One Mystery Solved
"I'm not a baby," Holly muttered to herself as she slid down to the floor of the cave, folding her legs Indian-style. She fiddled with a coil of rope hanging at her belt and glared at her father and her brother. She said under her breath, "You're always telling me to stay out of the way."
Rick stopped with his experiments at the matrix table. "Holly," he said sharply, stepping around the table to face his daughter. "We may be in Enik's cave, but we're not safe. Even though it's their dormant season, the Sleestak could awaken at any time."
"I know, Dad! But I could help! Just give me something to do."
"We don't have time to argue," Rick said sternly. "Enik may be back at any moment, and I don't think he's doing to be pleased that we're messing around with his matrix table."
Will, keeping guard at the doorway, glanced back over his shoulder at his father. "Dad, maybe you should wait until Enik gets back," he suggested.
Rick glanced up at Will, but continued lecturing Holly instead of answering his son. "The time doorways and matrix tables are dangerous things. You can either help your brother stand guard, or you can sit quietly and watch, but you may not touch crystals on the matrix table or wander the caves and explore. If we explore, we explore together."
"Yeah," Will chimed in. "You don't want to end up as dinner for the Sleestak God, do you?"
Holly leaned her back against the wall of the cave and stuck her tongue out at Will as soon as Rick returned to studying the matrix table. Will returned the favor, then turned back to watching the corridor for Sleestak.
"I'm not a baby," she muttered. She closed her eyes and pressed the back of her head against the wall, feeling the cold of the cavern through her hair. "I'll show you both."
Kirkwood, Scotland, 1759
"Maggie, stay out of the way!" John Dumphries scolded his youngest daughter. He stood on the deck of his small fishing boat, coiling the line in his right hand, pipe firmly clasped between his blackened teeth. Gulls screeched and wheeled overhead, pecking at the scraps of cod the fishermen threw off the decks of their ships after gutting and cleaning the fish to prepare it for salting.
Maggie's brother Ian stowed the sails in the aft compartment of the tight little fishing vessel. "Yeah, girlie, go back to the croft and do the mending, for the love of God!" Ian stuck his tongue out at Maggie. Maggie returned the favor.
"Margaret Dumphries, you act like a lady!" John scolded his daughter. "What would your poor mother say about your behavior, now?"
"Ya! You act like a baby." Ian grinned. He knew just how to get under her skin.
She flounced off the deck, taking one great leap to the shore, her skirts and petticoats crinkling. "I am not such a baby, that!" she cried over her shoulder. "Da, it's not fair! I can help aboard, I can. I can stow sails as well as Ian, if not better, and I can coil the lines. I can wash the deck later too. Just let me stay and help."
"Ah, Mag, fishing is men's work," John Dumphries smiled at his youngest daughter. "You're never going to catch a husband if you stay with the men folk and catch fish."
"With a face like that, she ain't never going to catch a husband anyway," Ian teased.
"Enough of you, Ian Dumphries!" Maggie shouted. She whirled away and bounded with flying leaps, her lithe body skimming the ground as she dashed away from the quay. The other men in the village were also pulling up their boats, taking in their nets, and stowing their gear. Tomorrow was the Sabbath. No fishing, then, but the day of rest. She dashed between wooden crates filled with dried and salted cod, the village of Kirkwell's major export to England and her colonies. She wove in and out among the groups on the shore, skirting the edges of the quay, then running up the hills of heather towards their tiny croft cottage on the moor.
The one room cottage was dark and smoke-scented. Maggie sank to the dirt floor and buried her face in her arms and sobbed. When would they realize she wasn't a baby? She was twelve years old, the lady of the family since her mother had passed on when she was just a babe. She cooked, cleaned and sewed for her father and for Ian, but she yearned for adventure, to row out through the lochs and rivers to the sea and fish with the men folk during the week.
The sun slanted through the tiny smoke-chimney opening in the thatched roof, and the single ray marched through the inches to mark passing of an hour. With a sniffle, Maggie wiped her nose and eyes on the hem of her apron, and rose to her feet. No matter how angry and disappointed she was, there was work to do. She left the croft and took as many large sticks of wood as she could carry from the pile behind the cottage and brought these back inside, where she built the fire. She set the kettle on the hob and took the peeling pan to the front yard. A scrawny chicken pecked at the dirt path. She threw her a potato peel, dried to the edges of the pan, which the chicken clucked at eagerly. Maggie settled on her heels, her back against the thatched croft, and used a sharp knife to peel the potatoes.��
Someday, she thought, her blue eyes seeking the horizon among the heather, someday, I'll prove to them just how brave I am!
"Anything yet, Dad?" Will asked his father. He had been standing guard for three quarters of an hour and he was getting tired. Except for the steady drip-drip of a water source somewhere deep in the caverns, the Lost City was quiet. Nothing stirred.
The matrix table hummed; the glowing jewels pulsed quickly. To Will, the table seemed angry every time his father touched the crystals. It had been an unproductive afternoon.
"No," Rick sighed. "Nothing at all. I get it to make noises. The lights blink faster or slower. But I can't get the time doorway to open."
Holly, who had been sulking by herself for a while, said, "Can we try yet?"
"Yeah, Dad, how about letting me and Holly give it a go? You'll be right here."
�� Rick shook his head. "No, Holly. I don't want you or Will touching it. It's too dangerous."
"But you do it," Holly protested.
For once, Will agreed with her. "Yeah, Dad," Will said. "Look, I hate to argue with you, but this time, Holly's right. Most of the time you know lots more about stuff than we do, but in this case, we know just as much about the matrix tables as you do. Maybe more."
"Will, don't get cocky," Rick warned.
"Will's right, Daddy," Holly said. "After all, he did open the time doorway on top of the mountain, when Colonel Jackson's glider came through."
"And nearly destroyed us all when the hurricane winds came roaring through," Rick said. "Will, Holly, this is my final word. The time doorways are dangerous, and so are the matrix tables. You are not to touch them unless I'm here. Do you understand?"
Will and Holly nodded mutely. Will caught Holly's eye. There was complete understanding between them. Holly nodded. Yes, she seemed to say, this time Daddy's wrong and we're right.
Soft, measured footsteps in the corridor made them all jump. "Quick, Will, Holly!" Rick said softly. "Get ready to run. It could be a Sleestak."
"No," a familiar voice from the doorway said. "It is an Altrusian. Rick Marshall. What are you doing in my chambers?"
Enik entered his chamber and looked around. He spied Will and Holly crouched on the floor. "An unusual greeting," he said to the children. "An Earth-custom of yours?" He tried to crouch down in imitation, but his legs refused to bend all the way, and he had to grasp the edges of the matrix table to support himself.
Holly and Will both ran to their friend and grasped him under the arms to steady him. "Uh, no, not exactly, Enik," Will said. "It was a reaction to fear. We thought you were a Sleestak."
"Ah. Interesting." Enik righted himself. He glanced around his chambers, his gaze resting on the matrix table. "Who has touched the matrix table?"
No one answered. Finally, Rick said, "I did. We thought we could find our time doorway…"
"How?" When none of the Marshalls answered, Enik said coldly, "Rick Marshall, I have warned you before. The time doorways and the matrix tables are dangerous. You cannot open them through trial and error. It takes scientific study, a knowledge of temporal physics, and some telepathic ability to link to the matrix tables. You are not capable of opening a time doorway through accident."
"But we did, Enik," Will said. "That is, Holly and me, we did it. On top of the mountain."
Enik studied them for a moment. "Then why have you not allowed Will and Holly Marshall to try the matrix table?" he asked Rick. "If they have proven to be able to open a time doorway in the past, it stands to reason they would be able to open one now."
For once, Rick was at a loss for words. "I - I - it just seemed to me - it seemed dangerous and –"
Enik made several sweeping gestures with his clawed hands over the matrix table, and the violently flashing lights quieted. The hum lowered in pitch as the table shut down. Reflectively, he touched the pylon-shaped crystal hanging from his vestments. There was silence in the rooms for a moment. Then he said, "It is good that I have found you, although I am most displeased to find you in my chambers."
"I know," Rick said. "I'm sorry."
"I do not enter your cave without permission," Enik said. "So you should not enter my cave without my permission."
"He's got you there, Dad," Will murmured.
"Why is it good that you found us, Mr. Enik?" Holly asked.
"I have found a most interesting cavern," Enik said. "I have been exploring deep within the Lost City to ascertain the layout of this place. The layout of this city is different from the city I knew in Altrusia, although there are some similarities. I thought it logical to map the caves, and compare them to my memory of my home. This way, I could determine which caverns should have matrix tables, and which should not, providing me with a list of viable locations for a time doorway."
