Helen Goes Hunting – Prequel for “Cretaceous Crater” Part 1

Long time no see, everyone! I’m bringing this blog back to life and getting ready to begin a new Kindle serial, while also putting out more episodes of Arrivers.

After pondering the title of this new serial and finding it a little vague, I decided to change it from Queensland Crater to a friend’s suggestion of Cretaceous Crater.

The original title will stay as the name of the major landmark in the series.

Hunters going after cloned dinosaurs in a future Australia even more dangerous than the present Outback. That’s the premise. And here’s the first part of a FREE prequel for your reading pleasure!

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October 10, 2059
SE Queensland, Australia

Helen Larkwood lay stomach-down on the roof of the armored personnel carrier, dragging on her fourteenth “final cigarette” in a week. The scent carried through cold air to bait their trap. Her joints ached. Every day of her sixty-four years had left its mark.

The Outback had no right to be this cold. Or this green. Immature pines crowded the carrier like it had been parked in a Christmas tree lot. Nighttime mist dabbed her skin, beaded on the barrel and stock of her .50 caliber rifle. Downhill and to her left, a small pond rippled like a living mirror in the moonlight. The trees held birds and Archaeopteryx and bugs, each adding their music to the scene.

“Larkwood, you want me to smoke a few for you?” The annoyingly pleasant voice came from the radio by her gun. Clyde Marshall. A Yank. So of course he never knew when to shut up.

Scowling, she took a hand off the gun’s barrel and jammed the radio’s talk button. “Does silence mean the same thing in your country? Ceratos have good hearing.”

That, she thought, and it’d be rude for me to kill Nicotine right here and now. Better if she departed with it on good terms.

Ceratosaurus seemed drawn to tobacco smoke like catnip. And the team had been tracking a rogue male who seemed too smart to take the bait.

No reply came on the radio. Good. Maybe Clyde was picking up a little sense. Helen got back into position, feeling a slight flare-up of pain in her fingers.

Too old. Too tired. Leave this to someone else.

Clyde and the other members of her team waited a few meters beneath her, inside the carrier. Except for Jack. The slinky little creep was fifty meters to her right, not visible for now. He had wormed himself into the narrow space between two pine trees. A useful talent to have, given the resurrected carnivores stalking the Outback.

Peering through the scope, Helen could make out the shadowy rim of the Crater near the horizon, edged with rough rock that caught the light like shards of broken china. Almost thirty years since the Queensland Rock hit, and killed the country she had called home. Killed it, and left it blank for geneticists to fill the vacuum with primeval monsters.

Helen took one last drag on the cancer stick and spat it out over the carrier’s side. Another dead-end night.

Just then, the moisture-muffled air gained a new sound, a growl that sounded too deep for its owner’s chest cavity. But she knew it all the same.

To her right, Helen saw a pinpoint of white light blink three times, out amid the trees’ thickest crowds. Jack’s signal to her that he heard a Ceratosaurus call.

About bloody time, she thought.

She disengaged the safety on her Saurian-model K75 .50. The rifle was her brainchild, printed in her lab a year before Parliament had closed it down.

The job could have been left to someone else. Should have been. To his credit, Clyde was a talented shot under pressure – a necessity for him to take down four T. rexes during his career – and Jack was none too bad with high explosives.

But taking down a male Cerato meant stealth and speed. It needed someone who was motivated enough to fight for her next meal. And with Parliament’s bounty on these science experiments run amok, most of the money went to the one who delivered the killing blow. That’s what this hunt meant to Helen.

For a handful of ranchers on the outskirts of New Winton, it meant the safety of their livestock. For her, it meant regaining the life she had already lost, and enjoying it for a few more years. That was all she wanted now.

About two hundred yards off, her worn eyes picked up movement, and a distant silhouette climbed a gentle incline by a stream. Helen zoomed in with the rifle’s scope.

Time to get paid, she thought.

Fangs like knives lined the jaws of a horned demon, glinting in moonlight as the Cerato yawned. One could be forgiven if they mistook it for a small Tyrannosaur. Both dinosaurs had about the same body shape, the same shortened forearms. Key differences were clear through the scope, like the Cerato’s four fingers per hand instead of two, or the trio of short horns rising like the blades of push daggers above its sleek head.

A wash of relief and exhilaration charged Helen’s blood. She lined up her sights, tapping the APC’s roof thrice with the toe of her boot, to signal she was about to take a shot.

Oxygen flowed into her smoked lungs. Helen held the breath, let it out slowly. Her index finger curled around the trigger. She squeezed it.

A new sound blared into the tense night. The roar of a heavy engine.

In the same instant, the gun sent an armor-piercing round with a thunderclap. Her earplugs took the brunt of the blast, and the K75’s stock lunged into her shoulder. It hurt worse than she remembered.

