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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Dave Free on 20 March 2007 - 9:53am.

"It's a--" Elena gasped.

The creature looked from the dog to the children, then took three quick steps toward the pool and disappeared into the water. Blue, once again, was left to bark ferociously at nothing but water.

"Did... Did you see that?" Jeremy was the first to find his voice. Elena didn't speak. She just nodded her head.

"It was a dinosaur!" Jeremy shouted. "We just saw a real, live dinosaur!" He jumped off his four-wheeler and danced around trying to get his helmet off. "I can't believe it! Did you see that?" He finally got his helmet off and turned to his sister again. She just nodded.

"It was an ornithomimus!" Jeremy said jumping in excitement, "I'm sure of it. Did you see how it kind of walked like an ostrich?" Jeremy waddled a few steps toward Elena to show her how it walked. "That's what ornithomimus means. It means bird mimic. This is sooo cool!” He sat down on his four-wheeler and shook his head in disbelief. He was back up in a minutee. “C'mon, the pool’s not that big. I'll bet we can see the dinosaur in the water." He pulled his helmet on. Elena finally found her voice.

"No! We're not going down there!" she yelled at Jeremy.

He stopped and looked at her. "Why not?"

"C'mon Jeremy, you've watched Jurassic Park a thousand times. Dinosaurs eat kids like us!"

"Ellie, those were velociraptors. Velociraptors are carnivores! Didn't you see what the ornithomimus was eating? Grass! He eats grass Ellie, he's not going to eat us!" Jeremy knew that the ornithomimus was an omnivore but he didn't think it was important to share that particular piece of information with his sister just now. He jumped on his four-wheeler, "Well wait here if you want. If anything happens to me, just take off for the house. I've got to at least go down and get Blue."

Blue was still barking wildly. Elena still wasn’t convinced so Jeremy tried again, "If he was going to eat meat, don't you think he would have eaten Blue by now?"

Elena thought for a minute with a frown on her face, "Okay, go get Blue, but if anything happens to you, I'm going to kill you."

"Thanks," Jeremy said with a smile and started his four-wheeler down the side of the bowl. At the bottom he carefully parked his machine so that it was headed back toward the road. He left it running in case he needed to make a quick get away. He was taking his helmet off when Elena yelled to him.

"Keep your helmet on Jee! Helmets are hard to chew!"

Jeremy wasn’t thrilled with the thought of his head becoming a chew toy and decided to keep his helmet on. He flicked up the tinted visor. Cautiously he walked up beside Blue and looked down into the water. The glare of the sun on the water made it impossible to see anything. He flicked his visor back down and could see clearly to the bottom of the pool. Slowly he made his way around the edge. No matter how hard he looked, he couldn't see anything that looked remotely like a dinosaur. The only place he couldn’t see was the dark area under the overhang of the cliff. He decided that must be where the dinosaur was hiding.

He walked back around the pool to the four-wheeler. He hit the kill switch on the machine and took his helmet off. Then he sat down and began untying his shoes. He heard Elena yelling something but he didn't pay any attention. Forty-five seconds later she skidded her four-wheeler to a stop inches from where he was undressing.

"Jeremy David, I hope you are not doing what I think you are doing," she said in her best motherly tone.

"You don't want me to go for a swim?" he asked innocently.

"Not here and certainly not now." she bellowed.

Jeremy kept undressing. In exasperation, Elena got off her machine and knelt down next to him. As calmly as she could she tried to reason with him. "Look Jeremy, that creature is never going to come out as long as Blue is barking. Let's take Blue back to the house then we can come back with some chairs, binoculars, a camera, mom and dad—I don’t know, maybe a cannon? C’mon Jee, Mom and Dad will kill me if I let you go in that pool with that dinosaur by yourself." She was now pleading.

Jeremy stopped unbuckling his belt and looked at her. What she’d said made sense. He had to admit to himself he was a little worried about jumping in the pool alone. "Okay," he agreed, "but while I take Blue home you’ll have to wait here and make sure our dinosaur doesn't leave get away."

