Voices In The Night
In the darkness, Miranda huddled with the others against the rock face, listening to their breathing and snoring, wondering at their capacity to survive. In the last light, hungry, thirsty, cold and exhausted, they had fallen asleep, too tired to fear. Rollo snored. Theobald, near her feet, wheezed; Manley’s muted breaths were small but steady, but Malcolm’s seemed hesitant. She surmised he wasn’t asleep. “Are you awake?”
“Everyone else is.”
Silence. She heard him shift his weight.
“What do you suppose,” he asked, “drives them on?”
“That they’re right.”
“You mean that Ronald’s right?”
“Yes. I don’t think much collective thinking goes on.”
She listened to his easy breathing. “Who’s to say who’s right,” she offered. She wondered what he was thinking. He didn’t sound anxious.
“I’m sorry.” he muttered.
“For what?” His innate humility never ceased to touch her.
“For not getting us over the mountain.”
“We haven’t given up yet.”
“It wasn’t your responsibility. Anyway, I think you’ve been very brave, and smart.”
He snorted. “Hmh.”
She knew he was blaming himself. She wanted to tell him that he didn’t need to but then he would know that she had guessed that he was blaming himself and would deny it. “I think we did well to get this far.”
“I’m not blaming myself if that’s what you think.”
“I didn’t think… “
A voice broke through. “Where’s all that blasted noise coming from? I want silence.”
Miranda stopped, stock still. The voice was close. She felt Malcolm’s snout against her side. He whispered very quietly, “where?” Miranda touched his snout gently with her paw to signal quiet and then put her back against the rock face.
“Who are you and what do you want?” came the voice again.
She thought the voice, which seemed to come from just above, sounded familiar but couldn’t place it. Then, she recognized a rather pungent smell. “Hello,” she said to herself. The smell took her back to a large four-footed animal—this large four-footed animal—towering over her, leaning his big white-haired head down until his snout was touching her snout and saying “I am…” What? I am what? What was his name? “Malcolm,” she said loudly, “it’s our old friend.”
“Who are you?” demanded the gruff voice in the dark, within feet of her.
“Who’s that?” yelled Rollo waking.
“What is it?” yelled Theobald anxiously, waking.
“Where are we?” wailed Manley.
The gruff voice broke through, loudly and sternly. “I shan’t ask you again, who are you?”
“Who?” repeated Rollo, his voice panicked.
“We met on the plain. Do you remember?” Miranda tried to keep her voice calm.
Suddenly, she wondered how he had gotten there. “We’re trying to climb these mountains.”
“These are my mountains. I’m not aware I’ve given anyone permission to use them.”
“We have been trying to find you to ask…”
“In the strictest sense, of course, they’re not my mountains, though all the other animals seem to think so…” The voice took on a modest tone. “…and have done me the honour of naming them The Noble Goat Mountains.”
“In point of fact,” asserted Rollo abruptly, “these are the Raccoon Mountains.”
Oh Rollo, please shut up.
“Or Two Eagle Mountains,” said Theobald.
“Who are you?” demanded the goat.
“Theobald Turtle,” said Theobald, sounding terrified.
Please Theobald, ask him the questions. Such as ‘how did you get here… ?’ Oh, what is his name?
“Turtle? Another one.”
. “Another one?”
“I met a turtle only the other day.”
“Can you,” Miranda interjected, “help my friends and I climb these mountains.”
“To what purpose?”
“What? Oh, to see what’s on the other side.”
“There’s nothing on the other side.”
“You’ve seen the other side?”
“Of course I have.”
“What did you see?
“You must have seen something.”
“Oh yes, I saw something.”
“What was that something you saw?”
“The something on the other side of the mountains.”
Miranda felt dizzy.
Malcolm’s voice sounded deliberately relaxed. “What does this ‘nothing… or something’ look like?”
“Rock. Flat rock as far as you can see. As I told you, it’s nothing.”
“Excuse me,” said Rollo, anxiously, “but is there anything there to eat?”
“No. That’s why I never go there. And I can recommend that you don’t either.”
“Well, we’d like to go somewhere, but I’m afraid our choices are limited just at the moment.”
“What are they?” asked the Goat.
“Basically, just the mountains.”
“You could go down to the tree line. There are some quite stupid eagles there, but they shouldn’t be of any bother.”
“Well, actually, the eagles have gone.”
“They’ve… ah, flown away.”
“Really? Well, good.”
“Our problem is that there is a large group of rats after us.”
“And they’re climbing the mountain.”
“A large number of small animals? Brownish?”
“A bit angry?”
“What’re they angry about?”
