The sound of birdsong filled the jungle air. For Abaas, this was good news. It wasn't that he enjoyed the sound; in fact, he didn't find it pleasant at all, but birdsong meant there were no predators nearby. No big predators, at least.
He fiddled with his knife in one hand, flicking it open and closing it, an action he knew so well he could do it in his sleep. He was aware of everything. As well as the birds, there was the sound of leaves rustling in a light breeze, the barely audible sound of his shoes on the forest floor, and the sound of a large herbivore munching on some ferns.
The trees were relatively thin, and sunlight was able to filter through, though the leaves it passed through made the light an eerie green. A small herbivore hid in the bushes just off the trail; small and harmless, Abaas ignored it. A tree just ahead, on the right of the trail, bore three claw marks. They were a couple of days old, so the predator that had made them was not a threat right now.
The trail dipped a few metres ahead. Abaas passed the dip, spotting a relatively long ditch to his left side, at the side of the trail. It was deep enough that he could not see the bottom, but he could hear the trickling of water, and he knew there were no streams nearby, so that meant their was some water running at the bottom of the ditch; usually enough to keep animals out. He would find no threat nor food in there.
The birsong stopped. Abaas crouched low, hoping to camouflage himself among the foliage on the side of the trail. He was careful not to step in the ditch.
His eyes sniped left and right. Nothing yet. Then, a rustling to his left. Abaas froze. The killer was on the same side of the trail as he was. If he belted across the trail now, he would be spotted. If he stayed here, he would be spotted. There was only one thing for it. He would have to descend into the ditch.
He turned round to check how steep it was, ensuring he turned his head to the right, in case the creature spotted the glint of his eyes. Step by silent step, he descended into the ditch, hugging his body against the side, to decrease his chances of being spotted. Soon, he was in.
Cold, dirt water lapped at his ankles. He suppressed his disgust and didn't cry out, instead hunkering down lower. There were footsteps from above. They were the light, stealthy tread of a hunter, but Abaas could still hear them. They stopped at the top of the ditch. Abaas looked down to hide his eyes, but hoped the predator wouldn't even face his way.
More footsteps; getting fainter. Heading the way he had come. Then, he heard a high-pitched squeak, a snarl, and then a struggle. After about five seconds, the sound stopped. Footsteps, getting closer again. Abaas looked down, but they went straight past. The predator had clearly made a kill. Abaas heard it stop a few metres from his hiding place. Then, he heard the sound of crunching bones.
It was already eating the carcass, and there was no chance Abaas could climb out from the ditch and get away without it spotting him and running him down. From the sound it made and the way it hunted, he had already deduced what the hunter was, and it wasn't one he would take his chances with.
There was one factor that made survival for Abaas especially hard. Firstly, he was stuck on an island. He had only his knife and clothes for company, but he had survived on a diet of fruit, nuts, and anything he could kill with his knife. However, his other difficulty was to do with the island's inhabitants. Because this was no ordinary island.
It was inhabited by dinosaurs.
The sun was already setting when Abaas arrived at the western beach. This was his favourite beach den. The cove was a very curved c-shape. It was surrounded on its inland side by a wall of jagged rocks, making it practically inaccessible by land. By sea, it was the same story. It was all blocked off by jagged rocks, except the gap that led to sea. However, a reef lay hidden underneath the water in the channel, meaning only the very smallest of boats could enter.
Abaas entered via a very narrow, dangerous and unnoticeable path in the rocks. There was a small crack between two of them, and the crack continued for a while. Then there was a drop of about one metre onto a flat rock, and a drop of about one metre to a small clear area of land in front of it. Then, you turned to face the way you came, and there was a small gap under the flat rock, about forty-five centimetres high. You had to crawl into the gap, and then manouevre you body to be facing left. The gap continues under the rocks for a few metres, then comes to an end. However, turning left again, you come out on a small path that takes you right down to the cove.
