The Red Cricket

“Look,” she said.

At one end of the hollow space, a second door was visible, very similar to the one we’d used to climb into the tree: it was low-arched, wooden, with a large round doorknob.

I crawled toward it, pushing some of the grass aside as I did.  I took hold of the doorknob, turned it, and pushed the door open.  Light spilling out from the hollow revealed a dark tunnel marked by cage-like sconces containing darkened bulbs.

“Where are we?” asked Sailor.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but if feels familiar.”

I crawled in.  Sailor followed me.  Once clear of the door, we crawled along the tunnel, which opened up so that there was enough space for us to walk upright along a smooth concrete passageway.  The lights lining the corridor flickered on in their sconces.

It didn’t occur to me that someone knew we were there, and flipped a switch.  I felt oddly comfortable in the passageway, the same way one feels when visiting the home of an old friend.  It was then that I remembered Sailor’s family had vacationed in these mountains years before.  We walked slowly, side by side.

“Do you know anything about this tunnel,” I asked quietly as we walked, “Does local lore say anything about it?”

“An old story says one of these mountain peaks contains a hidden volcanic lake with a giant ship floating on it.   According to the story, a magician lives inside the ship…”

“Not by chance the same magician who built this..?”

I pointed.  The passageway plunged deep into the mountain.  As the lights grew further from us they appeared smaller, closer together, a strand of bright yellow points that vanished at an inestimable distance, deep inside the mountain.

“Look!”

Sailor pointed to the floor.  Perhaps fifteen feet ahead of us walked a cricket, inching its way along, as if acting as our guide. The cricket was a vivid, shiny red.   Enchanted, we walked faster to get a closer look.  We heard the click of the cricket’s feet on the concrete, and saw that it was in fact a tiny robot, its metal limbs painted with the smooth red enamel. The cricket jumped, keeping its position ahead of us, not letting us close too much distance.

Echoing sound gradually filled the corridor.  I recognized the same warped, high melody we’d heard in the forest just before the wind and the rain had drowned it out.  Sailor and I were astonished that the cricket’s body could produce music of such amplitude and detail.

 

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Mountains

Traffic thinned in the high country.

“There’s no room for a statie to turn around out here.  You can open it up.  Once we get into those mountains, it’s deputies in SUVs…but until then, we’re solid,” Sailor said.  She stubbed out her cigarette on the ashtray, shifted her hips forward in her seat, and placed her hands behind her head.  I pushed down the gas pedal.

We kept the windows rolled down.  The cool alpine air rushed in, tousling Sailor’s hair.  Peering through the glare of late-afternoon sunshine on the dusty, bug-covered windshield, I could see near-flat, open fields, and mile upon mile of pale green, unharvested hay.  Scattered farm buildings broke apart the landscape, their walls worn down to the bare boards.  In the distance, towering up, making those outbuildings look like miniatures, stood the mountains.  They were stark, roughly snow-capped, purple-black.  They stood so far away, and yet were wrought in such sharp detail that they seemed unreal.

“…the fuck?” I whispered.  I took a breath.  I felt disbelief.

“I know,” Sailor said, “nobody knows they’re here.”

As our little car tore across the dusty plateau, she explained to me that there are some high mountains you cannot see, even from very close, because they are set just far enough back from the foothills that no line of sight permits a view.  But once a person climbs past the initial threshold of elevation, up onto the plateau, the mountains emerge suddenly, starkly, filling the sky.

I stared.

“We can stay up here for awhile,” Sailor said, “It’s cheap to live.  We can hide out.”

We had money we’d kept from Harlin; big paying tops that he’d never skimmed, a glovebox stuffed with a profligate’s ransom, enough hard cash to get us into a cabin near a little lake that Sailor knew about way up in the mountains.  She and her sister had vacationed there as children…until the winter her father broke both of his legs in a skiing accident.  He never spoke of it; they’d simply never returned.

With the car tucked into a trough-like driveway beside the cabin, and my heavy duffel and Sailor’s big backpack cast down on the bed, we made our way down the gravel road that wound around the lake to a little fake chalet where tourists could sit on a deck and look out across the glass-green water, into the mountains beyond.  We sat there and drank cold beer, smoked cigarettes, and stared out…as if the air could quench our bodies, as if our very skins could dissolve into the dusk.