“They want to kill us.”
“Hmmh. What did you do?”
“Then why do they want to kill you?”
“Because we wouldn’t let them sniff our anuses.”
There was silence.
“Why ever not?”
“Why would they want to do that?”
“That’s what we wanted to know.”
“It’s most peculiar.”
“Would you show us how to get through the mountains?”
“To escape them. We would be most grateful.”
“I suppose. I don’t want any of that kind of thing going on my mountain. But of course, I shall want something in return.”
“Haven’t thought of it yet. I’ll let you know. Try to keep the noise down.”
“Wait…” Malcolm called out.
Miranda held her breath.
“Where is he?” whispered Theobald.
“Shhhh.” She was listening. Was he still nearby? She couldn’t hear his hooves, and his voice had come from further along the rock face. Maybe that’s where the opening was. Keeping her shoulder nudged against the mountain, she inched her way along, wondering if the gap—she was certain now one existed—was where the rock fell away.
“Where did he go?” Theobald’s voice wheezed in the blackness.
“I don’t know,” said Malcolm.
“He’s gone?” cried Rollo.
“Shhh.” She hesitated moving further, concerned that they would lose each other in the darkness.
“Where?” asked Malcolm.
“I’m not sure,” she said moving off, “but it has to be nearby…”
Suddenly, she felt herself falling for a breath or two and then abruptly smacking onto rock. She was breathless. Her reflexes bounced her back onto her feet and she listened. She could hear no danger. She was aware of voices echoing down to her.
“Down here… be careful. Don’t move. Wait until I look.” She could hear Malcolm muttering. “I can’t see anything.”
“It’s dark.” Rollo’s voice floated down to her in the black mountain air.
Miranda moved forward cautiously. The rock was smooth. She could feel a delicious cool draft falling on her face.
“I’m alright.” she called up. “I’m trying to see where this leads.” She hoped it was an opening and, as she moved forward, felt the ground rise.
“Theobald?” Manley’s voice called out. Abruptly, Miranda could hear a soft prang and a breath later, the sound of something roll near her.
Nothing. She hurried toward the sound, groping with her front paws to find him.
“I’m alright.” His voice sounded weak.
“Is he alright?” Malcolm asked loudly.
“He says he is.”
“What’s down there?”
“I think it’s what we’re looking for.”
“I can’t be certain, but I feel a strong draft from somewhere above me.”
“Really? Should I come down?”
“Yes.” Miranda braced herself. He would no doubt crash down on top of her. “Be careful,” she called out as she dragged Theobald back.
There was quiet. Miranda could hear Malcolm’s hooves scraping, searching the rock for solid footings. Then, almost at once, or so it seemed, she heard his voice beside her.
“Where are you?”
“Here. How did you get down without falling?”
“My legs are long. Now, where are we?”
“Can you feel air falling? It must lead up.”
“Maybe.” He shouted up, “Manley? Rollo? Are you coming?”
“Is it safe?” Rollo’s voice sounded hesitant.
“Of course. Just be careful.”
Miranda could hear Rollo and Manley muttering, the sounds of two bodies falling, then the muffled sound of bodies colliding.
“Ooow! What’s that?” cried Rollo.
“My leg,” said Malcolm. “Manley, are you here?”
“Yes,” came Manley’s voice.
“Good. All right, let’s see what it is we can’t see.”
“Shouldn’t we stop?” asked Rollo.
“Well, we can’t see.”
“That’s true, but we seem to be able to move forward. If we keep moving we might gain some distance on our friends.”
“Yes, that’s what I thought,” said Rollo.
“Good,” said Malcolm. Miranda could hear him step forward, his hooves sounding out the rock floor.
“Is it dangerous?” asked Theobald.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Malcolm’s voice echoed slightly as he moved off, forward and upward. She realized he’d forgotten Theobald.
“Theobald,” she said quietly, “get up on my back.”
“Why don’t you just leave me here?”
She heard the resignation in his voice, but knew that explaining would take too long. She lay on her belly. “Get on my back.” She waited as he fumbled in the dark to pull himself up. He was lighter than she’d imagined.
“Have you got a firm grip?” she asked, feeling his claws pushing in at her ribs.
“Okay.” She could hear Malcolm plodding slowly up the passage in front of her, and behind, Rollo muttering to Manley who wasn’t responding, but whose breathing she could hear. “Watch your step, the rock is more jagged here.”
“Wait. What’s that smell?
“Waa..ter.” Theobald’s voice could barely sound it out. “Waa..ter.”