"A logical deduction, of course," Rick said.
"Of course," Enik continued. "And to ensure my safety, I have chosen the Sleestak dormant season to do my investigating."
"Why aren't you dormant?" Will asked.
"Will, that might be a rude question!" Rick said under his breath.
"Rude?" Enik pondered the word. "If I understand the human definition of rude, as being asking questions of a personal nature, then the answer is yes. It is a rude question. I will ignore it."
"But do you sleep –?" Holly asked.
"Holly!" Rick hissed.
"My brain goes into cycles of deep theta waves, every eighteen of your Earth hours," Enik answered. "During this cycle, I am effectively 'asleep.' I may be standing, I may be lying down, but for the space of several minutes, I am what you would term sleeping. It is enough for my body to perform necessary tissue repairs. Have I explained this sufficiently?" The Marshalls nodded.
"Enik, what about this cavern?" Rick asked.
"Come," Enik beckoned to Rick. "I will take you to see it. There are symbols on the walls which are not Altrusian. I do not believe the Sleestak evolved a separate form of writing. They are degenerates, and most likely, our writing de-evolved with them. This writing is unfamiliar to me. I am hoping that you may be able to identify it."
"It could be English writing!" Will cried. "From someone who's been here before, and found a way out. C'mon Dad, let's go see."
"It is dangerous to get to the cavern," Enik warned. "I suggest that only Rick Marshall accompany me."
"Dangerous?" Rick asked. "What are the dangers?"
�������� "First," Enik said, "one must pass through a chamber of dormant Sleestaks. There are fifty Sleestaks in this chamber."
Rick swallowed. "And?"
"There are numerous arachnids in the large chambers. I do not think they are harmful to me, but they could be poisonous to a human."
"The chamber is reached only by crossing a rope bridge," Enik said. "The bridge was erected long ago and it is in disrepair. Even when I crossed it, my weight snapped two of the rope steps. The drop is precipitous."
"A stone dropped from the bridge did not make a noise after ten of your Earth minutes," Enik replied. "Although, eventually of course, it would at some point create a sound wave after it struck another stone."
Will whistled softly. "A bottomless crevasse!"
"A colorful turn of phrase," Enik said. "But an adequate description. Yes. I would suggest that only one of you accompany me in case we should die."
There was silence in the cavern. "Daddy, let me do it!" Holly cried. "I'm light enough. I could walk across that rope bridge and hardy break anything."
"But you're afraid of heights, remember?" Will asked. "I should go."
"It doesn't matter," Rick replied. "Will and Holly, you stay here. It is too dangerous and I won't let you take
the risk. Enik, can you erect your
force field again so that Will and Holly are safe, in case the Sleestak
"I will show you how to de-activate it from the inside if you should wish to leave," Enik promised.
"Dad, I still think we should go with you," Holly said. "You're always telling us we have to stick together."
"Yeah, Dad," Will said.
Rick just shook his head. "In this case, I want you two here, safe."
Although the children continued to protest, Rick argued them down each time. Sullenly, Will and Holly retreated to the far wall and waited while Enik showed them how to active and de-activate the force field. "But do not come after us until such time has passed as you feel it would be unlikely we were safe," Enik cautioned them. "Do you carry chronometers similar to your father's?" He pointed to Rick's wristwatch.
"I have mine," Will said. The band had broken, so he kept it in his pocket, but he pulled it out now to show to Enik.
"Will, time us on your watch," Rick said. "If we're not back by the end of two hours, gather some crystals and come after us. Find a length of Sleestak rope and come after us."
"Okay, Dad," Will said.
"I still think I could do it," Holly said. "I've done scarier things."
Rick smiled fondly at his young daughter. "I know, honey," he said. "But this time, I'll go with Enik. You two stay here."
And with that, he left with the Altrusian. Will activated the force field as Enik had shown him. He and Holly were left staring at each other over the matrix table.
"Well?" Will said.
"Well what?" Holly replied. "Daddy told us to stay here."
"Of course," Will said smoothly. "But you also heard what Enik said about the matrix table and the time doorway. It's only logical that we should experiment a bit…" He ran his fingertips lightly over the edge of the table. Instantly, a soft light suffused the crystals, and a low, crooning hum filled the air. "See that? It likes me already."
"Well, Holly? You said you wanted to help. What if we could open the time doorway home? Think about it!"
"I think you're going to get us into trouble," Holly said. She sat down again in the same spot she was in before, with her back pressed against the wall of Enik's cave. "I'm just going to sit right here. You go ahead."
Will grinned at her. "All right. But you're going to miss out on the glory if I open a time doorway…"
"Don't worry," Holly assured him. "You can have it!"
Slowly, Will began touching crystals on the matrix table.
Kirkwood, Scotland, 1759
Sundays were a fine day in Kirkwood. Maggie donned her other dress, a gown of deep blue, with an apron embroidered with blue flowers, and a bonnet that matched the apron. Ian and John Dumphries pulled on clean leggings and breaches, cleaned their boots as best they could, and pulled their caps over neatly combed hair. The Dumphries family walked the five miles to Kirkwood, to the tiny church nestled amidst the shops across from the town square. Maggie loved church. She greeted the ladies of the village, she smiled at her friends, and took her place in the back of the church with the other fishing families to hear the Reverend Anderson's sermon.
After church, they visited her mother's grave. She picked a small nosegay of violets and left them against the plain headstone that read simply "Jenny Marshall Dumphries. Beloved wife and mother." Then, they walked the five miles back to the croft very slowly, their father spinning stories of fairies and ghosts, of times long past when magic ruled the day as they walked the rolling hills of heather and violets and the sun warmed them through their clothes.
Evening settled in the croft too early for Maggie's taste. She made a supper of cold ham and boiled greens, and Da had his pipe, and Ian sat by the fire, mending the nets. Wrapped in one of her mother's old patched cloaks, Maggie warmed her hands by the fire as the spring chill settled in with the dark. An involuntary shuddered passed through her.
"Why Mags, ghosties step on your grave?" her father smiled.
Maggie shrugged. "Dunno, Da," she said. "I just felt a shiver pass through me."
"She's believing your tales of ghosties again, Da," Ian grinned at his sister. "C'mon, Mag, there's no such thing as the creatures in Da's stories. They're just stories, is all."
"Aye, but the Reverend Anderson read the story of Jonah today," Maggie said. "So there be monsters, for it says so in the Bible."
"Aye, that be so," John Dumphries acknowledged. "For it says so in the Bible."
"You don't believe in that old tale, do you?" Ian asked.
John cuffed him aside the head. "You mind your tongue," he said sharply. "For if it be so in the Bible, it be so."
"I'll not believe it until I see it!" Ian Dumphries declared, and with that, he went into the croft to prepare for night.
Rick followed Enik through twisting caverns, some so narrow that he had to walk sideways through them, others wide but so low that he had to crawl on hands and knees behind the Altrusian. The dark pressed upon them grievously, and Rick clicked together two crystals to give himself some light which seemed to annoy Enik.�� Rick insisted upon marking their route with a rock which he scraped against the walls, drawing arrows to indicate the direction, and double arrows whenever they changed direction or whenever there several routes which could be followed.
"It amazes me that you don't have to mark your path," Rick said to Enik as they twisted and corkscrewed through a particularly torturous upward sloping passageway.
"As I cannot understand the human's incessant need for light," Enik said, shielding his eyes from the white-hot glare of the touching crystals in Rick's hand. "Can you not simply grasp the hem of my tunic and follow?"
"I could, but I'm afraid of losing you in the caverns."
"Does not your internal sense tell you the route?" Enik said.
"Not down here. On the surface, yes."
"Interesting," was all Enik would say.
The narrow passageways sloped upwards. Rick felt a burning sensation in the back of his calves and his breathing was labored as he following Enik blindly through the dark. He kept one hand on the walls, and sometimes he touched moisture as water dripped through the cavern. At other places, the walls were surprisingly warm, as if warm air currents flowed through a hidden chimney.
Finally, the two emerged into a large cavern. In the darkness, Rick could barely see a crevasse, and the bridge Enik had mentioned spanning each side. Rick added a third crystal to the pile, and placed the whole upon on a flat topped rock to the right of the bridge. White-hot light flowed from the pile of stones, illuminating a tattered and rotted rope bridge, with planks forming crude stepping-points. The ends of the rope were bound around stalagmites on either side of the bridge. He stepped to the edge, and tapped it with his booted foot. The ropes creaked under the slightest pressure, and the whole apparatus swayed.
"As I said, the bridge is in poor repair," Enik said. "I recommend caution."
"Do you want to go first, or shall I?"
