[It occurred to me that saying “C is for . . .” in the blog title and at the beginning of each post might be a spoiler in some cases. So I’ll be leaving it off the title and revealing the word du jour at the end of each post from now on.]
Part C, in a continuing story from A to Z
Zoey reached the first switchback on the path and glanced back to see how far the tide had risen behind her. Then promptly wished she hadn’t. She raced up the next section and onto the third, finally outpacing the water that seemed to be driving her ahead of it.
She made it to the top of the path, panting, dismayed to realize it was a dead end. There was nowhere to go from here. The path was blocked on two sides by enormous stacked walls of jagged black boulders. Behind her, the sun was a shimmering orb with its bottom edge resting on the horizon, below her the path and beach were submerged in roiling seas, and straight ahead was a smooth sheer rock face not even a goat could climb.
“Now what? It’ll be dark soon. I can’t just sit here waiting for low tide.”
No, that path was too well worn to just lead to nothing. She had to be missing something. She took a few deep breaths and began examining the boulders. She was about to give up when she saw it. Standing on a pile of smaller rocks scattered at its base, she could just see several faint striations on top of the center boulder in the left wall. Almost like scratch marks. She checked what she could see of the tops of the other boulders– they were smooth and unmarred.
All right, so someone or something had passed over the top of this one boulder. Several times, from the looks of it. Trying not to think about what might be sharp enough to have made marks in the hard black stone, she started lugging more rocks over to stack into a crude, if rather unstable, staircase.
By the time she’d made a pile that looked big enough to help boost her over the top, she was sweaty and filthy and had broken three nails to the quick. The knuckles on both hands were raw and oozing blood where the heavy sharp-edged rocks had torn through her leather gloves, which she peeled off and shoved into the back pocket of her jeans.
The wind had died down earlier and as she paused to stretch her sore muscles, the last rays of the setting sun were warm on her face. That golden sphere was now neatly bisected by the horizon, the lower half glowing brightly as if shining up through the sea rather than reflected off it. She looked down at the cove and saw a dense fog had started to form, growing even thicker as she watched it slowly inching up the face of the cliff.
She was running out of time. She had no desire to be out after dark.
She’d removed her coat and hat earlier but couldn’t bring herself to leave them behind, so she climbed halfway up the pile and threw them over ahead of her. It felt like throwing bait into the den of a wild beast to see whether it was occupied.
She didn’t hear any snarling, so she took the final step and heaved her aching body up and over the boulder and braced herself for the fall.
It was a very short fall. Maybe two feet. And she landed in a soft thick bed of dried leaves. She sat up and shook leaves from her hair, laughing a bit hysterically at her good fortune. Until her gaze focused and she realized she’d landed at the mouth of a cave.
Of course she had. Because that’s where bats lived, in caves. Oh, how she hated caves. It said nothing good that someone had constructed a large wall of boulders to block access to the entrance of this one.
Yet there was no other way forward except to enter the cave. She could have easily climbed back over the boulder, but she knew what awaited her there. A dark cold night spent clinging to a rock ledge with limited visibility. Whereas, in front of her, was the opportunity to spend a dark cold night in a small enclosed space with zero visibility.
Maybe it wasn’t as bad as she feared. Maybe this cave was light and airy, maybe it had skylights and gas heat. She approached the entrance, trying to see something, anything, beyond the first few inches of the interior. Nothing but opaque blackness, the depths impervious to what little daylight remained. For all she knew, she’d take two steps and with the third fall into a deep chasm and never be seen or heard from again.
Zoey almost turned back.
But then she felt it: a small puff of cool fresh air on her face. She leaned a bit closer and felt it again. Yes, it came from inside the cave. It gave her hope there might be another entrance, a way out that led back to . . . well, hell. No doubt it’d lead her right back to the mansion and The Honorable Lord Anton Ferraro, III. Even that gloomy prospect sounded better than the alternatives. She sure wasn’t going to sit here and wait for someone to rescue her.
So she shrugged into her coat, stuffed her hair up under her hat, reached out with one trembling hand to touch the inner wall of the cave. And stepped into the void.
C is for Cave