Putting out a paw to verify Theobald’s discovery, she felt that the rock wall. It was wet. Quickly, she lay flat, slowly rolled on her side to allow Theobald to roll off and nudged him forward.
She heard him licking—then she heard Malcolm licking and Rollo and Manley. Sniffing and finding a thin stream of moisture on one of the rocks, she licked at it. It was delicious.
“Is that better, Theobald?” Malcolm’s voice showed concern.
“Almost…” His voice lacked strength and enthusiasm. “Leave me here.”
“Don’t waste energy moaning,” said Malcolm’s sternly. “Let’s see how far we get.”
Miranda waited for Theobald to climb on her back, then followed Malcolm up the incline, hearing him grunt in pain and the sound of scraping—his rack on the rockface above?—but she could also feel the draft of cool night air drawing forcefully past. “We might be close to the top.”
“Can we look for something to eat?” asked Rollo.
Following the sound of Malcolm’s hooves, Miranda heard the echo of the wall fall away, and a strong wind envelop her, and knew they had found the gap.
“Everyone stop.” Malcolm said abruptly. “We’re high up. Don’t move. Settle where you are until first light.”
No one said anything. Miranda let Theobald roll off, waited for a breath, listening to the others, and then fell asleep, exhausted.
Manley opened his eyes, and glimpsed grey. Was he asleep? Yes, but some strange fuzzy shape loomed over him. He squeezed his eyes open slightly. There was too much light. The shape was montrously tall—a cragged rock? It wasn’t moving. It must be a rock. Where was he? He remembered the insects, then the eagles, and the eagles wanting to eat him. Malcolm had caught the eagle with his rack as he was carrying Rollo off. Rollo? Where was Rollo? “Rollo?” He peered around in a blur. Was that Rollo beside him? He sniffed. Yes. “Rollo?”
“Where are we?”
Rollo rolled over, muttering sleepily, “Hmmmm….”
“Where are the others?”
“Where are we?”
“Hmh? I don’t know. Malcolm? Malcolm’s on his belly. Miranda’s eyes are shut. Oh my, my, my, Theobald… ? Theobald’s on the edge…
“He’s going to fall. What’ll I do?”
“Grab his feet,” Manley whispered.
“His feet,” Manley said loudly.
“Ssshhh, don’t wake him.”
Manley’s snout twitched. If Theobald woke, would he fall?
“Reach for him,” Manley whispered urgently.
“What do you think I’m doing?” Rollo hissed. “Oh, oh, oh, he’s almost off, oh, no, Theobald, don’t move, no, no, don’t wake, I’m coming closer… no, don’t move, ahhhh…!”
“What is it?”
“I have his leg. Grab his other one.”
Manley’s paws fumbled. He found a claw and pulled as hard as he could. “Rollo!” Theobald was heavier than he thought.
“Ahhhh,” screamed Rollo.
Manley was holding on tightly and Theobald was screaming now, “Ahhhhhh….!”
Manley pulled and then Miranda’s paws were gripping Theobald’s leg and pulling him back onto the ledge.
Theobald was still screaming, “Ahhhhhhhhh…!”
“Theobald,” Miranda said softly. “You’re safe now.”
Manley could feel Malcolm’s snout nuzzling, calming him.
Frightened, Theobald started to moan.
“It’s okay, Theobald, you’re safe,” said Manley, unnerved by his moaning.
“Theobald,” said Malcolm softly.
Theobald’s whimpering didn’t let up.
“We’ve gained the mountain.”
Theobald said nothing. Manley wondered, was he alright? “Theobald?”
“Are you alright?”
“What do you think, Manley?”
“I don’t know.”
“You should have let me drop.”
“No,” said Manley, “we need your resolute cheeriness.”
“Indeed,” said Malcolm. “No more moaning. Agreed?”
Theobald was silent.
“Agreed?” Malcolm demanded.
“Agreed,” croaked Theobald.
Manley sniffed about. The air was cool and fresh. The large, blurry shadows looming over him he assumed were rock formations. He could scent no green. No green meant no soil. No soil meant no grubs, worms or insects. No forage.
“I’m hungry,” said Rollo, sniffing about.
“Rollo,” said Malcolm. “We’re all hungry. Forage what you can and try not to think about it.”
Manley wondered how Rollo could be so helpful and irritating in the same breath. “He’s only hungry.” said Manley.
“Unlike the rest of us,” said Malcolm, unapologetically.
“Where is he now?”
“He’s climbing the ledges,” said Theobald.
“He won’t find anything foragable up there,” said Malcolm.
“It’s the eagle,” screamed Theobald.
Miranda yelled. “Rollo!”
