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The final book in the Flashback Saga ... They streamed out from the tree line in a veritable blitzkrieg, the guns of the tanks rotating and firing, the foot soldiers alternately taking cover behind vehicles and squeezing off bursts, the raptors and triceratops and stegosaurs charging—as Red and Charlotte and Roger and Savanna continued shooting and the children ran ammo and Bella lit the gasoline trenches, as Gojira and the clerk prepared shoulder-mounted rocket launchers. As hundreds of others joined the battle belatedly and began to kill and to be killed. And then they were there; they were at the gates, and the triceratops and stegosaurs had waded into the burning trenches and begun serving as bridges—sacrificing themselves so that the raptors and the foot soldiers could cross—even as a column of bulldozers fanned out along the perimeter and prepared to break the lines for good: dropping their blades—which rattled and clinked against the hail of gunfire—revving their engines, spewing black smoke. “Bayonets!” cried Red as the raptors fell upon them, thrusting his own so that it skewered one of the dinosaurs like a shish kabob even before he used its own weight and momentum to swing it over and behind himself.
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Wayne Kyle Spitzer
Flashback Twilight (The Flashback Saga, #4)
WARNING: | Restricted Area | Use of deadly force authorized.
Copyright © 2018 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. All Rights Reserved. Published by Hobb’s End Books, a division of ACME Sprockets & Visions. Previously published in serial form as A Dinosaur is a Man’s Best Friend. Cover design Copyright © 2018 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. Please direct all inquiries to: HobbsEndBooks@yahoo.com
Based upon “Flashback,” first published by Books in Motion/Classic Ventures, 1993. Reprinted by Hobb’s End Books, 2017.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this book is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
<The abandoned drive-in, we’ll hide there. Move your ass, Will. They’re right behind us.>
Williams gazed down the long, overgrown slope at what had once been the East Mirabeau Drive-in Theater. “That’s a pretty steep decline, Ank. You sure you can handle it?”
He was doing it again. Responding to the imaginary voice.
The armored dinosaur examined the slope, flies buzzing about his eyes. <The gear on my back might slow me, but I can do it. Just don’t walk in front of me, in case I lose my footing. Hurry ... we’re sitting ducks out here in the open.>
Williams gripped his rifle and looked behind them: Sure enough, the marauders were coming, the wheels of their trucks and ATVs and motorcycles kicking up great plumes of dust as they motored across the plain. He quickly joined Ank who was already descending, his great hooves sinking into the earth like anvils, the water containers and camping gear and boxes of ammo strapped to his shell sloshing and clanking.
“Those prints are going to be a problem,” said Williams, falling back to rub them out.
Your sanity is going to be a problem, he thought to himself, if you keep this lunacy up.
<Never mind them. It won’t take them long to figure out where we went. We’ll lose them in the tall grass when we reach the bottom—I’ll hide behind the snack bar while you ascend my back to the roof. With luck, you’ll be able to pick them off from there.
“Good plan ... even if I do say so myself.”
<You didn’t say so yourself. Now is not the time for this!>
“It’s been the time for this since I started hearing your voice in my head. My voice, I mean. I mean—”
<Later, Will. We’re almost there. You should climb onto my back now and start gathering up your ammo.>
“Yes, sir, Mr. talking dinosaur!” He ascended Ank’s tail using its spikes for hand grips until he’d gained the crest of his shell, then tore open a box of ammo.
<I tell you, a telepathic connection has formed between us—don’t ask me how because I don’t know myself. And I am no longer merely a dinosaur, in case you haven’t noticed. If you listen to nothing else I say, listen to that. These continued attempts at self-deception serve no one and will only hinder our search for—”
“What? What are we searching for, Ank?” His frustration with himself and the situation had begun to boil over at last.
<You know as well as I do what we’re searching for.>
Williams sighed, giving into the hallucination and its comforts as he had done so many times before. “Yes, I know. We’re searching for Tanelorn, where my great lost love awaits and they’ll be fields of green, supple plants for you to eat and all this, this Flashback, will be explained. I know, Ank. I haven’t forgotten. It’s just easier to believe sometimes than others.”
A shot rang out suddenly and Williams jolted as the bullet ricocheted off Ank’s armor. He peered at the top of the hill. The marauders had arrived and dismounted their vehicles, and were even now sighting them with an array of rifles and pistols. There was a pronounced crack! ka-crack! as more rounds bounced off Ank’s shell.
