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Joshua snapped back to the present, his heart a heavy burden. He hadn’t forgiven himself for what had happened. That he couldn’t save his father, that he cursed Marshall for sacrificing himself so Josh could live. It took Josh a long while after Marshall’s death to realize that he would have done the same thing if he was in his father’s shoes.

Josh reached into for the knife strapped to his waist and took out the blade from its sheath. He stared at the knife for a long while. Although it was a gift from his mother, it was also the last gift his father had given him. It had served him well in the past. He did everything in his power to make sure that it was always in prime condition.

He sighed as he looked at the knife. Then he tossed it up, spinning in the air, and caught it by the hilt.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” he said out loud, sheathing the blade. “I hope that you can forgive me.”

Josh then continued his trek through the forest, looking around. He was pretty sure he knew where he was. Then again, a lot of the forest was more of the same. But Josh knew that he wasn’t lost. Having been outdoors a lot, he had a pretty good idea about his location. And, of course, he knew how to find his way back if, by some off chance, he did get himself turned around.

As Josh moved onward, he saw the familiar slope just ahead of him. He felt his heart leap. With silent hope, he ran up the hill. This had to be it. It had to be. With each step, he felt the suspense build up. And when he finally reached the top of the hill, he smiled and laughed.

Just down the hill was the grocery store. At long last.

“Alright!” Josh cried gleefully. Then he smirked and folded his arms. “We’ll see who’s definition exceeds who's now.”

 

Joshua returned to the hill with Natasha and Jessica in tow. When the reached the top, he looked at the expressions plastered onto their faces; their eyes wide and their mouths gaping. Josh kept the smug look on his face, his head held high and his muscled arms folded.

“I told you so,” Josh said.

The girls snapped out of their daze and collected themselves.

“I’m sorry we doubted you,” Jessie said.

“Me too,” Tash said. “I guess we should have learned to have more faith.”

“It’s cool,” Josh said, adjusting his pack on his back. “Now, let’s get down there and get some food. With any luck, much of the stuff that’s in there should still be fresh. But keep your guard up; we don’t know if there are any dinosaurs inside.”

The girls nodded in acknowledgement and followed Josh down the slope of the hill to the buildings below. As they walked, Josh was on alert, looking for any signs of danger. It may look calm and quiet, but Josh knew better than to trust that alone. He knew for a fact that some carnivorous dinosaurs were ambush predators, watching and waiting in their hiding spot, not making any sound whatsoever until prey comes within range of their attack. The last thing the unfortunate victim sees is the killer as it strikes.

He knew this because he’s seen it before. He had many examples of such deadly encounters in which he and the girls were the targets. Luckily, he managed to stay alive through it all.

But for the moment, anyway, it seemed that they were in no immediate danger.

As they passed the buildings, Josh could see that Mother Nature was starting to retake her turf. Thick green vines and moss clung to the brick walls. Some of the windows were shattered and vines snaked into the buildings themselves. Josh could smell some kind of mold. The huge parking lot was in no better shape: it was cracked in numerous places, many of which had plants growing out from them. Their were a few cars parked in the lot as well, but they weren’t in good condition. Some had massive dents on the hoods and bodies, as if they were trampled by a herd of large creatures. Windows were broken and tires were flat. Some had their headlights hanging out. There were even a few that were flipped upside down or tilted on their sides.

This whole place looks like a war zone, Josh thought.

Thump. Thump.

Josh and the girls went dead still. It became clear that something was coming. Something big.

Thump. Thump.

“What was that?” Tash whispered, her skin turning pale.

“I don’t know,” Josh responded, looking around. “But whatever it is, it’s not far away.”

Josh let his ears guide the way to finding whatever was coming. The sound of something big approaching them slowly grew more apparent. Josh though he could possibly hear a soft breathing sound, too.

“Booruuuuuoooow.”

Josh quickly turned his head back. The creature he saw lumbered from beside the dry cleaner building slowly. The creature was nearly thirty feet long and built like a tank, covered in thick gray-green skin. Along the length of its back, the top of its head, and its tail was covered in what looked like extremely heavy armor made out of bone. On the end of its stiff tail was a mace-like club. But with its small, horned, squared-shaped head, its lazy brown eyes, and its four short legs, it didn’t seem particularly aggressive. It looked kind of stupid, boring, and slow like a large tortoise.

“I think that’s an Ankylosaurus,” Jessie said. “One of the armored dinosaurs.”

“It looks kind of cute,” Tash said. “Is he dangerous?”

“Nah,” Jessie replied. “They’re shy, peaceful plant-eaters. The osteoderms on its back protects it from predators and the club on the tail is a defensive weapon that can swing with enough force to cripple or even kill large carnivores.”

