The Accidental Speleologists
"So we're on, then?" Dave asked, smiling happily. "You spend the night at my place and then we go looking for the diamonds tomorrow."
"Uhm, I guess," Timmy muttered, sipping his milk to buy himself thinking time. "Can't I come over after breakfast instead?"
"Noo! We gotta get started early!"
"I'll tell you why!"
It was Dave's turn to take a sip of milk while he thought of a good reason. The two boys were having their lunch out on the school playground; this was usually not allowed for the youngest children, but today had been made an exception because the weather was so good. The sun was beaming down from a cloudless sky, and the two of them sat in the shade of a wide oak tree. Timmy, being a grey kangaroo, didn't mind the heat, but Dave's thick black fur made the sunlight almost unbearable. The young wolf boy looked around, still thinking of what to say. There were kids everywhere, ranging from the oldest fourth-graders to the tiny, lost-looking first-years. Had the two of them really been that small only last semester? No matter, he decided, they were big now! He would turn seven in just a few weeks, and Timmy one month later. An idea struck him, and he knew what to say.
"So?" Timmy asked. "Are you gonna tell me?"
"You're not still too little to have a sleepover, are ya?" Dave asked, his tail wagging as he watched his kangaroo friend cringe at the emphasised on the words 'still' and 'little'. "What's the matter, do you wet the bed or somethin'?"
"Then how come you wanna spend the night at my place?"
"I dunno..." Timmy slumped back against the oak's sturdy root. "Guess I just like better to sleep in my own bed."
"C'mon, it'll be fun. Oh, bugger!"
Dave had leaned over towards his friend, and in doing so he spilled milk all over his favourite Elfquest t-shirt. Timmy pointed at the stain and giggled, then rolled over laughing as he saw the wolf boy's angry pout. There was no time to start a fight, though, as the first bell rang. The boys hurried to finish their lunch, then dashed back towards their classroom.
* * * * * *
That afternoon, Timmy was feeling antsy as he walked the short way over to Dave's house, with a satchel slung over his shoulder. He paused at a shop window and glanced at his own reflection. The boy he saw looked a lot smaller than he imagined himself, and a lot less happy than someone who would spend a long weekend with his best friend. His ears were drooping, and a gust of wind had left his long dark blond hair in disarray. Large green eyes peered back at him from above a slim muzzle that looked dejected when he tried to force it to smile. No, Timmy did not wet the bed, and he was not too little to have a sleepover, but he still felt certain that Dave would laugh at him when the time came to go to bed.
Dave, on the other hand, was excited beyond words. At last he had managed to talk his kangaroo friend into spending the night! He kept dashing from the front door to his room to the kitchen window, an energised ball of jet black fluff that all but bounced off the walls. In the end his mother simply grabbed him around the waist and put him out onto the porch, and so he started running around in circles on the lawn instead. When he saw Timmy coming down the street a grin spread across his muzzle, and he hurried to hide behind one of his mother's rose bushes. When Timmy walked by on his way to the front door, Dave pounced him, and the laughing wolf and the squealing kangaroo went tumbling down the lawn.
* * * * * *
They spent the rest of the time until supper playing outside, mostly using an old tennis ball to play fetch, taking turns to throw the ball or to chase it. Timmy's nervousness was all gone now, as he watched his best friend run after a long throw, to return with the ball between his teeth. Dave was such a great friend, he thought. No matter what, the wolf pup would never make fun of him. Not ever!
After supper, they went upstairs to take their bath. They were still in high spirits after a whole afternoon of fun, and it didn't take them long to start a water fight. By the time they got up, there wasn't one dry spot in the entire bathroom. Dave's mother just shook her head, then made them clean the whole room before they were allowed to dry themselves and slip into their pyjamas.
They spent the rest of the evening on the living room floor in front of the TV, watching cartoons while they were giggling and laughing and spreading popcorn everywhere. When bedtime arrived, they hurried to clear away at lest some of the mess they had made, then trotted upstairs to Dave's bedroom.
Even though Timmy had been in there hundreds of times before, it was different now. He would be sleeping in there, in Dave's bed which was just large enough for the two of them. Stalling the inevitable, Timmy started talking about Dave's sports star posters, his model cars and the toys that lay here and there, dropped and forgotten whenever the young wolf thought of something else to do. He even picked up a pair of old underpants, making a disgusted face that turned into a grin and a giggle as his friend laid his ears back in a lupine blush. Dave had made the bed ready for them, and was now removing his pyjama top.
"It's too hot to sleep with this on, but mom always thinks I'll be cold so she makes me wear it anyway."
Timmy waited until Dave had slipped in underneath the comforter, then he took a deep breath, held it for a while and let it out as an audible sigh.
"What's wrong, buddy?"
Ignoring the question, Timmy set about to fold the sheets on his side of the bed in a way that made Dave watch curiously. He knew that he would have to explain everything, but he finished his task first. As he had learned to do, he grabbed a corner of the sheet and made a couple of quick foldings, then he looked at his friend sheepishly. Dave chose not to say anything, so Timmy took another deep breath.
"It's a pouch," he explained, laying his ears back and mimicking his friend's earlier blush. "I can't sleep well without it, especially in someone else's bed."
"Oh." Dave nodded as he watched the kangaroo boy slip into the pocket he had made, then bend over double so that his large feet lay between their heads on the pillow. "Is it comfy? Doesn't look like it is."
"It's very comfy. At least for a roo."
"Guess so." Dave reached over and lightly pinched one of his friend's toes, enticing a soft giggle. "At least you don't have smelly feet."
Timmy's foot twitched involuntarily, then kicked out as Dave began to tickle it. Within seconds, the sheets and the comforter were in complete disarray, as the two boys wrestled and fought, snarling and laughing until they fell off the bed with a crash. Just then, Dave's mother opened the door and peered in. Her bemused smile set the boys off laughing again.
"Can't I leave you two alone for one minute before you turn everything upside-down?"
"No!" both boys answered, then fell into new fits of giggles.
* * * * * *
When Timmy woke up the next morning he felt thoroughly rested. He wiggled his toes in front of his face like he did every morning, then used his thick, strong tail to push himself out of his makeshift pouch. The bed was empty, and the spot where Dave had laid was cold. Timmy sat up, yawning and stretching, and patted down his as always unruly morning hair. The clock on the bedside table showed half past six, and Timmy groaned. What boy in his right mind was up and about at half past six on a Saturday morning? Just then, the door opened and Dave came in. His fur was moist and disordered, and he had wrapped a red towel around his waist. When he spotted the still yawning roo boy, his face lit up.
"Oh good! You're awake at last! Hurry up and take your shower, I can't wait to get down to the creek."
"I wanna go back to beeeed."
"Nope, c'mon now, lazy joey!"
"Please?" Timmy tried his best cute puppy-dog eyes. "Just five more minutes?"
"No, no, no," Dave sang as he pulled his friend off the bed and started pushing him towards the door. "No, no, no, no, no, no."
