Friday, June 14, 2013

The Secret Cave: The Life and Times of Lemuel Xandiver

Lem walked to his P.E. class with a familiar sense of dread. He’d never liked P.E. which shouldn’t be surprising since he often tripped over his own feet just walking. Running, though, running was something he could do. It’s surprising how good a person can get at running when that person has a habit of annoying other people.

Yesterday, their P.E. teacher, Coach Ketter, had told them that they would play dodge ball today. He really hated dodge ball. It hurt. And now that he had made a group of enemies at this new school, it hurt a lot.

Lem ran through a list of excuses in his mind as he slowly trudged toward the gym. Inwardly, he felt along his body. Did anything hurt? Even a little? For a brief moment, he thought he might have felt a slight pressure in his head. That was good. He could say he had a headache. It kind of ached. Well, he could feel it at least. That could easily grow into a headache, couldn’t it?

As he contemplated the exact definition of “ache,” he walked past the science room and looked in longingly. Now, that was a class he liked. He’d gladly trade gym for three or four extra science classes. Glancing through the door into the back of the room, he stopped suddenly and took a quick step back. There they stood. The native boys he had seen on his first day.

Almost two weeks had passed since Lem had followed the dragon into the woods. Even though he hadn’t seen Running Wolf again since then, he still nervously felt like he was being watched every time he even went close to the tree line on the school property. But he hadn’t tried during school hours. He hadn’t dared after the lecture he received from missing class that first day.

Today felt different. P.E. was his last class of the day. He wouldn’t mind skipping it. Running Wolf and his friends had a science class, so he didn’t have to worry about them. He just had to think of a good excuse to convince Mr. Ketter to let him leave.   

Butterflies fluttered in his stomach as he walked down the hallway with renewed vigor. Excitement at the possibility and nervousness at the danger fought within him until he almost felt sick. He might have to go throw up before he left, but at least he had his excuse now.

As he entered the gym, he stopped smiling and tried for a believably sick expression as he approached his teacher.

“Coach Ketter, I don’t feel good. My stomach feels weird. Can I be excused from class today?” Lem tried to control his voice, pitiful enough to earn sympathy but not so pitiful that it sounded fake.

Coach Ketter looked at Lem carefully. He didn’t believe for a moment that the boy was sick. It didn’t take a genius to realize that Lem hated P.E., but he felt sorry for him. Coach Ketter knew Lem would get clobbered in dodge ball. For some reason he seemed to be the one all the others went after. He sighed.

“Ok, you may be excused, but I expect to see you back tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir!” Lem said a little too enthusiastically.

Coach Ketter raised his eyebrows knowingly. Lem clutched his stomach and said, “Thank you,” in as sickly a tone as he could manage and exited quickly before his teacher could change his mind.

He hurried to the bathroom and waited for the bell to ring. He didn’t want to run the risk of being seen and having to abort his mission. When it seemed that the coast was clear, Lem snuck onto the hall and rushed toward the side door avoiding the hallway with the science room. Once outside, he hurried into the woods.

It took him a little while to locate the spot where he’d lost the dragon, and when he did get there, he had to dig around in the bushes to find the hole where the dragon had disappeared.  Grabbing the small flashlight that he had carried hooked to his belt every day since he’d first followed the dragon here, he carefully aimed it down into the hole leaning back a little in case the dragon was inside. He’d expected to find a small burrow or other type of dragon lair. What he didn’t expect to see was a tunnel that appeared to grow wider the further in it went. His light didn’t shine far enough for him to get a good look, but he felt pretty sure that this was a cave that opened up further in.

Sitting back on his heels, he took a moment to think. If he was wrong, and this was a dragon’s burrow, he would be an idiot to crawl inside it. But he hadn’t seen any dragons, and he was pretty sure it had opened up. He’d read a lot about animals, and he remembered reading that komodo dragons would sometimes dig “shallow” burrows. This wasn’t shallow. But, then again, this dragon looked different than any picture of a komodo dragon that he had ever seen, and he had watched the thing disappear down into this hole. Arrggg! His curiosity almost felt overwhelming, but his sense of self-preservation wouldn’t be ignored.

A rustle behind him made him turn his head sharply just in time to see a squirrel run up a tree. He let out a sigh of relief. He’d thought for a second that Running Wolf had followed him. That decided it. He might never get an opportunity like this again. He had to check it out. If he didn’t, he’d never forgive himself.

Lem looked around on the forest floor and picked up a thick stick. It would be difficult to carry this down the hole with him, and it probably wouldn’t do much good against a dragon, but he wasn’t about to go down there without some sort of weapon.

Pushing the stick in front of him with one hand and holding his flashlight in front of him with the other, Lem crawled awkwardly into the hole scooting along on his elbows for several yards until the passage opened up enough for him to stand. As he walked along, the walls seemed to be closing in making his path narrower and narrower. Disappointment began to rise in Lem when it seemed like the passage came to a dead end.

