Chapter 5 of "The Chamber of Thousands Caves", book 1 from "The Andaluins Saga"
The next morning they all left on an expedition to the top of the Anima´s Range. Suddenly and unexpectedly strong wind started to blow: it was a tornado that took Tomy, flying away. The kid wakes up in the lost cemetery... The only way out is to defeat the cemetery cellar: Dan-guar. Tomi fight him and get victorious. Because of that he gained a great power: Lucerón, the power of light. While the rest of the family is searching for him, Luli meets the master of nature, the Roblent, and because of her great love, without noticing, received another gift: the Curelove: the power to cure almost every illness.
The next morning they all set off on an expedition to the summit of Spirit Ridge. It wasn’t an easy trip, quite to the contrary. First there was a long trek up a steep path, and then a climb up a craggy natural stone wall: Eagle Ravine.
They were an adventurous family who loved challenges, so they set about their outing with a will. They had tied a long rope round their waists holding them all together. Pedro was up front, leading, and Jazmin brought up the rear, taking care that none of the children fell.
Luli had Brownie inside her blouse, and he kept poking his head out between the buttons.
The ascent was no piece of cake. At one point Pedro, fumbling for a foothold, knocked a large stone loose. It started rolling down, picking up speed and loosening others before tumbling into the void, which caused a minor avalanche. Jazmin and the kids were twenty or thirty feet further down just then, having a rest, and they had to crowd up against the stone wall like leeches to avoid the falling rocks. Fortunately nobody was hit, so they resumed their climb up to the summit.
When they finally made it, the marvelous spectacle stretching before their eyes amply rewarded the team of daring adventurers. The view was just awesome. To the south they could see miles of seashore. The gentle contrast of pine and eucalyptus woods and the distant sea on that fine day created such a magnificent frame that they were almost overwhelmed for a moment. In places like this, the hand of a superior creator was clearly evident.
To the west was the SolísRiver, whimsically cutting through planted fields to the coast, carrying its flow of life back to nature. Northwards lay the gentle slopes of the foothills and to the east, in the distance, they could make out the shimmering civilization of a seaside resort.
It was almost , and they’d planned to have a picnic on the summit. They found a large flat rock which would do as a table, and they sat round it for lunch. When they’d finished they lied down to rest on the soft wild grass growing between the boulders.
Quite unexpectedly a strong wind arose. They knelt up and saw a major storm gathering to the east. Black clouds were twisting towards them. They could even see the dark shadow of the storm advancing over the countryside, destroying everything in its path. It was a tornado ... and a big one. They could develop so quickly at this time of year! They were unpredictable and their winds could rise to almost a hundred miles an hour. And the worst possible place to be during a tornado was exactly where they were: high on the top of the ridge, with little protection.
“My God,” Jazmin managed to say, gaping at the terrible spectacle.
“Come this way! It’s going to hit hard! Come on! Tie the rope back on, and we’ll try a descent of the north face!” Pedro shouted.
Fingers flying, they fastened the rope round their waists and started to clamber downwards. They hadn’t got far when they were caught up by the tornado. The fury of the wind shook them at its whim. Visibility was down to almost nothing, and hundreds of twigs and small branches and pebbles beat against them from all sides. A stone the size of a tennis ball struck Santi in the middle of his forehead knocking him out, and a piece of treetrunk flew into Jazmin’s tummy, knocking the breath out of her. Lucy also had her hands over her tummy, trying to protect Brownie.
The wind was getting worse by the second, and it was starting to whirl round and round. Santi, who was the lightest and still hadn’t come to, started to lift off the ground, but he was held back in mid-air, like a kite, by the rope attaching him to the rest of the family.
With a huge effort Pedro managed to crawl to a nearby boulder and tie his end of the rope round it. Then he hauled on the rope slowly but steadily, hand over hand, tugging in his family. First Luli and then Tommy, and then the three of them tried to bring in Jazmin, who was desperately clutching the length of rope holding her younger son. They were all getting tired, struggling against the wailing wind. Without warning, Tommy untied himself and started climbing over rocks and boulders to where Santi was still flying like a kits. He leapt upwards, with the help of the wind now, and caught hold of Santi. With Tommy’s weight, the two of them slowly dropped to ground. Pedro and Luli tied Santi to the boulder, but the strongest gust of wind yet swept Tommy into the air. As he’d untied himself and had no rope to hang on to, the wind raised him and blew him further and further away from the others.
“Tommy, Tommy ... oh no!” cried Jazmin, desperately scrambling in his direction. Pedro grabbed her arm and pulled her back.