Simultaneously, the Cerato had swiveled its head around to look behind it. Her round missed, and reduced a sapling behind the dinosaur to splinters.

She ground her teeth and chambered another round. The edges of her vision turned red. The timing couldn’t have been worse.

Who else is in a vehicle out here?

Helen pondered taking out their engine with a well-placed shot between the headlights. What were they going to do, send a little old lady to federal prison?

The dinosaur gave a quick cry and loped up the hillside. Twin headlights jumped into view. A huge APC like the one she sat on, longer than the Cerato. And it was catching up.

Helen grabbed the radio. “Who the hell is that?”

Clyde’s voice came back. “No one else is on the itinerary. That means we’re dealing with a cartel crew.”

“Damn!” Jack hissed. “And they won’t be the only ones out here.”

Helen swore. If the cartel didn’t already know they were here, her shot certainly gave their position away.

The black market collectors worked for various criminal organizations. Yakuza, the Russian Mafia, the Jade Knives of Beijing, even a few Central American cartels, all in the business of poaching Australia’s prehistoric animals, harvesting teeth and blood, sex organs and brains. Folk medicine still held sway in Asia, and stayed as lucrative as ever.

“Jack,” she said, “get back here. We’re going hunting.”

“What?” Clyde demanded. “You’re not suggesting-”

“I am. We are not losing our bounty.”

“We’re reporting this,” Jack insisted. “Leave it to the drone force to pick them off, Granny.”

She answered slow, level-voiced. Dangerous. “Now don’t make Granny put a boot in your arse. Back here. Now.”

—–

To be continued

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Free Dino Art Lessons for Kids!

I have been blessed with the chance to lead free art lessons at events held by the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center. And now I can share some of the lessons I started making.

These are mainly for the little artists in your family, but feel free to try one yourself, if you want.

Here are Brontosaurus, Velociraptor, and Stegosaurus. Entirely free. No copyright. Just print and follow the directions. Make copies if you want.

Finished the Spinosaurus Painting

Here’s my latest finished painting. It is an 8 x 10 acrylic piece on masonite board. Scans of this and other paintings are forthcoming.

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A Spinosaurus aegypticus has just caught a large eel, which is still struggling to liberate itself from the predator’s bite. Unfortunately for the eel, Spinosaur teeth and jaws are designed to catch fish.

Paleo-Art in Progress: Spinosaurus, Part 1

I have been continuing to practice my skills in paleo-art and landscapes. Maybe someday I can get a piece on permanent display in a museum somewhere.

I asked a friend to pick a dinosaur he’d like to see me paint, and he suggested Spinosaurus aegypticus. It was ideal for me to challenge myself. This creature was not like other theropod dinosaurs (all known carnivorous dinosaurs are theropods), so for artists who are used to drawing Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor, this is a good chance to expand their hoirizons.

In addition to being the T. rex-killer from Jurassic Park III, Spinosaurus has grabbed headlines over the last few years for being a dinosaur that likely led a semi-aquatic lifestyle and preyed on fish. In many respects, from a lengthy torso and long narrow jaws to the conical shape of its teeth and its flat feet, it bears strong similarities to modern crocodilians that are specialized to hunt fish.

To reflect this different lifestyle, I decided to portray a Spinosaurus that has just caught a giant eel, still thrashing in its jaws.

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The preliminary sketch.

When this preliminary stage was completed, I traced the design onto a sheet of tracing paper. After that, I used graphite paper to transfer the design onto an 8 x 10 inch masonite board. Then I laid in the base colors with acrylic paint.

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I decided to put in a strong contrast between the dinosaur and the eel by making them red and blue, respectively. This would also help them stand out against the dark background of a swampy forest.

At this stage I wanted to work on the background before concentrating on the animals in the foreground. So I added texture and highlights to the tree bark.

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It became increasingly clear that for this type of painting, the Spinosaur and the eel would have to be darkened considerably. So I simply added darker paint, and now have begun to add in texture on the dinosaur’s skin.

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This is what it looks like now. To be continued...

Much work still waits to be done, but so far I am very happy with how the painting is turning out. I think I’ll add a little more character to the background by painting in a couple of sparse plants and leaves. Then it will be a matter of adding texure, final shades, and highlights to the animals and water. That will be detailed in part 2.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to a weekend at the Writers on the Rock conference in Lakewood, CO, followed by a night at the world-famous “Dinosaur Hotel,” the newly remodeled Best Western Denver Southwest. I figured a writing conference was the perfect excuse to visit this hotel. Assuming things go according to plan (more or less), pictures will soon be posted here for you to enjoy.

Have a great day!

