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THE THUNDERING HERD
“How do you hide a herd of stegosaurus?” Lin asked. She picked a long strand of grass, then started chewing on it as we sat in the big open field.
“Stegosauri,” I said.
“Huh?” Lin said with a confused look on her face.
“I think the plural of stegosaurus is stegosauri,” I explained.
“Well, right now it’s more like zero-sauri. Are you sure they’re in here already?” Lin asked.
“Sure, I’m sure. Professor Penrod let them go before he went exploring in Utah. He said, ‘Danny, old boy, I’ve released a herd of new critters in the Microterium. Stegosauri, to be exact. I’m sure they’ll get along just fine, but I would feel a whole lot better if you and Lin would check in on the new herd and see if they’re feeling hunky-dory,’” I said in my best Professor Penrod impression.
“Well, that sounds like him all right. But I still don’t see any stegos. Maybe they’re underground,” Lin said.
“I doubt it. They’re like bison of the Old West, or cows even. You know, grazers. I think if we keep looking in this grassy area we’ll find them soon enough,” I said. I tossed a stick to Bruno. He settled down next to me and began chewing it to bits.
“We’ve been looking forever. I just wish they’d give us a sign,” Lin said, taking off her hat, which used to belong to Professor Penrod. She wiped her brow on the sleeve of her shirt. Then we heard a deep bellow behind us that literally shook the earth. Well, it shook the Microterium, that’s for sure.
Lin and I looked at each other. Our mouths flopped open.
“What was that?” I asked.
“More like, who was that?” Lin said. “Let’s go see.”
Without waiting for my reply, Lin jumped on Zip-Zap’s back, and in a flash, they zipped toward the noise. I quickly stuffed the rest of our lunch in my backpack, then climbed on Bruno. Zip-Zap and Lin were almost to the top of a little hill. Bruno did his best to keep up, but his stumpy legs were not built for sprinting.
Before Bruno and I reached the top of the hill, Zip-Zap and Lin came rushing back. Bouncing along on Zip-Zap, Lin waved her arms like crazy, her eyes so wide open it looked she’d seen a Microsaur ghost!
“Run! Turn around!” Lin shouted, but Bruno and I were frozen in our tracks.
The long neck of the largest Microsaur I’ve ever seen stretched out over the hill behind Lin. It was taller than a construction crane. His leather skin looked like tree bark, old and wrinkled, and his head was as wide as a minivan. He opened his mouth and let out another deep bellow, and the sound rumbled and trembled all the way down to the pit of my stomach. I knew I should be scared because I was directly in the path of a walking skyscraper, but I couldn’t help but smile. He was the most amazing Microsaur I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of amazing Microsaurs.
Lin zipped by Bruno and me. “Danny! RUN! It’s a stego stampede!”
I pulled my eyes from the long-necked Microsaur to the top of the hill just as three, then five, then more than twenty stegosauri charged over the hill. Their feet sounded like thunder as they rushed toward us, and I didn’t have to tell Bruno to do anything. He spun around and burst down the hill, his stumpy legs churning faster than I ever thought possible.
But even though Bruno was trying his best, the stampede caught up to us in no time. Stegosauri twice Bruno’s size snorted and slobbered as they pounded the earth beneath them, stirring up a thick cloud of dust. I coughed and wheezed, then pulled my shirt up over my nose.
I tried with all my might to get Bruno to smash his way out of the stampede, but it was no use. We were totally caught up in the flow. The spiked tail of a big bull stego swooshed over my head, nearly turning me into a shish kebab. We bumped into the rump of another stampeding Microsaur, and it would have sent me flying if my right shoe hadn’t been twisted under Bruno’s collar.
As I squinted through the dirt cloud, I saw my only hope for escape. A small pile of jagged boulders a few inches taller than Bruno jutted out of the grass. I leaned to the right with all the muscle I could muster and pulled my triceratops toward the rocky hiding spot. Bruno used his strong neck and bony crest to bully his way out of the herd. Then, as if he was reading my mind, he jumped over the rock pile and ducked behind it. I fell to the ground next to him and rolled up into a ball by his side.
Hundreds of thundering stegosaurus feet stomped around us. Some even climbed the little pile of rocks and jumped right over our heads as we ducked for cover. The stampede came to an end as the massive body of the long-necked dinosaur slowly cast his shadow over Bruno and me. The massive Microsaur bellowed again, and dust and tiny pebbles tumbled down on us as we crouched in our hiding spot.
The stego stampede faded into a dust cloud, making its way down the hill. I was about to tap on my Invisible Communicator to call for Lin, when she and Zip-Zap poked around the edge of the pile of jagged rocks.
“Danny? Are you okay?” she asked.
I stood up and checked to make sure all my parts were still attached. I was so shaken by the experience that I honestly wasn’t sure. “Everything looks okay,” I said. Then the two of us shared a huge grin.
“That … was … AMAZING!” we both said at the same time.
“Did you see the big one?” Lin asked.
“Of course! He’s pretty hard to miss,” I said.
“And there must have been a hundred stegos,” Lin said.
“At least. Maybe more!” I said, filled with excitement.
“We have a big problem, Danny. How are we going to name them all?” Lin asked. “Holy moly—it’s going to be impossible!”
While I agreed with Lin that it was going to be tough to name all the stegos, there was something else worrying me.
“I think we might have a bigger problem than that. Look at the grass, Lin. It’s totally ruined. They smashed it flat,” I said.
“Whoa. That’s not good,” she replied with panic in her voice, and I could tell she was as worried as me.
“We have to do something about this. Look at that.” I pointed to a pile of sticks that was once a grove of trees. “We can’t let them just run around and smash everything,” I said.
“True, but what?” Lin asked.
Just before I blurted out a totally overcomplicated idea that included underground laser wire, motion detectors, nets, and flashing lights, Lin chimed in with the most obvious and perfectly simple idea ever.
“I guess we could build a fence,” she said. “You said they were like cows. Cows stay inside of fences all the time.”
“Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?” I said. “We could build it out of the same blocks we used to build the Fruity Stars Lab 3.0. I have plenty left over back home.”
Lin climbed back on Zip-Zap, then straightened her hat. “Well, come on, then, Danny. This fence isn’t going to build itself,” she said. She yahoo’ed her best cowgirl yelp, then cheered as Zip-Zap ran toward the Fruity Stars Lab.
Bruno dipped lower so I could easily jump on his back, but then he just stood there waiting.
“Come on, Bruno. Let’s go,” I said. The big Microceratops huffed a big breath but didn’t move an inch. “What’s wrong? Let’s go.”
Bruno huffed again, and I knew what he was waiting for. “Oh, okay. I get it,” I said. I let out a loud and very cowboyish YIPEE ki-YAY! and Bruno thundered down the hill after Lin and Zip-Zap.
Copyright © 2018 by Dustin Hansen