by: Sarah Stodola
NOTE — Many thanks to Rose O’Thorns, for allowing me to use some ideas from one of her stories. You should probably (though it’s not imperative) read “Mining The Past” before reading this one. It happens not long after the episode “The Legacy”.
NO SUCH THING AS MONSTERS
My older cousin paused in his pacing to turn, pale blue eyes startled in the faint light. In all my twenty-two years, I had never called him that. Bo did as a fond nickname, Uncle Jesse did when he was ticked off, and Cooter did playfully in his rhymes, but not me. Never me. But right now, I felt like calling him that anyway.
I hugged my knees close to my chest and forced myself not to bite my lip, from either fear or the pain from my left ankle. Luke had checked it and said it wasn’t broken, but it hurt enough to be. I had tripped in some rubble while trying to get out of the collapse zone in a big hurry, and though the makeshift wrapping we’d made out of some old rags we’d found in a corner helped, it didn’t stop the swelling or the periodic shooting pains. I’d be pacing too, except that it would hurt too much. But what I was forced to admit was almost as bad, though true. “I’m scared.”
Luke hesitated for a moment, then came over to me and sat down on the moonshine barrel to the left of mine. I wasn’t the only one injured. Even in the dimness, I could see the blood on his forehead where he’d fallen, and he was favoring his left shoulder too. Left must be our unlucky side, huh? We were a real pair of wounded soldiers, me and my cousin. Slowly, he reached out and took my hand in his, squeezing gently.
“You don’t have to be, Daisy. They’ll find us. I’m sure of it.”
I swallowed. “Yeah. I know that too. But I’m scared anyway.” I eyed the flickering candle set on a metal pail far away from the explosive whiskey nervously. It only had about an inch to go before it died.
I could feel his eyes on me, studying me thoughtfully in that quiet, seeing way he has, and averted my gaze to a far corner of the room. But even though I was embarrassed, I knew, down deep, that he’d never laugh at me. The soft tone of his words, when they finally came, supported that knowledge. “Daisy… are you afraid of the dark?”
I tensed involuntarily, but finally nodded. There was nothing else to do. “Not sorta dark, like at night… just pitch black. Like this cave’s gonna be when that candle goes out.”
Even though I still hadn’t met his gaze, he reached out and pulled me into a strong but gentle hug. I couldn’t help but relax a little in his arms, feeling a bit safer when I was close to him. I guess I understood how Bo felt sometimes, now, the way he depended on our older cousin. Luke responded by tightening the hug briefly. “Hey, sweetheart, we’re gonna get out of here,” he whispered. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”
I finally swallowed back threatening tears and sat up, away from him, to meet his eyes. “You know what it really is?” I confided quietly, my voice still echoing off the hard granite walls. “It ain’t really the dark itself that scares me. It’s all the things I can’t see that I just *know* are creeping up on me from behind, even if they aren’t really there. It sounds stupid, I know, but…”
Luke smiled slightly, then reached out and rubbed his thumb under my eyes, wiping away the betraying tears that had leaked out despite my efforts. Then he sat back, hands on his knees, looking a little uncertain but determined. “Daisy? Would it help if I told you I know how you feel?”
I could only stare at him at first, and then giggle despite myself. “Luke, you ain’t scared of the dark, are you?”
“No… not anymore.” The hesitant truth in his voice made my laughter disappear instantly. I studied my cousin’s face intently.
“What do you mean?”
He took a deep breath, then suddenly jumped up, stuffing his hands in his jean pockets, to pace the floor with a tense, almost urgent stride. I could tell he didn’t really want to talk about whatever this was.
“Luke? You… you don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want,” I offered quietly.
He turned and looked me straight in the eyes. “No. I’ll tell you. When I first came back from the war, and was frightened of the dark, and of gunfire Remember?”
I certainly did, and nodded wordlessly. The sound of fireworks had had him refusing to go to town on the Fourth of July. And getting stuck in a cold, dark pit had nearly driven him crazy with terror. It had scared me more than anyone, I think, because Luke had always been so strong before, and I had never imagined him any other way. But slowly, surely, he had gotten over both fears, gotten his life back to normal.
