Chapter 9

Copyright © 2022 Norma Rrae.

Luci slammed her eyes shut in anticipation of smashing into
the black wall. The slit of light was tiny. Chamier wailed
behind her, which told her she had aimed her lunge correctly.
Thankfully, when she hit headfirst, it was like a wall made of
soft rubber. It moulded around her body and pulled her deeper.
Sanctuary. Silence.

She inhaled deeply with relief, but the material crawled in her
mouth and slithered down her throat. She clawed, kicked, and
fought the wall, and finally, her hand broke through. Something
hit her leg. She struggled to look but saw nothing but blackness.

She felt pressure wrap around her calf. Her panicked cry fell silent
as Chamier pulled her back.

Luci fought to keep moving forward. She couldn’t see anything, but she did hear the crackling of Chamier’s web grow
closer. She used both hands and clawed at the rubber-like wall.
The tear stretched up to her forearm. For Mom. Luci’s shoulder
broke through. Then her collar bone, half her chest, and finally
her head. She could no longer hear Chamier’s electrical web. She
gasped a lungful of fresh air and forced the rest of her body to

Then she was out. The blackness had let her go, and she
slammed into the ground on her belly, winding herself. Luci
quickly rolled over. She was under the willow tree, but there was
no angry face in webs. The sky was a stagnant blue with no sight
of the sun. The tree she lay under recoiled with a creaking sound
and folded into the same black film from which she had emerged.
Luci lay frozen from fear or shock, half perched on her elbows.
Her erratic breath wasn’t even delivering oxygen.

She felt in her pocket. There were no more plums, only a
plum seed. She was hungry and tired. Then she remembered
Ashier and got moving. The mischievous Memegwaan could be
lingering, or worse, helping Chamier catch up to Luci.

But what direction? She had to find this labyrinth Efra
mentioned. There were hills to her right, mountains in front,
and more willow trees to her left.

She stood and pointed in each direction.

She frowned. “No more willow trees.” Then she turned.
“Mountains, nope. I don’t have the energy.” And she turned again.
“Hills …” She saw a path, a flattened area where two hills merged.
It was about the best bet she had.

Luci trudged over the hills, weaved between short paths, and
then stopped at a cave entrance dug into the dirt.
The cave smelled like rotten grass. Luci wrinkled her nose.
She was about to back out of the cave entrance when she saw a
light flicker ahead. The rope in her chest compelled her forward.

She followed the mysterious light, her nose plugged with one hand, her other out in front to feel for obstacles. Finally, the light
reflected off something on the ground. When she arrived at it,
she was shocked to see the light coming from a diamond on the
floor. She picked it up, then she saw another ahead. Mesmerized
by the line of sparkling gems, Luci didn’t realize she’d walked
the length of the cave until it opened in a wide mouth that spilt
her out atop a thin ledge. She set the diamond delicately on the
ground since it didn’t belong to her. She had bigger things ahead,
like the high rock cliff. The bottom was not visible, but the rope
in her chest insisted.

The ledge, dotted with tiny white flowers, ran the length of
a school field. The f lowers each had three identical green leaves
with a spherical water droplet in the middle.

Luci stepped gingerly over the flowers. A bead of water
dropped onto the edge of the cliff despite her careful movements.

The ledge violently shook, causing her to plant her body against
the cliff face. She’d never felt an earthquake before. Even living in
the kill zone, waiting for the “big one” on Vancouver Island, this
was the first tremor she’d experienced. Her foot slipped, causing
her palms to burst into a stress sweat. Her heart banged against
her rib cage. Her temples throbbed from worry. Then, after a long
minute, the cliffside stopped shaking.

Luci heard a slam ahead but saw nothing except an endless
cliff. Wonder made Luci kneel and reach for the nearest water
droplet. The crystal ball reflected her face as she inched her hand
towards it. She thought she looked aged but dismissed the idea
and planted her feet as best she could.

Luci’s steady fingers wrapped around the f lower’s wobbly
stem as it swayed in the canyon wind. The bead of water didn’t
move from the edge of the flat-topped flower, but the leaves
turned upward. A thousand more buds turned their faces to
watch. She flicked the drop off, and it spurted into two smaller
drops, then landed on the cliff edge. The whole mountain shook.