Jumping across rock tops was extremely dangerous, as they were sharp, uneven, often slippery, and sometimes not even stable. The tunnel was a risky part in Abaas' route; the rocks could collapse on him without warning, so he was always very careful. Nonetheless, that often didn't stop a determined raptor or two from reaching the cove, or swimming round to enter it. But Abaas had his knife for situation like those.
Then, hidden among the rocks on the left side of the cove, was a cave. It was about seven metres deep and three metres wide, and the ceiling was about two metres above the ground. This was ideal size for Abaas; at fourteen years old, he was only 1.6 metres tall. The cave was rarely damp, and was not home to any other creatures, making it ideal. Abaas had torn up his spare clothes to make a blanket in the far corner, and this was where he rested. But not before securing the entrance.
He barricaded the entrance with a 'door' he had made from dead branches, and tied together with vines. It was fairly sturdy, and he then tied another vine round a middle, and tied the other end to a load of tin cans. When the branch was jogged, these would make a clanging noise that should wake him up.
Having made his preparations, Abaas lay down and slept.
Abaas woke up the next morning, to find his door still intact and the tin cans undisturbed. He took the door out and exited the cave, stepping out into the early morning sunrise. It would have been beautiful to most people, but Abaas doubted if he even understood the concept of beautiful any more.
He walked quickly along the length of the jagged rocks that bordered the cove, prising a clam or mussel from the rock with his knife every few seconds. When he returned to his cave, he had a decent sized meal ready for eating. He was about to tuck in, when he heard a sound that made him freeze.
He quickly backed into the shadows of the cave, but kept the cove in clear view. That was the sound of measured, regular swimming, but it didn't have the same rhythm as the flippered reptiles that lived in the sea around the island. No. This sounded more human.
But that was impossible. It was probably a raptor; they had a similar rhythm to humans when it came to swimming. Already, the knife was back out of his pocket and in his hand, blade open.
The splashing stopped, but Abaas could hear the faint sound of footsteps on the sea floor, and the sound of water parting before an object. He moved to an angle where he could see what he was up against, but it couldn't see him.
However, it was not raptor. It was not even dinosaur, not even reptile. It was human.
She looked about sixteen years old, though what could have befallen her, Abaas had no idea. She had been swimming in full clothing, and now it was soaked through, clinging to her skin in a way that would have caught the interest of lots of boys, but not Abaas, who hadn't felt emotions such as love for months, years even. Her long brown hair was plastered to the back of her neck, and in a right mess. Looking closely, Abaas decided she had probably been wearing it up in a ponytail when she had set out, but the band had fallen out.
Then, Abaas heard another noise. The soft tread of a hunter on a dirt path. He glanced towards his path into the cove, and spotted a raptor hiding behind the rocks. He was pretty sure it hadn't seen him, but had a different prey in mind.
Abaas quickly assessed the situation. If he shouted a warning, the raptor could run the girl down no problem. If he made towards her, the raptor would too, and there was no chance he could beat it. He could let her die; that would be the logical course of action to ensure his survival. But for two reasons, Abaas wouldn't let that happen.
Firstly, if the raptor had other pack members, they would come and share the kill, and the longer they were on the cove, the more chance his den would be discovered. And also, he was intrigued to find out how she had ended up swimming for some distance across the ocean and arriving at the island.
Abaas heard a light impact, like a foot landing on sand, and turning to face the raptor, saw it had begun to charge. A second later, another raptor leapt from on top of the cave onto the sand, and also raced towards her. Abaas swore; how had he not heard it coming?
The girl was clearly now aware of the danger she was in, but appeared to shocked to move. Abaas weighed up his chances. There might be a way to save her, but it was risky. Eventually, curiousity won over survival instinct, and he burst from the cave.
"Over here!" he yelled. The raptors' charge faultered immediately, and they turned to face him. The raptors alternated between observing him, and the girl, and seemed to come to an unspoken agreement. One went for him; the other still went after the girl.
