Zanzibar – Part 16
Zanzibar – Part 16
by Lori Carlson
The smoke filled Hemi’s lungs as soon as he, Nellie and Ethan reached the end of the caverns. He couldn’t stop gasping for breath and coughed constantly. Finally, Nellie tore a piece from her white robe and tied it around Hemi’s nose and mouth.
“This is why only Ethan and I usually go into the Smoke. Lena and Tang sometimes fill in, but it took them decades to master it,” she said as she plodded along behind Ethan, with Hemi in tow.
Ethan didn’t even turn around to see if the other two were keeping up. Whoever was out there in the Smoke needed to be found immediately. Shelter was scarce and the lure of the Village was impossible to deny for newcomers. He followed the lava flow until it settled into a pool at what they’d come to call the Center of the Smoke. Only then did he wait for Nellie and Hemi.
After a few moments, Ethan spotted them. They were still a few meters behind him. He leaned against a large boulder and took out the tracking device from his knapsack. The blip on the screen held a strong signal. Whoever was out there wasn’t moving. Lightning flashed across the barren land and lit up a small area in front of him. They would head there, he decided.
“Sorry, mate,” Nellie said with a frown as she and Hemi finally caught up with Ethan.
Ethan nodded at Nellie. “Don’t mention it. The signal is strong. I saw a clearing with the last lightning flash. We should go there first.”
Hemi slouched against a boulder and wiped his forehead. “How come you two aren’t even sweating?”
“I don’t know. We just don’t. Maybe we’ve become immune by coming out here for nearly a century now,” Ethan replied, but that was only a half-truth. He removed a canteen from his knapsack and handed it to Hemi. “Better drink up now. We won’t have time to rest again.”
Hemi did as he was told. He took a long drink from the canteen and handed it to Nellie. She took a sip and handed it back to Ethan. Hemi found that strange too. Did they not even need water? He shook his head. His companions were odd indeed.
Ethan tucked the canteen back into the knapsack and held up the tracking device. “About a kilometer ahead,” he informed the other two. “Let’s go.”
Once they left the circle of lava, the lightning strikes became more frequent, once every few minutes. They hugged the boulders and eased their way ahead. Every few meters, Nellie dropped a green glowing stick.
So that’s how they get back to the lava, Hemi mused as he trotted along behind Nellie.
Once they were within about five hundred meters of the blip’s origins, the ground began to shake violently under them. Nellie pressed Hemi against a boulder as Ethan eased ahead of them, tapping his feet along the path. Every few seconds, he would yell back, “Safe, safe.” Nellie grasped Hemi’s hand and followed the sound of Ethan’s voice.
“What’s going on?” Hemi asked.
“Ethan is checking for cracks from the earthquake. Some are small cracks, but others can be as wide as a river. Just hold my hand and you will be safe,” she assured him.
They continued on, dodging cracks and lightning strikes. The smoke was even thicker now than when they’d been near the lava flow. Hemi was lagging further and further behind. Once, he even though about staying behind near a shelter of boulders, but he just knew that whoever was out there, it was one of his friends. And so, with his head tucked down and his shoulders rolled forward, he kept moving.
They hadn’t seen Ethan for quite a while. They did continue to follow his voice as he sent out the “safe” message. Nellie didn’t seem to be at all concerned. She just kept moving along. Finally, Ethan’s voice grew louder and he no longer said merely “safe.” Now he cried out, “Found her! Found her!”
Hemi’s heart pounded. If it was a she and a friend, it could only be Comet. Then his heart sank. What if it was someone new? He picked up his pace and even surpassed Nellie, but she jerked his arm back until he was walking beside her.
“Not until we reach Ethan,” she scolded him. “There are still cracks out here.”
After a couple more cautious meters, they finally spotted Ethan, who’d lit a flare. He was cradling a young girl in his arms and had her face covered with a piece of his robe. Hemi stood still for a long moment. If it wasn’t Comet, then he’d endured this entire journey for nothing. He crept forward. His eyes watered. As he approached them, Ethan slowly pulled back his robe from the girl’s face. The young girl didn’t move and her eyes were closed.
Hemi rushed forward shouting, “Comet! Comet!” and buried his face against hers.
Slowly, Comet opened her eyes. “Hemi,” she whispered. “I knew you’d find me. I love you.” And then she passed out again.
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
or Jump ahead to Part 17