“I understand what it’s like to feel like you can’t see, and there’s things comin’ at you from all sides,” he continued, his voice growing almost haunted. “I know what it’s like to imagine things, terrible, unreal things, creeping up from behind. I know, Daisy.”
I did bite my lower lip that time, and reached out a hand toward him in compassion. “It’s okay, Luke,” I found myself reassuring softly. “It’s all over.”
The corners of his mouth twitched slightly, and his eyes glinted faint amusement behind the fondness. “I’m all right. Even though I still hate really dark places, I’m not gonna fall apart on you or anything. I was just remembering…”
“Well, good,” I attempted to joke. “The last thing we need in here is two freaked-out people.”
The little twitches widened into an honest smile. “Yeah. You’re right about that.” He finally came back to sit down beside me again, joining my stare at the candle. “I wonder how much longer it’ll last, and how long it will take Uncle Jesse, Bo, and Cooter to find us,” he said conversationally, as though it were nothing. “I mean, we have enough air in here, but we will need food and water eventually.”
“Not to mention a bath,” I wrinkled my nose, shoving my hair back from my eyes with a dusty hand. “That cave-in didn’t do my hair or clothes much good.” I said it half to get my mind off my ankle, half just to get Luke to laugh. He did chuckle a little.
“That’s a girl for ya. Always worried about their looks,” he teased. I mock-swung at him, and he caught my fist in his palm easily. “And they can’t fight, neither.”
I snapped the other fist out from my side, pulling my punch just before I hit his jaw. “Uh-huh,” I drawled out sarcastically. “Girls are such sissies, huh?”
“Well…” he seemed to ponder it, then grinned. “Yeah. But you ain’t most girls, Daisy.” He lightly cuffed me across the jaw, then opened his arms. I leaned into the offered hug, smiling too despite the pain.
“You know what?” I said quietly. “I love you, Lukas.”
I heard his smile in his voice, even though I didn’t look up. “Love ya too, cousin.”
Just then, the candle flickered violently. I jumped and looked over at our only light source with wide eyes. I clenched my jaw, determined not to panic, though it felt like my heart rate had just doubled. “Uh, Luke..?”
“I know,” he whispered. The candle was going to go out pretty soon. “I guess here is where we both face our monsters, huh?”
“Monsters?!” I buried my face in his shirt, purposefully overreacting to try and lighten the mood a little.
He laughed softly, though tensely. “Oh, Daisy, don’t be silly. Not real ones. I meant figuratively. Hey, talkin’ about that, remember when I was six, and Jake Kelly told me there was a monster under my bed?”
I quirked a little smile and nodded, remembering. “Uh-huh. And you were so convinced that you convinced me and Bo. You boys both slept in my room for about a week until Uncle Jesse got wise.”
“And then he told us there was no such thing as monsters, and made us go with him to look under my bed, and Bo’s bed, and all over the house, until we were satisfied there weren’t any.”
“Yeah,” I whispered fondly. Uncle Jesse had always kept us safe, and we’d even been sure he could fight a horrible kid-eating beast if necessary. “You know what, Luke? There’s no monsters in here, either.”
“Nope. Not so much as a snake.”
At that thought, I shivered. “Please, don’t make me think about snakes.”
“Sorry.” He still hadn’t let go of me, almost as though he were seeking as much comfort as I was. I didn’t mind, either; I wasn’t ready for him to let go. “There ain’t any snakes down here, I promise.”
“Okay.” I finally sat up and away from him, playing with my hair in my fingers nervously. “I wish Uncle Jesse was here right now,” I spoke up after a long silence.
“Yeah, I know. Me too, to be honest.” I glanced over to see his eyes surprisingly open and emotional. He normally hid much of what he felt, unlike me and Bo. He was always the steadying force in our group. He still was being strong now; he was just showing what was inside himself too. I felt suddenly like I’d been given a precious gift — the inner feelings of my older cousin.
