Jane went from a newlywed homesteader to a widow with a child, vowing to keep her land, despite the doubts of men and an Indian uprising.
I stuck close to Little Deer, sometimes tripping into her backside, as she waved the torch in front of her. The air in the cave thickened, heavy with moisture. Behind us was a wall of darkness. But it meant no one followed.
As Little Deer turned back, embers swept our feet. "Stay close and listen for a whistling wind. It will mean there's another hole." She whispered in my ear, but sound around us carried like an empty well.
"I'll be a tick on your back." I wasn't letting her out of my sight.
We stumbled into each other at a place where there was a hole no bigger than a bears den. She placed the torch in front of her, and I boosted her up through it. She grabbed my hand and pulled me through.
We crouched and sometimes crawled so not to split our head from above. The walls closed in. "Maybe we can go back and beg for our lives."
Little Deer was having none of it. She turned back toward me. The torchlight glowed over her bronzed face. "God will give us a way of escape. Listen." She spoke in a hushed tone.
I listened hard. "All I hear are drops of water."
We squeezed through a sharp opening that cut into my backside, as I hopped down into soft dirt where the cave opened into a dome of rock wall.
Little Deer's torch flickered and threatened to play out. I crouched beside her setting my torch to hers.
As my torch spread light across the cave walls, we stood up in awe of the giant drawings, surrounding us. There was a form of communication in the drawings: pictures of buffalo, stick men, giant bears, and even a saber-tooth tiger. When I looked down, there were animal bones at our feet. I jumped backward into a pile of bones.
She pulled me upward. I passed her the torch. I took in the world around me, as if the place should be a museum. But then Little Deer spoke in hushed tones. "We must keep going before we lose the light."
I followed her, sometimes clinging to her backside.
She persisted, waving the torch back and forth. My only solace was that we had hope there was another way out. Suddenly, she stopped. I stumbled into her. I stood frozen like a statue with her, too afraid to move an inch. Her glowing brown eyes met mine. "Listen. Sounds of freedom."
I didn't care to respond. I was dizzy with fear.
We stumbled forward, until forced to crawl over more rocks. I slipped and fell back into the darkness. She must have put her hand out, but I couldn't see it. "Come. I hear the Spirit of the wind."
My stomach knotted inside. I climbed back over the rock and slid next to her through the narrow path. She slipped forward like a snake. She turned her head to me, the torch nearly catching her hair on fire. "Feel that?"
I wasn't so sure. But I prayed it was the breath of wind she talked about. "I think so."
She touched her face, as if she could feel fresh air. Sparks danced about us.
As I happened to glance behind me, a flicker of a flame appeared somewhere toward the belly of the cave. I blinked. Eyes wide, I looked again, only to see a light flashed toward us.
My throat croaked with fear. "Someone's coming... for us."
Confidence drained from her face. For the first time, I saw fear in her eyes. She turned and moved faster than any snake could slither. Loose rocks crumbled and fell around us until I tasted the gravel. I used my elbows to pull me forward to keep pace. She fell headfirst. I tumbled over the edge on top of her, snuffing our flame. We sat in a hole like moles hiding in a crevice.
"Air," she said with a whisper. "Sweet, fresh air. We are close."
"Quiet," I said, afraid our voice would carry and give us away. In the ink of darkness, I could not see her face. But I closed my eyes and breathed in what I believed would be a taste of freedom.
A light from the cave passed over us. Her finger crossed my lips. I understood the sign of silence. But I heard her draw the knife from her sheath and the scrape of metal along the rock.
I dared not breathe. I was prey, waiting to be snatched! Delivered into the jaws of death! Little Deer screamed and bolted upward toward the flaming torch.
This is a work of western fiction, but I've strived to put it in context of historical events and times.