In a city park

     As silently as he could manage Ezra opened the case and slid a dart into the chamber of the rifle. He placed another between his teeth for easier and safer access in the event that a second round would be required. Lastly, he set the flashlight next to him on the platform and clipped it to his belt. Nathan had meanwhile taken hold of his harpoon. He rose to a standing position and gripped the handle with both hands. Holding the rifle in one hand and gripping the railing with his other, the professor followed suit and raised the tranquilizer gun to his shoulder. There was just enough light by which to center the bait in the rifle sight.

     It seemed as if several minutes elapsed, but this could possibly be attributed to nervous anticipation. Ezra's finger went lightly to the trigger. On the ground below, the hound ranged increasingly further before prudently drawing back into the trees. Their quarry was drawing near.

     "Nathan, put that weapon down, and man the camera," the older man whispered. "We're missing valuable data."

     His student complied and began capturing images as he followed the predator's movements. It was moving slowly as if stalking and walked eerily like a man in a crouch, but the head and tail moved like an eel working slowly against a current. Steadily, the hideous creature approached the carcass. Nathan found that he could stabilize the camera in his left hand, so he reached back for the harpoon with his right. Now the burrower was sniffing the dead juvenile. In the view finder of the camera, it could next be seen looking up at the observers in the tree.

     Ezra had his target. He pressed the trigger, and a swishing sound pierced the air. The tranquilizer dart found its mark between the shoulders, and the enraged beast let out its unearthly squeal. The zoologist quickly removed the second dart from between his teeth and reloaded as the burrower reached its head back and removed the dart with its teeth.

     "I was afraid of that," he commented. "It might take a few minutes for the drug to take effect - that is, if enough already got into -"

     His last sentence was interrupted by a strong impact on the underside of the platform that pitched both men into the rail. He almost lost the rifle. The burrower had rammed the stand with its head.

     "Hold on!" he shouted. "I didn't think something that heavy would be able to jump this high!"

     This sentence was barely out before the second concussion hit. Both men faltered, and Nathan dropped the camera. It landed harmlessly on the soft earth. The beleaguered zoologist was counting under his breath. There was another impact. Ezra immediately lowered his gun barrel over the rail, aimed, and shot. The second dart stuck fast to the base of the undulating neck. The large animal screamed again and removed the dart with its right hand. After this, it did not attempt another jump but circled the tree while looking up at the stand.

     "Well, Nathan, we'll know in a few minutes if the tranquilizer worked."

     "I don't think we have a few minutes, Doctor Thomas. It's climbing the tree."

     They both looked down in near disbelief. In the manner of a mountain gorilla, the burrower was gripping the back of the trunk hand over hand while alternating its padded feet along the front. There was not enough time to open the case and load another dart into the gun. The head was almost even with the platform, and Nathan jabbed at it with the harpoon. Impossibly quick, it dodged the blow easily. Ezra unclipped the flashlight from his belt as the head reached above the platform, and vicious jaws snapped at their legs.

     Again, Nathan lunged with the harpoon and missed as the head and neck whipped out of the way. Then a fiendishly strong hand gripped the stand and began to pull down. The metal squeaked and buckled abruptly, and Ezra dropped the flashlight. It skittered to the edge and lodged itself between the twisted platform and a support strut of the rail. The blade of the harpoon missed yet again. The hunters were outmanned, unprotected, and in extreme danger.

-Excerpt from Nathan Turner: The Dogwood Legacy, Part II, published 2015

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© Robert Lambert Jones III