I took his hand and squeezed briefly. “When do you think he’ll be here?”
“I don’t know. He will, though. He will. He knew we were coming out here to check out the old Rainbow Mine in case there was any more hidden moonshine.”
I patted the side of the barrel underneath me. Exploring around this afternoon, we had found this other room, where there *was* more. Then the cave-in had happened, and the mine shaft had collapsed. The rooms below it hadn’t been harmed, though, so we were okay, just stuck. “Yeah.”
“When we don’t show up for dinner, they’re gonna come digging for us. We’ll be fine till then.”
Just as he said that, the candle flickered sharply again, then once more… then sputtered and went completely out, drowned in the melted wax, leaving two young Dukes completely in darkness. I gasped and grabbed for my cousin, gripping his denim jacket in my fists. “Luke..!”
He fumbled around until his hand rested on my shoulder. “Shh. We’ll be okay, Daisy. Don’t get scared.”
Slowly, I managed to let go. Still keeping one hand in Luke’s so I didn’t lose track of where he was, I held up the other in front of my face. I brought it close to my eyes, until I smacked myself in the nose, but still couldn’t see a thing except the pained stars that filled my vision. “It’s… it’s like being completely blind,” I stated, rubbing my nose gingerly.
I glanced over toward my older cousin, even though I couldn’t see a thing. He sounded almost scared… almost. My mind flashed back to his terror of years before, and I wondered if he was really as over it as he’d said he was. I didn’t say a word, though, just leaned against him and sighed, determined to fight back my own fear.
After a while, I heard, “Daisy?” The word was tense, surprisingly so.
“Yeah? What’s wrong, Luke?”
“Let’s talk for a while, until they get find us. I don’t want it to be quiet. If it’s quiet, I start hearing shouts and artillery fire.”
I turned my head sharply to stare through the blackness in his direction. His voice was a little shaky… scared, I realized. That scared me, because he was always the brave one. “You gonna be okay?”
His answer was a split second too late to be convincing. “…Yeah. I’ll be okay.”
I bit my lip. All right. Looked like we two were in the same boat. Hurt *and* scared. Suddenly I was seeing Luke in a completely different light… I had a sudden feeling that this was part of what Bo saw, when he always stood behind him with a fierce sort of loyalty that seemed to have nearly as much protectiveness in it as trust for protection. “Okay. What do we talk about?”
“Well… we were talking about back when I thought there was a monster under my bed.” I could hear an attempted smile in his voice. I had to laugh a little.
“Yeah. You know, the kind of monsters that are real are really more scary when you come down to it.”
He paused. “What d’ya mean?”
I shifted position on my barrel. “Well, since we’re talking about when we were little, remember Freddy Harrison?”
His answer, when it came, was laced with traces of old anger. “Yeah. He used to follow Bo around, and when I wasn’t there he’d pick on him and beat him up.”
“Bo just wasn’t strong enough to fight back. I was pretty scared of Freddy too, remember?”
“Uh-huh. I remember. He used to steal all the girls’ lunches cause they couldn’t fight back.”
I smiled to myself, and squeezed his hand. “But finally we Dukes got sick and tired of it, and you taught us both to fight behind Uncle Jesse’s back.” He hadn’t wanted us to learn to hurt others at that young age, but Luke had figured there was no other choice. We’d all gotten in trouble… sort of. Our uncle was really kinda proud of us, and getting rid of the bully had been worth the week’s grounding. We hadn’t even gotten whipped for it.
He chuckled. I could hear his smile as he put my thoughts into words. “And then came that day when he tried to pick on Bo again, and you two ganged up on him.”
“He didn’t know what hit him!” I giggled.
Luke sighed. “Yeah. I remember. He didn’t turn out to be such a monster after all, just a coward who picked on little kids cause he wanted to seem tough.”
I scooted over a little and laid my head against my older cousin’s shoulder, closing my eyes and feeling perversely safe in his strength despite both our fear of the dark. I sighed. “What about other ‘monsters’?”
