Here's kind of a treat. Just a scene from Escape From Zarahemla. I hope you enjoy it:
Kerra gave a start. She was still peering into the archway below the mighty ceiba tree. Something about the scene through the wall of energy had surprised her.
"What is it?" asked her father.
"Not sure," said Kerra. "An animal. A shadow. I heard . . . some kind of growl."
Dad's response was more intense than anyone expected. "Quickly!" he directed. "Climb!"
He meant that everyone should climb the trunk of the massive ceiba tree. It was certainly bulkier and more accessible to climbing than any trees in the hollow. Kerra wasn't sure why her father had reacted so dramatically, yet something deep inside her echoed the same anxiety. Still, how would climbing this the toppled trunk of this tree protect them?
Despite their doubts, everyone acted with urgency. Dad helped his son, then Kerra, and finally Grandpa Lee to hoist themselves up the mossy branches, like steps on a ladder, until they reached the trunk's topside. Dad leaped up behind them, motioning everyone to ascend the fallen tree as high as possible, to the place where it hovered directly above the archway. At this point the tree was supported by its mushrooming limbs, so thick that it formed cavernous niches and offered multiple places to hide. Kerra made her way among the limbs, balancing herself by clinging to mossy and leaf-covered sprigs. Suddenly Dad held up his hand—a signal that everyone should remain perfectly still.
Kerra and Dad were wedged in a good position to view whatever emerged from the "rift." She studied her father's face, desperate to ask what he thought she'd seen or heard. She began to doubt the alarm bells in her gut. To her it was just a shadow—perhaps nothing at all. Her description of a "growl" seemed odd too. Why had she called it that? The more she thought about it, the more abstractly she remembered it. She couldn't really compare it to any sound she'd ever—
A subtle hissing, sizzling sound resonated below them. Kerra watched as a living thing slowly emerged from the vortex. At first she thought it was a man—someone in a bright orange cape with a mottled hood. After all, there was a collar around its neck. Its movements were lithe and sinister. Definitely an animal. A jaguar.
Kerra caught her breath. She instinctively moved her hand to her mouth to suppress any possible sound. A jaguar!—wearing a collar? And an extravagant collar at that—embossed leather with jadestone. A pet jaguar? Who could say? In any case, it was enormous. Kerra wasn't certain that she'd ever set eyes on a live jaguar before. Her memory of the large cats at the Los Angeles Zoo sort of blended together. Still, she wouldn't have expected a jaguar to be all that much larger than a leopard or mountain lion. However, the enormity of this beast reminded her of a Bengal Tiger. Its movement's were liquid, flawless. A low growl escaped its throat, eyes moving right to left across the breadth of the forest. Its actions seemed calculated, deliberate. It struck Kerra that it was thinking. Thinking like a person. Searching for something. Was it hunting? If so, what?
By the look on Dad's face, she realized he feared it was hunting them. But that seemed ridiculous unless . . . unless somehow it had sensed their presence across the rift, much the same way that she'd sensed its presence. But what about that collar? Kerra remembered seeing a collared jaguar in some Book of Mormon painting. Lying at the feet of . . . Was it King Noah? Did such an accessory mean that this creature wasn't wild? If it was some kind of pet, why should they fear it at all?
None of these thoughts squelched her feelings of alarm and fear. Every muscle of this beast was rigid and tense, as if ready to pounce and deliver a lethal strike. All at once it raised its head and sniffed the air. This movement allowed Kerra to glimpse its eyes. It took every bit of self discipline not to gasp. She'd never seen such eyes on an animal. They had a sheen of intelligence. And something else. Something black and evil. Dad pressed a finger to his lips, still pleading--urging--for everyone to remain calm and still.
The creature wandered to the place where Brock had found Hitch's leather choker. It sniffed the earth. Kerra glanced at Brock. Her brother was clenching his teeth rather crookedly. His eyes were crossed, focusing on something at the end of his nose. Kerra realized it was an insect—a large ant. It seemingly ran in a circle around the end of his nose, like a dog searching for a place to lie down. Her brother didn't budge, but the urge to slap it away dominated every thought.
Kerra felt a terrible sting on her shin. It burned as if someone had stubbed out a cigarette against her flesh. Something had bit her. She glanced down at her pants. Ants climbed all over her ankles and clothes! Ants were all over the tree. Her family had positioned itself right in the middle of an ant expressway. The bite burned and throbbed, as if the pest had bitten off a dime-sized hunk. Then came another sting, lower down on her opposite leg.
Still, Kerra did not move. Amazingly, neither did Brock. Dad and Grandpa Lee also remained like statues. The jaguar peered into the forest, scanning for prey. It seemed poised there forever. At last it turned and stalked back toward the wall of energy. Its progress was steady, yet to Kerra it moved in slow motion. At last she heard another sizzling, sucking sound. She watched until the jaguar's undulating tail slipped into the rift and disappeared. The sizzling ended.
Immediately, Kerra began slapping, swiping, and scratching ants off her body. The relief was all-encompassing as she itched a half dozen places where the insects had successfully devoured a chunk of her flesh. Brock and Grandpa were also slapping off ants. Dad's focus, however, remained riveted on the archway.
"What was it?" asked Grandpa.
"Where did it come from?" asked Brock. "A jaguar with a collar?"
"It belongs to Akuhuun," said Dad, "the son of Giddianhi, former king of the Gadiantons."
"He owns a trained jaguar?" asked Kerra.
"He owns two of them," said Dad. "Trained only for one thing. To hunt and to kill. We've just seen one of the Demon Balám."
@ Copyright Chris Heimerdinger, May 2011