“Jaz, no! There’s nothing we can do in this wind! We’ve gotta wait for it to drop,” he cried, hugging her tightly.
The wind ended as unexpectedly as it had started. Summer gales were violent but short. Anxiety about Tommy’s fate wrenched at their guts. Except Santi, who still hadn’t come round. They tied him to Pedro’s back, and they started the descent. They went down fast, almost out of their minds. Luli was weeping disconsolately. Jazmin was wrapped in grim silence but you could see on her face a mix of anguish, pain, fear and hope, like an open book. All the way down Pedro kept muttering to himself, “We’re going to find him ... everything’s going to be all right.”
When they got back to the camp they lay Santi down carefully and, leaving Luli in charge of him, Pedro and Jazmin raced to Jeep and drove off quickly, trying to decide what direction to go.
He slowly opened his right eye. Then he tried the left one, but it was impossible. His whole body screamed with pain. Grunting and moaning he sat up. Every time he moved, it felt as if big nails were being driven into his body. He looked round fuzzily, and saw he was on a neat stack of sharp stones. Then he looked again, horrified. He was sitting on a grave.
“Where am I? Where are the others? Dad, Mom!” he shouted. Nobody answered.
He looked round and saw he was surrounded by graves. He stood up and walked over to the nearest. When he examined it in more detail he spotted stones engraved with marks he’d never seen anything quite like before, a bit like cave paintings.
“Where am I? Am I alive? What’s this place?”
“You’re in the lost cemetery ...” said a deep, hesitating voice.
Tommy raised his eyes, and sitting on another of the stacks of stones, trying to light a bent and sagging old pipe, was a real Indian.
“In the lost cemetery? The Indian cemetery? But how did I get here?” he asked.
“You just dropped out of the sky ... cough, cough ... but the question isn’t how ... cough ... but why,” the Indian replied, coughing.
“You should give up smoking, it’s going to harm you.”
“Don’t worry about my health, nothing can happen to me now ... cough, cough ... it’s your own health you should be worrying about”
“What do you mean? I know I’m black and blue all over, and I’ve got all sorts of aches and pains, but I don’t think anything’s broken. I’m all right, all considering.”
“Silly, I don’t mean that ... or better said, yes ... cough, cough ... there’s only one reason why you’re ... cough, cough ... here. You’re on the threshold ... the boundary between life and death.”
“Am ... am I dead?” Tommy asked in a tremor
“No, but you certainly will be ... cough, cough ... the only way into the lost cemetery is to see if it’s time for you to cross the threshold. Cough, cough. And I warn you ... cough ... hardly anyone has been able to leave this place.”
“Of course it isn’t time! I’m not ready! I’ve got so much to do still!” he cried desperately.
“Well, it isn’t me you have to convince ... cough, cough ... I’m just the cemetery caretaker ... cough ... it’s Dan-guar!
“What happens if I can’t convince him I’ve got to leave? Shall I have to stay here for ever?”
“No, this cemetery is just a kind of... cough... waiting room for everyone’s judgment day. That’s when the decision is made about how you’re going to spend the rest of eternity... cough... depending on your actions on earth... cough... and how you treat your fellow men and women. All beings pass this way... cough, cough... when they die. But, I admit, there’s too much bureaucracy. There are way too many files in the waiting list... cough... so you might be here a long time. I’ve been waiting 324 years.”
“That long! But that’s even worse than my country. Dad always says the judiciary is a shambles, but I don’t think they take that long!”
“When you’ve got all eternity before you, it doesn’t seem so long. Besides, my earthly life wasn’t too dignified... cough, cough... so I’m in no hurry. I suspect this is better than where they’ll send me,” said the Indian.
The rest of the day had gone by, and night was falling. With heavy hearts they decided to give up the search until sunrise. It was too dangerous to continue in the dark of night.
They arrived back at the camp completely defeated, fearing the worst. As the hours went by they gradually lost hope of finding him.
Santi had come round, and he and Luli were anxious for their parents’ news. He had a giant violet bruise on his forehead, and a headache.
The news of the failure made them gloomy for a moment, but it was Luli who encouraged them not to give up hope.
“Come on, Dad! Tommy’s strong and tough. I’m sure he’s okay, and looking for a way back.
“It’s all my fault,” said Pedro dejectedly. “I should have been the one to leap up and grab Santi, not Tommy.”
“No way! Nobody’s to blame. You were trying to save us all. If you’d let go, we’d all be lost somewhere on Spirit Ridge,” said Jaz, recovering her spirits. “Luli’s right. We have to believe he’s safe and sound, and we’re going to find him.”
