* * *
An hour or so later, they spotted another bird flying in the air. It had a longer head that made them think of a blue jay in shape. It seemed to be fairly close but they realized it was further away than they thought it was. It started wheeling their way. The flapping of its wings looked wrong.
West drew his black pistol as he realized the bird was much further away than they thought it was.
â€œThat looks wrong to me!â€ West said. â€œDoes it look wrong to yâ€™all?â€
Jacali took her bow from her shoulder and nocked and arrow.
They all realized the thing was much larger than they had initially thought. It was lizard-like in appearance and had a wingspan of probably about 18 feet. It had a long hornlike thing in the back of its head.
â€œStrawberry!â€ Dr. Weisswald shouted.
â€œStrawberry!â€ Jacali shouted.
West fired at the thing, which was probably about 30 yards away. The bullet struck it and it screeched horribly. Otto banged on the medicine wagon.
â€œStalloid!â€ he called.
Jacali felt ill. She was seeing all of the gods of her people that she had never put any stock into before. She raised her hands in prayer to her ancestors in her native language. Then her eyes rolled back in her head and she fell off the back of her horse in a faint. Dr. Weisswald had seen it coming.
Otto pulled on the reins, stopping the wagon.
Professor Stalloid stuck his head through the curtain of the medicine wagon.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ he said.
Then he saw the terrible-lizard like bird that Jack West was aiming at.
â€œBy Jove!â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s a pterodactyl!â€
He pulled his head back into the medicine wagon and grabbed the lightning gun, running to the open back door and looking out.
In the front, Jack West thought the horrible flying lizard was flying right at him!
Dr. Weisswald pulled her horse around and dismounted, grabbing the reins of Jacaliâ€™s horse as the lizard thing swooped over her heard. The horses were a little skittish but she took them to Jacali.
Otto leapt from the wagon and put his rifle to his shoulder, backing away along the left side of the wagon and shooting the thing. He was certain he hit and hurt it. Jack West, still on the medicine wagon seat, narrowed his eyes and fired a single shot at the terrible beast. It let out a squawk as the bullet passed right through it.
Professor Stalloid leapt from back of the medicine wagon and just was the thing dipped out of sight, the wagon in the way. He pointed the lightning gun at the top of the wagon, expecting the thing to swoop over it.
The creature wheeled out of control and crashed into one of the horses attached to the wagon. The horse let out a terrified scream and then both horses panicked and ran, pulling the wagon forward with a jerk. The horses in the back were jerked forward and whinnied in pain.
Dr. Weisswald got Jacali onto her horse.
As the medicine wagon roared past Otto, he put his gun to his shoulder and shot the fallen pterodactyl in the head again.
Still on the seat, Jack West reached down for the reins that were sliding off. He pulled back on them hard. Dr. Weisswald mounted Shy Anne and kicked her into motion, heading for the horses pulling the medicine wagon.
Behind the wagon, Professor Stalloid let the lightning gun fall to his side on the strap and ran after the medicine wagon, calling the horsesâ€™ names. Otto ran towards Jacali, who regained consciousness looking down at the ground. She found herself laying on top of her horse. She looked around and saw her horse was behind Dr. Weisswaldâ€™s horse, chasing the wagon.
â€œWha happened?â€ she muttered, pulling herself up on top of the horse.
Jack West managed to get the small team under control after a few moments, stopping the medicine wagon. Professor Stalloid examined the injured horse and found she suffered bad bruises where the thing had struck it.
When they examined the dead thing, Dr. Weisswald recognized it as a pterodactyl.
â€œDid you all shoot this thing out of the sky?â€ Jacali said.
â€œI sure did,â€ West growled.
â€œSeems we found his thunderbird,â€ Dr. Weisswald said.
â€œI have a big disagreement with one of those being able to be shot out of the sky,â€ Jacali said.
Jack West poked it. He felt its skin, which was lizard-like but obviously thicker.
â€œI want to make a coat out of it,â€ he said.
â€œI donâ€™t think you should do that,â€ Jacali said.
