July 4, 1992, continued
Several seconds ticked by. Eventually, I started to giggle.
"What is so funny?" my captor inquired, frowning.
"I was just thinking.." I had to pause a moment to beat back the urge to laugh in his face. "Just thinking what a howler this situation is."
"Don't take this the wrong way, but..I look at you..and your costume..and your pistol."
"And all I can think is that I've just been captured by a little green man with a ray gun."
My grin got so wide it actually hurt.
"That is funny?"
"I don't understand."
"Never mind. It would take too long to explain."
Another thought occurred to me and I just couldn't stop myself from snickering.
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.
"Tell it to me."
Somehow, I managed to compose myself just long enough to comply.
"Take me to your leader!"
Okay. It wasn't all that funny, really, and the situation held at least the potential of a real hazard to the unblemished integrity of my personal skin. Still, what the hell. I was low on both sleep and oxygen, buzzed in that crushingly tired and dehydrated way you get five or six hours after smoking a lot of high-grade weed and still keyed-up from my unsuccessful attempt at playing G.I. Joe Green Beret Action Figure.
Besides, he was so short. As a threat, it was kind of hard to take him seriously.
So, I just had to laugh.
Apparently, he didn't. In the face of such unbending sobriety, it didn't take long before my cackling fit ran down like an unwound alarm clock. He just stood there, calmly pointing his pistol at my head until it did.
"Turn around and put your hands on your head."
I did that and, once my back was turned, he adroitly relieved me of the Webley.
I did that, too. With the little man in green issuing directions, it was only a couple of minutes before we stepped out of the trees and into a clearing where the rest of the party was gathered.
They were all clustered around a tall woman in a skirted version of my captor's Robin Hood getup. There was definitely something odd about her musculature, especially in her neck. It took me a moment before it came to me what it was.
She looked like a grown-up version of every women's gymnastics champion I'd ever seen, except that she was much too tall to be a gymnast and her neck was more like that of a weightlifter than a gymnast. But she had the same thick shoulders and generally compact build I've always associated with gymnasts.
She had a fox face to go with them and oddly tilted green eyes to go with that. And flame-red hair and a straight, chiseled nose and perfect teeth. Definitely not "pretty" in the conventional, cheerleader sense. But striking, certainly. Perhaps even beautiful.
"You'll be Læ, I presume?"
Her glance flicked over me once, cooly appraising, then immediately shifted to my captor.
"Did you spot any others, Bruno?"
Her penetrating gaze switched to Mantami.
"Are there any others, child?"
"Mister Pith is in missingness only, Mother Læ."
"Bruno, please go help Carleton find him."
Without a word, he turned to do her bidding.
"I said, 'You'll be Læ, I presume?'"
"Are you in the habit of asking questions to which the answers are perfectly obvious?"
I felt the flush start creeping up the back of my neck toward my cheeks and it wasn't from embarrassment, either.
"Are you in the habit of kidnapping perfect strangers?"
She permitted herself a small smile at that.
I stared her directly in the eye.
"I can see this is going to be the start of a beautiful friendship. Not."
"Please don't be tiresome, Mr. Wilde. Had you not acted in a threatening manner, coercion would not have been necessary."
"All right. I'll give you that one. How is it that you know my name?"
"The Vomisa child identified you as one of the two missing members of this group."
"So, by process of elimination..?"
"That..and the fact that you closely resemble your photograph."
"I have complete dossiers on each of you, Mr. Wilde."
"Mantami, you little worm.."
"Please, Mr. Wilde. Would you have had me..I believe your expression is, 'buy a pig in a poke'?"
"I..all right, I'll give you that one, too. I just don't like the idea of being spied on."
"If only you knew, Mr. Wilde. If only you knew.."
I didn't get a chance to follow up on that peculiar statement, because just then the erstwhile Bruno reappeared, this time with a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder. In front of him marched a grim-faced Pith.
I noticed Pith had acquired a knot over his right eye and what appeared to be a swollen lip. I also noticed that Bruno was followed by still another one of Robin Hood's men, this one a good six-six, with an athletic build and the ruggedly handsome features of a male model in a cigarette ad.
However, that model would have to sport a black eye and be favoring his left knee. And, on closer inspection, he would also have had a long-healed but still fearsome-looking scar from high on his left temple, down across that eye socket to well below his left cheekbone.
The two newcomers herded Pith into our midst, then took positions on either side of Læ.
"Now that we are all assembled, gentlemen, permit me to introduce you to my..associate, Bruno, whom you have briefly met, and to Carleton, my consort. Bruno, please give these two gentlemen back their guns."
He complied without a word, handing them to us butt-first.
"I am certain you all have many questions. I assure you that I will do my best to answer them at the proper time. However, we are on somewhat of a tight schedule at the moment and we are still some distance from our destination. I would take it as a personal favor if you would be so good as to hold your curiosity in check until we arrive. Thank you."
She gave us a million-watt smile for exactly long enough to be sure we were all properly dazzled, before turning to her "associate".
"Bruno, please take point."
. . .
Bruno set a brisk pace. It was just as well that Læ had persuaded us to hold off on asking questions, because I sure didn't have much breath to spare.
Apparently they were serious about that "tight schedule" business.
We trekked steadily uphill for the best part of an hour before we got where we were going. We ended up stopped in front of a large, but otherwise unremarkable pile of boulders, high on the flank of [These words, presumably the name of a Sierra peak, have been heavily blacked out in Wilde's journal--T.S.]. The taciturn Bruno produced what looked like nothing so much as an ordinary remote control--the kind you might get with an expensive TV or a moderately-priced VCR.
He held it out in front of him, pushed a button and a twenty foot high boulder swung smoothly and silently up to reveal a circular opening, perhaps ten feet high, leading back into darkness.
"After you, gentlemen."
We looked at each other for a good five seconds before Tong snorted in disgust.
"Yo, pussies. Guess tha dark side got to lead."
The little man pushed another button on his remote control and a pale blue light evenly suffused the walls and ceiling of the hole. Bill reshouldered his pack and the rest of us followed the kids into the tunnel.
Once we were all inside, Bruno used his remote to close the boulder back over the entrance. It met the edge of the opening with a quiet, but authoritative thump.
The obviously-artificial cavern led straight back into the mountain for perhaps sixty feet before it turned sharply to the left. Another forty feet or so further on, it turned equally sharply to the right, going on from there about another hundred feet before making a 90° turn to the right and debouching into a circular room, maybe sixty feet across and half that high.
In the center of the room was a hexagonal pillar, eight to ten feet tall, made out of what appeared to be some kind of translucent blue gemstone which glowed with a kind of slowly-churning inner light that created queasily-crawling patterns of light and shadow on the walls and domed ceiling of the space in which it stood. Six much smaller hexagonal pillars of the same stuff were spaced equally around it at a distance of about ten feet. They, too, seemed lit from within, although much more dimly than the main shaft.
There was something about the atmosphere of the place that made the hair stand up on the nape of my neck. I've never been in a haunted house, but, if I ever am, I'll bet it feels exactly the same as that cavern felt to me.
Læ stepped into the hexagonal space outlined by the smaller pillars and consulted what looked like a lady's Rolex. The writhing light patterns playing on her hair made it seem alive, like a nest of snakes.
"Gentlemen," she said, "we have little time. I will do what I can to answer your questions, but, meanwhile, please empty your packs and take off all of your clothes."
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)