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Irene sat down by the heater, dreaming that one day she could find a place far from the giant metropolis, escape from human interference and live on her own. Of course, her older brother Andrew would be with her, to teach her how to cook and read and build a house. But alas, she was stuck here, with her parents and her family, who for the most part, did not care much for her. Here in North Carolina, it got very cold in the winter, Irene learned at school that it used to be much hotter there, but the earth’s climate changed, and the cold reached farther south than it used to. Stretching, she stood up and looked outside, the sky was covered in grey clouds, reflecting the lights of all the skyscrapers and buildings in the city. Snow flittered down but left no covering on the sidewalk or road, since they were all heated to prevent having to shovel them.

“Irene?”  she heard her brother call.

“Huh?” she turned seeing him dressed in a suit, about to put on a hat. He was tall and very thin. His face was fresh, and his eyes were soft and loving. His black hair neatly combed. Holding his arm was a young woman with fluffy blonde hair in a sparkling red dress, she silently looked at Irene, seemingly wanting to leave.

“We’re about to leave, I’m hoping you can take care of yourself while I’m gone?” he asked.

“Yeah, I think…” she said, looking at the floor.

“That a girl,” he said, reaching down and ruffling her hair.

Irene turned to look out the window again. She heard the door open and close. Her eyes locked onto the street below, soon, the couple walked out onto the street and headed away from the building. Ever since Andrew met that girl, he paid less and less attention to herself, making her feel a lot more alone.

The young girl made her way to the living room, removing the scrunchie from her long black hair and letting it fall around her face. She buttoned up her striped pink pajamas and burrowed under a blanket. It was really cold in her house, since her mom had a policy of turning off the heat if there were two or less people in it, and guests didn’t count. Her head peering from the blanket, searching for something of entertainment. She scanned her surroundings, until they found a small book that her father owned, she darted out a hard and snatched it up. Opening it, her big blue eyes light up, seeing pictures of amazing animals and plants that sparked her imagination. Flipping through the glossy pages, she found a picture that took up two of them. A big grey animal stood, on its nose were two horns. It was her favorite, she always thought it looked sad, with its moist eyes and long eyelashes.

“The black rhye-noe-ker-us,” she said aloud, “was once found across africa, until it was hunted to extinction. The last wild specimen was killed by african poachers on September 27th, 2185.”

She frowned at the thought of it being extinct, “Exhibits featuring this animal, the Detroit Zoo, Florida State Zoo…” her eyes instantly noticed a familiar state, “North Carolina Safari Experience!” She smiled. She always saw advertisements about a safari, she figured that she must be close to it. She’d wait for Andrew to come back, then she would go see all the animals with him.

“Wait…” she said to herself, “He probably won't want to go with me…” She stood up, running over to her room, and throwing open her closet door, “I know, I’ll go live with the rhinos, my parents wont miss me, neither will my brothers, everybody wins!” She grabbed a coat, as well as some extra clothes. Holding a massive armful of clothes, she scurried to her mom’s room, finding a large suitcase, she shoved the clothes in. Turning to leave, she remembered that she needed adult clothes too, for when she grew up. She stole her mom’s pajamas, which were nearly identical to the ones she had on earlier. Dragging the suitcase to the door she smiled.

“I’m gonna need some entertainment in case I ever get bored,” grabbing a bunch of books off the shelf, she dumped them in her case, not even stopping to read what they were.

“Food!” Running into the kitchen, she snagged some chips and juice, “Now I’m ready!”

She left the apartment, ready for an adventure.



Walking down the street, she looked around, trying to find any of the billboards or other ads for the safari. She noticed a picture with the word “safari” in huge letters, under it was a picture of a white and yellow animal with a big beak and claws on its four legs. A large arrow pointed to the left of the poster, it saying “sign-up through here!” Her heart racing, she barged through the door to see a man standing at a desk, he looked up.

“Yes?” he asked.

“I’m here for the safari!” Irene loudly said, raising her hand and pointing a finger in the air.

“You?”

“Yeah, me!” she smiled.

“Why? Who gave you the idea to come here?” he asked, rubbing the bottom of his nose, making a scratching sound against his grey moustache.

“I want to see the last rhinos!” She laughed, she knew how adults liked to joke towards kids.

“Rhinos?” he laughed in response.

“Rhinos…” she said quietly.

“Go home little girl, there ain't no rhinos.” he said, looking down, not paying her any more attention.

“Hey! Let me see them!” She barked.

“Girl! Go home before I sic the guards on you!” he yelled.

She snarled, “Okay… I’ll go…” she said innocently. She bent down and opened the door, the man looked back down and chuckled to himself quietly.

“Stupid kid.”

Irene flopped on the ground, crawling across the floor, hugging the wall tightly. She saw another door, she quickly opened it and ducked through. In front of her, a large green and brown vehicle sat on a tall metal launch pad. She looked around.

“Is this the right place?” she asked herself, feeling unsure of what to do. Exiting another door, a group of men came out laughing, one was miming holding a gun and firing, only to start laughing again. Irene panicked, she ran up the steps leading to the vehicle, she saw an opening near the back and flung her suitcase in, and climbed after it. The room she entered was relatively large, the metal walls curved like a bowl, and on the flat floor were some large brown crates. Irene crawled on top of one her head almost touched the ceiling of the room. She heard voices from the outside. Quickly acting, she dove behind a crate and huddled behind her suitcase. She heard a thud, and the crates shook a bit. Then, the room fell into blackness.There was a roar as the vehicle shuddered. Irene stood up, and looked around in the darkness. Her eye’s were slowly adjusting, but she could barely make anything out. She sat on top of a crate, wondering if she made a mistake.