Gingerly, Rick stepped out onto the bridge. It groaned under his weight, and the ropes pulled against the rock anchors. He grasped the side ropes, then dropped them hurriedly when his hands were left coated with an unidentifiable slime. The light from his crystals illuminated only three quarters of the bridge. The last quarter remained in gloomy shadows, a darkness never penetrated by light. He stepped as calmly as he could from plank to plank, sometimes reaching with all his strength for the next one because some were missing.
As he reached the edge of the light, one plank snapped under his weight. Scrambling, Rick grasped the slimy rope with all his might, hauling himself to the opposite side of the crevasse. He heard the plank snap and half of it fall. But even as his hammering heart thudded in his ears, he listened for it to hit.
It never did…or he couldn't hear it when it did.
Enik said calmly, "You are almost up to the dangerous point. I recommend extreme caution."
And he crossed this by himself? Rick thought, clenching his teeth to prevent an angry retort from leaving his lips.
The bridge swayed from the force of the broken plank and Rick's mad scramble to the next plank. Now it settled down to a steady bobbing, and Rick steeled himself for the worst. He placed his foot upon the next plank, and the next. Nothing. In fact, these planks seemed steadier than the ones on the side from which he had left.
"Enik!" he called as he reached with his foot for the next plank. "What's so dangerous about this side –"
He foot connected to nothing but air. He slid precariously on the ropes, trying to maintain his balance while the bridge bobbed and swayed.
"There are no more planks," Enik called calmly. "You will have to jump."
Gasping for breath, Rick leaned his chest against the rope handrails, his feet resting on the last plank as Enik's words sunk into his mind. "Are you telling me I have to jump over a bottomless crevasse to a ledge I can't even see?"
"Yes. You have stated the situation correctly."
"Enik, humans can't do that in the dark."
"Have you done this before?"
"No, of course not!"
"If you have never done this in the past, how do you know that you cannot do so now?"
"Because common sense tells me I can't, that's why! I don't want to die trying."
"Then you shall die by not finding out," Enik replied, "for on the opposite shore could be a clue to the way to leave this place."
Rick forced himself to take several deep breaths. Enik was right. If he didn't try, if he didn't make an attempt…but Will and Holly! What if he fell? They would be left stranded, orphaned! He couldn't.
But what was worse…to die trying, or die knowing he hadn't tried?
Before he could think any more, before he could picture the crevasse and all its attendant horrors, Rick jumped.
For a split second, he was suspended in air. Then he felt rock underfoot, and he crashed face first into a rock wall. The force nearly propelled him backwards into the crevasse, but his fingers connected with a small outcropping, and he held fast. He grasped the rock, grateful to feel its solidity underfoot and before him.
"Rick Marshall? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Enik, I'm fine!" Rick called. Then, angrily: "How come you didn't tell me it was only about a meter?"
"You never asked."
Damn that Altrusian logic! Rick thought. Aloud, he said, "Let me make another light." He removed several crystals from his pocket, and placed them on the ground at his feet. He nudged them closer with the tip of his boot until they were touching. A white glow suffused the air. He could see now that he was standing on a narrow, three foot wide ledge. Sheer rock greeted him. The crevasse glittered like a dark ribbon before him, curving around out of sight. The rope bridge was swaying from the force of his jump and from Enik's bulk as the Altrusian stepped to the other side. Rick turned away and studied the rock, but the ledge curved around and out of sight.
"The entrance to the large cavern is beyond," Enik said. Rick marveled at the Altrusian's steady, turtle-like persistence as he stepped solidly from one plank to the other with even, measured steps.
"Just a little farther…" Rick said encouragingly.
"I am aware of that."
Suddenly, the ropes' groaning changed pitch. The higher sound was a short warning before the inevitable happened. "Enik! Look out!"
The ropes, with sickening slowness, began snapping on the side from which they had come.
With a mighty leap, Enik cleared the last several feet and landed on the ledge next to Rick as the ropes snapped. With a crash and a clatter, the bridge collapsed, hanging from the ledge upon which they stood.
Rick's heart hammered in his throat. "Now what will we do to get back?"
"Never fear," Enik said calmly. "Three choices are available to us. That is good."
�� "Good! We're stuck in a strange cavern with no way back! What if the Sleestak - "
"The dormant Sleestak are in the far cavern," Enik replied.
"I know! What if they wake while we're in there with them? We'll be dead!"
"No. We will follow them out."
Rick paused. "What?"
"This bridge could not support a group of Sleestak crossing it once a season," Enik said. "So, logic dictates that there must be another way out of the far cavern. A way into the other caverns of the Lost City, or perhaps an exit to the open air of the valley."
Rick breathed easier. "So that's one of our options. Find another way out. You said there were three."
"Two, we can wait for Will and Holly to construct a new bridge for our exit."
Rick didn't like that idea. "We have to get back to them before the two hours have elapsed," he said. "It's too dangerous for them in that cavern. They might get hurt trying to construct the bridge. The third option?"
"You and I must find a new way to construct the bridge."
"I'm not much of an engineer," Rick said. "My brother Jack's the engineer. But okay. So two out of three isn't bad."
Glad to put the bridge behind them, Rick followed Enik around the rock ledge.
Maggie Dumphries awoke with a start. She had been dreaming the dream again. The dream the Reverend Anderson had told her was an evil omen.
In the dream, she was down by the loch. She felt cold. A golden mist crawled across the surface of the loch. Suddenly, the dark waters were breached by an enormous green sea serpent…
She shivered and pulled the woolen blanket closer around her shoulders. Her brother Ian snored from his cot across the other side of the croft. Her father lay by Ian's side, the two huddled together for warmth. The croft was chilly in the spring night. She heard the lambs bleating in the meadow and the short bark of their dog as he herded the lambs back into a tight circle around the croft.
It's all right, she thought with relief, Only a dream.
But tomorrow, she'd go down to the loch with her father and Ian just to make sure.
They finally emerged from the twisting corridors into a huge cavern. Niches lined the walls. Rick shuddered at the immobile forms of the Sleestaks ranged about the room and covered with webs. Large albino cave spiders, each one the size of a rat, scurried along the floor and away from them as the light from the crystals pierced the gloom. The air was dank and cold and smelled musty. The sand underfoot crunched with broken bits of rock and crystal.
"This is the main dormancy cave," Enik said. "And the spider habitat. I am not sure yet if they are poisonous to humans, and I do not wish to make that discovery with you. I am as immune to their bite as the Sleestak are, for my thick skin deflects much of their fangs. But your skin is constructed differently. I recommend caution."
"Thanks much," Rick muttered, and he was very glad that Holly hadn't come along. One albino, the size of a guinea pig, stopped arrogantly in front of them as they walked through the center of the cave. It reared on its hind four feet and clicked together its front legs, making a soft chittering sound that echoed through the cave and made Rick shudder with primordial fear.
"Get me out of here," he whispered under his breath as he followed quickly behind Enik, who waved his arms and used his telepathic ability to send the rest of the monsters scurrying.
They left through the center of three passages, and continued down a good sized corridor braced with well-crafted beams - beams probably created by Altrusian craftsman, Rick thought, comparing them to other Altrusian made items he had seen in the Land of the Lost.
They passed by an interesting cave which Rick asked Enik to stop a minute so he could see. It was a Sleestak work room. A primitive loom made of wood stood in the center. A pile of drying reeds was in the corner. Some rope was coiled under the spinning wheel. Rick picked up a hollowed out gourd and dropped his crystals inside, making a sort of lantern. The omnipresent webs had coated the warp and weft of the loom during the Sleestak's dormant period, and the albino arachnids scurried for cover when Rick's light pierced the cave.
"How interesting," he murmured. "So they do have some rudimentary skills, after all. The loom looks almost human-made."
"Yes," Enik confirmed. "Altrusian looms for making natural fiber cloth do not look the same. One would think that, logically, the Sleestaks would use a loom similar to the Altrusian loom. Fascinating."
Rick reluctantly left the cave and followed Enik down more corridors until finally, after much uphill climb, they emerged into the cavern in question.
"Oh my," Rick breathed in amazement as his light touched the writing on the walls.
"Then you do recognize the writing," Enik said.
"Indeed, yes," Rick replied as he began walking towards the rope bridge. He eyes roamed the cavern in amazement. "I recognize it immediately."
"Will…." Holly didn't know whether to join her brother at the matrix table, or continue to scold him from her position on the floor. Finally she gave in to her curiosity and stood to his right, leaning over the matrix table. "How are you getting it to do these things?"
"I don't know," he grinned at her. "It just likes me."
