Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Sixty Nine

written 7 November 2006

Pancho and Sebastian spent the night in the same tree. They didn't want to risk moving in case the older men came back. Pancho had brought a few roots he had roasted, and with some dried fish and water that Sebastian had stored in the tree they had a reasonable meal before it grew dark.

They huddled under warm blankets when it got cold, and told stories of their homes.

By morning, they were stiff from remaining in one position for too long, and neither had slept too well. Between the swaying of the tree and the strange noises, they had fitful dreams, filled with peculiar images that remained even after they awoke.

Pancho was the first to bring up his dreams, as they folded their blankets and prepared to check on the condition of the other platforms.

"I dreamt the strangest things last night," he began. "There were large animals roaming in the trees, nosing around the bases and reaching up into the branches. They were shaggy, with long hair that swept the ground as they walked, so that their wide, flat feet left little trace of their passage. They looked like large cows, though the feet had no hooves but they did have large horns on their heads."

Sebastian paused briefly as he set the blankets into a bark box he had sewn together with reed rope, tying the knot that held the lid thoughtfully.

He shrugged and grunted, then looked over the edge of the platform before tossing the ladder over the side.

"Strange dream," he acknowledged as he flipped over the side, grabbing the ladder expertly and lowering himself by his arms swiftly.

Pancho snagged the rope that would pull the ladder back up after them, and followed Sebastian to the ground. He secured the end of the rope in a small cleft in the tree's bark that hid it from all the but the most discerning eye; and followed after Sebastian's rapidly disappearing back.

They stopped at some bushes lining a small clearing to eat the remaining berries and relieve themselves before moving off the now well-trodden trail toward Sebastian's main platform. They moved in a quiet, rhythmic fashion, their feet lifting straight up as they stepped, their hands gently brushing aside branches and leaves. They had been practicing ways to move without leaving a trail, it was working. Only Sebastian's months of exploring the woods kept Pancho from getting all turned around and lost.

The platforms were all intact, their supplies secure. They had taken the time to sort supplies into roughly equal portions, dividing them between the ten platforms and the larger roofed "house" that would provide good shelter. It was the furthest from the shore, deeper in the woods than the older men had cared to explore. The platforms would be repositories for supplies and watchposts during the days.

Sebastian sighed contentedly and paused a moment as they entered the house. "It's not really home, but it's warm and comfortable. The only trouble will be keeping warm enough if it gets really cold. But so far this stays warmer and drier than the huts by the beach."

Pancho looked around, noticing the careful weaving and details. A few shelves of bark held baskets and bowls carved of young branchwood. From hooks, a number of bags and baskets hung, some filled with supplies, others ready to be filled. A large sling hung across one corner, and another was ready to be stretched opposite. Sebastian had even managed a couple small stools and a table.

They stopped for a bit, ate lunch and talked over their plans. Beyond trying to keep out of the way of the older men, they didn't have many. They knew they needed a way to get food, and Sebastian had an idea to grow some of the seeds he had kept, but the details seemed a bit fuzzy to Pancho who brought up the subject of the dream animals again. Sebastian seemed evasive on whether he had ever dreamed such things. He stood and put a few seeds on the sill of the lone window, and with a whistle called a brown bird with a lovely trill.

As the day wore on, the sun reached its zenith and began its descent. Suddenly, Sebastian stood, and motioned to Pancho to follow. They hit the forest floor and began to jog, still keeping to their rhythm, but moving swiftly to one of the ridges that ran parallel to the beach. It was rocky, and the plants grew strangely stunted and twisted. Here, Sebastian broke into a strange gait, and muttering something about "This is how they do it..." he swept his feet side to side so the rocks rolled randomly, obliterating marks of his passage as he moved.

In a short time, Sebastian stopped at a pool Pancho had not seen before. It was up a small rise, and hidden by thick shrubs and short trees that seemed to form a fence. A large spring bubbled in the middle of the pool. A single black monolith jutted like a ship's prow at an angle from the water's edge, its surface reflecting no light. At the base of the stone, a glint -- a sparkle -- a flash, but nothing.

Pancho came to at the sound of a frog croaking at him, and Sebastian sitting a short distance away, laughing, a small dark bird perched on his shoulder.

Pancho stood, shaking his head in confusion. Sebastian pointed to the base of the stone, where a small hatchway now appeared. "Any time you're ready, Pancho," he chortled, grabbing his elbow to steady him.

"I don't understand..." Pancho began.

"You will," whispered Sebastian conspiratorily with a wink. And they moved toward the hatch and started into the darkness under the stone.