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.