â€œDo we put it on the roof of the medicine wagon?â€â€™
â€œI wouldnâ€™t suggest putting a sacred creature on the back of the medicine wagon like a deer we shot.â€
Shy Anne kept backing away, apparently made nervous by the thing.
â€œHey, Stalloid, check this out!â€ West called.
Professor Stalloid got some feed for the injured horse. He realized the bruising wasnâ€™t very bad. We went over to the creature to look at it.
â€œYou made this extinct â€¦ again,â€ Dr. Weisswald said.
â€œYou never know,â€ West said. â€œIt came from somewhere. Itâ€™s gotta have parents, right? Letâ€™s get those.â€
â€œMy parents are dead,â€ Jacali said.
â€œWhat came first, the pterodactyl or the egg?â€ Professor Stalloid quipped.
â€œIs it asexual?â€ West asked.
â€œWhen I heard tales about these when I was a child, I didnâ€™t believe them,â€ Jacali said. â€œAnd I still find it hard to believe, so no â€¦ I donâ€™t really know about their sexuality.â€
â€œTheyâ€™re not asexual,â€ West said.
â€œYou didnâ€™t believe about pterodactyls?â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œA what?â€ Jacali said.
â€œScientists have published papers about them.â€
â€œItâ€™s a what did you say?â€
â€œItâ€™s a p-terodactyl,â€ West said, pronouncing the â€˜p.â€™
â€œShe canâ€™t read,â€ Dr. Weisswald said.
â€œOh, thatâ€™s right,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œIâ€™m sorry. Iâ€™m sorry.â€
â€œWhy arenâ€™t you pronouncing the â€˜pâ€™ in p-terodactyl?â€ West said.
â€œI donâ€™t quite understand,â€ Jacali said. â€œWhat does he mean?â€
â€œItâ€™s spelled with a â€˜pâ€™ before the â€˜t,â€™â€ West said. â€œP-terodactyl.â€
He picked up the thingâ€™s wing and dropped it, finding it lighter than he would have expected.
â€œAnybody good at skinning things?â€ he said.
â€œWilder would be,â€ Dr. Weisswald said.
â€œI â€¦ have qualms with skinning this,â€ Jacali said. â€œIâ€™ve done some before. Iâ€™m not as good as Wilder. But I donâ€™t want to touch that. Iâ€™m not â€¦ going anywhere near that with a knife.â€
â€œItâ€™s not going to bite you,â€ West said.
â€œIâ€™m â€¦ not worried about that.â€
â€œWell, I guess weâ€™ll have to set up an appointment with Wilder to get it skinned before it decays.â€
Professor Stalloid had written â€œpterodactylâ€ on a piece of paper and tried to show Jacali how it was spelled. The woman didnâ€™t even know her letters, making it an effort in futility.
â€œStalloid, do you mind if we put this on top of your medicine wagon?â€ West said.
â€œI believe it would crush my wagon,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œNo, see, look,â€ West said. â€œItâ€™s rather light.â€
He picked up one of the wings and dropped it. Professor Stalloid looked at him. He did it again.
â€œI donâ€™t think my horses like it,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œI donâ€™t think it liked your horses either,â€ West said.
â€œYeah, I donâ€™t like that.â€
â€œBut itâ€™s dead.â€
â€œWe could take its head,â€ Otto said.
â€œThis belongs in a museum!â€ Professor Stalloid said.
They eventually used the three tents to cover the entirety of the thing, Professor Stalloid putting some salt onto it, and lashed it to the roof of the medicine wagon. The effort took about an hour. They knew the thing would rot fairly quickly. Professor Stalloid had some pressed flowers that he placed into the bridles of the horses to try to distract them from the smell of the thing.
â€œThe hell are you doing, Stalloid?â€ West asked.
â€œButtercup needs to look pretty,â€ Stalloid quipped.
â€œYouâ€™re a weird man.â€
â€œButtercup is a very pretty, pretty pony.â€
They continued east, Professor Stalloid suggesting they keep a look-out for more of the things. Jacali suggested they talk to the Ute to find out what it was but realized they might have trouble finding the Ute villages on the reservation. They checked on the man in the back to see if he knew what the thing was but he was still delirious and semiconscious. Professor Stalloid gave the man a little more laudanum.
