Sunday, 25 December 2016

Mamelon 2 - Chapter Three


Once the thunderous roaring noise had ceased and the dust settled, Peter Wright risked opening his eyes where he huddled against the shuddering wall of the cave. In spite of shaking violently, the wall held, and even the terrified boy knew when to count his blessings. Forcing himself to stand up, he called out, “Mick, are you there? Can you hear me? Beth!”
He called several times without really expecting a response which was just as well since none came. “Is anyone there?” he cried one last time in mounting despair. Again, only a thick, uncaring silence rewarded his pleas for some reassurance if not practical help. Even so, the sound of his own voice had a calming effect. Finally, Pete shut up and contemplated his fate with a shade more self-confidence than he had felt since the avalanche.
Any such self-confidence, however, proved to be short-lived. Fighting back tears, Pete took stock of his surroundings. An intermittent phosphorous glow afforded some light and he was able to discern that at least the way remained clear directly ahead while there was no heading back the way he had come since much of the tunnel entrance had collapsed in on itself.  For a while, he resisted the urge to call out yet again. Hesitantly, he proceeded to make his way cautiously further into the tunnel. He had not gone far when the apparition appeared, an almost featureless ghost-like ‘thing’.  “Aar-g-h!”  The frightened boy let rip with a piercing scream.
Pete turned and ran no small distance the way he had come before collapsing, panting, on the tunnel floor. For a thirteen-year-old, he had reasoning powers of which any adult would be proud.  It did not take long, therefore, to convince himself that ghosts were nothing more than a figment of the imagination. The ghastly apparition had almost certainly been as a result of the shock at being separated from the others in such scary circumstances. A sense of déjà vu settled upon him that he found increasingly comforting rather than disconcerting.  Hadn’t much the same thing happened on his first visit to Mamelon, and had he not survived to tell the tale? Suddenly, he remembered the gluck’s shrill cry just before the avalanche struck. Maybe I’ll find Heron if he doesn’t find me first…
Clinging to the hope of finding his friend, much as a drowning man might cling to a straw, Pete turned and proceeded resolutely back along the tunnel. He had not gone far when the apparition returned. “Aar-g-h!” the boy screamed again, but this time stood his ground. “You’re not real. Go away. You’re not real. You’re a…hallucination.” He yelled at the apparition which, in turn, flickered as if cringing, and promptly vanished.
Instead of feeling deservedly well pleased with himself, Pete was left feeling almost guilty. Bloody hell, I frightened the poor thing. Bloody hell, how can you frighten a ghost? He had taken only a few steps forward when the same weird phenomenon reappeared just ahead.  Pete stood stock still and chose his words carefully. “I don’t mean you ant harm, honestly. How about you? Can you say the same?” Bloody hell, I can’t believe I’m talking to a ghost.
The apparition hovered awhile, and then approached until boy and it were close enough to take each other’s measure. Pete did not know what to make of the experience at all. The ‘thing’ barely had a human shape. The mere fact that he could make out slits for eyes, nose and mouth in what just about passed for a head suggested some human input if only historically. Bathed in a queer yellow glow and flickering like a light bulb about to go out altogether, it struck Pete as a somewhat pitiful creature. Creature, did I say?  Is it alive then? I suppose it must be, sort of… Amazed by how easily he had established an affinity with the apparition he asked, “Who or what are you?” hastily adding, “I’m Pete.” I must be going mad.
The apparition said nothing but turned and turned again several times until Pete caught on. “You want me to follow you, is that it?” There was no reply, but sensing the ‘thing’ meant just that, Pete nodded. “Okay, you lead and I’ll follow.” What have I got to lose?
They made good progress along through a maze of winding tunnels. To break what was a companionable silence, but silence all the same, Pete would chat to his guide now and then. “Do you have a name? I should call you something? I can’t keep thinking of you as ‘Thing’ or ‘Ghost’ and something tells me neither is appropriate anyway.” Inspiration came almost effortlessly. “I know. I’ll call you Chloe. I had a hamster once called Chloe. She was a funny little thing too…” Not once did it occur to him that his strange companion might be male.
