Sunday, November 09, 2008

Chapter Nine - Memories


When she opened her eyes she felt the pain. It rushed in upon her, tearing her chest apart. She screamed, ripping at her clothes to expose the wound on her chest. Hands held her, keeping her from hurting herself. She fought against them.



Heavy paws pinned her shoulders. Musky breath blew in her face.


The pain ebbed out of her. She saw Ansus’ face above her. Her head rested in Lilo’s lap, whose cool hands brushed Pahana’s hair back from her forehead. Jed and Ben knelt on either side, looking worried, holding down Pahana’s ankles and wrists.

‘Are you back with us?’ Ansus asked.

Pahana licked her dry lips. She mentally checked her body. The feel of the hands and paws holding her down grounded her. She still ached inside, but she could control it. She nodded. Ansus slowly removed her paws from Pahana’s shoulders, but continued to stand over her.

‘Where did you go?’

Pahana turned her head. The gritty brick felt good against her cheek. ‘A memory, from before I came here.’

‘Not a happy memory,’ Ansus said.


‘Are you all right? What happened?’ Jed sounded nervous.

‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

‘Let her up.’ The tiger nodded to Ben and Jed. ‘She’s not going away again for a while.’

Cautiously the two men released their grip on Pahana. Lilo helped her to sit up and held her against her chest. Pahana started to shiver.

‘You said it wouldn’t hurt,’ Pahana said, looking at Ansus.

The tiger shook her head. ‘The Mubby took from you indiscriminately – the good and the bad. You must take both parts back.’

Jed wiped his hands against the back of his trousers. ‘We were worried about you. One minute you were smiling and the next you were writhing on the ground roaring your head off. If we hadn’t held you down you would’ve hurt yourself.’

‘I know. Thank you.’

‘I remember my wife.’ Ben spoke softly, drawing their attention away from Pahana. His eyes were misty, far away, and a smile brightened his face. ‘I don’t know how I got here and I don’t know where I came from, but I can remember her. It makes my heart glad when I think of her. I see her face, walking hand and hand through the bluebell wood at the back of my house.’ He wiped a tear from his eye. ‘Don’t mind me, I’m just a foolish old man.’

‘I wanted to open a restaurant.’ Lilo laughed. Jed rubbed her shoulder. ‘I can see it when I close my eyes; a renovated warehouse, with exposed brick and glass walls forming compartments inside. I wanted a floating staircase leading to an upper level looking out over the bay with recessed lights to make it atmospheric, you know? The tables would be wood – really good quality solid blocks of teak – the kind of wood that looks so good you want to run your hands over it to feel the grain. The floors would be slate. I’d have banquets around the tables, something soft and tempting that makes you want to sit and talk for hours. There would be a bar downstairs, all glass and hidden lights to shine through the bottles, and an outside balcony over the water for smokers.

I can’t remember my name from before, but I can see my restaurant in every detail. Crazy, huh?’ she looked at Jed. ‘How about you, can you remember anything?’

‘Working with my hands. I think I was an artist of some sort, or a craftsman. I can still feel the tingle in my palms to create something, mould something to the image in my head, even though the pictures aren’t there anymore. Other than that, no.’

Pahana listened, her eyes shut. She could hear the hope in the voices of the others, the joy that filled them when they shared the memories they held onto so tightly. She couldn’t tell them her memory now. She wouldn’t ruin their visions with her nightmare.

‘It’s time to go,’ Ansus said. She raised her head, mouth partly open, sniffing the air. ‘We’ve been here too long.’

Jed and Ben helped Pahana to her feet. She had to lean on them for a few moments as the alcove spun around her. Jed’s arms held her firmly; his calloused hands rough and his arms strong.

‘I can carry you if you need,’ Ansus said.

Pahana shook her head. ‘I can manage.’ She stepped out of the alcove and looked up and down the corridor. The air felt different against her face. She could detect a currant, rather than the stagnant breath that had lain upon her skin before. When she looked in the direction they had come, the air was stale. Looking ahead, she could feel a breeze of fresh air.

‘This way,’ she said.

The others hung back. Pahana turned and beckoned to them.

‘Are you coming?’ she asked.

Jed exchanged glances with Ben and Lilo. ‘Follow that woman,’ he said.

Ansus padded beside her while the others walked a few steps behind. The maze seemed more alive to her than ever before. She could feel it throbbing through the brick of the corridor. She followed the breeze, walking fast to get to the fresh air. She was sure that she would see the exit after each turn in the corridor.

Halfway down a new length of corridor the fresh air vanished. Pahana stopped. Jed bumped into her. She spun around.

‘Hey, I’m sorry,’ Jed said, stepping away from her.

