“Really?” Sammy pretended to straighten up so Mehrak’s hand fell away. She didn’t feel comfortable with him being so familiar and edged away, closer to the mushrooms.
“Sure. Tell me which towns are closest to Earth. We’ll figure out how to get you there.”
Sammy turned away. She pulled at the hood of a waist-high mushroom. Tiny glowing spores drifted down from the disturbed gills, like dust particles caught in sunlight. It reminded her of home and the sun’s rays that slanted through her bedroom window on summer mornings.
“So are you going to tell me where Earth is?” Mehrak asked.
Sammy pointed up. “Probably somewhere up there. Earth is my world.”
“Yeah. Where we have blue skies and no giant mushrooms.”
“Blue skies?” Mehrak frowned, then snorted. “Really?” he said. “Where are you really from?”
“Are you calling me a liar?” Her dad wouldn’t let someone disrespect him like that; although he probably wouldn’t punch a guy who had a dinosaur at his back.
“How did you get here then?” Mehrak crossed his arms.
“I told you already. The bracelet brought me here. I dialled the gold hands to midnight, and then it exploded.”
Mehrak didn’t say anything, but he didn’t look convinced. “Would you like a lift with us?”
“Us?” Sammy said. She couldn’t decide whether she should still be upset with him or not. “Who else is with you?”
“Louis,” Mehrak said, gesturing behind him.
“I don’t see him. Is he inside the shell?”
“No. He’s carrying the shell. And it’s not a shell, it’s a cottage. Well, I call it a cottage; technically it’s a caravan.”
“That creature is Louis?”
The leaf-shaped ears on the dinosaur’s head rotated and bent, each ear moving independently of the other, and creating a series of poses.
“Yes, I know,” Mehrak said to the dinosaur. He turned back to Sammy. “Louis doesn’t respond favourably to ‘that creature’.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realise he could… you know, with his ears.”
“Well, he’s a giant gastrosaur. It’s what they do.”
“Yeah. And obviously I don’t know what one of those is. Because, like I said, I don’t come from here. You ever heard of an elephant?”
“I have actually. I read about them once. They’re extinct.”
A tendril of warm air slipped out of the forest and looped around Sammy’s neck. “Okay. I’ll go with you,” she said.
“Now you’ll come?”
“Something’s chasing me.”
“Something?” Mehrak stiffened. “What sort of something?”
“A tall, skinny thing in a black cloak.”
“I couldn’t see what it looked like exactly. It was person-shaped but taller.”
Mehrak let out his breath. “You see it in a ghost village?”
“Er… yeah, I suppose. It was deserted.”