Aylme struck the flint against the rock again. This time the sparks fell where she wanted: into the shredded scraps of old cloth. The fibers quickly ignited and she leaned forward, blowing them further into life. All at once the larger pieces of cloth caught the flame, and a merry fire sprang from the end of the torch. Aylme grabbed its end, scrambled out of the hole, and rushed to the river’s edge.
Here the choking tendrils of congealed water had formed a thick web. Their tight grip was crumbling the dirt, causing it collapse by chunks into the river below. Aylme stood well back from their reach, but extended the torch’s end into their midst. There was an immediate reaction. The sprawling tendrils ceased their forward movement in that area. To the left and to the right they continued grasping along their way, just not directly where the flame stood.
“Alright,” Aylme said to herself. “I’ll just have to line the wall of our home with torches, keep it from breaking in through the sides. That should–“
But she was cut off by a sucking, gurgling sound that came from the banks of the river. There, on the river’s edge, a new web of tendrils lifted into the air, like a pair of thousand-fingered hands. And in those hands it was holding loose water, which was quickly spilling out of its grasp. The hands thrust forward suddenly, depositing their deluge right onto Aylme’s torch and snuffing out the fire!
But that wasn’t all. Next those tendriled hands sprang forward, trying to clutch at Aylme! She leapt back and batted at them with the extinguished torch. But no sooner did the wood touch those tendrils than they pierced into it, holding it fast in the air, working their way up its length and towards her arm! Aylme released the torch before it could touch her, and watched as the wood creaked, cracked, and then burst into splinters!
“No, no, no…” Aylme moaned as she turned on the spot and ran back to their home, slithering down through the hole as quickly as she could. “We’ll be trapped in here!” She slid her arms under Cace, lifted him up, and thrust him out of the hole. She climbed out after, then gripped the small boy around the shoulders and dragged him further into the woods, away from the expanding tendrils of water. “Wake up, Cace! Please wake up! Don’t make me do this all by myself!”
But Cace did not respond. It was still up to her alone. So she continued dragging him until they were out of sight of the river, then propped him against the trunk of a massive tree. Was this far enough away to be safe? Would those water-tendrils ever stop sprawling outward, or would the children be on the run from them forever now? She couldn’t know. But for now this would have to do, because she still had to get Rolar out of their home, and that was a very daunting prospect indeed!
As Aylme ran back to their hovel she wiped the sweat from her forehead and clutched at a stich in her side. First the fight with the beast, then dragging both of the boys back home, and now trying to get them out of there! She was exhausted, but that didn’t matter. She couldn’t stop now, no matter how much her body protested.
Aylme slid into the hole again, scooped her arms under Rolar’s body and gave a tremendous lift, but he was too heavy. She only got his legs and lower torso into the air, but his head still flopped around on the ground.
“Why did I ever bring you down here?!” she scolded herself as she failed to lift him again.
It had seemed the right thing to do at the moment. Her instincts had been that their shelter was the safest place for them to be, but now it was a trap. There came a strange creaking sound, and then snapping. Aylme looked around for the source, but it was coming from just beyond the dirt wall of their shelter.
“It’s the roots,” she realized. “The roots of the tree above us…the tendrils are snapping them.” Which meant they were mere inches from breaking into their space! “Where did those rags get to?” Aylme fumbled around in the corner until she found the sling she used to transport Rolar here. Quickly she wrapped it under each of his shoulders, then scrambled out of the hole with the sling’s ends. She planted her feet against the edge of the hole, pulled on the sling with all her strength, and Rolar’s body slid a little closer to the exit. She gave a cry and pulled even harder, this time sliding him across the floor until he was against the wall, just beneath the hole.
“Whatever it takes, Aylme, whatever it takes!” she panted to herself. “Just an inch at a time. That’s enough. Come on, now, you can do an inch.” As she spoke she took the ends of the sling and threw them over the lowest-hanging branch of the tree that sat atop their shelter. Then she grabbed the ends, wrapped them several times around her hands, pressed her feet against the tree, and tugged down with all of her might. The bark was rough, and it was extremely difficult for her to pull the fabric over it. There was a silver lining to that friction, though, for after Rolar was pulled upwards it helped hold him in place while she adjusted her grip and pulled again.
Over and over Aylme tugged at the rope, pulling it down so that Rolar was pulled up. The more she pulled the more exhausted she became and the harder the burden became. For as Rolar’s body raised, more and more of his weight wasn’t supported by his lower body anymore.
“Just don’t stop!” Aylme wheezed between breaths. “Just please don’t stop–“
But then she heard a most distinctive and terrifying sound.
The sling was starting to tear!