The night seemed darker than usual as she watched the storm clouds carve their ominous pattern on the horizon. She could hear the coyotes howling in the distance while the moon illuminated phantom shadows across the barren desert landscape. She huddled in the corner of the makeshift hut she had hastily put together when she noticed the skies growing cold and the wind picking up.
She was tired and weak from her long journey into this vast wasteland, and although her body yearned for sleep, the fear that gripped her mind would allow no rest.
She lay there, trembling, wondering if the sounds of the coyotes were growing closer or was her mind playing tricks on her. “Water,” she heard herself say out loud. “I need to find water.” She shook her near empty canteen, wondering whether she should take a drink now or save the little water she had for later.
Just then, the loud crack from a branch outside the hut broke the deafening silence surrounding her. Feeling like a trapped animal, she leapt to her feet and scrambled through an opening out into the pending darkness. She tripped over a lone desert bush and fell against the small sandy hill she had used to anchor her hut. With her heart racing, she looked up to find a small boy standing on top of the hill. Naked, except for a small leather cloth covering his loins. Startled by her frenzied actions, the boy ran off into the darkness without a sound.
“Stop!” She cried into the dark desert night. Silence followed. She jumped to her feet and ran in the direction of the boy. The storm she had watched accumulate before reached it’s peak and the rain came pouring down, making the dry soil turn to instant mud under her feet, thick like pudding as she slipped and stumbled through the dark calling out to the boy. With tears of anguish flooding her eyes, she dropped to her knees in despair then suddenly noticed an orange glow filling the horizon in front of her.
She wiped her tears and began to make her way toward the glow in the distance feeling equal parts of relief and apprehension as she sloshed through the mud in the darkness. Thankfully, the storm had blown away as quickly as it had begun and as she passed over each small but steep hill, the light in the distance became brighter. Finally, over the third ridge, she could see a campfire and the shadowy frames of several figures huddled around it.
She crouched low, trying to focus on what she had discovered. It looked like a camp of sorts. Eight, maybe ten tents set up in a semi-circle surrounding the fifteen or twenty figures sitting around the campfire. That’s when she spotted the boy. He was standing next to a figure seated at the head of the group. She reasoned him the leader. The boy seemed nervous, making exaggerated motions with his arms, pointing in her direction. The leader stood from his sitting position and she watched as all heads turned in the direction where she silently watched. Her heart pounded and she could hear her own breathing echoing inside her head. A thousand thoughts raced through her mind. Do they see me? Should I run? Should I go to them? She didn’t have to answer for her thoughts were interrupted by the cold feeling of steel pressed against her neck.
Before she could think, her instincts took over. Swinging her body away from the steel object, she leapt from her squatting position and threw her right elbow into her attacker’s chest sending him sprawling. She was frozen for a moment by her own strength then began to run, her attacker in quick pursuit. She screamed and with a burst of adrenaline like a bolt of lightning, ran back in the direction from which she had come. The mud, which had been her enemy just moments before, now became her friend as she ran over it with ease while her pursuer slipped behind her, keeping her just out of his reach. Suddenly, appearing in front of her was the boy. Her heart sank as she knew she was trapped. The boy leapt, not toward her, but passed her and tackled her attacker, just before he caught up with her.
They struggled on the ground. Twisting and turning. The thick mud covering them so completely she could no longer tell which was the boy and which was the man. Flashes from a knife glinted every so often in the moonlight as they rolled around struggling. She frantically paced back and forth, wanting so much to help the boy, until suddenly an agonizing scream rang out into the night. Then silence fell. Neither man nor boy moved for what seemed like hours to her. Then, a slow groan arose from under the mud-covered heap. Holding her breath, wide-eyed, she waited. The boy pushed the man off of him and sat up. Wiping mud from his eyes, his breathing labored, he stood and without saying a word, reached his hand out to her. Instantly, trusting him, she reached out and took his hand in hers. He pulled her along, dragging her for what must have been miles until they came to a long, narrow burrow that had been dug into the side of a small sandy hill.
Standing outside the entrance to the burrow, she finally broke the long silence. “Who are you?” she asked. He stared back at her with a quizzical look as if he didn’t understand. “Do you speak English?” She asked. He made no reply. But as she looked in his young eyes, she could feel his warmth, and despite his adolescence, she felt safe. After a moment he took her by the hand, and bending low, they entered the dark burrow.
He has the eyes of a cat, she thought, for she could barely see her hand in front of her, yet he maneuvered through the tunnel with the grace and ease of a panther. “What is this place?” She asked. “Where are we? “Who are you?” He said nothing as he continued to lead her down the passageway. She soon began to see a light and then an entrance that opened into a huge underground colony where hundreds of people, young and old moved about freely, as if being underground were a normal, natural occurrence. They were all dressed alike, resembling prehistoric Neanderthals draped in brown loin cloths and each one looked just like the boy, light brown skin, jet black hair and wide dark inquisitive eyes. She felt as if she had stepped back in time.