The grayness all around us appeared as ephemeral, wide wisps of varying chiaroscuro tones, as might fine smoke from a fire composed of a variety of combustible items seem on a clouded night. Darkness prevails, only a dim glow coming from the stuff guides our way. Pressing with force through any section of it leaves us on our knees, panting, in tears. Jenny holds up better than I in that regard, quicker recovery, yet she has a feral look about her.
The vertical striations of the dimly lit ribbons and sheets of the stuff mock me as I rock back on my heels. I don’t look twice and assume ‘twas an illusion as I did at first. Now with certainty I know the fibers, flush with the main material, are alive and usually move in exceedingly slow undulations. They had attacked in concert when once early on I attempted to use my saber to carve my way. They vibrated at an ear-piercing pitch that melted the fine steel blade while my hand felt frozen to the hilt. I needed many hours to recover.
Jenny hoisted the satchel to her lap and extracted another Chanticleer bar, passing it to me. What would I not give for plain water! “Jen, can you fetch up my bottle from there as well?” I waggled the so-called ‘energy bar’ at her. “Thanks so for this lavish feast, all I need is the wine to ease it down!” The endeavor to lighten the benighted atmosphere failed.
Silently, she passed the effervescent drink to me. Though clear to sight, it tasted cloyingly sweet. Still, it was wet. The jumbled skeletons we’d liberated the satchel from must have acquired some strange tastes to carry such goods. “Well my girl, let’s not take a holiday to any country that considers these to be normal fare, eh?” Her lack of propriety with the deceased had taken him aback until she told him she’d survived untold months here by harvesting thusly. The implication, what she must have endured, had stunned me.
Instead of either ignoring me or at least smiling, she focused her blue eyes on me with great severity. “Fall through the next barrier. Fighting is not only damned painful, but it’s the exact wrong thing to do. These things feed off of your manly exertion. Try to be less of a tasty treat for them for once!”
I’d found her on the far side of a particularly nasty section. I nearly fell across her as she sat Hindu-style and was inordinately pleased to not only find another person but for that person to be a pretty woman, a welcome bonus. Now she desired me to give myself up to the freak curtains? “I could be entrapped that way, not a preferred end.”
“I’ve seen lots of scattered bones and bet you monopoly money those guys fought so deliciously hard that the gray meanies held on and drained them. How do you think they get the energy for that low-watt radiance? So fight ever more heroically until the gruesome conclusion occurs or follow meek little me.” She rose in one fluid motion and shifted the satchel to her shoulder. “I have done it many, many times buckaroo. I have only tried to muscle through since I met your eminence because you are alive. I mean, I’m alive too, but I haven’t found a way out. I thought, since you were still alive, your way might lead us out of this accursed place. Not.” She walked up to a wavy wall, thick with those dangerous striations. She turned to face me, closed her eyes and fell backwards. She vanished.
I panicked. Not alone again, oh God please no, I beseech you! As I sensed my form starting to collapse in despair, a blazingly bright thought flamed through my berserk brain: She is from far into the future and knows about this! Perhaps these fiendish mazes are known and studied in her time! I would be an infinite fool to reject her lead!
I watched for her as I fell forward. She had learnt to stand aside, and better, caught my limp form. Once I achieved balance, I bowed in gratitude. “You, madam, are not from a far-off country as I ‘til recently supposed. Or you may be, whatever. The point being that you are a wise woman from the far future!”
Her outright hilarity for the notion rebounded from me. “I know I’m right. Did you not understand how to traverse these barriers with no harm?”
She sobered instantly. “I didn’t come in here knowing a damned thing. On Day One I observed a group of half a dozen Pygmies in feathers all jump in with spears at one time and get fried before my head even believed I was in a cave with Pygmies. Then two shogun-looking guys came at ‘em with some kind of karate crap and made the stuff pulse with light. A granny jabbed with her cane and cussed for way too long. I’ve heard thrashing children’s screaming abruptly stop.” She halted to calm herself. After a few deep breaths, she resumed less vehemently, “Mostly I have heard not one thing, not an echo, no hiss, not any noise but my own whimpering. Plan A doesn’t work, try Plan B; simple as that.” She sat on the cool stone floor in her odd manner, head hanging.
“Oh Jen, were I home I would call you Lady Genevieve and ply you with your every desire. As befalls many a feminine genius, you underrate yourself. Think, Lady Genevieve, what is the method to thwart our torment? What alchemic knowledge does your beautiful face hide?”
“Alchemic? I go around with you for a month or so and suddenly I’m a magical genius because I can fall. Okay renaissance man, I’ll play along.” She stood and spread her arms high and wide. “Oh mighty foe, we have wandered to and fro. We have paid a high cost and are tired of being lost. We each are not a lowly ape. Show us true light so we may escape! Abracadabra!”
She dropped her arms and stood agog. I turned toward her gaze and indeed, there beckoned a faint light on high. The smoky veils parted as the Red Sea did for Moses. Hand in hand, we walked to the strengthening luminosity though it hurt our tender eyes. ’Twas the dear sun we saw as a crown atop a vast forest! Freedom at last!
We clung together lest we be returned to our own times by some nefarious means. Who contrived that awful game? Why were we chosen? What demonic art could enable such a thing? She claims no act or invocation of hers played a part in our rescue though I protest to the contrary. Lady Genevieve bade me leave off the questions. We have made a life for ourselves in this hospitable paradise, not our cherished Earth. Others have made their way out and we have created a small hamlet where we share our skills and of course, always wonder. Our family thrives. We do not approach the Cave of Living Smoke.