Abaas hadn't intended for the plan to go like this, but it might still work. The raptor charged towards him, and as it got closer, he readied himself to throw the knife. He pulled his arm back, and in one fluent movement, threw it forward and released the knife at the perfect time. It spun through the air, and embedded itself point-first in the raptor's left eye. It screeched in pain, and toppled over. Abaas went cautiously over to it, but it was stone dead. He withdrew the knife, and ran towards the girl and the other raptor.
The other raptor, metres from the girl, had turned hearing the agonising scream from its pack mate. Now, Abaas had its attention, and that would hopefully keep the girl safe long enough for him to get within range of the raptor and throw the knife again.
Abaas knew his limits, and stopped when he was close enough to throw the knife at the raptor. He followed the exact same procedure as the time before, throwing the spinning knife through the air. The raptor raised its claws to block it, but the knife was too quick, and embedded itself point-first in the raptor's neck. The raptor slumped, dead, to the ground, and Abaas retrieved his knife again.
He was about to speak to the girl, when something moved in the corner of his eye. To turned to face it straight, and saw five more raptors lined up in strategic positions around the rocks bordering the cove. There was no getting out, and no chance of reaching his den before the raptors. But Abaas had one last idea that might just save them both, or kill them.
He put his hand out to the girl.
"Come with me," he said firmly, "and when I say run, run."
Abaas began to guide the girl along the edge of the water. The rocks near the channel hid a small tunnel, about fifty centimetres all dimensions. After about five metres, going along the rocks, it opened into a chamber about one and a half metres high, three metres long and two metres wide. Not ideal, but it would have to do.
However, as soon as they moved, a raptor snarled at them, clearly a warning saying Don't move.
Abaas let go of her hand and belted it for the tunnel, the girl just behind him. The raptors took a few precious seconds to react and give chase.
"Here!" Abaas cried, "The tunnel! Crawl along, quick as you can!"
He helped the girl in, and as she crawled away to the cavern, he turned to face the raptors, who were practically on top of him. One slashed out with a clawed hand, but he managed to grab its arm, hold back the attack, and drive his knife into its throat. He took the knife out, and pushed the dead body into the other raptors. It would delay them, at least, and they might also just eat it instead of him.
He turned and dived into the tunnel, headfirst, not looking back. There were sounds of a scuffle behind him. He craned his neck round to face the tunnel opening, but could barely see the light; a raptor was trying to get in, but they just weren't capable of crawling like humans could. It reached out feebly, its claws scratching stone, but nothing else, definitely not Abaas' flesh. He was safe.
The girl was already sitting on the floor of the small cavern, dripping wet. Abaas tried to start up a conversation, but couldn't find the words to do so. He accounted this to the fact that up till now there had been no-one to talk to. Eventually, it was the girl that broke the silence.
"Who are you?" she asked. Abaas could tell she was nervous, from the way she spoke and the way she glanced around. He could tell things like that.
"I'm Abaas. You?"
"Emily. What is this place."
"I ask the questions first. How did you get here?"
"Yes?" Abaas prompted, getting frustrated now.
"We were out sailing-"
"Through the middle of the night?"
"Alright, alright. We were on an illegal sailing mission to discover this secret island. I wasn't even supposed to be on it, but I got curious and went to explore the boat; my father never realised I was on board, and the team set sail before I got off. And they wouldn't go back to drop me off. So I got stuck on it as well. It took hours, and then we saw this island, and assumed it was the right one. We didn't get much closer when there was some impact underneath the ship."
Abaas was interested now, though he didn't let it show on his face.
"The boat was designed to withstand shark attacks, but when we went down to see of there was any damage, the bottom had been torn open. The water was gushing in - and we saw this silhouette, of a shark, except it was way bigger than any we'd heard of."
"Megalodon," Abaas muttered under his breath.
"What did you say?"
"Oh, nothing. Carry on."
"I didn't want to die, and I was really scared. I thought the island wasn't that far, and I was a good swimmer, so I left them. Abandoned them... and I don't know what happened to them. But I got here, and then those... things attacked."