Plesiosaur Family Outing

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Done on a 5 x 7 inch canvas with acrylics. Done as a commission for a friend. Considering the fact that this took one morning to make, I’m pleased with how it turned out!

Another Plausible Monster? Direct Evidence for an Unknown Marine Predator

A few months ago, I wrote a post arguing for the likelihood that there is a big, unidentified animal living in the Congo Basin. (Future posts on the same topic are on the way) And while I tend to not hold my breath for the discovery of creatures like Sasquatch or Nessie, in this case the skeptics’ explanations are neither convincing nor parsimonious. The available evidence is best accounted for by a real animal rather than folklore.

This past week, not only has someone brought my attention to another massive, unidentified creature that’s likely to exist, but he has presented evidence that is, in a scientific sense, more compelling.

Max Hawthorne is the author of a horror novel called “Kronos Rising,” which I am reading and thoroughly enjoying. It has drawn many favorable comparisons to “Jaws,” involving a prehistoric reptile that terrorizes a seaside community.

But in one of those beautiful moments where life imitates art, Max’s extensive knowledge of marine creatures sheds light on an enigma that has stumped marine biologists for over a decade.

In 2003, something ate a 9-foot Great White shark off the coast of Australia. The shark had been tagged with a tracker that could measure temperature and depth. But what could it have been?

Come on, I know you're thinking it.

Come on, I know you’re thinking it. Copyright Universal Pictures.

At first, most of the scientific community was supremely confident that there was nothing “sensational” to the event, and that the predator was simply a bigger Great White. The only problem was, that made no sense whatsoever given the available evidence.

I’ll let Max take over with a hypothesis he posted on Facebook (reproduced here with his permission), and then contribute some brief thoughts afterward.

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SUPER PREDATOR – IT’S NOT WHAT THEY SAY IT IS by Max Hawthorne

I watched the documentary “Super Predator” recently. It’s the follow-up to last year’s “Hunt for the Super Predator.” I enjoyed both shows, but after having studied all the data, I find myself compelled to weigh in, because something’s not right.

Last year’s show (and I have no doubt they’ve set things up for a third episode for next year) ended with the premise that the creature that devoured a 3-meter great white shark (named “Shark Alpha” in the Bremer canyon off AU was simply a larger (i.e. 5-meter) great white. I thought this was rubbish. There was no definitive proof of the claim, and it was, IMHO, a fluff piece to quell the media storm and put people’s minds at ease.

In this year’s show, the filmmakers changed their story. Now they’ve presented the theory that a MUCH larger shark, i.e. a Carcharodon megalodon – one that inhabits the abyssal depths – was responsible for the attack on Shark Alpha. They backed this up with a photo of an 80-foot pygmy blue whale sporting a bite scar on its peduncle measuring a whopping 5 feet across. They also stated that the shark that unsuccessfully attacked the pygmy blue would have measured nearly 40 feet in length.

The facts dictate otherwise.

1- Per http://www.cwr.org.au/research/bluewhales.html, the pygmy blue measured 20-21 meters, i.e. a maximum of 69 feet.

2- Also, per the same site’s data, the bite on the whale’s tail measured a maximum of 1.2 meters across. That’s a smidgen less than 4 feet, not 5, indicating a shark around 32 feet long. A sub-adult Megalodon? Possibly. Or maybe just a really huge great white.

3- There is no indication that this pygmy blue whale was attacked in the Bremer canyon, so any insinuation that the shark that bit the whale is the same animal that devoured Shark Alpha is a stretch.

4- Per her satellite tag/tracker, Alpha’s body temperature, when attacked, was confirmed at 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Her body temperature, again per the tag, went from 46 to 78 degrees almost instantly after she was devoured.

5- White sharks have a body temperature that normally ranges from 10-14 degrees Fahrenheit above the surrounding water (the inside of the belly being the highest temp differential). Under extreme circumstances, the maximum differential has been listed at a difference of 25 degrees.

6- Based on body temperature alone, there is no way shark alpha was eaten by another great white. The temperature difference is too extreme. Moreover, if Megalodon is still alive, and has a body temperature anything like its relative, the great white, (a reasonable assumption), it would also fall within this range.

7- Megalodon was a shallow water predator. It makes no sense that it would loiter in the extreme deep where little food exists. Especially not when a banquet of whales waits at the surface.

8- The “Hunt for the Super Predator” special showed that the creature that ate Alpha remained at depths ranging from the surface to 300 feet immediately after feeding, and for the next 8 days, until the tracker/tag was excreted. This was ignored by the new show, assumedly as it would derail their “Abyssal Megalodon” theory. In fact, the “super predator’s” movements in the water column are, in actuality, similar to those of an Orca. It indicates an air breathing predator that does NOT live in the darkness of the abyss.

