by Orley M. Amos, Jr.
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Professor of Economics
Oklahoma State University
Chapter Fifteen: The Caves
"We should hurry," Leonardo urged them, anxious for a return to the trees, if only for a short visit.
To meet with Mark, Leornado's old colleague, the threesome had to trek down the side of the mountain and across a small peninsula of the red valley. This fifty-yard wide finger of red grass gave the two students pause for thought. What danger might they encounter? More puppy-snakes? Perhaps a new demon from their depths of Tyler's nightmares.
"Please, let's hurry," Leonardo beckoned again.
As they scurried down the mountain side, Cali noticed a strange haze covering the land. More than the mere twilight of the setting sun, the bright, sharp, even harsh red of the valley was pale, almost peaceful. It was a peculiar haze, unlike anything she had ever seen in the real world. But this WAS a peculiar land.
"Wait a second," Cali pointed towards what appeared to be several small indentations in the red foliage, "What are those?"
Leonardo strained to see. Then he pleaded, "I don't see anything. Please we must go."
Tyler adjusted his glasses, scanned the valley, but failed to see anything noteworthy through the smudges. "I can't see anything either," he responded.
"I hope you're right," she said, entering the knee deep red grass, but with an eye directed towards the apparent indentations.
Like their journey through the tunnel, Tyler quickly lagged behind the others. Without question this had been one of the most arduous days, one of the most tiresome weeks, of his life. But Tyler also had the physical conditioning of a three-day old pizza. Whatever the reason, he dropped farther and farther behind. Cali stopped once to urge him on, but even a freshly-baked pizza would not have quickened his pace.
What he needed was nutrition, the type of nourishment that could be provided only by his fruit. He stopped and pulled one from his bag.
Preoccupied with the juicy purple fruit, Tyler failed to see the indentations move closer. Had Cali not turned around for a second time to urge Tyler on, no one knows what might have happened.
"TYLER!" she screamed. "RUN!"
Startled by Cali's shrill voice, Tyler dropped the fruit. He cursed softly has the half-eaten fruit bounce on the red foliage once. He was absolutely dumbfounded, though, when the it was engulfed completely before having a chance to bounce again.
The cute, cuddly, frisky, little, carnivorous puppy-snakes had return.
The creatures did not bother with the formalities this time, but went straight for the flesh on Tyler's unprotected legs. At first, only a few puppy-snakes attacked Tyler. The few quickly turned to many. As before, Tyler kicked fiercely. As before, he swung his bag of fruit. And as before, the puppy-snakes tried to digest large pieces of his legs.
Tyler broke free from the swarm and ran. He was no longer stale pizza, but an Olympic sprinter, a frightened gazelle, a puma chasing the gazelle, a bolt of lightning streaking across the sky. He didn't know which direction he ran, he just ran. He didn't look back. He didn't look for Cali and Leonardo, he just ran.
Even though he might have felt like a streaking lightning bolt, he really was three-day old pizza. Unlike the previous attack of the puppy-snakes, Tyler was unable to outrun the cute creatures this time. They nipped at his feet and ankles as he ran and kicked.
Tyler thought he heard Cali's voice screaming something through the thickening darkness, but he didn't know what. He really didn't care. He just ran. And he kicked at the puppy-snakes and ran.
After what seemed like a week's worth of economics lectures, the nipping at his ankles diminished. The growls and yelps also faded. Maybe he was only two-day old pizza.
Of course, he congratulated himself too soon. The ground beneath him was no longer flat and the soft foliage no longer cushioned each step. He tripped, he stumbled, and he fell. The rocks replacing the foliage was not nearly as soft. Tyler crashed to the side of the mountain. He relaxed for a moment to orient himself. He must have darted back to the mountain. Yes that was it, he was on the side of the mountain.
The yelps and growls grew louder. Drawing upon his last bit of remaining strength, Tyler jumped to his feet. He stumbled up the slope of the mountain. The barks of the puppy-snakes were close enough to attract his undivided attention. He glanced to one side, then the other. Then the side of the mountain gave way. Tyler fell face first into complete darkness. He tumbled and rolled, end over end, for another week's worth of economic lecture, stopping only when a jagged cave wall got in his way.
He didn't move for several moments, not certain if he was conscious, unconscious, or dead. When he heard the growls and yelps of the puppy-snakes, he realized death and rest would have to wait. But the sounds faded away. He was conscious and alive, but excruciatingly sore all over.
Twisting into a semi-sitting position, Tyler looked around. Or at least he tried to look around. He was in total, complete, pitch-black darkness. Out of habit he tried to adjust his glasses, but they must have fallen off during his theatrical entrance into this cave. In the darkness, glasses made no difference.
Trembling and sore, he rose to his feet.
"Got to get out of here," he said to himself, "Got to go find Cali."
He felt through the darkness with his hands. He touched the jagged wall that had abruptly stopped his journey. This wall was a place to start. By following the wall, he might be able find the entrance. He immediately discovered that this option was not fool proof. On his second step, the cave wall was no longer there. He lost his balance -- what little of it remained -- and fell sideways into what only could be described as a river bed.
Had the river bed been filled with water, Tyler would have enjoyed a brief, but soothing splash on his exhausted body. If the river bed had been completely dry, Tyler would have stirred up a cloud of dust, and been on his way. However, this river bed had just enough water to form a thick sludge.
Recalling old jungle movies, Tyler's first thought was quicksand. And in every quicksand infested-jungle movie he had ever seen, a struggling body was sucked out of sight -- probably to the center of the earth. But he knew that didn't happen in the real world. Then again, he wasn't in the real world.
He remained motionless, hoping not to sink. He soon realized that the mud was not thick enough to draw him to unknown depths. He worked his hands free and sat up. Then he rolled to all fours and tried to feel his way to safety. A short crawl up the side of the bank and he was back on dry ground.
"How am I going to get out of here?" he said to himself, failing to hide the fear in his voice. His fear of the darkness, heretofore suppressed by other fears, surfaced. Then he remembered the evil professor.
"Of course," he said to himself, "He must have had those puppy-snakes chase me in here. Well I'm not going to let him do this to me. He's not going to stop me."
With that he stood to his feet, and bumped his head on an overhanging rock.
"I'll get out of here. I'll find Cali. He's not going to stop me."
Then, recalling his newly acquired talent, Tyler closed his eyes. First, he located his glasses. While he realized he could use his ability to easily maneuver through the darkness, with his eyes closed, avoiding every obstacle, he still wanted his glasses. Unfortunately, when found, the frames and both lenses were broken. The broken glasses reinforced something Tyler had know for many years. Swashbuckling adventurers didn't wear glasses. Dragons were difficult to slay by nearsighted knights. He tossed his doubly useless glasses into the dust, then located his bag of fruit.
"Now to get out of here and find Cali," he mumbled, focusing his talents on Cali's location. He sensed that she wasn't very far away. In fact, he 'saw' that she had also entered the caves -- probably chasing after him.
That Cali was some girl.
He worked his way through the passages deep in the mountain. While he had 'found' Cali, she was also on move, making it difficult for Tyler to catch up to her. Fortunately, the darkness was a bigger hindered for the sighted Cali than for the sightless Tyler. In a matter of moments Tyler heard Cali's voice echoing through the caves.
"We've got to find him," she was saying, "I'm not leaving here until we find him."
Then Tyler heard Leonardo say, "Very well. I just wish I could locate him. I guess I'm not yet a real locator."
"CALI!" Tyler screamed out, "STAY WHERE YOU ARE, I'LL COME TO YOU!"
"TYLER!" Cali's voice echoed back through the caves, "ARE YOU OKAY?"
Before Tyler responded, he maneuvered his way through the passages, until he was within arms distance of Cali.
"Yes, I'm okay," he said softly, causing Cali to jump in the darkness.
"Oh, Tyler," She said throwing her arms around him in a big hug, "I thought those things had eaten you. Are you okay?"
Tyler hugged back, receiving a sensation well worth the trip to Leornia.
"I have a few bumps and bites and my glasses are broken. But I'm okay."
Then she pushed him back. "What do you have all over you?" she asked, now that it was all over her, too.
"Oh," Tyler said, scraping mud from his face and arms, "I fell into a mud puddle of some sort."
Cali attempted to wipe some of the mud from herself. "Thanks for spoiling a really touching, sensitive moment," she scolded.
"I didn't plan to fall into the mud," he countered, "It just happened. We can still touch and be sensitive."
"Take a bath first," she said.
"How about you. You're the one who smells like a subway restroom," he countered.
Leonardo stepped between them.
"Perhaps we should leave the caves," he said, "I'm sure... uh... my colleague... uh... what's his name?"
"Mark?" Cali responded.
"Yes, Mark," Leonardo said, "Mark is waiting for us."
"Okay," Cali said, "How do we get out of here?"
"Follow me." Tyler offered. " I don't need to see. I can lead us to this Mark fellow."
In the absolute darkness of the caves, Tyler took Cali's hand, who took Leonardo's paw. They slowly walked through the passages. Alone, Tyler could have easily found the exit in half the time. But, he was careful not to lead the others into unseen walls or low hanging rocks. After several minutes, they reached an opening. While the pink sky was nighttime dark, it was comparatively bright compared to the caves. Even though his 'second sight' helped dispelled his fear of the dark, Tyler was especially relieved once outside.
The soon realized that this was not the same opening Tyler had originally entered. Without telling anyone, Tyler had guided them here for two reasons. One to avoid the puppy snakes, if any remained near the other entrance. . And two, this opening was much nearer the trees and a more direct route to Biology test #7 for their meeting with Mark.
They hiked quickly down the mountain side and entered the knee deep red foliage once again. This time Tyler was in the lead, with Cali anxiously scanning the area for approaching indentations. This time their trip was short and uneventful.
Within a few yards of the trees, Leonardo stopped. "If I remember correctly," he thought, "Biology test #7 is right over there." He pointed to a spot near a particularly large umbrella tree.
Tyler closed his eyes, then nodded to Cali in agreement.
They spotted movement near the tree. The movement belonged to a plump, nervous-looking instructor. Tyler recognized the mannerisms of the instructor.
"I think that's the instructor I had," Tyler said.
Cali nodded, "Yeah, me, too."
Mark extended his paw and said, "I knew it had to be you two. We haven't had many learners here recently."
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Copyright © 1997, 2002 by Orley M. Amos, Jr. All rights reserved. Not
to be quoted without permission of the author.