They reached the mountains, the low spot being several miles across. They noticed fog between the mountains ahead. Dr. Weisswald realized such fog was not natural for the desert. Professor Stalloid wondered aloud if they could go around the mountains to avoid the unnatural fog. Jack West wanted to get to where they were going as fast as they could to try to preserve the pterodactyl.
â€œOkay, letâ€™s go,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
They continued through the pass. Though it was rather thick, they could still see for about a mile in every direction. Stalloid positioned himself in the back of the wagon as everyone else was facing forward.
â€œSo, Otto, you been quieter than usual,â€ West said to the other man as they rode.
â€œHm,â€ Otto said.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on there?â€ West said.
Otto didnâ€™t respond.
â€œSounds good,â€ West said.
They rode on in silence.
The fog continued to thicken and they soon couldnâ€™t see more than about a half mile. It wasnâ€™t long until, off to the right, at the edge of the fog some half mile away, they saw a shape. It looked like it was standing on hind legs, whatever it was, and had a long tail. It kept lowering its bulbous head to the ground and lifting it back up. It looked very big though they were not sure how large it was.
â€œI donâ€™t want to get into another confrontation with these things,â€ Jacali hissed at the others. â€œI donâ€™t know about you. Thatâ€™s just me.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry, Jacali,â€ West said.
â€œWeâ€™re carrying fresh meat on our wagon,â€ Professor Stalloid said from the back of the medicine wagon.
â€œItâ€™s not p-terodactyl,â€ West said.
â€œMaybe itâ€™s not a cannibal,â€ Dr. Weisswald said. â€œLetâ€™s pick up the pace.â€
â€œIâ€™m ready to cut the bindings if anything comes at us,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œIt adds â€¦ 190 pounds best to the cart,â€ West said.
â€œFresh meat attracts more things that like to eat fresh meat,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œI think we should pick up the pace like Weisswald said,â€ Jacali said.
Otto handed the reins off to West, who pulled the horses to a stop. Otto and Professor Stalloid switched places, Otto taking a spot sitting in the back door of the medicine wagon and Professor Stalloid taking the reins from West. Then they got moving again.
They kept an eye on the thing that remained in the distance. Professor Stalloid looked through the field glasses at it and tried to focus on what it appeared to be eating. He didnâ€™t think it could be just a single body, if it was a body at all. He guessed there were several bodies if it were bodies at all.
They discussed scouting head and Dr. Weisswald heard a strange clicking, hissing growl coming from somewhere nearby. It came off to the north, the opposite way from the horrible thing theyâ€™d see before. It was a rattling, clicking growl. She told them she thought she heard one of those creatures to the north and suggested they bear south. She also suggested she and Jacali scout ahead. Professor Stalloid thought they should be closer.
â€œWe could get away faster than the wagon if we get into trouble,â€ Jacali said.
â€œMost predators like to separate their prey,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œWell, we need to get out of here.â€
â€œDonâ€™t you think going through the fog is the right idea?â€ West said.
â€œWhat if the path isnâ€™t clear?â€ Dr. Weisswald said. â€œWe need to know. We donâ€™t want to get stuck in a dead end.â€
â€œListen, Stalloid, I know your reservations butâ”€â€ Jacali said.
â€œHow about one scouts far enough ahead but then one stays in between?â€ Professor Stalloid said.
The growling seemed to have moved to the west, behind them. She noted the direction.
In the back, Otto thought he saw something move from cover to cover behind them.
â€œNice berry!â€ he said.
â€œWhat the hell is a nice berry?â€ West said.,
â€œThereâ€™s something behind us!â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œRun away fast!â€
He slapped the reins on the horses and, already nervous, they suddenly broke into a run. Otto fell right out of the back of the wagon.
â€œNice berry!â€ he yelled. â€œNice Berry!â€
Jacali turned her horse to ride for him. As Otto got up off the ground, she tried to ride by and grab him. She saw something running from the cover. It appeared to be some kind of lizard the size of a man, making for Otto. It ran with its head low in front of it, small arms jutting out there as well. The back legs were large and moved on the ground with precision as it barreled towards the man, its head barely moving up and down.
