On and on Burt ran. Worn boot heels clattered on the cobblestone road. His heart pounded in his chest and he gasped for air. He wanted to fall onto the road but he knew he couldn’t. He knew he had to be inside the crystal cave before the Devouring Dark began to skulk through the forest.
He stopped for a minute to take several breaths and for his hammering heart to slowdown a little. He kept his eyes glued to the left side of the road and hoped that he would soon find his safe refuge. Nothing yet, no sanctuary appeared out of the gathering gloom.
The boy glanced up into the darkening sky and shivered. “I better find it soon,” the sound of his shaking voice did nothing to give him courage.
He stopped running when a bit of sparkling whiteness caught his eyes. He mumbled, “That must be the cave,” and raced towards what he hoped would be a safe refuge.
There it was at last, refuge, a safe harbour from the approaching night. It was just like Namhina Lightmaker said it was. The white outer walls gleamed in the dim light.
Burt rushed towards the narrow entrance. The mouth of the cave was blocked by a four-foot high row of brush that extended six feet into the cave.
A loud voice seemed to come out of nowhere, “My, my, look what we have here. It looks like a tasty looking morsel, a very tasty looking morsel indeed.”
Burt pulled himself onto the brush pile and scrambled inside. A loud, “Ouch,” escaped from his mouth as he landed head first on the sandy floor. He struggled to his feet, rubbed his sore head and spun around towards the frosty, evil sounding voice.
Washing over the outer edge of the wood pile was a dull, dead looking darkness. Burt screamed, “What are you? What do you want? Go away. Go away, there’s nothing for you here.”
An icy chuckle met his forlorn cry, “On the contrary, there’s much for me here.” The chilling words were followed by the sound of soggy lip smacking. “There’s my supper for one thing. Well,to be honest, my supper is the only thing that’s important to me. I’m afraid you’ll just whet my appetite. Now boy if you’re quite ready peel of that ugly looking skin of yours. If you’re nice and don’t fight, I promise it won’t hurt much. Not much at all.”
The thing’s last words were followed by a snigger that sent icy chills racing up Burt’s spine. Two indigo eyes darted all around for a weapon, “Anything at all will do.”
The black nothingness oozed over the brush pile and onto the white sand of the floor. “What’s that you said boy? If you want an answer from me, you best speak up.”
Namhina Lightmaker’ last words of advice came pouring back into the boy’s terrified mind. “Once you’re inside the crystal cave, find the driest branch that you can. Look deep into the wood until you see the trons. Once they’re aware of you and they will be, they’ll obey your every mind command. All you have to do is tell them to speed up and in no time at all your branch will be blazing away. When it is, thrust it in to the pile of wood and set it on fire.
The Devouring Dark is afraid of flames and will never dare to cross the blaze. You’ll be as safe as a bumble bird in a thorn tree.”
Burt remembered his question as well “What happens when the brush is all gone?”
Namhina had chuckled, “That’s a magic cave and magic wood. No matter how much of it is burnt up, the pile remains the same. It’ll burn bright until the morning sun comes up and then it will go out.”
A branch snapped as Burt took another step backwards. He looked down at his feet and muttered, “It’s not much,” as he bent over to pick it up.
The black nothingness giggled and leapt backwards, “Please don’t hit me kind sir. I’ll be a good little boy. I promise I’ll be a good little boy.” It reared up and the cave grew dimmer.
Burt could barely make out his hand or the stick he held. He tore his eyes away from the encroaching death and focused them on the branch in his hand. He tried to look inside, but his gaze was blocked by the rough brown bark.
A long wide tongue lashed out from the evil dark and whipped across the toe of his right boot. The pain from his foot made him look down at the floor. The ends of his boot and sock were gone and drops of blood came from the tip of his big toe.
A loud, cheerful, “Yummy,” came from the shadow,” and the tongue struck out again. This time the front of his left boot vanished.
Burt screamed again.
Once more the slimy appendage came towards him. It was slower this time and stopped a few inches from his white face.
The voice of death rasped, “Will it be an eye this time or your nose.”
Burt moaned, “What?”
“I said,” the ice cold voice sounded frustrated and angry. “I said will it be an eye or your nose this time? I think that it’s only fair for you to choose, seeing as how they belong to you, for now at least.” The chilling words were followed by malevolent, mocking laughter.
The boy backed up two more steps and pressed his shaking body against the smooth cave wall. He tore his eyes away from the laughing darkness and gazed once more at the tip of the branch in his hand.