Short Story Part 6
The catfish from hell didn’t give up yet. Claws lashed out at the wall just to my side and pebbles from the fresh gouges fell onto my hair and shoulder.
“Hang on!” Nimbus called and with one last push he hurled us through the opening. The brush of fresh air on my face compelled me to breathe deep of the sweet sunlit space we entered. A terrible roar rattled the cavern behind yet I could still hear the cracking of rock above the guttural howl. We turned together to see the stones just around the opening we came through start to fracture and shake. The monster’s talons clawing at the doorway oblivious to the destruction he caused.
I sighed as I prepared myself for another getaway but I didn’t have time. Nimbus still had hold of my hand and pulled me along before I could gather my wits together. His timing impeccable as the cascade of boulders crashed down on the writhing claw that still hung out in the open seeking its prey. The claw strained and the monster hauled out in pain. It seemed over but Nimbus still hurried on through the chasm.
“His screams and struggle might bring the walls down around us.” I inhaled a deep breath, knowing and hating his correctness. My legs just wanted to be still; to not run, to not creep, to not side shuffle. Everything from the waist down ached with too much work and not enough rest and this slagging saddlebag’s weight dug into my shoulder.
His steps slowed and I no longer felt like he dragged me along. The snarling beast had quieted and the chasm walls still stood about us. I glanced back and could barely make out the pile of rocks. It seemed he had retrieved his claw from the outside world and had probably retreated into its lake of death.
“I didn’t know monsters like that still existed,” Nimbus said as he waited for me to turn around to continue our trek.
I sighed. “I need a place to rest.”
He smiled. “I have a good feeling about where we’re headed.” Something in his smile made me self-conscious about being vulnerable and my cheeks flushed, especially when I realized we still held hands, but I didn’t want to pull away and he made no effort to, so we walked hand-in-hand for a distance until a new sound spilled out of our path ahead. The rush of water brought me feelings of dread.
“I don’t think I can walk along another narrow ledge.”
“Listen, the water echoes but it doesn’t thunder like it did back in the chasm. I think the walls are widening now. Maybe we’ll even find a canyon instead.” I chanced a glance at him and he had another smile for me. I bit my lip, trying to stuff down the warm feelings inside that would overtake my face.
We rounded the next corner and the rock walls backed off from each other. A river flowed through the middle but grasses and shrubs grew on the banks. Unconsciously I quickened my step and Nimbus chuckled. “I think that looks like a good place to rest, too,” he said. I grinned back.
We picked a place under a large white oak tree with short shrub grass. I dropped the saddlebag to the ground and let my legs flop me onto the ground.
“Here,” Nimbus offered as he knelt down in front of me and pulled off my boots and socks. Having the pressure of the materials removed made my appendages feel like they could almost fly away from me.
I winced. “Are you sure you want to do that? Who knows what they smell like?”
He laughed and went to the stream to wet a cloth. When he came back, he set about washing them, the cold towel felt invigorating between my toes but it sent a shiver up my spine. “You okay?” he asked. I nodded sheepishly as he finished with one foot and moved to the other. While I felt a little more prepared mentally, the skin of the other foot felt new to the cold washing experience. I stilled myself to prevent another shiver. When he had finished, he propped both feet on my blanket roll. “You’ll want the blood to drain out of them a bit.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll do the same for myself. Go ahead and find us some food.” I turned to the side where the saddlebag lay, keeping my feet propped up where Nimbus had set them. I found our hard cheese and bread and set these between us. When he finished with his feet, he began to massage his thighs with his fingers.
“Does that help?” I asked as I tried it too.
“My legs are stiff from all that side stepping through the chasm and around the cavern lake.”
“Mine too. I didn’t think I’d be able to run from the catfish from hell.”
Nimbus laughed long and loud. An amiable sound that echoed off the canyon walls. “I couldn’t place what the creature resembled, but you did it.”
My cheeks ached from the smiling and laughter and in that moment, I couldn’t imagine questing with anyone else but Nimbus. “I’m so glad you came with me.”
“Really? It hasn’t exactly been pleasant.”
“No, but I’m with you, and that’s something.”
Something? I glanced at him but he busied himself with our salty cheese and hard bread. It seemed best to focus on eating now too. Otherwise I can overthink anything and mess it up.