"But I'm tired!" Timmy whined as he was dragged down the hall to the bathroom. "Nobody's up yet!"
"We are. And dad's downstairs fixing us breakfast."
"I can't eat, I wanna sleep."
"Get in there!"
Dave quickly yanked off Timmy's pyjamas, then pushed him into the shower cubicle and turned on the taps. The first jet of water was ice cold, and Timmy let out a shrill shriek before he managed to get some hot water running. By then, his friend was already gone. He muttered something under his breath and grabbed a bar of fur soap. For as long as he had known the wolf boy, and he couldn't really remember that there had ever been a time when Dave wasn't around, Timmy had had trouble keeping up with him. Dave was always full of energy, always going someplace or at least looking as if he were too eager to get going to even sit still. Timmy smiled while he lathered his short, coarse fur. They were still best friends, though, no doubt about that.
When he returned to Dave's room, blushing furiously after meeting Dave's big sister Danielle in the hall while having only a small towel to help save his modesty, Timmy found the wolf boy packing their satchels.
"Dad gave us some potato salad and drumsticks," he said, patting two plastic boxes. "And I've got two soda pops and a bottle of lemonade, and everything we need."
Timmy tossed the towel aside and pulled on his shorts, then stood in front of his friend's dressing mirror and started brushing his fur. Almost immediately, he was pounced and thumped to the floor with Dave on top of him. He found himself staring into a pair of piercing, ice blue wolf eyes above a snarling muzzle.
"What are you doing!? We're going on a treasure hunt, there's no need to look pretty!"
"But I'll get tangles if I don't..."
"Noo!" Dave pulled at his own short hair, which was as midnight black as the rest of him. "Get dressed! Eat breakfast! Get going!!"
"Dave, you're being mean!"
The wolf boy froze on the spot. His irritated look was immediately replaced by one of concern as Timmy pouted at him and pretended being close to tears. When he spoke, Dave's voice was soft.
"I'm sorry, buddy. I just thought..."
"And I was so tired, too."
"Oh." Dave swallowed, and visibly forced away his impatience. "Look, maybe we don't have to get goin' right away. I mean, if you..."
"Get off me, you crazy puppy!" Timmy placed his large feet on Dave's chest, then pushed. The wolf boy flew across the room and landed with a loud grunt just below the bed. "Let's get going!"
Dave let him finish getting dressed, then gave chase. As they came screaming into the kitchen, Dave's father just sighed and shook his head, while Danielle leapt out of their way with well-practised ease.
"Crazy pups," she muttered s she sat down to eat. "Foaming crazy pups."
"Watch your language, young lady," Dave's father said as he grabbed the boys and placed them on two free chairs, then served them each a plateful of eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes. "Don't teach them more foolish things."
"Yeah!" both boys yelled, grinning widely. "Watch your foamin' language!"
* * * * * *
It had all started that Monday, during Biology class. The teacher had shown the class a film about African wildlife. This in itself had the boys' interest piqued; they both loved seeing wild animals, especially the dangerous ones. The ones who, they would often think with shivers of excitement running down their spines, could trample you, run you through with their horns, or just eat you. So they sat upright, pressed tightly together in their seats so they could whisper to each other without getting noticed, when something totally unexpected happened.
The film team had been travelling by boat up a small river, looking for dangerous snakes, when suddenly one of the cameramen cried out and dived into the water. When he emerged, he was holding what looked like a fist-sized rock. The film's host, a world-famous wildlife expert, took one look at it and then proclaimed that it was a diamond. Dave and Timmy, who had been whispering about venomous snakes, now both made big eyes. A diamond? The host explained something about ancient volcanic activity in the region, but neither boy paid much attention to that.
"That looks just like the river behind your house," Timmy whispered. "Think that's got diamonds in it?"
"Dunno, but we gotta find out!"
Just then, the host tossed the diamond back into the river, much to the film crew's groans of disappointment. He explained that it was a part of the natural beauty of the area, and that it belonged there. Also, he added, winking to the camera, it was highly illegal to even think about smuggling it out of the country.
Dave and Timmy had, their voices shrill with excitement, started planning their diamond hunt during the next recess. Timmy wondered about smuggling being illegal, but Dave stated that they wouldn't be smuggling, they would just bring the diamonds home.
So now they were on their way, trotting happily along a path through the dense forest on the outskirts of their town. Each boy had put on sturdy walking shoes, jeans and a light jacket, although Dave had quickly removed his jacket and carried it over his shoulder. It was a sunny and warm day, but in the forest it was a bit chilly, and quite dark where the sunlight didn't reach the ground. Timmy was glad that Dave's mother had made them dress warmly, since his fur was nowhere near as thick and fluffy as his friend's. Smiling to himself, he reached out and ran his fingers through the jet black fur on Dave's arm. The wolf boy turned to face him, grinning.
"What?" he giggled. "What are you doing?"
"I like your fur," Timmy said, blushing slightly. Dave took his hand, and they walked in silence for a while, until Timmy piped up. "Thanks."
"For not making fun of me." They stopped and turned to face each other. Timmy felt himself blush even deeper. "About folding the sheets like that, I mean."
"Hey, it's me!" Dave said, laughing. "Your best friend! I wouldn't tease you like that."
"I know. I knew you wouldn't. I just wanna say thanks."
"No problem, buddy." Dave hugged his friend tightly, making him grunt as the air was squeezed out of his lungs. "You miss your mom, don't you?"
"Yeah," Timmy whispered, and got a softer hug this time. "Even though I don't really remember much about her."
"And it makes you feel better when you sleep in a kind of pouch."
"Then don't worry about it! If anybody ever teases you, I'll punch them!"
"Thanks. You're a great friend."
"I know!" Dave made a smug face and stretched as tall as his young body would allow. "I'm the best!"
"Don't get too puffed-up," Timmy said as they started walking. He touched his friend's arm again. "You're already soft as a pillow."
* * * * * *
The river was really only a small creek, no more than ten feet wide and a foot or two deep. To the imagination of two young boys, though, it was a river that ran as wild as any. Timmy forgot all about diamonds as soon as they reached their favourite spot, a shallow pool that had formed where the creek made a turn. Before long, his clothes lay strewn all over the bank. He squealed happily as he splashed his way to the centre of the pool, then let himself fall on his back. The water was quite cold, even though the sun did reach the ground here, and his teeth were clattering as he stood up and beckoned his friend to joined him. Dave hesitated for a moment, then decided that the diamonds could wait. The lure of the pool was too strong to resist. Soon they were both splashing around, chasing each other or wrestling to see who could dunk who.
It was close to midday before they got out of the water, and lay down on a rock which the sun had warmed up. They were both tired, and Dave immediately began to doze off. Timmy lay watching the nearly cloudless sky and the treetops on both sides of the creek. Who could care about diamonds on a day that was just made for playing? A treasure hunt seemed almost like a chore compared to frolicking in the water. On the other hand, he thought, it would be neat if they both turned out richer than in their wildest dreams. What a trip they would make to the toy store! Maybe they could even buy a toy store.
