grizzly so there was more than just Eno about.
The store was much in the same state she had seen it in when she and Sunflower accidentally intruded on Eno’s nest. However, there were several marked differences. The floors were less cluttered with loose items and several of the bust windows were covered up by cupboards she distinctly remembered being previously fallen over. There is also a curious lack of dust in many places, so much so she didn’t even see any of what presumably had been Eno’s footprints anymore. The general store looked, in simple terms, cleaner. But her biggest piece of befuddlement came when she found several things sitting on a table below a still-intact window. Two coffee cans, an old boot, and a milk jug with the top torn off. All filled with dirt.
Maia puzzled and tilted her head as she looked at the odd sight.
-This, this wasn’t there last time!...-
A single, solitary leaf, glistening with condensation moisture, stood in the mound of dirt placed in the old boot. Tiny leaves and stalks were beginning to emerge from the soil. Her eyes widened and she frowned as a trickling fear began to settle over her, born of uncertainty.
-Animals don’t plant. Someone put it there. Someone had been here recently. I-It could have been Eno, not first time he's acted... odd.. Bu-but if it's not that-that means.-
She turned to look at the torn-open mattress that still bore several shed feather. Eno’s bed, directly behind them and the window display.
-Someone might know about Eno!-
Maia quickly gathered up all the feathers she could and covered up the nest with a tarp, just in case the rangers actually did check inside. She sprinted out the door after looking up to confirm Eno wasn’t just hiding up in the rafters like before. He was gone, and someone had been here. Someone who had enough time to get bored and spruce up the goods store. Like someone waiting in a trap for something unique to this area. With Eno missing, Maia’s mind was fearing the absolute worst.
Several kilometers away, Sunflower Orange huffed as she lugged three bags of dinosaur toys about on her back.
“We gotta set up the scavenger hunt, she says,” Sunflower grumbled in a facsimile of her female best friend.
In a mocking imitation of Sandalwood’s voice, she muttered under her breath while checking over her hunt sheet, “We’ll be back in a few minutes, he says!”
Growling she dropped the backs behind her back and huffed, “Leave me with all the toys like I’m Kris-Flippin’-Kringle why don’t you! Arg!”
Hot, tired, and sporting way more frayed hairs than she cared to have, Sunflower Orange glanced about to confirm she was alone before frowning and patting her head. The sweat was doing damage to something and she would rather be caught dead than be seen adjusting it in public. The musky scent of adhesives seeped out and she was quick to cover up with several spritzes of her family’s famous citrus perfume.
-Didn’t expect to sweat out here up north. Gotta be mindful.-
She frowned solemnly and patted her head to ease the tension. Looking back to the scavenger hunt guide she looked down her checklist. The idea was to plant a small dinosaur toy in each of the key locations in whichever camper team at the end who found the most toys was the winner and got to pick the movie for late night theater. In addition, they made sure they packed enough durable, plastic figurines to ensure everyone could get at least one and maybe even have a Q/A with the Doctor where she could tell them about the species they got.
Sunflower sighed as she thought of the young paleontologist. She certainly cut a nice figure for a young woman, especially a brainy one. The Orange could easily imagine her in a Daring Doo film. Smart, kind, mature, pretty, quite admirable even if Maia didn’t like her one bit; though Sunflower almost wondered if that was less because Dr. Petunia was in her dad’s study or if it was because Petunia seemed like an older version of Maia to Sunflower. If they say opposites attract, then maybe sometimes likes repel?
She shrugged and looked back at the list, glancing about to make sure she had indeed hidden a toy in each of the locations.
“Oookaaay, something from the Cretaceous that used to be all around instead of grass… Uuum,” she had to flip back to the answer key for that one, Maia was the prehistoric nut, not her.
Sunflower perked up, “Ferns, right!”
She looked over to her west, knowing she could see the fern back from her position where she had hidden a cute little “Raptor” toy behind the first cluster of ferns. Even with its leafy green coloring, the location was only 15 yards away and she should’ve been able to see it clearly. But she didn’t. In fact, the very spot she distinctly remembered stashing the toy was empty. Sunflower puzzled and paced over, double checking her lists to ensure this really was a spot. But when she reached it and pulled back the ferns just to be sure, it only confirmed what she had already seen. No toy present.
