Apropos of nothing, a short story I wrote last year and forgot about until now...
They thought the beef jerky would sink.
It wasn’t their first mistake of the trip. It wouldn’t be the last, but that would not be far in the future.
“Well…” muttered Kal.
“…Rats.” sighed Ernie.
“How do we get them to bite now?”
Their first mistake had been classic. They hadn’t told anyone where they were going.
The second mistake had been that they didn’t, in fact, know themselves precisely where they were.
“How deep does the water have to be before there will be decent sized fish?”
A tragic lack of expertise had been mistake number two hundred and four.
“I haven’t got a clue.”
Relying on each other’s general lack of experience was number two hundred and five. Previously it had been mistake three: “Do you know how to make this thing go?” And mistake number eighteen: “You do know how to get back don’t you?” And though the consequence had yet to manifest, it had also been mistake number two hundred and two: “That tree over the water, it ought to be a good place for us to fish from don’t you think?”
The tree in question actually did look like a perfect perch from which to catch some fish for dinner. It was healthy-looking despite its awkward angle, stretching out from the bank over the water, and there was no indication that it might not hold both of their weight. It was nothing if not sturdy. It seemed on the surface to be a perfectly good choice, but as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”
They hadn’t known, for example, that when travelling in the time-stream that there was no way to return without setting a temporal anchor. Any experienced time tourist (and that’s all there was, as the inexperienced ones either came back experienced or not at all) would tell you that a temporal anchor was the single most important thing you had to do, irrespective of the era you travelled to. That had been mistake number four.
Anyone could tell you that travelling to the Cretaceous – not that they knew when they had travelled to – was one of the most fraught destinations a person could choose, definitely not for first-time-timers. That was mistake twenty one.
Kal leaned over and peered into the water.
“I think it’s pretty deep. I can’t see the bottom.”
Ernie cupped is hands around his eyes thinking it would block out the glare and make it easier to see through the deep. (Mistake two-oh-six.)
Far below them in the water, at the faint edge of their field of vision colours shifted and coiled subtlely.
“I dunno… I think maybe I can.”
Ernie was entirely wrong. It was not the bottom he was seeing (Two hundred and seven.) and if he had been looking closely enough he might have realized that what he was seeing was camouflaged, enormous and approaching the water’s surface at an ever increasing pace. Somewhere in there, the inaction that made up their passive next mistake sped right past them. Not scrambling back down the tree towards shore in that moment was arguably their most critical mistake of all.
“You know…” said Kal, “it looks like… oh my god!”
The huge jaws of the liopleurodon broke the water, spreading into a fearsome maw, snapping around Kal, crushing his last squeak of panic. As the behemoth sank back into the water, the tree bent down until it sprang loose from between the monster’s teeth, sling-shotting Ernie into the air.
He landed in the water three or four times further from shore than the pair had been when sitting on the tree. It took him several moments to kick off his hiking boots, surrender his back-pack and orient himself to the surface, where he arrived gasping and confused.
His disorientation and the shock of the moment would be reasons enough to forgive him his last mistake (two hundred and nine, putting him one ahead of Kal on the scorecard). It was after all, at this point, a rather benign error in judgment that quite frankly would not have made the least bit of difference.
“I’ve got to be able to make it to shore before something that big has a chance to turn around and find me.”