“Let’s have something to eat and try to get some rest, so we can resume the search at dawn,” suggested Luli.
Of course nobody had a single bite to eat, let alone get to sleep. The picture of Tommy being literally sucked up by the tornado, and the uncertainty of finding him alive kept them all wide-eyed during the hours of darkness.
Tommy had been walking among the graves for quite a time, looking for Dan-guar as the Indian caretaker had told him to. His last words still rang in Tommy’s ears: “Here, your eyes will see what your mind shows them.”
The predominant semidarkness and permanent mist made him walk slowly and carefully, using all his senses to find his way. The whole place was spooky, with the old graves, dry trees twisting fantastically, damp soil and puddles ... it seemed that any minute spirits would start to rise from their eternal rest.
He closed his eyes for an instant, trying to get away from the place, even if it was just mentally. He tripped up and fell sprawling into a dark, muddy puddle, soaking himself. His right hand touched something thin and hard. He lifted whatever it was, and then threw it as far away as he could with a terrified scream. It was a radius – one of the forearm bones – of a human skeleton. He spang up and without looking back ran as fast as he could. As he went he thought he heard a complaining voice say, “Hey! Who took my arm?”
At last he saw a gigantic gate of iron bars. It was wide enough for four cars to pass through side-by-side, and so high he couldn’t see where it ended. The black bars were as thick as tree-trunks. They had wrought-iron figures of human and animal skeletons on them.
Tommy looked from side to side, and saw no one. He thought perhaps the gatekeeper was doing his rounds of the cemetery. He felt relieved and ran up to the gate, and tried to open it.
“You can’t open it, nobody can ... only Dan-Guar!”
The sun still hadn’t risen over the horizon, but it was already light. They’d been waiting for this moment all night. Now they could resume the search for Tommy.
They all climbed into the Jeep and they set off. The previous day they’d looked along the top of the ridge, now they were going to try the sides of the foothills, where there was more vegetation.
The early birds flying a few feet away gave Luli an idea, who was sitting in the back. Making sure her parents wouldn’t hear, she spoke to the little rabbit..
“Brownie, why don’t you ask your bird friends to search from the air?”
“Luli, all the animals who live on Spirit Ridge know what happened. They’ve been looking for Tommy since yesterday afternoon, even during the night helped by the owls.”
“And? Is there any news?” she asked anxiously.
“Nothing yet, I’m afraid.”
Tommy turned round when he heard that other-worldly voice, and there he was ... Dan-Guar, warrior of the night ... guardian of the lost cemetery.
He was an enormous, strong Indian brave, twice as tall as Pedro. He was looming over Tommy, straight and proud, legs slightly apart. There were terrible scars all over his body; one on his face actually crossed one of his eyes and stretched down to his upper lip. He was dressed and painted for war, and on his head he wore a bull’s skull, complete with long horns. Wide sheaths made from jaguar hide went from wrist to elbow on each forearm, practically covering them, and round his neck he wore leather thongs bearing the fangs of wild animals. With one hand he held a spear so gigantic that Tommy wouldn’t even have been able to lift it, and in the other was a stone-headed axe which he appeared to have sharpened on his own teeth.
Tommy was terrified, and to make matters even worse the warrior seemed to be growing bigger and bigger.
“This will be your abode for the rest of eternity, you little human weakling. Have you chosen your gravesite?” His booming voice seemed to come straight out of his stomach, his lips didn’t move.
“No ... I ... I’m not going to ... chose ... it isn’t my time yet ...”
“I’M THE ONE WHO DECIDES WHEN YOUR TIME HAS COME,” the giant Indian brave boomed. “And nobody has even been able to break out ... well ... except for one, years ago ... just one, mind you, and he was much stronger than you.”
The Indian’s head was turning into the head of a ghostly bull, and he was still growing bigger and bigger. Poor Tommy was paralyzed with fear ... he had shut his eyes again wishing he were far, far away, with his brother and sister, when a strange figure appeared before him repeating over and over again, “Your eyes see what your mind shows them ... only an illuminated being can defeat him ...”
A deafening warcry brought Tommy back to reality. The warrior was running towards him, brandishing his outsized battle-axe, the ground trembling under his heavy footsteps. Tommy dived to one side, rolling over and over, and the heavy axe smashed into the flinty ground producing a cloud of sparks and stone splinters.
“You’ll have to do better if you really want me to stick around,” said Tommy shakily, but somehow feeling new courage and determination burning in his chest.
“You can run, but I’ll get you eventually. I’ve got all eternity to catch you.”
“Well I haven’t! I want to leave, and I want to leave now!”