Just as the daydreams were making his eyelids heavy, a birdcall brought his mind back to the present. He thought about what would happen next, rather than what would happen in the future. Timmy smiled to himself. Searching for the diamonds wouldn't even be difficult. The creek's sides were almost free from undergrowth, so following it upstreams or downstreams would be easy. They could walk one on each side in order to find what the other might have missed.
They were almost dry by the time Dave woke up. He yawned, then sat up and looked around. Timmy smiled at the bewildered look his friend always had after a nap, then watched as it went away and the wolf boy returned to his ordinary self. They hopped down from the rock and went back to their satchels, and were just about to get dressed when first Timmy's, then Dave's stomach growled. Both boys broke into fits of giggles, but their laughter immediately died away when a much louder rumble was heard. Seconds later, the ground started trembling underneath their feet. Ripples spread on the surface of the pool, and Timmy looked at his friend with fear in his eyes. Dave opened his mouth to say something, but then the ground shook more violently, and they had to hold on to each other in order to stay on their feet. Finally, after a few very long seconds, the noise stopped and was replaced by an almost eerie calm.
"Wow!" Dave exclaimed, his voice slightly subdued. "That's gotta be the worst one all year!"
"I don't much like earthquakes," Timmy muttered. "They make me scared."
"It's no big deal. We never have any bad ones. Dad says it's ‘cause we live so far from the coast."
"I still don't like them."
"Okay, I promise you I'll punch the next one!"
"Silly puppy," Timmy giggled. "You can't punch an earthquake."
"Sure can! I'll punch anyone who tries to scare my best friend!"
"My hero," Timmy sighed making his voice as girlish as he could while batting his eyelashes. "Just like a fairytale prince."
"And you're the princess, huh?" Dave asked, and pulled pn a tuft of Timmy's long hair. "You look like one."
This, of course, led to another wrestling bout, which ended with Dave being slammed down on his back. Timmy sat on his tummy and tickled his armpits without mercy while the wolf boy screamed with laughter.
"So you'll never call me a princess again?"
"No! Haha, never, aah! Stop it! Aah-haha!"
* * * * * *
After a picnic lunch by the pool, they set off up the creek. It ran almost straight westwards on its way down from a wellspring up in a small range of mountains. As the boys headed east, they soon found themselves going slightly uphill, with the nearest of the mountains in sight. Dave walked along the north side of the creek, while Timmy was to the south. This didn't stop them talking, though, and they were happily chattering about anything and everything while keeping an eye out for suspicious-looking glimmers in the clear water.
So far, they had only seen small fish, and every now and then some kind of crabs or crayfish. Dave had just stopped to pick up what turned out to be another plain, dull grey rock which he tossed back with a snort, when the second earthquake struck. It wasn't as bad as the first one, but still Timmy crossed the creek in a single leap and wrapped his arms around Dave's waist, his arms shivering from more than just the ground tremors. Dave laid a protective arm over his shoulders and pressed him closer, trying his best to comfort the frightened kangaroo.
"Don't worry, buddy," he whispered just loud enough to be heard over the low rumbling. "It'll be over soon, it's okay, just wait."
"I really hate earthquakes," Timmy whimpered. "I really do."
He buried his muzzle in the soft fur of Dave's neck, muttering something inaudible while the wolf boy stroked his head and back. Again it seemed to take forever before the tremors subsided, but in the end everything calmed down. On wobbly legs, Timmy stepped back, grinning sheepishly at his friend. Dave just shrugged and smiled, as if to promise that there would be no teasing about this, either. The best best friend anybody could ever have, Timmy decided as he returned the smile.
"Do you think we should go back home?" Dave asked. "There might be more quakes."
"Nah, it's okay. Let's go look some more."
"We can't go up there." Dave pointed towards the mountain that began rising upwards a couple of miles away. "Dad says the mountains are too dangerous."
"Okay," Timmy nodded. "Let's go up to it, then turn back."
"You're on!" Dave took off at a run. "Race ya there!"
"Hey!! Aren't you forgetting something!?"
"Like looking for the diamonds, ya doofus!"
* * * * * *
The base of the mountain turned out to be an exciting place. There was another pool here, as well as a small waterfall where the creek came down off a steep cliff. Timmy bounced up and down at the sight and wanted to go swimming right away, but as soon as he had felt the water with his toes he decided that it was way too cold. Then he spotted a ledge behind the waterfall, about four or five feet off the ground, which seemed just large enough to let a child squeeze past behind the water curtain without getting wet. He beckoned to Dave, who was sorting through rocks down by the pool, then immediately started to climb towards the ledge.
"Be careful, joey boy," Dave laughed. "Don't slip!"
He looked up and watched Timmy climb nimbly up the lowest parts of the cliff. The kangaroo boy easily reached the ledge, and waved happily as he made his way in behind the waterfall. Dave could see him all the time through the thin trickle of water, and waved back when Timmy reached the other end of the ledge. Within a minute, his friend was back down on the ground on the other side of the pool, and had just started walking back towards Dave when he disappeared.
* * * * * *
Dave's jaw dropped and his entire body froze with terror. For a second or two, all he could do was stare at the spot where his best friend should have been, while tears began to form in his eyes. Finally, with a wordless cry of fear, he snapped out of it and started running. He barely noticed getting wet as he splashed through the shallow water just where the creek left the pool. When he got closer to where Timmy had disappeared, he noticed a crack in the ground, and he approached it cautiously.
"Timmy! Did you die? Answer me!" His voice was shrill, and trembling slightly. The only reply was a whimpering coming from within the crack. "Timmy! Timmy, are you okay?"
"I think so," came the faint answer from below. "My head kind of hurts"
"Can you climb up?"
"I don't think so." Dave could hear the tears in Timmy's voice, as he edged his way up to the crack and peered down into darkness. "The walls just give way."
"I'll find some rope or something! You just wait!"
"Don't go!! Please don't go!"
"Just for a minute! I'll be back!"
"Please don't go, Dave. I'm so scared."
"Just for a minute!"
It almost broke Dave's heart to turn away from the crack and run back towards their satchels. Timmy had started crying, and Dave wanted so badly to comfort him, but first he had to get him out of that hole. There was no rope in the satchels, not even anything that could be used as a rope; he had packed them himself, so he knew exactly what was in them. He had another idea, though, one that just might work
Timmy sat with his back leaning against bare rock, sobbing quietly. He knew that Dave had to get help, but his heart still ached with abandonment. His head hurt, and his left ankle felt as if it might be sprained. It was pitch dark all around him, except for a thin slice of daylight coming down from the crack above, and Timmy was more scared than he had ever been before. What if Dave didn't come back? What if... no!! He refused to believe that. Dave was his best friend, and if he had promised that he would come back soon, then he would. He never lied!
Timmy tried his best to be brave and bite back the tears, but they still kept flowing down his cheeks. Where was Dave? Surely he had been gone for hours by now? Or was it minutes? Then, just as Timmy was about to start calling for his friend, he noticed light shining off the walls of the cave he was in. Cold shivers ran down his spine, and a cry caught in his throat, until he saw what it was. A flashlight, hanging from the end of some kind of rope.