She snapped her eyes up in time to see a drawbridge lower two
feet, then slam shut again.

Luci needed to drop the beads of water. All of them.

Unfortunately, she imagined it would cause quite an earthquake.
She calculated her subsequent movements to be exact.

She looked back, and the dirt cave that had spilt her onto the
cliff edge was gone.

The edge beneath her feet was not much broader than the
spine of a thousand-page novel. The water would make the edge
slippery, but the action of droplets falling was what made the
drawbridge open.

Luci spent a long minute calming and readying, then yelled,
“For Mom!” like a battle cry and sprinted along the crag. Rock
climbing with her father put muscle memory in her legs that
planted each step perfectly. She kicked off as many droplets as
she could while she ran. The cliff angrily moaned and knocked
her around, but she kept her forward momentum. A few boulders
broke loose as the drawbridge creaked open. She was close. Water
sprayed everywhere and splattered Luci’s face, but she kept her
eyes on the target.

A bird squawk broke her focus. She looked up to see a
prehistoric-sized golden bird, with wings the length of a train car,
creep out from a hidden nest. He f lapped off his ledge with wing
beats that echoed like an avalanche crashing down a valley. The
bird’s massive beak aimed to swallow Luci whole. She jumped to
close the distance to the bridge, and her body slammed hard on
the corner. The bridge was beginning to close, and she wasn’t
quite centred. The motion of it rising made her body slip to the
edge. Her hands clawed, trying to grab something to pull her
body up. She would soon get caught in the frame and crushed,
or lose grip then fall to her death while the giant bird plucked her
body to bits. The chains rattled on the draw bridge. It was vertical
when her arms gave out.

She fell. The bird took the opportunity and swooped in for
his attack. Luci grabbed the golden wing mid-air and swung
her weight, making the bird fall towards the bridge. The bird
snapped his beak at her and tried to throw her off. Luci used the
momentum to ride up over the last opening of the bridge. She
let go of the bird.

She crashed and rolled inside a second before the door sealed
shut with a bang. Luci laughed like a lunatic. She’d made it.

Luci lay on her back, staring at the ceiling of the stone cave.
No stalactites hung here. Instead, millions of bats unfolded their
wings to glare. Their tiny hands held diamonds that swayed from
their movement. It’s a good thing, she thought, bats are cute. But the
smell of guano burned the back of her throat.

Luci peeled her body off the poop-covered floor.
“Hello?” she called.

A few bats dropped their loot and flew off from the sound
of her voice. Others closed their eyes to resume sleeping while
gripping the diamonds.

The ground rumbled with heavy footsteps. Stomp, stomp,
stomp. An immense shaking bounced Luci around with the
diamonds on the earth.

Something massive, Luci thought. She looked around for
somewhere to hide, but there was nothing in the open space.

Then, suddenly, a fabulous light caused Luci to shield her eyes as
if every diamond in the vicinity lit up.

When she peeked between her fingers, she saw a beautiful
elephant stepping gingerly towards her. A single oval gemstone
set between the animal’s large brown eyes reflected the diamonds’
light. The elephant had gold bangles that bounced and sang with
each step. Glamour filled the damp cavern. The elegant animal
made Luci gasp in awe.

Bats dropped from the ceiling and flew around, tossing
diamonds to create a stunning archway above the elephant.

“Look how lucky I am. Finally, finally, there is company in my
cave,” the dazzling elephant said with a customer-service voice.

“How are you speaking?” Luci asked.

“Why, with my mouth silly,” she giggled.

“Animals don’t normally speak.”

“Well, yes, but I’m a keeper, which gives me immense magical

Her voice boomed on the last words. The bats dropped from
their positions along the ceiling and threw diamonds around
again. “No, no, no,” she groaned, “not this again. Go on, back
to sleep with you.”

Luci noticed red tattoos of jewels and f lowers dance across the
wrinkled ridges of the elephant’s body.

“Are you my beauty trial?” Luci asked.

“Beauty? Beauty, you say?” The elephant looked at her
reflection in a large diamond on the cave f loor. “Why yes, beauty
is … wait, no. I’m a wisdom trial.”

Luci chuckled. “I could always use more of that. I’m Luci,
by the way.”

