In Search Of My Father –Two: Bernard led the way quickly up the mountain side-moving, ever higher; following sign only he could see. Occasionally I could discern some small old disturbance, but only because I knew where to look from observing Bernard. Looking up at the peaks, I could see a slight dusting of snow. The air was noticeably colder the higher we went. Bernard stopped suddenly, near the top, and pointed to a rough, large, almost round entrance in the mountainside. Struggling to keep up and gasping for breath, I finally reached him. He stooped slightly and entered the cave. After a second, I followed. The inside was more expansive than one might have expected. The room was roughly twenty some odd feet by twenty. There was an old fire ring back from the entrance a bit, and inspecting further, I saw a pack in the corner. I recognized it at once. It was Dads and it had clothing and some food inside. I stood for a second not knowing whether to be jubilant for the find or worried because the cave showed no evidence of recent use. The view was magnificent from our perch and the peak was only a couple hundred feet above us. I had something in mind but would have to wait to see how events unfolded. Bernard was troubled and I could understand why. He was concerned because it seemed I was in no particular hurry to begin the search for my father. After a few moments he cleared his throat and tentatively asked,” Jonnie, what do we do now?” I stood for a minute looking down at the deep valley with a pair of binoculars I had carried all this time. Nothing stirred down there. It was like there had never been life here. Suddenly,… at the farthest edge of my sight I saw a slight movement, then another. The far side of a large clearing began to fill with shapes…. Wolves. Then to my eternal horror, creatures that were almost wolves, and then more that were almost men. I looked at Bernard but he was looking back in the far corner of the cave. He walked back to where I was standing and said, “Jonnie, there is a tunnel back there, but I don’t know how far back it goes.” “It doesn’t matter Bernard, but now listen, I want you to do something for me.” He looked intently at me with a question in his eyes. “I want you to leave now instead of waiting till darkness is near.” He glanced quickly down the valley at the distance he would need to cover to get out of this cursed valley before darkness caught him. “No, Bernard,… not that way,…. up there.” He looked where I was pointing and then back down the mountain and I saw him nodding slowly in agreement. “You have farther to travel around this place that way, but you will be out of here in just an hour or so and then go as fast as you can back to your village and await me.” I wanted him gone before he saw the horror that awaited us at the bottom of the valley. He looked at me for a minute, shivered slightly, then making up his mind, stepped to me and shook my hand in a strong grip. “I will do as you wish, Jonnie, and God be with you.” ‘Go now then, and hurry, my friend.” In just a few minutes I saw him crest the lower peak and with a final sad wave, he was gone over the top. I breathed a little easier at this and again turned my attention to the bottom far below. I could not believe my eyes. The meadow was literally covered with the creatures and they all sat motionless, statue like, looking intently at the cave I was in, waiting, for what I did not know. Darkness was near when I saw them suddenly stand as one and look intently into the forest behind them. I knew then they were waiting for their leader. I glimpsed movement far back in the trees by looking where they were watching, but I could not make it out. I had never felt more alone in my life,.. even when I learned my father was missing. I wished with all my heart that he was by my side. With him here I believed we could prevail over even this. I searched the cave behind me and found a large store of wood. Dad was always prepared and looking ahead. I built a huge pile right at the caves entrance. If they wanted me, they were going to pay dearly. I felt deep inside that Dad was probably gone, murdered by these creatures, and was ready to mete out what punishments I could to avenge his death. For without him, life held little allure. Just at dark, I lit the blaze. Down the mountainside I could hear the clicking of many claws scraping on the rocks as they sought traction on the steep mountainside.. I lay my revolver on my lap and placed the staff by my side. Then I said a prayer; for if I died here tonight I wanted my God to know I had him in my thoughts. Shadows were darting about on the slope outside the cave and then the howling began. It sent shivers up my spine and I knew fear, real fear for perhaps the first time in my life. They were moving swiftly about the outside and I could hear whines of eager anticipation from the creatures. Suddenly, there they were. I could see countless numbers of them out there, eyes shining with an unearthly glow in the firelight. Then, without warning all movement stopped. I saw them turn their heads as one and look back down the mountain, features flickering in the flames of the fire, making them even more frightening. Then, as though coming to some mutual decision, three of the braver ones stood and charged the entrance. I lifted the heavy revolver and the three shots sounded almost as one. The heavy bullets sent them rolling back out the entrance and down the hillside. A roar of rage rang out and echoed over the cliffs and rolled down into the valley. Then, a creature of immense proportions stood in the cave entrance. Its red eyes burned into mine. I saw a primeval hatred staring back at me. I lifted the revolver and shot it with the last two rounds right in the chest. The impact staggered it backwards, but it recovered quickly and before I had time to react, it was upon me. I had never witnessed such speed and ferocity. Its claws were extended and saliva dripped from its’ long fangs as he leapt across the cave entrance