"Are you still there, buddy?" came Dave's voice from above. "Can you reach the rope?"
"Y-yeah, I think so."
"Think you can hold on while I pull you up?"
Timmy grabbed the flashlight and shone it around. The cave was different than he had expected; he had thought he was at the bottom of a narrow hole, but it turned out to be some kind of tunnel. If he hadn't been so scared, it might have been an exciting place. The rope was made from the straps of their satchels, which were tied to the sleeves of Dave's jacket. Timmy took a good hold with both hands, then yelled that he was ready. At once, he was lifted a foot or two off the floor, but then the air was filled with what was surely the most horrible sound in the world right then.
The low rumblings of another earthquake, seemingly much louder here under the ground. Above him, Timmy saw the crack widen, and more daylight flooded the tunnel. Then he fell again, and landed painfully on his rump. A shrill cry was heard, then a grunt as Dave rolled down on top of an avalanche of loose earth and small rocks. The wolf boy went right past him, then smashed into the wall of the tunnel. Timmy jumped up and ran over to his friend, whose eyes were closed. Dave seemed unconscious. A trickle of blood ran out of his nose, and stained Timmy's hands as he dragged him away from the collapsing crack.
* * * * * *
Dave woke up to the sound of someone crying close by. He lay still for a moment, trying to figure out what had happened and where he was. There had... there had been another earthquake! The memory of the ground opening up underneath his feet made him shudder, and he could now recall falling. Falling and hurting his head. He opened his eyes, but to his horror he found that he couldn't see. Had he gone blind? With a cry of fear and a grunt of pain he sat up, and immediately the crying next to him stopped. It was replaced by a squeal of joy.
"You're awake!" Timmy shrieked and wrapped his arms around Dave's neck, nuzzling him. "You're awake! You're awake!"
"Yeah," Dave gasped as his windpipe was almost squeezed shut. He looked around and realised that he could see, after all. But the light was very faint, and all he saw was dark rock walls. "Are you okay, Timmy?"
"Me? Of course I am!" The kangaroo leaned back, and their eyes met. Timmy's green ones looked almost spooky as they glittered with tears in the near dark. "You're the one who's hurt."
"I am?" Dave ran his hands over his own body, but felt nothing more than a couple of bruises. Then he touched his muzzle. "Owie! My nose hurts."
"You were bleeding," Timmy sobbed. "I thought you were gonna die."
"No way. I'm too tough to die." Dave was caught in another choking hug, and this time he returned it. "Besides, I gotta look after you, don't I?"
"Yeah, you do." A loud sniffle was followed by a giggle. "You really do. I'm scared, and I don't know what to do."
"Where are we?"
"Some kind of cave. We can't get back to where we fell in. There was a lot of dirt coming down, so I had to get us out of there."
"So you saved my life." Dave broke the hug and grinned at his friend. "Thanks."
"You're so welcome." Timmy smiled warmly, and his crying finally seemed to abate. "Now you gotta save mine."
"Sure." Dave got to his feet, and Timmy followed suit, still clinging to his neck. "Anything for my hero."
"Cut it out!" Timmy giggled. "I'm not a hero!"
"Sure you are!"
"But I'm just scared."
"That makes you even more braver for saving me." Dave looked around and found the source of the light. His flashlight lay on the floor next to where Timmy had been sitting. It shone more faintly than he would have expected from its near-new batteries. "How long was I knocked out?"
"Dunno. My watch broke." Timmy sniffled loudly. "My mom gave me that watch."
"Don't worry about it now. Maybe my dad can fix it, he's good at fixing stuff." Dave picked up the flashlight and shone it around. He saw that they were in some kind of tunnel, and not in a cave as he had first thought. "Let's worry about getting out of here instead."
"Do you... do you think we won't?" Timmy's eyes went wide, and he sniffled again. "I don't wanna die in here."
"We're not gonna die. Come on."
Dave picked up his jacket, which Timmy had draped over him while he was unconscious. The satchel straps were still tied to its sleeves, but after tugging for a while at the knots he managed to untie them. Pulling the jacket on, he took Timmy's hand and led him down the tunnel, away from the cave-in. The kangaroo boy was reluctant at first, since he was afraid of both getting lost and of what they might find further down the tunnel. The rough, uneven rock soon gave way to straight and fairly smooth walls, and after about a hundred yards Timmy found what looked like a large pick axe. He tried to lift it, but couldn't even budge it.
"It's gotta be an ol' mine or something," he said in a hushed tone. "Look, there's a wheelbarrow."
"Think it was a diamond mine?" Dave asked, his ears perked as he examined the rusty object. The rubber tyre on its single wheel had long since decayed. "Though I s'pose there's no diamonds left, or the miners would still be here."
"I don't give a flea bite about diamonds!" Timmy exclaimed, and his voice rang back from down both ways of the tunnel. "I just wanna get out of here and go home."
"Yeah, me too. At least we know there's a way out now."
"How do you know that?"
"Well, the miners had to get in somewhere, didn't they? We can get out there."
"You're so smart!"
"Yeah, I know." He stretched his neck and gave Timmy a smug grin, making the roo boy giggle. "I'm great!"
* * * * * *
A long while later, or at least what felt to the boys like a long while later, neither of them felt like giggling or laughing anymore.
They had passed through two intersections, but each tunnel they had tried so far had turned out to be a dead end. A couple of times, they had found old pieces of discarded mining equipment, which had helped them keep track of where they had already been. An old oil lamp told them that they were almost back at the very first intersection. If they turned left they would be back at the cave-in, so they kept on moving straight ahead until a rumbling noise made Timmy whimper with fear and squeeze Dave's hand, which he had been holding ever since they started walking.
"That's just my belly," Dave giggled. "It thinks it's dinnertime."
"Do you think it's dark outside yet? Maybe your dad is out looking for us."
"Maybe. Our satchels are still up there, so I guess they'll know where we are."
"Too bad we didn't have any chicken left," Timmy said, licking his lips. The mention of food set Dave's stomach off again, and they both giggled. "Dave, I'm tired."
"And I'm cold, and scared, and I'm hungry even though my belly isn't growling like yours." Timmy sobbed. "I'm trying to be brave, but I really think I'm gonna start crying again soon."
"It's gonna be okay. We've gotta find a way out soon." They stopped walking. and Timmy immediately wrapped his arms around Dave's waist. The wolf boy patted his head. "Maybe we should stop and rest a while. Get some sleep if we can."
"I don't really wanna sleep, Dave. I'll just dream of ol' miner ghosts."
"But we really have to," Dave said, keeping his voice steady but at the same time wishing that his friend hadn't mentioned ghosts. "We might have to climb or something to get out. And I'm really, really tired."
"Okay, I guess. But we gotta keep the light on!"
"Not when we're sleeping." Timmy started whimpering, and Dave knew he was thinking about ghosts again. "Otherwise the batteries will get dead."
