Illustration by Carlos Uribe
The sun was sinking in the west when Abby and Chi Chi set out on their journey. Long shadows ran across the forest. The dark leaves of the copper beech trees rippled in a late afternoon wind. Wisps of cloud reflected the pink glow of the sun. Chi Chi led the way and Abby was glad to follow. She was relieved that he showed no sign of using this occasion to train her as a leader. Watching carefully every move he made, she intended to learn from him, but waste no time. She was in a hurry.
They walked quickly through the stunning beauty of the beech woods to the underground entrance Abby and Wendy had taken before. The gray stone shelf projected from the cliff the same as it did before, but now it seemed to glow with meaning and value, like an old friend, a member of the family. The narrow tunnel underneath held no fear. Abby was enchanted by this clever arrangement designed by nature thousands or millions of years ago, yet young and alive today. And she knew that people who may have been her ancestors had treated this unique feature of the earth with care and secrecy, as a holy place of great value. She, Abby, had now inherited this responsibility in a dangerous world, where many people had no opportunity to understand this type of tradition and had no reason to respect it.
‘But perhaps,’ she thought, ‘I can lead a group who will understand and cherish it like I do. What about my friends? They will. And what about others, like Amy Zhi’s professor? And look at all the people of Rivergate! Look at all they’ve accomplished! Maybe this is a moment for a new vision – one that is incalculably old – to grow again in the world. I mean, right now it seems like we’ve all gone astray. Everyone craves a bit of hope and solid ground… and someone, something, to keep us from slipping off the edge into darkness.’
The mapstick began to shine a clean bright light in the narrow tunnel, and as they emerged into the first cavern the light burst into the wide space as if the stones themselves were glowing. The ancient path outlined by the broken stalactites was perfect for a couple to walk together. Chi Chi and Abby hurried along side by side.
Chi Chi showed the way to the underground Ghost River under Hidden Valley. They followed it under the Half Moon Cliffs to a low tunnel leading sharply to the left.
Abby had been waiting for this stage of the trip, wanting to see their route under the Half Moon River. The narrow curving passage descended at a steep angle. Down they went. Abby found the way claustrophobic, exhausting, and totally bare of anything to relieve her feeling of oppression. The massive earth seemed to be bearing down on her spirits. Her breathing became irregular, as if she couldn’t get enough oxygen. She was thirsty and felt weak. They seemed to be moving in slow motion. And then… very faintly so that she could hardly trust her senses, she began to hear the murmuring of voices. The sound seemed to float on the thick air in waves. Pictures of shadowy shapes whining and moaning flashed across her eyes.
‘I’m dreaming!’ she thought. ‘I’m falling asleep as I walk. I can’t stop!’
And then a picture flashed by in a vivid dream of a vast low cave in almost complete darkness, full of shadowy human shapes without substance, murmuring in waves, lost in darkness. “Abby!” said Chi Chi. He stood face to face and shook her by the shoulders. “Abby! I’m here. Come out of it, you’re almost home.”
“Oh,” she cried, and hugged him. “Have you ever seen them? Moaning in the dark?”
“None of us are ready for that yet,” he replied. “Don’t get lost in there.” She shivered, unable to reply. “This news might help you,” he said. “In a short distance we’ll be under the churchyard. Do not speak or make noise of any kind. I will show you a little side room where you can wrap the mapstick and hide it. There’s even an ancient table and chair, and shelves there. The room is yours, a special hidden place, only for you. Ready, are you ready?”
Abby nodded. Chi Chi moved ahead, and pointed to a narrow side passage barely wide enough for one person to squeeze through. She found a tiny room that had reassuring signs of human convenience, a home-like atmosphere. There was a bookshelf with books, and an oil lamp on a small table. She wrapped the mapstick and slid it behind a corner post. Now she was in total darkness. Chi Chi pulled her slowly along. Soon they had to crawl forward, moving uphill. The sound of crickets grew louder and louder, until it seemed like a joyous song of the whole living world, a welcome home to Abby from mother nature, celebrating her arrival back to the wonderful, irreplaceable surface of the earth.