First there was a tad bit of red showing. With more exposed, Ben noticed the many bands of colours. By then, he became impatient. ‘What’s that hidden in there?’ He tried to help, but Howie refused to let him.
When Bill saw the mass of colours shining through the muddled net of stitches, his breathing became faster. He mumbled, while holding onto his forehead. Thoughts, and feelings from a time long gone, shot through his mind like projectiles. Not being able to stand still, he leaned back, and forth, and from side to side. When he was on the verge of grabbing the vest to get it done faster, Howie pushed his hands away.
With every stitch Howie pulled, more became visible. As the full spectrum of bright pink, and red to burgundy tones, tiny black bands of iron, a bit of yellow, green and blue, and even specks of a golden hue, appeared, Bill stared at Ben. ‘That’s my Marra Mamba! Get Andy quick!’
‘Wow! You mean the one you found up north?’ Ben was eager to look more closely. He had to feel the stone. Was it possible that it was the one he had heard so much about? The one his grandpa had found years ago before a Yowie had snatched it away.
When the last stitch was unravelled, and Howie held it in his hand, Bill was sure.
‘So what is it?’ said Jack.
Howie stood there with the stone in his hand. ‘It’s called Binehogen.’
‘Crikey!’ Bill had to sit down. ‘Did you really say ‘Binehogen’? I think … you mean … could it? I remember when I found it. Far out! This is a miracle, if ever there was one. Had no idea my stone is the actual Binehogen.’
‘It doesn’t look like a key,’ said Charlie. ‘But who knows?’
Bill’s excitement took a new turn. ‘My Marra Mamba! On to the Kernel … I can’t believe it. We’re going home!’
‘Slow down,’ said Jack. ‘We’ve got a lot ahead of us before we can go home. Well, that is, if it IS the real keystone. We don’t even know what to do with it, do we?’
Ben faced Howie. He looked him intently in the eyes. ‘You’ve got to let us borrow it, Howie. You just gotta. It’s okay. We’ll give it back later. My grandpa just said it was his Marra Mamba. You see, he found it a very long time ago, but didn’t get to keep it. We know it’s yours, and we won’t take it from you. You can be sure of that.’
‘I’ll let you have it for a while,’ said Howie. ‘I don’t like it here. I want to go home with you. But I need it back later. Have to keep it safe. I was chosen as the Holder.’
‘Sure you can come with us,’ said Bill. ‘If you help us, we help you. No worries mate. I’ll even help you find your parents. ‘
At that moment, Bill tumbled to the floor screaming.
‘Calm down!’ said Jack. ‘He’s okay.’
Nobody had fetched Andy, but the tumult had woken him up. He came out of the bedroom in a dazed state. ‘What … what’s going on here?’
‘This guy here is going to help us,’ said Jack. ‘His name is William Sinton. He’s not normally like this, but he was in the bad waters Agrimona talked about. It changes a person into an ape-like zilch. See, that’s exactly what happened to him. It’s nearly the same, as what happened to you, grandpa.’
‘Now I’m happy. No offense meant, but I wouldn’t have liked to be a zilch,’ said Bill. ‘Not that it’s anything wrong with that. On the other hand, it’s probably, as bad as being a kid again.’
‘We call him Sinton,’ said Ben. ‘He can’t talk much, but he can write, and the beaut thing is that he can make himself invisible whenever he wants to. We can use it when we try to get into the prison. He’s given us maps over the inside.’
‘Sorry, Sinton,’ said Bill. ‘You look a bit like … hey, Ben … what’s the name of those things again?
‘You mean a hobbit?’ said Ben.
‘Or a bit like those little cavemen they found on Flores Island close to Indonesia,’ said Andy.
‘That’s right. Sorry, Sinton, you should be in movies,’ said Bill. ‘Oh, gosh, nothing surprises me any more in this place.’
‘Grandpa, Ben is very clever. I don’t know how he does it, but he can see things in the flames, the same as Ambrosius,’ said Jack.
‘Okay, just so you all know it. I don’t know why I can. It just happens when I look at the flames. I’ve seen things before they happened, and I know for a fact that we’ll find mum and dad.’ Ben looked at Andy, and nodded. ‘Yep, we’ll find Angelica too. I’m afraid it’s going to be a bit hard, and I don’t know how it’s going to happen. But it will.’
There was another thing, which worried Ben deeply, but he didn’t have the heart to tell them. He had grave doubts about Ambrosius. Was he as honest as he pretended? Ben had seen him in the flames. He stood close to a fancy-looking silver-haired Yowie. They were in an unfamiliar place, inside an enormous chamber, decorated with an abundance of coloured gemstones. He had no idea what Ambrosius was doing there. Another worrying thought was this; if Ambrosius saw the future in the flames, it was more than likely he would have seen the exact point in time when Ben had found the important keystone. What if he sent out a message through the ether, and what if it was picked up by all those who would kill for the stone? What if the Warpers with no names found out? If they were hunted now, it would become worse, so much worse.
