Finally, he was able to steady himself.
"It's no use," he whispered. Pop. Another strand let go and Shadow jerked further down. Swing," screamed Viker. "Do it now, curse you, Rue Shadow, Prince of Aspabibia."
"Quickly. Swing toward me," he commanded.
"That rope is going to let go any minute."
And just then it began to fray in fits and starts.
Shadow jerked further down with each ripping strand. His terror-filled eyes were frozen on the shredding rope.
"Look at me," Viker roared. "Come toward me. Swing, by Grace, swing."
Shadow tore his eyes from the deteriorating rope and peered at Viker in the dim light.
>Shadow's> face was awash with sadness.
What you've missed: Two talkative, rebellious kittens, from a royal family of vocal, rambunctious cats, connive, plan and then descend into the cellars and caverns below Aspabibia, one seeking milk, glorious milk, the other seeking adventure, glorious adventure but disaster occurs and one misadventure leads to another and another.
From there on down, they knew that one small slip could send the whole lot of them on a one-way trip to the rocky, unforgiving floor of Bottomless Chasm.
With a great gulp of air, Rue Shadow seemed to snap out of his panic. He stretched toward Viker. Viker's muscles were strung tight beneath his fur as he strained to reach Rue Shadow before the lifeline became a death-line.
With a frightful series of ripping sounds, the rope let go just as Viker clamped his front paws around Shadow's shoulder. Miraculously he found a grip on Shadow's harness and dragged him tight to his body.
"By Grace," Shadow gasped fumbling to get a grip on Viker's sturdy frame. "That was close."
"Up. Crawl up my back," ordered Viker. "Get up on the bridge and then pull me up. I can't hold on forever."
Rue Shadow snagged Viker's fur and clawed his way upward. A slow seep of blood was staining his bandage crimson. His siblings had dug in their claws and were clinging to the slippery surface by the skin of their teeth.
When Shadow was close enough, Pink Buddha yanked him to safety. Rue Shadow sank to the slimy albino moss and fought to catch his breath. His gaze was dim with exhaustion. The others turned to Viker, hauling him back up on to the bridge where they all collapsed in a panting heap.
"Gives a whole new meaning to 'all over him like cheap fur', doesn't it," Rue Shadow whispered.
Not one of them laughed. They just clung to the bridge, each of them silently reliving the terror of what could have been their last moments on this planet.
Finally, Viker raised himself cautiously to his paws and snapped his harness back on. "Okay, now listen up," he commanded with a squaring of his shoulders.
They peered at him with mournful eyes.
Viker's tone softened. "We're almost there," he coaxed. "This is no time for despair."
"Why, Viker," Fawn Doll cooed with a glance at Red Pearl. "That rhymes. You could be a poet!"
"Lame," choked Shadow.
"Worse than lame," Pink Buddha mumbled. He was shaking so hard it was difficult for him to keep himself stabilized on the slimy tube.
"Fawn, stop it," Red Pearl sputtered. "This ... this ... " She lowered her voice. "Fawning over Viker - it's really disgusting," she finished close to her sister's ear.
"It is not," Fawn retorted.
"Is too," Pearl said.
"You're just jealous," Fawn sneered.
"What are you talking about?" demanded Pearl.
"I've seen you look at him," Fawn Doll snarled.
"You're crazy," Red Pearl huffed.
Fawn Doll narrowed her eyes and thrust her head within an inch of Red Pearl's face. "I am not the one who's crazy," she said with a nasty curl of her lips.
"Depends on whom you ask," retorted Red Pearl flattening her ears to her head.
"What do you mean by that?" demanded Fawn Doll.
"Will you two stop yammering?" whispered Rue Shadow.
Viker held up a paw. "Knock it off," he said sternly. "Now remember, we slide down the other side - close together, like on a sled. Sit up straight. Don't lean over."
They all nodded in numb assent. Then, they began a slow shimmy up the last incline toward the crest of the tube. From there on down, they knew that one small slip could send the whole lot of them on a one-way trip to the rocky, unforgiving floor of Bottomless Chasm. Colossus Cavernous would have claimed yet another set of victims.
"Remember," Viker said quietly. "Hang on, stay focused. And don't look down."
"He's so ... so in charge," murmured Fawn Doll. "I guess I can hardly blame you for being infatuated with him."
Red Pearl looked aghast at her sister. "Something - or someone - is preventing you from thinking clearly," she sputtered. "Not that you ever did."
TAILS OF ASPABIBIA
by Linda Towne