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FICTION: Tails of Aspabibia, Part 72

"Sounds like a cinch," Shadow retorted. "Then what?"

Viker glared at him. "Then we'll be perched on top of this giant rock toadstool that's nearly impossible to get off of and that gives us the perfect vantage point from which to see any and everything that is going on in this great cavern," he said with his paws on his hips.

"Okay," replied Rue Shadow with a mighty slash of his fluffy tail. "But how do we get off of it when we're finished?"

Viker and his father exchanged glances. "Ropes are the fastest but make us vulnerable," Ferallon said.

"We'd be pretty hard to miss," added Viker, "rappelling off that thing."

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.

Blood oozed from the kitten's tender pads onto the narrow ledge. It left a crimson trail across the pale pathway as if a giant hand had stitched the drapery with a band of red.

"Besides, we'd have to rappel off the side furthest away from their camp site," Ferallon said. "And that's extremely dangerous. We'd be hanging right over Bottomless Chasm."

"Bottomless definitely doesn't sound comforting," Pink Buddha murmured.

"The alternative is Rocken Bridge," finished Viker with a sigh.

"A bridge sounds helpful," Buddha said with a shiver.

"Bridge," whispered Rue Shadow. "Troll?"

"Almost right, Princey," Viker responded. "For this is no ordinary bridge."

"What my son means," Ferallon interrupted smoothly, "is that it's round. One of those tubes we spoke about."

"Round?" Pink Buddha squeaked.

"Round," agreed Ferallon waving his paws expansively. "And very wet."

"And therefore slippery," added Ferallon.

Viker was all puffed-up and his yellow eyes were gleaming. "But the best part," he said, "is this slimy albino moss it's all wrapped up in."

"Moss?" Buddha croaked.

"Moss," repeated Viker. "Think wet spaghetti."

Buddha exhaled loudly and began to roll his head around. The bones in his neck creaked with tension. "Tubular, slimy and slippery," he groaned.

"Three of my favorite things."

"As you can see," Viker said with a grim smile, "the word bridge can have many meanings, some comforting, some not."

Rue Shadow peered over the edge into the blackness below. Far away, they could hear the trickle of water on stone. It was a quiet, almost peaceful sound.

And then the moaning began in earnest. Bellowing out of the surrounding tunnels like a wounded elephant, it spun in spiraling echoes around the soaring circumference of Colossus Cavernous. It sped from surface to surface as if on a search and devour mission. The group of currently circumspect invaders of its territory felt suddenly very much like its disadvantaged prey.

The ruffles of rocky drapery that they shortly found themselves descending looked almost like the ruffles of a woodland mushroom.

"At least they're not Death Caps," Red Pearl offered over the din of yet another series of earsplitting moans. Everyone ignored her stab at humor.

The ruffles themselves were not soft and spongy like woodland mushrooms but rigid and rough from years of Calcite deposits. The tiny crevices and peaks this formed were like the sharpened teeth in a row of combs.

"Walking on a bed of nails," Shadow whispered, "without benefit of training." Blood oozed from the kitten's tender pads onto the narrow ledge. It left a crimson trail across the pale pathway as if a giant hand had stitched the drapery with a band of red.

Between their paws and their aching muscles the harsh bite of exhaustion penetrated almost to the bone. They were beginning to wonder how much further they could go.

The path was becoming smoother the deeper they went, but the skinny trail slashed across the cave face in an endless series of harrowing switchbacks. The ropes snapped taut when a hiker turned a corner too swiftly. More than once, this had pulled the others into a terrifying slide.

"Shadow," cried Red Pearl as she watched her brother sliding toward a hundred foot sheer drop into the rocky unknown darkness below.

"Hello," he squeaked bracing his front legs and finally teetering to a halt just short of the drop off. He scooted back against the wall. A fissure in the rock beside him oozed icy water onto his shoulder. He trembled and pulled away from its frigid touch. "Can we rest a minute?" he asked of no one in particular.

"Not now, boy." Ferallon tugged insistently on the rope. "Come on. We're almost there."

by Linda Towne
Part 72

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