“Like what?” He sounded a little more at ease now, and I felt more that way, too. He was right; talking helped. It didn’t give you room to imagine.
I thought. “Well… what about Sheriff Little?”
He shuddered dramatically, and I grinned at my older cousin’s rarely-shown playful sense of humor. “Now *that’s* a monster.”
I shrugged. “Well, yeah. But at the same time, think about it. He’s out to get us Dukes, yeah, but we’re safe as long as we stay in Hazzard County, and you have to admit he’s honest.”
“Um.” He sighed. “Guess you’re right. As long as he thinks we did something crooked, he’d be more than happy to put us all *under* his jail, but when he finds out who really did it, it’s them he carts off, ignoring us.”
“Yeah.” I sighed, shifting position slightly and wincing. “Ow.”
“You okay?” Concern filled his voice.
“I’ll be all right. My ankle just hurts. A lot.”
“Well, it’s pretty badly sprained. You know, if there was anything I could do to help, I would.”
I squeezed his hand again. “Your just being here helps. Let’s keep talkin’.”
“Okay…” Luke paused. “Okay. Big jumps.”
“We were talking about things we used to be scared of.”
I half-smiled, incredulous. “You used to be scared of jumping?”
“Yeah.” He sounded a little sheepish, and I wished I could see his face. I had a feeling he was probably blushing. “The guys all would have contests, but I’d always find reasons not to participate. The first time I lived through a jump, when my friend Jared took his car over Catfish Creek without warning me, it scared me to death. I didn’t show it to him, but I felt like crawling under the seat and staying there”
I giggled a little. “I’m sorry, but it’s funny to think of you not wanting to jump!”
“Well, I was.”
I reached down and touched my ankle carefully, and bit back a hiss of pain. To get my mind off it, I asked, “What changed your mind?”
“Actually, it was two-fold. Being forced to learn to parachute in the Marines helped a whole lot. But when I really, finally knew I was over it was when Bo flew the General Lee over the river that first drive. When we took off, I felt that same twisting in my gut, that terror, but I guess my trust in my cousin overrode it. I was a little shaky at first when we got back on the ground, but his excitement just wiped out all the fear, and I ain’t refused a reasonable jump since.”
I slid my arm around my older cousin’s waist and hugged him briefly. “You both taught me to fly. A car, anyway. Darcy taught me to fly a plane. I think learning to jump kept me from ever being afraid of really flying. I mean, if I could handle without wings, then with wings was no big deal,” I shrugged with a smile.
“I guess it wouldn’t be,” Luke agreed. Without completely letting go of my hand, neither of us wanting to lose track of the whereabouts of the other, he stretched his arms over his head, then groaned.
“Yeah. My shoulder aches.” He shifted on his barrel. “Wonder what time it is.”
“I don’t have a clue. I don’t have a watch.”
“I do, but it ain’t much use in the dark anyway.”
“Too bad pocket watches don’t glow,” I teased lightly.
He chuckled. “Um. Yeah. I like mine the way it is, though. Uncle Jesse gave it to me on my twelfth birthday.”
I smiled thoughtfully. “There’s really something special about those watches, huh? You know what used to put me to sleep when I was really little?”
I closed my eyes, imagining. My voice softened as I thought back. “I’d lean against Uncle Jesse’s chest, snuggling in, and close my eyes and listen. I could hear his heartbeat, and the watch in his overalls pocket. The sounds put together would make me relax and go to sleep.”
Luke was quiet for a moment. “Uncle Jesse was kinda the mother you needed in a way, huh?”
“Sort of, yeah,” I smiled to myself. “He had all of my love. Still does.”
“What about us boys?” he half-seriously complained. I was almost sure I could hear a hidden smile.
I hugged him briefly. “Oh, I love you too. Not quite the same, though. You’re my brothers. I looked up to you, Luke, but not quite the same as to Uncle Jesse. Uncle Jesse could do anything, I was sure.”
He chuckled. “Sometimes I think Bo still thinks that way about *me*.”
“He sorta does. But even he looks to Uncle Jesse more.”
