Chapter Twenty Nine
Ancient faces, deeply lined and radiating the wisdom of ten thousand seasons, looked on from the side of the mountain as Emma slid her feet across the slick ledge.
Spray from the waterfall pelted her face as she approached it slowly, careful not to slip off the slick blue moss that spread out over the red rock face. If an onlooker would have spied her from a distance she would have barely seemed a speck climbing under the faces’ massive scale. Each was as large as a small island, their disinterested eyes peering off into the horizon; at what, no living creature would be able to say with any degree of certainty for none was alive at the time of their sculpting.
Emma called these figures “the stone men”, and she dared never look at them whenever she made the climb up to the small cave tucked in behind the waterfall. They seemed to stand guard over it in a way that made her fearful, like they might just strike her down if they felt taunted by her presumption to enter their sacred chamber. Plus, the way they looked out across the world made her think they could see and hear all things, perhaps even her own unspoken thoughts. In that way, it seemed to Emma, they might know her better than she knew herself, and so they filled her with awe and fear and made her sad, for she also knew they would outlive her and every living thing on the moon.
The hard spray pricked at her supple skin as she reached the great waterfall. With her back against the rock, she tucked herself behind the downpour and into the stone cave set deep into the mountain.
Once Emma passed through the curtain of water, its thunderous roar evened out to a steady thrumming that didn’t bother her ears much.
Removing her spear from around her shoulders, she leaned it against the stone entryway before wiping water from her face and flicking it to the ground. The drops made a subtle patting sound off the stone which turned into a constant dripping as tiny drops fell one after the other from the ends of her hair.
Reaching back, she balled it up in her hands, giving a single squeeze and sending a torrent of water splattering to the floor. Then she moved further into the cave.
Set into one of the back corners was a thick cushion of moss and dried brush. She’d carried the materials in small bunches over the years since discovering the hidden cave. It created a comfortable space large enough for her to lie down and stare at the reflections on the ceiling. Sometimes she slept there if the afternoon was particularly hot.
Emma didn’t think she’d be able to sleep today. Her mind was still racing. She didn’t know exactly why, but she felt as though a restless spirit was trapped inside of her, fighting to burst out.
She lay down, letting out a deep sigh before plucking the wet ends of her hair and twirling them between her fingers. Then, staring up at reflections dancing along the ceiling, she tried to make sense of the random shapes that formed as they moved. Four waving lines turned into a star then burst apart like a spark jumping from a fire in the night sky. Another set of lines floated over the uneven rock ceiling like ripples on a crystal lake.
Was there meaning to these morphing forms? She couldn’t help but wonder this whenever she found herself fascinated by the movements and spectrums of the world around her. Was a higher power attempting to speak with her through the dazzling shapes and colors of the world?
She became mesmerized by the reflections and lost in a deep reverie as they danced and spoke to her soul in their secret language. Then, ever so slowly, the real world and the world of sleep became one, her mind’s eye blinded by the charm and magic of the natural world as she slipped into unconsciousness.
Emma was so lost in utter tranquility that she didn’t hear the sound of wet feet quietly patting against the stone floor towards her. She didn’t feel drops of water tapping against her cheeks as a figure leaned over her slick, tanned body lying on the bed of brush and grass; didn’t notice eyes studying her lustfully as she lay, half asleep, half awake.
Finally, when a drop of water ran down her forehead and over the lid of her right eye, she opened it and looked up.
At first she saw Adam looking down at her, a wide smile spreading across his face as he leaned in closer. But when she wiped the water from her eye she saw it wasn’t him, and her sharp, horrible scream pierced the tranquil silence of the cave.
Adam was nearing the tree line when a strange sound caught his attention. He crouched low in an instant and pulled the long spear from around his shoulders, listening to identify what the sound was and the direction it came from.
He tightened his grip around his spear as he listened. The sound was rhythmic and sharp, unlike anything he’d heard in the night before. It seemed to come from the direction of the waterfall and he pressed on despite a sense of fear, driven by curiosity and concern equally.
The world had grown dark since he left the homestead so he needed to be careful as he approached. Whatever was out there, he needed to find Emma before it found her.
Adam followed the sound until he reached the edge of the tree line. Crouching low, he peered out across the smooth black rock surrounding the great pool at the mountain’s base.
The dead slider was still there, only now it was separated into many pieces, its foul bile and blood spreading out across the stone.
Four Ogres, three male and one female, were slicing its flesh with sharp tools, strange blades singing out unnaturally in the night and they slid them back and forth across the creature’s rubbery skin.
As they tore each piece from the slider’s body, they moved the meat onto a large sled made of cane and vine.
Adam cursed his bad luck. That slider would have fed them until the rains came. But his frustration didn’t linger long. He had a bigger problem— ogres were back.
Adam slunk through the tree line away from where the four ogres continued their work harvesting the slider. There would be more of them close by, Adam knew. He didn’t know if the entire tribe was back or not, but he and Emma needed to leave regardless. He needed to find her quickly.
He froze suddenly, his muscles tensing when he heard a sound behind him. Narrowing his eyes Adam spun around quickly, taking an offensive stance with his spear out, ready to lunge. But there was nothing there.
He remained still and ready for a long moment, scanning the jungle for a sign of movement. His body shook as adrenaline pulsed through his veins. Without knowing how many ogres were around, he didn’t know whether to stay or run.
Better to run, he thought and was about to flee when something fell from above and landed on his outstretched spear. The thing chirped at him sharply and he heaved a sigh of relief.
“KoKo!” Adam whispered sharply, shaking his spear to get the creature off. “You silly bug, you scared the breath out of me!”
The animal ran up the spear and sat on Adam’s shoulders, chirping intently at the boy.
“Be quiet,” Adam replied. “I don’t know where Emma is, but we can’t stay here. It’s too dangerous. ogres are back.”
KoKo grabbed a clump of Adam’s hair in her mouth and yanked at it hard. He winced and tried to shoo the creature away, but she seemed intent to keep his attention.
“Ouch! What’s gotten into you?” Adam huffed, confused. KoKo yanked his hair again and Adam took a step forward. “Are you trying to tell me something? Do you know where Emma is, KoKo?”
KoKo chirped and hopped on top of Adam’s head, pulling at his hair until he took another step.
“The mountain? Is Emma up the mountain? But Koko, we can’t go there now, it’s too dangerous with ogres— OUCH!” KoKo pulled his hair so hard that a clump came out in her mouth. “Okay, okay. You don’t have to rip my hair out. Show me the way then. You know how to stay hidden better than anyone. Just keep quiet, would you?”
Sensing that Adam understood, KoKo jumped off his shoulders and bounded ahead through the underbrush.
A small blur in the darkness, Adam did his best to keep up with the animal as she led him around the other side of the lake, towards the massive mountain and the cave she knew Emma liked to go.