She looked back to Otto, kicked her horse for more speed, reaching out her hand.
â€œOtto Otto Otto Otto Otto!â€ she said.
She looked terrified.
She grabbed the manâ€™s arm as she passed but didnâ€™t pull him up far enough. He bumped into the side of the horse and Jacali let him go so she wouldnâ€™t drag him behind her.
* * *
â€œWhat do you think he meant by nice berry?â€ West asked.
â€œHe meant run!â€ Professor Stalloid said.
He slapped the reins to urge the horses on again.
* * *
The horrible thing rushed at Otto, who turned when he heard the crash of foot beats coming at him. He turned.
â€œJacali!â€ he cried out.
He fired at the thing from his hip and winged the terrible creature. Then it tried to bite the man with a huge, terrifying head but he fought it off, striking it with his rifle butt and screaming his head off
* * *
Weisswald was riding ahead of the medicine wagon and heard the sound of a man screaming. She was torn but decided to continue riding ahead to make sure they had safe passage.
* * *
Otto flung his rifle down as the thing kicked forward with its legs. He drew his saber and slashed at the horrible thingâ€™s throat. He was splattered with blood and the hook of the thingâ€™s foot, that it seemed to be trying to kick him with, caught his coat and tore it. Then it crashed to the ground as it died.
Jacali pulled her horse around and rode to Otto, offering him a hand. He sheathed the sword and picked up his Winchester carbine before getting up onto the horse. Then they rode back to catch up with the medicine wagon. They soon passed it, catching up with Weisswald who had moved up nearly a half mile ahead of the medicine wagon, just keeping it in sight.
As they proceeded, the fog thickened and she soon found she had to stay within about a quarter mile of the medicine wagon to keep them in view.
They could hear some strange noises unlike anything theyâ€™d ever heard before. They reminded them of the creatures theyâ€™d seen and dealt with already but they also heard other strange grunts and growls as if by large creatures in the distance. The fog hid whatever they were from view.
Dr. Weisswald suggested Jacali circle her and keep her in sight to give them a bit more range of vision and the woman did so.
Soon, the visibility dropped to about 100 yards and they fell back to keep the medicine wagon in view. Jacali continued to circle her to extend their range of scouting. The medicine wagon rattled loudly behind them. Then Jacali saw something on the ground ahead. It was bright red and looked like bodies, perhaps even some dead horses. She rode back to Dr. Weisswald, who signaled the medicine wagon to stop.
â€œI think we want to find a way around this,â€ Dr. Weisswald said.
She signaled the wagon to slow but it kept coming. She told Jacali to find a way around the bodies and then she turned her horse and rode back to the approaching medicine wagon. Professor Stalloid finally slowed the wagon.
â€œThereâ€™s â€¦ uh â€¦ seems like bodies up ahead,â€ she told Professor Stalloid.
* * *
Jacali moved her horse off to the right of the dead bodies.
â€œWatch my back,â€ she said to Otto, who still rode behind her. â€œAnd I swear to God, if you deafen me with that gun, youâ€™re going off of this horse.â€
He slung his Winchester and drew his saber.
They bore to the right, going around the dead and found the ground not much different from the rest of the desert, just keeping the bloody mess in sight. She headed back the same way sheâ€™d come and told them the path to the right was clear.
They continued ahead with what speed they could, bypassing the bloody mess and leaving it behind. They continued to hear the strange noises that came and went around them. Jacali continued to circle around Dr. Weisswald as they went.
* * *
Jacali was between Dr. Weisswald and the wagon, over an hour later, when the doctor spotted what appeared to be a massive ring of metal in the fog. It stood on the ground upright. They came at it from a slight angle and it appeared very green in the center. She stopped her horse and rode to Jacali, whistling. Jacali rode over to her.
She pointed out the thing, which seemed to be 30 to 40 feet in diameter and standing upright. There was some kind of debris, red splotches, and white sticks or bones perhaps, around it. They could see the gleam of metal scattered on the ground around it as well. The ring appeared to be made out of some kind of silver metal.
The wagon came up behind them and stopped when Professor Stalloid saw the thing.
