Rolling by Peter Jerrim

'Honey-dew!' cried Ducki. He tore a chunk of fungus from a log and crammed it into his mouth.

'Give me some,' said Isador. She broke away from Copper and clambered over the boulders to her brothers. The vine that Copper had been plaiting round her head trailed its blue flowers and caught on the blackberries that sprung among the bracken.

Rodji looked ahead to where the gorge narrowed into a dark slit. They were only five minutes up from the dig yet here it was a different world. The rivulet boomed between the rock walls. Leading the way, Rodji leapt over boulders and squeezed under the rotting logs that were strewn across the river bed. As he paused to allow the others to catch up he stared into the gloom ahead. The water was threshing so strongly within that mist streamed out and rose above the trees giving a rainbow display in the late afternoon light.

'That water's coming through so hard--there must be a waterfall somewhere up above.' Copper was beside him, panting. 'Let's have a look.' She called to Ducki and Isador, 'Hurry up, you two.' To Rodji she said, 'Let's climb up here,' indicating the left-hand side of the gorge, 'and follow it along the edge and see if there is a waterfall.

They scrambled to the top where they found the ground flat and scrubby, rising to a row of bumpy hills a few hundred paces away. Behind the hills loomed the blue bulk of the mountain. To the right ran what appeared to be a channel--the top of the deep crack of the gorge. Isador hurried to it, lay face down at the edge and peered into the darkness. She grunted at the cold draught on her face and the water slapping invisibly below. The others joined her and were quickly absorbed in the music and mystery of the darkness.

Lost in the bass roar of the rivulet, Rodji closed his eyes and hummed and yelled a water song. In his mind he mixed it with the power of the whirly that had passed over him the day before. It reminded him of the groans of death in the bontu melody that the bandsters played at a funeral rite. He longed for the day in two years' time when he would be old enough to play along with them. They were eager too, for Rodji never forgot anything he heard--a tune, a song. He remembered much more than that--all the noise of life around him. It was the sounds of his forest home that he loved the most. Without effort he could conjure the exact sound of a footfall in a grove of oaks, the screech of a water bird or the laughter and conversation that glanced up and down the length of the eating-pit.

'It feels like it's going to suck me in,' shouted Copper above the roar. She crawled back along the edge. 'Come and we'll find the waterfall.'

They followed the crack along for about five hundred paces. In several places the edge had weakened and collapsed, forming a circular hole and sometimes a cylindrical shaft which allowed enough light for them to see almost to the bottom. Here and there boulders had fallen to become wedged between the walls of the chasm just above the bottom where they deflected the torrent into vertical spouts that shot up almost to the top. Ducki reached out to touch one but Rodji caught his shirt just as he teetered on the edge. Nothing was said. They pressed on.

And there it was, so simple. The rivulet wound its way across the little plateau upon which thy were walking. The water rippled along, calm and clear and then--it seemed like magic from where they were standing--it dried up without a trace. They ran to the place where the stream fell from its glittering perch into the dark chasm. This was the widest hole in the crack, about six measures across. The water raged below.

As he stared down into the chasm, nausea clawed in Rodji's stomach. He shared with all his people two inexplicable fears. One was the fear of deep water and the other was the fear of confined spaces in the ground--holes in the rock, caves. The apprehension which first hinted when he had stared into the crack, now rushed at him in a surge of panic. He staggered back from the edge and sat down clutching is sides. The fear had been delayed by their excitement. Copper and Isador were the next to retreat from the edge.

'Where's Ducki?' shouted Isador. They leapt to their feet and then in relief sat down again. He was throwing sticks into the rivulet where they floated swiftly to the brink and then disappeared in a rush downwards. Ducki returned to the others.

'What's wrong?' he asked.

'You know what's wrong, dumb!' shouted Isador. 'We are scared. I don't know why you're not scared of the bad places!'

Copper said, 'Everyone else is terrified of deep water and the caves.'

'Yeah, well I'm young,' said Ducki, 'so it doesn't scare me so bad. It gets worse when you get older!'

'What about me?' asked Isador. 'How come I don't feel like you?'

'Ducki! Idiot! Get away from the edge!' Copper screamed. They jumped up again, too late. He had stepped toward the edge, turned around at Copper's cry, slipped on the soft dirt at the brink and disappeared. They rushed to the edge and stared down. There was nothing to be seen.