From this spot, she could also see one other place she had recalled from memory. A set of rocks that were the answer to the question, “Something dinosaurs swallow just like birds and crocodiles”. She had put a “Torodont” toy there. And it wasn’t there. Sunflower sprung up and looked about. Several more of the spots for the scavenger hunt she could see were around her and each one of them didn’t have a toy in it. The bushes rustled ahead of her and she thought she heard giggling.
Immediately, Sunflower scowled.
-Friggin’ kids! Must have followed me out after noticing me stopping to talk to MaiMai and Sandal and came to swipe the toys! Hyperactive munchkin kleptomaniacs couldn’t wait?!-
“Arrrg, Apple Crumble I know that’s you in there! You always wake up early to go to the bathroom!”
Sunflower growled and stomped over, stomping on a twig and producing an audible crack in her step. She paused just as the giggling stopped. Sunflower felt an odd feeling come over her and she glanced down at where her foot was. Transposed over her old footprints from minutes earlier, made when she had been walking around to plant the toys, was a big, vague, but visibly two-toed footprint. The giggling started up again but this time she could tell it was clicking. Very familiar clicking.
Eno poked his head out from the shrubs, a blue Triceratops toy in his mouth.
“Raawk?” he clicked with a tilted head not less than a foot from Sunflowers.
Sunflower Orange’s eyes instantly became as wide as dinner plates and she took in a deep breath that quickly found its way out.
================ Ten Minutes Earlier ================
Eno was moving about through the treetops as silently as he could when a passing scent in the wind perked his attention. Perching himself on a sturdy branch, he looked down to see the zipping forms of Smells-Familiar and Smells-Like-Food pass under him on those weird sitting speeders. But no sooner than they left did he hear another human voice. He caught a whiff of something smelling... odd before it was quickly overtaken by a luscious, delicious, desirable musk: Fruit! He smelled yummy bright fruit, the tree sweets he had as a hatchling. And a human nearby. More good!
He hopped over towards the source and soon found himself clicking in mild disappointment when he discovered it was Smells-Like-Fruit babbling to herself. Odd thing to do, making so much noise alone. Didn’t she know there were predators about? Besides Them, there were those giant mammals about like the one he had to force away a day ago. Maybe she wasn’t afraid of them and was vocalizing to declare her territory? Eno tilted his head.
Odd, he could have sworn Smells-Familiar was the group leader, or perhaps the adult female he smelled and glimpsed at the Human Hatchling Grounds was. She didn’t seem to be the mother of all the human hatchlings and nestlings, so he presumed their parents were subordinate to her. But maybe Smells-Like-Fruit was the leader, or maybe at least the alpha subadult flock? Or maybe she was just left on flock territory patrol and vocalizing to do so?
Eno chirped quietly and shook his head. Humans were weird.
Still, he was a curious one and snuck closer, not wanting to make any noise and disturb the possible territory declaration. After all, They knew the threat of humans and maybe if They were nearby They’d see Smells-Like-Fruit’s confidence and be warier? He could hope so and thus respectfully kept extremely quiet, following Smells-Like-Fruit around both to show support and because her mane smelled very pretty.
Then she put something down behind some rocks, Eno tilting his head at the shape. Looking over as Smells-Like-Fruit paced away, he picked it up to inspect it. It had a pointy snout with bared sharp teeth, raised inner toes, stiff, but visible feathers on the arms, and a long tail. Eno tapped the toy’s face, feet, and tail to confirm it, rubbing the side of a claw against it.
He tapped his own pointy snout and ran his tongue against a fang, glanced down to click his raised, inner toe claws he used for pinning down food or climbing against the dirt, and looked back at his long tail. Yes, there were differences, he wasn’t sure why the rest of the toy looked like the poor thing had been plucked as it only had a sort of feathery crest and some lone feathers on the forearm and tail, but the similarity was visible.
Had, had the humans made a toy of him? And why were they setting it down? Eno swung his head about to survey the surroundings and glimpsed Smells-Like-Fruit, who had her back to him, putting down another toy behind some ferns.
The figurines were all off to the sides of the walkway the humans liked to use. Eno silently let his mind wander to make sense of it.
If Smells-Like-Fruit was declaring her territory, maybe putting the figurines down was a way of warning rivals? Like scratching up a tree to give a warning? Was this another odd human tradition? Eno shrugged. Made sense to him at least.
