Trace Back to Cave
Amie and Joseph fought the glare of the afternoon sun as they trekked along the saddle. High on the mountain range, the heat of the two suns was tempered by the breeze. Orange-coloured mushrooms dotted the alpine landscape. Every so often low cloud drifted over, blotting out the scenery.
Amie skipped along with a sense of hope and amazement. Wow! An alien planet! What adventure! ‘Wait ’ntil I tell Adam, my brother.’
‘He won’t believe you.’
Amie halted. ‘What’s your problem? We’re on an adventure and all you can do is think of the negative?’ His attitude, now that she considered it, especially the pessimism, annoyed her. ‘Look, Joseph, we’re nearly at the cave—and they will believe us. I’ll take some photos.’ She patted her pockets. ‘Oh, crud—I left my phone behind.’
Joseph swayed his head. ‘Typical,’ said in such a way as to underlie the subtext “female”.
His chauvinism also peeved Amie.
‘And where’s your phone or camera?’
He patted his back pocket, then thrust each hand in each side pocket of his jeans and pulled out the lining. ‘Crud! I don’t have either. I think I left it at Dr. Zwar’s.’
‘Snap!’ she said.
They marched forward in silence. Amie stewed how she never had any success with the opposite sex. Arm’s length—they always treated her at arm’s length. She recalled the time at youth church—why is it the boys always overlook and ignore me?
Amie glanced back at Joseph. Fine looking fellow—but—even with no female competition—he kept his distance.
She shoved her hands in her pockets and continued stewing.
Their steps quickened as they heard the thunder of a waterfall. Still it seemed like ages before they reached the river at the top of the tundra. Amie marvelled how the plains were washed in a soft shade of mauve.
Amie beat her way through the stumpy shrubs, blue with white-cotton flowers that stuck to her t-shirt. She stopped and gazed at the river. The icy air stung the skin of her bare arms and she shivered. Tonnes of mint-green water surged over the lip of the falls. The water was too deep, too forceful to negotiate a crossing.
‘Now what?’ Joseph just had to be pessimistic.
Amie sighed. ‘We’ll walk up the hill a bit. Maybe we can find a crossing further up.’ She stepped onto a rock by the water’s edge, crouched down, and then cupped some rushing water in her hands.
‘What are you doing?’ Joseph yelled.
‘Going to drink some water. What does it look like?’
‘But you might get some alien germs in your stomach.’
Amie twisted around and locked eyes with Joseph. ‘Oh, shut up! I’ve had enough of your negativity to last me a lifetime. I drank this water yesterday. Do I look dead yet?’
‘Well, I for one, am not drinking that water.’
‘Eat your biscuit, then.’ Amie scooped up some more water and slurped it. She stood and then stomped along the riverbank. Won’t be asking for his phone number, or wanting him to be my friend on Face book, she thought. No invitation to Nanna’s neither.
They hiked further up the hillside. The landscape levelled out into a network of creeks that crisscrossed the plateau.
Amie and Joseph hopped along the grassy tufts and rocks until they arrived at the river, where, at this altitude, had narrowed into a stream. Rocks plotted a path over it.
Joseph looked at the stones scattered across the water. ‘They’re too far apart; you’ll never get across without falling into the water.’
‘Give it a break, Joseph,’ Amie said. Talk about glass half-empty. ‘I thought you did that Parkour?’
Joseph cupped his hand to his ear. ‘Huh? What?’
‘Oh, never mind. Can’t be too hard.’ Amie rubbed her hands together, took several steps back, and then ran at the creek. She leapt and danced across the stream as if playing hopscotch.
When she reached the other side, she beckoned to Joseph. ‘Come on. Bet’cha can’t.’
‘Bet’cha I can.’ Not to be outdone by a girl, Joseph raced towards the stream and leapt onto the first rock. He wobbled and teetered, then balanced.
Amie watched him jump, wobble, teeter and balance on each rock.
‘Come on, I thought you could leap between tall buildings in a single bound,’ Amie said with a laugh.
‘This is different.’ Joseph rubbed his stomach. ‘I shouldn’t have had all those biscuits.’
‘Lost your mojo.’
‘Get lost!’ Joseph placed his hands on his hips and shifted his feet on the rock. ‘I’ll show you.’
‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ Amie said. ‘You’ll fall into the water, get wet, and get alien germs.’
‘If you can do it, I can.’ Joseph sprang to the bank.
A clod of mud slid under his foot. He began to reel backwards.
Amie caught his hand. But the force of gravity caused her to overbalance.
Joseph landed on his back in the bubbling brook and Amie fell on top of him.
‘Whoops!’ Amie giggled as she rolled off Joseph. ‘Now you have girl germs too.’
Joseph pulled himself to standing and holding Amie’s arm, he helped her to the shore.
They sat on the bank to catch their breath. Amie brushed lumps of mud and algae off her shins and knees. ‘At least when we get back to Earth, it’ll be boiling hot and we’ll dry off really quickly.’
Joseph pulled a soggy mush from his pocket. ‘I was saving these for when we crossed the river.’
‘I guess you won’t be eating them, now.’ Amie pushed her shoulder against Joseph.
Amie paused; conscious there was no distance between them at that moment. Maybe she had him all wrong. She caught him gazing at her. Her heart skipped a beat. ‘Sorry, I was mean to you before—you’re alright, really.’
‘It’s okay,’ Joseph touched her arm. ‘Come on, we must get to the cave before dark.’ He stood and reached out to her.
She grasped his hand, warm enclosing hers. He pulled Amie up and his hold lingered, then he released her fingers.
‘I recognise that rise over there, the cave is just over there,’ Joseph said. He paced towards the rise.
Amie followed him.
The first sun had sunk behind the peaks causing faint shadows over the stony terrain. The second sun seemed more distant, cooler and the alpine air had a biting chill to it.
Amie and Joseph approached the cave. An amber light glowed in it.
‘That’s funny,’ Joseph said. ‘I don’t remember there being any lights.’
‘Perhaps you only see it when it’s getting dark—there has to be some sort of energy that operates the portal.’
Joseph crept ahead, advancing up to the cave’s entrance. Amie followed his lead.
The atmosphere was still like in an ice cave. The glow grew more intense along with the sound of crackling like a fire.
Joseph stopped at the side of the cave. Amie caught up to him.
A shadow wiggled and jiggled on the red walls.
‘What are you stopping for?’ Amie nudged Joseph.
Joseph turned and put a finger to his mouth. ‘Shhh!’
Someone cackled like a witch.
‘We have company,’ Joseph whispered.
‘No need for all the secrecy, I know you’re there,’ the voice echoed in the cave.
Amie and Joseph froze. They looked at each other, eyes wide as if caught in a guilty tryst.
‘Come on!’ the voice urged. ‘I was wondering when you two would get here. You know, they’re all searching for you back home.’ He sounded familiar. ‘Pity you’ll never get back there, now.’
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photo: Fleurieu Fungus © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2012