Chloe may not have had much to say for herself, but Pete quickly grasped that she was capable of evoking certain feelings. He sensed that she warmed to his chatter. Sometimes, she would be wary and pause. Pete, too, would then pause and cock an ear as if knowing he was expected to listen out for something…or someone. “We’re not alone down here, are we Chloe?  It isn’t only the mountain that doesn’t want us here, is it?” Chloe made no reply, of course, but Pete had a keen sense of her approving of as well as agreeing with him. As if I’ve done anything but escape with my life by the skin of my teeth. Oh, well, that has to count for something, I suppose.
“I say, Chloe, any chance of getting something to eat? I’m starving!” Chloe stopped, waited for him to catch up, and then pointed to the cave wall with something that passed for a hand even though it had no fingers. Pete stared at the wall, puzzled. It was a while before he spotted tumours of some mossy substance he had not noticed before.  “Are you suggesting I eat that?”  Chloe oozed affirmation while Pete could only wrinkle up his nose in disgust. “I don’t think so!” All at once, he experienced a sharp pain in his head. It quickly passed, but Pete sensed it had come from Chloe. Bloody hell, she’s having a go at me because I won’t do as she says. Another similar burst of pain seemed to confirm his suspicions. “Okay, okay, I’ll give it a go.” Gingerly, he plucked a small piece of moss, closed his eyes, popped it in his mouth and proceeded to chew on it. The expression on his face soon registered surprise and delight. “Why, it’s delicious!”
Chloe flickered as if to say, I told you so.
The mossy substance tasted like liquorice and was also moist enough on the tongue to quench thirst. Consequently, it was almost with a spring in his step that Pete followed his guide further into the bowels of the mountain.  They had not gone far this time, though, when Chloe signalled extreme caution. At the same time, Pete heard voices. While sensing Chloe’s reluctance to continue, he could not restrain himself but ran past her and round the next bend to find himself among old acquaintances.
“Greetings, young Motherworlder, we meet again,” The druid, Ygor, rose and walked a few paces outside the circle of companions in which he sat to welcome Pete. Pete, overjoyed at being in human company again, forgot his manners and ran to druid, flinging his arms around the elderly figure that, in turn, seemed taken aback, but quietly pleased.
“You will join our humble supper?” asked Ygor.
“You bet,” Pete enthused, and was soon tucking in to meat and vinre that was a vast improvement on moss, liquorice tasting or not. “What kind of meat is this? It’s delicious.”
“Foss,” one of the druids replied, only to receive a sharp glance from Ygor.
Pete shrugged. “Well, it’s great!” While he ate, the druids talked among themselves, in a language Pete did not understand.  He did not mind one bit, was just glad to be back among friends. He wanted to ask about Mick and Beth but a sixth sense warned him this was not the right time.
“You did well to find us,” Ygor broke into his thoughts, “The mountain’s ways are treacherous and confusing even to those of us who are familiar with them.”
Pete gave a guilty start. He had forgotten all about Chloe. Again, though, a sixth sense warned him against confiding in the druid. At the same time, he sensed Chloe was nearby. “I was born lucky,” Pete responded with a cheery laugh that brought no hint of a smile to the druid’s face.
“I see,” said Ygor gravely. “But you look tired, my young friend, and must be exhausted.  Lie back and rest awhile. “
Pete had the notion that this was more of an order than a suggestion. Even so, it was true. He was dead tired. Indeed, his eyes closed and he was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow one of the druids had provided. He was unaware that Ygor covered him with a blanket so did not see the druid’s grim expression.
In the strangest dream, Pete found himself flying over mountain peaks, clinging for dear life to the neck of a gluck.  Oblivious of the incredible views below, the dream Pete could only struggle to fight off cold, hunger, and a terrible despair. Finally, they descended. A lush, green expanse loomed into view while still some distance below. Suddenly, he lost his grip on the gluck’s neck, slid off its back and went spiralling downward at break-neck speed. A time would come when he would have good cause to remember the same screams of terror that woke him. For now, though, the dream withheld its worst, tumbling him instead into a state of  semi-consciousness where he found himself mutely thanking Ri for glucks and instantly feeling all the better for it.