A pause. “You know what? I just thought of something. He’s more our daddy than our uncle.”
I felt a bubbling up inside of love, so strong and deep I couldn’t contain it, and felt almost like crying. “Yeah. He’s *my* daddy, I know that.”
“I never really thought about it before now… but he’s mine, too.”
I smiled and leaned against his shoulder. I was glad that the side I was on was not the one he was hurt on, cause it made me feel a lot better to have that contact. “I wonder when he’s gonna get here.”
There was no answer for a few seconds, then, “I don’t know.”
We lapsed from there into a long silence, until I sighed and shifted position again, a bit uncomfortable from lack of movement. “What else can we talk about?”
“Huh?” Luke sounded startled. He must have been thinking, rather deeply, about something else. That was the only time you could startle him. “Oh. Well… what about one of us?”
“Yeah. You, me, or Bo.”
“I dunno. Something…”
I nibbled on my lower lip thoughtfully, dying to ask a certain question yet afraid to. Finally I decided to ask anyway. I bolstered my courage, and before I could change my mind, spoke. “What about you? What was it like, being in the war?”
I could feel his tension, his drawing away, even before he released my hand and stood up. “Daisy, I don’t wanna talk about it. I already did talk to Bo, and a little bit to you and Uncle Jesse. Ain’t that enough?”
I shrugged, even though I knew he couldn’t see me. “But I want you to talk to *me*. Really talk, not just a little. Luke… what happened that made you so terrified of dark places?”
He drew a loud, shuddering breath. I winced, almost feeling his pain. But finally he answered. “I guess you have a right to know. I… I was captured for a little while.”
“What?” I felt myself pale. “They never said so…”
Luke sat down beside me. “I was on a special intelligence mission.”
He slid his hand invisibly into mine. “I wasn’t really tortured, Daisy… not like some of the others. I pretended to be nuts so they’d figure I didn’t know anything worth bothering with. I didn’t have enough food or water, and the hotel accommodations stunk, literally…” He squeezed my hand gently, and I could almost feel the slow, rueful smile I heard. “But I survived it, and was rescued not a full month later. They never had a chance to write you a ‘missing in action’ letter.”
I leaned hard into him, wrapping my arms around my cousin, my brother, in the comfort I wished I’d been able to give to him back then. “You talked to Bo?”
“Yeah. I ain’t told anybody else up till now.”
I sighed, deeply, then winced at another shaft of pain from my ankle. I held my breath until it abated.
Luke noticed. “What’s wrong, Daisy?”
“Just my ankle.” I winced again, tensing involuntarily at another flare-up. “It’s hurting more.”
“I think that’s because you’re sitting there, without moving. Not good enough circulation. You’ve either got to put it up, or move it.”
I whimpered slightly. “I don’t want to move it. It hurts!”
“I know. But you ain’t really got a choice. It’ll help in the long run. C’mon, I’ll help you.” Before I had the chance to protest again, strongly muscled arms lifted me carefully to my feet. I lifted the bad foot before it touched the ground.
“Daisy…” His voice was stubborn, that flat, almost-but-not-quite warning tone I had often heard Uncle Jesse use. He wasn’t gonna take no for an answer. Gritting my teeth, I slowly brought my foot down.
I almost cried out when I put part of my weight on it. Luke didn’t say a word, but slid an arm around me, supporting about half my weight. He took a slow, careful step forward, and I followed, unwilling to let go of the only other human being around.
“We can’t see,” I informed him after ten steps. Yep, I counted every one. I wasn’t placing much weight on my sprained ankle, though, and moving around a bit *was* helping despite the discomfort. “So, what are we gonna do?”
My cousin sighed. “I know. Let’s go back. I don’t want you tripping on a rock and getting hurt worse.”
