Sam flipped his middle finger at the shiny CNN chopper. Damn news vultures would replay the image for days. He knew the studio and the network sold them down the river and experience suggested the best way to survive was to win viewers. If the public rooted for the surviving members of the documentary film crew, they’d have a better chance of climbing out of this caldera.
Americans love an underdog.
Hunger pangs twisted his shrunken stomach. This was the second morning without food. The stream water hadn’t killed them yet but Sam figured diatoms and microbes slowly infested the interior working of his body, breaking down and analyzing his internal defense systems.
Eventually the environment would kill them, assuming the dinosaurs didn’t take them down first.
The trek into the caldera introduced the group to a dozen varieties of extinct predators. If it weren’t for biological downsizing due to environmental constraints, they’d already be reptile snacks. The more aggressive species stalked human prey with ease.
At least they usually heard the big ones coming.
Sam’s old adversary offered an additional challenge. The men had taken to calling the knife-wielding slasher, Brad-the-Blade. He waited somewhere nearby, anticipating his next kill.
Fire was the universal deterrent. Sam instructed the others to gather wood. The able-bodied began to heave rocks into a rough fortress along the base of the cliff. With solid stone at their backs, sturdy walls on both sides, and a firepit at the entrance, they might make it through another day.
The specter of starvation already dodged his heels. San needed a solution. He drew a hard line at cannibalism.
Bringing down an omnipresent helicopter, especially one filled with studio bigwigs, would rewrite the script but the lack of suitable tools hampered his plans. A crash might not bring rescue, the plot twist could offer opportunistic filming.
A ratings boost.
He chewed on that thought for a moment. He’d probably earned more money in the last four days than during the entire length of his career. There were benefits to being stalked by a killer herpetologist in a dinosaur-infested volcanic cinder cone. This story guaranteed to get him laid, if he survived.
A river of petite reptilian forms flooded out from under the striated ferns and flowed across the bare expanse.
Sam shouted a warning. Whatever the tiny predators fled would eat humans too.
Foliage separated and a slick green hide muscled into view. Speckled with orange dots and streaked with silver smears, the sauropod lumbered on stumpy legs. Sam relaxed. This dinosaur ate mostly plants but snacked on the miniature raptors.
Brad Doulton took advantage of the distraction and leaped into the clearing. He slashed the deadly blade with a cackle of mad laughter.
Sam bolted for the man responsible for ruining his professional career.
The sauropod blundered after the agile lizards, snapping its beaklike snout, but stopped dead at the sight of Brad. Myopic eyes narrowed. With a snort and a dismissive air the beast trotted toward the stream.
Brad lunged after a fallen man. The knife wouldn’t penetrate dinosaur hide but with a flexed bicep, the blade arced down and bit deep into the waist of the assistant director.
Sam sprinted forward.
The trees behind the grisly tableau blew apart and a T-Rex stomped out of the jungle.
Helicopters swarmed overhead. The whump of blades churned up dust and debris. The choppers hovered dangerously close, vying for the tightest close-up. Dozens of lenses aimed at the sweat beaded on wrinkled foreheads, focused on bloody gashed wounds.
Rapacious mouth agape, the T-Rex advanced. Rows of teeth gleamed in the sun. Reduced in scale but not ferocity, alert eyes tracked the screaming men. The massive jaws swiveled from one potential target to another. The dinosaur ignored the thump of blades and with a sudden intensity, fixated on Brad’s red hair. The color of blood, head bobbing in a fiery dance, a perfect six feet off the ground, his skull became a beacon.
Sam imagined cheers erupting inside the hovering crafts.
Sound booms lowered, intent on capturing every growl and snarl. Snapping lenses and digital streams documented each second of the final moments.
The bite caught Brad’s torso. Six inch incisors pierced flesh and collapsed lungs. Jaws stronger than hydraulic rams splintered his ribs. Not a whimper escaped the man.
Tyrannosaur muscles rippled as she shook Brad. His arms and legs flailed loose like a child’s cloth doll. She tossed her trophy and his corpse fell, a sack of brittle sticks beside the shiny useless blade. The dinosaur dove on her prey, clamped the headless body between steely jaws. With a shudder of movement and a swipe of monstrous tail, she disappeared into the gloom.
Raucous glee leaked down from the filming network affiliates.
Josh staggered up.
A smile curved Sam’s mouth. “I love dinosaurs.”
They found the boom operator facedown just down the trail, his throat slashed and small predators feasting at the wound. The onsite studio representative lay sprawled at the edge of a nest beneath the ferns. Fragments of crushed blue shell littered the ground around him.
The jungle made burying the dead unnecessary, so they left the bodies.
Sam calculated their prospects for survival increased with Brad’s demise.
They numbered four now, all injured, one with mortal wounds. Beneath the watchful scrutiny of the choppers they built the meager shelter and crawled inside.
The helicopters left.
The sun inched across the sky. A rhythmic whump punctured the silence and interrupted their doze. The studio insignia painted on the side of the small craft was instantly recognizable.
A wooden crate tumbled out the sliding door. The cable released three yards from the ground and the container hit hard and cracked open. Brightly colored boxes spilled out.
“Are those toaster pastries and powdered drink mixes?” Josh asked.
Sam snorted out a laugh and pointed. “We’ve got official product endorsements.”
Flash Fiction Challenge: Must Love Dinosaurs @ www.terribleminds.com