Chapter Thirty Two
Emma steadied herself in the bamboo cage as it rocked over the rough jungle terrain. It was fashioned to a wide sled—constructed twenty-six chutes across—that was being dragged by a strange, lumbering beast the likes of which Emma had never seen before. An underground dweller perhaps?
The thing walked low to the ground on five crooked legs, its two front ones rippling with muscles under grey, scaly flesh, while its back three seemed to steady it over the uneven ground. Its head was oddly small for the scale of its body with a low hanging jaw that was home to vicious incisors so long they nearly dragged through the dirt. It breathed great burdened breaths as it struggled to drag the heavy sled behind itself, bellowing out in pain when the ogres struck its haunches with their thick wooden spears.
All variety of wild animals were drawn to the marching horde as it cut its way through the dense jungle. Like parasites, smaller creatures like mud mice scurried underfoot searching for leavings of food or beast excrement , while not-parrots and other flying animals circled overhead, doing the same from the air. A few perched on the top of Emma’s cage and she had to constantly wave them away or become covered in their droppings.
The cage that held Emma wasn’t much larger than herself and left her no for her room to stretch her legs. For more than two days she’d been forced to kneel or sit with her knees tucked under her chin and had developed a terrible cramp because of it. She doubted she could run very far even if she could escape because of it.
Not that escape was likely. She’d tried for hours to tear at the rope vines that held the cage together but her soft, human nails were no match for the moon’s hearty fauna, designed to fend off tougher attacks than she could ever muster.
Not surprisingly, it had proven useless to yell out or appeal to the ogres around her for food or water. Most of them had barely looked her way during the journey, almost as if they were afraid to.
Once a group of ogre children had approached the cage and poked at her curiously with sticks. She’d tried to ask them for help amid their jabs, desperately offering them colored stones from her hair in return for some water, but no sooner has they arrived than they were beaten fiercely and dragged off by her adult captors. She hadn’t seen them—or any children—again since. In fact, there were hardly any children at all, which surprised Emma considering the tribe was in its many hundreds.
So Emma had resigned herself to simply sit and wait to see where they were going, and learn why her presence had driven them to mobilize their entire tribe on such an arduous march.
At the end of the second day, when night began to loom over the jungle and the moon rose full and bright, the deep bleating of horns sounded from somewhere at the head of the procession. At their command, the horde halted their march and began the busy activity of setting up camp.
Emma watched as fires were lit and crude tents draped in red, gold, and green animal hides were erected all around her. Female ogres knelt in groups over stone pots cooking strange smelling stews and speaking together quietly while the larger males chewed mouthfuls of dried meats as they pounded wooden stakes into the earth, and cut away the underbrush.
Once this work was done and food was prepared, the ogres huddled into small groups of five or six to eat heartily in front of fires, and drink deeply from long bladders spilling over with rank smelling dark liquid.
Emma recognized the sour smell immediately. It was the same moonshine Pin had drunk so much of before they found his body broken on the beach. At the memory of such a horrible thing she turned her back to the ogres as the night went on, trying to get comfortable despite the cramped cage that held her.
Deep into the night their voice grew louder and they became rowdy, cheering and calling out. Some fought violently and females screamed, and, in all her life, Emma never thought such wretchedness could exist in the universe. It troubled her so much she could barely stand to look upon them.
After a while, her eyes grew heavy and sleep took hold of her despite her anxiety. At once, she fell into a wrestles dream.
In it, the sun shone warm and lovely and she was a young girl again. She lay stretched out on the sand and the ocean was a constant din of crashing waves that enveloped her. Something tapped her forehead lightly and she opened to her eyes. Adam stood over her, a devilish smile on his face.
“Bet you can’t catch me,” he whispered, his voice sounding far away. He ran off laughing and Emma jumped up and chased him down the beach, a feeling of pure joy a freedom filling her in a way she hadn’t felt in years. She gained on him, sand kicking up behind her as his body grew larger in her field of vision.
“I’m coming to get you, Adam!” she cried joyfully as she approached. “You know I’m faster than you!”
Laughter rang out ahead of her and then Adam vanished. Emma stopped and looked around. “Adam?” she called across the beach. “Adam, is this a trick?”