After about a day, Irene was restless. A voice called over a loudspeaker, “The shuttle will be landing in 20 minutes, please prepare yourselves and put on your helmets and exo-lungs”

Irene was confused, why must they need all of this stuff? Weren’t they just going on safari? The shuttle roared and shook, Irene ducked under some crates and braced herself. The vehicle rattled and then grew silent. Above her, she heard footsteps. Lights flicked on in the room, forcing her to slam her eyes shut and turn away.

“Ouch!” she squealed, covering her closed eyes. Suddenly, the room’s hatch was opened with a soft hiss, and two men in white body suits and masks entered, gathering the crates. She struggled to open her eyes, the blurred outlines of the wooden crates becoming slightly more focused.

“Is someone back there?” a man called, muffled through his mask.

They must have noticed her, she snatched her suitcase and charged, sprinting past the two men and jumping out the hatch, landing in tall, moist grass, dragging her luggage across the wet ground.Around her was a large concrete complex, tall towers with barbed wiring and spikes lining them. Quickly thinking, she scanned for any doors or holes in the wall.

“Hey you! Where are you going?” Someone roared.

She didn't turn around, to see who said it, her eyes instead focused on a small metal grate. Sprinting, her luggage bag bursted open, spilling food and clothes out onto the ground. Her sense of fear rising, she didn't stop to pick any of it up.

“Oi! Little girl! Stop right now!”

She flopped down at the grate, which was luckily on hinges and she managed to open it. Peering through she saw it just led outside.

“Don’t go in there!” someone yelled. But it was too late, the young girl was already squeezing through, tugging her suitcase in after her.

Quickly scrambling through, she burst out the other side and continued running, she was pretty sure she was a long ways from home, but maybe she could find someone who wouldn’t be mad at her, and they could help. Before long, she found herself in a dense forest, patches of light shown through the thick, leafy branches. She plopped down on the forest floor. She looked around, her suitcase was open, only a few clothes remained, and all of her food was gone. Her pants were brown and green with mud and it sticked to her tired legs. Standing up, she realized that she desperately needed to use the restroom, it had been many hours since she last urinated. Uncomfortably looking around, she darted into a bush. A rush of relief spread through her body as she shuddered. But then, she heard the flutter of a small creature, turning, she quickly hoisted up her pants, her eyes darting around as she blushed fiercely. She noticed a small animal, it looked like a tiny furry lizard. However, it had and extra pair of legs, and 4 diamond shaped wings on its back. The animal scuttled across the ground, stopping near the damp, urine soaked ground. Instead of a mouth, it had a large needle like proboscis, which it used to sniff the ground. Irene backed away, unnerved by the tiny creature. Two more flapped down, gathering around the spot in which she once stood. Soon, a large group of them had congregated, the sound of their wings buzzing was almost deafening. Scared, Irene dashed to where she left her suitcase and ran from the scene.

On edge, Irene walked through the woods, glancing around, searching for more creatures. Although she was scared, the idea of finding more animals intrigued her, she had never read about those brown winged things, maybe there were other living things that she didn't know about. Her father was a hunter, who knew many things about nature. She was also interested in the wild, but on earth, most habitats were long gone, so she never got a chance to experience true nature. This place was fascinating, maybe she wasn’t on earth anymore. After walking for a while, she found a small clearing, thick bushes and bramble grew around a flowing river. Deciding it was time to eat, she bent down at the plants, looking for berries. She came across several long and slim blue berries. She plucked one off the branch and examined it. Unsurely, she placed it in her mouth, her teeth breaking the firm skin and her tongue tasting the sweet, gooey flesh. She grabbed some more, eagerly downing them, enjoying the juicy sugary taste. The flavor stayed in her mouth for quite a bit. Afterwards, she rolled up her pant legs and splashed in the cold flowing water. This was the most fun she had ever had, and nothing could spoil the moment. Nearby, she heard a snap. She stopped splashing.

The foot of a massive green animal splashed further down the river. Irene quietly hid, observing the creature. Its hindlimbs were extremely long, probably twice her height. However, it had no forelimbs. The animal had a fatty hump on its back which started at the base of its short, thick tail, and stopped at its long, neck. The animal’s skull was long, and in its closed jaws was a small fish. Flinging its head back, the fish was tossed to the air, and landed headfirst into its mouth. Irene stared at it, the creature was easily bigger than her brother’s car, and every time it stepped, the branches of nearby trees would rock. Fearful, Irene quickly and silently slinked away, eyes wide with fear, she was unsure if this was going to be as fun as she thought.

The dusk sun was slowly sinking, the calls of distant beasts echoed in the cool afternoon. Irene was spending the rest of her day looking for shelter, the chilly wind gave her goosebumps as she trekked along the forest. Soon she came face to face with a large cliff face. Hoping to find a cave, she glanced around, she saw a small indentation in the wall, roughly 8 feet deep, she crawled in, the cold rock floor rubbed against her belly, chilling her even more, but soon, her exhaustion got the best of her, and she drifted off to sleep.

A week passed. She started to build an actual shelter, not many animals had presented themselves during this time. Only the small winged creatures regularly appeared, usually when she had to relieve herself. Irene survived mainly on the small berries near the river, as well as some nuts and other plants that grew nearby. For a few days they gave her terrible stomach aches, but her body started to tolerate them more.

Soon, a whole year had passed, Irene had developed a small log and stone structure, it was extremely crude, but served its purpose. In it, she kept her books and clothes neatly on a shelf she made by sticking branches in the cracks in the walls. When it rained, the roof would leak, but Irene was slowly becoming less and less deterred by natural annoyances such as rain and cold. Her shoes were long lost, but she could easily traverse the rough forest floor in her bare feet. Today, she decided to explore beyond the cliff, she had stayed mostly confined to this area for her year alone, and wanted to find out more about the land around her. Staring up the 50 foot rock wall she prepared to climb. Grabbing a rock she started to hoist herself up, her toes gripped the stones beneath her, and before long, she had reached the top. There were less trees on top of the cliff, just tall grass and some large boulders. She trekked into the unknown, some of the grass was so tall, it reached her nose. She pushed through, wondering what she might find.