"The team will be dead," Abaas said flatly, "And if you're not careful, soon you will be to. Are you gonna stay with me, or risk it on your own?"
She ignored his question, instead asking, "So what is this place?"
"It's not normal. I know that much. So what's special about it?"
"I thought you knew. You're the one searching for it."
"I wasn't even supposed to be on the ship. Of course I don't know."
"Fine then. I'll tell you."
"Yeah. You do that."
"The shark that attacked your ship was a Megalodon - giant prehistoric shark that went extinct millions of years ago. But here, on this island, extinct animals aren't extinct any more."
"You're saying I was attacked by dinosaurs."
"And there are dinosaurs out there?"
"And you live here?"
Emily was silent after that, as if she didn't know what to say. Eventually, she asked, "How long do we have to stay here?"
"As long as takes."
After about half an hour, Abaas crawled cautiously back down the tunnel. The raptors were no longer scrabbling around the entrance, but they were still nearby, hiding; he could sense it.
His patience was rewarded when he heard a faint but unmistakeable crack. The sound came from above his head and was exactly like a raptor's claw hitting rock. They had staged an ambush, with one raptor waiting on top of the tunnel. Abaas was glad they weren't human; they probably wouldn't be intelligent enough to realise that they would need supplies soon, and the only way out would lead them straight into an ambush. Hopefully they would be gone by nightfall.
Slowly and silently, Abaas crawled back to the chamber. When he entered, Emily looked at him questioningly.
"They're still out there. They've set an ambush; we'll have to wait."
"If you know about this ambush, it's not much of a surprise any more. Why don't you just go out there and stab them?"
"There's one on top of the tunnel, by the entrance. It would attack before I could turn round and draw my knife."
"Then draw your knife first, and move along on your back."
"It would still attack before I had enough of my body out to attack effectively with the knife."
Emily was silent after that, unable to find flaws in his logic. Eventually, she said to him,
"What will happen when we do get out?"
"If we get out, I'll just keep on surviving like I always did. You can try it, too."
Emily seemed to consider his words, before asking her next question.
"You notice a lot," she said. "Faint sounds, slight details, things ordinary people miss. How do you do it?"
"What the eyes don't see the feet trip over. And here, that can be fatal," Abaas replied enigmatically.
"What does it mean?" Emily pressed.
"It means stuff you don't notice will be the stuff that trips you up, even if it's not literally. And on this island, that will most likely be fatal."
They sat in brooding silence after that, for about half an hour, maybe longer. There was little sunlight in the cavern as it was; and that sunlight was slowly, but noticeably, getting feebler.
"Sun's setting," Abaas stated. "I'll go check if it's safe to come out."
He left without another word. He stopped, like last time, and listened. It was silent, for several minutes. There was no sound of them, none in view, and even his sixth sense was telling him they were gone. But he still had to be cautious. He always had be cautious. The phrase he had just told Emily flashed through his mind again.
What the eyes don't see, the feet trip over.
On a TV show, it might have been humorous. Not here. Here, it meant survival. Slowly, he stretched his arm out, until it was out in open air up to his elbow. Still nothing. No commotion, no sound. The rest of his arm went out. Still nothing. He jerked it around to make it clear it was there. Still nothing. His head came next. Nothing. Shoulders, torso, legs, and feet. He was out.
Now in full view, he took a quick gaze round the cove, but took in every detail nonetheless. There was no chance anything dangerous was here. He called back down the tunnel to Emily.
A few seconds later, he heard scuffling, and then she came out of the tunnel, into the cove. Abaas' shout had not attracted anything, so he was sure they were alone.
"What do we do now?" Emily asked, as if she expected him to have all the answers. Fortunately, he did.
"I wouldn't normally use the same den two nights in a row, but it's too late to go find another one now. It will darker in the forest, and there'll be more chance I'll miss something."
"So where do we go?"
"I'll show you."
He walked back over to his cave. Its entrance was wide open, like he always left it. For the first time, he realised this was not a good idea, and berated himself for being so stupid.