and attacked. I had barely enough time to bring the staff out and raise it against the horror. Seeing the silver head, it hesitated for just an instant. That gave me time to get to my knees and swing the silver topped club with all my might. The blow met the creature in midair and the roar of pain and fury deafened me for an instant. Before I could raise it again, I felt its fangs sink deep into my shoulder. Its claws were ripping for my soft belly, but it was turned aside the last instant by the heavy leather belt I always wore, a Christmas present from my Dad years ago. It reared up over for a second and I slammed the staff again across its head. It screamed in pain and anger, black blood flying, and was upon me yet again. This time it was too fast for me to react. I felt its foul breath on my cheek and heard a ripping sound as it tore again at my stomach. I slammed the staff at it again and again, inflicting more damage. But, it was not enough. I was fast losing the battle; the cave was dimming before me. As it reared one last time over me to deliver the killing blow, I saw something that brought more horror to me than anything in my wildest dreams. I saw, gleaming against the firelight, a Heavy Gold Cross swinging against its hairy chest.!!!!!! ” Dad,?.... I cried, unbelieving.” “Dad, it’s me Johnny, your son.” “Daddd”!!!! Nooo!!!!! I saw the beast hesitate a second, and then look deeply into my eyes. There was intelligence lurking back there, and now it made itself known. Then it stood suddenly and looked about in confusion for a moment, shaking its shaggy head. It stepped closer and saw the blood flowing down my sides and along my head. I was growing weaker by the second and knew my time was short. The monster cried out in pain and suddenly leapt out into the night. I heard its cries ringing out in the forest for a long time as I lay there. AAWhhhoooooooo…………..NNNOOOOOOooooooooo!!!!. “Its ok, Dad,…. Its ok”,…. I yelled as loud as I could. Then all went dark for a time. When next I was aware of anything, I could feel strong, cool hands cradling my head. A flask was at my lips, and even as close to death as I was, my thirst was a terrible thing. I drank thirstily and the liquid was cool going down. But when it hit my stomach, it burned like the very fires of hell. I tried to push it away but was much too weak. “Here, Johnny, a voice called, now drink it up, it will help you.” Something in me trusted that calm voice and I did as he asked. I dimly saw another form behind this one and he held another flask. “This is going to hurt, Johnny, but like the other, it is most important, trust me, will you?” I did this one also. The pain I felt when he poured the liquid on my wounds was worse, much worse than the first. I could hear a hissing as he poured the contents on my torn body. It hurt so I could not speak for several minutes. Then, like a miracle, all the pain was gone. Looking down at my body in the flickering firelight, I saw there were no marks at all on me. “How could this be, I wondered, what magic is this?” The older one walked to the cave entrance and built the fire to its earlier proportions. The other, younger than the first, walked over and stood by his side. I heard them murmuring to one another, then they turned as one and walked quickly to me. “Johnny, we need to move you a little, and then we have to prepare for battle. The leader is gone so the others will take this chance to attack. “They live only to kill.” “Who are you guys and where did you come from?” “And what can two hope to do against those hundreds, thousands down there?” The younger smiled at me and replied, “Just sit back and watch, Johnny, just watch.” I heard a noise at the back of the cave and yelled, “Watch out guys, there is something back there” “It’s ok Johnny, that’s just Tommy.” “He’s here to lead you to safety if any of them get past us.” They walked as one to the entrance and stood gazing into the night. “It will be soon, Slack, the older one said.” “I know Leep,… I know.” I listened in amazement to these words. “This can’t be happening, I thought wildly…., I’m surely dreaming.” “Maybe I’m already dead…” Then, without any warning, the night was filled with howls and the shapes that raced towards the cave entrance at terrible speed. I wanted to turn away and not watch, but I was transfixed, helpless as it unfolded before me. As the horrors melted and shifted finally becoming the monsters of our youth, I saw Leep and Slack reach to their sides and then the cave was filled with a blue light, contrasting with the red flames dancing about. In their hands were gleaming swords of shining silver, with an aura dancing about them, covering them from head to toe. The monsters filled the cave entrance roaring their hate and defiance. Slack and Leep handled their swords with wonderful swiftness and ease. With each swing of the blade, one of the foul things fell back, minus a head, or a limb, dead before they hit the ground. Never had I witnessed such bravery and skill. Has anyone?.... I lay and watched in awe as they slew them left and right, the blades blurring in the flickering light. Soon the bodies piled up in the cave’s entrance and, looking at one another and nodding, they bent at the waist and charged into the night. My heart was in my throat as I lay listening to the great battle raging, good against evil. It has always been such, it seems. Screams of rage and pain filled the night. It went on for an interminable time Then,….. all was silent. I lay against the cave wall, still too weak to get up, fearing the worst. Soon however, I heard voices and there they were, standing tall and strong in the cave entrance. They walked to me and Slack leaned down and placed another flask at my side. ‘What should I do with this?” Leep said, “Keep it with you, Johnny, and tomorrow you will see what needs to be done.” “Our work is over here and it is time for us to go home.” Slack turned towards Leep and said, “You said home Leep, I heard you.” Leep looked at him