â€œWhatâ€™re we looking at?â€ West asked. â€œLetâ€™s get a closer look.â€
â€œI donâ€™t like this thing,â€ Jacali said. â€œBut I also want to check it out.â€
West hopped down from the medicine wagon and cautiously moving towards it. He had drawn his pistol.
â€œWhat do you think, Stalloid?â€ Weisswald said.
Professor Stalloid watered his horses quickly. Jacali dropped off her horse and told Otto if he was going to come over there, he shouldnâ€™t bring the horse. Then she led her horse towards the strange ring. Dr. Weisswald rode closer to the things as well.
Professor Stalloid mounted the medicine wagon and headed off to the right of the huge ring, keeping it within view but moving the wagon to a place where he could put it into motion away from the thing if he had to. It also gave him a good view of the rest of them.
The first oddity they noticed about the great ring was that it floated about a foot off the ground.
â€œJacali, itâ€™s your favorite thing,â€ Dr. Weisswald said. â€œItâ€™s floating.â€
Jacali hadnâ€™t noticed that before.
â€œI donâ€™t like that,â€ she said.
There were bodies and blood around the base of the thing. It appeared the bodies had been torn apart. There were also curved swords and spears scattered around near the bodies. Crossbows of a strange design were about as well, some of them damaged or destroyed. Some of the bodies appeared to have had bands of metal around them, almost like armor. A few of them had some kind of pots or thick, glazed bottles connected to their belts.
West walked directly towards the huge ring. They all noticed the bodies didnâ€™t appear to be people. Their flesh was green and scaled. They had what appeared to be the heads of serpents or snakes. It was quite disturbing as the creatures seemed to be human-sized serpents with arms and legs. However, none of the bodies were intact. They had all been mauled, gnawed on, torn apart, and chewed upon.
West stopped to examine the armor and found it was metallic, like steel, though the blood beaded on it as opposed to being splashed across it. It felt slick and proved to be very light when he lifted up some of it. It seemed strong and solid. It appeared to be some kind of banded mail unlike anything heâ€™d ever seen before.
He walked right up to the ring and saw it was about a foot thick and appeared to be covered in some kind of writing unlike anything heâ€™d ever seen. It was a particularly sinuous, curving script with many curves and curls.
The fog billowed out of the ring and he wasnâ€™t seeing the desert through it but a lush jungle. The other side of the ring was positioned atop a pyramid or ziggurat. Steps led down to a city built of what appeared to be some kind of green soapstone. There were towers and buildings, many of them damaged. Trees were scattered about though some had apparently been knocked down, some of the buildings likewise destroyed. There was only a little mist on the other side of the ring but he could see lizards the size of a men with hooks on their hind legs as well as a larger creature like the one theyâ€™d seen on the edge of the fog earlier. It must have been huge as it was ripping away at a large building.
He also saw more bodies and blood, some of them wearing armor, some of them being eaten by the various horrible lizard-like creatures he had seen before. There were more noises as if from more of the creatures coming through the portal.
Dr. Weisswald picked up a knife from one of the corpses. There was something smeared all over the blade that wasnâ€™t blood. She wasnâ€™t sure what it was and so dropped the knife.
When Jacali saw the portal she was very afraid.
â€œHey â€¦â€ she said. â€œWhatâ€™s coming through the portal?â€
She had her bow and arrow out and was looking around, trying to keep her eyes on every direction as much as she could.
â€œWhatâ€™s â€¦ do you hear that?â€ she said.
â€œNothing,â€ West said.
â€œNothing,â€ Otto said.
Jacali let go of the horse and it started to move away from all the blood around. Otto kept her still.
Jacali felt terribly paranoid for about a half minute before she regained her wits. She didnâ€™t care though. She grabbed the mane of her horse and got back to the medicine wagon with Otto.
West had gone to look at one of the pots and found it closed with a strange cork. He pulled it open and found it contained a foul-smelling liquid. He took some time to gather two more of the strange pots. Then he went to work on removing the armor from one of the things. Once he had it he took it all back to the medicine wagon.
â€œStalloid!â€ he said.
Professor Stalloid took the pots into the wagon and put them into the cabinet with his chemicals.
