This is the first short story I wrote for Nanowrimo. I haven’t edited it, re-read it, or formatted it since you don’t really do that kind of thing until the end. Hopefully it’s enjoyable in the raw form below though!
His dinosaur snorted in interest at the sound of spurs jingling. Groggily the dusty cowboy tipped his hat back to look at the three hard faced men now surrounding him.
Mimicking his mount’s snort Dallas asked, “Found me, eh?”
“You knew we would, t’way you made off wit’ da’ bosses goods.” The largest of the bounty hunters outstretched a gloved hand, palm up. His eyes nervously glanced at the cowboy’s brace of pistols. “Hand ‘er over and there won’t be any trouble.”
Tension charged the air. A slight breeze ruffled the saddlebags slung over the nearby dinosaur. Fingers hovered expectantly over triggers.
In one fluid motion Dallas stood up and dusted himself off. The two silent bounty hunters jumped back half a foot in surprise and nearly unloaded blasts of plasma into his body. Meanwhile the big bounty hunter stood still as a stone, his hand still open. “Last chance, compadre.” His face had dropped the smirk.
“Look fellers,” Dallas began, glancing over at his mount and lightly tapping his foot. The Parasaurolophus perked up, the long crest atop it’s head almost eight feet above the ground as it looked up. “I’d love ta’ help you, goodness knows, but here’s the thing,” He slipped both hands to his belt and swayed back on his heels, “My dino ate the stuff you’re after.”
One of the bounty hunters turned to scoff at his buddy, and in that moment Dallas’ light foot tapping turned into a stomp. The trained Parasaurolophus instantly spun and kicked out with powerful hind legs, smashing the furthest man to the ground.
Fast as lightning Dallas snapped his hands from the belt buckle to the butts of his two laser pistols. The deadly weapons swung up in a glittering arc and he pumped a charge from each into the remaining pair of bounty hunters. Both men dropped in a heap and the smell of charred flesh filled the air.
“Boy oh boy,” he mulled, spinning the pistols back into their holsters, “that makes seven this week.”
Lazily he broke camp as the sun crested the horizon. He stuffed the light canvas tent into a backpack, taking his time with each handful. Kicking a bottle of dirty water onto the fire he stooped over the biggest bounty hunter.
Like Dallas the man was a Duster, but unlike Dallas his chest was singed from the laser pistol. Plus Dallas had blonde hair compared to brown, was short as a cactus flower, and probably had more luck with the ladies. And he wasn’t half bad with a gun which was a skill the dead bounty hunter apparently lacked.
Lovingly Dallas drew his weapon again and snapped it open to expose the six round cylinder. He replaced the spent ultrahigh capacity battery with a fresh round and clicked the weapon back together. A green light flicked on and it beeped reassuringly.
As he worked the second pistol he sorted through the bounty hunter’s belongings. A pair of poorly maintained shotguns and a rusted derringer were the highlights amidst a pile of matchsticks, dice, and dino jerky. His victim wasn’t exactly sending the highest quality men, which vaguely insulted Dallas.
The man he had robbed was named Sir Mandelas Kal; a pompous name if ever he heard one. The month anniversary of the theft was rapidly approaching, and still Dallas was harassed by bounty hunters and scum from all walks of life.
He couldn’t really blame Mandelas, after all the key Dallas had stolen was rumoured to unlock a mighty tower in Seattle. The fact that the key was crafted from fifteen ounces of gold didn’t exactly reduce it’s value. But Dallas wasn’t interested in myth and legend, and certainly didn’t believe in some “Space Needle” said to be at the heart of an old sunken city.
All he cared about was getting paid.
Fifteen ounces of gold was a hot item outside The Wall, plus he had enough sense to know any merchant in a Duster town would rip him off. The majority of them couldn’t even afford to trade such a high value artifact. So he was heading north, slowly and in a meandering path through Utah and into Wyoming. The Neotechnoists would have both the interest and the means to buy the key.
The fact that Mandelas was the leader of a Neotechnoist caravan didn’t bother Dallas much. He knew the brainy folks that lived inside The Wall didn’t think highly of those that voluntarily left the safety of Haven. Plus they probably had an empty glass case reserved for the key artifact. Probably in an empty glass museum deep in the heart of their city to boot, he thought.
Not much worried Dallas this day though. His bags were full of hearty food, he was alive, and the hills of southern Wyoming were within his grasp. With a grunt he hefted a foot over the dinosaur’s saddle and slid onto it’s back. The Parasaurolophus , more commonly called a Ducky, was a fine mount. A bit skittish when the laser bolts started flying, but tough as nails when it came to slogging across the desert.
