“The Time Eater is erasing history, one fossil at a time. Only 13-year-old Foster Raymond and his fossil hunters—a 170lb Newfoundland Retriever, a Swahili inventor and an 8-fingered explorer—can stop him.”
While searching for the real cause of his granddad’s death, Foster uncovers a secret dig log. It contains clues to the location of a fossil that will change the world—and a dire warning about a fossil thief and killer called the Time Eater. If Foster and his friends can’t solve his granddad’s puzzles and beat the Time Eater to the greatest dinosaur find in history, the fossils will be lost to science forever.
During the storm of the century, the hunters struggle along ghost railroads and lost roads—battling a female assassin who attacks with Olympic grace, and a rogue explosives mastermind—to find the clues hidden in an abandoned museum. Clues that lead to a wondrous cavern where fantastic fossils wait—but so does the Time Eater, and the truth about what happened to Foster’s granddad on the day he died.
Enjoy the first chapter….
PART 1: The Hidden Museum
Fifty feet below my thrashing feet, an underground river raged over jagged rocks. I hung from a rusted metal bar, fighting for breath as ice cold water cascaded from a pipe in the tunnel roof. It ran down my face and my arms. Freezing my hands, cramping my fingers.
I couldn’t hold onto the ancient piece of rebar sticking out of the tunnel wall much longer. Below, the river that had been buried under the Valley when the sewers had been built swirled and fought with itself. Jagged shards of fallen rock pierced the choppy torrent.
I could feel my fingers slipping.
Only two hours earlier I’d been way out in the deep woods of the Valley, flashing a photo of my Granddad around a ramshackle camp created from other people’s garbage. Poking around lean-tos made from broken furniture pieces and grimy, used bedsheets and bits of construction rubble. That’s how desperate I’d gotten.
He’d been dead for two weeks. And every lead I’d chased down about what he’d been doing out in the Valley on the day he died had come up bust. So, along with Steve—friend, explorer, eight-fingered worrier—and Leakey—my 170lbs of awesome Newfoundland Retriever—I’d started canvassing the homeless, the last resorts who lived out in the lawless wilds on the fringes of the city.
“Have you seen this man?”
“Seen anything strange?”
“On November 3rd? Or in the days before that?”
I got phlegmy growls. I got shaggy-haired headshakes. I got men and women fleeing into the deep brush before I could even approach them.
Then I got a hit…a little guy. Small…with big white teeth. Too big, and too white…like none of them were real…. He had a slimy angle of hair plastered across his forehead…a lot of scalp above that….
And he said he knew a woman, who’d seen an old guy that day. Tall and thin, like my granddad, using expensive-looking equipment to dig a pit in the middle of nowhere.
For a couple of cold turkey legs and a five-dollar bill he’d told us where we could find her.
It took an hour to fight through the dense forest. Steve and I clambered over boulders that had fallen from the Valley walls. When we had no other choice we splashed through the fast-running tributaries of the big river. By the time we got to the long-abandoned entrance to the old subway emergency tunnels I was already soaked and exhausted.
We spent another five minutes staring at each other from opposite sides of the chain link fence that enclosed the restricted area. A Canadian stand-off—cold and tense.
I held open a gap cut in the chain link, frantically motioning for Steve to duck through. “This is the best lead we’ve had so far. Come on.”
He waved me away with his right hand, the one that had only two fingers on it. “You’d believe a woman who squats in abandoned tunnels, who you’ve never met, who could have any number of undiagnosed mental issues, over the police? Over facts? Evidence?”
“Look, I’m not going to have this fight again,” I hissed. “We have to hurry. She won’t wait forever.”
We’d already debated the cops’ ruling of accidental death a dozen times. This wasn’t the moment that was going to change my mind. Granddad didn’t slip. He didn’t accidentally hit his head on the rocks beside the river. To me that was fact.
He’d never slipped in his life. In the last five years, alone, he’d climbed Mt. Bear in Alaska. Traversed the Svalbard glaciers in Iceland. Dropped down into the Great Rift Valley in Africa.
So how did he fatally injure himself on a few small rocks a couple of kilometres from home?
He had a cut on the front of his head. The cops said he’d died from that, when he hit the rocks. But he also had a gash on the back of his head.
What did he do, bounce? Did he fall twice? It made no sense…
I had to swallow. Something spasmed in my neck. Just thinking about what happened, what must have really happened, made me want to jump out of my skin.
His clothes had been all ripped up. Which the police said happened when the storm hit, and he had been caught in the brush. Like no one else had been involved.
And, on top of all that, why would Granddad, my dig partner, my source of all news paleontological, my oldest friend, suddenly have gone silent days before it happened?
Wouldn’t say what he was doing.
Wouldn’t even talk to me.
I had to take a big Breath of Peace. Shove the anger back. I rattled the chain link fence at Steve. “Come on, man. Let’s move.”
Steve didn’t budge. “This woman will just be after your money. No different than her friend back there.” He jerked a thumb back the way we came.
I knew he didn’t care about the money. Neither one of us was exactly rolling in it. But, his refusal to follow me into the unknown had nothing to do with dollars and cents.