"I'll die if you turn it off, Dave! I just know I will!"
"No, you won't!"
"Yes I will!. I don't much like the dark."
"Me neither, but if we keep our eyes shut, we won't see it."
"The dark, of course." Dave laughed at Timmy's perplexed look. "C'mon, let's sit down."
"Promise me one thing, though, Dave."
"After I'm dead, you eat me, okay? I want you to make it out of here."
"Knock it off! Nobody's gonna die!"
"But what if I do?"
"Then I won't eat you," Dave said, holding his shivering friend closer. "I'll just sit here with you until I die, too."
"But... but I don't want that..." Timmy began crying softly. "You're my best friend, I don't want you to die."
"Then you gotta stay alive for me." Dave pushed Timmy back until their eyes met. "I need my best friend."
"I love you, Dave," Timmy sobbed. "I promise I'm not gonna die."
"Me neither." They sank back against the tunnel wall, with the crying roo in the wolf's arms. "I love ya too, buddy."
"I wish you were my brother."
"Me too, but hey! Best friends ain't too bad, is it?"
"You gotta let go of me now, though."
"No! Why?" Timmy gasped. "Don't go away!"
"I won't, but I gotta pee." At that, Timmy smiled weakly. "I'll just go a few yards away. You keep the light."
While relieving himself, Dave thought about his friend. There had to be something he could do to help Timmy, to take away his fear and comfort him enough to stop his crying. An idea had just formed in his head when a hand touched his shoulder, and he jumped with a squeal.
"Sorry," Timmy giggled. "Didn't mean to scare you."
"You could have said something," Dave grumbled, clutching his chest. "Lucky thing I was done."
"Yeah!" Timmy laughed. "Uhm, I gotta go, too."
"Just do it. Anywhere's fine."
"Stay with me, please?"
"All right, but no holding hands or hugging while you're doing it."
Timmy giggled, then turned to the wall and pulled down his pants. Dave watched the wagging roo tail for a second or two, then he started taking off his jacket. He didn't feel too cold, himself, but knew it was worse for Timmy. Especially with his pants down, he thought, and had to stifle a giggle of his own. Normally, he would have swatted Timmy's bared buttocks while they made such an easy target, which in turn would have led to a wrestling bout. This wasn't really the best time for jokes, though, he decided. When Timmy was done they walked back to where they had first sat down. The roo boy watched curiously as Dave turned his jacket upside-down, tucked the collar into his waistband and then pulled the sleeves halfway on. He sat down and held his arms out as best he could, and when their eyes met he saw a wide grin on Timmy's muzzle.
"I made you a pouch," he said in a low voice, almost a whisper. "Well, kind of one."
Timmy hurried to take his shoes off, then slid into the makeshift pouch with a contented sigh. When his head and feet emerged just inches from Dave's nose, the wolf boy sneezed. Timmy grinned sheepishly, then removed his fluffy woollen socks. As soon as he was comfortable, he held up the flashlight with a smile, and clicked it off. Dave pulled him closer until their noses touched, and then they fell asleep.
* * * * * *
When Timmy woke up he felt well rested, and a lot less scared than before. He was still hungry and thirsty, but at least he wasn't cold anymore. The safety and warmth of the pouch, as well the sound of Dave's steady heartbeat and his slow, rhythmical breathing, had provided wonderful comfort. He switched on the flashlight and watched his wiggling toes, then smiled happily as his attention was turned to his wolf friend.
Dave's head had fallen slightly to the side while he slept, and his tongue was lolling out in a way that almost set Timmy off laughing. He rubbed his nose in Dave's soft, fluffy cheek fur, then blew gently into his ear. When it started twitching madly Timmy couldn't hold back his giggles, and soon Dave opened his eyes. He looked around a couple of times, then smiled as he spotted the pair of large feet that were just in front of him.
"Good morning, joey," he yawned. "If it is morning."
"I think it is. Good morning to you too, puppy."
"You're looking better."
"Much better. Thanks for the pouch."
"Hey, anytime. Aren't we getting up?"
"Not yet." Timmy sank down until his toes were the only parts of him that could be seen. "Dave, I'm sorry I was such a crybaby. I'll be braver now, I promise."
"You don't have to say you're sorry, Timmy."
"But I am sorry!" The toes in front of Dave's eyes wiggled, and he had to stifle a giggle. "The way I was just whining and feeling sorry for myself... I've stopped that now."
"That's good, but..."
"I'm gonna be brave like you!"
"I'm not really that brave," Dave said, his ears pressed flat against his head. "I've been scared ever since you fell into that hole."
"But at least you didn't whimper and cry all the time. Now we're both gonna be brave, though. And we're gonna get out of here, right?."
"Yeah. So, let's get started."
"Not yet." Timmy yawned. "This feels so cosy."
"Get up, you lazy joey!"
Growling, Dave struggled to get to his feet, but as he did he lost grip on the jacket sleeve. He fell over, and spilled Timmy out onto the tunnel floor. The kangaroo boy sighed disappointedly, then shook his head and started putting on his socks and shoes.
"Promise me one thing, puppy."
"After we get out of here, will you hold me when I sleep again?"
"After we get out of here," Dave said, smiling, "I'll hold you for as long as you want."
Timmy returned the smile, his green eyes sparkling in the weak light.
* * * * * *
Timmy's newfound courage made him set a high pace, and it was all Dave could do to keep up. Even though he was still tired and hungry, and quite a bit scared, he was able to shake all that aside and just admire his roo friend. Timmy not only led them up and down side tunnels and dead ends, he even found time and strength to be curious.
"What do you think they digged for?"
"Dunno." Dave touched the tunnel wall and tried to imagine hacking his way into it with a pickaxe. "Gold, maybe."
"Think we'll find any? That'd be neat, right?"
"Yeah. But we didn't find any diamonds, so I don't think there's any gold either."
"Yeah, you're right. I reckon they stopped digging 'cause there was nothing left to find."
They walked along in silence. The tunnel seemed to bend slightly upwards, but Dave couldn't quite decide if this were just his imagination or for real, so he said nothing. There had been no side tunnels for a while, but neither boy could tell whether that were a good sign or not. Also, it had been at least an hour since they had seen any left-behind equipment. What worried them the most, though, was the fact that the flashlight's batteries were slowly dying. Finding their way in the dark was not something they wanted to try.
After a quick stop to answer the calls of nature, they began to hurry. Since the floor was smooth here, and there were no side tunnels, they all but ran until they suddenly faced a dead end. Dave's breath caught in his throat, and he heard Timmy mutter something that sounded like the kind of curse that would have earned him a scolding, if any of their parents had been there. Was that it? the wolf boy thought, wild panic spreading throughout his body. Was there really no way out? He felt certain that they had followed every side tunnel, and he didn't care much for the thought of going back to check them all again.
He sat down and leaned his head against the tunnel wall, and that was when he saw it. They had reached the bottom of a mine shaft, and way above his head, he could see a faint light. He patted the dejected Timmy's shoulder and made him look, and the smile that spread on his friend's muzzle told Dave that what he had seen was indeed real. They had found the way out!
