Today we continue with part 2 of the short-story, Mattie Hornbecker’s Other Bag.
Lead on, Mattie, lead on…
The road to Granite Cave–or Satan’s Foyer–was not, it seemed, made for buses.
And the Big Man’s son, it seemed, wasn’t made for them either. He had been purple faced when they arrived, but he’d gone a little green. Chartreuse even, Mattie thought, which wasn’t even a good color for second-hand dishware.
“Hey driver!” Big Man yelled. He hadn’t bothered to learn the name. “Can’t you see you’re making him sick?”
Tour-guide Lisa could see very well, of course; they all could–and hear it too, as the boy was making a gurgling noise. But Mattie felt very sure that the driver was not singly responsible for his condition. Careful counting of the candy wrappers in his pocket, plus the empty big-gulp soda cup he’d dropped on the floor, ought, in fairness to bear some of the blame.
“We can’t stop now,” said tour guide John. “We’re on an incline.”
“Man, you have to,” The young hipster begged. After all, the incline meant any vomitous utterances from the front would be rolling back his way.
“No, I don’t,” John said simply and then turned his attention back to the road.
The gurgling boy added a dry hetch-hetch to his symphony of disgust, but the bus rattled on.
“Not really much of a tour guide, is he?” Sue Sandwich whispered to Mattie. “They’re supposed to tell us about where we’re going.”
The tour guide turned in their direction.
“We are going up hill.” he said. “Then we will go down hill.”
“Duh,” the Big Man’s daughter sighed, but Mattie waved her comment away.
“Yes. And what excellent hearing you must have–John, was it?” Mattie smiled and set her knitting bag on the floor with a clunk. “Will the cave be at the bottom of the hill, then?”
“No. It’s at the Granite cliffside. You’ll see”
Mattie had no doubt that she would. Sue, however, seemed unconvinced.
“Well, but, how do we get to the cliffside?” she asked, clearly impatient with his guide-ability (and probably, Mattie assumed, itching to snatch the mic from him. Another way of filling the void.)
At the front of the bus, Lisa’s pale, thin lips creased into an equally pale, thin smile.
“A little walk, that’s all.”
Mattie had some experience with little walks. When an elderly woman from the knitter’s guild said something was “a little walk,” it usually was. About eight steps to the nearest shaded bench, eleven steps if she was feeling frisky. When a too-tall, too-thin near-teenager said something was a “little walk,” it was not likely to be little–and not likely to be walking.
Just as well she brought sensible shoes.
When the bus spilled them out (and when the purple-chartreuse boy had spilled his lunch), it became quite clear how right Mattie’s guess had been. A small sign, hard to see in overgrown pine boughs, announced the “trail head.”
“Oh, a hike!” Sue Sandwich exclaimed with (unshared) delight.
“You didn’t say we were hiking,” Hipster’s girlfriend complained in a voice somewhere between a threat and a whine.
“Aw, it ain’t far–been there loads of times,” Hipster said encouragingly. Mattie regarded him with suspicion. If it were true, then he was doubly an idiot for coming unprepared. But of course, it wasn’t true. Young men would say anything to their girlfriends…
“Better be worth it,” Big Man huffed. “We spent good money.”
“Wasted it, you mean,” his daughter muttered, hiding behind her blond hair.
The guides took no notice, but led the way through the pines and up the crushed gravel track. It was, actually, quite well-kept. It ought to be, as the brochure insisted the tour ran every day from noon to two. Of course, it was rather well passed two already. In fact, it was a quarter to four. Mattie clucked under her breath–they would be hard pressed to make it back before dark. She would miss her quiz show. A travesty, that. The wind was a bit chilly, and she clutched her brown purse a bit closer–
“What’s the matter?” Sue asked. “Is the walk too much?”
“Mmm? No, not at all,” Mattie assured her, though her fingers twitched fussily. “I just seem to have left my other bag on the bus.”
“Oh–not to worry! I have everything and a kitchen sink in this rucksack,” she patted the bulging bag lovingly. “What do you need?”
Mattie gave a little dry cough, the closest thing she dared to an indication of annoyance. After all, it wasn’t about need. It was about her bag.
“I like to keep it with me, you know. It has all my little things in it.”
“Your knitting, huh? I understand exactly what you mean,” Sue agreed with spirit. But Mattie very much doubted this.
The wind continued to pick up, and above them, the sky had begun to darken considerably. Hipster and his girlfriend were the first to sound the alarm.
“Hey, man, I think it’s gonna storm–maybe we should just go back to the bus?”
“We can’t go back now!” Sue cried. “We must be almost there, surely!”
“We are there,” said tour guide Lisa. From behind them. She nodded at her partner, who pulled aside the last pine bough and pointed.
“Welcome to Satan’s Foyer,” he said, bowing at them as though he were a stage manager thanking an audience.
“I told you it was a hole,” Big Man’s daughter harumphed.
And really, it very much appeared to be one. Mattie adjusted her glasses. The trail ended in a flat wall of granite, which stood out pink against the white rock under their feet. The pines which had hailed them on either side dropped away and there was a flat space clear of any foliage. If they had looked behind them, they would have seen–just beyond the tree-tops–a wide sweep of bay and the tidy shoreline. But of course, they had come to look at the cave, and so they did: a perfectly circular aperture that seemed bored right into the cliff-side, a deep dark hole flanked by pink stone under a rolling sky.
“Wow,” said Sue Sandwich.
“Weird,” said Hipster.
“I’m f-f-freezing,” chimed the Girlfriend, and Big Man’s brood made a chorus of “Can we leave now?”
“We’re going in, right?” Big Man asked, seemingly bent on stretching his dollar’s worth.
“Of course,” the guides agreed in sync. “After you.”
Big Man swaggered forward in the over-done way of a man who hadn’t the first clue what he was doing. Mattie twitched her nose at him; the walk had not improved the sweat-stain, either. From behind, the duck-shaped mark had morphed into a full-grown goose. It would be flock by the time they got back, she was sure of it.
“Do you have a light?” he asked, hovering at the edge.
“I do!” Sue exclaimed, producing not one but three. “Here! And here–who else wants one?”
“I’m not going in there,” Girlfriend exclaimed, deciding it was high time threat took over for whine.
“You don’t think so?” tour guide Lisa asked, the tongue ring rasping. Above them, a sudden streak of light announced a change of plans, followed by a peal of thunder.
“Crap–well, come on,” Hipster urged, pulling her along. Big Man had gone in behind John, shepherding (bullying) his children ahead of him, and the young couple soon ducked in after.
“Let’s go!” Sue said brightly, but Mattie was wavering.
“I really should get my other bag,” she said. “I don’t like leaving it behind.”
“Look, you’re not knitting in the cave–just come on,” Lisa insisted, just at her elbow.
Mattie intended to protest, but two things prevented her. The first was a peal of thunder. The second was Sue Sandwich.
“The storm is on us!” Sue chirped, taking Mattie by the arm and tugging. “You can’t go back down the path in the rain!”
And then, almost on cue, the drops began to fall. Mattie sighed and followed Sue into the dim interior of Satan’s Foyer, with the tour-guide following close behind.
[To Be Continued in part 3!]