Dan-Guar threw his spear at little Tommy.
Tommy sprang aside again. When the spear passed beside him the sharp tip of its iron head somehow stretched towards him as if attempting to cut him open, and it did.
“Ahhhh!” Tommy howled in pain.
Blood was streaming out of his arm like water out of a broken hydrant. The spear had made a long deep cut, which Tommy was covering with one hand.
His cheeks were red with rage. Full of that rage, biting his lips because of the pain, for the first time Tommy looked deep into the warrior’s eyes. It seemed at times that the outsized Indian brave was starting to shrink.
“Your eyes see what your mind shows them,” the voice said again in his mind.
“C’mon you tinpot warrior! Can’t you finish me off? Your very size is making you clumsy and slow,” Tommy shouted, beside himself with rage.
The more he shouted, the more he shed his fear, and his opponent, who had obviously been feeding off that very fear, was still shrinking in size. Again and again Tommy dodged axe blows and spear thrusts, but he was tiring fast. The warrior, who wasn’t at all big by now, still had plenty of energy. Once again Tommy heard the voice:
“Only an illuminated being can defeat him!”
“Illuminated? I wonder what that means. Pure...? or very intelligent, producing or giving off light? Perhaps that’s it!” He nimbly reached into his backpack, pulled out the torch like a flash, and illuminated the warrior at the very instant it seemed he was going to finish Tommy off.
An intense, concentrated beam of light came out of the torch, more like lightning than the candle-power of a common or garden torch. The beam shot out with such strength it made the kid’s hand shake violently and he nearly dropped the torch on the ground. But he didn’t, he was so desperate he clutched it tighter still.
The light went right through the warrior’s body, and he disappeared with a long pitiful howl... leaving in his place a short, pot-bellied, rather short sighted, amiable-looking Indian in the middle of a cloud of smoke.
“Oh, not again! If this keeps on happening nobody’s going to take us seriously, and we’ll lose all our tenants at the cemetery.”
“Who are you,” asked Tommy, both amazed and relieved.
“I’m Guardan, the administrator of this sieve of a cemetery.”
“Well, I’ve licked your titan, so you’ll have to let me go ... and I’m entitled to your warrior’s treasure!”
“What treasure?” asked Guardan, surprised.
“Your warrior’s treasure. I beat him. I won the fight. The legend says I’m entitled to the fallen warrior’s treasure.
“Ohh! The fallen warrior’s treasure ... I know what you mean! It’s not the treasure of our fallen guardian, it’s the treasure of a famous Indian warrior called Tabaré. He battled the forces of evil, maintaining the cosmic equilibrium. I’m afraid he lost a terrible battle against the forces of evil, and died. He left a legacy for his successor, which the legend might call a treasure, but I wouldn’t say ...”
“Well, that’s what I’ve earned ...”
“I’m sorry to tell you it isn’t here. The first one to defeat Guar-Dan claimed it for himself. Needless to say, he didn’t have the foggiest idea what he was letting himself in for.”
“And who was the lucky man?”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that, Tommy.”
“Oh, well. At least I’m free of the famous curse.”
“I’m sorry to tell you that you carry it in your blood,” declared Guardan.
Tommy was amazed by what the cemetery administrator told him, and he thought of protesting or asking for the complaint book. But he was longing to leave the place.
“Well, at least you’ll let me out, won’t you?”
“Yes, you earned that right when you beat that pathetic ninny of a warrior who calls himself a guardian. But I need help opening the gate because I can’t reach the lock, and we haven’t greased the hinges for ages so they’ll be stiff.”
The key proved to be in proportion to the gate, big and heavy. Tommy gave Guardan a foot-up, clenching his teeth because of the pain from the cut in his arm. The little Indian just managed to get the key into the lock, and then they both had to heave like mad to push the gate open just enough for Tommy to slip out.
“The thing is we don’t use it much,” Guardan explained as they said goodbye. “See you soon.”
“No you won’t”. As he was setting off Tommy remembered something.
“Guardan, can I ask you something?”
“Let’s see. Fire away.”
“Clota Pondporker, Odorus Pondporker’s wife, Cobblestone and Stick’s mom – has she been here?”
“Look, I really shouldn’t tell you, but as you haven’t been able to get anything else... Let me have a dekko at the files.” He took an enormous office file from under his tiny loincloth. There was no way he could have kept the file there.
“Nothing doing, Tommy. No entry here, not even a booking. What a pity! We have plenty of vacancies. It’s the low season you see.”
