Nightmare Journey

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four-

Mountain Retreat

 

 

Wind....  Capricious, swirling, howling and biting, the wind was the first thing that John noticed when they passed through the gate and into the early evening of this mountain landscape. Walking across the small, flat clearing where the portal had been installed, John looked down and was almost dizzy at the vista that opened below him.  He sucked in his breath at the beauty of the rugged mountains dropping down almost vertically.  Although it was a bit chilly here, he could see that this was the upper elevation of a lushly temperate world. The darkening forests below had the appearance of rainforests and the humidity of the drifting fog-like clouds around him seemed to add confirmation to his deductions.  He walked back to his children and felt Penny shiver next to him. 

“Let’s find a sheltered area to spend the night,” he commented.  They followed what appeared to be a natural path up the mountainside.  The reddish sun felt warm on their backs, and John used its light to peer into every cavity and crevice that they passed.  Lucy floated ahead of them.  Just as the last rays of the alien sun were extinguished behind a far mountain, he found what he was looking for, and it was even better than he had hoped.  A narrow entrance opened into a cave that looked more than adequate for their short stay.  Groping around the room in the dwindling light, John found minimal deposits of debris.  The temperature seemed to rise by ten degrees when they went through the entrance, telling him that the wind would not bother them as they rested. 

“Penny, Will, I’m going back out and gather what I can find for a small fire.  You two stay put,” he admonished. 

“I don’t plan on going anywhere, Daddy,” Penny commented in the darkness. 

Vegetation was sparse and the growing darkness made the search not only difficult but also dangerous.  After finding several suitable small sharp-edged rocks and the remains of a stunted tree, John spent the next hour shredding some of the materials into tiny pieces.  Then came the difficult task of coaxing sparks from the flint-like rock he had found.  The sparks came, but the materials just didn’t want to ignite.

“Dad, why don’t I take over for awhile?  It wants to start, it’s just so humid around here,” Will said.

“Go ahead.  Hopefully, between the two of us, we can get something going.  You know, I am seriously not into this caveman stuff,” he said wryly, handing the materials over to his son, and stiffly rising and stretching.  “Penny, how are you doing?” he asked. 

From nearby, he heard her voice.  He also saw the faint glow of Lucy’s golden eyes.  “I’m all right, my arm isn’t hurting too much right now, but I don’t think I have ever experienced darkness like this before.  It’s spooky.”

“We’ll get this started soon, sweetheart,” he reassured her, realizing that he hadn’t thought about the darkness that much while trying to start the fire.  His past experience with blindness had probably inured him somewhat to the claustrophobic effects of this kind of deep, impenetrable darkness, but he could well imagine Penny being disturbed by it.   He slowly made his way over to her and sat down.  “Are you warm enough?”

“Lucy and I are keeping each other warm,” she replied.  “But you’re helping, too,” she added, laughing softly. 

He chuckled with her.  “As soon as we’ve rested and it’s dark on the other planet, we’ll go back.  We just have to put up with this for another twelve or so hours.”

“I know, Daddy, and I’m sorry that I caused this,” Penny apologized.

“Well, I agree that you should have waited, but then sometimes we don’t think clearly under certain circumstances.  And I realize that you were only doing what you thought best, as Will did,” he said softly.   She leaned against him and they both watched Will working on the fire. 

John didn’t realize he had dozed off until he woke up to the sight of a small cheery fire.   Will was leaning against his right side, while Penny continued to lean against his left.  Both children seemed to be asleep, so he sat still watching the golden flames, and after a long time he fell back to sleep.

 

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Silverado was impatient the entire time that the reports were being given.  He pranced sideways and squeaked testily.  Dar is going to send soldiers, be patient,’ Maureen assured him.  But he wasn’t that easily reassured.  When John had been incarcerated and they had been separated, the little lizard was constantly anxious.  Now John was again in trouble and far away, and that upset the zanling.

He flew out into the garden and finally finding a bush that hadn’t been discovered by the zanling escapees, ate quickly of the nectar in the aromatic flowers.  Then he flew back into the dining hall, where the humans were planning the rescue on the other planet.  Landing on a map in front of the king, he chirped indignantly.  Go now,’ he said tersely and he took off, spiraling toward the ceiling.

“As soon as we can, Silverado,” Maureen called up to him.  

Silverado squeaked an acknowledgment and flew out the window.  Impatiently, he flew around the palace grounds, watching the preparations for the excursion through the gate.  Many tilons were being led into the parade ground and saddled.  Somewhat satisfied, the lizard flew back into the dining hall and landed on Maureen’s shoulder.  Maggie chirped encouragement to him from her other shoulder, while several of the rescued zanlings flew above their heads squeaking happily. 

Find people,’ he told the wild zanlings.  Find bondlings.  Become one with bondlings.’   They all spiraled down and landed on the large table where the humans and Krimlon were making plans. 

“We can’t just go barging through the portal.  If they have any smarts at all, they’re going to keep some men at the gate,” Don said.  Dar looked up at him and nodded.  “And while they’re at it, they’ll probably have at least a few people on this side to watch for any incursions.  I think we need to go to the area discreetly in small groups and meet at some rendezvous point before attempting to go through.  That way we don’t alert them to our presence until it’s too late.” 