We turned and started a slow journey back, counting the steps out loud to find our starting place. Then, holding hands so as not to lose each other, we both cast around with our other hands to find our perches of before. I couldn’t find anything, and so turned to Luke. His silence started my heart pounding in panic. “Where are we?” I whispered. “Luke, we’re lost. We went the wrong direction…”
He hugged me close, comfortingly. “It’s okay. We were as good as lost before. We’ll just sit down on the floor.” He helped me down, carefully, first, then sat down crosslegged next to me. I moved close to him again, like I had been for most of the time we’d been trapped in this cave. It made me feel so much safer. I sighed and finally let go of my fear. We were going to be all right. We just had to wait until we were found and dug out. It shouldn’t be too much longer, I rationalized.
I stretched out my legs to keep circulation going to my ankle, then thought back, attempting to pick up the threads of our conversation. “Luke?”
“Why… why exactly were you so scared of the dark? You never quite answered the question.”
His abrupt exhalation was audibly unhappy, but then he shrugged, a movement I could feel through the arm I leaned against. “What the heck. Might as well get it out.” He sighed again, deeply. “It ain’t the dark itself, really. It’s being lost, alone, in a cold, enclosed place. It does something to me subconsciously, suddenly makes me scared to death cause I imagine being back in that camp. It makes me think of rats and snakes and hidden things in the corners ready to strike.” He shivered, hard. I reached out and slid both arms around his shoulders, holding him carefully.
“It’s okay, cousin,” I whispered. “It’s all over, it’s been over for years. It can never come back.”
“Except in my dreams.” He swallowed audibly. “Bo still has to wake me out of nightmares once in a while. Sometimes I wonder if it’ll ever be all over.” His voice was trembling, and I could tell that he had started imagining things…
I grabbed his shoulders, even the sore one, to which he made a complaining noise, and shook him firmly. “Snap out of it!” I ordered half-angrily, knowing that that was the only way I could get through to him before he got lost in whatever world his mind was in. “Lukas K. Duke, you listen to me! It’s over. Over!”
He jerked away, then I felt his whole body go limp with fatigue. “Yeah,” he whispered after a long several minutes. “I’ve… I’ve gotta face it, Daisy.”
It was said with the tone of a man pronouncing his own death sentence. I frowned. “What do you mean?”
He pulled back a little and gripped my lower arms. We couldn’t see in this blackness, yet I knew he would be studying my face if we could. “I’m afraid of being alone in the dark. But I have to face it somehow… it’s the only way I’ll get over it.”
I wrapped my hands around his arms as well. “Luke, I guess I don’t have a good reason like you. But I feel that way anyway. Just don’t leave me alone. That’s what scares me. Don’t leave me alone.” I fought to keep my voice from trembling, but I’m not sure it worked.
“Somehow,” my older cousin said slowly, “I think we have a similar problem. And it probably has a similar answer.” Without a warning, he stood up and moved away. I reached out for him, in vain.
“Luke!” I cried out. “Don’t leave me!”
“I have to,” he said very seriously. “I have to. I ain’t goin’ nowhere… just around the walls and back.” I heard a little hitch in his voice there at the end, and knew he was more scared than he was letting on.
Suddenly, I knew what I had to do, and forced my hand back into my lap. This was something important to him. I couldn’t stop him, it wouldn’t be right. I could survive a few minutes alone, I told myself sternly. “Then… go, Lukas. There’s no such thing as monsters, remember?”
A startled short silence, then a little laugh. “…Yeah. You’re right. No such thing.” He reached out and brushed my shoulder with his fingers. “I’ll be back. Be quiet, okay? We both have to get over our fear by facing it, alone.”
I shivered, but swallowed to get my voice back and nodded. “All right. God go with you.”
He hesitated. “Yeah. Thanks, cuz.” Then he moved away, and was gone.
I heard his footsteps, quietly, as he searched for the wall and then followed it around the room, but that was all. A wave of fear rose up in me, imagining someone else being there in the dark, creeping up on Luke, creeping up on me… “No,” I whispered to myself. Not sure what else to do, I did what Uncle Jesse always did when we were in trouble. I prayed, looking up toward the invisible ceiling. “God, help me. Help Luke. It’s the only way we can get over this. And Lord… make Uncle Jesse find us real soon. Amen.”