The matrix table hummed and throbbed with a steady, almost living sound. A thick sheet of mist covered the wall of the cave where Holly had been sitting. Every few seconds, a picture flickered tantalizingly on the wall as Will opened a time doorway a crack.
"Oooh…" Holly didn't dare to breathe. She stepped closer to the rock wall as the images danced. "Will, I think you're actually opening a time doorway."
The mists parted. Brother and sister stared at the image of a city, glistening with silver-sided buildings and glass windows winking in a warm, yellow-white sun. The city sat atop a hillside overlooking a sunlit sea, and cascades of yellow star-shaped flowers bloomed raucously on the hillside, making a carpet for the sun.
"Is it…" Holly could barely form the words. "Is it Earth? But in the future?"
"I don't know," Will whispered. Tentatively, he reached out and touched a green crystal. As if using a zoom lens, the time doorway zoomed in on one building in particular, a low, two-story building. In front was a plaza with a rock fountain. Two humans sat on the edge of the fountain conversing, a man and a woman. As the Marshall children watched, a blue-skinned alien with green eyes, wearing a white leather tunic, approached, bowed, and joined the conversation.
"It's not Earth," Will said finally. But the picture was so beautiful. He felt drawn right into the time doorway. Holly too had taken yet one more step closer. "But it's so beautiful…"
"And peaceful," Holly whispered. "Will, this is weird. I feel like I belong there."
"I know…me too…" Will replied.
But the time doorway was finished with this image. The mists thickened, darkened. The wall was obscured by the white gold curtain of mist, and the image disappeared.
"I wish we could ask Enik where that was," Holly whispered. "I bet he would know."
"He might not," Will replied, "Enik doesn't know everything."
"He knows a lot more than you."
"I agree with you on that." Will continued touching crystals on the matrix table, but the only result was a deeper humming sound from the table.
Rick walked once around the large cavern with his neck and head craned back to view the writing. Enik created a light from several crystals arranged in a wooden basket, and it was enough to shine onto the cavern walls and illuminate the writing.
"I've seen this writing before," Rick said.
"Where?" Enik asked. "Can you read it?"
Rick shook his head. "I can't read it," he replied. "But I've seen it before, outside of the Lost City. There's a ruined temple with some strange objects inside, including a large, streamlined matrix table and a black statue of a human being. Outside of the temple there's a stone with this writing on it. It looks almost like runes…"
He studied the mysterious writing for several minutes. Something looked odd about the end of the last line. It slanted upwards at a curious angle.
Rick handed the gourd light to Enik, and the Altrusian held the light aloft so that the beams fell on the darkness beyond the words. The wall beyond appeared to be made of solid granite, with tiny flecks of mica dotting its surface. On the opposite side of the cavern was a large fin of rock, rising up like a large finger pointing heavenwards.
"There's got to be a clue here, somewhere!" Rick said.
"Will, I don't think you should be doing that," Holly said nervously.
Will laughed. "You sound just like Dad," he said. He touched two sets of red crystals set within the heart of the matrix table. The table responded with a resonant hum, the sound deepening and reverberating from the walls of Enik's cave. Crystals on the walls appeared to pick up the vibration, and several burst into fiery light so that the whole of Enik's cave was bathed in a rich ruby glow, the light turning Holly's straw colored braids auburn.
"Will, this doesn't look good."
"Holly, we've only got another hour or so until Dad and Enik get back," Will replied vehemently. "And I don't plan to sit here and watch the time go by. I want to get out of here and I want to go home. Are you going to help me, or not?"
Holly stood by his side next to the matrix table. "Touch that one," she said, pointing to a yellow stone blinking furiously from the upper left hand corner of the table.
"I don't know. Why did you touch the red ones?"
"Hey, I'm trying to keep to a pattern here."
"It looks like you're making a mess."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence!" Will continued touching crystals. Nothing happened. He dropped his hands to his sides and sighed in disgust. "I can't get this darned thing to do anything."
"Well if Enik can't open a time doorway home, what makes you think you can?" Idly, Holly reached over and picked up a yellow crystal from the edge of the matrix table.
Suddenly, a deep rumble shook the cavern. The time doorway mists thickened and shimmered. A golden beam penetrated the cavern. Will cried out and raised his hands to shield his face as the rumbling grew louder and the floor rocked underfoot.
"Holly! Put it back! Put it back!"
"Will, I can't see because of the light!" Holly screamed in return.
The rumbling grew louder, and the cavern began to shake. Rocks tumbled from the falls and the matrix table swayed wildly. Holly stumbled into her brother. Will closed his eyes to keep out the bright light and grasped Holly by the hands. She was still holding the yellow crystal. He guided her hands to approximately where he thought the missing crystal belonged, then shouted above the din, "Drop the crystal, Holly! I think you'll place it all right."
The crystal dropped and bounced to the table. As it touched the other crystals, sparks and smoke wafted from the top of the table. The room rocked, and the golden beam of light raked unsteadily around the room. "Will! We've got to get the crystal back in place!"
The light was so intense it hurt his eyes, but Will opened them a crack, and using the tip of his fingers, he nudged the yellow crystal back into place.
Instantly, the rumbling ceased. The smoke cleared from the matrix table. The mists of the time doorway vanished. They were left coughing and rubbing their tearing eyes.
"Are you okay?" Will asked Holly.
"I…I think so." Holly peered over the edge of the matrix table. "Uh oh."
Will followed her gaze. "Oh no," he whispered.
The matrix table was dark. Many of the crystals were blackened like burned out light bulbs. The table, which always emitted a low frequency hum, was silent.
"We've done it now," Holly whispered. "What are we going to tell Enik?"
"Worse," Will swallowed, "what are we going
to tell Dad?"
The quake hit the bowels of the Lost City without warning. Rick was perched precariously upon Enik's sturdy shoulders, examining as best as he could the thin fin of rock protruding beyond the words written by the mysterious race. Suddenly the ground started shaking, an eerie, high pitched keening wail sounded in the cavern. Enik could not brace himself in time, and Rick tumbled to the cavern floor.
"My matrix table!" Enik gasped as the ground shook and rocks tumbled around them.
Rick kept his arms over his head to ward off the rain of pebbles and small stones that cascaded from the ceiling of the cavern. "Will, Holly!" he shouted involuntarily.
"Are the likely cause of this," Enik muttered. "My matrix table!"
When the shaking finally stopped, Rick raised his face from the ground. "Enik!" he cried, pointing to the fin of rock. "Look!"
"No, Maggie, you can't come with us!" John Dumphries said for the tenth time to his young daughter. She stood on the quay, moving aside every few seconds as another fisherman hurried by, dragging lines, nets or buoys. Ian was on deck stowing the gear for another day's fishing.
�������� "But Da…" Maggie argued. She stood at the edge of the quay, watching the waters warily. She did not tell her father about her dream.
"No arguing, Mags," John said firmly. She could see by the twitch at the corner of his mouth that he was at the limit of his deep patience. "Fishing is men's work. We'll be home for supper. Keep to the croft and tend the flocks. If you can today you may want to weed in the garden and draw some water from the well for the new plantings, they looked a bit peeked."
"Don't worry, Mags," Ian grinned mischievously from the deck of the little boat as his father climbed aboard and began untying the mooring rope. "We'll be sure to tell you all about our adventures."
"Ian, enough teasing of your sister," John snapped. With a wave, the boat set sail across the Loch to the fishing grounds across the waters. It was a fine, cool, sunny day in late spring, and a stiff breeze blew from the north. John Dumphries was happy, for the fishing ought to be good, the weather was fair, and if he had a good enough catch he could sell some in town for the merchants.
Maggie stood on the quay as, one by one, the other boats set sail. Soon she was left with a mongrel dog and a few of the folks who had stayed behind. The dog wandered off. She watched until her father's little boat became tiny, like a toy boat, then tinier still. She watched until the stiff breeze carried them to the horizon, and they were gone.
Slowly, she took up her basket and began the walk along the shore to the path that would take her back to the croft. Without warning, the ground began to shake.
"God's mercy!" she heard old Mrs. Asher cry from the ground next to her as they were flung to their faces on the heather.
"It's the end of the world!" Hugh McGregor cried as he held onto the quay post.
The ground shook and rumbled and reeled. Lightning flashed across the sky, and a strange golden ray of sunshine swept across the face of the Loch. Maggie held tightly to the heather and felt the ground roll under her like a pony trying to buck her off. She closed her eyes and prayed to her heavenly father to protect her, she begged blessed Jesus to watch over her soul and the souls of her father and brother out in their little boat on the loch, which suddenly looked like the ocean as whitecaps roared into shore.