But he didn’t put the toy down. Eno almost sheepishly swung his head about to look around before creeping up behind Smells-Like-Fruit with the first toy clutched to his chest under his wing. He approached the one behind the ferns, suppressing a slight cringe when he saw recognizable, sickle-shaped claws on that one’s feet. The Humans must know about Them after all!... He still picked that one up too, liking the color. Smells-Like-Fruit had a bunch of these figurines with her, surely she wouldn’t mind if he… borrowed… a few… for a while.
To place around the ghost town to declare his territory of course…! Later, though.
Sunflower Orange was completely oblivious to the feathery Theropod walking around right behind her the whole time.
Maia and Sandalwood both snapped up and looked at each other whilst riding their bikes through one of the game trails when they heard the distant echo from the screams. The color left their faces as they recognized the shriek as Sunflower’s and within a moment’s span, they were both pedaling as fast as they could towards it after hooking a turn. Conscious they were heading back to the camp, Maia glanced to her peripherals and glimpsed human shapes charging through the forest in the same direction.
-Hang on Sunny, calvary is on the way!-
They rushed into the sectors of wood closest to the camp, where the scavenger hunt was being set up.
“Where is she?!” Maia yelped as she frantically looked about for her best friend.
Sandalwood stole a glance at two of the three toy bags being strewn across the ground with their contents spilled out. He could also just barely make out a set of distinct sneaker marks in the looser dirt heading back towards the camp, at a quick pace judging from the depth indicating that the feet responsible were pounding.
“There there there! Those gotta be hers!”, he barked as he pointed, able to do so because the winding trail was forcing them to slow down, “And those…”
Maia followed his line of sight and glimpsed a very familiar track with two large toes and the tips of claws visible. Maia Heart Search swore under her breath with an intensity that would make Grandma Heart want to wash her mouth out with soap, startling Sandalwood and making the author not want to transcribe her in this tale.
“Eno! Eno was here!”, she barked and looked ahead to see Eno and Sunflower’s tracks were going the same direction. Right back to camp. Fear for two friends made her go even faster with even the muscular Sandalwood having to work to keep up.
She had to get there. She had to ensure Sunflower was okay. She had to keep Eno safe, she had to keep him hidden. If Sunflower got hurt or Eno got exposed everything she’d been hoping for, however distant the chances were, would be spoiled and she’d never forgive herself. She knew Eno was docile, but big animals can get scared and react dangerously like he had with the watch especially if he thought someone was in danger. And Sunflower could possibly end up hurting herself from blind panic even if Eno wasn’t being a threat. Big animals and scared humans just don’t mix.
She was so frantic about her best friend getting hurt, Maia almost crashed into a broom-wielding Sunflower and would’ve ended up hurting her.
“WHHAAAAAAAAA!” the two could only incoherently spit out as Sunflower dove to the side and Maia jerked the bike in the opposite direction, causing her to careen off course and hit the dirt with a slide. Unbeknownst to her, whens he hit the dirt Eno's shed tooth she'd been keeping in her vest pocket ever since she and Sunflower found it at the nest went flying out in a random direction. Sandalwood thankfully got a happier landing, his distance behind Maia meaning he was able to safely hop off his bike and run over to help pick the other two up.
“Oh thank McCarthy, you scared us half to death Sunny! Sure glad to see you’re okay,” Sandalwood shrugged in release while helping the Orange to her feet before assisting Maia up.
“Well other than having to redo my hair thanks to Danger-Prone MaiMai nearly bowling me over,” Sunflower huffed while picking several leaves and twigs out of her hair while being careful to check something else.
Maia’s first reaction was not to see to the skids or bruises she got from her crash landing, but instead to lurch forward and hug her best friend around the middle.
“Sorry! Sorry! Sorry! W-We heard the scream and saw the footprints and I’m just so glad to see you’re okay and-!!” Maia panted before her eyes widened.
She shifted her grip and grasped Sunflower Orange by the shoulders with a panic attack brewing behind her eyes, “Sunny, where’s Eno?!”
Sunflower grumbled momentarily before letting out a gigantic shrug and grinned in a way that clearly indicated she was holding back an enormous amount of stress. Her eyes were dilated even before Maia nearly crashed into her and they still were now. Following her line of sight, Sandalwood observed something. Sunflower and Eno’s footprints, which led directly towards the camp, were cut off by dozens of small scratch lines in the dirt like what one would expect from someone brushing it to obscure the tracks. Like with a broom, such as the one Sunflower had been holding.