I bit my lip and curled into a ball, but somewhere deep inside me, I knew I was too stubborn to just give in to the terror. I was a Duke, and Dukes were stubborn. I couldn’t give up on this. I was alone, but there was nothing to be afraid of, I told myself firmly.
Yet… I couldn’t see a thing… Fear started to creep up inside of me again, and I started whispering to myself once more, ordering my emotions to obey my will. “There’s nothing in here, Daisy. No bad guys, no animals, no creepy crawlies. There’s nothing to hurt Luke, nothing to hurt you…” I kept on talking to myself, rocking back and forth until, slowly, I actually started to believe it. It felt like light cutting into my heart, chasing the fear away, pushing it back inch by inch. I didn’t even realize I’d started singing quietly until I jumped when I heard my cousin’s voice beside me, joining in in a half-whisper. I reached up, fumbling around, until I found his hand, and then pulled myself up to stand on my good leg, keeping most of my weight off the hurt ankle.
Luke squeezed my hand, then pulled me into a surprisingly gentle hug. “Everything’s okay, Daisy,” he said quietly, his voice rough with hidden emotion. “It’s okay.”
“I know it is.” I wiped my eyes and put my hands on his shoulders, steadying myself on my one good leg. “We’re gonna get out of here, Lukas. I really believe that. Don’t you?”
“…Yeah.” His tone was strangely thoughtful. “I guess I do. Daisy?”
“Just wanted to ask something… why are you calling me Lukas? Normally that’s just Bo that does that.”
I shrugged, smiling wryly to myself. “I don’t know. I guess… I guess I feel like you’re my big brother who’s always gonna take care of me, I guess.”
Luke chuckled. “That’s quite a bit of guessing. You sure?”
I hugged him tightly for a moment, then moved back. “I ain’t sure of much right now, but I’m sure I love you, cousin.”
He chuckled again, but the sound held much more softness than humor this time. “Love you too, little sister.”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, and the sound seemed to ring through the cave, lighting up my heart even if it didn’t get rid of the inky blackness around us. I decided I wasn’t even gonna ask about Luke, how he felt after forcing himself on that short journey. It must have seemed like forever. I hoped he’d conquered his ‘monster’. I thought he had, by his attitude. He wasn’t quite as tense as he had been before. Still a little worried, naturally, but stronger, more confident, not scared. It was the way I usually saw him, and it felt much more right for him to be this way than how he had been earlier.
We sat down again on the hard floor, and started telling stories again to pass the time. Only this time we were both consciously not speaking of fears or fright. Now it was jokes, re-telling the shine tales Uncle Jesse had told us so many times we had them memorized, making up puns and the like. I realized then that Bo had rubbed off on Luke quite a bit more than my older cousin would admit. He could be very serious… but he could be a real jokester if he wanted to, too.
We lost track of time in the darkness. I don’t know whether it was hours or just half an hour. It felt like a long time, though. But halfway through a story, I heard something… a scratching noise… and went silent, tensing with the anticipation of hearing it again.
“What is it?” Luke asked quietly, a slight edge of hope in his voice.
“I’m… not sure…” Then I heard it again, a definite scratching, and then, suddenly, voices! I screamed. I couldn’t help it; I just didn’t know any other way to express my joy. We’d been found! The voices paused for a second, and Luke jumped to his feet.
“We’re here!” he yelled. “We’re here!” He laughed out loud and reached down to squeeze my shoulder, tense with contained excitement. “Daisy, they’ve found us! Stay here.” With that brief order, he was off, moving as quick as possible through the darkness in the direction of the sounds.
The scraping and digging noises were getting louder now, closer as they dug through the wall. I was suddenly very glad that the wall of this cave was near a cliff face. They could get straight to us. Luke kept talking, guiding them to our exact location, and more and more I was able to pick out specific voices. Bo’s excited yet worried tones, Cooter’s lower-pitched sensibility, Uncle Jesse’s calm leadership. I bit my lip, so glad to hear the people I loved that tears stung my eyes. Within minutes a shaft of light, the first I had seen in hours, sliced through the cave as a shovel pierced through the wall. It wasn’t daylight, though, more that of a lantern. I’d figured it was night by now, but now I knew.