As suddenly as it began, it ended. The ground stopped rumbling. Maggie sat up and felt sick to her stomach. Old Mrs. Asher staggered unsteadily to her feet; Maggie rose quickly to help her. "Och, Maggie my dear, are you all right?"
"Yes ma'am, I think so," Maggie said. She squinted out towards the water. "Did you see that golden ray of sunlight? It was so bright. It wasn't like anything I've ever seen before."
Mrs. Asher crossed herself. "A miracle, it is," she cried.
The loch was still foaming and rumbling, the waters heaving as if its own private earthquake still trembled beneath the emerald depths.
Suddenly, the waters parted. Mrs. Asher gasped and clutched her heart. "Oh sweet Jesus!" she moaned as something emerged from the depths.
Will and Holly looked in dismay at the darkened crystals. "We've got to do something," Holly said. She bit her lower lip. "If Enik finds this mess he's going to kill us."
"I'm more worried about Dad," Will replied. The acrid smoke clung to his nose, and he sneezed. "We opened a time doorway all right. But what happened?"
"It's like the matrix table blew up," Holly said. She leaned over and touched the yellow crystal she'd removed. Instantly, the table began to hum, although it was unsteady. Light pulsed in the remaining crystals.
"Well, we didn't break it totally," she said with relief. She reached out to remove the blackened stones but Will grabbed her hand.
"Holly, don't touch anything! We could make it worse." She pulled away from Will and stepped away from the table.
"But we've got to try to fix it!" Holly said. "Will, we can't just leave it like this."
Will frowned in concentration as he leaned over the table. "Let me think a bit," he said.
Rick couldn't believe his eyes. Beyond the fin of rock high on the cavern wall he saw a perfect circle appear, like a television screen. Surrounding the circle was the familiar golden glow of the time doorway. It was as if the strange writing pointed directly to the circle.
"Is it a time doorway?" he gasped. It was Earth. He could see immediately by the crystal blue sky, the fleecy clouds, and the rolling hills. He saw humans on a dock near a body of water. Something about the scene wasn't right, however. The people. What was wrong with the people? His rising hopes plunged when he realized the costumes that the people wore were severely out of time with the Marshall family's chronology. Unless he was looking at a historical re-enactment, he guessed he was staring at a scene two hundred years before the Marshalls had embarked on their river journey.
"It was a time doorway," Enik replied. He walked as close to the portal as he could and tilted his head back to take in the scene. "Unfortunately it appears that the matrix table powering it is only operating at half capacity. Something has damaged it." He pursued his lips as he watched the scene.
Rick had a sneaking suspicion of which matrix table was activated. "Do you think that Will and
"So they got a time doorway open? And it's still open?"
"This is most dangerous," Enik said. "We must make all haste back to my chambers and shut down the open time door. The beam is still open somewhere near that body of water on Earth. I suspect the beam opens to our own body of water here."
"The swamp? But why?"
Enik pointed. "Behold."
As they watched the picture on the wall, something rippled across the body of water. Rick watched in fascination as the people turned as one towards the water. The ripples in the body of water grew more agitated. Suddenly, a large green snout breached the surface of the water.
"Oh no!" Rick cried. "Something from the Land of the Lost crossed over!"
"But what," Enik said, "from Earth crossed into the Land of the Lost?"
Mrs. Asher fell away in a dead faint. Maggie tried rousing her, but she could not stop looking at the large creature that rose from the loch. It was the creature from her dream. The green head appeared over the water, studying the screaming humans with placid yellow tinted eyes.�� Two nostrils flared as the creature took a deep breath. Its skin glittered with the Loch water. Then, apparently satisfied, it dipped its head back under water. The ripples subsided and the creature returned to the Loch.
Mrs. Asher finally stirred. "The Lord protect us!" she cried.
"Da! Ian!" Maggie shouted, and left Mrs. Asher to race back to the quay.
"Don't you think we've done enough damage already?" Holly asked her brother.
Will continued to study the matrix table. "Holly, can you find some replacement crystals around the cavern?" he asked her. "Try to find some the same size, and smooth, like matrix table crystals."
"You're going to replace them?" she asked.
He nodded. "It's the only way," he said. "If we don't, Dad and Enik will surely know what's happened."
"I hope you know what you're doing," she said doubtfully, but she surveyed the cavern floor and began picking up bits and pieces of fallen crystal near the edges of the room.
"Oh, I think I do," Will said with more confidence than he felt. He began removing the damaged crystals one by one, stuffing them into his pockets.
"Da?" Ian Dumphries asked shakily as he gripped the mast of the sailboat. "Da, where are we…?"
They stared at the jungle. They jumped at the sound of the hooting celaphysis. Pterodactyls screamed overhead, veering away in a V pattern. A brontosaur crunching on ferns near the marshy edges of the swamp raised its head and eyed them with the placidity of a cow.
John Dumphries crossed himself in prayer. "I think we've died and gone to hell," he whispered to his son. "Pray with me. Our Father who art in heaven…"
"We've got to get back to your chambers," Rick said. "Before Will and Holly do any more damage!"
"Yes," Enik said, turning away from the time portal. "We shall have to leave exploring this cavern to a later time, and find the way out of here now. The Sleestaks must have a tunnel exiting from this cavern. There is no other method of egress."
Rick raised his makeshift lamp. "Let's start a methodical search," he said. "We'll both begin near the door. I'll move to the right. You move to the left. We should search every rock, every nook and cranny."
Enik nodded. "A logical method," he replied, and they began searching.
About fifteen minutes passed in silence as each searched from floor to as high up as they could see for any opening, any aperture in the rock face. Rick glanced towards the time window as often as he could, but aside from people gathering on the edges of the water, he saw no more movement from the dinosaur-like creature that had showed itself. "I hope that whatever it is that crossed over, it doesn't like the taste of people," he muttered.
"Unlikely for it to be a carnivore," Enik responded. "It is more likely a close relative of the brontosaur, and therefore an herbivore, subsisting on water vegetation. Rick Marshall, come here. I think I have found an opening."
Rick left his side of the cavern and joined Enik. Cave bacon dripped from the sides of the rock. Behind an outcropping that rose straight up from the floor to the ceiling, Enik had found a narrow opening just wide enough for them to slip through sideways. Rick shone his light on the floor. The rock near the opening had been worn smooth, presumably by years of Sleestak feet tramping over it.
"This has to be it!" he said with relief. "But where does it go?"
Suddenly, a low resonant hiss filled the room, growing louder with each second. The sound came from the corridor leading back to the Sleestak's hibernation chamber.
"We've got to hurry," Rick said, listening carefully to the sound. "The Sleestak are waking up!"
Enik squeezed through the narrow opening. "Follow me."
Holly had succeeded in replacing all of the burned out green and blue crystals, but the yellows and reds were a bit more difficult to find. She located a handful of yellows in the corridor near Enik's cave. But the reds were tricky. There were many crystals of that color scattered throughout Enik's cave and in the corridors beyond, but none fit into the slots on the matrix table. The table, however, was sounding better and better, the hum steadier and not as strident.
Will was still examining the device when Holly returned from her latest crystal foray. She entered the cave at a brisk trot. "Sleestak?" Will asked, ready to spring into action.
"No, I just didn't want to meet any!" Holly said. She dropped a handful of yellow crystals onto the sand at the foot of the table. "What do you think?"
Will examined them one by one, holding each up to the light emanating from the glowing quartz crystals embedded high in the walls of Enik's cave. "These look pretty good," he said. "No red ones?"
"Nope." Holly sat on the sand and watched as her brother carefully inspected each crystal and tried to fit the new ones into the slots. He succeeded with three. There were still three burned out reds. "I just can't seem to find red crystals in these parts of the cavern. Maybe if I went further down into the tunnels –"
"It will be dangerous," Will said quickly. "Even though it's the Sleestak's dormant period, you never know when they're going to wake up. It feels pretty warm down here."
"I can't tell. I just ran all the way from the pit to here." She drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The coil of rope at her belt moved to the side a bit as she shifted position. "Will, do you think you've fixed the matrix table?"
"I don't know," he confessed. He stretched his aching back and glanced at his watch. "Oh wow. Do you realize Dad and Enik have been gone almost the full two hours?"
"Time flies when you're having fun," she said.
"No, I mean if they're not back in about fifteen minutes, we're supposed to go and look for them," Will said. He studied the matrix table and slapped his hand on the side. "Darn it all! If I only had those missing crystals I might have been able to open the time doorway."
"Well, we sure did something," Holly said. The acrid odor of smoke still clung to her hair and clothes from when the table began spitting smoke and sparks. "This whole room smells like a barbecue gone bad."
Will sniffed. "You think Enik will notice?"
