Bewildering Stories

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Chapter 7, The Range
part I, installment 1

by Tala Bar

Gaia began in issue 88.
Chapter 6 concluded in issue 110.


Dar woke up with a sense of amazement. She’d half expected it to happen, but she’d thought she would sleep with Nunez first. She looked with wonder at the young man who was still holding her tight in his strong arms, remembering they had gone to sleep first with him held by her. She could not see his face, which was buried between her breasts, but his dark-brown skin seemed glowing, not the ash-gray it had been before. Then he moved, and she felt his fingers moving lightly over her face.

“You are really a very beautiful woman, Dar,” he said softly, his face hovering over hers. His previously tense features had relaxed, and his dark eyes were shining.

She smiled, bent his head down to hers and kissed his lips. “I may not be as old as I thought I was,” she said lightly. “How do you feel?”

“I feel fine,” he said, laughing.

Last night’s exertion seemed to have injected new energy into his wasted body. He jumped on his feet and stretched. Dar followed the silhouette of his young body on the background of the cave’s opening. It was still raining, and she was happy to stay where she was for a while.

She noticed Nim and Nunez busy over the fire at the back of the cave, and immediately felt a cramp in her empty stomach.

“Breakfast will be ready in a minute,” Nim called in a cheerful voice; Dar was glad to notice the girl was feeling like herself again. “You can wash in the rain, Dar; that’s where we got the water, too, the water is so clear and fresh!”

Dar, throwing the blanket off her, followed her advice and found she was right about the freshness, although the water was also cold and she hurried back in to dry herself. Zik had been doing the same, then shyly approached the fire. As close as he gotten to the physician, the others were still relative strangers; some leftover emotions from the orphanage had made him still unsure of their attitude toward him.

He soon found the atmosphere in the cave not only physically warm — actually, with the moisture outside, it was becoming heavy and steamy — but also mentally warm. Nim soon broke any heaviness with her natural cheerfulness; Nunez, with his calm confidence, openly accepting the young man for what he was.

“Have you checked how much provisions we have left, Nune?” Dar asked as they were munching parts of the protein bars to energize themselves for the new day.

“Enough for a few more days,” the fisherman answered. “How long did you plan on staying here, Zik?”

“We never planned to stay the winter; there wasn’t much point, with the snow filling the crater and covering the slopes.” He gazed at his companions, from one to the other. “But the helicopter won’t be coming now, will it?”

The others shook their heads.

“Not much chance of that,” Dar said in a matter-of-fact way. They drank their coffee in silence for a while.

“We’ll have to plan on moving out fairly quickly if we want to survive,” Nunez said as he put down his cup, “we can’t stay long on this barren island.” Everyone knew that he was only stating the obvious.

“Do you have any idea where we can go from here, Zik?” Asked Dar. “You must have been all round the island before the volcano erupted — did you see what’s beyond it?”

“Nothing very close. There is that range of mountains across a stretch of water, but I don’t know how far it is. Anyway, we have no boat to get there — if it’s still there?” he looked questioningly at the wanderers.

“It’s there, all right,” Dar said. “We came from the other side, through those new islets — you probably know nothing about them, as they appeared at the same time as the eruption...” Zik shook his head. “We should try to reach the range,” Nunez declared.

Nim looked at him, doubting. “But how?” Her early cheerfulness had disappeared during the discussion, in face of those new difficulties. “We’ll have to find a way to get off the island,” Dar agreed, “we can’t stay here for ever. But there’s nothing we can do in this weather, so we have plenty of time to think it over and plan our move.” They all turned to look at the rain outside. The whole world looked like a solid body of pouring water; it was madness to try to go out into it.

* * *

The rain lasted two more days. The travellers had to curb their usage of food, light and fire to the minimum. Keeping the fire-stuff for cooking only, they sat round the warm ashes wrapped in blankets, huddled together to keep warm. They kept themselves amused by telling stories of their former lives, of friends and families, which they were never going to see again. They cried some, and laughed some, and at night Nunez and Nim slept together in one corner and Dar and Zik in another. They ventured out to relieve themselves, finding a shelter close by under a bluff of rock, trusting the rain to wash it away; it was difficult to keep privacy, and all four got very intimate with each other.

On the third evening the rain eased up; the setting sun peeped out from among the scattering clouds, and a few stars glimpsed at them as the travellers emerged from the cave to look around and stretched their legs.

“What do you think, Dar? Will tomorrow be a good day to search for a way to get off the island?” Nunez asked.

“It looks like it,” she replied. “Are you ready for it, Zik?”

She seemed to have hit right on it, because the doubt crept into his eyes. He had obviously found it very comfortable in his present surroundings, and was not sure at all of what was waiting for him outside.

Proceed to the conclusion of part I...

Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar

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