Leakey pawed at the ground between us. Just as impatient as me. I reached out for Steve’s arm. “I need your help. The tunnels are supposed to be a maze. You’re the mapmaker. The explorer….”
He jerked back, glaring past me at the rusted metal doors cut into the wooded hillside. “These tunnels have been abandoned for forty years. They’re a death trap.”
He pointed to a handwritten sign hanging from the open door of an electrical junction box. “Not only will this kill you. It will hurt the whole time you are dying.”
Okay. There was danger. Sure. But there was also the chance that the truth was waiting for us in those tunnels.
“You’ve been with me every step of the way,” I said. “We’ve faced danger before. What’s really eating you?”
He didn’t answer. Didn’t move. He looked disturbed, like things were banging together in his head. Like someone had just thrown him an algebra problem. A hard one.
“C’mon.” I hauled on the shoulder of Steve’s jacket, trying to pull him through the fence. “Have some faith, man.” I gave him my school-picture smile. Full wattage. “We’re a team…”
Steve shrugged away from my hand.
Then his head dropped and he sighed. “This is going to end badly,” he said as he ducked through the hole in the fence.
A couple of minutes later we pushed through the broken steel door set deep in a concrete recess in the wooded hillside. We were inside the dark tunnel. Word was, long ago it had been a last ditch exit from the subway system in case of transit catastrophe.
It smelled. Like rot and mold and wet concrete. Like years of neglect.
My Maglite revealed puddles and water running down the tunnel floor as it descended deeper underground. Every few metres I could see deeper blackness where side passages led off the main tunnel.
I shivered. Not just from the cold, but because of the empty echoes of our footsteps and the creepy, steady drip of water from the roof…And because we were seconds from meeting the woman who might know what happened the day Granddad died. If she had seen him with his fossil equipment, and would tell me where, I could check out the site for myself. I could search for clues about why he’d been digging in secret, and how that dig connected to his death only hours later.
“Stay cool,” Steve whispered. “Don’t get too excited about this, right? It’s probably just another colossal letdown.”
And there it was. The real reason he didn’t want me to meet this woman.
Not of electricity. Or maniacs. Or being lost or trapped in these catacombs.
Fear of what might happen to me if this turned out to be another wild goose chase.
“I’ll be fine.” I hissed out of the side of my mouth. “This time it’s real. It has to be. She told her friend back there about seeing Granddad’s fossil hunting equipment. She described it perfectly.”
I didn’t turn my light on Steve, so I couldn’t see his face. But I could imagine what sour shape it must have taken. “You thought that guy caught robbing hikers was the one who’d hurt your Granddad,” he said. “When it turned out that he wasn’t the culprit, what did you do?”
I glanced at my hand, the hand I nearly broke punching a wall. It was embarrassing.
Steve grabbed my elbow. “And how long did it take before I could get you to talk to me, to anyone, again…? Days. It’s getting worse every time, F. What if this is another dead end? Then what?”
“Relax,” I said. “It’s cool.” But I knew it was anything but cool. Truth was, he was right. Every lead I uncovered got me more excited, more sure I would find the truth. And, each time the clue turned out to be a red herring….
…Well, yeah, things had been hit, words had gone unspoken. The last fiasco had been a hard dive to pull out of.
I didn’t want to put Steve through that again…having to pull me back from the brink. But, if Granddad didn’t slip, then something or someone else had killed him that day. If I didn’t follow through with this I knew I’d always worry that I’d missed my chance to uncover the truth. The worry would gnaw at me. Eventually I’d wind up in an even worse state than any Steve had seen so far.
A footstep splashed ahead of us and, when I swung the light on an alcove to my left, there she was. A bundle wrapped in a dozen old coats and scarves. Stringy hair hung on wet shoulders. A smile that didn’t look happy. And cold, dark eyes.
Steve made a noise that could have been a gasp.
I had to work to keep the light from shaking in my hand. This was it. Quick clouds of breath formed and dissolved in front of me as I slip-slid through the puddles between us. Anxiety building with each step. Four feet from her I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to do something to relieve the tension. I flexed my fingers and reached into my pocket.
“Stop,” she barked, a hundred tonnes of weather and old rocks in her voice. Cigarettes and damp ground at night and God knew what else. “What are you doing with your hand?”
My fingers closed around the item in my pocket. I held up my other hand. “It’s okay.”
There was nothing in her eyes. Coal chips. The life pressed out of them. I froze. I needed her to trust me. “It’s okay,” I repeated, forcing myself not to look away.
A half-dozen drips splashed into a puddle at my feet, before, finally, she nodded.
I whipped the photo from my pocket and pushed it at her. “Is this the man you saw, two weeks ago? With the equipment?”
She didn’t look at the paper, instead she stared at Leakey. Over-sized front teeth worried at her lower lip. I let one hand rest in the prairie of black fur covering his great head. With the other hand I shook the photograph at her. “Please, he’s my granddad. Where did you see him?”
She stared at Leakey. Then forced her nervous lip-nibbling into a smirk. She glanced at the photo I was trying to hold steady in front of her. The smirk gained confidence. She stood straighter.
