Friday, May 31, 2013

Lost Manuscript

Many, many years ago I was told about a publisher who was in the market for children's books. Adventure stuff, mainly, with a little mystery thrown in, and aimed at kids aged eight to twelve. What they wanted to see was a couple of chapters written in something like a serial style with a plot synopsis. So, in quick order I put together a couple of chapters and tossed in a plot and got ready to send it out. It only took me a day or so to get everything together.

And then I read that they had already filled their quota and weren't looking for anything else.

Ugh. News traveled slow in the days before the Internet and email. Well, the promising news traveled slow; but the disappointing stuff was blazing fast. I was still doing everything by the US Post and getting my information from newsletters in those ancient times.

Anyway, I found this old thing stored away on my portable hard drive. I did manage to salvage the setting, which I used in my adult horror novel, WITHERING.

A Dinosaur in the Neighborhood
James Robert Smith

Chapter One

      "Are you sure a dinosaur walked past here?" Ernie asked his Grandfather Partridge.
     The sun was blazing hot on this summer day in Woodvine, but twelve year old Ernie was out hiking in the woods with his grandfather and his younger brother, Billy.
     "You'll see soon enough. There are lots of dinosaur tracks out here." Grandfather led the way. He may have retired his position as paleontologist years ago, but he still liked hunting for fossils.
     "I've never seen a dinosaur track," said Billy, who had just turned ten and was kind of a pest. "I'll bet if we found a real dinosaur, it would make a great pet."
     They were following a path through the woods, and it suddenly came to an end at a big outcropping of hard rock that baked in the sun. "You wouldn't make much of a pet out of the dinosaur that made these footprints," said Mr. Partridge.
     And there they were. A line of gigantic dinosaur footprints leading off across the rocks from where they were standing all the way to the forest on the other side of the outcrop. Billy put his foot next to the first one: like some giant bird track. His foot was tiny compared to the big fossilized imprint.
     "Gosh," he said. "What kind of dinosaur made this?"
     Mr. Partridge took a blue handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his forehead. "I'm not sure, Billy. But I think it was probably a Ceratosaurus, or maybe an Antrodemus--I mean an Allosaurus. They keep changing the names on a retired old professor," he added with an embarrassed chuckle.
     "Wow," Ernie said. "Those were both pretty mean dinosaurs. They used to eat big old Apatosaurus." He brushed back his brown hair, feeling the sun beat down on him.
     "You're right about that," Mr. Partridge agreed. He stepped out onto the rock and began to wander off downhill. He was gazing at the ground. Billy and Ernie knew how much their grandfather liked hunting for fossils. When he was concentrating on searching the ground, he sometimes forgot they were even there with him, visiting for the summer.
     "We're going to follow the tracks," Ernie told him. "While you hunt for fossils." Their grandfather nodded absently as he wandered away from them. "Let's go," Ernie said to his brother.
     The boys began to follow the tracks. They led far across the big expanse of rock, across the flats and uphill, toward the woods. "Look," Billy pointed. "He must have been following the smaller dinosaur." Sure enough. Where Billy pointed, you could see where a smaller dinosaur had been running ahead of the big one.
     "That must have been some chase, huh Billy?"
     "Heck, yeah! I wish I could have seen it."
     And then they seemed to be at the end of the trail. The tracks in the rock disappeared beneath the leaves and brush that formed the edge of the forest. Pine trees, tall and green, stood all around. "Ha. It looks like they both just walked off into the woods, doesn't it?" Billy was pointing at the greenery in front of them.
     "Sure does," said Ernie. "Let's go take a look in there, and see if the rocks poke up through the dirt. Maybe we can find some more tracks. Maybe we can find where the big one caught up with the little one."
     "Wow! That would be neat," Billy said.
     And they pushed through the bushes and went into the woods.
     "Gosh. It sure is dark in here," Ernie said.
     "Yeah. Maybe we should turn around. Maybe there really is a dinosaur still around here." Billy was craning his neck, looking all over the woods.
     "I doubt that," Ernie told him. "Dinosaurs have all been dead for about sixty-five million years."
     No sooner had those words left Ernie's mouth than the two boys suddenly heard something crashing through the underbrush. Something was coming through the woods. It was running fast, right at them! Something was headed their way!
     The brothers grabbed hold of one another and froze.
Chapter Two

     Suddenly, from out of the dark woods, Billy and Ernie could make out a movement. A blot of shadow was moving their way. And soon they were relieved to see that it was human. Two humans, in fact: a boy and girl.
     Both kids, carrying metal pails, saw Billy and Ernie and stopped running. The brothers could see that the pails were full of blackberries.
     "Hello." It was Ernie who spoke up first. "You two scared the heck out of us!"
     "We thought you were a dinosaur," Billy said before Ernie could stop him.
     "A dinosaur?" The girl, who, like Ernie, looked to be about twelve years old, started to laugh, throwing back her head so that her long black hair shook. "You two certainly look scared enough to have seen a dinosaur." Her little brother, Billy's age, was now laughing, too.
     "Come on," Ernie said. "Give us a break. We're staying way out here in the country with our grandparents this summer and we don't know our way around." He stuck out his tanned hand. "I'm Ernie Partridge," he told them as the girl shook his hand. "And this is my little brother Billy."
     The girl stopped laughing as she turned to Billy to greet him, too. "I'm Sally," she told them. "And this is my brother, Ted. We're staying with our grandmother, and she lives way off in the woods, near Shadowtown Swamp."
     "Shadowtown Swamp? My grandfather told us to stay away from the swamp. He says it's full of quicksand and alligators." Billy stared wide eyed at the two kids who could live in such a place.
     "Aw, it's not so bad," Ted told them. "Not if you know your way around. And we know our way around. Our grandmother taught us all the paths."
     "Anyway," asked Sally, "what are you two doing out here in the woods?"
     "We came out to look at the old dinosaur footprints with our granddad. He used to be paleontologist at the big museum in Atlanta, and now he lives out here, too." Ernie wiped at his face. It was hot and he was getting sweaty.
     "Oh. Those old footprints?" Ted was pointing toward the rocks which lay just beyond the trees they were standing in. "I've seen other footprints like those," he said. "But the ones I saw weren't in rock."
     "What do you mean?" asked Ernie.
     Sally was nudging her brother in the ribs, to get him to be quiet. But it was too late. He had a big mouth and once it got going, no one could stop it.
     "The tracks I've seen are in the swamp. And they weren't in any old rocks. They were in the mud!"

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