This story is by Stacey Horton and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The hot air-balloon approached the Isle of Skye, carrying its pilot and two passengers. Sophie pushed back a bright red curl, adjusting her goggle strap. She increased the heat inside the balloon, the weight of her Tesla guns against her legs reassuring as they floated above Talisker Bay. The creatures would come into view any minute. She knew she brought her passengers to see them, but it never made it any less nerve-wracking to know that a paying customer could be decapitated any time.
She glanced to her passengers. Doctors from England, she thought. Not the medicine kind. More librarians than doctors. Never liked having English aboard, but they paid full price. Wesley Fairbank– a young fellow with blonde hair askew– stood with hunched, expensive tweed covered shoulders as he copiously explained the intricacies of his invention. She only caught glimpses of the small geared device, a round lens catching an elusive sunray.
“You see, it’s quite simple, Julian.” Wesley perched wire-rimmed glasses on his nose.
“I can’t believe you’ve made a camera this small,” he replied. Julian Garcia proved to be patient with his friend, his Spanish features belying his English accent.
Wesley hid a smile. “Oh, hold on.” he reached into his jacket pocket, pulling a grainy grey paper out. “Instant photo,” he shouted as the wind picked up, holding onto his hat.
Julian laughed. “Doesn’t look like any photograph I’ve seen!”
Sophie lost interest. Her passengers were often scientists or pseudo-adventurers, anticipating thrills. Seeing it as the family business she would take over one day, the tours lost their glitter soon after her thirteenth birthday. She pulled a face when the conversation behind her took a turn.
“No! This isn’t about the money, Julian!” Wesley yelled, his face and neck growing red, while Julian’s appearance grew stony. “And it never was.”
“Think about the funding that we could have for our laboratories. This would set me up for years if we go to the investors,” Julian argued.
“Investors? I told you that I am not–”
“Not all of us were born with a title!” He stepped closer to Wesley. “With that design in–” he reached into Wesley’s pocket, retrieving a small, leather book filled with wrinkled scraps of paper sticking out. “This book! The camera is only the beginning!”
“You sound just like my father. I’m not about to limit access to something that could potentially change society as we know it!” he glanced at Sophie’s back. “Look, can’t we talk about this later?” he offered a meager smile. “I won’t have you ruin my birthday trip. Alright?”
In the horizon, a large silver airship came into view. Before Sophie could identify it, a high-pitched screech sounded, unrecognized to the novice passengers against the wind and ocean. Sophie whirled around, her eyes searching. Her fingers dove into her vest, clamoring for her retractable telescope. Looking through the lens, wings and pointed head came into view. The direction of the wind changed. Sophie stumbled back a step. Planting her feet, she looked again. A second silhouette appeared. Another sharp cry pierced the air louder and closer. She lifted the scope, a thought flashing through her mind…
“Gentlemen!” she shouted, her Scottish brogue carrying. “I believe you’ll want ta’ see this!” she stepped out of the way when Wesley crowded her. Julian tipped his hat in apology. Julian handed Wesley binoculars, and he held them to his goggle lenses while thrusting out his arm, blindly grabbing Julian.
“Look!” Wesley grinned. “Dinosaurs! Flying ones!”
Julian took the binoculars. “They are real,” he murmured. His eyes darted to the side where the airship fast approached.
“This is absolutely brilliant!” Wesley said, holding his camera, snapping photographs with the bulb flashing. Wesley asked, “Ms. McLeery?” he pointed, holding the camera to his chest. “I’ve forgotten my guide on the ground. Do you recall the name?”
She obliged amicably. “Who? Aye, y’mean Maggie,”
Wesley’s brow furrowed. “Maggie? That’s ridiculous for a predator like that,”
“Oh, tha’s just cos you don’t know her like I do. She’s a bit ridiculous as a dinosaur,” she answered. “Pterodactyls is th’fancy name for her kind.” she pointed to the grassy plateaus below. “You keep watch… y’might see the pack of stegosaurus grazin’,”
“You didn’t name them as well, did you?” Julian asked.