As she wandered through the field, she heard the rustle of grass as a soft breeze blew through the grasslands. However, the sound continued as the wind died. Curious, she glanced around, her ears picking up the location of the noise. Far off she saw the grass rustling, a small spot was shaking without the aid of wind. Something must have been in there. Irene slowly moved towards it, cautiously tip toeing towards it. She parted the tall grass, and came face to face with a large feathered creature, It had a wide yellow beak, with small sharp teeth showing. On the top of its head was a dark red crest. It had a long thin neck and a small body with a short tail. The animal stood up, revealing its long legs that ended in 3 sharp claws. The creature’s head towered above her, its large yellow eyes focused on the girl, its small wings spread, revealing a large grey claw on each of them. Irene backed up, the animal bobbing its head, as it walked closer to her. Irene started to sweat, the creature’s appearance was otherworldly. It let out a low snarl, bringing its head down and showing off its plumage, Irene didn’t realize it, but it was trying to intermediate her, make her flee, but she was unsure what to do. In a flash, the creature leapt up, its large body was light, but still a burden as it landed on Irene. She flailed about, trying to get the animal off ehr.

“Ah! Help!” she cried, stumbling in the grass. the animal’s claws tore the back of her shirt, and it continuously snapped at her head and neck. She wobbled toward the edge of the cliff, powerful cold winds roared in her ears, the powerful gusts making her even more unbalanced. The large feathered creature continued to struggle with her, on her back, it lunged forward to bite at her hair, but this set her off balance, and they both tumbled over the edge.

It was pitch black, no light for miles around. Irene leaned forward clutching one arm. Her head pounded and her lungs ached. She must have survived the fall. Glancing around, she couldn't see anything at all. Panicked, she stood up, but quickly sat back down as her head surged with pain. There was a faint rancid stench, which she soon found out was her own vomit and small amounts of blood. Still sitting, she scooted towards the cliff, leaning on the rocks, she let out a sigh. The cold night air bit at her skin, giving her whole body goosebumps. She decided it was best not to go back up the cliff.

Day came, and she woke up, curled into a ball for warmth. She quickly identified the spot where she fell, there was a small indent in the soft earth, blood and feathers were scattered around it. A small trail of blood drips was left leaving the scene, which must have been the creature she battled. Irene was somewhat proud of herself, she managed to survive against a creature 3 times her height. The icy wind blew by again, slithering through the holes in her shirt and biting at her skin. Slowly as unenthused, she trudged back to her makeshift hovel. Searching her shelf, she found her last child sized shirt, she quickly removed the torn one and replaced it. About to throw it away, she decided to keep it, just in case.

A few weeks passed, the chilling winds grew stronger, and eventually the first snowfall came, dousing the forest in a white cover. The leaves had fallen, and the once dense woods seemed empty. Her stream had frozen over, and the bushes stopped providing berries. A hard time was ahead of her. As Irene exited her small home, her feet came in contact with the icy snow. Recoiling, she stood in the doorway, not wanting to go further. But she knew she had to, if she wanted to survive. Quickly sprinting out of the house, she winced with each step and her feet burned from the cold. Looking around, she needed to find something to eat. No plants, so she had to resort to meat, which was something she hadn’t needed in her first year. Her breaths were in short gasps, puffs of condensation emerged with each one. Her eyes started to tear from the cold, and she ran back in. Holding her icy feet, rubbing them to keep them cool. This was going to be hard. She stayed inside for a few days, trying to keep herself preoccupied with something like a book. However, she realized she could make some sort of foot covering with what she had. grabbing a pair of pants she strained as she tried to tear it. With no avail, she instead turned to a shirt, which she more easily ripped. She wrapped one piece around her foot, creating multiple layers, and she did the same with the other.  Cautiously stepping outside, her foot landed in the snow, it was much more bearable, but she was still cold. She’d have to brave it. Because the trees were bare, spotting something to eat was a bit easier. She noticed a hole in a tree and decided to investigate for food, she peered in, finding a small nest of furry creatures sleeping, grabbing one, it quickly awoke and puffed itself up, jabbing her hand with small quills, quickly reacting she dropped it back in the hole and slid down the tree. She decided to find something easier to get. Following the edge of the cliff, Irene continued her search for food. after a few minutes, she came across a carcass, which was being mercilessly torn into by two large animals, they looked similar to the feathered creature, but they were white and lacked a downy covering, and instead of short wings, they had long arms with three sharp talons at the end. Irene slowly crept over to the dead animal picking up a sharp rock, she began to cut at the large creatures scaly skin, eventually pulling a small hunk of flesh off, roughly the size of both her hands. Pleased, she quickly darted from the scene as the two scavengers stared at her.

Irene encountered a problem. How was she supposed to cook her food? Casting the bit of meat into the snow she attempted to build a flame with some sticks, but had no avail. She tried again but with two rocks, but that didn’t work either. Looking at the red mess, her stomach rumbled, she was really hungry, and decided she just had to eat it raw. Picking it up, the dark flesh rubbed off on her hands, with a small bite she nipped a piece off. It tasted bloody, but she could bear it. Continuing, she finished it off and wiped her mouth, the red juices dripping on the back of her hand. Despite the raw meat giving her extreme indigestion, she knew it had value. Over the next few weeks, Irene started to adapt to eating raw meat, regularly returning to the site of the kill to nab more of the precious protein. With each return, she saw the same two scavengers staked out at the area. They were usually asleep by a tree, one laid on top of the other, probably to keep the other warm. With them around, Irene felt slightly safer, since not many other predators seemed to show up.  Eventually, it snowed again, forcing her to stay inside, fearing she might get lost or freeze in the icy forest. Doing what she normally did on these kinds of days, read. Irene slowly learned new words and kept herself sane by reading a small dictionary she had brought, she knew how lucky she was to have accidentally brought it when she grabbed the random books from the shelf. Along side that, she had some short novels, reference books, and a few assorted manuals, but she never found the time to read those.