Ben knew right there, and then, he would have to outsmart all beings in the cave world to be able to save his family, and friends. As soon as everything was taken care of, they would be able to leave the underground world forever, and when they were back in Perth, his life would be different, so much different. Now he knew that Jack had changed. Jack believed in him now. He had the brother he had always wanted.
The next morning, after an interesting dinner with many stories told the night before, they helped Agrimona with the clearing of some earlier rock falls.
After breakfast, they gathered in a group on the platform ready to leave. There were excitement, but also foreboding. They were to face more unknown hurdles.
A strong surge outwards came from the hole marked with L.R. Dust swirled around like a mini willy-willy.
Bill looked at his watch, which hung loosely on his arm. ‘Is Lemirius Rock ready for take-off?’
Agrimona licked her filthy index finger, and held it up in the air. ‘No, not exactly right yet. Listen, before we go any further, you need to pay for the extra passenger!’
‘But … we don’t have any more currency,’ said Bill.
‘I cannot let one more pass through,’ said Agrimona, stubbornly.
Howie opened his backpack, and pulled out the small wheel. ‘I don’t have anything else, but if I can go for free, you can have this.’
‘What? That’s bartering. I can’t believe my flaming mind, but one more wheel is something I desperately need. My cart can be built in a jiffy. Yes, you can go for the wheel. But you should wait. We don’t want any accidents. If the force isn’t strong enough, nobody is getting anywhere. You might end up somewhere … well … who knows exactly where?’
‘And you’re sure that it’s perfectly safe if it’s a strong one?’ said Jack. ‘And that you know when it’s exactly right?’
‘And that we get to where we want?’ said Bill. ‘I’m scared.’
Agrimona giggled. ‘Oh, yes, perfectly safe, and very sure I am. As a matter of fact, this time of year they’re perfect.’
‘So, what time of year is it?’ said Jack. ‘Winter, spring …?’
‘Same as on top, you silly boy,’ said Agrimona, laughing.
‘How windy is it in there?’ said Charlie. ‘Should I tie up my hair?’
‘Well, good point, my dear. If your hair flies around, it might get caught on the tree roots.’
‘Tree roots?’ said Bill. ‘It doesn’t sound too good. More like pretty dangerous, if you ask me.’
‘What if we get hit by them?’ said Andy.
‘Not that strong, mind you. They’re thin, wet and weak, not thick, dry and hard. It’s more like it’s easy to get a bit tangled in the mess, while surging through. Here’s a warning for you though. Whatever you do, do not stand up!’
‘That sounds dramatic,’ said Bill. ‘No, we won’t stand up, that’s for sure, but what did you say we do with the mats. Just leave them at the station when we get there?’
‘Who cares? They’re never used again.’
‘Do we need an anchor, or something?’ said Ben.
‘Not if you want to go to the end, you don’t. Oh, here it comes! I can hear the strong whining. All this howling in the hollows always gets to me. This is the one coming now. You can all sit together. Put the mats in first, and hold on to them, and one another. The push will come any minute now.’ She pointed to Andy, who was on his knees. ‘You better sit down.’
‘Goodbye then, and thank you,’ said Bill before he quickly threw out a rope. ‘Hold onto this, guys! Keep backpacks, and sleeping bags on you. Secure bows and arrows too.’
‘Be sure to pass by if you should come back this way,’ said Agrimona.
They took their places by sitting down on the mats to wait. Thinking of Sinton, Ben patted the space in front.
The sounds became stronger. The screaming from the inner parts of the tunnel was like angry howls from a hundred jet engines.
‘Lots of howling, hey Howie?’ said Ben, turning around to face him.
Howie looked nervous. ‘I-I don’t like it. I-I did this in a tunnel before.’
Andy was in front. The others sat in a row behind him. Each one held onto the backpack, hanging on the back of the person in front. With the same hand, they had to hold onto the rope. The other hand had to hold onto the mat.
‘Don’t let go of the rope!’ called Jack. ‘Whatever you do, don’t let go of anything!’
‘Oh, my goodness, here we go!’ cried Bill. ‘It’s louder. Getting closer. Can’t believe we’re doing this.’
Ben tried to yell louder than the overpowering noise, but it came out like a whisper. Nobody was likely to hear him.
A monstrous thrust of wind enveloped them into a cloud of cool darkness where an enormous swishing-sloshing sound echoed through their ears. They surged onward with incredible speed, and were hit by jumbled messes of tree roots racing past. A few seconds later they were almost weightless, swallowed by the strong air blast, still holding onto the rope. Like a ribbon of feathers, they surged through the void with the crying of the wind overpowering every frightened scream.
They were catapulted through the horizontal blow hole towards the light at the end. The exit came fast, but unexpected.
One after the other tumbled out into the open.