Dallas patted it’s neck, the thick hide feeling cold to the touch. “Righto Bardy, let’s hit the road.” The dinosaur bleated and shifted to settle the rider’s weight, and then dropped to all fours and trudged down the thin trail.
“Ya know Bardy, I think ta’best thing about you is your conversation skills. Here we are inna hundred degree heat and not a peep out of you.”
Talking to himself reminded Dallas that he had been married once. She had been a fine lady, but they were both seventeen at the time and the union was spurred by rebellion more than love. He didn’t get much of a chance to know for sure since Savages had killed her back when they lived on the border of the Great Desert. Quite a pity when one stopped ta’think about it.
Hell of a place that Great Desert, he idly thought. Some folks called it the Great Wastes or Mexico, but he didn’t know much about that. Rumours surrounding the endless expanse of sand were nearly as common as the gossip about the coasts and the giant underwater cities.
Slipping a hand into his pocket he felt the weight of the golden key. Sunken cities and lost towers indeed. His mind wandered back to reality as another drop of sweat hit his hand. The main concern at the moment was finding shelter. Steadily and without mercy the sun climbed to a scorching height. Even though he wore a thin cloth shirt it felt like a winter parka in the blaze.
“Eh now, what’s that?” Hastily he dug a pair of electronic binoculars from the saddlebag. They whined as he zoomed in on a distant building. “Looks like a pipe station, my boy. What luck!” He scanned across the concrete expanse. The roof had sunken in on the dry gas pumps and the glass windows had been shattered, but the interior promised shade.
Bardy responded to his excitement by picking up the pace. Long legs ate up the distance and soon Dallas retired the binoculars and saw the details of the station with a squinted naked eye. A faded orange ball as big as a T-Rex’s head stood atop a bent metal pole, with the rust stained number “76” painted upon it. As he suspected the outside roof had collapsed. The archaic pumps underneath were now piles of indifferent brown scrap.
He let out a low “Woah” to slow Bardy, then dismounted and drew a single revolver. Peeking over the dinosaur’s broad shoulder he scanned the ruined station for movement. Dry scrub had reclaimed most of the concrete and worked it’s way into the main building. Crickets ceased their cricketing as he took a cautious step forward.
“’Allo in there. Dallas here,” he paused and drew a short breath, “Got myself a gun and I ain’t too shabby with it.” The building didn’t respond. “Just lookin’ for a place outta the sun; thought I might hole up ‘ere a while?”
He let the echo of his question settle before turning to Bardy, “Looks empty to -” Instantly he snapped a second pistol from the holster as he saw the Ducky’s paralysed stare. He spun around in a slow circle, desperately scanning the ruins for the source of the dinosaur’s terror. Long months on the road had taught Dallas the benefit of listening to his dinosaur.
“Boy, what is it?”
Five Rippers emerged from the ruins, hopping and jumping from the shadows. Although on the small side – each only three feet long – Dallas knew they were vicious. And hungry. They looked like some variant of Velociraptor, but Dallas was too busy checking his pistols to worry about whipping out his Encyclopedia Dinosauria.
Bardy instantly bolted away from the pump station, his gruff baying reminding Dallas of crying. “Eh ya bloody coward!” he cried after the dinosaur. “Then again,” he thought as the Rippers approached, “I can’t really blame him.”
He slung one pistol back onto his belt and cocked the hammer of the other drawn weapon with his freed hand. Backpedalling he took quick aim at the nearest Ripper and let fly. The revolver barely bucked in his hand as it fired a beam of green energy. The shot took the Ripper in the left shoulder and it slumped to the ground with a squeak.
Holding down the trigger he rapidly fanned the hammer back five more times, emptying the gun into the approaching mass. Two more Rippers dropped from the fusillade, but the remaining pair were within snapping distance.
Dallas spun and threw a leg forward to sprint away, but his heel came down on a broken slab of concrete and he stumbled. With a curse he pitched head over heels into the mix of rock and dirt. Instantly the Rippers were upon him, biting and clawing wounds across his legs and chest.
“Ya little pests,” he chortled as blood flecked his body and the Rippers continued to bear into him. There jaws were not quite powerful enough to tear his limbs off, thankfully, but he certainly had seen better days.
Their quick jaws opened long gashes as he raised his arms in a protective shield. He crawled back and tried to stand but the weight of the dinosaurs kept him pinned. Desperately he traded a savage bite on his hand for the chance to grab the nearest Ripper’s neck. His rough hands squeezed and twisted until the thin bones of the serpentine neck splintered. The dinosaur squawked and crumpled onto him.