“Frostbite,” she read from the dictionary, “A condition in which a part of your body freezes or almost freezes” Irene felt her toes, “scary,” she said, finding they seemed to feel alright.

Irene’s second and third year passed without much drama. She met only a couple of new species, and learned how to raid other predator’s kills without capture. Now she was twelve, and her body was beginning to mature, which helped her immensely when it came to running and other physical tasks.

On a particularly hot day, she ventured down to the river to cool down, during these hot periods, the creatures which she affectionately called “Biguanas” wallowed in the muddy banks. She named them that because of their large size and lizard like qualities, the big quadrupeds had long bodies with generally arched backs, they had tall yellow plates that ran single file from their head to the tip of their tail. In the summer, they adopted a green and brown body color, and in the winter they became a striking white. Apart from their body, they also had tall heads and beaks, and they had long legs with pillar like feet, and thinner forelimbs with two claws. A small individual would be around 9 feet tall, and up to 30 feet long. But they were nearly harmless.

She wandered down the creek, many of the “Biguanas” were calmly basking, while younger ones splashed in the water. Irene bent down in the water, lifting the cool liquid to her face and pouring it over her head. One male looked up, its eyes darting around, nostrils flaring. Irene backed off, during mating seasons these animals could get extremely violent, and she didn't want to suffer a big bull’s wrath. Others started to look around too, a youngster ducked behind a female. Irene realized they were reacting to her, since they started moving past her, but she was afraid of what they might be searching for.

Out of the bushes dashed a massive green animal, one that she usually saw catching fish in the deeper parts of the river. It bypassed the herd and ducked into the thick bushes. Irene wasn’t sure what could have scared it, it was the biggest predator around here, at least the biggest she’d seen. Irene heard a blood curdling roar, and the Biguanas scattered. From the thicket erupted a massive brown beast, with a slash of its paw, it downed a Biguana, the monstrous predator had to have been bigger than the Biguanas, by at least 5 feet. Irene stood, staring at it, its large, lean body was covered in leathery brown skin, over its shoulders was a massive hump. The animal sunk its long wide head into the Biguana, pulling out a mass of red meat, which it swallowed in a quick gulp. The creek turned red with blood, the dark water flowing around Irene’s legs. She was dumbfounded by the size and mass of the animal, and she had to force herself to leave, for her own safety.

A few weeks went by, she sometimes heard the bellows of other animals outside, but never the great beast she had just met. Curious, she went for a jog by the river, feeling that if she had an unlucky encounter, she could run from it. Quickly moving to the creek, she picked up the familiar and somewhat enticing smell of flesh. Irene peered down the river, seeing the rotted carcass of the biguana, its ragged chunks of meat hung from its bones. She was surprised there was any left at all. On the carcass was a swarm of the little winged lizards, which she started to call “urine harassers” jokingly, since they often swarmed to sites that she used as bathrooms. They bit at the carcass with a small pair of teeth found under their proboscis, which she recently found out caused the structure of both living and dead tissue to lose integrity, making it gooey and easy to ingest through their straw like mouth. Nowhere in sight was the big brown creature, or any other scavenger. She passed it by, glancing at the mess of rot and bone.

Traveling upstream, she came to a small open field, a tall mound piled in the middle. Irene slowly walked over to it, however, she noticed it wasn't a mound of dirt or rock, but it appeared to be… Leathery. Realizing her mistake, she turned and fled, breaking a stick and kicking a rock as she ran. The mound rose, revealing itself to be the large beast she encountered a few weeks back. Only, it was covered in black and blue bruises. The animal charged with surprising speed, as long as Irene was in the field, it would be able to catch her and kill her. Irene was panting and huffing as she took wide stride to try and reach the forest, leaping, she grabbed the trunk of a tree and scurried up, resting on the highest branch as the beast pawed at the bark, growling and snarling, until it gave up and returned to the field.

Irene started to stay more and more confined to a smaller range, trying to avoid confrontations with large predators. She spent almost her whole 4th year in her home, rarely emerging, only to look for food. A few days after Irene turned 13, she heard a quiet commotion, the crunching of leaves, chatter of people. Hesitant, she leaned out of her shelter, peering about the forest. Far off was a trio of humans dressed in  camouflage. They all had guns, which made Irene slightly uneasy. She watched them quietly. One of them sat down and opened a bag, while the other set up his rifle and peered through the scope. Irene continued to watch. The man with the gun leaned away from the scope and said something to the others. They all quietly laughed. He leaned back in pulling the trigger, and shot rang out, making Irene wince from the noise. The gunman raised his fist in triumph. The three got up, one took the bag they set down. Irene scrambled over to where they were, looking to the ground, she saw the rifle, sitting in the dirt. She snatched it up and ran. First ducking into her hovel, then deciding to go somewhere else, in case they followed her. She wanted to try this machine out for herself, not quite sure if she remembered what it did, but she recalled her father having one.

