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  • Part 3

    I awoke before dawn and slowly dressed in the early light coming through my window. The only sounds were of the morning birds singing everything awake. The sky lightened enough for me to see out over the roofs of the village. This was definitely not a Wisconsin landscape in early winter.

    There was a basin on a table beside my bed with a ewer filled with water. I filled the bowl and splashed some cold water in my face. Toweling dry, I started out the door and down the stairs to the living room. The house was still quiet as I let myself out the front latch and started my exploration.

    I saw some lights far off in the distant tree line. They seemed to be coming this way, but at least a mile off. I walked to the center of town and saw a light in the window of a café. I went in and the man behind the counter stared at me. I waited until he touched his neck and said, “You’re Jon?” I nodded and he indicated a place for me to sit. I told him I had no money to pay for anything with, but I would love a cup of coffee. He smiled and brought two mugs and a coffee pot over to the table.

    As he poured our coffee, I mentioned that it looked like he was going to get some company for breakfast. He looked at me funny and then, with a start ran out to scan the horizon. Suddenly people came pouring out of all the houses running and carrying their children towards the square. I saw Jacob kiss Alicia before he grabbed me by the arm and led me out of the village toward a creek bed. We waded downstream for about a mile before we came out in a different valley.

    “Jacob, what are we running from?” I asked.

    “If you are found in our village, they will punish us for hiding you.” he said. “I know I promised to tell you about our lives here, but I didn’t expect them to trace us this quickly.”

    “Who are they? And why are they after me?” I asked.

    “It’s not just you, but anyone who comes through one of the portals endangers their complete dominance of the land. We have all been implanted with tracking devices at birth so we can be managed like cattle. If we complain, we are easily rounded up and made to disappear. But you and any like you are unknowns and our only hope for the future. We have been helping those who come through to escape to a land south of here that is riddled with underground caves. You will join the others there and learn how to survive. You have to survive. We need your help. That’s where I am taking you now.”

    And with that, he grabbed my hand and I followed him to a nearby knoll. He touched his chest like before and I closed my eyes as the wind blew at us. When it stopped I opened my eyes to a place I knew. I had been here many times as a child and a young man. About four miles east of the town of Sullivan, Missouri. The entrance to what was called Meramec State Park when I was younger. It looked abandoned for many years now. The road was practically non-existent. The paved surface grown over with weeds; just a wider path through the valley.

    I knew the river was about three hundred yards in front of us and wondered if there was still a bridge across it. It was still there and since there wasn’t any road traffic on it, it would probably still be there in another hundred years. We crossed the river heading past the entrance to the park and then after two more miles of up and down the hills, we turned toward a small pond. I knew what was on the opposite side of the pond, up against the cliff side. I wondered if Jacob knew.

    He grabbed me in a bear hug and said, “This is as far as I can take you. Someone will get you after I leave. It would be dangerous to the movement if I saw where you go from here. Please learn all you can. We are depending on you, my friend.” He pushed away from me and touched his chest again. With a swoosh of air he was gone.

    I walked around the pond to sit on the rocks at the far side. I knew that just below the surface there was an entrance to the cavern system that ran for many miles along and under the river. We had discovered it as kids during a very dry summer. The top of the entrance was just visible above the waterline that year. We swam in the first time for a few yards and then went back for our “caving gear”. Most people would have called it spelunking, but we were kids and more direct. We each had helmets with miner’s lamps on them. Add a pair of gloves and a couple of flashlights and we were on our way.

    We only had to swim a few yards and the top opened up on the passageway. We found we could climb out of the water onto a ledge and slowly ease our way past the inevitable bats hanging alongside us. As we reached the far end of the passageway the light from our lamps got lost in the vastness of the huge cavern. We could see light across the water coming from a chimney in the top of the cliff. We jumped back into the water and waded across to the large sandy bank.

    The chimney was just the right size for a man to climb to the top. For a couple of young boys, it was a little harder but we managed. At the top there was a small ledge with cliffs straight down on all sides. Totally inaccessible from the outside. We could see the entire valley. We climbed back down and after exploring a few passageways that seemed to go on forever, left the cave and swore each other to secrecy. Take to the grave pinky swears!

    As I sat there smiling at my memories, I wondered how much longer I would have to wait. This was still Missouri, and when I grew up you didn’t surprise anyone on their own turf or you might get shot. Otherwise I would have entered the cave on my own. The sky was clouding up and if it started to rain, I was going to swim in no matter what. Maybe whoever is coming for me doesn’t know about the cave. Doesn’t seem likely. Why else would they have me wait at this spot?

    I realized I was still wearing the jumpsuit that was better than any camouflage I had ever seen. When I looked down at my body, it blended in with the rocks. Other than my head, hands and feet, I was virtually invisible. I had better stay alert so I see whoever is coming for me before they stumble over me. When I see them I will start whistling a tune so they won’t startle.

    I needn’t to have worried.

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