“Yes, Lucille doll, I know who you are. But doesn’t everyone?”
She winked a heavy lashed eye. “I’m Gian Kaur,” the elephant said.

“Lovely name, Gian. I’m sorry to intrude, but I’m looking
for the labyrinth. A blonde woman may have travelled there?”
Luci asked.

“I know the labyrinth. I never leave that place. Well, except
to come here, to the bat cave. I haven’t seen any blonde women,
though,” Gian said.

“Can you take me there?” Luci asked.

“We’re in the bat cave.”

“The labyrinth.”

“Of course, I can. Why that’s where we need to go anyway
for your trial,” Gian said. Her feet stomped excitedly causing the
bangles to sing lovely melodies.

Gian turned around, her tiny tail swishing, and stomped
further into the cave. Hundreds of diamonds vibrated into
geometric patterns from her footsteps. Since everything behind
her quickly faded to darkness, Luci followed Gian. Soon the
shadowy grotto dissipated into a corn-created labyrinth. Luci
gasped. What magic this place had.

At the beginning of the corn, hundreds of discarded diamonds
littered the field. Those dwindled to just a few when Gian stopped
at the entrance. It was as if the diamonds were rubbish that had
stuck to the bottom of her feet.

The labyrinth was elephant-sized, with cornstalks weaving
from one stem to the next to create walls that left no blank spaces.
Gian lifted her trunk, hesitated, and then lowered it. “I’m
supposed to say something,” she said. Gian turned around to look
at Luci, who shrugged. Gian scratched her head with her trunk as
if she were waiting for a prompt. Just as Luci opened her mouth,
Gian Kaur straightened her posture and spoke. “Wisdom cannot
be taught, not simply told or cheated to answer. It must be and can
only be grown within you, Lucille doll. You cannot accept the
wisdom of another. You must decide for yourself. Use experience
to grow your wealth of wisdom. You sometimes, in fact, need to
fail to learn. Travel the wrong direction, accept the dire results,
to bask in the relief of your wisdom.”

Gian motioned towards the labyrinth entrance. Luci saw
three especially large cornstalks growing above the rest, equally
distanced from one another and the gate. She could tell from the
shapes attached to the stalks that each held an animal.

“You will have time to select the direction of only one animal.
Then one will kill, one will die, and one will escape,” Gian said.

“How will I know which one to choose?” Luci asked.

“That’s where wisdom is applied.”

Luci guessed there was only one exit but numerous pathways
and many more dead ends. “How long do I have?” she asked.

“About the time it takes to get to one animal,” Gian said.

“Wilds, Gian, I don’t want anyone to die,” Luci said.

“Then choose correctly.”

The elephant lowered her trunk, and Luci lost her admiration
for the animal. No matter how beautiful anyone seemed, she
didn’t think risking life for a trial was exemplary. Gian turned
around and walked past Luci.

“Gian,” she said.

Gian’s response was a whisper. “One will die.”

Luci thought she saw a sadness in the elephant’s eyes before
she faded back into the cave. Then the exit disappeared, and Luci
stood alone.

She stepped into the opening of the labyrinth. “For Mom,”
she mumbled sadly. The corn immediately slammed the entrance
closed. She felt deflated by the dead end to finding her mother.
Either way, she had to complete this trial to open the door
to Earth.

Luci refocused her thoughts on the animals ahead. First, of
course, the “one will escape” would be Luci’s quickest exit, but
then she would be dooming one to die. And one will kill? Is that
how the one would die? Luci had to figure out what the animals
were before she could decide.

At the end of the first hallway, a stalk of corn stood impossibly
larger than the rest. It marked the three halls that lead to each
animal. If Luci ended at the wrong location, it could prove
disastrous, and not only to the one who would die—she might
lose this trial and her mother forever.

The cornstalk stood as wide and tall as an ancient tree. Luci
planned her route up to the top. But, first, she would have to step
gingerly on the silky-smooth leaves and hope they didn’t tear like
paper. As she examined the stalk, corn husks opened and turned
their ears to point at Luci like a threat. One even spat a kernel.
Luci grabbed the first grasshopper-green leaf and pulled down hard to test its durability. She shrugged. The foliage seemed
strong enough. “Like climbing a rock wall,” she said.