9- This fact is backed up by Alpha’s behavior, immediately prior to her being consumed. Once attacked, she dove to nearly 2,000 feet at high speed before she was caught and killed. This indicates an attacker that was both fast and capable of deep dives, as well as being able to accurately track fleeing prey in complete darkness (echolocation, anyone?).

10- Retreating/emergency diving to extreme depths when threatened or attacked is a documented tactic white sharks employ when one of their number has been killed by Orcas. This raises the possibility that Shark Alpha may have instinctively tried to employ this same tactic in an attempt to flee what she recognized as a large, air-breathing carnivore.

11- Per the tracker/tag, the digestive process of the “super predator” took 8 days. A great white’s digestive tract takes 24-48 hours, from what I’ve read. Something else digested Alpha – something that dissolves its meal slowly – and based on my experience keeping large crocodilians and such, that would seem to indicate a reptile.

12- Lastly, adult leatherback sea turtles have been known to have core body temperatures 32 degrees Fahrenheit above the surrounding sea water. If the water temperature around shark alpha was 46 degrees and you add 32 to it, you get the EXACT 78 degree body temperature of the Super Predator. Of course, leatherbacks eat jellyfish, not 3-meter white sharks. But the interesting thing about them is that they ARE marine reptiles. This implies that the creature that ate Alpha may ALSO have been a marine reptile of some kind.

SUMMARY: THE EVIDENCE SUPPORTS MY HYPOTHESIS THAT SHARK ALPHA WAS EATEN BY A LARGE, AIR BREATHING ANIMAL: ONE THAT COULD NAVIGATE IN TOTAL DARKNESS, SURVIVE THE PRESSURES OF THE ABYSS, CATCH A FLEEING GREAT WHITE SWIMMING AT 30+ MPH & SWALLOW IT WHOLE, HAD A BODY TEMPERATURE 32 DEGREES HIGHER THAN THE SURROUNDING WATER, HABITUALLY STAYED NEAR THE SURFACE FOR 8+ DAYS AFTER EATING ITS MEAL, AND TOOK 8 DAYS TO DIGEST.

CONCLUSION: SHARK ALPHA WAS CONSUMED BY A HUGE MARINE REPTILE: DISCLUDING UNKNOWN SPECIES AND FOCUSING ON THE FOSSIL RECORD, POSSIBLE CANDIDATES INCLUDE EITHER A GIANT MOSASAUR OR A PLIOSAUR. GIVEN THE DEPTHS THE PREDATOR DESCENDED TO IN PURSUIT OF THE SHARK, AND THAT MOSASAURS WERE SHALLOW DIVING, COLD-BLOODED REPTILES LIKE THEIR MODERN RELATIVES, MONITOR LIZARDS, I’M BETTING ON THE LATTER.

Looks like KRONOS RISING may not be pure fiction after all 😉

Max Hawthorne, author
www.kronosrising.com

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Well done, sir.

Keep in mind, whatever ate this Great White was too warm for another shark, and whales don’t get that cold. Orcas and Sperm Whales have a body temperature that corresponds with ours, and the digestive process of both whales and sharks takes far less than eight days.

But given the temperature and the amount of time the tracker spent in the predator’s body, an enormous marine reptile appears to be the most satisfactory candidate. Finding one of these creatures would settle the question of whether it is a living fossil like in Hawthorne’s book, or a new kind of animal altogether.

Max has also pointed out in my correspondence with him that predators tend to give a wide berth to bigger predators. This could help explain why we haven’t seen more of these animals, if they think large, noisy boats are simply bigger creatures they’d rather avoid. And if a reptile were to come up for air, it could easily be mistaken for a surfacing whale.

Even today, the ocean is surprising us far too profoundly for us to scoff at the notion of an unknown giant predator. Anecdotes of reptilian sea monsters go back thousands of years, but today’s skeptical community waves those off, because in their view, anecdotal evidence “doesn’t count.” I can’t tell you how refreshing and satisfying it is, to find that even the evidence they allow for is marshaling against the old orthodoxy. Our world is still full of surprises.

Here there be monsters.

Getting Published in Prehistoric Times, New Art Show

It’s been a busy couple of months with a new job, but there’s some good news. I have been re-invited back to the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center to sell artwork at their arts and crafts fair. The fair is planned for July 11th, and I’ll be working on more artwork.

5 dino paintings

Brachiosaurus WP_003985

I’m also happy to report that this Apatosaurus painting is currently on hold to be printed in the summer 2015 issue of Prehistoric Times magazine, which is almost required reading for those with a passion for paleontology.

Apatosaurus for PT

Now if I can just return to a regular habit of fiction writing…