"Hello!! Is anybody up there!!" Timmy's loud yell was so sudden it made Dave jump with fear. Clutching his chest, he punched Timmy's arm, but only got a giggle in return. "Sorry, I just had to try."
"Can you hear anybody?"
"No. Looks like we're gonna have to climb."
* * * * * *
Climbing soon proved to be impossible, though. The walls of the shaft were impossibly smooth, and the wooden struts that lined them were all half rotten. Timmy made a disgusted face when one of them crumbled as he grabbed it. Light was coming from a hole that looked to be at least a hundred feet up. After thinking for a while, they agreed that Timmy would climb up to stand on Dave's shoulders to see if he could find any handholds higher up. The wolf boy's knees were shivering as he steeled himself to bear the extra weight of his friend, while Timmy shone the flashlight upwards. He was almost too tired to stand up, but he gritted his teeth, determined not to let it show. Luckily, he didn't have to wait long before an excited squeal was heard from above his head.
"There's more tunnels up here!"
"So?" Dave grunted impatiently. "I'm sick of tunnels!"
"But I think I can jump up there." Timmy hopped down and pointed at a dark opening about fifteen feet up. "If there's more tunnels above that one I could get all the way up."
"You'll get killed if you miss." Dave's voice was uncharacteristically flat. "But if you make it, will you hurry to get help? I don't really wanna stay down here alone for too long."
"Huh? You're not gonna get help?"
"No, I mean I'm not gonna leave you behind."
"But, nothing!" Timmy rummaged through his pockets and fished out the satchel straps that Dave had used to make a rope. "Tie these to your jacket again, and I'll pull you up."
"I'm too heavy for you to lift."
"All right, then I'll just hold the rope and you'll climb up."
"Hey, that might work!" Dave grinned, suddenly feeling a lot better. "You're pretty smart."
"Yeah," Timmy giggled. "C'mon, puppy, be ready!"
* * * * * *
They reached the next tunnel opening easily. Timmy made the jump on his first attempt, without even using the full power of his strong legs. He took the rope which he had kept wrapped around his neck and lowered it to Dave. Then he tied his end of it around his waist, and found good footholds so that he could let Dave climb up. After that, they had to rest for a while before trying again. The next opening they could see was on the opposite wall of the shaft, and higher up from where they were than the first had been. Still, Timmy felt certain that he could make the jump. Letting Dave climb up after him could get tricky though, they realised, since Timmy's feet might slip when Dave swung across the shaft.
Impatiently, the wolf boy paced back and forth. It was no use, he knew, to try and persuade Timmy to leave on his own. Once he had made up his mind about something like that, the kangaroo was immensely stubborn. Either they found a way to get out together, or both would stay where they were
"We could try this tunnel," Timmy tried, "but the flashlight will die soon."
"Mhm. I don't much fancy crawling 'round in the dark. Maybe there's something up there you could tie the rope to."
"I'm not as good as you with knots, Dave." Timmy's ears drooped in a mimic of a canine gesture of defeat. "It's all I can do to tie it around myself, and even then I gotta hold it together with my hands."
Sighing, Dave walked out to the edge of the shaft and shone the flashlight upwards. He felt sure that he could see more tunnels up above. If only he were the jumping one, then he could easily have pulled Timmy up with him! The roo boy was smaller than him, and lighter; it would have been no match. Just then, he saw that one of the tunnels higher up seemed to go right through the vertical shaft, continuing on the other side of it.
"Timmy!" he cried out in a shrill voice. "Timmy, come here!"
"What is it?"
"What if there's another tunnel above us? You could jump over there and help me up."
"Hey, that's brilliant! Hold my hand!"
Dave took his friend's hand and held it tightly as Timmy leaned out into the shaft and pointed the flashlight at the wall above them. At first his face took on a dejected look, but the he grinned.
"It'll work!" He let Dave pull him back in, then hugged him with all his strength. To Dave's surprise, he then took off his own jacket. "Tie this to our rope, too. There's a tunnel higher up that I can reach in two jumps."
"Just be careful. Don't fall!"
* * * * * *
During what seemed like hours, they slowly made their way upwards. By the time there were only a couple more jumps before they reached the place where light was shining in, they were both exhausted; tired, hungry, thirsty and with every muscle in their bodies aching. Yet they didn't dare to sleep again. What if the daylight were gone when they woke up? The prospect of one more night in the mine was too horrible to even contemplate. They were sitting at a safe distance from the shaft, with Dave gently massaging Timmy's sore legs and feet. Timmy didn't want to jump, ever again. He knew he had to, though; he even had to make several more jumps if they were to get out. But he still didn't want to.
Dave had asked him at one point how far it was to the bottom of the shaft, and Timmy had lied when he said he didn't know. He knew just how far he would fall if he missed a jump, or how far Dave would fall if he dropped the rope or slipped. Maybe he didn't know exactly how many feet or metres it was down there, but he knew how many jumps he had made, and that it would take several seconds to fall. A shiver went through him as he saw for his inner eye the worst nightmare possible; how the rope broke, and how Dave disappeared into the darkness below. A darkness so total and so compact that he just knew that it would soon, any minute, rear up and swallow them whole.
For a second, he had to fight back tears of despair, but his determination to stay brave won out. He took a deep breath then got to his feet, rolled up the rope and put it over his shoulder. Before Dave could say anything, he took the next jump. To his surprise, he didn't miss. The darkness below didn't reach up to engulf him. The jump back to the tunnel above Dave was just as easy, but now his feet hurt even more. Willing himself to new strength, he tied the rope around his waist and lowered the other end to Dave.
"You sure?" came the answer. "If you need more rest..."
"Hurry up now or I will have to rest!"
A second later, the weight of the wolf boy forced Timmy to dig his heels in with all the strength he could muster. It hurt, but he couldn't leave Dave down there. He just couldn't! So he gritted his teeth and held still until the familiar black face appeared at the edge. This time, Timmy couldn't keep his tears back as he sank to the ground and received his well-earned massage. To his surprise, Dave was crying, too.
"You're so brave, Timmy," he whispered while tears ran down his cheeks. "You're the best friend a boy could ever have. I love you so much, buddy."
"Me too." Timmy tried a smile, but it came out as more of a grimace. "Me too."
* * * * * *
It was almost dark by the time Dave finally dragged himself up on solid ground. His first thought was to simply collapse, but then he realised that they should get to safety first. What if another earthquake hit? He looked around and saw that there was some kind of device set up next to the shaft entrance. It looked almost like a larger version of the winch used to bring buckets of water out of wells, and he guessed that it was used to bring up the gold the miners dug out from the tunnels. It was old; the wood was dry or rotting, the metal bits were rusty and if there had been ropes they were long gone by now. There was a hut, too, with its roof caved in, and some mining equipment that he didn't feel like looking at right now. All he wanted was to get away from the hole in the ground. Timmy protested when he said that they should move, and wanted nothing but to sit down and rest. Instead of arguing, Dave simple picked his friend up and carried him in his arms. After about half a mile he found a place where the ground was nothing but flat, solid rock, and he finally sank down with a happy sigh. The now sleeping Timmy tightened his hold around Dave's neck, but he didn't mind. He hugged his friend back, then fell asleep.
