She was fast and seemed to know the terrain well. I was neither, and fell farther and farther behind. It was luck alone, although I think she would have disagreed, that brought me up short when I tripped over her as she squatted near the ground. She was peering in the dark for some small landmark, some indication she was near whatever it was that she sought. She motioned silence, and I acquiesced, too out of breath for words anyway. She straightened and we had taken only a few steps when I felt the very earth give way below me and I fell smack onto a pebbly, hardened space a good twelve feet beneath the surface. I rolled to a sitting position, moaned, and saw that she was climbing down some mismatched boards nailed into the side of what appeared to be a cave wall.
I began to groan. It was not involuntary, I’ll acknowledge, but I thought by this time I deserved to whine. However, the instant a sound escaped my throat, she held up her hand to silence me and walked into a short tunnel. I found her scraping away some dirt from the wall with a little tool. It was apparent that she knew this place. The earth was packed solid, and she seemed to know exactly what she was doing though it was very dark despite the flashlight she had flicked on upon our descent. I tried to while away the minutes by chatting with her, but getting no response, I went back through the tunnel. I’d had enough. She could have the silence she seemed to crave for company. I climbed the “ladder” to the ground overhead, peeped out, recoiled at the black night, looked down again at the darkness beneath me, then, gathering my courage, swung my leg up and pulled myself out. I started off unsteadily, uncertain of my direction. The moon shone only dimly, and there was no trampled path, no recognizable landmark, no inner sense of direction.
I had walked for a few minutes when I heard a rustling. Scared out of my wits, I searched in vain for the hole I now wished I had never left and then ran into a bush under which I promptly sat as far as I could manage. There appeared, not too far distant, a large bird with black feathers and no markings.
“Black feathers,” I silently scolded myself, “Of course its feathers are black! The whole world is black in this darkness!”
It stood waiting; looking around excitedly like some kid at the first football game of the season. It didn’t wait long. Four birds of similar size joined it. They immediately raised such a scream as I’ve never heard since. The sound inhabits my dreams still on nights when the dark seems to close in so near that I can touch it.
I heard a scrambling and saw the stranger throw a wooden box the size of a small trunk out first, then hoist herself outside.
to be continued…
Image: http://pixabay.comenanimal-autumn-background-bird-89182-jpg public-domain