“And how am I supposed to stop it?” Elena asked.

“You’ll think of something,” Jeremy replied. He pulled on his shirt and then began working his sweaty socks back on over his dirty toes.

“You’ll go straight home and come back as fast as you can right?” Elena remained unconvinced.

“As fast as I can,” Jeremy promised, “and I’ll leave a note for mom and dad to get out here as soon as they get home.”

“Okay,” Elena finally agreed, “but I’m waiting up on the edge of the bowl, not down here.”

“Just don’t let it get away.” Jeremy said as he popped open the compartment under the seat of his four-wheeler, dug out a short piece of rope, and walked over to Blue.

“It’s okay boy, it’s okay. That was just a little dinosaur, nothing for you to worry about.” Jeremy worked the rope under Blue’s collar and tied a knot. Pulling on the rope, he began dragging Blue from the pool. The dog barked and struggled to stay near the water.

“C’mon boy, time to go home.” Jeremy kept saying over and over again. He tied the end of the rope to the back of his four-wheeler then pulled his helmet on. Elena climbed back on her four-wheeler and they slowly made their way to the top of the bowl with Blue reluctantly following. When they reached the top, Jeremy waved goodbye to Elena and meant to drive on but Elena motioned him to stop.

“Hey, I can take Blue home if you are just going to pull him,” she said. “I thought you were going to put him on your lap.”

“Tried that once,” Jeremy replied, “he scratched the heck out of me and nearly got run over by the back wheels when he jumped off. This works better. So, you want to take him?”

“Promise you won’t go in the water while I’m gone?” Elena asked.

“I promise.” Jeremy said. He dreaded leaving the dinosaur and liked this arrangement much better. He untied the rope from his four-wheeler and pulled the whining Blue over to Elena’s.

“Don’t go very fast,” he said to Elena as he tied the knot, “and don’t untie him until you are in the kennel or he’ll bolt right back here.”

Elena pulled two red apples from the pockets of the hooded sweatshirt she was wearing. “You want these?” she asked Jeremy as he straightened up.

Jeremy wasn’t hungry yet, but he reached out and took them from his sister. Hadn’t he read somewhere that the ornithomimus ate fruit? “Thanks!” he said then added, “See if you can find mom’s video camera okay?”

Elena nodded and started the four-wheeler slowly down the dry creek bed. Blue looked back at Jeremy with big, sad puppy eyes and whined. Jeremy felt sorry for him but right now the dinosaur was more important. He quickly shoved the apples in his pockets and rode back down into the bowl. Unlike Elena, he had no intention of waiting at the top. He would keep his promise of not going in the water but he didn’t promise he wouldn’t try to get the dinosaur to come out.

He hit the kill switch on the four-wheeler, pulled off his helmet and worked his hand into his pocket and to find his pocketknife. Using the knife he cut up one of the apples. He cut it into eight pieces and, out of habit, cut the seeds out. Taking a bite of one of the pieces he studied at the pool. The water was still and smooth. He gathered up the other seven pieces and walked toward the water. He thought he saw a shadow move as he approached but he couldn’t be sure.

Carefully, he picked out the smallest piece of apple and threw it into the pool near the base of the cliff. Then he took another piece of apple and threw it right in the middle of the pool. He dropped the third piece just a few feet from the edge where he stood. The fourth piece he placed carefully on a rock at the edge of the pool where it could be seen from the water. Walking back toward his four-wheeler, he placed the fifth piece on the ground about half the distance to it. Finally, he took off his sweatshirt and laid it on the ground near the four-wheeler. He put the last two pieces of apple on the sweatshirt.

Looking back toward the pool he admired his work. Then he climbed on the four-wheeler and rode back to the top of the bowl. He parked back from the edge of the bowl so that the four-wheeler couldn’t be seen from the bowl. Then he got done on all fours and crawled back to the edge of the bowl. Finding a spot clear of big rocks, he laid down on his stomach and waited.

