It was Eric’s third morning of his mountain holiday. He’d just nestled back against the decaying roots of a fallen tree that lay balancing over the edge of a large waterhole. The trickle of a lazy waterfall created tiny ripples across the surface of the water where sunbeams played. The peace was interrupted by the sound of a twig snapping.
‘What the…? How’d you know where I’d be?’
Gertrude giggled and approached Eric. ‘I got up early to follow you. I thought you might be lonely fishing by yourself. Besides, this is one of my favourite places.’
‘Well, I’m not lonely, so you can go home.’
Gertrude paid no attention and began to toss pebbles into the water. ‘I can catch fish too, you know.’ She stepped into the water and inched her way toward the waterfall, splashing about as she went. ‘Here, fishy, fishy.’
Eric rolled his eyes. He looped a worm, spearing it onto his hook with the last turn. He was two years older than his pain-in-the-neck cousin and he didn’t particularly want her around. His parents decided the summer holidays with thirteen-year-old Gertrude at her family’s mountain property, would be good for Eric. He doubted it.
‘Get out of the water and keep quiet, you’ll scare the fish.’
‘Only if I can help.’
Eric scanned the parameter of the waterhole and began to work on a plan. ‘Okay, I need more worms. Lots of worms and they have to be long, fat ones. You could try over there.’
He pointed towards a small opening in the rocks behind the trickling waterfall, almost twenty feet away. The waterfall is really only a trickle and the water doesn’t look deep. She’ll be fine. He smiled at the thought.
Eric cast his line, leaned back and closed his eyes. This is nice…
* plop *
Eric opened his eyes towards the sound. His bait tin had blown into the water. It was then that he noticed the dark clouds overhead and the strengthening breeze. He reeled in his line and scrambled down to retrieve his tin. He paused. Uh oh…
‘Gertrude, where are you? We’d better get back.’
He did a quick check of the area. I guess she took the hint.
Light rain fell as he packed up his fishing gear, but by the time he put his backpack on, it had become a heavy downpour. He was about to leave when he thought he heard his name being called. He stopped and listened.
‘Help me, Eric.’
The call repeated and although it was faint, it was definitely Gertrude. He couldn’t tell where it was coming from. It seemed to be coming from under the ground. Eric was baffled.
‘WHERE ARE YOU?’
Her reply was barely audible. ‘I’m in here. Behind the waterfall.’
Eric dropped his backpack and ran straight through the waterhole. He climbed over slippery rocks and slid behind the falls that now flowed steadily down the rock face. The ground inside the narrow cave was muddy and he struggled to stay on his feet.
‘Gertrude, where are you?’
‘This way! Be careful, the wall’s collapsed.’ Her voice echoed faintly but Eric could now hear her clearly.
He gingerly felt his way along a dark tapering, downward tunnel. ‘Gertrude…’
Eric almost tripped over his cousin. He crouched and felt the ground around them. Mud had covered her legs.
‘Can you move?’
‘Yes, but I hurt my ankle when I slipped with the mudslide.’
Eric dug the mud away with his bare hands and eased Gertrude to her feet.
‘Lean on me,’ he said gallantly.
Once they were moving and fumbled their way back up through the short tunnel to the opening behind the falls, Eric found himself whispering. ‘What is this place?’
Gertrude grimaced and leaned heavily on Eric’s arm for support. ‘This whole area around the waterfall is a maze of caves and tunnels. I’ll show you around in a few days when the ground dries out. Heavy rain comes unexpectedly up here… I should have known better. The upper streams don’t take long to fill and create enormous changes in the falls and waterhole.’
She paused momentarily. ‘Hopefully, we can swim back to where you were fishing, before the water rises.’
With their back against the wall, they eased their way around to the far end of the waterfall where its flow was less intense. They jumped simultaneously into the water below. Cascades of water plummeted down on them, thrashing them below the surface.
Coughing and breathless, they finally dragged themselves onto the bank and into the shelter of a huge rock.
He watched Gertrude shiver and squeeze the water from her shirt. She wasn’t really a kid.
‘Gertrude,’ he asked quietly. ‘Why do you have to be so, so…’
‘Annoying? I don’t know. I just wanted to be friends.’
He studied her face. ‘Can we start over?’
After a few moments Gertrude nodded causing drips of water to fall from her hair and spill down her face like huge tears.
‘Okay, but call me Trudy. I hate Gertrude.’
They both laughed.
‘So, Trudy, what do you want to do when the rain stops?’
© Chrissy Siggee