It was shorter than a foot and walked on hindlegs, though that was not the only thing that reminded me of a dinosaur. Another strange thing was that it had four nostrils. When I saw that it had one claw in front that was much larger and longer than the others, my first thought was this could be the creature that harmed Erik, but that had been several miles away and it was too small.
Unless it has a big brother.
Sandy muttered a curse. My insides churned while I studied the little guy as I slowly came up to a squat.
Sharon hadn’t told us much about the lizard she was looking for, other than that it was bigger than most. I had not imagined anything larger than an iguana, this was far smaller and differently proportioned. I initially doubted the specimen in front of us was her quarry but as it moved, I started to wonder if this was just a baby.
I looked over my shoulder just to make sure a larger version was not coming at us from another way. The lizard cocked its head, blinked, and took several steps in our direction while not showing the slightest hesitation.
Sandy slowly moved up her pad of paper. I got the idea she was planning to make a drawing.
I’ll do better than that.
I pulled out my cell phone—it was useless for communication here—but worked well as a camera and I made sure to charge it when the generator was on. I opened my phone by tapping the screen, brought up my camera app, and hit the video button.
The lizard hopped, reminding me of a bird.
I held still, torn between watching and making certain I got it all on camera.
Walking on its hindlegs had certainly gotten my attention. The four nostrils made me sure we had discovered a new species. I glanced at Sandy who grinned like a kid at Christmas.
I smiled in return.
The others were going to be jealous we had made such a significant discovery while watching their gear.
It all of the sudden became worth it.
The long days trudging through the humidity, mud, and rain. The nights where I felt like I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes while trying to sleep, even after spraying myself generously with bug spray and hiding underneath a mosquito net.
Our names are going down in history. This will make Sharon mad with jealousy. I chuckled quietly, checking to make sure my camera was still going.
Then the strangest thing happened.
A baby capybara wandered out of the bushes, stumbling as if drunk. It was followed by two more. These also moved in the same manner, walking as if every step were difficult and they were in danger of toppling over. I had only seen the animals a few others times but they typically moved with an energetic bounce.
These seemed like the walking dead.
“Ah, cute.” Sandy stopped drawing and just soaked in the moment with the largest smile I had ever seen on her face.
I was no longer as enamored.
Something struck me as off. The baby capybaras should not have been walking like that. The lizard did not even look back at the other animals, never mind the fact they were more than double its size.
The capybaras were likewise not concerned about the lizard.
“They are together,” I whispered as the realization dawned on me even though it seemed impossible.
“What?” Sandy muttered from the side of her mouth.
I did not answer. It was a crazy hypothesis and even though I did not have real evidence something in my gut told me I was correct. The creatures moved as a herd. The lizard and capybaras were together.
A capybara took a step forward and almost toppled over, its ears flicking as it caught itself at the last moment.
“Hold on,” I said looking up from the camera and examining the face of the closest rodent. It had a sore on its face similar to the dead anteater. I studied the lizard but saw no sign of disease.
It was one thing for a small lizard to approach us, like a squirrel looking for a handout, but three baby capybaras? All without fear? We were too far from civilization for any of these creatures to be domesticated.
“This is not good.”
“Hush,” Sandy said as she started to draw again.
The lizard made a chittering sound and the capybaras came closer.
A chill ran down my spine.
It looked like the lizard had given them an order that they had obeyed. Impossible, sure, but that was what it looked like.
I stood, expecting my sudden move would scatter the animals but they did not react. I focused on the eyes of the capybaras.
Something was off there too.
I could tell this even though I had little experience with them. For lack of a better comparison, they reminded me of the dead anteater’s eyes.
The capybaras were past the lizard.
“Sandy, we need to move. Now.”
“It’s okay. They’re not used to seeing humans.”
“I don’t think that’s it at all. They should be afraid, yet they are fearless. Look at their eyes.”
Sandy shook her head and kept drawing.
I feigned an attack on the closest capybara, acting like I was going to kick it, but it did not even blink.