It didn’t take long before he noticed a parade of ants busily working just a few feet in front of him. He scanned the surrounding dirt and found a stick to lay in the ants’ path. Within seconds they were going over the obstacle. Jeremy wondered what he would find at the end of the ant parade. He was just about to go find out when he heard a splash. He looked up quickly. There were ripples in the surface of the pond, but he couldn’t see anything. He looked for his apples. The one on the edge of the pool was gone!

Jeremy lay still and stared at the pond again, kicking himself for playing with the ants. This time he didn’t have to wait long. The dinosaur’s head broke the surface of the water and raised up a few feet looking carefully from side to side. Jeremy’s heart was beating so hard he was sure the dinosaur would feel the vibration. He laid still and watched.

The dinosaur was now focused on the pieces of apple that Jeremy had left in the grass and on the sweatshirt. It came up to the edge of the pool closest to the apples and tried to reach them without leaving the water. It’s neck was long but it couldn’t reach. It looked around again and then in a rush of splashing water it leapt out of the pool and landed within a few inches of the first piece of apple. Balancing on its two massive rear legs, it tilted forward until it could reach the apple with the claws on the end of its short arms. Scooping the apple quickly it tossed it into its mouth then took a few quick steps to the last pieces of apple resting on Jeremy’s sweatshirt.

Rather than scooping the apples quickly as it had the last time, the creature lowered its snout all the way to the ground and carefully sniffed the apple pieces and the sweatshirt. After a few sniffs it pulled back, raised its head and looked around the bowl cautiously. Jeremy hoped it couldn’t see or smell him.

Apparently satisfied that there was no real danger, the dinosaur dipped its head and sniffed again. Without using its paws, it opened its beak-like snout and crunched the first piece. It seemed to enjoy it and raised its head to look around as it slowly chewed. Then it bent over and did the same with the final piece.

Jeremy’s heart had finally slowed to a more normal pace. He watched in amazement as the creature ate its apple and then returned to eating the grass. When it was standing with its head up, it looked to Jeremy like it was about as tall as a big horse. Its tail was long, probably ten feet or more. The tail didn’t droop limply like the tail of a horse or a cow. It was more like the tail of a lizard. It was large at its base and then gradually got smaller toward the end. Jeremy noticed that it whipped around a lot as the dinosaur moved. The dinosaur’s legs rippled with large muscles. They reminded Jeremy of the legs of an ostrich only lots bigger. Jeremy wondered if he could ever keep up with if it started running.

As the dinosaur ate, it would look up from time to time in Jeremy’s direction. Jeremy would hold his breath and hope the animal hadn’t sensed he was there. The head of the dinosaur was long and skinny and made up almost entirely of the long snout or beak. Its eyes were large and set well back on the skull. Jeremy couldn’t tell what color its eyes were. As the animal continued to graze the water dripped from its brownish/gray hide but even as it dried its hide maintained a luster or shine. Its coloring reminded Jeremy of a horny toad. The belly and underside of the neck were a cream color while its back was the brownish/gray.

After several minutes of watching quietly, Jeremy began to worry about the return of his sister and the noise of her four-wheeler. If the animal was scared into the pool again, it may never come back out. He thought about crawling backward until he could stand up and then running back to meet Elena, but he didn’t want to risk taking his eyes off the creature. He shifted a little to look back down the creek bed to see if he could see her coming but there was no sign of her. As he moved, the lump in his pocket reminded him he still had an apple.

Slowly he worked his way back from the bowl and dug the apple and the pocketknife out of his pocket. He quickly cut the apple and then he back to where he could just see into the bowl. The dinosaur was eating with its head down. Jeremy tossed a piece of apple as far as he could toward the dinosaur. It landed in the dirt about halfway to the dinosaur. The dinosaur looked up and Jeremy ducked. He counted to five and then looked up slowly. The dinosaur was focused on the piece of apple and sniffing the air cautiously. It took a step toward the apple and then broke into a little jog reaching the apple within a few seconds. It scooped the apple with its claws and then loped back to the safety of the pool.

Jeremy watched and planned his next move. He had befriended several other wild animals with food and patience. He figured the dinosaur would make a great pet. It never occurred to him that it might be dangerous.

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