Irene finally made it far away, she was somewhere on the north side of the cliffs, she held up the weapon, aiming at a tree. Her finger searched for the part to pull, finding it, she yanked her finger back. The gun seemingly exploded, she jumped back, throwing it on the ground. She put her hands up onto her ears, hopping on the ground, her eyes shut tight. She sat in the dirt for a moment, after she calmed down, she opened her eyes, she saw the splintered trunk of the tree, a hole going almost all the way through. She smirked, grabbing the gun again. Bracing herself this time, she pulled the trigger, aiming at the same tree. She shuddered as the gun shook. It started to make a mechanical grinding noise, then a click. Irene Pulled the trigger again, feeling powerful. The bullet flew into the forest. The gun made the noise again, but the click was hollow sounding this time, and when she pulled the trigger, nothing happened.

Keeping it, she put it on her makeshift shelf. The three men were never seen or heard again. But Irene sometimes heard other people, but she never saw them.

Years later, when Irene turned 16, a very important event was about to take place. Late one night she heard a loud roaring, not one like an animal, but one like a pile of wood and stone falling, mixed with the grinding of two stones, only it was slightly different. Emerging from her home, which was now getting very small and cramped, Irene set off to search for the source. The darkness was now almost nothing to her, low light was common in the forests, and when there were no leaves to block the sun, it meant it was winter, and the days hardly lasted 6 hours. She was much more fearless, climbing the cliffs she once vowed not to climb again. She had managed to fashion a knife out of the thick ribcage of a biguana, and she managed to learn the ways of combat with it. As Irene ventured through the tall fields of grass, she caught glimpse of a bright light through the trees. Running over to it, she found a massive burning wreck, she wasn't sure exactly what it was, but it had no signs of life she could see.

The shattered trunks of charred trees were dotted around the area. Hot metal plates and beams were flung around the area, creating a dangerous field of hazards. The largest part of the mess was a black metal machine. The form was twisted and disfigured, it obviously suffered from an attack or some sort of other pressure. The wreck sputtered as sparks flew from it. Irene looked about, realizing that on the other side was another cliff, meaning this was a plateau of sorts. But the cliffs fell deeper than they did on the other side. Clouds had started to form, further enhancing the darkness. Irene sat at the hull of the burning black heap, feeling the warmth of the flame, unsure of what to do with this mess. Small showers of rain fell, until it finally unleashed in a raging downpour, hissing when it came into contact with the hot metal and burning flame. Irene got up, ready to leave, when she heard an extra loud snap. At first dismissing it for the flame, she then heard a snarl. Turning, she saw the leathery humpbacked creature. Apparently undeterred by the fire, it drew closer, investigating, sniffing the air, raising its head and peering around. The massive creature reared onto its hind legs and leaned onto a large tree. Irene hid and watched. She noticed an air of intelligence in the animal’s movements, how it seemed to be doing everything for a reason. With a loud crack, the tree started to lean forward more, until it snapped in the middle and collapsed onto the wreckage. With shocking agility, it leaped onto the thick trunk, and walked towards the metal heap. The fire was much smaller, and it managed to dip its head into the rubble. Out of it, it pulled two bodies. Leaping down from the tree, it dropped them onto the ground. One of the small bodies began to move, the bigger creature rubbed it with its jaw. It then turned to the other one, which remained still. Scooping them both up in its jaws it began towards Irene. She panicked, running behind a rock formation to duck behind a tree, she slid in the slick mud, tumbling down a steep incline, mud and dirt splashing into her face, clothes and hair, adhering to her skin. She continued to fall, the cold air and heavy rain stung her face and she whipped down the hill, until she was flung off the edge of a short drop.

The water stung as her body hit it. Irene slowly sank into the warm, black waters. She shuddered, and started to propel herself to the surface, blind in the water, unsure of how far she had to go. It turned out the pool was rather shallow, only around 20 feet here. She popped her head out, the rain hitting the water with a deafening rattle. The overhead clouds made it especially hard to see at night, she paddled in the water, hoping to reach shore. Eventually her feet touched the bed, sinking into the soft sandy bottom. Soon, she reached the grassy shore, sopping wet from the rain and water, lost in the dark. Feeling around, she discovered a small burrow, she just barely fit, and it wasn't comfortable at all, but it was better than being in the rain. She shed her wet clothes and huddled in the small space. Drifting off to sleep, she shivered in the cold.

The floor of the burrow was underwater, it was morning, but still raining hard. Irene shook in the cold water, she peered outside the burrow. Grey mist covered the area, she could barely see 50 feet in front of her. The pond she had fallen in the night before was overflowing, she saw it was slowly trickling into the burrow. Stretching, she climbed out, the rain pelted her bare skin, irritating her. Irene, took off her undergarments and walked into the pond. A small waterfall pelted down, most likely being fed by the rain. Irene waded underneath it, cleaning her hair, the silt and mud splashing into the water. She felt around and found a rock to sit on. She sat under the waterfall, letting the water roll down her hair and back. Something tickled the back of her leg, she shot up, staring into the water. The pond was dark, but she could see something moving about. She stuck out her leg and stepped on its back, the creature squirming and struggling under the water. The creature twisted and nipped her toes, causing her to recoil from the water. The creature surfaced to get air, and Irene grabbed it, struggling with the small creature. Its wet skin allowed it to slip through her grasp and return to the water. Irene waded quickly ashore, putting on her underwear and grabbing her clothes, trying to find her way back home.

“Whatever that was…” Irene started, “I’m not sure it wanted me there.”

The stinging rain continued, Irene sloshed in the muddy forest floor, dirt and soil going up halfway to her knee. As she moved up the hill, a voice was heard, it sounded like a young man. Irene looked around, from behind a tall rock formation.

“I’m gonna beat that sonofabitch to hell and back,” he barked.

Irene continued to look, the deluge obscuring her vision.

“Gah, shi-” she heard him shout. Thunder echoing in the forest.

