Liz and the Wolves of Shahala
By Rasputtin Szczepanski
I woke up early and immediately went through my morning routine in order to get to the cave as quickly as I could. I brought my leather outfit that I had smuggled in the night before. I kept my door unlocked in case Aunt Holly or Herb decided to check on me. With the rug covering the floor, they would have hopefully assumed that I had gone out.
Climbing down the ladder, I hoped that Bunny wasn’t worried. I had been gone a whole day.
I was wearing nothing but leather – a leather skirt, a leather vest and leather boots. I took off a boot and stuck it in the blue light to see if it would burn. Nothing happened except that the plastic tips on the shoelace had melted. I still was not convinced of the safety of the outfit, so I stripped down to nothing, carried the clothing in a pile in my hands and entered the tunnel. A quick glance at my pile of clothing showed no ill effects on the leather. Still, I moved quickly through the tunnel until I was on the other side.
Once in the cave, I put on the leather outfit. The inside of the vest was a cloth liner that had burned off through the passage. I was glad I didn’t wear it. It was a good start. The heels had melted almost completely off as well. I sat down on a rock and attempted to knock the remains of the heels off. After bludgeoning them on a hard rock, they loosened and fell off. I put them on, grabbed the shovel I had left against the cave wall and worked my way towards the hidden entrance of the cave.
The sun was shining brightly on the mountain that morning. The cool, crisp air dappled with the spicy scent of pine and flowers was intoxicating, especially when compared to the grey drabness of Maine spring. The sunlight sparkled across the tinkling water and birds sang from unseen perches above. Nowhere did I see Bunny. I called out his name. My voice didn’t seem to carry far.
I walked down to the water’s edge and cupped some water and brought them to my lips, drinking it in. I decided on walking down the mountain, following the stream so that I could find my way back. I wanted to explore. Whatever Bunny was doing, I knew he would be back.
The mountain grew less steep and the forest thicker as I went down. Occasionally I would get a glimpse of the land below. Hills and what looked like a river in a valley. There were no cities, no signs of life, just the ever present large planet with the rings hovering in the haze above me. I hiked for about an hour before I got hungry and headed back up the mountain.
I was sweating and my legs burning by the time I made it back to the waterfall. I was happy to see Bunny poke his head out of the corner of the waterfall. When he saw me he yelped and sprinted down toward me. I should have been afraid. He was a wolf and almost twice my size. I could see his smile and I knew he didn’t want to hurt me. Nevertheless, he knocked me down as he jumped up and tried to lick my face. I tried pushing him off but I fell back into some shallow water.
“I’m sorry!” he panted, still licking. He jumped back and did a circle, his tail wagging wildly. “I’m so glad you came back!”
“I told you I would only be gone a day,” I said as I pushed myself up onto a dry rock.
Bunny cocked his head, looking at me quizzically. “It’s been almost two months!”
“What? I just saw you yesterday.”
“The moon went full twice since you have been gone. It’s been 62 days exactly. I knew you would come back. I knew it! I don’t know how but I knew it. That’s why I checked every day. Why were you gone so long?”
“I swear Bunny, I was only gone a day.” I pushed myself up. “Let’s figure this out.” I breathed in and thought about it. I knew it was just one more mystery of the cave. “I have an idea. Let’s go back to the cave.” Before heading up, I leaned down and put my arms around his neck, hugging him. “I’m sorry I made you worry.”
He licked my face. “I’m just glad you are back.”
In the cave I asked, “Did you try going back to my side?”
“I tried but I can’t. I thought it closed forever but I think now that I can only go through with you.”
“Ok then, let’s try.”
I took off my leather clothes, placing it neatly folded on a rock and then we both walked through the tunnel. Once on the other side I patted his head and said, “Wait down here. I’m going to the top of that pile of rocks.” I climbed up to my tunnel that led to my room and looked back down at him. “Now try to go back into the tunnel.”
He nodded and then it was like he was walking into a wall. The blue waterfall flickered and I could see a cave wall where a tunnel once was. He backed up and the tunnel reappeared behind the blue light.
“So, you can only go through it when I am with you.”
Bunny pushed his paw forward, testing the blue light. “Why is that, do you think?”
“I think I know.” I clamored back down. “Follow me.” I walked back into the light. Bunny followed and I stopped. I looked down at my tattoo. It was glowing red.
Bunny’s eyes followed mine. “The Cintamani…” I traced the tattoo with my fingers. He continued. “Strong magic. I don’t know its origin but wherever it came from must have had something to do with this tunnel.”
I thought of my mom’s studies and said “I think there are more tunnels.” I walked back out into my cave.
“This is the first one I have ever seen.”
“I need to grab some food and see something. I’ll be back down.”
When I got back into my room, my clock confirmed my suspicion. Despite spending almost half a day in the sun, it was still only 6 a.m. Except for one kid watching TV in the living room, the rest of the house was still asleep. I put on a robe and went in the kitchen, grabbing a handful of food. I stopped to use the restroom and saw that I was sunburn. I used almost half a bottle of sunblock, spreading it almost over my whole body. Then I hurried back down to the cave.
Bunny and I munched on a box of fruity pebbles.
“I wish I could see your world,” Bunny said quietly.
I was sitting in my robe, drinking a can of coke. “It is different than yours. You wouldn’t like it. I don’t like it.”
“Is everyone as beautiful as you are?”
I was taken back, momentarily. I laughed, “I don’t know how to answer that. Are all the wolves as handsome as you where you come from?”
He laughed and sat on his haunches. “My tribe is the biggest of all the tribes. Some would say the most handsome.”
“Are there a lot of tribes of wolves?”
“We call ourselves Molsem but I know what you mean. There are twelve tribes. My tribe is the Enomozi tribe. Well, I used to be part of the Enomozi tribe. I’m a tribe of one now. Two when you are with me.”
He smiled and I could have sworn he was flirting with me. I momentarily thought of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood then quickly dismissed it. Bunny was more like the class clown in high school. Something about him had quickly earned my trust.
“I think I know why it seemed like two months to you. This last time I was in your world for almost half the day and when I came back, the clocks didn’t move at all. Time doesn’t move here. I don’t know. It’s like ‘The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe’. I think I could spend a whole lifetime in your world and when I came back, I would still be the same age.”
“What about a witch?”
“It’s a movie. In it, these kids go through a portal to another world and the time stops in theirs. Maybe whoever made the movie knew about these tunnels. Maybe it was based on something real. The animals talked in that movie.”
“Not all animals talk.”
“I could go, find my mother and come back and no one would know I was gone.”
“Where is your mother?”
“I think your leader, the leader of the Enomozi tribe knows. I want to find out how he got that necklace.”
“I have to do it Bunny. I have to know.”
Bunny looked down and thought about it then said, “They would kill you if they saw you. Let me show you something and let us think about it. Maybe there is a way.”
“Show me what?”
“Let me show you. It will be a surprise.” He smiled again.
I pushed him over playfully. “I hate surprises!”
I loved surprises.