Luckily, everything was intact. He ushered Emily in, and put the door in place over the entrance, making sure his burglar alarm was still in working order.
Emily seemed pleased that this cave was a bit larger than the previous one. Then, she asked, "Where do we sleep?"
"You can use that blanket," Abaas replied, not mentioning it was made from his old clothes. "I'm used to sleeping rough. Not many of my dens are as luxurious as this."
A lot of brief disgust crossed Emily's face; if this was luxurious, she dreaded to think what the others were like. But she quickly hid her feelings, knowing she was lucky to have a den of any sort, and lay down to sleep.
Abaas sat awake in the cave. He idly juggled his open knife, aware of the danger but knowing he wouldn't make a mistake. After a few minutes, he stopped, but kept the knife out.
He was tempted to kill Emily now; she was clearly incompetent in the art of survival, and she would only be a burden. But other reasons held him back; firstly, she was here by accident, and surely didn't deserve to die, and secondly, why go to all the effort of saving her from raptors, just to kill her himself? No, he hadn't been that interested in her story.
So Abaas flicked the knife closed and lay down to sleep.
When Abaas woke up the next morning, Emily was fast asleep. He wasn't surprised; she was a city type, probably not used to waking up before eight at the very earliest. Again, he got out his knife and flicked it open. Still, he refrained from killing her. He kept saying to himself,
"She'll just be a problem, she's better off dead," but the ordeal of yesterday came back to him. On an island like this, you don't take unnecessary risks and get nothing out of them. So he let her live. Again. And just as he put his knife back, she woke up. This surprised even Abaas, as from the amount of sun coming through the door, he could tell it was still early in the morning. He'd expected her to wake later.
"Morning," Abaas said.
"Morning," Emily replied. They were both reluctant to speak.
"I'm gonna get breakfast," Abaas commented. He took the door out, left the cave, and wandered over to the water. His eyes flicked across it, taking in the details of each section in a few seconds. Eventually, he spotted a small gathering of fish on the further side of the cove.
He would only have one shot at this. Fail, and all the fish would flee. Luckily, they were near the bank. He walked as softly as possible across the sand, making no noise. He flicked open the knife, knelt down and took aim.
One fish was bigger than the others. Not by much, but Abaas had to take advantage of everything he could. He aimed for the big fish, pulling his arm back and judging the power he would need to stab it. In one fluent movement, he threw his arm forward and released the knife, launching it towards the clump of fish.
It spun as it performed its deadly arc, cutting through the air silently enough that the fish didn't spot it coming. Then, there was a splash, as the knife entered the water, cutting straight through it and impaling the large fish in the head. The other fled, but the bigger fish just lay there. Abaas waded into the water, making as little disturbance as possible, and retrieved the fish and his knife.
He withdrew the knife and observed the damage. He had been lucky; the point had penetrated the skin and gone straight into the brain, killing it stony.
The fish was about twenty five centimetres long, enough to feed them both. He picked it up and dug his nails into the skin, ignoring the juice that squirted out of it. In this grip, it was unlikely to slip out of his grasp. With his other hand, he flicked the knife closed and dropped it in his pocket.
He took the fish back to the cave, closing the door behind him. Emily eyed breakfast with unhidden disgust. She watched in what seemed to be growing horror, as Abaas sliced the skin off, revealing the organs inside. He pried them out, leaving just the flesh, which he chopped up into cubes.
Then, from a hidden corner in the cave, he took out a pile of small branches and two sharp rocks. Abaas put the sticks in a pile by his feet, and rubbed the two rocks together. After a few minutes, they made a spark, which landed on the twigs. Abaas blew on it gently, until it became a decent-sized blaze. He took a wooden plate he had fashioned from old branches, covered it in a piece of fabric, and lay the cubes of fish meat on top. Then, he held it over the blaze for about ten minutes. Throughout the whole process, Emily had been watching him intently.