'Great Mother God! No!' Copper cried.

'He'll come out the other end where we started,' yelled Rodji. 'Hurry!'

'If he gets carried through that far he'll be dead,' said Copper, 'but he won't.'

'Where else could he go?'

Isador screamed, 'Look! I see his hand!' she pointed to a ledge about three measures down the hole. 'He's there. I saw his hand move.'

'Let's get Ma and Dad,' said Copper. 'We've got to hurry.'

'By then it will be dark,' Rodji said. 'He'll get cold in there. And we don't know if he's hurt himself. We've got to get him out by ourselves, fast.'

'Yes,' said Isador. 'But how?'

Rodji leant as far as he could over the edge. 'We need something to climb down with.'

'We've no rope,' said Copper.

'A branch?' said Isador.

'Right,' said Copper. 'Stay here, Izzy. Don't take your eyes off his hand!'

Copper and Rodji sprinted to the bush that grew upstream from the fall. They broke a dead branch from a tree, trimmed it by smashing at it with a rock, and dragged it to the rivulet. Dropping it in they ran beside it as it floated toward the fall. In the battle against the fear that was welling up within him Rodji did not allow himself to think. By the time the branch had gone over the fall and jammed in the wash at the bottom he was scrambling over the side of the hole and kicking out with his feet. He struggled to find a hold on the end of the branch which extended up past Ducki's hand to within a measure of the top. Rodji dropped onto it then slipped and spun down the branch to the bottom, choking and gasping in the shove of the water. Then he shinned up the branch again until he was level with his hand.

Ducki was lying face down on a steep ledge on the side of the hole, half-hidden by a curtain of slime. He could see Rodji and yelled at him but it was only mouthing in the roar of the fall. As he waved his hand he slipped a fraction down the ledge. Though Rodji was facing him he was more than an arm's length away. He pulled himself further up the branch and then swung out and down so his toes kicked against the ledge. He let go and dropped, falling on top of Ducki who was pushed further down the ledge. Rodji clawed around in the slime on the wall above the ledge and found enough space behind it to shove himself through head first. At the same time he grabbed Ducki by the collar and wrenched him in with him. They lay squashed together behind the slime curtain.

'I hurt me ankle,' shouted Ducki.

'You're lucky,' Rodji yelled back. 'Now grow some wings!'

Ducki pressed his cold mouth to Rodji's ear. 'We're gonna be here a long time, aren't we?'

Rodji could not answer. The fear had caught up with him and he vomited. After a time he said, 'Someone will come and get us out.'

'You're scared, aren't you?'

'How observant. We can't get back the way we came by ourselves. We'll have to wait here while the girls get Ma and Dad. They'll bring us some rope. At least we're together so we can keep warm.'

'But soon it will be dark up there, too,' said Ducki. 'Move, Rodji. You're squashing me.'

Rodji rolled off Ducki, moving away from the fall. His arm flailed out and found emptiness.

'Stay here,' he yelled to Ducki. Not that you've got much choice, he thought. He edged forward into the space and felt around it with his hands. It was a narrow chamber, just big enough to squeeze into. It was open in front of him. He crawled ahead on his knees with a hand fanning the space in front, feeling for obstacles. His only way forward was a tunnel. He bumped his head and dragged his backbone on its ceiling but the floor was smooth on his knees, even when he shuffled through pools of water. He had the impression of going down then up. He thought he saw a dim light ahead and then he was upon it. He tumbled out onto the dry floor of a dimly lit cave.

He was not afraid.

The cave was shaped like an inverted bowl with sand on the bottom and smooth rock for a lid. From a hole in the far side of the roof daylight poured down to the floor. The sides of the cave were tiered in a gradual spiral about two paces wide. Receding into the walls next to this path, deep in shadow, were a dozen or so rectangular niches. The cave was about ten lengths across and half as high. Although close to the waterfall it was quiet.

Rodji stepped into the light and looked up to the hole in the roof. The path approached it in an easy slope. It would be a simple matter to go back and get Ducki and climb up there and escape. But first, he wanted to look in the niches. It would only take a moment. He walked to the wall, stepped into the light and looked up to the hole in the roof. The path approached it in an easy slope. It would be a simple matter to go back and get Ducki and climb up there and escape. But first, he wanted to look in the niches. It would only take a moment. He walked to the wall.


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