A Narrow Escape
A half hour’s uphill trudge brought them to an open area surrounding the tall pine. Thoroughly out of breath, they stood at the edge of the clearing. A short distance across the clearing was a group of large rocks embedded in a high bank of earth.
“Phew! Can we take a breather?” asked Benjamin, and without waiting for a reply, threw himself on the ground.
“OK. A ten minute break,” Bertie answered. “Then we need to keep going. The day’s not getting any younger.”
“Holy Harbison!,” Benjamin groaned, as he stretched out. “That’s better. That was some hike. I didn’t figure on such tough going when I signed on for this adventure.”
“Tough going for a city mouse,” Bertie jibed.
“Aw, cut me some slack, Cuz,” Benjamin said. “This treasure hunting’s hard work. Mouse-trapping is one thing; uphill trekking’s another. How much longer before we find Ralph’s treasure?”
“Who knows,” his cousin replied, as he lay down on the grass beside him. “Depends on the terrain we have to cover. We’re just on the first leg so be prepared for more hard work.”
“Well, my legs are killing me,” Benjamin complained, and added, “and we forgot to bring any water. I’m as dry as a dust mop.”
“It’s too late to go back now. We’ll just have to soldier on. Maybe we’ll find a fresh water stream, or a spring, along the way,” Bertie said.
Between the soft wind blowing through his whiskers and the sun’s warmth soothing his aching muscles, Benjamin closed his eyes and began to daydream. Piles of precious stones and mounds of gold coins floated through his semi-consciousness. Soon that fantastic hoard would be his…and Bertie’s, too, of course.
Just as he was drifting off, a faint sound startled him from his reverie.
“Did you hear that, Cuz?”, he whispered as he sat up.
“Sure did,” Bertie replied, testing the air, “but I don’t smell anything.”
Whiskers twitching, they took several investigatory breaths.
There it was again, and louder, from the direction they had just come. Now they clearly heard something between a soft purr and a guttural growl. It set their ears a-prick and their fur standing straight up.
“It’s tracking us, Cuz” whispered Benjamin. “I don’t like this one bit.”
The soft mewling was more distinct now. “I smell a cat!” Bertie whispered.
“Yeah. I smell it too,” Benjamin murmured. “What’ll we do? He’s getting closer and there’s no place to hide.”
“I don’t know,” Bertie responded, “but don’t move a muscle. There’s a chance he hasn’t got wind of us.”
It approached, purring softly in the sing-song way that stalking felines use when they wish to paralyze their victims with fear.
“RRRRRRRRr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r… Pur-r-r-r-r-r- r-r…. Rrrrow-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r….I smell…MMMM- MM…Mousemeat!!! Gr-r-r-r-r-racious—I am hun-gr-r-r-r-r-r-ry.”
“He’s trying to scare us.” whispered Bertie. “Well, he’s doing a good job, Cuz.”
The cat was so close that they could hear its footfalls.
“Get out your knife, and be ready to go down fighting, Cuz,” Bertie whispered as he drew his snake sticker.
“Remember the Alamo,” Benjamin answered and followed suit.
They crouched low, their backs pressed against a small sapling.
At that moment, Benjamin, who had been desperately scanning the perimeter of the clearing
for a place to hide, spotted an opening among in the boulders across the clearing.
“Hey! I see a hole over there,” Benjamin whispered, as he pointed toward the boulders. “Maybe we can squeeze inside.”
“Yeah, I see it,” Bertie replied. “I can’t tell how deep it goes, but it’s our only chance.”
“But can we get there before that cat catches us? It looks too far away.”
“We’ve got to try, Cuz,” Bertie retorted, and when he heard no response he added, “Come on, Benjie, are you a mouse or a gerbil?”
“Well, when you put it that way, I guess I’d rather go down running than fighting.”
“OK,” whispered Bertie. “Ready?” and even as Benjamin was nodding, he cried, “Run for it!”
They darted across the clearing and threw themselves into the opening.
“I didn’t think we’d make it,” gasped Benjamin, his back against a rock wall. “What a stroke of luck.”
“Don’t count your chickens yet, Benjie. I’m afraid we’re too close to the entrance.
But I can’t see any way we can get farther back into this cave, moaned Benjamin.
We’ll just have to sit tight and pray it can’t reach us,” Bertie replied.
With whiskers twitching uncontrollably, they waited.
Suddenly, the daylight beyond the entrance was all but blotted out, and replaced by a pair of large yellow-green eyes. A set of dagger-like claws was waving back and forth in front of their cringing faces.
“I see you,” came a voice that curdled their blood. “I’ll have you out of therrrrre in shorrrrrt orrrrrderrrrr. If you come out on yourrrrrr own I prrrrromise to make it painless, and not play with you beforrrrre I eat you.”
Breathlessly they waited, not moving a muscle.
Then, miraculously, sunlight streamed through the opening.
“Whew!” exhaled Benjamin, “That was close.”
“Yeah,” Bertie whispered. “Let’s hope he’s gone.”
But, in the next moment, the cave was plunged into total darkness. As they pressed their tails flat against the wall, they could hear the cat growling as it attempted to thrust its paw deeper into the cave. Although they could see nothing, they sensed the cat’s paw as it groped for them.
“Grrrrrrrrrrr!” came the voice in a frustrated yowl. “You’rrrrrre trrrrrapped in therrrrre. Come out you two rrrrrrrodents. Therrrre’s no escape.”
They clutched each other’s arm as the dreadful claws swept the air in front of them. Its claws brushed their whiskers and scratched at the wall above their heads. Bits of loose gravel and dirt showered down on them.
“Oh, Cuz,” Benjamin moaned. “I wish we’d never started out on this treasure hunt.”
“Chin up, Benjie. We’re not done for yet,” Bertie whispered urgently. “I don’t think he can reach us.” At that moment he was thinking, ‘Can this really be the end, here in this dark cave?’ when he heard a soft voice to his right. “Who’s this inside my cave?”