The hole grew quickly, and I had to shield my eyes from the light until they could get adjusted. Through the joyous sounds of reunion, mostly between Luke and Bo, I heard footsteps running toward me, and slowly cracked my eyes open just in time to reach up to my Uncle Jesse. Wordlessly, he knelt down to wrap his arms around me, joy-filled tears glistening in the dim light, rolling down his cheeks and into his beard. I hugged him tightly back, not wanting to ever let go.
“Daisy,” he finally said. “Daisy. Are you hurt anywhere?”
I swallowed back my own tears and nodded. “My ankle’s bad sprained. But other ‘n that I’m fine.”
While he busied himself looking at my ankle, I grinned up at Bo, from whose bear hug Luke had finally managed to free himself. The two boys were still standing almost close enough to touch each other, though. “Hey, you okay?” my blond cousin asked.
I squeezed his hand. “Yeah. I’m fine. Just real, *real* glad to see you fellas.”
Luke and I also greeted Cooter, Enos, and even Rosco, who’d come out on off-duty time to help look for us, even though now he blustered and fussed about only wanting to make sure we’d survived so our family couldn’t accuse him of doing anything. Not one of us bought it for one second, and he looked downright embarrassed when I hugged him and kissed him on the cheek.
Rosco eventually left for home, though, complaining about how late it was, and then while I rested in the pickup, the other men checked out by the light of high-powered lanterns the old shine Luke and I had found. With tools from the back of Cooter’s tow truck, they smashed the aged barrels apart to let the bad whiskey spill out to soak into the dirt of the cave floor, and the last moonshine (at least officially; not counting the few jugs Uncle Jesse had hidden in the root cellar for parties and medicine) left Duke land.
Cooter headed for home too then, giving Enos a ride back to town. And Uncle Jesse, Luke, and Bo all crowded in with me into the pickup’s cab. It was close quarters, but more cozy than anything else, certainly not uncomfortable. At least, not to us, who were sort of used to it. I found myself feeling suddenly incredibly tired in this warmth and safety, sandwiched comfortably between Uncle Jesse, who was driving, and Bo.
“Hey, Luke, Daisy?”
I looked over at my younger cousin, smiling. “What, Bo?”
Even in the moonlight, his dark blue eyes burned visibly with uncertainty, yet inexorable curiosity. “You were stuck in there for a long time, all alone. We weren’t even sure where you were… Did you get scared?”
I leaned forward and looked past him at Luke. Our eyes met, and shared a message at the same moment. We both grinned.
“Yeah,” Luke said, “we did at first. But you know what?”
Uncle Jesse chuckled. “What?”
The two of us refugees looked at each other, and at the same moment proclaimed loudly, “There’s no such thing as monsters!” Then I broke down giggling, feeling amazingly lighthearted, and Luke started laughing too.
Bo frowned, looking back and forth between us, a little annoyed at our not making any sense. “Course not,” he stated with the certainty of the child he still was inside in some ways. “What’re you talkin’ about?”
Luke rested his arm around our younger cousin’s shoulders, still chuckling. “I promise we’ll tell you the whole story. Tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” I yawned. “I just wanna go to bed.”
Bo finally shrugged, seeming to give up on us, and smiled at me. “You can rest on me, Daisy.”
“Thanks.” I yawned again and accepted the offer, leaning against his lean yet strong frame and closing my eyes. The dark little world around me was warm, felt safe, and I started to relax in the gentle swaying and bouncing of the pickup over the dirt road leading across the acres toward home.
It wasn’t very far to the house… but feeling content, happy, and safe, I decided there was nothing wrong with going to sleep anyway. There was nothing to be scared of. I’d faced my fears, as had Luke. And we’d both triumphed.
*Thank you, Lord,* I thought. Then I yawned once more, relaxed completely, and slipped into dreamland.