“What?” Manley heard Rollo reply.
Manley stared hard but could make no sense of the blurred movement against the rock shadows. Then he heard the sound of flesh hitting bone and something falling and something else falling. “What’s happening?” he yelled.
“It’s alright, Manley,” said Theobald.
“The eagle grabbed Rollo but the mountain goat butted the eagle before he could lift. He’s dropped Rollo.”
Manley scurried to find Rollo, following Miranda’s voice softly repeating Rollo’s name. He heard the goat say, “It’s remarkably careless to allow oneself to be carted off by eagles.”
“Mutoine…?” muttered Rollo.
“What?” asked Miranda.
Manley reached them and brought his face close to Rollo’s. His eyes were partially open.
“Rollo,” said Manley.
Rollo’s eyes rolled in their sockets.
Malcolm stepped up and nuzzled him gently. “Rollo? Can you hear me?”
“Tankcelee…” muttered Rollo.
“No thanks required.” said Gervaise.
“Gervaise,” said Miranda.
“Yes, I am known as Gervaise,” said the goat.
“Can you find us some water? Please.”
“You will find a small trickle of water beneath the strata just there.”
“Watch for the eagle,” Miranda called out. Using her mouth, she gripped Rollo by the skin of the neck and dragged him along the ledge. Wanting to help, Manley followed.
Entering a long shadow, Manley heard Miranda sniffing for water. “Is there any?” he asked.
“A tiny dripping from a crack.”
“Walasee,” murmurred Rollo.
“Water, Rollo,” said Miranda.
Manley couldn’t hear Rollo respond. Then he heard someone lapping at water.
“Rollo?” asked Miranda. “Is that better?”
“Wanasoo,” Rollo replied, lapping the drops, then he sighed and brought his head close to Manley’s face. Manley wondered what he saw, what he was thinking.
“Maneee,” Rollo said cheerfully.
Point of fact water good head hurt silly animal big horns bug eyes look at me hello head hurt oooh ooh again who you snout big claw paws look at me hello Manley. “walasee.”
Afraid that he might run off again, Miranda wanted to ask the Goat the best way through the mountains, and where to find water and forage. Maybe flattery would work. “We must thank you, Gervaise, for saving our friend….”
The Goat seemed puzzled.
“You were brave.” she said.
“When you hit the eagle.”
“Of course. We’re very lucky that we’ve managed to find you again.”
“Why…?” Why was he so obtuse? “…because… well, because you know so much about these mountains. We’re hoping you might show us a way through.”
“I know many ways through these mountains.”
“Could you show us just one?” asked Malcolm.
“Of course I could. I’d be delighted to. Anytime.” And with that he hopped onto the next ledge.
“No, don’t go.” Miranda cried.
With two bounds he had disappeared.
“Gervaise…” Malcolm called out.
“Geraaissss,” called out Rollo. Theobald moaned.
For a breath, Miranda was defeated. She was exhausted, and wanted only to lie in the sun. Glancing at Malcolm, she realized that Rollo was running away. “Rollo!”
He stopped, turned and looked at her. “Walasee!’ he called out cheerfully. With a bound, she was beside him, grabbed him by his neck and guided him back to the others.
“Rollo, you must stay with us. Do you understand?” She had no sense that he did. He was smiling and looking about expectantly.
Malcolm, watching him, frowned. “We’d best keep moving,” he said, kneeling on his cut knees. After some struggle, he nudged Theobald up onto his back. He rose wearily and, carefully started up to the next ledge.
Theobald’s pain was constant now—a dry, cracking in all his tissues, from his claws to his neck to his shell. He was aware only of pain and the heat of the sun, and the painful rhythm of Malcolm’s body lurching from side to side, all of which added to the pain. He was aware of Malcolm climbing higher, and of being cooler when in shadow, but that was all.
They stopped. He opened his eyes but could see nothing but rock and sky. The ledge they were on appeared to run between the mountain they were climbing and the mountain next to it. Below, ran a crevice that Theobald sensed was bottomless. It caused him no fear. His pain prevented that.
“Look,” said Miranda, pointing
Theobald looked down at her and then across the chasm. On an outcropping of rock on the other mountain stood a large animal that Theobald had never seen before. The animal was watching them intently.
“What is it?” asked Malcolm.
“A cat,” said Miranda.
“No, I think it’s a lynx.”
“Is it like a cougar?”
Although Theobald felt he knew the answer, he asked anyway. “Do lynxes eat turtles?”
“They prefer furry animals,” said Miranda reassuringly.
Theobald closed his eyes. That was reassuring, although being eaten would rid him of the pain.