She frowned, shaking her head. ‘No, it’s not that. There’s a doorway here. We have to find it.’ She looked at the brick. The walls were solid; she couldn’t even see a hole in the mortar.

‘There’s nothing here, Pahana,’ Ansus said. ‘There is no new path here, we have to go on.’

Pahana shook her head. She was sure. ‘We need more light, that’s all.’ She raised her hands. The blue flame came easily. She controlled it, keeping it rippling across her hands. The light was strong, much stronger than the lichen on the walls, and it brightened the corridor.

‘Whoa, where did you learn to do that?’ Jed stepped further away from Pahana.

‘It’s like the light in the bottle,’ Ben said. ‘Maybe that was fire that was put back into her head.’

‘I don’t like the sound of fire,’ Jed said. ‘I don’t want to be blasted inadvertently by a fireball.’

Lilo touched his arm. ‘She won’t hurt us, Jed.’

Ansus brushed her head against Pahana. ‘Your powers are returning,’ she said softly.

Pahana glanced at the flames. She had tried so hard to produce it after leaving Angel, and had failed; yet it seemed so natural now. She had wanted more light and –whoosh – she had it. She hadn’t even thought about it, the way she didn’t have to think about breathing or seeing. Ansus calling it a power made her nervous of it. The flames flickered, dimming.

‘She can’t keep it up,’ Lilo said. ‘Is it tiring, Pahana?’

‘Help me find the opening,’ Pahana said, doubt creeping in and causing the light to dip even more. ‘Help me before it goes out.’

‘There is no opening,’ Ansus persisted.

Jed ran sideways along the corridor, slapping the wall in the search for an opening. After a heartbeat, Ben did the same on the opposite side.

‘Nothing,’ Jed called when he reached the next junction.

‘I don’t seem to be turning anything up on this side either,’ Ben echoed.

‘You aren’t looking right.’ Pahana gazed at the walls around her. The breeze had stopped there, not in front of her, not behind. Stale air lay on either side. Around her the atmosphere crackled. She stared at the walls.

‘It’s not here, Pahana. Move on,’ Ansus pushed against her.

She lowered her hands, the flames dying out. Maybe the tiger was right. The corridor seemed very dark after the blue light. Before her eyes readjusted to the glow from the lichen and the tiger, she saw a single brick in front of her throbbing a deep ruby red. It stood out from the other bricks. It looked hot, heated by something on the other side of the wall. Without thinking, she reached out and pressed the brick.

It crumbled under her touch. A large panel in the wall fell away into dust, revealing a dark doorway. The smell of leaf litter and loam wafted out of the entrance.

‘Found it,’ Pahana said.

Ansus stepped into the doorway, sniffing the air and staring into the gloom. ‘I didn’t even sense it,’ she said. ‘You are right, this is the true path.’

‘All right!’ Jed ran back to the group. He clapped Pahana on the shoulder. ‘Way to go. You’ll have us out of here quicker than the little kitty cat.’

Ansus growled. ‘I have already warned you.’

‘Where does it lead to?’ Lilo peered into the doorway.

‘There’s only one way to find out,’ Ben said. He gestured for Pahana to lead the way. ‘After you m’dear.’

Pahana flexed her fingers before stepping through the doorway. A tiny piece of flame licked her nails. The darkness pressed against her, probing her. Feeling confident again, she coaxed the flame brighter and lit up her surroundings. Crumbling walls of earth bordered her on either side, pale white roots sticking out of the rich soil above her head. Across the surface of the walls insects and worms scuttled deeper into the layers, some falling to the ground where they dodged around her feet.

‘Yes, we’re getting near the end of this place,’ Jed said.

‘Why do you say that?’ Lilo asked.

‘Well, earth beats brick, right? I can see tree roots, we must be getting nearer the surface.’

‘That’s if we’re already underground; we could be going deeper,’ Lilo said.

Jed shrugged. ‘You’re right, I hadn’t thought of that.’

‘Either way it’s a change of scenery,’ Ben said. ‘I’m with you Pahana.’

‘Let’s go then,’ Pahana said. Holding one arm up as a torch, she walked forward into the earth. It stank, but she felt comforted by the earthy stench.

‘It’s like a grave,’ Lilo said. ‘I don’t like it.’

The path ascended gradually. As they climbed, the walls grew closer together. Soon Pahana’s shoulders brushed against the earth as she walked. Beetles, black as the soil, fell onto her shoulders. The ceiling lowered, brushing against her head and the tree roots tangling in her hair. Before long the path had become a tunnel and she had to crawl on her hands and knees to progress.

‘I really don’t like this,’ Lilo panted. ‘I can’t see where I’m going.’