Irene got out from behind the rock, she glanced about. the forest being illuminated more by a flash of lightning. Her peripheral vision caught glance of a silhouette in the grey fog. It was hunched over, something over its head. Irene snuck closer, picking up a stick just in case. If it was a human, she wasn’t sure how it would react to her. But if it wasn't, the stick could still provide some form of defense.

“This is a-” thunder roared, “-king load,” he cursed.

She got close to the figure, he was wearing a camouflage and a bright orange wooly hat, one that was soaked through with rain. In his hand was a small gun, and in the other was a flashlight, which flickered dimly.

“I’m gonna shoot the next goddam dinosaur that I find,” He said. twirling his gun on his finger.

Irene stepped back, crunching a twig. She froze, her eyes widening. The person continued to sit, twirling his weapon. Irene let out a sigh of extreme relief. Turning, she stepped on a larger stick, that snapped with a loud crack. The person shot up.

“Dad!?” he squealed.

Irene stared, blank faced. dropping her clothes and stick.

“Woah! Who are you?” he asked, getting closer. Irene could make out his facial features. he had a thin, pale face, his hair was long, scraggly and black. Under his eyes were shadows and bags, clearly he was exhausted. He was a lot taller than Irene, and despite his slim demeanor, he was pretty intimidating.

“Ahem, I said, who are you?” the young man repeated.

“Irene…” she said.

“Huh, which party are you with? The ‘I dont give a crap lets run around naked’ party?” he said.

“What?” Irene asked.

“Look atcha! You dont have a badge, your down to your bra and panties, you don't even have a gun!”

“Uh…” Irene stared.

“Whatever. You don't seem to talk much do you?”

“Uh… No,” she said. seeming to lose her sense of vocabulary. She was apprehensive towards this human, she wasn’t used to interacting with other people. Thunder rumbled in the distance. The rain began to lighten. Irene stood awkwardly with the boy.

“I think I’ll leave…” she started.

“Wait! Let me come!” he begged.

“Why?” Irene asked.

“Because! Im tired of this shit,” he moaned.

“Ugh. Wait here, I’ll be back,” Irene commanded.

She hiked back to where her house was, constantly checking back to see if he was following her. As she neared her hovel, a terrifying sight met her gaze. Her small shelter was in ruins, hunched over it was a man in a vest digging around.

“Hey!” she barked.

“Huh?” the man stood up, holding what appeared to be Irene’s books.

“Put those down!” she screamed. Running at him.

“Woah! What’s up lady!?” he chuckled. But Irene had already got up to the man, and she gave him a powerful shove. He stumbled back, almost catching himself, but he stumbled over a root, dropping what he was holding.

“Hey!” he shouted, trying to get back up.

Irene bent down and picked up her books, they were soaked with rain, their pages thin and soft. The rain picked back up, stronger than ever. The drops fell with an intense speed and force. Gunshots rang out.

“Damn!” The man yelled, he ran past Irene, towards the cliffs. Irene stared as he sprinted off. She bent down and collected what she could find. The panicked yelps of an animal echoed through the forest. Irene followed the noise, quickly scampering up the rocks. Deep in the forest was a small light, a struggling silhouette blocking most of it. People were shouting and trying to keep it down, a single figure stood away, watching from a distance. The animal looked injured, turning and barking. It looked very defensive.

Irene moved towards it, a gun went off and the creature flinched, collapsing, trying to get up again.

“What’s going on?” Irene asked herself. She got closer and saw the person standing away was the boy she met earlier. She snuck up to him.

“Hey,” she tapped his shoulder.

“Gah!” he jumped, turning to see her inquisitive face, “what?”

“What’s going on?” she asked him.

“Dad’s found a Gigatherium, Uncle Alec is trying to help out. But those bastards got thick skulls, and I ain't talkin’ ‘bout the Gigatheres,” he smiled faintly. It was hard to see in the darkness.

“Gigatherium?” she said, mimicking the pronunciation, “is that what those are called?”

“Yeah, didn’t you get the pamphlet when you arrived?” he asked.

“No-” she started, but the bellowing animal grabbed her attention.

“We can't load it up with any more bullets, we’ll lose score, and the thing’ll be a bitch to taxidermy,” the boys father yelled off in the distance.

“You’re a real weird case,” the boy started, “were you like, born here or something?”

“No,” she quickly responded. Looking carefully at the beast, lying in pain. It was dark, but she could tell it was not like the Gigathere with the babies, it was bigger, its hump more defined and its teeth larger. The animal sat up, gave a low roar, which slowly grew in intensity and loudness.

“Now that’s something even I can recognize,” the boy said, casually looking at his nails, “I suggest you follow my lead,” he said, starting to climb a nearby tree.

“Why?” Irene asked, unsure.

“The poor sap’s calling for help,” he smiled.

“You can tell? And shouldn’t you warn the others?” Irene questioned.

“Eh,” he shrugged, continuing up the tree.

“What do you mean, eh?” she asked, scampering up the tree.

“I mean I never much cared for them, they don't do anything for me, so why should I do something for them?” he said.

Irene wasn't really sure how to act towards this odd character. He seemed knowledgeable enough, bit his ideals seemed a bit self focused.

As she reached up to grip the branch, her hand met with a soft, mucousy body.

“Gah!” Irene squealed, almost losing balance. She gripped the trunk and strained to see the creature. It was small and pink with many tendrils and tentacles. It slowly moved down the branch. There was still a lot to this world yet to be discovered, she thought, wiping her hand on her leg, getting the thick slimy substance off.

Irene heard a loud snap from far off, then a forceful thud thundering in the distance. Almost indecipherable from the rolling thunder, was a low growl.

“I think that’s momma!” the boy said.

Out of the darkness quickly moved a large gigathere, it was still smaller than the male, but an impressive sight to behold. The two hunters were unaware of its approach.