<Climb forward onto my head, you’ll be protected beneath the lip of my armor. Hurry!>
He did so, rolling onto the beast’s great, horned skull and coming up firing, his elbows resting on the edge of the shell. Crack! (Ka-chink). Crack! (Ka-chink).
The marauders began to fall as he pumped and fired again and again.
And then they were down and into the towering overgrowth, and Williams thought he saw a were- raptor flit past before a hail of gunfire forced him to crouch lower beneath the shell.
“We’re not alone here, Ank. Were-raptors, two o’clock.” He could tell by their unmistakable pale coloring. He pumped and fired as one of the marauders clutched his chest and tumbled down the slope. “How close are we?”
<We’re almost there now. Don’t shoot the raptors, whatever you do. If they were after us, we’d already know it.>
Williams jerked his head left and right as the predators began pouring past them on both sides, snarling and gnashing their teeth. And then they were there, they were behind the snack bar, which was dilapidated and covered in creeper-vines, and he scrambled over Ank’s shell and dove onto its roof.
<The marauders only! The raptors will do most the work.>
Williams shimmied forward on his elbows and braced his rifle against the building’s cornice. The brigands were working their way down the slope, completely ignorant of what was coming—until the raptors began leaping from the overgrowth and knocking them down, tearing out their throats, gutting them with their sickle-claws.
“They’ll come for us when they’ve finished,” shouted Williams, scrambling to his feet. “What’s the plan?”
He skittered to a stop at the edge of the building and saw Ank preparing to strike the rear wall with his club tail.
“Is that a good—”
But it was too late, and the cinderblock wall collapsed at the impact as though it had been struck by a wrecking ball, after which Ank lifted his tail so that Williams could climb on and lowered him to the ground.
Williams peered into the gaping hole. The ‘50s-themed interior was mostly intact, it would make a good campsite if they could find a way to stop up the ingress. He moved forward, stepping over the rubble, his rifle at the ready. Ank lumbered in after him, the spikes of his shell scraping the edges of the hole and making it still wider.
“The pizza oven,” he said, scanning the kitchen. “And that refrigerator. What do you think?”
Ank looked at the big, commercial appliances, a bass grumble rattling his throat. <I’ll take care of it. Check out the rest of the building. Make sure there’s no compies or prehistoric centipedes or ... God knows.>
There was a crash upstairs followed by a scratchy shuffling and Williams froze, staring at the ceiling.
“God knows there’s someone or something up there.”
<Go check it—>
“Don’t say it,” snapped Williams, and pointed at him. “I’m not going to be bossed around by a figment of my imagination. And so long as I’ve got even a little sanity left, that’s exactly what you’ll remain.”
Ank only stared at him, his big, dark eyes impossible to read.
“Now move this ... this shit, and I’ll be right back.”
And then he was shuffling up the stairs—and the only sounds were those of the marauders screaming as the raptors tore them limb from limb; and the rumble of storm clouds as they collided high above.
GOOD LORD, WHAT A MESS, he thought, easing open the door to the projection room as the smell of decomposing flesh assailed his nostrils. What on earth happened—
But he knew what had happened, just as he now knew what had happened to the rest of the world (despite having no memory of who he was or where he was from). The projectionist had been going about his life when a storm-front full of strange lights had rolled in and changed the rules of reality forever—scrambling time so that three quarters of the population had simply vanished, and causing prehistoric animals and plants to begin materializing out of nowhere. And now all that was left of him was a rotting husk with only half its arms and legs, wedged into the corner of the blood-splashed and overgrown room (although the blood had long since dried), and seeming almost to twitch—which was impossible, of course. For if there was one thing Williams was sure of, it was that the projectionist was, in fact, dead, and so would not be returning as a were-raptor or anything else.
Were-raptors, he thought, and chuckled bitterly to himself. Time storms. A fucking talking ankylosaur ...
He had turned to go back downstairs, realizing, for the thousandth time, that his eyes, like his ears—indeed, his very thoughts—could no longer be trusted, when there was a sudden squelching sound followed by a snippet of music—AC/DC, to be exact, although he didn’t know how he could know that—which stabbed at the air briefly before reducing in volume quickly and vanishing altogether.