Gradually, Pete became aware of voices. Although some distance away and muffled, he recognized Ygor’s distinctive way of speaking. At the same time, a sixth sense warned him against opening his eyes and letting the others know he was awake. Consequently, he lay quite still, straining to catch at least some of what was being said.
“The time is not right,” Ygor was saying, “The boy may yet prove useful to us.”
“And if not?” another voice demanded.
“Then we will kill him, of course.”
“But he is only a child,” someone else protested.
“ Our purpose lies too heavy upon body and spirit for any among us to balk at whatever needs to be done,” Ygor retorted without hesitation, ”The red haired boy is expendable, I agree. Yet, we must also ask ourselves if it is only chance that has brought him to Mamelon with his companions. I for one find that hard to believe. Now, if he, too, has a purpose here, I suspect it would serve us better to discover its nature before dispensing with its carrier. His part in events may be small, but that does not render it insignificant.  Let him believe he is among friends and we shall see what we shall see…
The voices drifted away.
Pete swallowed hard and tried to think clearly above a humming noise in his head that was vaguely familiar but too high-pitched to identify. Had it been this that had woken him in the first place? Chloe! She was warning me. Oh, Chloe, Chloe, where are you? He continued to lie still for some time, sweating profusely, before daring to open his eyes. On one side, he could make out the silhouettes of druids sitting in a circle. On the other, he could just make out the bend in the tunnel from which he had impetuously run into a trap. Would Chloe be there waiting to help him after the way he had abandoned her without as much as a second thought? I don’t deserve it.
 By now, the humming in his head was softer, lower, and less intense. He recognized a few bars of a lullaby that reminded him of his life in Tunbridge Wells and brought a lump to his throat. Why on earth should he think of it now, and here of all places? A flash of inspiration, and homesickness quickly made way for more positive thoughts. It was Chloe’s way of reassuring him that she was nearby, he was certain of it. Cautiously, he rose and kicked off his boots to tuck them under his arm before edging towards the bend, and then breaking into a run.
Once round the bend, he paused and looked wildly around.  There was no sign of Chloe. Pete began to panic, and ran on, convinced the druids would soon be in hot pursuit. He stumbled and fell, grazing his hands on the rock floor as he frantically tried to save himself. Chloe where are you? In vain, he tried to stifle a flood of tears and buried his face in his hands.  “Pete Wright you are such an idiot!” he sobbed aloud. “What am I doing here anyway? I must be mad. I should never, ever, have come back here! Mick, Beth, where are you?”
Suddenly, he was aware of hands exerting gentle but sure pressure on each shoulder. In an instant, terror had his every muscle gripped in a steely vice that continued to tighten. .
“Hush, now. Walls have ears and spoken words will often echo in places we would rather they did not.”
Heron!  Pete wriggled free in an instant and flung himself at his friend with what would have been a gleeful whoop if it had not been smothered by a bear hug. “Druids,” he gasped, “they talked about killing me. I thought they were friends, and all the time…”
“Druids are friends to no one but druids,” Heron commented dryly.
“It is good to see you again, young Motherworlder, but we must hasten I think before the druids realize you are gone.”  It was a sweeter but no less kind if anxious voice that broke into the chaos Pete’s of consciousness.
Irina! Pete swung round and it was the elf girl’s turn to hug him before all three were hurrying on their way again. Just ahead of them, Chloe was all of a flicker. Pete glanced at the others, but neither gave any sign that they could see the apparition.
Chloe is my secret. Finding Heron and Irina again had so relaxed Pete that he put the druid threat out of his mind and was even starting to feel quite smug as they reached a fork in the tunnel until, like the others, he became aware of echoes of some terrible event happening not so far away . Bloodcurdling yells intermingled with heart rending cries stopped all three in their tracks.
. Pete bent down to scratch an itch on his leg. It was no itch, however, but a snake. More terrified of snakes than any echoes, he let rip with an ear-splitting scream. Irina, though, did not hear. She had clapped both hands to her ears in a desperate attempt to shut out the awful sounds and try, in vain, to pretend she had imagined them. Heron, though, instantly swung round, reaching for the blade inside his tunic as he did so, ready to do battle with whatever it might be that presented the more immediate threat.
For its part, the snake remained quite still, wrapped around Pete’s leg just below the knee...