Chapter Twenty Six
Unable to do the sight justice using mere words, Emma led Adam through the trees so he could see the mountain for himself.
It took no more than an hour for the two of them to arrive at the broad-limbed tree that had offered her a view into the distance and she buzzed with excitement as she lead him higher into its branches. She passed the not-parrot nest—barely looking to see if the feisty baby that had put up such a fight had returned—and made her way to the same spot she’d stood earlier.
When she finally arrived at the spot, she looked down and flashed Adam a brilliant smile. Then, when Adam had climbed up to share the branch with her, she pulled away a bunch of sagging fronds now limp from the heat to reveal the view in full.
She looked out, surprisingly relieved to see the mountain was still there. The bright red of its stone radiated in the midday sun and, when she squinted, she could see black specs on the horizon. Flying creatures soared in and around the smooth, bulbous rock formations that seemed to roll like water drops down its sides to the jungle below. After allowing herself this brief moment to take in the view she turned to Adam, her eyes wild with anticipation.
She could tell Adam, who was looking over her shoulder, was as taken with the view as she was, but the look on his face puzzled her. It was contemplative rather than joyous and, indeed, the more he looked out at the mountain, the more his expression seemed to sour. Her heart sank.
“Isn’t it marvelous?” she asked, desperate to know his thoughts. “With the rock at our backs, we would be sheltered from attacks. We wouldn’t be looking over our shoulders all the time.” She pointed towards the endless waterfall running down one side saying, “There’s fresh water, which means animals will come to us. And if we find enough space we could even trap some of them somehow so we wouldn’t need to hunt anymore. Wouldn’t that be—”
“Stop,” said Adam, cutting her off and turning away from the view. “Just stop. It doesn’t makes sense and you know it.”
“What do you mean? It’s perfect,” Emma replied, not angrily, but firmly, careful not to let the conversation turn into yet another argument.
“What have we learned all these years? The only way to stay alive is to keep moving,” said Adam. “As soon as we slow down, we’re slider food. Or worse.” As he finished he started to turn away as though about to climb down, but Emma grabbed his shoulder and spun him back towards her.
“You’re wrong,” she said, keeping a firm grip on his arm. “I think we’ve never found the right place to settle is all. I don’t understand why you won’t give this a chance.”
“We don’t know anything about that place!” said Adam quickly, raising his voice. ”They could be from there.”
“They?” asked Emma, letting him go and looking at him, confused.
“You really don’t remember? Has it been so long? Well I do. Not a day goes by that I don’t see their twisted faces in my dreams, or smell their fires. Smell their moonshine that Pin drank before he...” Adam’s eyes moistened and he turned away. He sniffed and rubbed his nose, but didn’t turn back.
“You’re talking about... ogres.” Emma whispered the word. “I do remember them. Of course I remember. They were the only things could turn Pin scared. They took everything from us; our beach, our family, our safety— everything. But we haven’t seen them for years. Not once since leaving the beach. In fact, it’s been so long, they seem almost like a dream to me now. Or ghosts, like they were never here at all.”
Adam turned to face her and she could see he was shaken, as though mere talk of ogres was enough to fill him with dread.
She studied his eyes and could see there was more to his feelings, something he wasn’t saying.
“What is it?” she asked slowly. “What’s making you so scared.”
After a short pause, Adam blinked and waved his hand dismissively. “It’s nothing, I’m not scared,” he said coldly. “I just don’t think it’s worth the risk. We’re doing fine out here, we don’t need anything different.”
“I do.” Emma’s voice was steadfast. “I can’t go on living like this. We can’t go on like this. This isn’t even living, Adam, it’s, I don’t know, dying slowly. I can’t explain it other than to say even a not-parrot makes a nest and stays there long enough to hatch her eggs in it. I miss having a place of our own. I miss how it used to be for us so badly that it hurts my insides.”
Emma stopped speaking and lowered her gaze, letting her words live on in silence. Perhaps she had said too much in her excitement. Even if she was within her right being honest about her feelings, it didn’t mean Adam was wrong. They’d stayed safe for this long, why risk a hard journey towards an uncertain future.
Adam moved past her without speaking and pushed away the fronds to look out at the mountain in the distance.
“It will take a long time to get there,” he said after a long silence.
Emma looked up and turned around, stepping forward until she was standing next to him.
“More days than we’ve ever traveled. Forty maybe, if we’re fast,” he went on.
“And the rains are coming, I know,” Emma added before reaching her hand down and sinking her fingers into his. She squeezed his hand in a silent acknowledgement of his agreement.
Adam faced her, his expression serious in a way she’d seen many time before when he was determined to accomplish something. “And this would make you happy?” he asked simply.
Emma nodded once and he leaned down and pressed his forehead to hers. She rose onto her toes to meet his eyes, feeling their lashes entwine as they came together. He cupped the back of her slender neck and let his fingers wander down between her shoulder blades. Then he tugged her even closer, feeling them poke out as he said, “Where you go, I go.”
“Adam—” Emma began, overwhelmed, but he stopped her.
“We leave at dusk,” he said.
“We can bundle food, carry what we can on our backs, to keep moving,” she added. “We can make it before the rains come, I know it.”
Adam nodded in agreement and pushed away from her, their bare, moist bellies making a slight sucking sound as they parted.
Emma felt the jungle air caressed the area where they’d been joined, sensing her sweat grow cool.
Adam walked past and began to climb down the tree, but she didn’t move to follow. Instead she lingered a moment and pressed her hand to her abdomen and closed her eyes. Her heart raced as she applied pressure to reclaim the feeling of his body against hers. Noting the excitement of it was a new sensation and, for some reason, Adam seemed new as well.
She opened her eyes again and saw the mountain, now mostly obscured by a thin sheet of cloud cover. It called to her in a way she couldn’t describe with words, like it was somewhere she was meant to go. She only hoped she was right to trust her instincts and that Adam wouldn’t come to regret the decision to trust them also.
The call of a not-parrot drew her attention away from the view and she looked down to see her leathery foe from earlier that morning, flapping its wings and hopping back and forth on a branch some feet below. She crouched and watched with interest as it jumped away from the tree and took to the air for the first time, rolling and arching awkwardly as it flew in the direction of the red mountain hundreds of miles away.
Emma was elated as she watched it fly off, joining clusters of other young not-parrots bursting from the tree tops. For the first time she felt a kinship to them in some meaningful way, like she was also about to take a leap of faith and journey into an unknown future.
Emma watched the not-birds until they became specks in the distance then started to climb down to search for Adam. They would need to pack quickly if they were going to leave by dusk. And it would be a very long journey.