He whipped back around, rifle at the ready, as the corpse twitched again—this time noticing something he had utterly missed the first time: a child’s shoe, filthy white with pink laces, protruding from beneath the stiff, dead form. A shoe which moved as he watched, attempting to conceal itself.
Someone was hiding beneath the body. A child—or a midget, he thought insanely, and lowered his rifle. The wind gusted and the blinds of a nearby window rattled. At last he said, “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.” Flies buzzed about the dead man in the near total silence. “But hiding beneath a corpse is no place for a child, do you understand? You could get very, very sick. I’m sure your parents wouldn’t want that.”
What the hell are you even saying? he reprimanded himself, not knowing if he’d been a parent in his previous life but fairly certain he had not. And this voice was joined by another, a merciless, pragmatic voice, which whispered: There’s still time. It’s not too late. Time to pretend you haven’t seen this. Time to leave this place and its potential burdens as far behind as you can.
“You’ll take my radio,” came a little girl’s voice, stunning him somewhat, for it was the first human voice he had heard since Devil’s Gorge and the western theme park turned survival compound. “The last grownups I saw wanted it too, but I got away from them. And my parents are dead; I seen them killed myself.”
A radio, he thought. Holy mother of God, a radio! He thought of the snippet of AC/DC he’d heard. And a signal! Someone, somewhere, was broadcasting. And that meant power, electricity, lights. It might even mean an entire city had survived.
“I would like to listen to your radio, I confess,” he said, trying not to sound too eager or overly interested, “but I would never take it from you, do you understand? I presume you found it amidst the rubble ... that makes it yours, and yours only.”
He lowered his rifle. “My name is Williams. I have a friend downstairs I’d like you to meet—his name is Ank.” He watched the corpse, listening, but there was no movement and no response. “Do you have a name?”
The wind moaned forlornly and the blinds rattled again. At last she said, “Luna. Because my hair is white.”
“Luna ...” He smiled in spite of himself—in spite of the situation. “Because your hair is white.” He took a tentative step forward and paused. “May I see it? I’ve never seen a little girl with white hair.”
There was a brief silence. “You promise you won’t take my radio?”
“Promise and hope to die,” he said, and gently moved the rest of the way to her.
The corpse shifted slightly and the filthy white tennis shoe reappeared. Then she began pushing outward and upward and he quickly laid down his rifle and began assisting—until the body had been rolled over completely and he could see her in her entirety.
The first thing he noticed were her extraordinarily light violet (almost pink) eyes, which stared out from their dark recesses with an eerily penetrative gaze. The second was that, beyond them, she had no pigment whatsoever: her skin, her eyelashes, her brows—all were white. And the third was that she appeared dreadfully malnourished and was filthy from head to toe, like a porcelain teacup left out in the elements too long.
But it was the eyes that held him, haunted him, for they were the eyes of an old woman trapped in the face of a child.
“I’m an albean, albin—albino,” she stammered, as though apologizing in advance. “Do you still want to introduce me to your friend?”
“Why yes, I do, very much,” he said, even as his eyes dropped to her radio, which was red and had a large hand-crank.
She pressed it to her chest possessively, crossing her arms.
“Yours,” he repeated. “And yours only. Promise.”
She seemed to think about this, eyeing him uncertainly. At last she said, “Can your friend come up here? There’s blood roosters down there.”
He plucked the hair away from her eyes gently. “They’re called raptors. And no, he can’t, he’s too big.” He picked up his rifle and stood, swinging it by its loop lever and cocking it. “But don’t worry. Raptors—blood roosters—are our specialty.”
THE FIRST THING SHE did upon seeing Ank at the bottom of the stairs was to scream, nor was it just any scream, but the kind which could only come from a particularly agitated little boy or girl—the kind that bore through one’s skull like a long, thin drill bit. Then she promptly scurried back up the steps and cowered behind the wall, shaking her head and saying, “No dinosaur, no dinosaur.”
“Luna, it’s okay,” stressed Williams. “He isn’t going to hurt you. His name is Ank. He—he doesn’t eat people. Especially little girls. Isn’t that right, Ank?”
Ank merely looked at him from beneath his horny brows. <Yet. I haven’t eaten anyone yet, Will. What is this?>
Williams straightened somewhat awkwardly and gestured at Luna to come down. “Well, I ... This is Luna.” He looked back and forth between the two. “Luna, because her hair is white. Luna ... meet Ank.”