in bemusement for a second, then laughed and said, “I guess I did Slack. ” Slack said,” It’s about time Leep, it really is.” “Will you see her when we get back over there?” “She loves you Leep.” He sighed and looked at Slack, then me and said,” I know she does, and I guess it’s time.” I smiled at them both and said, “Good for you Leep, good for you.” “Ah, guys?” They looked at me questionably, and I said,…. Tommy?” Slack laughed and said,” Sure, why not?” “Hey Tommy, come here a second will you, its over: ….for now.” I heard a clicking sound and then there he was. Leep said, “Tommy, meet Jonny.” The tall thin skeletal figure leaned down and took my weak hand in his bony appendage and shook it carefully. “It’s a real pleasure Jonny, a real pleasure.” He looked at Leep for a second, and seeing acknowledgement in his eyes, leaned over me again and said, “You come over and visit us sometime, ok, any time.” “And, bring your Dad.” “We’ll be in touch when this is over.” “I don’t know how to thank you guys.” They just smiled and shook their heads. With that, they walked back into the cave tunnel and disappeared from view. Just before they were entirely gone, I saw a slight movement behind Leep. It was furtive and quiet and I was just about ready to yell a warning when I recognized it. It was Leep’s shadow, and it quickly took up its old place at his side. I laughed then, laughed till the tears ran down unchecked on my face. I suppose it was shock. I suddenly remembered what Tommy had said, “Bring your Dad over too, Johnny.” Then the tears did fall. They must not know, then,… the truth. I lay back and the heat from the fire and all that I had gone through finally took its toll. I fell asleep and never moved again till the morning sun shone into the cave and passed over my face. I sat up quickly and took stock of the situation. I needed to go outside, but I hated to because I knew my Dad would be among the fallen. I also knew I could never face that, not after all that had transpired. I sat against the wall with my head in my hands until I heard a stirring outside the cave entrance. I reached quickly beside me and picked up my staff. The head was dented and chipped, but I knew I could still deal out a lot of damage,… if need be. A shadow filled the entrance standing tall, bright against the sun. I stood shakily and held the staff in front of me like a shield. A voice called out quietly, a voice I had heard every day of my life. “You won’t need that anymore, Son, and thank the Lord above for it.” “Dad, Dad, is it you, is it really you?” “Aye, it’s me son,… or what’s left of me.” He finally came into clear view and I gasped in fear and horror at his looks. Blood had run down his face and sides, dried and caked in great quantities. He was so weak he could only move slowly and with great care. Still, he made it to my side and half grabbed and half fell on me. I held him to me. Suddenly a thought slammed into me like a truck. I looked wildly about me and there it was, the flask. “Dad, it’s going to be all right,… trust me.” “As always “he said. “Here Dad, Sit here.” He sat wearily down against the rock wall and leaned his head against it. “Dad, here drink this.” Without a word, he leaned his head back and drank as long as I held it to his lips. With a great shudder and a cry of pain that started deep inside and came roaring out, he pushed my hand and the flask violently away. “Dad, you have to do this, it is killing the infection in you; the one you got when one of those things bit you.” He looked at me intently for a minute, then with a sigh, leaned back again and drank deeply. I stopped him when there was a little remaining. He looked up at me and closed his eyes when he saw I was going to pour the rest over his wounds. The great rending tears and rips began to close as soon as the liquid touched him, hissing all the while, sending little bits of steam into the air. Dad shuddered again as this was going on, but said not a word. Then with a sigh, he slumped over against the hard wall and slept. I moved him to my bedroll and covered him with the sleeping bag that was stuffed down in the bottom of his pack. I walked then to the cave entrance and looked down at the carnage that had been reaped there this past night. They lay all about,… strewn over the landscape like some great, angry giant had thrown them down from above. They were terrible, evil looking creatures, even in death. I looked over to the west and there was a great rainbow arcing across the sky. I looked down towards the trees and saw colorful birds flitting about. The air smelled fresh and clean, spoiled only by the dark creatures lying about. I stood with my eyes closed saying a prayer of thanks to my Maker, when I became aware of a noise. Opening my eyes, I saw the sun shining brightly all about me, but a soft rain was also falling, hissing, out of a clear, blue sky. As it fell quietly, it touched the filth that lay upon the earth. And, as it did, they began to melt, right before my eyes, and sink into the ground. Soon, there was no sign that they had ever existed. I stood waiting for what I believed was to come next. All around, even to the bottom where the timber started were flowers, of all colors. Their sweet smell filled the air. I heard a small sound behind me and turned and there stood Dad. I looked at my watch and saw that I had been standing there looking for almost the whole day. Dad stepped beside me and with his strong arm about my shoulders, hugged me close and said,” Let’s go home Son” ”Yes, lets Dad.” After all that had transpired, the trip back to the village was almost anticlimactic. What had taken the five of us before three days to accomplish, Dad and I made in a day and a half. As we passed by the path that led to the Castle of Death, Dad stopped and looked that way and a visible shudder shook him, nostrils flaring. “I thought,… I thought I heard something.” “It smells bad here.” Shaking his head with a slight shudder of distaste, he turned and we walked swiftly away.