I was certain, more certain than I had been about anything. These creatures were not acting normal. The lizard looked at me, cocked its head and chittered again. The capybaras came my direction. The baby rodents were half the size of an adult but considering their abnormal behavior, it was difficult to not feel panic rising in my chest even though they were small.
I grabbed Sandy’s arm. “We have to go.”
“When was the last time you heard of a capybara attacking somebody?”
“Something is very wrong about all this.”
She shrugged off my hand.
I stepped back, uncomfortable at how close the animals had come. As I shuffled into the jungle the capybaras followed me, ignoring Sandy who unconcernedly drew the lizard, seemingly oblivious to what was happening with the rodents.
Giving up on convincing Sandy that we were in—
It did not feel like danger, at least not yet.
It felt more like a situation.
The capybaras still came after me, their feet moving as if they were liable to trip.
I stopped backing away, turned, and walked straight, looking over my shoulder to make sure Sandy was fine before disappearing into the foliage. They moved right past without looking at her. I spun and charged to within a foot of the plodding animals but they did not react, not even when I threatened to kick them again.
Not a one blinked.
They lacked instincts. They kept coming when they should have scattered.
As I walked back into the undergrowth my heartrate increased. I suspected they would attack if they got close. After I led them into the jungle, I gave them a wide berth and returned to Sandy, hoping I might have five minutes before the bumbling creatures came back.
Sandy was no longer on my stool. She knelt with a hand out to the lizard. It chittered, but kept its distance, dancing back and forth as if agitated. It was the first sign of nervous behavior it had displayed.
“This is not working.” She reached into a pocket and fished out a granola bar. She opened it and broke off a small piece.
“That’s not a good idea,” I said.
“Where did you go?” Her voice was so quiet it was barely audible. She gave me a wicked grin. “I thought the capybaras had gotten you.”
I did not answer as I considered the best way to respond to the problem in front of me. Sandy did not recognize the danger and I somehow needed to convince her to be more cautious.
I am not imagining things. That lizard told the capybaras what to do, however impossible that seems.
My instincts told me I was correct. I had witnessed the capybaras act as if they had been ordered. It defied all logic, but I knew what I saw.
“Be careful around that little guy. You should leave him alone. His bite might be venomous.”
She turned to me. “Please—”
The lizard jumped. I thought it was going for the food but it bit her forearm.
Sandy screamed as the little devil bit again. She flung it off but it landed on its feet. I kicked, hoping to send it flying into the jungle, if not kill it, but it dodged and bit Sandy’s leg just above her ankle.
I grabbed the stool. It collapsed as I grabbed one leg, holding it like a bat. I swung but the creature jumped out of the way. Cursing, I spun and lashed out with my foot, unfortunately kicking the lizard up onto Sandy’s shoulder where it bit her again.
Muttering an apology, I grabbed it by the tail and swung it into a moss-covered tree. Before it could move I hit it in the head.
I held it down with the end of my stool as I pulled out a pocketknife that I opened one-handed. I was glad I had not put it in my pack during the rain as I had with the machete. After making sure my hand was not within range of its teeth, I pressed down on its neck with my sharp blade and removed its head.
Sandy moaned, sending a shudder down my back. I had not yet acknowledged that the baby capybaras looked like miniature walking zombies, but her discomfort sent that idea home.
“Are you okay?” I asked, approaching as I wiped my knife on some leaves, closed it, and put it back in my pocket. Even with its head cut off, I did not trust the lizard to stop attacking, but a glance showed my concerns were unfounded. Its tail flicked and the severed head worked its jaw, but the little menace was dead.
Sandy shook her head. “I’ll be okay, they might be small but they sting.”
I examined them. They each had barely scratched the surface, she bled but it was not bad.
“Are you feeling woozy?” I asked going back to the lizard and turning the head with my boot to look at its mouth. “It might be poisonous.” Its little teeth were razor sharp.
“It’s going to be okay. They aren’t deep, they just sting, that’s all. They’ll soon heal.
I bit my lip and nodded, thinking it was best to not state my concerns aloud. There was no way to know that Sandy was going to be okay until sufficient time passed. I pulled out my first aid kit from my pack while wondering if the capybaras had been bitten too.
“Want me to bandage those for you?”