Luci hoisted her weight to the lowest leaf. The first step
caused husks to peel back from their ears, forming spiky balls that
lined the stalks like land mines. Great, Luci thought.

Nimbly, Luci reached for the next leaf. Her confidence grew
as she ascended the stalk and didn’t bend any foliage. She managed
to dodge the spikes the whole way up. The angry corn ears were
all empty threats, no follow-through. Some even closed up when
she neared, unmasked again once she passed.

Near the top, one ear of corn had broken free of its husk. The
little corn waited for Luci, standing like a man, smacking a baton
made of husks against a splintered kernel arm. The corn man
jumped at her nose, swinging the baton. Luci snapped back the
end of a leaf above her and swatted him to the ground.

Above the labyrinth, Luci could see the grandness of the
maze. It was perfection how the walls f lowed from one corridor
to the next. She tried to memorize the halls that slammed shut
with dead ends to plan her route.

Luci examined the animal silhouettes.

The middle corn husk held a ferocious grizzly bear that roared
and pulled on steel chains that shackled its vicious paws high in
the air.

A kinkajou hung from a stalk with chains locked around his
tail to the left. He swung miserably and made whimpering sounds
that found Luci’s ears even from a distance.

The animal on the right was a god-sized bald eagle. He
flapped in the air with no chains to hold him back. He held his
head high as, with massive wing beats, he smashed corn around
him for fun. His ego kept him in place. Indeed, he knew he was
the best choice.

If she ran to the eagle, he, of course, could fly to save the
kinkajou from dying. Or would the eagle merely soar Luci away from the labyrinth altogether? She wanted out of here, but she
didn’t wish the kinkajou to die. And what if the eagle refused to
help Luci? He wasn’t trapped. He could cause her to fail this trial.

Luci felt there was only one honest answer. She descended the
cornstalk, kicking away attacking ear spikes on the way. Then she
chose the path in the direction she needed.

Luci wandered hallways for a long time, it seemed. The
walkways stretched and bent into new galleries. She placed husks
sideways to mark her path, and sure enough, she was walking in
circles. She forced herself to run to cover more ground but came to
a screeching stop when she reached a dead end. Luci hung her head
and sulked as she turned to try another hall. The stalks swayed as
she turned down a corn-way that felt darker, making Luci move
cautiously. She felt something watching. Dark shadows crawled up
the edges of the corn walls. A glance up told her the sky was still
cloud-free and an unnervingly soft blue. Something felt uncanny.

She turned another corner, and the shadow followed. It was
the dark place following her. Luci tried to squeeze between a few
tall stalks. The wall was tightly packed, and she only got a few
steps in before being pushed out. It was the cheater’s way anyway.

Her arms had got scratched up as if karma for trying the shortcut.
Luci ran. She turned each corner faster, trying to find the
animal she’d chosen. The shadows crept along the ground. Long
finger shapes reached for her. Luci’s heart felt like it was skipping
every other beat. She had to force her feet to continue. The
shadow followed closely on her heels. She didn’t know if it could
easily pull her back to the dark place.

What was that place called?

A wall of shorter corn husks tempted Luci to climb over.
She scaled the corn, and the shadowy hand followed. The husks
seemed to grab at her as she frantically crawled along the top. The
shadow grew solid. She scrambled away, but it caught her ankle.

She yelped. Claws dug into her skin. Luci threw herself off the
wall, and the hand let go.

The darkness faded away.

Corn stalks snapped. A mighty growl vibrated the walls
around her, and Luci rounded the corner to see the grizzly. The
animal she’d chosen. He looked at her, snarled, and drooled. The
chains pulled tight as his deadly paws f lung towards her. The
stalks cracked but held. Gian warned one would kill, and the
corn seemed to be purposely letting the grizzly go free. His rage
would take him straight for the easy target of the poor kinkajou.

Luci pulled the plum seed from her pocket. She cracked it in
half between her teeth, sure she had broken a molar, but it was
worthwhile now as she held an excellent sharp-edged tool. She
sawed through the corn stalk that held the chain. It fell to the
ground. Luci gasped when the chain dissolved back to a string of
kernels. She ducked in time to miss the bear’s free paw swing at
her. She ran behind him and cut through the second corn shackle.