Reeling back from the death of it’s mate, the last Ripper circled the bleeding human. Quickly standing Dallas couldn’t help but taunt the dinosaur, “Shoulda stayed close, pal.” In a flash his second six-shooter was out and blasting. The Ripper skittered to the side, avoiding the first shot, but the next three caught it across the torso and it fell.
Dallas whistled loudly to draw Bardy back to him, and the dinosaur responded by sulking out from behind a hill. It’s crest was hung low as if in guilt, and Dallas was quick to berate the mount. His temper flared from the pounding pain of the bite wounds mixed with a fair shot of dehydration.
As they approached the hollowed facade of the pump station his anger broke. “Let’s just get inside and check ta’place out.”
Piles of feces and rotting carcasses greeted Dallas, and he pawed at a kerchief to keep from gagging. “Well worth the trouble,” he mumbled, trying to ignore the horrible infections the air was probably transmitting to his wounds. Bardy snorted in agreement from outside as he chewed the bit and warily watched Dallas.
Metal stands that once proudly offered the best in automotive products were slumped against each other. A thick layer of dust covered everything above ground level and tainted the already foul air. Generations of neglect allowed thick spider webs to collect in every corner.
Stomping through the piles of refuse and debris Dallas headed to a wooden door near the back of the store.
The jamb was stuck but Dallas shouldered through the frame. Revulsion naturally rose inside him at the sight of a skeleton slumped over a desk. The bones had been picked clean by rodents and maggots and now shone like dull lead.
Scanning the room was like looking through a window to the past. An old photo of a smiling family had mottled behind a glass frame on the oak desk. Inches of dust covered cheap filing cabinets and a cracked vase bled dirt in the corner. The carpet was tacky even by the standards of 2285.
Dallas carefully lifted the skeleton from the chair and set the remains in the corner. Casually he sorted through the papers on the desk, but most crumbled at his touch. All of them seemed machine printed and made little sense to the cowboy. Sorting through the desk revealed a few interesting items that might catch a fair price from scrap hunters.
Carefully sitting in the chair Dallas tentatively leaned it back. Upon feeling it support his weight he threw his booted feet up on the desk and set to work on sleeping through the midday heat.
The cowboy and his dinosaur travelled north east for another two days after that. After bandaging his wounds and taking some food Dallas had felt well enough to travel at a slow pace. They crossed into Wyoming soon after the pump station, and arrived in sight of The Wall by nightfall.
“I’d forgotten how big it is,” he remarked to the humid night air. The desolate plains and rolling hills had surrendered to thickets of jungle. Hanging vines and shabby greenery surrounding him, but still he could see the staggering mass looming in the distance.
The Wall had been built long ago, so his father had told him. Fifty feet high and at least five feet thick, the crafted barrier of volcanic rock was a testament to the Neotechnoists abilities. The tales went that they cowered in the safety and abundance of their jungle, shut out from the realm of the Dusters who scraped an existence from the rough earth outside. Dallas sneered at the thought. Open sky and open plains for me, he thought.
He had made contact with a merchant inside Haven, and planned on meeting his contact in the middle of the night. The sun had just gone to sleep which gave him time to ponder the volcano, think poorly of the Neotechnoists, and wonder what the stacks of paper in the pump station meant.
As he reflected on matters greater than himself, Dallas’ trained eyes scanned the guards and turrets atop The Wall. Men wearing shiny plated armor across their torsoes patrolled the top and he could barely make out their small talk. Heavy rotary rifles on turret splints swept over the jungle below. He knew they had rudimentary heat sensing equipment, so he crept off Bardy and loosely strung his bridle to a tree trunk. The sheer face of The Wall was impediment enough for humans, so the dinosaur killing guns weren’t designed to pick up his heat signature. Hopefully.
He delicately hummed a tune and picked his footing on the approach to The Wall. He tried to gauge his location and figured he was close enough to the section the merchant had specified. Dallas wasn’t entirely sure how his contact would reach him, but money would probably grease palms to make the magic happen. He therefore wasn’t entirely surprised when the yawning guards were replaced with fresh recruits, leaving a gap of at least four minutes.
Dallas was even less surprised when a dark shape shimmied down a microrope and softly landed in a nearby copse of trees.
“Psst,” he hissed at the shape, beckoning it over. The dark shape paused and Dallas detected some hesitation as it moved closer. “Glad to see you – wait, what are you -”
A stun gun discharged in a brilliant flash and Dallas fell to the ground as the lightning struck him. Coughing through the smoke curling from his clothes and hair, he fumbled for the nearest six-shooter.
The dark shape rushed forward and swung a thick iron shod staff down on the cowboy’s head, stopping the attempt with an abrupt crack. If Dallas had been conscious he would have been furious as the stranger patted him down and eventually pocketed the gold key.