Theo was happy, excited, and worried. She wanted to be brave, but whenever there was trouble, she got afraid. And when Theo was afraid . . . she froze. Theo froze to the spot, and could not move or think. For example, when a mean dog got loose one day and came running at Theo and her friends, Theo froze. Her friend Leah had to drag her away, while her friend Connor threw stones and shouted. Theo felt ashamed. She wanted to be the hero, not the one who was rescued. "Bravery is not about not being afraid," her mom, who worked in Search-and-Rescue, said. "It's about being able to do the right thing when you are afraid."
But if you were so afraid you couldn't move, how could you do anything?
Theo's mom shared some tricks to help Theo calm down when she was scared. She could count deep breaths, or think of a happy place. Or she could concentrate on something like her lucky charm.
Theo's lucky charm was a little coiled fern she wore on a bracelet. Ferns were her favourite plants. Theo liked to rub her charm with her fingers. It felt nice, and it calmed her down.
But now, here they were, on the day of the dinosaur trip, and Theo was trying to feel brave. She liked learning about dinosaurs, and knew that most dinosaurs only ate plants. And besides, they would be travelling with a scientist guide and their teacher, who would look after them.
But what about the meat-eating dinosaurs, like allosaurus? What if one decided Theo looked tasty?
"Enjoy yourself, don't get eaten, and smile!" Theo's mom said as she dropped her off at the time machine center.
Theo was too nervous to smile.
Before Theo and her class could go through the time machine, they put on air-mix masks. The air would be different so far back in time. Each mask came with a tiny speaker and microphone so that they could still talk.
"Stay with the group," the guide said. "We shouldn't encounter any large predators, but if we do, stay still. Most of them will ignore us if we don't activate their prey drives by running around screaming."
"What does that mean?" Theo asked.
Their teacher, Ms. Chavez said, "If you get in trouble with a dinosaur, be quiet and stay still. Most dangerous dinosaur will ignore you if you're not running."
"Are we going to see meat-eating dinosaurs?" Connor asked. "That would be awesome!"
"I hope not," Ms. Chavez said.
Theo hoped not, too.
***It was very damp and warm in the old time. Theo got sweaty as soon as she stepped out of the time machine.
Dinosaur time was also very green. There were a lot of big plants, everywhere. One of the trees Theo first thought was a tree was not a tree. It was a fern.
She put her hand out to touch one of the fern fronds. When she tilted her head back it made her dizzy to try to see the height of this fern. It was amazing.
As the class walked through the jungle together, the guide told them how all these trees and ferns were creating lots of oxygen for the world of the future to breathe.
"When are we going to see a dinosaur?" Connor asked.
"There's a marshy clearing not far from here," the guide said, "where we often see sauropods. They're a lot like very big cows. They are usually slow and gentle."
Leah found a bone lying on the ground and showed it to Ms. Chavez.
"Hmmm, a four-inch-long tooth," Ms. Chavez said. "Class, remember to stay close."
The class walked on. It was amazing to think that they were walking in the same place they walked every day to get to and from school, only now they were walking in the past.
It looked so different!
Eventually, they found the grazing sauropods.
Theo watched as the giant reptiles pulled whole branches off of giant trees and pulled giant grasses out of the swamp.
Even though they were dinosaurs, the sauropods weren't doing very much. They were just eating.
Theo walked a little bit away from the class and down the meadow so she could look at more ferns. Connor and Leah followed her.
All Theo's thoughts about being frightened had gone far away inside her. She was busy wondering if she could grow a fern jungle around her house.
She didn't realize they were getting so far away from the rest of the class. Until . . .
Theofina's heart lurched and became a lump in her throat as she looked around.
There, in front of them, was an allosaurus.
It was not as big as the sauropods, but it was still way too big. And, unlike the cow-like sauropods, the allosaurus had four-inch-long teeth that it used to eat meat!
Even worse, it was walking straight toward them.
Theo did what Theo always did when she was very scared. She froze.
The terrible lizard kept coming.
Leah screamed again.
Theo was having trouble breathing.
She tried to count five deep breaths.
The allosaurus paused and waggled its neck and head around.
A big bead of sweat ran down Theo's forehead, around her mask, down her chin, and dropped onto the ground.
Behind her, Leah was now yelping, "Let's get out of here! Let's run!"
Out of the corner of her eye, Theo saw Connor pick up a stick. "I'll . . . I'll try to hold it off . . ." he said.
Theofina was pretty sure a stick would not defeat this dinosaur.
Theo couldn't breathe, and she couldn't get herself to move, so she tried her next relaxation trick. She focused on her good luck bracelet. She gripped the charm tightly in her hand.
She was going to get eaten.
She thought happy place, happy place, but she couldn't remember what it was!
Then, in a rush, Theo remembered Ms. Chavez saying, "If you get in trouble with a dinosaur, be quiet and stay still."
Theofina was already doing the right thing! But her friends were not. And the allosaurus was looking hungry.
She had to tell them what to do. She took a deep breath and tried to talk.
At first, she only made a weird croaking noise.
She tried again. "Freeze!" she said.
And louder, as she got a deep breath, "Everyone stand still!"
"We're going to die!" Leah screamed.
"Stand still!" Theo repeated. "Be quiet!"
Her voice was only a little shaky now, and she could feel the fear going away just a little. She could do this.
Both Leah and Connor did stand still. And Theo stayed still, too.
Now that Leah had stopped screaming, they could hear Ms. Chavez and the guide saying, "Stay still. Be calm kids, it's just curious . . ."
The allosaurus walked right up to them and put its head down right over Theo. She could see up its ugly nostrils. It snuffed, and then it huffed. Theo could smell it right through the mask. It smelled disgusting.
After forever, the stinky allosaurus walked away.
***The class returned to their own time early.
"You should be proud," Ms. Chavez said when Theo's mom came to pick her up.
"I didn't get eaten," Theo said.
"And no one else did, either, thanks to Theo's bravery. She's a hero."
Theo blushed. She wasn't going to tell anyone that she did the right thing accidentally at first. Now she knew. She could be her own kind of brave and her own kind of hero.
"It's against the rules to bring anything forward in time," the guide said. "But . . ."
He handed Theo a baby dinosaur fern.