Chapter 22

As Samantha walked down the night trail, her eyes adjusted to the night. With the light of the stars she could make her way down the trail without veering off into the bushes and getting lost. She walked with an adrenaline bounce in her step, at first, the excitement and danger of breaking out on her own. She followed the trail, and knew exactly the route she needed to take. It would require many hours of walking, but not more than a good day’s hike. By coincidence, Grandpa had been right about heading towards the lake. Life tends to thrive near water, and this was still true for a lost people.

The farther Samantha got from the camp, and the more alone, strangely the more comfort she felt. The greater distance she gained between herself and the others made her feel more secure; she felt right.

She walked and walked. The black night air was thick. Wind whistled through the branches of the forest. She began to whistle with the wind. She was, after all, alone, and being alone, she loved to sing. She pretended to be the wind, whistling through branches, sweeping along the landscape with a swift power, moving through everything in its path, and then turning about, with no apparent logic, and changing the direction it blew.

Although she followed trails at first, she soon veered away from the trails, with the momentum of the wind, she walked directly into unbroken pathways. One might think she would have been careful to navigate via the stars, to check her calculated path against the trail on the map, but instead she walked boldly, almost recklessly forward, caught up in the music of the wind, which she integrated into the forest song. She stepped confidently, often with her eyes closed, and followed the internal direction from the music. The music guided her path, sweeping her toward a distant mountain peak. Rather than a methodical hiker, it was as if she were dancing across the wilderness landscape, moving past trees like they were her dancing partners. She occasionally looked up at the stars, drunk with the music playing in her head. It fully took over her emotions and possessed her entirely. The rhythm and beats guided her steps, pulling her toward an unknown future, but one that felt so comfortable and right.

In this trance of music that led her along, she did not notice that Ji and his companions tracked her path hundreds of feet behind. Ji had seen Samantha leave the camp. He guessed she might be making a break for escape, but he never suspected she would strike out into the uncharted wilderness at night, moving in a confident stride that suggested she knew exactly where she was headed. Was she only pretending before? It frustrated Ji not to know her moves and thoughts before she made them. She seemed unpredictable. Wild. It crossed Ji’s mind that perhaps she was sleepwalking, or not entirely in her senses.

The dark sky gradually lightened from a black to a dark blue, and then a lighter blue, but still the sun hadn’t risen. Samantha led on into the uncharted wilderness following the music in her head. She turned around rock monoliths and patches of trees, as if she knew the exact path that would take her right to her destination. Ji and his companions were not so far behind that they could not occasionally glimpse Samantha’s path, but they assumed she followed a pre-planned route.

When she reached the base of the mountain, she zig-zagged up her own summit path. She climbed with new-found energy and grace. As Samantha paced up the raw mountainside, she came to a small opening in the earth, a cave entrance. The entrance was no more than a hobbit hole of a door, and tucked around the edge few trees. If you didn’t know exactly where you were going, you would miss it.

She crouched down to get through the door. In the cave, Samantha stopped singing. The music of the wind disappeared, and she returned to her normal state of awareness. It was dark, the air perfectly still. She walked a few paces in, and then stopped. It was dark inside the cave, and therefore hard to see its size. She had a small flashlight in her backpack, and she opened her bag and turned on the light.

The cave had a hard dirt floor and the walls were a circle of granite. The room was about the size of a bedroom, about 10×10 feet across. The walls had been smoothed over so that they were curved in a rounded way, without any jagged edges or irregularities. She shined her flashlight more thoroughly around the walls, and realized that the walls did not form a normal circle. The ceiling was more like an inverted funnel.

She remembered seeing science exhibits showing a vortex, and how you could roll a penny into the vortex. The penny would begin a slow spiral descent, moving slowly around and around the wide part of the funnel. As the penny descended toward the center of the spiral, it would increase its velocity, rotating around the vortext faster and faster until the penny reached the smallest diameter of the funnel, and at that point, the penny would circle around so fast it appeared a blur.

“Hello?” Samantha said. No one answered, and her words reverberated on the cave walls. The acoustics of the cave seemed to amplify sound.

“Hello hello!” she said again. Again, her words reverberated across the cave walls with an amplified sound.

In the center of the cave was a circle, painted in white. She moved to the circle and stood there, wondering what it was for.

“Hello?” she said again. This time her words amplified perfectly in the cave so that the sound reflected perfectly back on her and focused directly in the center of the cave, but magnified to about 10 times its strength. Stunned, she said the words again. No echo or reverberation, just a perfectly focusing of her sound.

Samantha sat curiously on the ground and opened her bag while she thought. She had some trail mix in a small bag that she began to munch on while she pondered the cave. The light outside grew gradually brighter and brighter until she no longer needed her flashlight. With the increased light, she could see more markings along the cave walls. The markings looked like little lines at first, like people. But as the light grew brighter in the room, she realized the markings weren’t people or animals at all, but rather notes. The notes surrounded the cave walls entirely, completing the circumference of the circle in an unbroken way.

She pondered the musical notes, the way they rose and dipped. It was impossible to see where the notes began and ended. It was one continuous line of music. She got up and touched one of the notes. It had been etched in stone with some kind of chisel. She ran her fingers across the musical etchings. Then she returned to the circle and sat down again.

Samantha reflected on the days events. She had abandoned the group, and it seemed right to leave them. They were probably just waking up, wondering where she was. Grandpa would be worried. He might suspect Ji had even done something to her in the night, perhaps carried her away. Harr might be tracking her right then, the whole crew in fact. She hadn’t bothered to hide her trail, and with a forest floor of dirt, soft dirt in places, it would be easy to find her path and follow her. If she was going to do something, she should do it soon, before the others arrived.

Samantha closed her eyes and tried to envision the lost people. What could they have done in 300 years? Where could they be?

Then she opened her eyes and began to sing the notes of the cave wall. She began softly humming the tune, and then set it to words describing her night walk. Since she didn’t know where to begin, it took her a while to get the rhythm and meter of the tune down. She stumbled many times before she realized where it actually begun.

I walk in the land with the wind

And I look at the stars in the sky

I’m free to fly away in the air

in the middle of the cave as I dwell.

The words themselves weren’t as important as the music they followed. As Samantha sang through the verses, she returned at the start and sung it again, in a kind of looping chant. Perhaps this is why the music had no beginning and no end. She circled through the music again and again. Each time, the sound seemed to get louder and louder.

The sound traveled up the funnel and pulsed with intensity as it spun around and back down to her. Reaching her again, the sound seemed to amplify in her mind. With each circling through of the verses, the song penetrated deeper into her mind, like the circling penny that changes shape from a single object into a blur.

She continued the song for a while, eyes closed, until it absorbed her entire mind. The loop had picked up so much force that it grabbed hold of her mind entirely. She could feel her toes and body tingle.

Opening her eyes, she squinted at the entrance of the cave. It shimmered with a curtain of light that poured like a waterfall over the doorway. She thought it might be the sun, having risen over the mountains, peering its golden rays into the cave entrance. But the more she looked at it, it wasn’t the sun. The whole entrance was a wall of shimmering light that waved with a graceful undulation.

Samantha stepped toward the light curtain and, upon reaching the door, stuck her hand through. It didn’t meet any resistance but disappeared from her view as it was on the other side.

She took a deep breath. This is my destiny, she told herself. She took another deep breath, closed her eyes, and then stepped through the curtain of light.

Note: I stopped writing here. There isn’t another chapter, and the book doesn’t end.

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