“I think we should do something…” Irene said to herself.

But it was too late, the beast was only a few yards away. With one pounce, the animal trapped one of the men under its paw, he struggled weakly, but its heavy weight pressed the life out of him. The boys father turned and fired, the gigathere stepped back. But rocked forward and struck the gunman down.

Under the tree, Irene heard a soft call. She saw a dark shape pawing at the tree.

“Oi, what’s that?” the boy in the other tree asked.

The shape moved, it started clambering up the trunk, but couldn't make it up.

“Hot damn what was that!” he shouted. Apparently, the small fleshy creature had made it to his tree, and he had leaned onto it. The small blob fell into the muddy earth with an audible plop. From further away the gigathere raised its head. It slowly made its way to the trees, Irene and the boy quickly grew quiet. The beast stopped below them, it bent down and sniffed at the soft bodied creature and quickly snapped it up in its jaws with a squelching sound.

“Just, keep-keep quiet,” he said.

Irene peered down, the animal was now looking up the tree, clawing at the base.

“I’m coming over to your tree, hang on,” the boy said, he slowly clambered across the branch.

“No, don’t, you’re safe where you’re at,” Irene whispered.

He continued anyways, the branch creaked, but he made it over to the other tree.

“Ow! Shi-” he fell from the tree. Slamming the ground, the gigathere looked over to him. It slowly made its way towards the fallen boy. He frantically scuttled backwards towards the trunk, keeping his eyes on the massive creature. Rain dripped down its long snout as it sniffed the air, trying to pick up the boys scent.

“It can’t smell you in the rain,” she said quietly, “and it can’t seem to see you very well either.”

“Can… Can it hear me?” he asked quietly.

“Shut up,” she whispered.

He gripped the tree tightly. The boy was silent, barely breathing. The beast pushed its head forward, it pushed its snout under his shirt and sniffed, he could feel its cold wet nostrils touch his chest, he shifted in discomfort. The creature lunged forward and tore at his ribs.

“Fuc-” he screamed, the animal crunched into his chest, he felt the warm red fluid spill from his chest and the sharp pain of his ribs splintering and puncturing his skin and organs.

“Oh crap!” Irene shouted. She hopped out of the tree, she ran with all her might, trying to escape the great brown beast. She tripped and landed hard on her chin. She pushed on the ground and got up. She was cold and muddy and had no idea where to go. She sat down, the drenched forest floor spattered on impact. She cringed as she felt the mud slide around her behind. She rubbed her chin massaging the now forming bruise. The overcast made the forest dark, but the sun was starting to poke through. She decided to head down to the pond and try and relax, maybe then find out what to do with her life.

She walked until she came back to the pond she had previously found. She removed her extremely dirty and soiled clothes and went into the cold water. It wasn’t the best, but it felt good to clean the mud that was caked all over her body. She felt the something stir around her feet, it might be the same creature from before. She swam the the back of the pond to the waterfall and scampered up the rocks. She looked down at the water, as she did, she saw a large brown object stuck to her calf. She yelped and slid back, then she leaned forward and felt it, the thing was clearly living, it looked like some kind of mussel. She scratched at it with her fingernail, but it didn’t move, she then tried tugging it off, but she could feel it bite into her skin. The water rippled, something broke the surface then dipped below. Then, out of the dark, murky water, a large green creature emerged. Irene moved away from it, finally her bare back hit the rocky wall of the cave. The animal looked up at her, it was long and green, a single row of flattened spines ran down its back to the end of its long flat tail, which seemed to be decreasing in volume. The face of the animal was short and its eyes sat high on the skull, as did the nostrils, but the most shocking thing about its appearance were the teeth, they stuck out in front of it, like a shovel or scoop. The creature slowly crawled over to Irene, it's clumsy steps echoing on the rocks.

“Go away!” she yelled, she wasn’t sure if it was friendly or not, but its continued towards her. It wasn’t very strong or bulky looking, but its bravery was off-putting. It sniffed as it got to her feet, it then climbed over them, the cold scaly body tickled as it slid over her legs. It finally stopped as it came to the parasite. Irene sat still, her eyes locked on the animal. Its tongue flicked out and slapped the parasite. In a quick flash it drove its shovel like teeth under the shell and pried it off, a slight tink resounded as it hit the floor. She watched the animal crawl over to it and crunch it up in a few bites. Irene looked down at her leg, a small red circle remained, with a speck of blood dripping from the center.

“Hey!” she shouted. The creature returned to the water with a soft plip.

She sighed, and returned to the water as well.



The rain had stopped, and Irene exited the pond, creatures in the trees chirped, buzzed, and called through the day. Irene walked through the forest, the warm sunlight drying her skin. In the woods, some biguanas sat and ate amongst the grass and plants. Smaller bipedal creatures ran about, leaping over logs and disappearing into the brush.

“What do I do now,” Irene asked herself as she walked. She made her way to the spot in which her old home stood, she gathered up what little remained. She then trekked up to the crashed vehicle, she decided that maybe it could provide some useful parts for making a new home. The wreckage was smouldering, but no fires were present. She climbed into the vehicle, and began to search around.

The rooms were mostly in ruins, nothing electrical worked, rendering many doors unopenable. But she made do with what she had. In one of the rooms, she found a stack of corrugated metal, she dragged it out the the front and began to make a pile of things for her new home. She returned to the ship and continued her scouring. After a while, Irene came to a room with a slightly opened door, as she approached it, several tallbirds rushed out, squawking and swallowing bits of ragged flesh as they ran. Irene hesitated, but entered. The smell of decay was faint, as the remains of two people had been nearly picked clean, she gazed at the skeletons which gleamed a ghastly pale brown in the dim light. Irene looked around the room, she found a small cupboard, forcing it open, a small white tank-top spilled out. Behind it was a pair of black shorts. Tired of being naked, she quickly put them on. Finding the pants fit very well, but the shirt was rather loose. She then grabbed some socks and boots and put them on, she finally felt comfortable, and no longer would she have to clean the muck from between her toes every five minutes.