â€œThere were some snake people that had those,â€ West said.
â€œAre we going?â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œAre we going? Are we going?â€
â€œYes. But â€¦ but â€¦ we should come back later and investigate â€¦â€
â€œWith a posse!â€
â€œâ€¦ the safari jungle thatâ€™s through that portal.â€
â€œBut with a posse, right?â€
â€œYes. With about nine men, we should be fine.â€
* * *
Back at the ring, Dr. Weisswald decided to continue looking for a snake person knife. She found one and used some cloth from her kit to wipe what she assumed was poison off the blade.
She thought she heard a whimper or a grunt of pain from just around the side of the portal. She mounted her horse and urged Shy Anne over there. There was a portion of broken stone and a lot of blood on the ground. The trail of blood indicated someone dragged themselves behind the rocks.
â€œHey Weisswald, where are you going?â€ she heard Jacali call from the medicine wagon.
â€œI think thereâ€™s something hurt over here,â€ she called back.
Lying on the ground amidst the broken rocks, partially concealed. was another of the serpent people, this one intact and even alive. It wore blue robes and had ornamental jewelry. However, it was terribly injured and practically torn open. Some organs extruded from the thingâ€™s body and it was obviously in terrible pain.
* * *
Jacali saw Dr. Weisswald ride around the side of the ring. Then she leapt from her horse and grabbed her medical bag from her saddlebag and rushed around a small escarpment of rock. She jogged over, afraid the woman might be in danger. West followed.
* * *
The green-scaled serpent person glared at Dr. Weisswald with cold, unblinking eyes filled with hatred.
â€œSo,â€ it hissed in English. â€œThis is what eventually replaces us. The future primates come down out of the trees to claim our world. Is it not enough that the beasts have destroyed my people? Must I endure the humiliation of the inheritors of the world being monkeys who wonâ€™t even evolve for millions of years after we are gone?
â€œValusia is gone. We were the first to evolve on this world naturally and weâ€™re done. We were the first true rulers of the Earth. We didnâ€™t come from the stars like the elder things or the Yithians or Cthulhu of old. Earth belongs to us. We will take it back someday. This wasnâ€™t the only gateway we constructed. And others have ways of surviving the eons.
â€œRemember the City of Zuriss. Remember the last valley. Yig takes me now.â€
The creature lay back.
Dr. Weisswald didnâ€™t hesitate for a moment. She didnâ€™t care that the thing wasnâ€™t human. She didnâ€™t care that she had no idea about its goals or plans for her or humanity. She didnâ€™t care that she had little idea if itâ€™s physiology was something she could even repair with the materials she had at hand.
She went to work.
Despite the odds against her she tried. She pushed the loose organs back into the creature and she got to work closing up the thingâ€™s skin and scales, applying bandages and sewing the skin back, falling back on every last skill she had until the serpent or person or whatever it was had been closed up and was breathing, if not peacefully, at least steadily. She thought the thing would live now.
She looked up to see Jacali and Jack West standing over her, watching.
â€œShould we put it in the wagon?â€ West asked.
She sent the men back to medicine wagon for a litter, knowing too much movement of the creature could undo everything that she had done.
â€œLadies, by the way, if you were wondering where all the â€¦ prehistoric stuff was coming from, itâ€™s the big ring,â€ West said when they got back with the stretcher.
â€œWow,â€ Jacali said. â€œWho wouldâ€™ve thought.â€
Dr. Weisswald asked for the wagon to be moved closer as well.
â€œIs someone injured?â€ Professor Stalloid asked.
â€œYeah!â€ Jacali said too loudly. â€œYeah!â€
â€œI think some THING works better,â€ West said.
â€œWell â€¦ I donâ€™t know,â€ Jacali said.
â€œYou got a dinosaur?â€ Professor Stalloid asked.
â€œWould you be happy if I did?â€ Jacali asked.
â€œMaybe,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
He went back into the back and tried to wake up the American Indian. The man was unconscious and would not wake. He unstrapped the man and tried to move him out of the bed but the man proved too heavy for him and he found himself born to the ground by the manâ€™s form, being pinned there. He squirmed out from under the man and then tied his hands and feet, trying to otherwise make him comfortable in the corner.