The Jeep bounced over the rough terrain, bucking like a wild colt. Five pairs of eyes peered into the distance, looking for some sign of the lost child. Somewhat surprisingly, Pedro was his usual calm self again, and displayed almost unhealthy confidence they were going to find him, as if he knew something ... Luli, Santi and their mother were standing in the back of the vehicle, shouting Tommy’s name in all directions.
An eagle passed over them as if distracted, and let out a shrill cry. Then it flew away quickly.
“Luli, they’ve found him! They’ve found him!” shouted Brownie in his animal language, which only the two kids could understand.
“Where? Is he all right?”
“Over there. Do you see that big thick wood, at the foot of those hills?”
“Mom! Dad! He’s there, in that wood,” Santi burst out, not at all discreetly.
“Where?” asked Jazmin. “That wood over there? But it’s quite far off. Are you quite sure, Santi? How do you know Tommy’s there?”
“It’s ... well ... er ... um,” stammered the young lad.
“We saw something, a sort of flash, coming from there,” said Luli, rushing to Santi’s rescue. She stuck her elbow into his hip.
“What do you think, Pedro? Isn’t it too far away?”
“It is, rather. But it’s worth a try. Fact is, we’ve been driving all over the hills, and I just don’t know where to look next,” he replied.
The wood was about two miles from where the tornado had snatched Tommy off the summit of the ridge, but they drove towards it as fast as possible, with raised hopes. It took them about fifteen minutes to reach the edge of the wood. From a distance it was hard to tell, but the trees in the wood were really enormous. They were obviously quite old and there was a surprisingly rich variety: eucalyptus, pine, cypress, palm trees and others, all in harmony.
Luli was guiding Pedro towards the track into the wood as if she knew the way perfectly. Of course he and Jazmin never noticed Brownie standing on her shoulder, whispering into her ear.
After another (eternal!) twenty minutes driving along the track through the wood, which turned out to be much bigger than it seemed from a distance, they came to large clearing, about eighty yards in diameter. Right in the middle there was a gigantic oak, branches spreading out to the size of a circus tent.
“There Luli, in the ROBLENT. Your brother’s there!” the little rabbit told her.
“Here Dad! In the tree... I think he’s there!” said Luli, looking at it but hardly believing herself.
They drove up to the oak and turned off the engine. They got out of the Jeep and looked up at the branches and foliage, slowly, respectfully. It was as if they were actually entering the giant tree.
The amount of ground covered by the tree’s branches was incredible. Sunlight only just managed to filter through, making beams that danced to the breeze.
Luli ran up to the enormous trunk, and started to climb. After she was long lost to view, they heard her shouts of joy.
“Here he is! I’ve found him! Hurrah!”
From below, the others replied with their own shouts of joy. Luli climbed back down and ran into her parents’ arms for a hug, though Tommy was still up the tree.
“Luli, Luli’s, where’s Tommy? Why hasn’t he come down?” asked Jaz, frightened.
“He’s unconscious I think, but he’s breathing. I couldn’t wake him up. We’ll have to get him down somehow!”
Pedro raced back to the Jeep and came back with a rope over his shoulder.
“Come on Luli, show me the way.”
They climbed back up to where Tommy was. He looked as if he were sleeping, a peaceful expression on his face, but badly hurt, scrapes all over him.
Pedro passed one end of the rope under Tommy’s armpits and tied a knot. They began to lower him slowly, very slowly. Luli clambered down to be at the same level and take care of him. When they finally got him down Jaz held him in her arms, bathing him in tears and kissing him all over.
As soon as Pedro came down, they had a better look at Tommy. He really was black and blue all over, cuts and grazes everywhere. They saw bloodstains on his sleeve, tore it off and saw the terrible scar. The strange thing was that the wound on his arm, and all the rest of the cuts and scrapes were perfectly healed, as if he’d had the scars for years. Except for the fact that they couldn’t wake him up, he seemed quite okay.
While her parents were carrying Tommy carefully to the Jeep, Luli went up to the tree-trunk and hugged it, or at least tried to, tightly, putting her cheek to the bark.
“Thank you, thank you, dear tree for looking after my little brother.”
Some strange energy started to flow into Luli through her hands, filling her heart. She felt wonderful, completely at peace. She left the tree slowly and went to the Jeep, where the others were waiting. She climbed in and they started the drive back as quickly as they could. They had to get the unconscious child to a doctor urgently.
As they sped over the rough track, Luli sat next to Tommy and took him into her arms so the jolting wouldn’t hurt him. She hugged him tightly, and without her realizing, the energy she had received began to flow into her injured brother. His eyes slowly opened.
“Luli, Santi! I missed you! How wonderful to be with you again!