Stepping out, the sun was already setting, Irene already knew what this meant, the cold season was coming. This house needed to be finished. She hauled the metal parts down near the pond, and she looked for a spot to set up. She set down the heavy metal and rested for a bit, the cool dusk air wasn’t as troublesome in her new clothes. She felt a slight tremor in the ground, a small flock took flight in the distance.

“Crap,” she muttered. The vibrations grew stronger, so she built a small lean-to from the metal and ducked under it.

Thud

Thud

THUD

THUD

The vibrations gained intensity, growing louder and stronger, so strong that the metal toppled over, pressing Irene down into the mud. A large foot fell down in front of her. It had four long talons that sank into the soil, and two smaller ones on the side of the foot. Its leathery gray skin smelled of death. Irene couldn’t recognize the creature that owned this part, but by the claws, she could tell it was a predator. Clearly uninterested, the creature slowly move off. Irene stayed under the metal, after a while, she climbed out, and saw nothing. Night was on its way, so she decided to go to the cave behind the pond, tomorrow she’d start to make a new homestead.

There was a rush of air that blew across her body. The creature snorted and licked at her thigh. She stirred slightly. The creature withdrew in surprise, but ducked its head in again, it's long hot tongue tasted her curiously. In her dreams, she was in a warm shower back at home, she was unaware of what was occurring in reality. The creature was satisfied with its evaluation and moved in for the kill. Stepping through the waterfall, its cascading roar paused for a second. Irene’s ears perked, she slowly opened her eyes. The waterfall returned to falling, but the rocks she slept on were shaking slightly. Now she was more aware, her eyes began to adjust to the light, she saw a large black shape in front of her. Now would have been the perfect time to have the gun she found, but now was a time to improvise, she grabbed a rock and flung it, the makeshift weapon smacked the creature in the face, this made it step back and shake its head. Irene quickly dove into the water, the cold, wet, blackness surrounding her and invigorating her. She quickly swam to the shore, she felt around and found the sandbar.

The bright moon showed her the creature's shape, it was big, probably 30 feet long and it stood on two legs. As she focused, it was clear the creature had no forearms. She recognized it as one of the aquatic creatures that stalked the rivers. Deep in the woods, something growled. It was an unfamiliar cry, and the armless creature turned to look for it. It stood attentively, Irene backed into the cover of the woods and watched. The big creature exited the water and walked towards the far edge of the forest. From the trees emerged another creature, it was much larger than the other one, its head was adorned with spikes and horns which showed against the moonlight. Large spines ran downs its back and tail and its forelimbs ended in 3 claws, one on each hand took the form of a large hook, while the other 2 were relatively small. It gave a loud roar. The other screeched in response, then turned and began to run. Irene watched as the other gave pursuit, she stayed in the trees and listened. It was silent. Then came a loud crash and a sharp squealing, trees crashed and fell. Then it was silent again.

“I’m never getting back to sleep now,” Irene said to herself as she shivered in the cold.

Daylight came, Irene had decided to spend the rest of the night up a tree rather than swimming back to the cave. He back was incredibly sore from the hard bark but she didn’t have time to worry about that. She rubbed her eyes and leapt down from the tree. She was going to head back to the ship and get the last supplies. Before long, it would start to snow, and it wouldn’t stop for a long time. She slowly made her way to the ship, ready to finish scrapping it. Two tallbirds were on the prowl. Irene flung a stick at them. Instead of fleeing, they bent their heads down and hissed.

“Shoo! Get out!” Irene yelled. But they continued to stamp their feet and snarl.

One ducked into the wreckage. The other stayed and kept its eyes on Irene. Ducking its head down, bobbing it curiously. Irene stared it down, she recognized that if she didn’t show any fear, the animal wouldn’t try to attack her. From the dark of the ship, the other tallbird emerged, holding a large bag in its toothy beak. The other one touched its nostrils to the bag, then darted off into the trees, the other following quickly after.

“They found food,” Irene said to herself.

She walked in through the large hole in the wreckage.

Where could they have found that food? She thought to herself. She looked around the rubble, she saw a small cheese puff on the ground, she bent down to look at it. She scanned the area and found a small opening in the wall, barely 2 feet in diameter. She slid in, some of the jagged metal bit at her torso, drawing a small amount of blood.

“Ouch,” she quietly yelped. something scampered in the darkness, “Oh crap,” she said. Quietly backing into a corner, she let her eyes adjust to the dark room. She couldn’t see any creatures in there, but a pair of vending machines were toppled on the floor, on was shattered open, many packaged snacks were torn apart and strewn about the room.

“Okay, whoever’s in here, come on out!” she shouted. If it was a tallbird, she’d probably be able to take it on, even without a weapon, “feel free to come on out, I won’t hurt you.”

The creature leapt from the shadows, a small package in its mouth, it sprung onto Irene, it's light weight hit with a large amount of force and pushed her to the ground. In a few bounds, the animal escaped through the hole.

“Geez, he was out in a rush,” she said to herself. Dusting her tank-top off, she checked out the vending machine. Grabbing as much as she could, she ducked through the small opening. She brushed aside a strand of hair in front of her face. The temperature was lowering, it was cool, and when the wind picked up, it gave her goosebumps.

She slowly trudged to the pond clearing, trying desperately to hold onto all her loot. She made it to her pile of metal and gave a sigh. Quickly stacking them into a makeshift cube, she dumped the food into it and sat down.

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