Otto was still on Jacaliâ€™s horse nearby when West and Jacali carried the serpent person to the medicine wagon on the litter. Dr. Weisswald opened the back door of the wagon and took it in. They got it up onto the bunk and strapped it down as well.
Some of them who had seen the strange creatures melt away before realized the dead serpent people were not doing so.
â€œI hypothesize that anything of this Earth stays on this Earth,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œIâ€™m going to write that theory down.â€
He jotted it down in his notebook.
They were ready to go but Jacali didnâ€™t like the idea of just leaving the strange ring there. Professor Stalloid asked if any of them had dynamite. Of course they didnâ€™t. Jacali said that was the next point she was going to make: she didnâ€™t know how to destroy the ring. West was against destroying it.
â€œI donâ€™t really know how to turn it off,â€ Jacali said.
â€œThereâ€™s a gorgeous land on the other side,â€ West said.
â€œItâ€™s not like we can knock it down,â€ Dr. Weisswald said. â€œItâ€™s floating.â€
â€œIâ€™m not going in there if you paid me to,â€ Jacali said.
Stalloid asked about it and they described it. He suggested they fiddle with the runes or letters on the side. West described the beautiful jungle on the other side again. Stalloid was ready to get out of there and asked Dr. Weisswald to keep an eye on the thing as they might not be trusted.
â€œYâ€™all wanna explore a little bit?â€ West said.
â€œOkay, sir,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œThere are about 50 snake people. They are all dead! They were trying to get out of there! Why would we go in there?â€
â€œThereâ€™s more inside.â€
â€œThey didnâ€™t even make it!â€
â€œWell, clearly. We got guns.â€
â€œOne. Two. Three guns.â€
â€œIâ€™m not counting mine.â€
West kept pulling pistols out from under his coat.
â€œSo, does nobody have any ideas for destroying this?â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œHe wants to go in.â€
â€œIâ€™ll be right back,â€ West said, heading for the door.
â€œWe have a pterodactyl, we have a patient thatâ€™s in critical condition,â€ Dr. Weisswald said. â€œI think we should get out of here. Thereâ€™s monsters all over!â€
â€œAs usual, Weisswald is correct,â€ Jacali said.
â€œIf you absolutely want to try to destroy it, I have one idea for that and then we go,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œIf everyoneâ€™s okay with it, Iâ€™ll shoot some lightning at it and maybe that will disrupt it. And then we leave, because I think thatâ€™s our best bet.â€
* * *
West had walked to the ring once again and looked through. The scene on the other side was about the same. He took off one of his leather gloves and put his hand up to the ring to put it through. His hand stopped though he didnâ€™t see anything there to stop it. It was like a formless but solid wall was blocking the interior of the ring. He was surprised to see fog billowing through and he could hear what was happening on the other side as if he was there.
â€œDang,â€ he said. â€œWell, thatâ€™s unfair.â€
Jacali had exited the medicine wagon and mounted on her horse in front of Otto.
â€œDid you try pulling?â€ she called when she saw West. â€œI notice some doors you must pull.â€
He frowned at her.
Looking through, he saw the wide staircase on the ziggurat went down to a wide, paved plaza or street. He noticed a large dragonfly fly by. He saw smaller dinosaurs as well, moving quickly through the city from cover to cover.
* * *
In the medicine wagon, Professor Stalloid and Dr. Weisswald discussed using the lightning gun on the portal. He wondered if it might damage one of the runes or perhaps, if the device were actually some kind of machine, destroy some of its interior works.
Otto dismounted and looked around for one of the serpent person swords. He found one, possibly covered with poison, so he ripped part of his coat and wiped it off, leaving the rag behind. West found some of their armor that seemed to be intact.
They had also noticed there was another view of the city through the other side of the gate.
West finally got into the wagon as Jacali rode around, scouting a few dozen yards from the medicine wagon and keeping a lookout.
â€œOtto, are you riding with me or Jacali?â€ Professor Stalloid called from the seat of the wagon.
â€œJacali,â€ Otto said.