“Do you have a map?” She smiled, but it was cold. There was something behind it. Something I didn’t like.
“And a pen. I can show you where I saw him if you do. There is something you need to see there.” She nodded, vigorously. “Very special, very strange.”
I’d been right. My hand flexed into a fist, but I resisted doing the victory pump my brain was screaming for. Instead, I looked at Steve, See? I was right…. But he wouldn’t give me any satisfaction. No comment. Not even a shrug. Still that wary look on his face.
This was happening. I frantically motioned at him for a map. He hesitated. Then, shaking his head, pulled a sheaf of folded papers and a pen from a pocket on the sleeve of his GoreTex jacket. With a couple of practiced snaps he had one of the maps open. “This is the area, here,” he said, pointing to the right side of the page. He glared at me out of the corner of his eyes. A slash that said, careful.
The woman’s nods had slowed, decelerated into a rhythmic bob. “Come here. Closer. I’ll mark it.”
Something, some disquiet, just short of an alarm rang around the back of my head.
But about what?
One small woman?
We were two quick kids. Plus Leakey.
I shook out my arms, trying to loosen up, then stepped towards her, map held out in front of me.
She watched me. Hunger in her face. Something new in her eyes as I held out my hand. A glimmer, a light that hadn’t been there a minute ago.
“F,” Steve said. Warning making his voice rattle.
“It’s cool,” I said, a tremor in the map.
I shoved it and the pen at her. Forcing the movement. A thrust, before I went paralyzed from the tension. Breaths came like stop-and-go traffic. Lurching. Irregular.
Please don’t be another scam. Please.
Please don’t go wrong this time.
Please. Please. Please. I just kept repeating the one word in my head as the woman looked down at Steve’s hand-drawn map.
I watched her scanning. Then, for the briefest part of a second, her eyes locked on a square. Just for an instant, before her head snapped up, lips pared back over those teeth. “Another man was here before you. He paid us to keep you away from that place.”
What? Before the question even made it to my lips her hands shot out and clamped around my arm. Hard. Hurting.
“Got him,” she screeched into the blackness of the tunnel.
Two hulks charged from the alcove. Heads almost scraping the tunnel ceiling. Coming fast. Coats flapping. Arms outstretched. Boring straight at me.
A big one, with one droopy eye and turned down lips. And his partner, a wide bus, with neck muscles packed on top of each other like cuts of meat in a butcher’s case.
I pulled against the woman’s grip as hard as I could. “Let me go,” I screamed. Her talons dug in my forearm, digging into the muscle.
I twisted my arm as hard as I could, breaking the woman’s hold. She flailed at me, the map flapping in her hand, as her two bruisers thundered towards me.
“Run,” Steve screamed.
But I couldn’t just cut and run for my life. Even though I had only a second before the monsters would be on me. I had to get that map back.
Before she’d grabbed me I’d seen the woman’s eyes fall on one particular square on the map. I hadn’t been able to see what area of the Valley it represented, but if I could get the map back I knew I could figure that out. And then I could get to the place where she’d seen Granddad.
Just as the two giants tore up behind her, I grabbed her empty hand, the one she was trying to snare me with. And, as we struggled, I snatched the map from her other hand.
“Now we run!” I pushed her away. “Go. Go. Go.”
Leakey jumped and snarled at the two gorillas bearing down us. They skidded to a halt and pulled back as he heaved at the end of his leash. Frantic to get at them. They leaned back, and that hesitation was all I needed.
I pulled Steve by the jacket. He pulled Leakey by the leash and we took off, barreling past the big guy with the lop-sided face and his wide-eyed partner.
We splashed as fast as we could down the tunnel, ignoring the yelling and slaps of feet on wet rock behind us. Deeper into the dark. I led Steve left down the first side tunnel I came to, the beam of my Maglite bouncing off walls of bare concrete as I ran.
“Where are you going?” Steve yelled.
“I don’t know. Just go fast. These tunnels must connect to the subway somewhere.”
The floor pitched down, steep. Lead-weighted footsteps echoed behind us, ringing off the stone. Closer and closer.
We took right and left turns blindly, no idea where we were going. Cement walls gave way to rock. The floor turned to dirt.
“We’re going the wrong way,” Steve shouted. “These aren’t subway tunnels.”
Splashing steps slapped right behind us. I put my head down and ran even harder. “They’re too close. We can’t turn back.”
We rounded another sharp corner and I got smacked by a brutal smell. Like dead fish. Like the worst gas station toilet blowing on an ill wind coming from an opening to our right. I turned off my light hoping the two monsters behind wouldn’t be able to see what we did next.
“It’s a sewer. Through here, quick,” I hissed, then charged as hard as I could through the dark cut in the wall. Running full tilt.
Until the floor dropped away beneath my feet and I fell.
Something cracked me in the back on the way down. Hard. Instinctively I grabbed for it as I fell, fingers closing on wet metal. Water falling from above splashed over my face and down my arms. It soaked my hands. They started to slip. I squeezed as hard as I could. Just barely hanging on to what felt like a piece of metal rebar sticking out of the wall.
copyright 2016 Andy Haynes