“No!” he complained loudly. Exasperated, he looked around frantically shining his flashlight in every direction, but he could see nothing except shadows. Refusing to give up so soon, Lem walked up to a wall and began examining every crevice determined to circle the entire space. About three quarters of the way around, he found a crevice that was more than a crevice. The opening couldn’t be seen from where he had been standing, but it could clearly be seen from the opposite angle. It was wide enough for him to walk into even though it was a bit tight in places.

With renewed excitement, Lem pushed through the narrow passageway. To his surprise, the cave tunnel began to get brighter as he walked. Before long, he didn’t even need his flashlight. He quickly turned it off and clipped it back on his belt. Not only did the path get brighter, it also grew wider. He had to continually remind himself to be cautious to stop himself from running. Finally, he turned a corner in the tunnel and stopped to stare in wonder. The passage opened up into a huge cavern. Small holes sprinkled around the top let in sunlight, and trees and other plant life dotted the floor and clung to the walls everywhere. A large waterfall fell down into a stream that flowed through the length of the cavern.

Lem stood on a ledge overlooking the beautiful scene and gazed at it in wonder. But his wonder quickly turned to fear as an arrow swooshed by his face and stuck in the wall right next to his ear. Looking around in alarm, he saw seven island natives standing on ledges high above. All of them had arrows pointed directly at him. He gasped in alarm tightly clutching the stick he still carried. Well, he’d done it now. His curiosity had finally killed him. Lem lifted a shaking hand to wave.

“Um, hi?” he said smiling nervously.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Into the Woods: The Life and Times of Lemuel Xandiver - Part 3

Lem walked through the woods as quietly as he could, but even to him, his footsteps seemed to pound through the underbrush like an elephant tromping through a bed of broken glass. The dragon kept looking back at him and hurrying on as fast as its injured body would allow. Lem knew that he was on dangerous ground. Komodo dragons were deadly in the best of times, and this one was injured, but his curiosity kept him going.

They walked quite a ways from the school through the woods, and Lem almost lost his reptilian prey a few times as the trees thickened and the ground began to rise. They were coming closer to the mountains.
Lem thought he saw the dragon disappear into a hole in the ground and hurried forward to get a better look.  He hid behind a tree close to where the dragon had disappeared and peered around to make sure it wasn’t just hiding in the underbrush. He certainly didn’t want to accidently step on the injured animal. Looking into the dense bushes intently, Lem almost jumped out of his skin when the native boy from the school jumped out of the tree and landed right in front of him.

“You almost gave me a heart attack,” Lem gasped accusingly. He looked nervously at the boy who just stood there with his arms crossed. “My name’s Lem. I’m new in town. I, uh, saw you up at the school.”

The native boy just looked at him for a second. Finally, he responded, “I’m called Running Wolf.” He seemed to relax a little as he leaned back against a nearby tree. He still had his arms crossed in front of him, but he didn’t seem quite as threatening as he had.

“You are not supposed to be here, you know,” he said with a lifting of his eyebrows. “You would get in much trouble if the school officials knew.”

“I know I’m skipping class,” Lem admitted, “but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a dragon before. I had to follow it.”

“Yes, you will get in trouble for skipping class, but it is more than that. These woods are considered the personal property of one of the most powerful men on the island. He would not look kindly on you for trespassing.”

Lem hadn’t thought about that. “Oh, well, where does he live? I could go ask him if he’d mind.”

“No! He does not like kids.” Running Wolf replied almost a little too quickly.

Lem looked at him curiously. It almost seemed like the other boy was hiding something.

“Besides,” Running Wolf continued, “only a fool would go after an injured dragon. He could still easily kill you and will if you get too close.”

Lem considered at him carefully. Something didn’t seem quite right. Running Wolf’s posture seemed too casual, almost posed, and the muscles standing out on his crossed arms indicated more of a stressed nature than the calm one he seemed to be trying to convey. He was hiding something.

As soon as Lem made this realization, he decided to change tactics. If there was something here that Running Wolf wanted to hide, then Lem’s curious nature insisted that he discover it. He was pretty sure that the dragon had gone into a hole or hidden cave nearby, but he was also pretty sure that this was about more than the dragon.

He couldn’t do anything now with Running Wolf on guard, and he didn’t want to raise his suspicions, so Lem relaxed his shoulders and let out a big sigh. He smiled.

“You’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ve just never seen a dragon before, so I guess I got carried away.” He chuckled. “There’s no telling what trouble I might have gotten myself into if you hadn’t come along. I guess we should get back, huh. I’m probably already in enough trouble.” Lem turned and began walking back toward the school.

“Thanks for following me and making me see reason. I really appreciate it. My curiosity can get the better of me sometimes.” He chuckled and looked behind him at Running Wolf, but the boy wasn’t there.

Lem stopped and looked hurriedly around.  Running Wolf was nowhere to be seen. He had simply disappeared without a sound. Lem hesitated for just a second to consider going back to look for the hole, but then he thought better of it. Running Wolf had followed him all the way from the school without him knowing it. He was obviously good at the whole stealth thing. Lem didn’t want to run the risk of the native seeing him now.

He would go back to the school and act like everything was normal then, after a week or so, he’d go back. He would find out where the dragon went and what Running Wolf had been so worried he’d see. His curiosity could wait that long, surely. One week, and he’d be back.