Professor Stalloid got the medicine wagon moving. Jacali rode over and took the reins of Dr. Weisswaldâ€™s horse and Otto suggested he ride on it.
â€œYou ainâ€™t asking me about that,â€ Jacali said.
â€œIt would be simpler,â€ Otto said.
â€œWeisswald!â€ Jacali called. â€œOtto wants to ride on your horse!â€
â€œNo!â€ Weisswald yelled from the medicine wagon.
â€œWell, there it is. What if I ride on your horse and Otto gets mine?â€
They changed horses, Otto taking the sword he found and put it in the medicine wagon with his saddle. It was a strange sword with a thick blade, curved slightly and heavy on the end. The hilt felt strange and the weight of it was wrong as well.
They headed off.
* * *
The fog thinned quickly as they left the strange ring in the foggy valley. Soon they could see a mile away from them again and the noises seemed to fall behind them. When they stopped once to water the horses again, Professor Stalloid marked the atlas page for Utah, noting where he though the valley was. Then they continued on, crossing a dry riverbed just before they made camp for the night.
The pterodactyl was already starting to stink and bloat in the heat.
â€œTo be clear, this was not my idea,â€ Jacali said, looking at the thing.
â€œTo be clear, we could have skinned it there,â€ West said.
â€œYou can get leather at the store,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œItâ€™s p-terodactyl skin,â€ West said. â€œYou know how rare that is?â€
â€œIt should go in a museum!â€
â€œWhy would you want to put my coat in a museum?â€
â€œBecause itâ€™s a pterodactyl, not a coat.â€
West suggested cutting open the creature and cleaning out the guts. Otto took Jacali aside while they talked.
â€œJacali,â€ he said. â€œThank you by the way, for coming back for me.â€
â€œWell, I mean, I wasnâ€™t just going to leave you to be lizard food,â€ Jacali said.
â€œI appreciate it,â€ Otto said. â€œIf you ever need anything, just let me know.â€
â€œIâ€™ll know where you are,â€ she said.
They heard a growl or a roar in the far distance back towards the valley. Otto got out his rifle. Jacali went to the others again.
â€œWhatever this thing is, is not going to last long and pretty,â€ Jacali said. â€œSoâ”€â€
â€œI just really need the bones,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œAnd I need the skin!â€ West said.
â€œIâ€™m not keen on that one,â€ Jacali said.
â€œThey already have some more,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œThese are everywhere. They found these in Europe.â€
â€œI have not seen these things everywhere!â€
â€œNo no no no.â€
â€œTheyâ€™re on the other side of that portal!â€ West said.
â€œThese, theyâ€™re dead,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œNormally. Long dead.â€
â€œJust cut it up!â€ Dr. Weisswald said. â€œYou donâ€™t need Jacali to cut it up.â€
â€œIf it is reverent and you deem it necessary, I can help,â€ Jacali said. â€œBut I donâ€™t really want to and if I do, itâ€™s going to be a burial.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t have to do anything you donâ€™t want to,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œIâ€™m just saying, if you need my help â€¦â€ Jacali said.
â€œAnd we can make its skin into a ritual duster,â€ West said.
Jacali ignored him.
â€œThis is just the scientific find of the century,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œOther people have found the skeletons in rocks.â€
â€œThe what?â€ Jacali said.
â€œPeople have found the skeletons of these?â€
â€œRemnants of the skeletons that have been fossilized byâ”€â€
â€œWhere were these that I did not see them and everybody I know taught me about them.â€
â€œA lot of them were found on the coasts of England.â€
â€œWhy would thunderbirds be in England?â€
West pulled the pterodactyl body down and Professor Stalloid helped him to gut it and take the stinking guts a hundred yards from their camp and bury them about three feet deep. West then tried to skin it but Professor Stalloid stopped him and they wrapped the body back up in the canvas from the wrecked tents and tied it back to the roof of the medicine wagon.
They set watches that night. Outside Otto kept the first watch and woke West for second after several hours. West was supposed to wake Jacali for the third watch. Inside, Dr. Weisswald kept the first watch and Professor Stalloid kept the second, shotgun in hand.
* * *