Abaas put the plate down on the floor, glad to be able to let go of it. He counted the number of cubes, and divided them equally between them.
"Not the best meal in the world, but it'll do," Abaas said to Emily. "Doesn't taste too bad, either."
Emily still appeared reluctant to taste it; but after she took her first bite, she ate the rest with little problem.
"You eat this stuff all the time?"
"No. There's fruits, nuts, mussels and clams, and other meats."
"How long have you been here?"
Unthrown by the conversation, Abaas said, "Dunno. Don't have a watch or a calendar."
"Must be tough. Surviving round here, I mean."
"Welcome to my world."
Abaas finished his meal first, shortly followed by Emily.
"We've gotta move now. We've already been here way longer than I would normally stay."
He jumped up, yanked open the door, and waited for Emily to walk out. He followed, closing the door behind him for the first time.
"How do we get out?" Emily asked, eyeing up the jagged rocks surrounding the coves.
"Simple. Follow me."
He located the narrow path in the rocks no problem. He entered the path, ensuring Emily was behind him, and strode confidently forward. Then, he arrived at the end of the path. He lowered himself down to the ground, then half-pushed, half-slithered his way under the rock ahead, into a short yet dangerous passage under the rocks. He managed to turn his body to face right, and slithered right to what appeared to be a dead-end. Then, he turned left again, and slithered further forwards, coming out in a small clearing in the middle of the rocks. He got up and waited.
Not long after, Emily hauled herself out from the passage. She was breathless and covered in dust. Before Abaas could move on, she said,
"Why can't we go over the rocks?"
"They're sharp, uneven, most of them aren't even stable. You stand on a rock that falls under your weight, and that's the end of you."
There was no humour in his voice; just a dull, mechanical tone as if he was listing out facts; and he was.
Before Emily could reply, he jumped up to the flat rock they had just crawled up, and jumped up again to another narrow path heading inland.
"How come you can jump on that one?"
"I shouldn't really. It's no stabler than the others. But I need to, otherwise I can't get here. It's fairly stable."
Emily didn't seem reassured, but jumped up to it anyway. She jumped up to the narrow path, and Abaas gave her a hand to haul herself up. As Emily pushed off, Abaas noticed the flat rock shake slightly. He dismissed the matter from his head; it could be checked next time he needed to come here.
He led the way up the rest of the path, until they reached the top. They were no longer surrounded by large, black rocks; now they were on the fringes of a forest.
"How long are we going to be stuck here?"
Abaas had been expecting the question. She'd been trying to ask it since they'd escaped from the raptors, but she'd been too scared about discovering the answer. Abaas could tell that. Now she'd finally had the courage to ask. For Abaas, it took no courage to reveal the truth.
He was already a couple of metres away from her, when she recovered from the shock his words have given, and quickened her pace to catch up. She looked at him, and he looked at her. There was fear in her eyes; it didn't take a genius to tell that. Abaas kept his emotions hidden, like he'd learnt to do.
Emily turned away. She buried her head in her hands, but Abaas could hear the sobbing. He sighed. He had no time for this. A thought crossed his mind - she was looking away. Easy enough to get the knife out and stab her in the back. But he didn't.
Because he'd heard something.
Something glinted in the trees about fifteen metres away, where they were too thick to see in much detail. But Abaas didn't need to. The glint had come of something's teeth. And he could see them now, despite the hunter's attempt to hide them. They were long, pointed, and about three and a half metres off the ground. Abaas quickly went through his mental database on the hunters of the island, trying to match this one up through its height. There were a few matches, all deadly.
He grabbed Emily's arm.
"Come on," he whispered. "There's a hunter hidden about fifteen metres from us. It's in the trees, doesn't know we know its there. We've got to run. But only when I say. And that direction."
He pointed diagonally, both away from the predator and into the forest.
Emily nodded, but didn't speak.
The hunter suddenly snorted. The trees around its head shook. Abaas swore. There was no chance they could have missed that, and the hunter would think the same; so it would come after them.
"Run!" he yelled.