“Who are you talking to?” she asked. “I can’t hear anything.”
Ank snorted. <Because I’m a figment of his imagination.>
Williams was temporarily at a loss. “No, I guess you wouldn’t ... would you?” Of course she wouldn’t, he thought. Because in spite of what she’s been through, she hasn’t gone stark, raving mad, like you.
“Let’s just say that Ank can communicate with me without actually speaking, and that he can understand what you say to him.” He gestured for her to come again. “Luna, come here! He’s not going to hurt you. I promise. Show him your radio.”
She descended the steps tentatively and held out the device, and Williams couldn’t help but to notice that her entire body was trembling. “That’s it, that’s a good girl,” he cajoled, then pointed at one of her hands and raised his brows as if to ask, May I?—before taking it in his own and guiding it to Ank’s snout, which she began to stroke slowly, cautiously.
<Is this really necessary? Just tell me about the radio. Does it work?>
“I’m getting to that.” And to Luna Williams said, “Your radio. Can you play it for us? We—we’ve been travelling for a long time, and we miss the sound of other voices. Would you mind?”
She didn’t respond right away but only continued to stroke Ank, who’s stony texture seemed to fascinate her endlessly. At length she said, “Okay,” and turned one of its dials, and the room was immediately filled with the slightly raspy voice of a woman, who continued, “... if you’re heading our way through Shadow Canyon, following that beautiful river, perhaps, be advised there’s a pair of allosaurs operating in that area we call Lenny and Squiggy, and stay alert. And while we’d prefer you didn’t kill them if in fact you are armed, we wouldn’t recommend you get too friendly with them either. Once again this is Radio Free Montana, nestled just south of Paradise at Barley’s Hot Springs Resort, where we’ve got power, lights, food, and about three-hundred survivors who’d love nothing more than to meet you. But be advised as always: if you’re a marauder or a carpetbagger, you won’t like what we’ve prepared for you. So take a little advice from Bella Ray and don’t even try it. And on that it’s another round of AC/DC ... for those struggling to get here even now, we salute you!”
It would have been difficult to overestimate the swelling in Williams’ chest as he looked to Ank and the armored dinosaur looked right back, for both of them sensed that this could be the destination they’d searched for—Tanelorn, as they called it. The place where both of them might find comfort and possibly even some answers to the riddles they each embodied.
“My God, Ank,” Williams stammered. “Do you think—”
<I think it’s the best lead we’ve had since coming north ... and that a bath in a hot spring would be divine beyond, well, my ability to imagine. Regardless, there’s the girl to think about ...>
“Yes, we could drop her off there if nothing—”
“You’re crazy, aren’t you?”
Williams came out of his thoughts as if from a dream and just looked at her. At Luna. Because her hair was white. “Maybe,” he offered, and then winked. “And you’re an albino. So what’s your point? If you ask me, I’d say a crazy man, an albino, and an ankylosaur make a pretty good team.”
She looked at him a little quizzically, as though unsure whether he was having her on or not. And then she just grinned infectiously, and Williams knew she’d accepted it—as he had finally accepted it: Ank as a possible talking reality, the Flashback, all of it. And then the spell was broken by a voice both familiar and alien, a voice which was human and at the same time serpentine, a voice which called out amidst the brewing storm: “Come out, Williams!”—and was instantly joined by another, which chimed in, parrot-like, “Yes, come out!” And another: “Eggsucker! Pig-fucker!”
And they knew the were-raptors had zeroed in on them at last.
“Those I can hear,” said Luna—and began retreating up the stairs again. “They only talk when they’re about to attack.”
Williams, meanwhile, had focused on Ank. “Jesus ... it called me by name.”
Ank stared at him from beneath his brow. <A survivor of Devil’s Gorge, maybe?>
Williams nodded slowly. “But how in God’s name? The only one who knew our names was ... Unless—”
<Unless the town was attacked by another pack of were-raptors after we left. Which would mean those outside could be anyone—Sheriff Decker, Katrina ...>
Williams misted up as he thought of the saloon girl who had shown him such affection. “I won’t shoot them, then.”
<Now listen, Will. Don’t let your personal feelings—>
“I said I won’t shoot them,” he snapped, and turned toward Luna, who was cowering at the top of the stairs. “We’ll have to find another way.” To Luna he said: “It’s all right, sweetie. Everything’s going to be all right.”
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