“I agree, but we can’t do much of anything before first light, except get the men and tilons ready,” Dar agreed.   A light blue zanling sat next to his hand and looked up at him, chirping inquisitively.  Dar stared at the little creature and then smiled slightly.  The zanling took off spiraling into the air before returning to the table.  Looking over toward his beloved, the Krimlon prince noticed a violet hued zanling sitting on Litha’s hand squeaking softly.  He looked back at the blue one and then up at his human friends, a bemused expression on his face.  “Are they always this friendly?”

“Pretty much,” Don said with a smile. 

Shaking his head, Dar commented, “I must go and see to the preparations.  Did you wish to come with me, Major West?” 

“Yes, I would,” he answered and followed the Krimlon prince out of the room.  Nova and the blue zanling floated along behind them.

 

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clo Yondah scrutinized the forty men before him with a satisfied smile.  They were not heavily armed, but their firepower was still significant.  Behind them the two gates shimmered in the heat of the afternoon sun.  He had chafed at the delay, but preparations had been necessary. 

“tril Lundri,  I want you to take four men and go through the secondary portal, just in case our quarry has split up.  If you find no evidence of their entrance into that world within four hours, then return and follow us into the primary gate,” he ordered. His subordinate bowed and turning, barked orders for his men to fall out of the formation and march through the gate.  

He turned to a Krimlon soldier. “I want you to remain here with a contingent of ten men.  I want there to be ten men on guard at this gate at all times.  If by some chance this alien should get by us and come back through the portal, I want him and his companions captured and held on my ship until we return.”  The Krimlon glanced briefly at Havreel before bowing.  

“ubi Biro,” he said to his secretary, “I want you to take six men and return to the Lucky Harvester and remain there for ten days.  If at the end of that time I have not returned or you have not heard from me, then you will follow the schedule and leave for our next port.  If something unforeseen happens then my instructions will be in my cabin.  Follow them.”  The secretary nodded and left with his chosen six.

Turning to Havreel, clo Yondah gazed coldly at him.  “You will accompany me, Purifier.” 

Havreel jerked his head up sharply and looked directly into the eyes of the Brumyatta merchant, something that he had never had the courage to do before.  What he saw there made him shudder slightly.  There was a cold glint of vicious desire, a malice so intense that Havreel was very glad that it was not directed toward him.  He dropped his eyes quickly. 

“You will accompany me because if I am unable, for some reason to find and exact my revenge on this Guardian, then I will exact it on you, as I mentioned before.  The loss of this cargo of zanlings has cost me dear and someone will pay.  You had better pray to whatever gods you believe in, Purifier, that it’s the alien.”  clo Yondah’s voice was so low that it was almost a whisper,  but it penetrated into Havreel’s very soul.  The Purifier could only gulp and nod.      

“I’m glad that we understand each other, Purifier.  You have two turns to be ready to go through this gate,” he hissed.  He turned to his men and issued final orders of preparation.  

Two hours later, the Purifier and clo Yondah’s twenty plus men were standing ready before the glowing gate.  The fiercely hot afternoon sun was hanging just above the horizon and the cooling breezes had begun to stir the dust at their feet.  “It is time, gentlemen,” clo Yondah said softly and two by two, the men marched through the gate. 

 

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 John woke up suddenly, trying to see into the thick darkness.  The fire was only a few tiny glowing embers, but there was something else besides them in the cave.  He smelled the odor of wet fur.   A snuffling, huffing sound approached and he tensed, trying to draw his stiff legs under him to get up.  At his movement the creature stopped and whiffed in surprise as though startled by their presence.  John wondered if they had holed up in its den.  Great,’ he thought, sardonically.  We decide to take refuge in a mountain lion’s den.’   Suddenly, he felt the breath of the creature wafting across his leg and a light touch of a claw or something similarly hard.  Reaching behind him with slow and deliberate movements, he groped for the rifle he had brought with him. 

As though the creature knew what he was doing, it shuffled backward toward the entrance of the cave where a tiny bit of moonlight was filtering in.  Then it stopped, whiffing softly again.  John placed the rifle on his lap, but made no other movements.  The animal’s behavior indicated to him a peaceful nature as well as possible intelligence, but he was prepared to shoot if it became necessary.  He heard Penny softly moaning next to him and her unconscious thoughts were of food and to a lesser degree, pain.

Clearing his mind of anything else, he tried to form a picture of himself in a peaceful attitude, no gun, and hands open and empty.  After a few minutes he sighed and gave up.  Then he suddenly received a picture of a sloth-like animal sitting quietly on a mountain ledge, and John had no doubt that he was seeing an image of the creature across the cave from him.  It’s fur hung in curtains of shimmering gold, looking as though it was brushed every hour.  Another mental image showed the six-inch claws being used to hook fruit from branches and break it open.  The green eyes that peered at him were languid, but friendly and twinkled in amusement.

Slowly, he nudged Will.  “Son,” he whispered.  “We have a visitor.  I think he’s friendly, but sit quietly until I find out for sure.”

“Dad, he’s friendly,” Penny murmured from his left.  Lucy squeaked softly in agreement.

“I think so, too, but I’m going to approach with caution.  Take the rifle, Will.  Just lay it across your lap, but be ready if there are any problems.  The safety is already off.”

John slowly rose to his full height and just as slowly walked toward the creature, continuing to send a message of good will.  The animal backed up until it was just outside the entrance.  If he followed, he would be out of the protective range of the weapon in his son’s hands, but there was no other way to know for sure this creature’s disposition.

 

 

Chapter Five
Chapter One
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