"Do Altrusians have a good sense of smell?"
"I've no idea. What about Dad?"
"Oh, he'll notice, all right," Holly said with assurance. "Dad noticed everything."
"Well, then I'm done for, that's all," Will said. Wearily he flopped down next to Holly on the sandy floor. "I guess we should just sit tight, then, and wait for Enik to get back."
"What, and apologize? 'Gee, sorry Mr. Enik but we broke the only known working time doorway in and out of the Land of the Lost, your own personal matrix table in your home, which we were warned not to touch?' We can't give up!"
"Yeah," Will joined in. "So what's Dad going to do to us, anyway? No TV for a week? No movies? C'mon, Holly, we're already in enough trouble as it is. Let's keep trying to fix the table."
She struggled to her feet, and Will rose next to her. They brushed the sand off of their clothes. "Okay," she said. "But we need those red crystals. Should I go off to the left?"
Will nodded. "But be careful, please! The Sleestak could wake up anytime now."
�� "Okay," she said. "I'll stay real quiet. I'll be back in ten minutes. If I'm not back, you'll find me in the pit room, I'm sure."
He smiled. "I won't let you get sacrificed," he promised. He returned to the table. "Now come on, matrix table," he addressed the ancient device. "Show me your secrets!"
Maggie Dumphries raced to the edge of the loch. There was no sign of her father or of the other men who had set sail that morning – but there wouldn't be, for they were out of sight when the quake hit. She wrung her hands in her apron and cried, "Da! Ian!" The sight of the huge sea-serpent, like something out of the Reverend Anderson's sermons on the book of Jonah, the same monster she had seen in her dreams, made her want to scream. What could she do?
She spied a rickety old row boat tied to the dock, bobbing with the choppy water. She could row a boat! She raced to the edge of the dock and climbed down the splintery ladder, getting the hem of her dress all wet as she dropped into the boat.
Mrs. Asher cried out from the shore, "No, lass, don't do it! It's too dangerous!"
"I've got to try!" Maggie cried. With nimble fingers she untwisted the knot that held the tiny row boat to the quay. She drew in the line and set her will like flint. Bracing her back she began pulling at the oars. It was hard work, harder than she had expected, but she rowed steadily across the loch.
"Maggie Dumphries, don't do it!" Mrs. Asher cried from the dock. "Mr. McGregor! Mr. Neeson! Help! Young maid Dumphries is off her head!"
But Maggie paid her no never mind. There were no other quick boats tied to the shore. No one could stop her…and no one could help her. She felt her mouth go dry and she began to tremble, thinking of the great green head of the monster as it rose from the depths. The monster could be anywhere in the loch. She had to warn her father and Ian. She had to! With every ounce of strength that she possessed, she rowed as hard as she could for the estuary that led to the ocean and the fishing grounds.
Ian and John Dumphries sat in stunned silence on their fishing boat, now bobbing in shallow water in the marsh. They watched the magnificent beasts on the shore eat water plants. One beast used a huge palm to scratch his back, the way a horse will use the boughs of a low-hanging scrub pine to rub the itchy spots on his spine. The animals made wonderful noises, hooting and crooning, bellowing and questioning, a whole language of sounds that the father and son could only marvel at.
"Where is the fire and the brimstone?" Ian whispered to his father. "If this is hell, shouldn't the devil be here to greet us?"
John Dumphries shook his head. He peered up at the bright blue sky and the fleecy clouds, he stared out at the shore and the tumble of bright blossoms growing among the ferns and water lilies. "It can't be hell," he said finally. "But it can't be heaven, either."
"Lord have mercy, but were the Catholics right?" Ian asked his father. "Is there a purgatory?"
Suddenly a noise like distant thunder rolled towards them. They hunkered down in the prow of their little boat and watched in amazement. Through the jungle burst a huge creature, one the likes of which they had never seen. Its head was as big as the croft, and teeth like yellowed swords flashed in the sunlight as the creature let out a mighty roar and bellow. With one swift motion it caught one of the tiny green creatures placidly eating water plants by the shore. Like a cat, it grasped its prey by the long, slender neck, and shook it once, twice, snapping its spine and killing the creature efficiently. It dropped the carcass to the shore and began shredding into the belly with its long knife-like teeth, using tiny arms to hold the carcass down as it ripped and shredded the still warm beast.
John blanched. "I think we've met old Nick," he whispered to Ian. "For if that thing ain't the devil himself, then I don't know what is!"
"Rick Marshall, you must fit through the aperture," Enik said, a hint of annoyance creeping into his usually flat voice. Rick was wedged by the belly between a rock and a hard place. He couldn't move. He had tried to follow Enik through the slender opening in the rock but his belt had gotten him stuck. Truth be told, his belly had gotten him into trouble. He pledged to start doing sit-ups as soon as they were out of this mess. How could he still have this paunch after months of subsisting on fruit, carrots, the occasional meat and fish, and Holly's smilax cakes? He sucked in his gut and pushed again. He was stuck fast. "There is no other way out for us, and the Sleestak must use this opening regularly." As if on cue, they could once again hear the guttural hisses of the Sleestak awakening in the chamber.
"I'm not as slender as a Sleestak," Rick grunted. The rock was making it hard to breathe. He sucked in his breath and wiggled like a worm on a hook. "Can you pull me?"
Enik grasped him by the arm and tried to pull. "Ow! Wait, you're pulling my arm right out of the socket. Can you grab my belt and pull?"
"The leather strip around me waist."
Enik grasped the belt and pulled. Rick sucked in his breath. With a painful scrape, he was suddenly through the opening and tumbling to the ground next to Enik in a narrow, damp corridor of rock. The breath was knocked out of him for a moment. When he regained his composure, he rose to his feet, dusted himself off, and stood with Enik in a tunnel carved by Altrusian hands. The same wonderful geometric braces held up the tunnel at regular intervals, and light from glowing round crystals embedded high up in the walls illuminated their path.
"This is magnificent," Rick murmured as he followed behind Enik down the hall. He wished they had time to stop and inspect the beams, for each beam was carved with faded and worn symbols. "Enik, can you read any of these symbols?"
"It is written in High Altrusian," Enik stopped momentarily to inspect one beam where the symbols were still relatively clear. "It would take me a while but I think that I could. I would like to return to this chamber and inspect everything we have found more closely."
"That time window is what interests me," Rick replied. "If there is some way we could turn it into a time doorway…"
�� "We must question young Will very thoroughly," Enik replied. "For I am sure that the window was opened from my chamber."
"What makes you think it is Will, and not Holly?" Rick asked curiously.
"Did not Will open a time doorway on top of the mountain?" Enik asked. "He seems to be sensitive to time devices."
Rick suppressed a smile. "I wonder what kind of career that would translate into on Earth?"
"Nothing on your Earth, but on many other worlds, he could parlay it into a most rewarding career," Enik replied. "Did anyone else in your genetic line exhibit sensitivity to time?"
"I don't know what you mean," Rick replied. "What would that be?"
"You would call it precognition," Enik said. "Dreams that come true. The ability to sense things before it happens."
Rick thought for a moment. "There is an old family myth," he said finally, "about our Scottish Marshall ancestors, that the women in the line had ESP, dreams that come true and the like. But it's just a story, Enik."
"Maybe. But perhaps it explains why your family out of many ended up in the Land of the Lost. If your genetic line has a time sensitivity factor, you may have unconsciously sought out the time doorway."
"That's absurd," Rick said angrily. "We would never have chosen to come to the Land of the Lost."
"Perhaps not. But the unconscious mind has much power. You should investigate this further with Will and Holly in the future."
They continued walking through tunnels that sloped steadily upwards. Many small chambers of regular size and shape opened up off of the main tunnel. Rick yearned to stop and inspect them, but one glance at his watch told him that they must hurry if they were to find Will and Holly. If they did not return by the appointed hour, he was afraid the children would go in search of them and get hurt by the crevasse and the decayed rope bridge. He permitted himself to peer into one of the chambers and realized he was looking into the living quarters of the ancient Altrusians. Like Enik's cave, a slab of rock served as a bed, and shelves and niches were carved out of the rock wall. In some caves small gourds and cracked pottery vessels attested to inhabitants of long ago, while in others he could barely discern by the light of glowing crystals he kept in his hand the beautiful frescoes painted by Altrusian hands long ago, dreadfully faded. The stylized sunburst symbol that was carved over the Lost City repeated in almost every chamber. What did it mean? If only he had the time to inspect these marvels…
But they had no time and Enik redoubled their pace. Every once in a while they could hear the far off hissing of the Sleestak who dogged their steps. They kept to the center corridor even when others branched off; every once in a while at these branch offs, Enik paused and sniffed the air, like a terrier on a scent. Then with determined and sure stride he was off again.
