There is no going back through to the barn. I checked. The opening we came through is no longer there.”
Sig sniffed and wiped her nose on her arm then struggled to her feet. “I’m going to check it out myself.”
She turned on the flashlight and made her way through the cave entrance. It was pitch black. She struggled to keep her balance as she picked her way down to the cave bottom. The canvas of her skate shoe caught a sharp edge, tearing as it tipped her off balance.
Sig reached out instinctively to steady herself and was rewarded with sharp gashes on her palm. As she jerked her hand back she stumbled to the bottom landing hard on the gravel floor. The flashlight clattered to the ground.
She sat up. Feeling around the floor, she found the flashlight and shined the light around. Nothing but solid rock walls and ceilings surrounded her. Light sluiced through the small slice of opening where Reggie peered down at her.
“Stupid rocks,” she said.
“What was that?” asked Reggie.
“Nothing,” Sig said as she stood and wiped her bloodied palm on her pants leg. “Cut my hand a little, nothing too bad. You were right, there’s no way out of here.”
“You had best come out of there.”
“I will. Let me look around a little bit more. Maybe find something to tap on the wall to see if there’s like a hidden door or something.”
The rocks slowly shifted, bottom to top, side to side, making the opening smaller.
Reggie frantically beckoned to her. “Hurry!” Sig dropped the flashlight and scrambled, using hands and feet to gain footholds on the shifting rocks. Her breathing quickened as the opening became a mere slit of light.
Reggie reached down and she grabbed his hand. He pulled as she pushed off with her feet. Her arms, then her head and torso came through the opening but then she was stuck.
“Turn sideways!” yelled Reggie. She twisted to her side as he tugged her free of the rock. As her feet cleared the opening, it snapped shut, closing off the cave and leaving them on the ledge in a heap.
“You’re squashing me. Move your bum,” said Reggie, pushing her off of him. She rolled off of him and they both sat up staring at the mountains below them.
“Incredible,” Reggie said standing and reaching over to gingerly touch the rock. “Completely bonkers but incredible. Most likely the same thing happened to the opening from the barn.”
“Now we’re like seriously messed up. We’ll never get through that rock,” Sig said.
“Great. No food, no water, probably no cell service.” Sig took her phone out of her pocket. Nothing but a black screen. She pressed the power button. Still nothing. “Nope. Cross that lifesaver off the list as well. Terrific. And you look like you’re going to puke.”
“I am feeling poorly. My head is killing me.”
“Wish I could help you out, man, but I got nothing. I do think we’d better get off this ledge though. Look over there.”
Reggie followed her gaze. Dark clouds now cloaked the distant mountains. Lightning flashed, followed a few seconds later by a low rumble of thunder.
As if to reinforce the oncoming storm, a strong gust of wind blew, knocking Reggie back onto the rock.
“I agree. I don’t want to get fried by a lightning bolt or blown off this mountain.” Another sharp crack of lightning was followed by a loud clap of thunder. “Come on, I spy a path leading between those two boulders.”
Sig trailed after Reggie to the path. She turned back once to see if the opening reappeared. As she did, the skies opened and a downpour of rain began, drenching them by the time they reached the boulders.
Reggie paused there to allow her to catch up. “I suggest keeping your eyes strictly up for this next part,” he yelled over the strong rain, wind and constant thunder. “It appears to be a narrow spot atop a very high cliff. Hold my hand.”
She grabbed his hand as he pressed his back against the wall and shuffled sideways along a very narrow and slick gouge in the sheer face of the mountain. Sig glanced down once and choked back a cry.
It was a straight drop down with no end in sight. She fought paralysis to continue following Reggie. The sole comfort was the solid rock at her back.
They reached the end of the gouge. “I’ll have to jump,” said Reggie. He dropped her hand, turned and leapt the short distance to the flat-topped rock a few feet away from where Sig stood.
“Now you,” he shouted. Sig wiped her face, took a deep breath and took the leap. She landed awkwardly on her knees and hands and began slipping backwards. Reggie grabbed her jacket hood and pulled her towards him to level ground.