She shook her head. “Don’t have enough time ta’ get properly introduced from here. Y’ pardon me if I don’t start now,”
Julian smirked. “Not at all,”
She blinked considering before turning away, a peculiar intuition twisting her stomach. His eyes… she thought,
She leaned against the basket while Maggie circled the balloon. Wesley ducked when the creature came too close to his camera for comfort. Sophie whistled loudly, pulling one of the Tesla guns. “Too close, lass!” she shouted, aiming above Maggie’s wing and firing. A sudden crackle of electricity charged the air, a targeted bolt flashing. Maggie screeched, her wings flapping wildly, scrambling to escape.
Wesley sat in the basket’s corner, clutching his camera, panting. He held his head for short moment. He asked, staring at her strangely. “You enjoy your work, don’t you?”
She holstered the gun. “It has its moments. I can’t let her take off with you. Y’have m’ paycheck,”
Julian helped Wesley stand while Sophie injected more heat into the balloon. Wide-eyed, Wesley murmured to Julian, “She is mad.” he said, chuckling. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re trying to get rid of me,”
Julian patted Wesley’s shoulder. “Are you certain I can’t talk you into parting with those designs?”
“Are we still on about this?” Wesley asked with an exasperated smile. “The answer hasn’t changed from five minutes ago. You know how I feel about this.” he stepped to the other side of the basket.
Julian sighed, “I thought you would say that,”
Sophie turned just as Julian backhanded her, sending her to her knees with spots in her vision. Julian swept down, grabbing Sophie’s guns. Wesley whirled around.
“Julian!” Wesley shouted. “What on Earth–” he moved toward Sophie. Wesley froze, his eyes fixating on the weapon. “What are you doing?” he demanded. “You’ll kill us all with that thing,”
Sophie’s hand inched toward the other weapon on her leg. Julian looked away from Wesley, holding his gun steadily, saying, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, miss. I have no qualms about pulling this trigger. Whether I hit you or him makes little difference to me.” his eyes went back to Wesley. “You couldn’t make this easy and just be selfish for once, could you?” he made a motion with the gun. “Give me the designs. Now,”
Sophie reached to her mouth, feeling blood on her lip, her temper flaring dangerously. She surged forward, her fingers clamping around his wrist, trying to wrench away the weapon. Julian fell back against the basket’s side. Sophie slammed his fingers against a metal hook, and he released the gun with a pained grunt. Fending off Julian, Sophie ordered Wesley, “Get th’ gun, you brainless idiot!”
“Oh, right,” he said, pitifully, dropping to his knees, diving for the piece, his fingers narrowly avoiding being crushed under Sophie’s boot heel. Picking it up by the handle with his thumb and forefinger, he pushed himself back. The gun slipped through his grip, and he desperately tried to catch it. Accidentally grabbing the trigger, he shot a hole through the basket’s side. Sophie’s head jerked to the side, surprised. The momentary slack in attack allowed Julian one clean blow to Sophie’s jaw sending her tumbling. Her leg caught in one of the ropes, and she careened over the side, her knee catching the basket’s edge. The rope around her ankle tightened, suspending her above the ocean. Julian saw the knife in Sophie’s toolbox as Wesley cried,
“Ms. McLeery!” He looked over the side, seeing her, before moving his stare to Julian. Julian grabbed the knife. Julian held the blade to the rope, which kept Sophie from plummeting to the waves.
“Pull me back in, you—!!” Sophie yelled.
“You pull the trigger, and I’ll cut the rope,” Julian warned. “I’ll do it, Wesley. You know I will.” he sliced one of the strands, the tightly wound material breaking apart, proving his warning.
“Wait!” Wesley held up his hands. “Stop! Look.” he dropped the gun. He looked at his friend, searchingly. “Why are you doing this?”
Julian shook his head, stretching out his empty hand. “Give me the designs. Now,”
Without breaking his stare, Wesley fumbled for the item inside his coat pocket, grabbing it between his fingers. “This isn’t worth a life. Pull her up,”
“Give me the book,”
Wesley tossed the notes. Julian caught it against his chest. “Alright, you have it. Now, pull her back in,”
Julian looked down with a mild smile—a peculiar ambition gleaming in his dark eyes. “Sorry, old friend.”
He cut the rope.