They rounded a sharp bend in the corridor and stopped abruptly. A long-ago earthquake had created a deep crack in the floor. The far side was about ten feet lower than the side they stood upon. A rocked, jagged edge dropped pebbles as they stepped near to peer down. The crack opened into nothing but darkness.
"How do the Sleestak cross?" Rick asked.
Enik pointed to a large, flat stone several meters to their left. It protruded across the opening, leaving only a narrow gap. "They must cross there," he said, "and leap from the stone."
"Not another leap across a bottomless crevasse," Rick muttered. "This has been one hell of a trip."
Enik walked steadily towards the stone even as the hissing reached their ears again. "The Sleestak are closing in behind us," Rick warned. "We've got to cross."
Enik stepped onto the stone. It wobbled precariously and he held out his arms to regain his balance. "The rock is unsteady," he said. "It has an uneven bottom and balances on the edge of the fissure."
Rick glanced quickly around the fault line, but there were no rocks or small boulders he could use to wedge under the balancing rock. "Enik, you're going to have to make the jump!" he cried as shadows rushed behind them, the hissing of their pursuers growing louder.
With one bound, Enik leaped from the rock. The force of his jump made the stone teeter back and forth, dropping showers of pebbles down the crevasse. Rick ran to the stone too, but as he jumped on top, the rock overbalanced, and plunged towards the fault line. With only seconds to spare he dropped from the edge to the safety of the ledge and watched in horror as the balancing stone tumbled into the crevasse.
"There is no other way across," Enik said from the far side.
The Sleestak were growing closer. Rick searched for a weapon, for more light crystals, for anything to ward off the Sleestak. He looked across the fissure and measured the jump with his eyes, but it would be risky. He felt his heart hammering and the adrenaline coursing through his veins. He stepped nearer to the crevasse, his back to Enik, as the Sleestak came down the last feet of the braced corridor.
Suddenly, a voice on the far side cried, "Daddy!"
"Holly!" Rick whirled around to see his youngest child on the far side standing next to Enik. "Holly, what are you doing here? It isn't safe. The Sleestak are emerging!"
She tucked the crystals she had gathered into her shirt pocket. "Daddy, you're trapped!" Holly quickly unwound the coil of rope from her belt and with Enik's help, secured it to a stalagmite on the far side. She ran to the edge of the fault line just as the Sleestak burst around the corner in full pursuit. "Here!" she cried, swinging the rope like a lasso. "Catch it!"
She misjudged the distance on the first throw, but the second was successful. The rope lay on the ground as Rick struggled to ward off the Sleestak, holding his makeshift light in front of him like a shield. It kept the Sleestak several feet away, but not enough. They were loading their cross bows when he reached the edge of the rope. He grasped it and with no time to make a knot or a loop to secure himself, he stepped back and gave a running jump.
He missed the far side. He knew he would and he saw it seconds before he crashed, face first, into the rock, swinging above five feet below the ledge where Holly and Enik stood. Only his hands on the rope kept him from plunging to his death.
"Holly!" he gasped.
Enik held fast to the rope, with Holly in front of him. "Take the rope," Enik commanded. "I will endeavor to help your father."
Rick braced his legs against the wall, gasping for breath. A rain of iron crossbow bolts hit the wall harmlessly on either side of him as he found a toe hold. He used his legs, pushing himself up higher. His hands slid along the rope, inching to the top. Enik leaned over the edge of the crevasse, reaching for him. Holly pulled up the slack on the rope. "Hurry Dad!" she cried. "The Sleestaks are reloading."
"They'll miss again," Rick muttered. He scrambled for a second toe hold. He raised himself another foot. Suddenly, his sweaty palms slipped on the rope. He slid back, his body bent like a V, the soles his heavy work boots keeping traction on the rock. With a muttered oath, he again inched his hands up, feeling an ache across his shoulders and his palms scraped raw by the rope. He managed to scramble back to his former position as the second rain of crossbow bolts hailed on them. One struck his back but the angle was wrong, and it did not penetrate, although it ripped the back of his shirt.
"Hurry Dad!" Holly called again.
With the strongest push he could muster, Rick hurled himself upright, his fingertips just catching the edge of the ledge. Enik grasped him by the wrists and with surprising strength pulled him up. Pausing barely a moment to catch his breath, he helped Holly untie the precious rope and without even stopping to coil it, the three raced down the far side of the corridor.
"Will the crevasse hold them off, without the balancing rock to use to get across?" Rick asked.
"Unlikely," Enik replied. "We have but a few moments. We must hurry!"
They ran until they reached the relative safety of the corridor in front of Enik's cave. Rick finally stopped and addressed Holly.
"I'm glad to see you, honey," Rick said, "but this is no time to go crystal picking. Why did you leave Enik's cave?"
Enik leaned towards Holly and sniffed. "I detect burned carbon compounds in your hair," he accused. "Did you touch my matrix table?"
Holly bit her lip. "We were trying to fix it…"
"Holly!" Rick turned to his daughter. "Did you and Will…?"
"Honestly, Daddy, we didn't mean to break it, we didn't! But we did get two time doorways open, one to a beautiful alien world and another to Earth. But then the table blew up and we couldn't tell what we did wrong."
"We must hurry," Enik said, already striding towards his chamber. Rick jogged to catch up.
"Because there is still a time doorway open," he said. "The children never closed the time doorway, and anyone or anything could still pass through."
"Enik, could we go home?" Rick asked quickly.
"Do you wish to go to the land you saw in the time window?" Enik asked.
Rick, thinking of the garments he saw the other people wearing, shook his head. "No, I don't think so," he said.
"Why not?" Holly asked. "It's Earth, isn't it?"
"Yes, but about two hundred years before we knew it," Rick said.
"But it's still Earth. We could go back…there'd be people…"
"But no cars, no electricity, no running water, no radio, no TV, no medicine, no roads….and no rights for women, Holly."
"We're not going back," she declared. "Enik, we tried to fix the table. We replaced as many of the burned out crystals as we could. I was looking for red ones when I found you."
"We must hurry," was all Enik would say, and they had to run to keep up with him.
Maggie's arms ached and the sweat dripped down her back. Her blonde hair escaped from her bonnet and lay plastered to her cheeks. Blisters now lined her palms and they cracked painfully with each pull of the oars. She was in the center of the great loch. On the far shore, near where the estuary led into the sea, she saw something that terrified her soul. A great golden cloud, shaped sort of like a man's ear, hovered where the sky met the sea. She had no doubt that the strange apparition was where she needed to go. She rowed faster and faster towards it.
"Don't worry Da, Ian," she thought, "I'll save you."
Well, she had wanted an adventure. She had wanted a chance to prove her bravery. Now she had one. She could not give up now, not because of the pain across her back, her scraped and raw palms, or the frightening things she had seen. She had to press on. With more determination than ever, she bent her back to the oars and continued rowing .
Rick, Enik and Holly entered Enik's cave. Will still had his back to the door as he touched crystals on the matrix table. Enik secured the force field against the Sleestak and stood with his arms crossed, glaring at Will.
"I think I have it fixed now," Will said without looking up. "If you've got red crystals nobody will know."
"I think not," Rick said, and Will jumped.
"Oh, Dad! Enik! I'm so glad you're back." Will licked his lips. "Ah…we were worried."
"Save it," Rick snapped. "We saw what you did while we were down in the cavern. Enik guessed that you'd been messing with his matrix table. Enik, can you repair it?"
Will glared at Holly. "You told them!" he whispered accusingly.
"How could I not? They caught me red handed." She took the ruby crystals from her shirt pocket and dropped them into her father's outstretched hand. Rick walked to Enik's side by the matrix table.
"It is as I have feared," Enik said. "You did indeed open a time doorway to Earth, as we saw in the lower caverns, but the table short circuited before the doorway closed, leaving open the time window below and a time doorway here leading to Earth."
"You mean you could see what I had done in another cavern?" Will asked, incredulous. "But how?"
"An ancient Altrusian monitoring device," Enik replied. "The cavern we were in was most assuredly part of the network of matrix tables and time doorways, created by my ancestors long ago. No tables are left, but the time window opened the same. Your father also identified the writing as similar in form to writing that you found in an unusual temple outside of the Lost City."
"The builders?" Will asked quickly.
Rick nodded. "We didn't have time to investigate any further," he said. "It was getting late. We saw that you had opened a time doorway and Enik knew something was wrong, so we hurried back. Then on top of everything, the Sleestak started chasing us."
"You must have had some adventure," Will said.
"I would have been killed if it weren't for Holly," Rick replied.
