Hot Metal

Extract from Tribal Gathering

[…]After walking through thick forest undergrowth for twenty minutes or so, the two men found themselves in yet another clearing situated at the foot of a small, rocky escarpment some fifty or sixty feet high and about two hundred feet long. To one side of the sheer cliff-face was a wide, dark fissure in the rock. The boy stopped close to the gaping crack and turned to face Peter and John as they struggled to free themselves from the vines and undergrowth that clung to their feet and legs with the tenacity of leeches. Both men looked at each other as the boy spoke with the strange, grown-up voice again, asking which of them was “Mr Staffo.”
Peter, amazed at what he thought was his name being used, said, “Do you mean Stafford?”
The boy nodded.
“How did you know my name? Who the hell are you anyway?” said Peter, irritably.
The boy said nothing. He simply motioned with his right hand for Peter to follow him. John made to follow too, but the boy told him he must stay. Peter found the boy’s influence almost overpowering. Something inside him wanted to obey the boy’s every word. Turning to John, Peter said in a low voice, “You stay here, just in case. I’ll call you if I need help.”
Reluctantly, John agreed, giving Peter the thumbs-up sign as he watched his friend follow the boy towards the gap in the rock-face.
One minute the boy was directly in front of Peter, the next he’d disappeared from sight. Only when very close to the huge fissure did Peter realise he must follow the boy through into the very heart of the rock.
The huge, triangular-shaped crack was about four feet wide at the base and ten feet high at the apex, although it soon reduced to little more than three feet wide and five feet high some nine or ten yards inside the rock. It proved to be something of a tight squeeze for Peter with his large frame, but he managed to stay close behind the boy despite the heavy going and the almost total darkness.
The internal surfaces on both sides of the fissure were dripping wet and covered in what Peter imagined to be mud and slime, for he could see nothing. As he moved slowly forward, Peter felt his shirt and shorts becoming wet and sticky, especially when forcing himself through some of the narrowest places. At one point the gap became so confined, Peter began to panic thinking he would become permanently stuck inside the dark, living rock. However, gentle encouragement from the boy, a yard or so in front, soon dispelled Peter’s fear and spurred him on.
Several minutes and many yards later, Peter and the boy saw daylight ahead and this encouraged them to move more quickly. They soon emerged from the gloomy, dank interior of the cliff into a strange, crater-like clearing completely encircled by high, rocky cliffs. When Peter’s eyes became accustomed to the light, he opened them wide and his jaw dropped at the scene before him[…]

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