‘You beauty!’ yelled Andy, who was the first to stand up.
Charlie stayed on the ground with tears streaming. ‘I hate it! I so hate it!’
‘That was awesome!’ said Jack, on shaky legs. ‘The worst ride I’ve ever had.’
‘Cool! But remind me never to do that again,’ said Ben. ‘Can’t believe we did it. Howie, are you okay?’
Howie lay curled up in a ball. He looked up and nodded.
‘What about you Sinton? Are you with us?’ Ben looked around to find him. ‘Can you make yourself visible for one moment, so we know you’re here?’
Sinton showed himself, and held up both his thumbs.
Then all eyes turned to Bill, who patted his chest, and gasped for air.
‘What’s wrong?’ said Ben.
Jack rushed forward. ‘Is it your heart?’
‘No, I’m fine … eh … I’m fine. Felt like I was going to have a blooming heart attack in there. No, everything’s hunky dory, and if I’m like a kid again, my ticker should be sort of renewed. Ah, well … maybe. But, I don’t like what I see here. Turn around, guys!’
Bill pointed at the surrounding wall where darkened hills of wilted seaweed hindered the view of what lay ahead. The air reeked of salt, and the rotting process.
‘How’re we going to get through that stink?’ said Jack. ‘It’s at least two meters high. No way we can do it.’
‘Well, we can’t turn back, and there’s no other way out of here, so we’ll have to plod along somehow,’ said Bill.
Ben found a stick in a pile of used mats. ‘You know what the best thing is? If the hostiles, and the Warpers can’t get inside the Boab, they can’t follow us. It would take so much longer to walk to this place. We would be safe for some time, don’t you think?’
All agreed, but there was no way of knowing for sure.
Ben stirred the massive pile with the stick. A swarm of insects took flight. Not deterred, he climbed into the mess, but cried out when he sank to his thighs.
‘I don’t think we can wade through that,’ said Bill. ‘It’s a monster of a snag. Hope it’s not another trap.’
Ben jumped out fast when he heard those words.
‘Nobody told us it’s like the bottom of a stagnant lake,’ said Jack. ‘Swampy and slimy, and for all we know, it could even have a sinking bottom.’
‘If we go by the maps and descriptions, it won’t be any other way,’ said Bill.
‘Okay, so either we go on, or we’re stuck here, buried in a pocket of dead seaweed,’ said Andy.
Charlie looked up from her sobbing, and snuffling. ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ She buried her head in her hands.
Whistler looked forlorn. He had no idea what to do more than trying to pat Charlie on her arm.
With no other option, and after some urgent persuasion, Charlie seemed able to continue.
One after the other climbed into the dead seaweed, struggling upwards through the pile by pushing, and shoving.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stop when they were on top. They had to make their way up, and down, more ridges. If the terrain was congested by dead plant material, and ever confusing before, it became so much worse.
They stood on the crest of what seemed to be the last ridge, and faced a cliff wall with a cave entrance at the bottom.
‘What? Does this mean we have go through another cave?’ said Bill.
‘Seems to be no other way,’ said Andy. ‘Seaweed ridges all around us.’
‘Unless we head back,’ said Jack.
‘No point in heading back,’ said Ben. ‘Blow holes don’t seem to blow in the opposite direction.’ He slid down and trudged off the few steps to the entry. The others followed. When he peeked inside, he was shocked.
Andy sneaked past him. ‘The worst shell-encrusted cave structure I’ve ever seen.’
‘So, we all have to be extra careful. We don’t want to cut ourselves,’ said Ben.
‘Let’s hurry through, and we’ll be out in no time,’ said Bill.
‘I just hope the tunnel leads through somehow, and not into more caves and tunnels,’ said Ben.
The going went slow with ducking, and swerving, as well as wading through tiny streams of water coming out from the subterranean system. They clambered over sharp edges on rocks, and broken shell encrusted ridges. Cuts and rips on arms and legs were unavoidable. Struggling through the darkness, only lit up by their torches, there were sudden piercing cries when somebody was hit by another sharp point.
When Ben saw the light at the end, he knew they were close. Just as they were leaving the tunnel, they looked at each other.
‘Wow! Look at you,’ said Charlie to Ben. He had, like all of them, scratches to every exposed part of his body.
‘Hey, we’re all the same,’ said Andy. ‘Nothing we can do. Give you a hundred bucks for a shower though.’
‘Strewth! I’ve had enough of this. We should get a move on,’ said Jack.
‘Yeah, I want to get out of this place altogether,’ said Ben. ‘Never to be seen again.’
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Just to show you what the Binehogen may look like. A bit like a mix of these gemstones, if also almost in the shape of a small cross bow. These are some of my own pieces of North Western Australian Marra Mamba, Tiger Iron and Tiger Eye. If you want to see some really good examples of Marra Mamba go to this link.
© Lena Nilsson. All rights reserved.