A little while later, Timmy woke up with a screaming need to pee. It took him a moment to figure out where he was, and when he remembered that Dave had carried him he nuzzled his cheek and purred with delight. Then he slipped out of the wolf boy's arms and hurried over to a small bush, behind which he did what he had to do.
Only when he was done did he realise that he was shivering with cold. It was dark, and he decided that it was no idea to start moving until morning. The pale new moon gave some light, but to try and find the way home might be dangerous. He shuddered at the thought of sleeping outside, but at least it was better than being down in those awful tunnels. When he got back to Dave, he saw that the wolf boy had brought their rope with him, and he set about to untie their jackets from it. That took a while, but in the end he could tuck them both in. It wasn't as comfortable as a pouch, but at least Dave's fluffy fur was nicely warm. Timmy pressed himself closer to his sleeping friend, and fell asleep with his head resting on Dave's shoulder.
* * * * * *
Dave woke up to a brightening eastern sky putting the stars above him out, one by one. As always, he wasn't sure were he was at first, but his memories quickly returned with the first pangs of pain. Every part of his body was sore, and sleeping on the bare rock hadn't made things better. He took the time to lay Timmy's head down gently, smiling at his friend before rushing over to the bush to answer nature's call. Sighing with relief, he looked around while he was busy, but he didn't recognise the place.
To his left the ground sloped away quite steeply, and to his right the mountain rose towards the sky. It looked as if they had come up from the mine somewhere on the mountainside, higher up than he had ever been allowed to go on his own. His ears drooped. If someone were looking for them, they probably wouldn't come this way. So they had to get down off the mountain, but which way? He tried to think. If they could only find the river, getting home would be easy. It ran towards the west, he knew, and after he had zipped up his pants he turned so that his back was toward the rising sun. His nose should be pointing in the right direction, but which way should they go to find the river? North or south?
"Watcha doing?" The sleepy voice startled Dave, and he jumped. "Oops, sorry!"
"Don't do that! I was thinking which way to go now."
"We just follow the river, right?"
"Yeah, but which way is the river?"
"We could end up going around the entire foaming mountain!"
"Sorry. It's just..." Dave choked, and tears welled up in his eyes. "I just thought everything was gonna be okay once we got out of that awful mine!"
"It will be," Timmy said, taking his friend's hand. "Look at the mountain."
"It looks the same as it did from the pool, right? That's gotta mean we're on the right side of it."
"Yeah, it does!"
"So if we just get down from here we're gonna see the river!"
"Timmy, you're so smart!"
The kangaroo boy just giggled and hid his face in his hands, blushing deeply at the praise. They picked up their jackets and carefully started down the slope. At first, it was easy going, but they soon reached a steep cliff. Even though it looked difficult, Dave's spirits rose. This cliff just might be the one by the pool. If that were so, then the river wasn't far away. The two boys went separate ways to look for a good way down, and it wasn't more than a minute or two before Timmy started yelling.
"I found it! I found it!"
Dave backtracked as fast as he could, and soon found his friend bouncing with excitement. No more than a hundred feet away, he could see a thin trickle of water. The boys screamed with joy and ran over there, all but dipping their heads in their hurry to ease their parched throats. Once their thirst had been slaked, they lay down in the light of the rising sun and just laughed, hugging each other so hard they almost choked.
* * * * * *
It took them a while to calm down, but once they had, they followed the creek with renewed strength. Timmy's legs were still sore from all the jumping the day before, but Dave kept running this way and that, splashing through the shallow water every now and then. After only few minutes' walk they reached a point where the tiny creek met with a larger one. The resulting flow of water looked more like their river, and true enough, just downstream of the confluence was the waterfall with the pool below. From atop the cliff they could see the wide crack in the ground where they had both fallen in, right next to the pool. There was no sign of their satchels, though, and Dave groaned.
"I had some chocolate in mine. I was hoping it'd still be there."
"Forget the chocolate!" Timmy snorted. "We're not going anywhere near that mangy, foamin' hole!"
"Now you're cussing."
"That thing deserves it! Let's find another way down, so we won't have to get too close to it."
Dave agreed, and they walked back along the edge of the cliff until they found a place where it was slightly less steep. There seemed to be plenty of footholds on the way down, so the boys started climbing cautiously. It wasn't long before they stood on solid ground. Grinning to each other, they dashed over to the river, keeping well clear of the crack.
* * * * * *
Two very tired boys made their way through the last stretch of forest and up to Dave's house. To the wolf boy's surprise, he found the front door locked. He muttered to himself as he fished out his key from the pocket of his jacket, and let them in. It had been Saturday when they set out to look for diamonds. Was it really Monday already, since his parents weren't home? But Monday was a holiday, so they shouldn't have gone to work. He shook his head to clear his mind, too tired to bother with such thoughts. Instead he followed Timmy, who had kicked off his shoes and dropped his jacket on the floor, then made his way into the kitchen. Dave found his friend busy making sandwiches, and the sight and smell of bread, butter, cheese and ham made his stomach growl.
The two boys ate what seemed like a mountain of sandwiches, accompanied with glass upon glass of chocolate milk. By the time they had finally had their fill, their eyelids were getting heavy. It took the last of their strength to clean up after themselves, then they headed for Dave's room.
"I really oughtta call my dad," Timmy mumbled while they brushed their teeth. "Bet he's been wondering where I've been."
"Maybe." Dave giggled. "But you look like you'll fall asleep before he picks up the phone."
"Mhm. All right, sleep first."
They dressed down to their briefs, then crawled in beneath the comforter in Dave's bed. Timmy was too tired to bother with making a pouch, settling instead for snuggling up close to his friend. Dave didn't mind; he was already asleep.
* * * * * *
Dave woke up, uncertain of what had awakened him. It took him a couple of seconds to get his bearings. He was in his own bed, not down in the awful mine that had still been there in his dreams. He was no longer cold, hungry, thirsty or scared. A grin spread across his lips as he realised that Timmy's arms and legs were wrapped tightly around him as if the roo boy never, ever wanted to let go. He sank back with a sigh. This was not a time when his usually endless energy would force him to get up. Then he heard the unmistakable sound of someone running up the stairs, and his door flew open. Dave blinked in the light coming from the hall outside. He only just had time to recognise his sister before she let out a scream, then scooped both boys up and crushed them in a bone-crunching hug. He did his best to ward off the kisses she planted all over his face, as did Timmy who was just waking up.
"You crazy puppies!!!" she yelled. "Where on Earth have you been? I've been worried sick!"
"We've been out exploring," Timmy giggled, squirming to try and avoid the teen wolftess's affection. "Checking out a few caves."