And said broom marks lead directly back to the same spot a deadpanning and yet grinning Sunflower was pointing to with her back turned thumb. The counselor’s cabin.
“I’m ah...uh… I’m gonna,” Sandalwood muttered with a slack jaw and raised brow as he bent over and picked up the broom without ever taking his eyes off the cabin, "Just uh- gonna… finish sweeping the tracks before the rangers see them…”
“Please. Do… And just say I met that Skunk. Again… Thank. You,” Sunflower’s stilted speech managed.
Maia looked between Sunflower and the cabin right in time for her to hear a chirp from within and see a clawed finger pull down a window shutter enough for a pair of familiar eyes to look out at her. Eno tilted his head curiously as Maia’s jaw dropped.
“You didn’t,” she huffed breathlessly in shock.
Sunflower Orange took in a deep breath as the camp bell rang and the campers began to pile out of their cabins, oblivious to the fact there was a large animal hiding in the outermost lodging. The Orange’s expression was a clear as day indicator that she was screaming on the inside.
“Couldn’t make it to the boathouse.”
================== Several Minutes Earlier ==================
“Okay! Okay, don’t panic,” Sunflower Orange muttered to herself as she rapidly backpedaled towards the camp with a curious Eno ‘chasing’ her.
Sunflower flinched when he stepped forward again and drew up a branch, jabbing it at the air between them, “Back! Back Birdie! Heel!”
Eno chirped at the flailing stick and followed its motions with his head, Sunflower noticing how he seemed incapable of moving his eyes in their sockets and thus had to turn his head to and fro to follow the movement. Maia and Sandal were the animal experts but she could vaguely recall heading something about how owls or most other birds couldn’t move their eyes much and that’s why their necks were so flexible. But she was far too panicked to give that much notice, however, it did give her an idea. She glanced back and eyed the trail back to camp, judging if she could make a break for it if she distracted this giant freaky bird. Nothing against Eno, if he were, you know, the size of a proper bird she’d probably find him cute, but he was a few meters too tall for her.
Wiggling the stick she muttered fearfully, “Yeah yeah want the stick, want the stick?”
Eno clicked a few times, eyes cast firmly on the flailing branch.
The plan was for her to lob the stick off to the side and hope he chased it like a dog would at a moving object, at at least look in the direction she threw it. She turned and ran, but didn’t make more than two steps when she heard a familiar chirp and not the pitter patter of feet. Something bounced off her shoulder and Sunflower looked down to see the same stick she’d just thrown. The Orange paused, heaving breath as she picked up the stick and slowly turned with wide eyes. Eno hadn’t moved his feet, just tilting his head back and forth at her with one arm down and the other clutched up against his chest. Stupefied, Sunflower just attempted a do-over and threw the stick again, this time intending it to sail off to Eno’s right in hopes of something flying close to him get his attention more. Unfortunately, Eno did something she didn’t expect. He reached out and caught the stick in his hand mid-air, gripping it with a finger Sunflower just now noticed opposed the others like a thumb.
Eno hopped up on his feet in an almost happy motion, chirping before throwing the stick back at Sunflower. Dumbstruck as she was, she caught it and repeated the motion. Eno managed to catch it again and returned the gesture. Sunflower caught the stick and just now realized her jaw had dropped somewhat. She looked at Eno and the branch in her hands.
-Did...Did I just play catch with a bird?-
Eno chirped and cooed, shifting his grip on something in his other arm and allowing Sunflower to finally see it. Bright colored dinosaur toys were visible between the feathers.
-The missing toys?! Why was it picking those up?!-
Another crash through the quiet woods caught Sunflowers attention, several hundred meters out. In the vague distance, she thought she heard adult shouting.
-The rangers?... Oh, shiiiiiza I screamed when featherhead startled me!-
Sunflower grimaced, the memory of Maia and the promise flashing through her mind. The plan was to lure Eno back with the food, but Maia and Sandalwood were nowhere to be seen and time was short before the rangers closed in. She had to either drive Eno off and hope he didn’t run into the wrong person… or stick to the plan solo.
Sunflower eyed the toy back and carefully bent down to grasp it without risking taking her eyes off Eno. She drew up a red Allosaurus toy and waved it in front of herself, feeling thoroughly ridiculous as she did.
“W-want this? Hm?” she muttered as Eno’s eyes locked onto and widened at the sight of the toy.