Emma shivered as clouds rolled in and cold rain began to fall. Thunder clapped overhead and she ran for the tree line to escape the downpour that came fast and hard. But, before she could reach the safety of the trees, Emma awoke in the cage, hard rain pelting her in the darkness.
Hours had passed since she’d dozed off and, looking around the ogre camp, she saw that most had retreated into their tents for the night. Some milled about to pick through the leavings of other groups, but it was mostly quiet. None came to her, or provide her with cover, or gave her food or water and she barely had energy to ask for it anymore.
Her stomach ached and knotted fiercely as she sat uncomfortably in the cage getting soaked. She began to cry. And as rain ran down her face, mixing with her tears, she thought of Adam and their old life that seemed so hopelessly lost.
How she longed to be with him now, lying beside him, asleep in their large hut, the sound of squabbling flappers lulling them outside, her head on his chest, his hand rested on her thigh. Had she truly lost him?
“Adam,” she whispered. “I need you. Where are you?” Emma curled into a tight ball and leaned against the hard cane bars of her cage. She tried to sleep, hoping to find Adam in her dreams again, but he never appeared to her.
When Emma awoke the ogres were already on the move.
It was midday, humid and hot following the night’s rain. They had ventured into the densest part of the jungle so the sun was hidden from view above the towering trees. It was a place of wild chaos where insects as large as Emma’s fist hummed loudly and predatory animals waited around every corner to devour you.
Emma and Adam had found themselves in this part of the jungle on their journey to the mountain some years ago and had vowed never to return. It was here that they met their first slider and barely escaped with their lives. Thankfully it had been a yellow one, and small. If it had been red… well, she hated to ponder the outcome.
Her stomach roiling, Emma tried to get the attention of an ogre who trudged along beside her. It was a male, given the job of keeping the beast that dragged her cage moving. He looked as tired as she felt, his face twisted in an agonizing scowl as he whipped the beast whenever it slowed.
“Please…” Emma said, struggling to push the word from her lips. “I need food. Water. Please.”
When the ogre didn’t answer, or even look at her, she sunk lower in her cage and hugged herself. She closed her eyes for a while and the sound of insects intensified. She stayed like that for a while, letting the sounds of the jungle swell around her until something more familiar made itself known to her. A chirping. Where had she heard that sound before?
Opening her eyes, she noticed something on her lap— a long slab of dried meat. She snatched it up greedily and sunk her teeth into it, tearing a large chunk away and chewing quickly. It tasted worse than it looked and was so tough it hurt her teeth as she tried to break it down and swallow.
She was almost finished when the question of where it came from finally entered her mind. Looking around wildly, she tried to figure out who had put the food in the cage for her. But the ogres continued to ignore her and gave no indication of caring enough to provide any help.
Finally she heard the sound of chirping again and knew immediately who it was. Heart racing, she peered over the side of the cage and caught sight of a dark purple tail swaying out from underneath the sled.
“KoKo,” Emma whispered. “Is that you?”
KoKo’s tiny upside down face peered up at her from under the sled and blinked twice quickly. Emma could tell the animal was confused and upset about her predicament.
“Koko!” she almost yelled. “Oh, Koko, I’m so happy to see you. How did you ever find me? Can you get me out of this thing?”
KoKo cocked her head quizzically and Emma picked at the vines tying the cage together. “Can you bite through them?” she asked.
The animal pressed her head against Emma’s fingers and rubbed it back and forth like she wanted Emma to scratch her behind the ears.
“No, no,” Emma sighed and scratched at the vines, trying to get KoKo to look. “Can you chew the vines? Can you get me out of this cage?”
After an agonizingly long moment, KoKo climbed around the outside of the cage and sniffed at the rope vines. She pawed at them momentarily then opened her mouth and gnawed at them with her small incisors. Emma could tell it wasn’t going to work. Even if KoKo could chew threw them it would take way too long. But what choice did she have but to try?
“Keep at it, KoKo,” she whispered to the wide-eyed animal. “We’ll figure this out together. I just hope Adam is in a better position than I am.”
With her mind set toward escape once more, Emma sat back and bit off another chunk of dried ogre meat. She winced at the sour flavor but managed to swallow it. Things were looking up. With KoKo’s help, she just might get out of this thing yet.