“The trail picks up here,” he yelled into her ear to be heard over the constant roar of the storm. They walked a few paces and picked up a faint trail, now a muddy stream of rock dust and rainwater. They plodded along the path which took them around and between immense outcroppings of boulder.
They didn’t talk much as Sig followed Reggie up and down the trail, splashing through ankle-deep mud, slipping now and then, as the path dangerously dove into treacherous coulees beginning to fill with rapidly rushing water.
Sig fell numerous times, unlike the surefooted and agile Reggie, cutting her hands, elbows and knees on the sharp rocks jutting out of the path. One misstep sliced a gash in her sneaker, leaving a deep cut in the side of her foot.
On and on they went, trying to get out of the cold rain and wind, but finding no suitable cover, only more rocks and inhospitable boulders. Reggie urged her to keep walking.
“We’re too exposed to the elements,” he said, when they paused for a brief rest. Sig nodded, too tired to argue but wanting to find a dry spot to inspect her foot. She limped along behind him.
As they neared a steep embankment, the rain and wind died down to sprinkles and an occasional light gust. Reggie hustled up the embankment; Sig struggled to the top, nearly collapsing with the effort. She bent over, hands on knees, puffing and legs quivering.
“Come here, Sig.”
Sig breathlessly sighed and looked up. Reggie stood by a patch of mossy ground. “Rest time,” he said as he dropped to his knees, rolled to his side and curled up. Sig reached the spot and collapsed next to him.
She lay face down in the wet moss, the rain finally abating and the sun making an appearance between the rapidly retreating clouds. Every muscle, joint and sinew in her body hurt. The cut on her foot throbbed and a stabbing pain pierced her hip.
“Aawrr,” she moaned, turning to her back. “Everything hurts.” She glanced at Reggie. He had fallen asleep, his arms curled around his head.
“I suppose if you’re part cat you can snooze anywhere,” she said. The pain in her hip intensified. She reached down to rub it and received a sharp stab in her hand.
“Ow!” she yelled, sitting up. Reggie peeked out from under his arms.
“Son-of-a-witch.” A round, spike-covered green orb had embedded itself in her jeans and the flesh of her hip. She tried to remove it by grabbing one of the spikes, but it held tight.
“What’s wrong?” asked Reggie. He rose to his hands and knees, arched his back and stretched before standing and walking over to Sig.
“I’ve been stabbed and I can’t get this thing off of me.”
“You’re welcome.” Reggie rubbed his head.
“How’s the headache?”
“Still there. It feels like a bunch of angry rats gnawing at my brain.”
“Let me try something.” Sig stood and placed her fingers on Reggie’s neck. She massaged the small tendons and muscles at the base of his neck. He groaned at first, and then sighed as her fingers worked the tense muscles.
“Now how does your head feel?”
“Better, it still aches but not as bad. Thank you.”
“Let’s like get out of here,” said Sig. “This isn’t a good spot unless you like getting stabbed in the butt.” They picked up the trail and continued their march down the mountain. The clouds had cleared and the sun began to heat up the arid ground.
Sweat trickled down Sig’s back, drenching her tank top. She took her hoodie off and tied it around her waist. As they descended the mountain, large cacti sprouted from the thin soil until they were walking through a forest of spiky cacti of all shapes, sizes and spike lengths: shrubs with paddle-shaped leaves sporting barbs; palm tree-like plants with hairy thorn-laden trunks and fronds; and bulky, barrel-shaped monstrosities with finger-thick spikes.
Gnarly, lime-green trees with thorny branches stretched over the path. More than once, Sig’s hair became entangled in the branches. Despite the stifling heat, she put her jacket back on and pulled up her hood.
“I’m like dying here, Reggie,” she panted through a parched mouth. “Where’s all that danged rain water?”
“Washed downhill or soaked into the soil I gather,” he replied. “Judging by all the cacti I’d say we’re in a desert.”
“Great. First it’s like pouring a freezing cold rain, now I’m getting heat stroke in a desert. This isn’t fair.”
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