Bewildering Stories

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chapter 7, The Range
conclusion of part I

by Tala Bar

Gaia began in issue 88.
Chapter 7, part I began in this issue.

“I’ll have to, won’t I?” Zik twisted his face, looking round at his companions, as if looking for help from them. Nim nodded, smiling at him, and Nunez stretched out his hand.

“Can you swim?” The older man asked.

“Oh, no!” Nim cried, and they all burst out laughing.

“I can swim,” Zik said confidently, as if reassured, finding he’d only have to do something he was able to. “That cloud is threatening,” he added, “and I think we’ll have to swim right here and now if we don’t go inside soon!”

The morning shone bright and clear, not a cloud in the sky. Even the fire still spewing in fits from the volcano paled against its blueness. All faces cleared as the refugees prepared themselves for their new adventure. They all put on extra warm clothes against the blow of the cold wind, finding it best to use all those they had. For the time being, it was easier than carrying them.

“At least it’s dry for now,” Nim said, helping herself into a good mood toward unseen hardships. They packed up the blankets, fire-stuff and food after breakfast, not expecting to be helped in any way wherever they were going. Having divided the load into four manageable packs, using the geologists’ backpacks, Dar found some basic first aid stuff among the geologists’ equipment and put it in her own pack.

For the last time the travellers left the cave that had been shelter and home from home, witness to some moments of distress and happiness. Nim waved her hand as she looked back, then they went down to the shore. They followed its line around the island, sometimes wading through shallow water where the foot of the volcano touched the lake’s edge. At midmorning, having walked for a couple of hours, they reached the place directly opposite the range. The sight of mountains broke through the morning haze, shining misty mauve. The four destitutes paused in their walk, looking for a possible way to cross the water.

“Look!” Zik then cried in astonishment, pointing, “I don’t remember any stretch of land there!” A narrow strip of land dotted with rocky peaks paved the way, as long as the eye could see, between the volcanic island and the range in the distance.

“So,” Nunez said drily, “the upheaval had affected this area after all!” A note of satisfaction sounded in his voice, as if he himself had worked toward this goal in some way.

“We’re saved! We’re saved! We won’t need to swim again!” Nim danced under her load. Her companions laughed at her antics, their mood rising. This good mood helped the four wanderers on the initial stretch, as their feet were groping to find good hold.

As a matter of fact, walking on that rocky surface was not so easy. The ground was full of sharp, spike-like edges, among which small stones rolled under their feet, and they were not sure which were less difficult to walk on. Strips of cold, ragged lava were interspersed with unexpected deep chasms; though not too wide to transverse by a short leap, their mere sight made the heart skip a beat. After their first enthusiasm to be on the move again, it was clear that they had to take care at every step, every footfall, and sometimes even the best care did not prevent stumbling, slipping or getting a foot stuck between the jutting edges of boulders. At one point Nim stubbed her toe painfully, then Zik twisted an ankle and started limping.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar

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