The eagle screeched somewhere in the distance. Luci wondered
if he was commanding her to stop and make her way to him. She
ignored it. Then, success, the bear’s second paw swung free, and
it became too late to regret her decision anyway.

The grizzly claws slashed dangerously through the air. Luci
ducked. The bear tripped and crashed his thousand-pound weight
on top of her.

She curled in a ball. The bear sat back on his bottom and
looked at her quizzically.

“It’s OK,” she said soothingly. The bear watched her
movements as she crawled backwards and stood a decent distance
away. Luci brushed the corn pieces off her clothing and risked
meeting the grizzly’s eyes. “I saw your agony, and I know the
pain of not understanding,” she said.

She’d felt it with her daymares. The blind rage against an
unknown enemy charged the energy in her soul, and his eyes mirrored this feeling. The bear’s chains, she was sure, would have
held until his anger took control. Then they would have released
him to charge at the innocent. For Luci, it was in her mind but
equally uncontrollable.

The bear dropped his gaze to his paws. He wiggled his toes
as if he hadn’t seen them before.

“You may be powerful,” Luci said, taking a step forward,
“but don’t let another’s wickedness ruin you. Hate is a stain on
your soul, and it only hurts you. Make the right choices now. Go
and do not hurt the innocent. What you do now is called free
will. Good choices strengthen your soul. And I choose you, dear
grizzly because as much as I don’t want the kinkajou to die, I feel
in my heart that you do not wish to kill him.”

The bear lifted his claws. But Luci knelt in front of him,
her eyes even with his the whole time. “You are scared, as the
kinkajou is. His life is intertwined with yours now, meaning your
next move decides his fate. I release you, dear grizzly, from a life
of endless misery. You don’t have to kill anyone. You aren’t forced
to do anything you don’t want to do. I set you free.”

Luci recalled the bear attack signs at Liard Hot Springs. This
bear had been scared as a prisoner. Now he was free. She touched
his paws, and he looked up at her. Then he stood, towering
above her.

Instead of turning towards the exit as Luci had hoped, he
leaned forward. However, her confidence in the decision wavered.

The grizzly opened his mouth to expose a massive jaw that
could take Luci’s head clean off. She closed her eyes and grimaced
with anticipation. Then a wet tongue greeted her instead of sharp

Her eyes popped open. The grizzly sat back with drool
hanging from jowls.

The same dripped off her chin. “Yuck,” she said and used a
corn leaf to wipe the spit off her face.

Do you hear me now?

The words were unspoken but heard in Luci’s mind.

Luci swivelled around. “What? Who was that?”

The bear stood again, swung his heavy arm out, and bowed
with some effort. It is I, Tabit, the Bear, he sent.

“Why are you in my head?” she asked.

Tabit’s voice sounded scruffy but kind in Luci’s mind. It’s the
mind language of The Otherly. Feel the words in your mind, and send
them to me.

Mom. She felt the word but didn’t want to let it go. Instead,
she looked to the bear, cocking an eyebrow. She thought the
sentence, then focused on the bear’s broad face and sent. I want to
find my mother, she’s lost.

Nice, that was excellent. And after all those bear fights by the springs,
they think we have no sense of helping others, Tabit sent. Also, I’m sorry
you lost your mom.

Luci smiled sadly. Bear fights? she sent.

Yeah, we get bored too. Never hurt anyone. Harmless tussles. Guess
humans don’t like seeing limping bears either. He shrugged. I tell you,
those bears were all sad losers, Tabit sent.

Why are we talking in our minds? Luci sent.

I gifted you with the ability to understand all animals. We all have
separate monikers, dispositions, and dialect, but we can all send the same in The Otherly. I believe you are entitled to share this space with us, an area where we can all communicate without cross-language barriers.

He landed on all fours and shuffled away.

Thank you! Luci sent.

No, thank you, Tabit sent. He ploughed straight through the
labyrinth wall. The giant bird screamed its irritation and pounded
mighty wings as he flew away overhead. Luci knew in her heart that
the kinkajou was safe. Maybe not free, but safe was better than dead.

When Luci stepped out of the labyrinth, she bumped into
Ashier. He grinned mischievously.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: