Through the Heart of The World
It looked all wrong, like he was looking at it through a warped window, or from an unnatural angle. Random was looking down a long canyon onto the ring lake and forest. Beyond that he could see the endless plain speckled with clumps of trees. But, the perspective was all wrong as if he was hanging over it all as if on the inside of a huge sphere. Certain objects on the distant plain seemed closer and focused than the lake. He could still smell the forest and hear birdcalls. Wind rising through the canyon made muted whispering sounds that sounded like wind howling miles away. He turned toward the peak, which was now visible above an almost vertical climb. He closed his eyes, leaping as hard as he could and felt strong hands grab and pull him abruptly up into the air. He stiffened and then relaxed as the hands bore him racing up to the summit.
The gripping hands released Random. He fell. As he opened his eyes, he saw the ground coming up at him. Landing hard, he rolled and finally came skittering to a stop his feet dangling. When he pulled himself up and looked over the edge, he saw a sheer drop of a 1000 feet that opened onto a broad valley filled with a tree. That was all. Its top was even with the top of the mountain. The valley floor was covered completely with its exposed roots and twisting branches. The trunk was hidden by the golden, green, and red foliage. The lower branches were hundreds of feet thick. He could not tell how big the leaves were, but he figured they must have been at least as big as a person or larger.
The only sound he could hear was a whooshing whispering song of the wild mountain. The melody swooped and soared, howls of joy to majestically clear piercing tones that made him ache deep within his chest. He could feel light bodies breeze past him. The song would grow strong and fade as they passed. It was a song of pure joy and freedom unchained to any earthly pain or sensation. It was movement and speed. Also there was an element of emptiness that was heartbreaking. He could not bear the song any longer even though he felt he could not live without hearing it.
Before he even realized what he was doing, Random flung himself over the cliff and fell for 3 seconds before hands gripped his arms and slowed him gently to a stop, carrying him toward a large dark indentation in the side of the cliff. It was an arching cave mouth about 50 feet high. The hands released him as his feet landed on a thin ledge 20 feet below the cave entrance.
He was exhausted to the depths of his spirit. He sat on the ledge with his back against the jagged cliff wall gazing out into the world-filling tree as it shimmered in the light of the sky-filling moon, which now hung directly overhead leaving no shadows just silver light bathing all, making everything ancient and ghostly. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes and slept a sleep of deep blackness for how long he knew not.
He came suddenly awake as the hands once again gripped his arms and carried him up to the mouth of the cave. A hot and earthy breath blew into his face from the inside of the mountain. The moon was gone and ambient light from nowhere had taken its place. The cave yawned blackly. If he entered he would be blind. Where else could he go? Terror filled him as he took the first tentative steps into the gloom of the open maw. He wandered if he could find a staff to feel his way and tap so he could have a little warning of what was ahead. He turned to the tree and looked hard at it. Closing his eyes, he imagined a branch breaking and floating to him. When he opened his eyes a green stick about 5 feet long thin and straight, lay in front of him. He picked it up and tapped it on the rocky floor of the cave mouth. It made a rich vibrant sound that told him a story of that spot. Random knew that a few days ago a black bird had rested here and that there where many tiny insects that crawled over it every minute. He tapped another spot and got a similar report of an eagle and a bloody meal.
Tap, tap and a wild thrill of fear shot through him as he slid foot slid forward. The floor became a slide, and he slid into the darkness. He grabbed about frantically but there was nothing to hang onto. He picked up speed as the tunnel slanted steeply down. Random could feel the walls narrowing around him and he grabbed for the side, bruising and jamming his fingers on rocks. He tried using the stick against the side to slow himself down, but it was ripped clattering from his hands at one touch of the wall. All was utter and complete darkness. The only sounds were the whisper of his clothing on the smooth rocks and the clatter of the stick as it bounced down ahead of him.
The temperature was definitely rising as he went down. He felt as if he was sliding into the hot heart of the mountain. Now he could hear a grumbling grating sound ahead like pumice teeth grinding. He also heard Essie’s laugh rise and echo above the grinding stones. Suddenly, his feet hit a rough spot, stopping his body short and hurling him forward onto a flat pebble strewn floor.
He could not tell how wide or tall the cavern was, but he felt the immensity of it and the sound of every movement and breath was magnified and echoed in swirling reverberations until they became the grating sound he had heard up above.
“She was just here!” The thought exploded in adrenaline through his body like electricity. He was up and moving into the darkness. The floor was smooth with a few pebbles and fist sized rocks that tripped him up every now and then. Suddenly, what felt like a hand made from muddy sand grabbed his ankle and began to pull him down. His feet sank into the floor, which had turned into a viscous, sandy mud. His scream of terror leapt around the void becoming a chorus of shattering glass. Random was yanked quickly into the muddy sand with just enough time to hold his breath and close his eyes.
He could not tell how long he slid through the smothering mud. He held his breath until he saw sparkling lights on his eyelids. Finally his feet touched a solid bottom, Coiling his legs like springs, he pushed with all his might straight up. The mud was gone. Random was flying through cold air. He opened his eyes just in time to see golden sand rushing toward his face. He curled and rolled, tumbling down the side of a mountainous sand dune. At the bottom he took a breath, stood up slowly and brushed the sand from his clothes and hair. Then he saw the footprints. They were small and led him over a shorter dune toward a bunch of beach grass. He remembered this place. He leapt and howled and ran. Random knew she would be there sitting by the ocean, her black hair flying in the wind like a black bird. And so she was sitting arms around her knees gazing out into the dark horizon.