Josh had his gaze fixed on the Ankylosaurus’ tail club. There was no denying that just by looking at it, that thing could really knock someone--or something--into the next week. He would definitely hate to be at the receiving end of that tail.

“So, he won’t hurt us?” Josh asked, looking back at Jessie.

“As long as we’re careful,” Jessie answered. “Ankylosaurus are nearsighted, so they rely on their senses of smell and hearing to detect predators. So as long as we move slowly and carefully without looking like a threat to him, we should be fine. And anyways, it doesn’t look like he’s paying a lot of attention to us right now, so we don’t have much to worry about.”

Josh nodded and then looked back at the dinosaur. The cumbersome animal was lumbering slowly a few yards away from Josh and the girls, his tail slowly swishing lazily back and forth. To Josh, it looked kind of care free, not a worry in the world going on in its mind. It turned its head and gazed at Josh and the girls, still moving sluggishly. Its gaze didn’t look aggressive in any way Josh could tell.

The great dinosaur then sniffed the air, his nostrils flaring. It shook its head and rumbled, as if disgusted by something, turned away from the humans and lumbered away, its tail swishing behind it. Josh noticed that it wasn’t moving its more gently as it did before; it seemed that it was moving a little more forcefully, as if it was trying to swat something away.

That was weird, he thought. What made him turn back? Something feels a little off…

“Well, there he goes,” Jessie said. “Now, let’s go get some food.”

Josh nodded, adjusting the strap of one of his bags on his shoulder. He turned around and headed to the store, taking a moment to look back as the Ankylosaurus continued his way in the other direction.

 

They had hit the jackpot. Most of the food was preserved perfectly, making them still fresh and edible. The trio stuffed their bags with whatever food they could possibly want. And with so many ingredients, they could start having home cooked meals all over again. Josh could tell that the girls were looking forward to it as much as he was. He could already taste the delicious food that he would gorge himself on. Just the thought of it made his mouth water.

But of course, this place would run out of food. There was only so much they could take before the store ran dry. So they would have to try to take only the basic necessities. Until then, the abandoned store would provide them with everything they would need.

After stuffing their bags, the three of them made their way across the room, heading to the exit.

“Man, I’m so stoked to be eating something other than deer and wild asparagus!” Jessie cried cheerfully, her eyes shining brightly. “I could just squeal!”

Tash nodded with acknowledgement. “With all the items we have here, I could prepare us all kinds of meals.”

Josh smiled warmly at the two of them. “Well, first things first, we need to get back to the Underground.”

“Right,” Jessie and Tash said together.

Just then, Josh heard a deep, rumbling sound. He froze in place and looked around trying to search for the source; the girls must have heard it too because they went still as well. The sound echoed around them. Josh could’ve sworn he heard the sound before. It sounded all too familiar. He just couldn’t place it.

But the sound seemed to resurrect an old and powerful fear.

“What was that?” Tash said quietly.

Then came the sound of heavy footfalls. Whatever it was, it was big and it was searching, hunting. He could hear the sound of an animal breathing. Josh knew he had heard that very same sound before. And it brought him back to that night when he saw that mortally injured man in the woods,when he saw the city he lived his whole life a chaos of panic and fire.

The night he watched his father die.

Josh quickly looked around, hoping to find a place to hide, the whole time the footfalls growing louder. However, he couldn’t see any cover. There was nothing to hide under or cloak  themselves with. They were out in the open, leaving them vulnerable to any attack. Yet, by instinct, he gazed at the shelves the were next to. Maybe, just maybe…

He gestured to the aisle with his head. “This way,” he said as softly as he. “Don’t make a sound.”

The three of them quickly and silently walked to the shelves and pressed their backs against the cold metal with Josh closest to the edge, none of them daring to breathe. Josh could feel sweat collect on his forehead and in the palm of his hands.

The growling and stomping grew evermore closer.

Josh risked a look, peeking just a little bit over the other side of the shelf.

And there it was. Standing on the on the far end of the aisle next to the one Josh and the girls were pressed against, was the dinosaur.

Josh recognized it instantly. The thick, tan and red scales, the savage yellow eyes, the horns on its snout and above its eyes, the sharp teeth lining its jaws. It was this species of dinosaur that took the life of his father.


Submitted: March 18, 2019

© Copyright 2022 Tyrannos Senpai. All rights reserved.

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Sylvermyst

Great chapter. I am glad that the three of them were able to get some food. Hopefully they are able to get out of there safe and sound.

Sat, April 20th, 2019 5:24pm

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Reply

Thank you.

Mon, April 22nd, 2019 5:52am

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