"Yeah," Dave added, "nothin' to it."
"Well, whatever!" Danielle said as she gave them one last kiss each. "I'm just soo glad you're back."
"Uhm..." Dave began, but his voice trailed away and he had to try again. "Dani... What about mom and dad? Are they mad at us?"
"Oh my!!" She suddenly dropped the boys and slapped her own forehead, "I gotta call them! Right away! They're out looking for you!"
"Of course they are! The whole freaking town's out looking for you guys!"
"No way!" Timmy exclaimed, wide-eyed. "What about my dad?"
"He's been out there ever since you guys didn't come home for dinner."
"Oh no." Timmy looked pale. "I'm gonna be in so much trouble."
"No, you won't!" Dave said in as stern a voice as a six-year-old could possibly manage. "Dani, it was an accident!"
"Tell me later, 'kay? I've gotta make a couple of phone calls."
She dashed out of the room, and they soon heard her almost shouting on the phone. Timmy still looked a little dejected, so Dave took his hand and gave it a squeeze. The roo boy sighed happily and leaned against him, but then suddenly pushed him back with a disgusted look on his face.
"You don't smell so good yourself," Dave growled. "And my nose is more sensitive than yours."
"Yeah, I know..." Timmy's smile froze as his eyes widened. "Dave! You look horrible!"
Dave walked over to his mirror and watched his near-naked reflection. At first he had no idea what Timmy had been so upset about, but then he noticed that his face fur was matted with blood, and his left cheek was badly bruised. He giggled at the sight, but then winced as he touched his face.
"Owie!" He turned to his friend and grinned. "At least I didn't knock out any teeth."
"Don't joke!" Timmy whimpered. Just then, Danielle returned, eyeing them quizzically. "Dani, look at him!"
"Poor puppy," she cooed. She sank to her knees in front of her brother and examined him carefully, ignoring his whines when she touched his muzzle. "Doesn't look too bad, though. You just scratched you lip with your teeth. How did you get this?"
Both boys started talking at the same time, but Danielle hushed at them and instead ushered them out into the hall and towards the bathroom.
"No offence, guys, but you reek to the skies!" she giggled as she started pouring them a bath, then opened the medicine cabinet. "Hop in, boys. Timmy, you tell me what happened while I give my baby brother some TLC."
Dave winced at the sight of the bottle of medicinal alcohol that his sister held up. Part of him wanted to make a run for it and hide somewhere until this peril had passed, but he also knew that leaving a wound unattended was a bad thing. So he tried to stop his lower lip from trembling as he slipped out of his briefs and joined Timmy in the tub.
During the next half hour, Timmy and Danielle swapped stories while she tended to Dave's lip. The sting of the medicinal alcohol made the wolf boy whimper, and the smell of it made him dizzy. He listened with half an ear as Timmy told their tale, leaving out some details, like the pouch he had slept in, and exaggerating others such as Dave's initial bravery. Danielle, in turn, told the boys how upset everyone had been when they didn't show up for dinner on Saturday evening. First in an irritated way, then more and more worried. Literally hundreds of people had searched for them that night, the following day and then one more night. By then their abandoned satchels had been found, and some had begun to fear the worst. As she said this, tears were flowing down Danielle's cheeks, but she still kept a firm hand as she cleaned some cuts and scrapes on Dave's cheek and muzzle.
"Didn't they see that big hole in the ground?" Timmy asked while he busied himself rubbing soap in between his large toes. "Right where our satchels were?"
"I was there, I think I know which hole you mean." She shook her head. "It must have caved in more, because it was just a couple of feet deep. Nobody thought anything of it."
"What day is it?" Dave asked between whimpers. "Hey! Owie!"
"Don't be such a baby!" Timmy giggled at Dave's angry pout. "And it's Monday morning, so you didn't miss school, guys."
The boys exchanged a glance and let out groans of disappointment, then broke into renewed giggles. Danielle joined in. Just then, they heard the door slam open downstairs, and the next instant the bathroom was full of people. Dave was yanked out of the tub and was immediately squashed between his mom and dad as they hugged and kissed him, and he could see that Timmy was wrapped tightly in his father's arms, both of them crying openly. The parents exchanged boys for a moment for more hugs and kisses, then Dave found himself in his mother's arms while they all turned to a fourth adult, someone Dave hadn't seen until now. A police officer, he realised. So it was true that lots of people had been out looking for them. The policeman, a young racoon, tipped his uniform cap and smiled at the happy family reunion.
"Well, looks like we can call off the search. I want you boys to tell me exactly what happened to you, but that can wait until tomorrow." He winked at the boys. "After school."
"Aww," Timmy whined, then tightened his snuggle against his father's chest. "I'm so happy you aren't mad at me, dad."
"How could I be?" the elder kangaroo said with his voice just barely under control. "I'm just happy to have my boy back with me again."
"So are we, baby," Dave's mother told him while nuzzling him. "She extended a hand to the policeman. "Thanks for your help, Lieutenant Anderson."
"You're welcome, ma'am. It's always a delight to see happy endings like this." He shook their hands. "See you boys again tomorrow."
* * * * * *
The rest of the day had been one long celebration, which didn't end until way after the boys' usual bedtime. They had told their story in more detail, getting even more hugs as they related how they had helped each other get through the mine and finally back home. In the end, after a late snack to appease their renewed hunger, they told it all one more time until they were too tired to talk any more. It was decided that Timmy and his dad would spend the night, and so the boys returned to Dave's room for the most thorough tuck-in of their lives.
Later, Timmy lay in his sheet-pouch, toying absent-mindedly with his toes, while Dave lay on his back staring at the ceiling. Even though they were tired, they just couldn't go to sleep.
"Feels weird," Dave muttered. "I mean, being home again and everything."
"Yeah, I know."
"It's, like, weird. I can't explain it."
"We thought we'd never get home again," Timmy said in a hushed tone. "And now that we are it feels unreal."
"Yeah, that's it!" Dave sat up. "That's exactly how I feel!"
"And tomorrow we gotta go back to school. Without any diamonds."
"Yeah," Timmy giggled. "But at least it'll feel normal again."
"Could you... uhm... put your arm around me? Kind of like when we were down in the mine?"
"It's just... I'm afraid I'll have a bad dream if..."
"Hey, no problem! I said I'd hold you, and I always keep my promises." Dave moved closer and laid his arm across the pouch with the happily squirming roo boy inside. "That's what best friends are for."
Once they had settled down comfortably, it only took Timmy a minute or two to fall into a deep, safe slumber. Dave lay awake a little while longer, watching a sliver of moonlight that lit up the wall above his head. He didn't really want to admit it, but he was glad that Timmy had asked to be held. He had been a bit scared of bad dreams, too, but now he knew that he wouldn't have any. Thanks to his best friend. He smiled to himself and shifted a little on the bed to better reach all the way across the pouch. Tomorrow, he decided as sleep began to overtake him, he would tell Timmy this and thank him, but he already knew what the answer would be.
Because, after all, that was what best friends were for.