‘Calm down.’ Jed’s voice was soothing. ‘We’re almost at the end of this. Pahana will guide us out. Relax, you don’t have to worry.’

Pahana could hear Ansus struggling to crawl down the tunnel behind the others, the earth caving in behind her. There was no way back.

‘If you could go a bit fast I would greatly appreciate it.’ Ben’s breath brushed the balls of Pahana’s feet.

She tried to move faster. The base of the tunnel was wet. Her hands sank into the mud. She stopped, but Ben pushed against her. Before she could call out a warning she slipped forward. Her smooth robe provided no traction against the slick surface. The tunnel descended and she fell forward, sliding down it with increasing speed. Behind her she heard first Ben and then Lilo and Jed slip on the mud and rush after her. She dug her fingers into the damp sides of the tunnel in an effect to slow down but only succeed in gouging grooves in the wet soil. Clods of mud slopped onto her face.

The tunnel ended and Pahana fell forward into a hard floor. She quickly rolled to one side to avoid Ben falling on top of her. She looked about. She was in a large cavern. Wooden boards covered the walls, floor and ceiling but gaps in the planks let the dark earth bulge through. Thick twisted tree roots speared through the ceiling, breaking wide gaps in the boards. They hung down in wooden stalactites, an underground forest of trees. Grey light shone down with the tree roots, providing spotlights that lit up portions of the cavern. Pahana could hear scuttling in the dark corners.

Ben fell out of the tunnel, winding himself. Pahana went over to him and helped him up. Lilo and Jed followed, landing in a tangled heap. Jed wrapped his arms around Lilo and rolled her out of the way before Ansus flopped out into the cavern. The tiger looked a mess, her ears flattened down, her fur covered in wet muck from the slippery tunnel.

‘Well done Pahana.’ Jed jumped to his feet. He helped Lilo up, brushing the muck from her clothes. ‘Look, sunlight. We can climb up these tree thingies and break our way out.’

Pahana clung to the wall near the tunnel. The noises were growing louder. She could hear rustling and scratching as something approached from the far side of the cavern. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea, Jed.’

‘Ben, give me a leg up.’ Jed ran towards the nearest tree root. ‘I think I should be able to climb to the top all right. There are plenty of handholds. Once I’m up there I can help the others up after me.’

The two men stood at the bottom of the root, hands on their hips, gazing upwards. Ben laced his fingers together to make a stirrup. Jed put his foot into Ben’s hands and, with a push from the older man he leapt onto the root, clinging to its cracked surface with his hands. Pahana watched from a distance as Jed nimbly climbed to the top of the root. Hanging precariously, he hit at the dirt above his head. It showered down about his head and shoulders, raining on to the wooden planks below with the pitter-patter of showers.

‘Nearly there,’ he called.

Pahana clasped her hands together. She could see shadows skirting the pools of light around the tree roots. The movement drew her attention, but when she tried to focus in on what made it, she saw nothing. The darkness chuckled, mocking her.

‘Ansus, do you hear that?’ Pahana whispered.

Ansus’ ears twitched. She turned away from watching Jed and surveyed the cavern. Her lips drew back in a hiss, showing her long yellow teeth.
‘Get back, we’re not alone, there’s something here,’ Pahana shouted.

Lilo and Ben stood at the base of the tree root looking up at Jed. They turned puzzled faces to Pahana.

‘Almost…there,’ Jed said. His face was black from the falling dirt. More light poured into the cavern from the patch he had cleared around the root. He punched only last time and a large clump of dried mud fell away from the ceiling. It hit against the back of his neck, unbalancing him. He grabbed for the tree root but fell, landing on his back with a groan. Something small darted out of the shadows towards him. In the increased light from above it could be seen clearly. It was small and black, with cruel claws and beak and flashing red eyes. Lilo raised her hands to her face and screamed.


Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff!! great to see Pahana learning to use her powers and be more confident. The maze is really maze like- very claustrophobic. Can't wait for the next adventure.

Valpot said...

I agree with Anon - great stuff!

Actually I wondered if Miranda was Pahana's mother - it's just her mother was quite creepy in chapter one...

Anonymous said...

I think her mother is in the forrest. . THe woman in chapter one probably was just a foster one sent to keep an eye on her but not really totally bad, just weak and easily controlled by the mubby. i think her father is dead, dying to save her and the mother but the evil and horrible thought of killing him has been successfully planted in her head along with an awful lot of other things which has lead to the maze. I think she sometimes will get glimpses of her father and she probably inherited powers from him. Miranda built the maze, i believe Miranda is related to Pahana like her other self or alter ego or what she could be if she doesn't defeat herself, physological stuff.

but could be all wrong....

Inkpot said...

Interesting thoughts Valpot and Anon. Time will tell.