Return to the Shadows
that?”
    “Okay, but why are we going to the magic
place with the bad men if we are trying to get away from bad
men?”
    “Well…” I trailed off, struggling with the
question. “I guess all I can say is…we’re going there because it
can also be a safe place. There are some very important people
there. Some very good people who can keep us safe and help us get
rid of the bad men,” I explained.
    “I’m still scared,” she admitted, not looking
reassured in the least by my explanation and logic.
    “I know you are, sweetie. Look at it this
way. The magic place is just like anywhere else. There are good
people and bad people.”
    “And we’re gonna find the good people?”
    “Yes.” I nodded and smiled for the first time
that night, truly starting to believe that.
    ***
    The remainder of our travel was smooth and
blessedly uneventful. It was also remarkably fast. I alternated
between carrying Ashley and letting her walk for the first five
miles of the trip. The remaining ten miles was another story
altogether. I chose to carry her piggy-back style since the ground
was so hard and uneven, with roots jutting here and there. I didn’t
feel that it was a good idea to let her try and navigate the rough
terrain; she didn’t seem to mind the decision and merely clung
quietly to my shoulders till we reached the cave. It loomed black
and imposing in the distance and I forced myself to breathe
normally as we came upon it.
    I took the entrance that lay to the right,
stopping to explain that the rest of the journey would be through
the cave. That no matter what happened, we had to keep going. It
was every bit as dismal and dank as I remembered it. But if nothing
else, the trek through the cave went twice as fast as it had the
first time around, and thank God for that. The thick spider webs
that I had not been able to get out of my head for a year and a
half still hung from the ceilings like a bad Halloween prop. Ashley
paused and gasped upon seeing them, then promptly hid behind my
legs. She had flatly refused to take another step, and it had taken
a good five minutes for me to convince her that there were no giant
spiders lurking about. I finally reminded her that should we happen
to encounter any spiders, I still had my gun.
    “So if we see a big spider, you can shoot
it?” Her voice was tiny yet echoing in the cavernous space.
    “That’s right.” I nodded, and we moved deeper
into the cave. We reached the fork in the cave in under an hour,
crouching down to fit through the small doorway that led to the
long tunnel. It was the last leg of our journey, and the one most
likely to cause us the greatest amount of discomfort. The passage
was so low and narrow that the only way to pass through it was to
crawl the two miles on all fours. I took the short length of nylon
rope I had stowed in our pack and used it to fashion a tether that
went from Ashley’s wrist to my ankle. She still had plenty of room
to crawl freely behind me, yet would still be securely attached to
me at all times.
    Two hours later, we crawled through the
opening and into the mountainous chamber that stood at the end of
the tunnel. The doorway was directly in front of us, a simple hole
surrounded by etchings. I felt the chill creep across my skin as I
deftly steered Ashley around the crimson stain on the floor and
approached the back wall of the cave. I closed my eyes and ran my
fingers over the warning that was etched into the stone.
    Long, harsh-looking lines had been carved
into the rock in a circle formation. The carvings were so deep it
looked as though the rock had been viciously slashed over and over
again. A chill crept across my skin, refusing to be held at bay.
There was a deep gash in the smooth center of the carving. Above
that was a tiny picture. Someone had carved what looked to be a
picture of a rudimentary, unadorned coffin.
    There was a single long straight line above
the coffin and a sun several inches above that. A representation

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