Once Upon a Page part two

“I don’t like it.” Nicholas mumbled to no-one in particular. The darkness pushed down on him as he stepped into the unknown. Danger lurked in the shadows and this place was full of shadows. He reached inside his rucksack and pulled out a bag of peanuts. The sound of the shells cracking offered him some small comfort. Henry craned his neck reaching his beak in the bag, but the Orang-utan lifted it high out of reach without giving his companion a second glance. Henry wanted to honk his annoyance at being denied but could only flap his wings.

Hugo felt the air stirring and his back legs wobbled. “Hey, you guys, watch it. You almost knocked me over. This is hopeless I can’t see a thing. We need some light.”

“Did you bring one?” Nicholas wondered, pausing his chomping. “Yes. Of course I did.” Hugo sniggered. “Didn’t you?”

The cave remained in darkness. “No you didn’t.” Nicholas resumed his noisy chomping. The white goose was suddenly illuminated in the darkness. Henry flapped his wings and the lantern in his beak swayed back and forth. He held it up to Hugo who smiled and took it gratefully. “Thanks Goose. Who knew the goose was smarter than us Nicholas? Not me.” The Orang-utan munched on.

Now able to see their way the three companions ventured deeper into the cave. The air smelt damp like an over-moist towel hanging too long in a bathroom. They could hear drips echoing in the distance, but the path was dry as it wound down through the rock. They entered a large chamber which opened out before them. Beneath their feet was smooth and flat with a carpet of loose stones so fine it looked like freshly turned earth. Above them was endless darkness, the top of the cavern so high above it was lost from sight. In the middle of the chamber was a chest, a large wooden lock-box bound by steel. It was easily as big as the three of them together and looked as though it contained all the wishes in the world.

“Any ideas?” Hugo sniffed at the lock. There was no key and no obvious way to open the chest. The goose pushed the lid with his beak, but it didn’t budge. “That would have been too easy.” Hugo sniggered. “Still, it was worth a try.” Henry smiled at the rat. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad companion after all. “Let me have a look. My fingers are more dextrous.” Nicholas put his packet of peanuts in his pocket and nudged Hugo out of the way. “Hey!” Hugo staggered to the side, the lantern swinging alarmingly. “Watch what you’re doing you great big orange oaf!” “Sorry. I forgot about your tail.” “I wish I could.” Hugo sighed and steadied the lamp, pointing it as best he could at the chest.

Nicholas focussed and using his long thin fingers, he explored every millimetre of the lock. It was built into the chest, made of steel, was smooth to the touch and had a keyhole he could just fit his little finger into. His lips pressed together as he concentrated on his finger tip. A triple barrel lock and he could feel the notches they needed to turn, but his finger was too big to work all three simultaneously. “I could open it, but I’ll need something like a wire.” Hugo sniggered. “How about a claw?” He held up his fingers and on the end of each gleamed long claw tips.

Nicholas nodded and his whole face wobbled. He pulled his lips back in an effort to smile, but instead grossed his companions out with tooth encrusted peanut mush. He told Hugo what to do and how to move the barrels by the notches and then pulled out his packet of nuts while he watched the rat. It didn’t take long. Hugo must have been born to pick locks and with three quick clicks the lid of the chest sprang open. And that’s when everything went wrong.

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