"I told you I could help," Holly said proudly. "If I hadn't come along when I did, you could have been a goner, Dad. So it was a good thing then that we fooled around with Enik's matrix table."
"Now don't get cocky," Rick warned.
"Well, Dad, it's true," Will said. "If we didn't mess with the table, we wouldn't have needed the additional crystals, and Holly wouldn't have gone that way in the caves…"
"It's still no excuse," Rick said. "Enik, how bad is the damage?"
Enik selected three crystals from Rick's hand and snapped them expertly into the matrix table. The hum increased; the table began blinking rhythmically. He waved his hands over the table like a magician over his magic hat. The mists of time began flowing over the wall.
"It's working!" Holly cried.
The golden mists flowed thicker, until they were staring at the picture Rick and Enik had seen in the lower caverns. A glistening body of water glimmered gun metal gray on the wall. A tiny speck bobbed in the water.
"We are looking right through the time doorway now," Enik said. "I will shut it down"
"Wait!" Holly cried. "There's someone heading right for us!"
"It's a girl," Will said. He walked as close to the time doorway as he dared. "She's in a rowboat. She looks upset. What's she doing?"
"Emily!" Holly cried.
�� "Now Holly, how do you know that's her name?" her father asked.
"No, not the girl," Holly said, pointing to the time doorway. "The dinosaur!"
Sure enough, creeping right behind the little row boat was the big brontosaur. They could see her glistening head above the water, and her neck made a snake-like motion as she whipped her way through the water towards the time doorway.
"While the doorway is open, she must be able to see through to the other side," Enik said. "The same as we can see through to their side."
"Emily's going to capsize the rowboat!" Will cried.
"Is she swimming?" Rick asked, walking to stand next to Will to get a better look.
"She looks like she's just walking," Holly said.
"The water's probably shallow enough for her to walk through," Rick said. "We should just be thankful she didn't decide to go out on land and look around."
"But the rowboat!"
The water churned as the giant dinosaur drew nearer. The girl on the boat screamed and raised her paddle as if to ward off the creature.
"She's certainly brave," Holly said with awe.
"As brave as you are," Will said. "She sort of looks like you too!"
"Look!" Rick cried.
Through the golden mists of the time doorway another boat appeared. It was a small, very primitive sailboat of a kind they had seen once in a museum, on a vacation to Mystic Seaport. The boat sailed right through. Emily suddenly veered around the plunging rowboat and headed straight for the doorway.
"Three people," Rick murmured. He stepped closer to his children. "Look, Will, Holly - three people, just like us. A man and a boy on the sailboat, and a girl in the rowboat."
"It is a prime opportunity to go through the time doorway," Enik encouraged them. "You may switch places with those three easily. The law of temporal dynamics will be maintained."
"We can't," Will said, biting his lower lip. "It wouldn't be fair."
"Besides, it isn't the right time," Holly said, although she too looked longingly at the Earth scene unfolding before them.
The Marshalls watched in awe as the big dinosaur disappeared into the mists, until nothing was left except the tip of her tail. Then as she departed, the time doorway shimmered, winked, and closed.
They were looking at the bare rock of Enik's cave.
"Whew!" Will sighed. He leaned against the matrix table. "I'm glad that's over with."
"Do you realize," Rick began, "the untold
damage you could have done? Do you? You
almost stranded those poor people here. And Emily–!"
"Not only could you have ruined the only known working time doorway in the Land of the Lost," Rick began his rant, "but you almost left those men in that boat here in the Land, and a dinosaur on Earth in the 1700's! William Richard Marshall, Holly Elizabeth Marshall, what in the world were you thinking?"
"I was thinking of going home," Will said simply. "I'm sorry Dad."
"Punish me too," Holly said, standing staunchly by her brother. "I went along with it Dad. I'm the one who broke the matrix table. I'm sorry. But we did open the time doorway, and we got it open to Earth!"
Enik surveyed his matrix table. "It is damaged," he said. "It will take me months to calibrate the crystals again."
"You're going to help him," Rick said sternly to Will and Holly. "Both of you."
"How?" Will asked.
"By doing whatever Enik wants," Rick replied. "If he needs you to fetch water, you'll fetch water. If he says get crystals, you'll go down as far as Collie's cave and mine them with your bare hands if you have to. If he needs you to watch for Sleestak, you'll watch for Sleestak. I don't care what he needs, you'll do it. Is that all right with you, Enik?"
Enik nodded. "It will suffice."
"Good. Now let's go back to High Bluff."
They bade Enik goodbye, and made their way out through the Lost City, using the additional crystals from Enik's cave as a bright light shield to keep any remaining Sleestak at bay. It seemed as if the Sleestak were having trouble crossing the fault line without the balancing rock, for they had not reappeared on this side of the Lost City. It would only be a matter of time, Rick surmised, before some of them managed to jump across even without the balancing rock.
"Dad, what did you find in the cavern?" Holly asked eagerly as the Marshalls bid Enik goodbye and began making their way through the Lost City.
"Writing," Rick said. "The same as on the stones outside of the builder's temple."
"Could it be another way out of the Land of the Lost?" Will asked eagerly.
"I'll tell you all about it back at High Bluff, and maybe we can go back there sometime. But for now don't talk to me. I'm still very angry with you."
"Dad, how come it was all right for you to experiment with Enik's matrix table, but not for us?" Holly asked innocently. "I mean, what we did was no worse than what you did…"
"I told you – I don't want to talk about it!"
Will and Holly looks. Give us a break! their look seemed to say. "He's wrong," Holly whispered to Will as they left the Lost City and crossed the empty, sunny plaza, their father several meters ahead of them.
Will winked at his sister. "He wants us to feel guilty."
"How can we feel guilty about opening a time doorway home? We did what he couldn't do!"
"We did what he told us not to do. And then you proved him wrong, didn't you? You aren't a baby and you aren't a coward. You're just as brave and strong as we are."
"I guess you're right," Holly beamed. Her brother had just described her as brave and strong. Could this day get any better?
With a grin, the conspirators walked side by side, suppressing a giggle. When Rick turned around suddenly to see what they were laughing about, they managed to look convincingly abashed, and with mumbled apologizes, followed their father back to High Bluff.
"Maggie!" John Dumphries gasped. He and Ian hauled the trembling girl aboard the fishing boat. The water subsided into foamy whitecaps as the big creature suddenly disappeared. The golden mist too disappeared. John held his daughter close, kissing away the sweaty hair from her brow. Ian secured the bobbing rowboat to the vessel with the tow line, then turned to hug his sister too. "Maggie, you brave, foolish girl!"
�� "I couldn't leave you, Da!" Maggie cried, tears flowing down her face. "When I saw the creature and I knew you were on the other side of the loch, I had to go and save you."
"We went to some strange place, that's for sure," John Dumphries said. "Maggie, you are the bravest girl there is! Just like your mother, God rest her soul!"
"Brave as a man," Ian said with pride, and Maggie beamed.
With a last hug of his beloved daughter, John Dumphries raised the sail and the little boat made good time across the water. No fish were caught that day, but when they approached the quay, a crowd had gathered as if to help haul the catch ashore.
"See there!" Mrs. Asher screeched, pointing out over the loch. "that's where I saw the monster, right here on Loch Ness!"
"Big and green it was, and with a neck like a snake," Mr. McGregor said between teeth clamped on his pipe stem.
"The Loch Ness monster!" the crowd murmured, and craned their necks to see over the water.
"Did you see it, John Dumphries?" Reverend Anderson pushed his way to the front of the crowd. "They tell me strange things happened today upon the loch."
"Oh aye, I saw many strange things today," John smiled. He hugged his daughter. "Things strange and mystifying, to stir the imagination and pour horror into the soul. But no sight more stirring than that of my brave daughter, the shadow of her very mother, rowing across the loch to save me."
Ian, John and Maggie secured the boat, and with his arm around his two children, John Dumphries began the long walk back to the croft. "Will we ever see the monster again?" Maggie wondered.
"I doubt it," John replied. "She's gone back to wherever she came from, to the land of monsters and sea serpents, to a jungle far, far away."
"I wonder if there are people there," Maggie said. "You know, Da, a family, just like ourselves? Wouldn't that be grand?"
"Aye, a grand lark," John agreed. "I'm sure there are no families like ourselves there, Mags. How could anyone live among those beasties? How?"
The Land of the Lost and all of its characters are copyrighted by Sid and Marty Krofft and Krofft Productions. No harm or infringement of copyright was intended by this story. The story was written for fun only, and the author received no remuneration for her work. The story is copyright Ó 2000 by Anonymous.
And A Note About the Story…