Sunflower warily backpedaled towards the camp, step by step while watching out for any sign the freaky-monster-bird was tensing up to spring at her or the lunge at the toy. Much to relief, but not enough to drop her guard, Eno just chirped and followed her step by step without any rush. Due to his wider pace, however, he did start to close the distance. Sunflower flinched when he leaned forward to sniff at the toy and dropped it, squealing and scrambling back. Eno hopped back at the sudden jolt of noise, but after pausing for a moment and whipping his head between Sunflower and the toy, he approached the latter and picked it up. Eno’s tail wagged back and forth slightly and he stamped his feet in an energetic manner whilst he admiring his new prize.
Eno looked up at the noise and spotted Sunflower warily holding out a magenta Brontosaurus figurine while rapidly backpedaling. She whistled while rocking the figure back and forth in her hand. Eno squawked and happily followed after her all the way into the campgrounds. She had just let him have the Sauropod and brought out a pastel green Stegosaurus when the worst possible noise sounded off: The campground bell to wake the campers and tell them breakfast was coming soon. In a few minutes, campers would be piling out of their cabins and who knows how far back the rangers were. She consciously looked at Eno’s very obvious footprints in the sand and gravel, as well as the dirt further back. Sunflower Orange sucked on her breath between her teeth.
“Great, there are some things they’re bound to notice!”, she huffed.
She looked about for a broom and spied one leaning against the porch of counselor cabin. Impulsive thinking, she ran over to grab it and tried to turn around so she could lure Eno to the boathouse. A huff of hot air on her neck caused her to launch into the air with a yelp.
Eno, who had been sniffing at her perfume scented hair, cooed sadly at being deprived of the pretty smelling mane and tried to lean forward to smell it again.
"Ee-no Ee-no!" he chirped happily right behind the Orange's ear.
Sunflower yelped and put a hand on his snout to push him back, too close to whack him with the broom or try to shoo him back.
“Ag! Grk! Get back you dumb bird!”
Eno chirped in protest, but over his vocalizations, Sunflower heard a few of the camper’s voices through the cabin walls. They were waking up and soon to exit the scene of one of their counselors quarreling with a bear-sized bird. There was no time to run to the boathouse, barely any to sweep up Eno’s tracks, and she had to get him out of sight pronto…. So Sunflower Orange did the only thing she could think of, wave the toy in Eno’s face to get his attention, kick the door to her own cabin open, threw the toy inside, and all but shoved Eno in as he walked past her to retrieve it, threw the rest of the bag in their with him for extra assurance, before slamming and locking the door behind him. Hair fraying from sweat and stress, Sunflower Orange incoherently started swearing to herself as she frantically started sweeping away the size 13 bird footprints.
-MAIA.OWES ME.SO MUCH!-
She had just gotten to sweeping up the dirt prints when the sound of an oncoming bicycle got her attention and Sunflower was greeted by the sight of her own panicking best friend about to run her down.
“Couldn’t make it to the boathouse.”
Maia was about to pull her hair out, wide eyed and agape, "HE'S IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CAMP!"
And just when she thought it couldn't risk getting worse, even with Eno peering at her through the window for any sharp eyed passerby to see, fate was tempted in the worst way.
"Maia? Are you alright?", Gentle Heart cooed as she jogged up after having seen Maia's bicycle crash.
Maia almost had a heart attack as her mother approached with Eno directly behind her in such a way if Gentle Heart turned slightly to her right, he'd be right in her line of sight while she passed by the cabin. A half dozen yards away and obscured by the swarm of campers rushing the mess hall, Rumble paused when he saw something pale in the dirt and gravel.
"What's that?" Apple Crumble quipped, tilting her head as Rumble picked up the pointy white thing.
"Dunno," Rumble muttered as he passed it too her, "Saaay, doesn't it kinda look like that fossil tooth Doc showed us?"
"Oh yeaaah!" Crumble nodded, recalling from memory how that fossil was shaped just like this one.
Same slightly recurved, pointy form with wide serrations in the front and upturned, big serrations in the back.
"Weird, doesn't look like a fossil though. It's all smooth and not dusty," she noted with a tilted head.
Rumble took it back as she passed it to him, only mildly biting his tongue in disgust as he knew for a fact girls had cooties and having just realized Apple Crumble just got them all over what he was touching, "Well, Ms. Petunia did say bring her anything that looked weird, come'on!"