Dinosaur Lake is a romantic SF/horror novel about an Ex-cop, Henry Shore, who’s been Chief Park Ranger at Crater Lake National Park for eight years and likes his park and his life the way it is. Safe. Tranquil. Predictable. But he’s about to be tested in so many ways. First with the earthquakes around and beneath Crater Lake…then when people go missing in the park…and finally when some mysterious water creature takes up residence in the caves below the caldera. A creature that’s not only growing in size, but in aggressiveness, cunning…and hunger. So Henry, with the help of his wife, Ann; a young paleontologist named Justin; and a band of brave men must not only protect his park and his people from the monster but somehow find where it lives and destroy it…before it can kill again. The backstory essay tells all about its long, strange journey that began over twenty years
Justin heard the commotion first. In the stillness of the night a loud swishing of powerfully churning water came from far away, moving closer. On the air trembled a soft cry, the sound filling the caldera as an echo filled a canyon.
Something rose up underneath the boat. Henry would remember later that in the horror of the moment, as they were lifted high into the air, that Sam Cutler had been right, it was bigger than two houses.
The boat plopped back down onto the lake, the whirling engines grinding, water splashing everywhere, soaking both of them. Another bounce like that, Henry thought frantically, and the boat would capsize.
“My god,” Justin yelped. “It really is a monster!” He sounded like someone who’d just watched the sun explode up in the sky.
“I’ll be damned,” Henry mumbled, attempting to swallow. His body was frozen. Only his eyes could move, but they were glued to the creature’s steep side. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing, though in the dark and the chaos of the attack, all he could actually make out was a mass of dark scaly skin as the boat slid down along side of the creature.
He captured a flash of a thick neck, a huge blob of a head, two glaring crimson eyes and a wicked slash of sharp whiteness that had to be teeth as big as a man’s hand. All in all, their attacker was a nightmare that froze him and Justin to the boat’s rail, holding on for dear life as the boat beneath them bucked and rocked.
The thing was moving fast.
Justin’s head lifted upwards on his neck, his eyes gawking up at the thing. He screamed.
The beast replied with a deep-throated gurgling rattle of a roar.
Justin stammered under his breath, “Forgot to mention, I hate the water. And I can’t swim!”
“Now you tell me,” Henry tossed back. “Don’t worry, your life preserver will keep you afloat. If you go over, paddle like hell!”
The boat repeated its jump. The fiberglass creaked torturously beneath them.
“If we go in the water will it try to eat us?” Henry voice was a hoarse whisper.
“I’m not sure. No way of knowing. If it’s a descendent or a mutant of a species like Pliosaur, its ancestors were flesh-eaters. They ate anything they bumped into.”
The boat was lifted a second time, bouncing it high into the air, then it came down violently, nearly capsizing.
“It’s trying to sink us,” Henry cried above the din. The bullets he’d taken in the line of duty hadn’t scared him half as much as what he was feeling now. But he’d never seen the bullets coming. This was different. He couldn’t miss the monstrosity slamming against the boat, playing with them as if they were a child’s toy.
Then as swiftly as the water beast had appeared, it was gone.
The lake beneath and around them became calm. The boat lunged forward, the engines loud on the night air.
Long seconds went by.
Shuddering, on his knees, Justin whispered, “It’s gone.”
Henry crouched by the rail, listening. It was hard to hear anything over the loud thumping of his heart. “That was close.”
“I’ve daydreamed about when dinosaurs walked the earth,” Justin’s voice was ragged. “I always thought it’d be neat to see one. I don’t think so now. The shock alone could give a person a heart attack.”
The paleontologist came off his knees to lean against the rail beside Henry. He wiped the water from his face, in the faint light, his eyes wide and glazed. “Ha, imagine, and I didn’t want us to hurt it–as if we could have.” An acid laugh escaped his lips. “That thing must be gigantic, by what we glimpsed of it. That tail and head went on forever. And did you hear that awful sound it was making, a rumbling snoring roar? It sounded as if we were under a waterfall.”
“Yes,” was Henry’s only reply. He was still listening.
“What are we going to do, Mr. Ranger? Should we make a run for the shore or what?”
Henry stood up slowly, moved over to the controls and shoved the throttle full open. He put out the other hand to grip Justin’s shoulder. “We get out of here as fast as we can.”
They heard the water and the roaring noises resume around them.
“It’s coming back!”
“I know,” moaned Justin.
The boat began to rock harder. The beast was near.
Later Henry believed Justin’s inspiration and quick thinking were the only things that saved them. “Noise! It’s attacking the noise from the engines…and it sees the lights.”
“Then we turn off the engines and the lights! If we play dead, it might leave us alone.
“And I’ve got a gun,” Henry added, a hand on the Sig in his holster. “I can shoot it.”
“Forget that,” Justin hollered. “That pin prick would probably just make it madder and it’d come after us for sure.”
Henry shut down the engines and switched off the power.
“Flashlights off, too,” Justin breathed.
They blinked into darkness. It’d been a moonless, overcast night, with creeping fog to help hide them. Henry felt as if he were floating in outer space, no stars, no other light source, just endless eternal blackness.
“Shhh,” Justin hissed, yanking the ranger down next to him.
The wild pitching of the boat ceased but Henry’s stomach remained in turmoil.
They waited for a long time for the creature to make its next move. Nothing. It was as if the disturbance had never happened.
They huddled on the wood of the deck, silent, barely breathing, their craft dead in the water, for what seemed like an eternity, the rest of the night. It wasn’t until the first rays of sunlight filtered through the mist that Henry restarted the engines and gratefully took them home.
“I want to thank you, Justin,” Henry said after the boat had resumed chugging along. “You probably saved our lives. I was ready to shoot at the thing. I think you were right–it would have just angered it more.”
Peering at Henry through water-speckled glasses, Justin gave him a weary grin. “No need to thank me. I was saving my skin, too.”
“Well, thanks anyway, quick thinker. You didn’t panic as most people would have.”
“Ha, I was too scared to panic.” Justin released a shudder. “And I only used common sense.
“I thought I’d never say this, but as unique a creature as it might be, it doesn’t belong here in our world. Here, it’s a nightmare. You’re right, it belongs to the ancient past.”
“That it does.”
“Henry, since you know the park and the lake area so well, where do you think it hides during the day?”
“Let’s see…underneath the lake there’s a honeycomb of caverns and caves formed thousands of years ago by lava streams when the volcano originally erupted. An amphibious beast could live, hide, down there in the connected waterway caverns forever.”
“I don’t like caves. They make me claustrophobic.”
“And you don’t like the water, either.”
“I hate caves more.”
“How did you ever become a paleontologist then?”
“I figured I’d be excavating mostly on dry higher land. Most archaeological sites are up in the mountains or in deserts. So far I haven’t had to dig underwater or in caves.”
“That’s too bad because after what happened last night, what we saw, if it keeps destroying boats and people keep popping up missing, we might have to search for the creature. Might have to find out where it’s hiding, or living; maybe even explore the underground caves.”
“You’d want me to accompany you?”
“If you would. You’re the only paleontologist I know. I could use your expertise in dealing with the, er, dinosaur, if that’s what you think it is.”
Justin’s face was ashen as he nodded. In the dawn’s light he looked a hell of a lot older than he’d looked the day before.
“It, they,” Justin muttered, “could live down in the caves.”
“You mean there could be more than one of those things?”
“Why not?” Justin replied as their boat pulled up to the dock. “Heaven knows how long the creature we saw has been living in the lake. There could be more.”
Kathryn Meyer Griffith is the author of 16 published novels, 1 novella and 8 short stories.