Regarding the matter of wearing a bear suit into a cave, Corin wasn’t uncomfortable. In fact, he had worn a bear suit before on a number of occasions, and it wasn’t what he took issue with. More precisely, Corin found himself most upset over the fact that he couldn’t take his notebook with him this time.
“Look,” Zelda had said, while they were still standing outside the cave she had led him to, “you won’t have room for it if you’re carrying this box in.” She gestured to a small wooden box with a latched top lying on the ground beside her. “And I need that if you’re going to test my theories.”
Corin sighed. “You and your theories,” he muttered, pulling the bear head over the top of his own. Zelda closed her hand into a fist and hammered it on for him with a couple of good whacks. “Ow! Zelda, are you sure this isn’t some practical joke? You’ve been around Thorn a lot, lately.”
“Perfect!” With a grin, Zelda stood back, admiring her work. “Corin, calm down. This will be simple, really, I promise. Just carry the box in to the end of the cave, but don’t open it, whatever you do. Then just set it down and come back out. Simple!” Corin stared warily at her through the eyes of his bear costume, but Zelda didn’t notice – instead, she went on humming, setting herself down with a book by the cave’s entrance. Corin ignored her, and hefted her box in both hands. Strangely light, he thought. Feels . . . empty. If he could have shrugged, he would have, but the costume was too restrictive for that. Instead, Corin trudged inside the cave without another word.
“Good luck!” Zelda called after him. Corin didn’t hear.
Spelunking had never been Corin’s forte; then again, this wasn’t a normal cave, either. Just inside, the spacious corridor was lined with luminescent rock that glowed with a lush blue hue that reminded Corin of a cold twilight. He made sure to note that later. The place gave a chill even inside of his fur-covered attire, a cold prick that ran the length of his spine. Zelda never did say for certain if anything lived in this cave. He thought he might have heard something about pixies, or some other harmless creature.
Besides, pixies were harmless, right?
Kicking himself for not reading up on the fauna of Northern Couchort, Corin stepped further into the cavern. At times, it opened up wide into expansive rooms with enough space to hold secret meetings in – a delightful notion. At others, the crystalline corridors became so narrow that Corin feared he was going to have to hold his breath to make it through. And all the while, he diligently held this simple wooden box. Why wasn’t he supposed to open it, anyway?
“It’s not like it’s going to let some animal out to bite me,” he said aloud. The Pandora inside of him yearned to flip the little metal latch out of the way and peek inside, even if just for a moment. Though if it was dangerous, here, in the cave, no one but Zelda would know to find his dead body. And yet, would Zelda have really sent him in with something that could kill him? Surely not.
The curious echo of his voice resounded in the cave like a hundred clanging metallic vibratos, and Corin shut his mouth quickly. He wanted to hear it again, but speaking might attract attention, after all. His footsteps elicited no sound whatsoever beyond the crunch of soft fabric on rock, a minimal thing. Still, now that he had spoken, Corin’s ears were acutely aware, now, fixating on each little disturbance in the serenity around him. A thump in the distance behind him, a crackling in the dirt and crystals ahead. What once seemed to be an uninhabited cave was now a treasure trove full of three-horned creatures ready to jump out at any moment.
“If there is anything out there,” Corin whispered, “I don’t think they want to go up against a bear. Holding a small wooden box.” He swallowed hard.
Ahead, in front of him, the path opened into a larger room that closed off at the end into a kind of alcove. “This must be what Zelda meant by the ‘end of the cave,’” Corin mused. “I’ll just set the box here, and….” Carefully, Corin the bear set the box down on the ground, in a place where so many crystal shards had fallen that the ground seemed blue and glowing as well. The wooden little crate felt so out of place that Corin had to cringe at the thought. He held his breath in the hesitation that exists only in the place between the moments of permission and forgiveness.
“I have to open it!” he shouted. Corin flipped the latch with his awkward bear paw and pushed open the top. He stared into the box, struggling against the limiting eyeholes to see what lay inside. All Corin found was a note. He lifted it carefully out of the box and read it alound.
“Corin, this cave is full of bear-eating Ptarmudgeons. I thought you might like to know. If you read this, be very, very quiet!” His eyes grew to the size of saucers. Quickly, Corin shuffled off the bear costume, first ridding himself of the silly hat and then working to undo the zipper in the front. Standing now in a light shirt and trousers, Corin found the chill of the cave more pressing than before. And somewhere in this cave were bear-eating, and possibly people-eating, Ptarmudgeons.
Whatever those were. Though it didn’t matter. Northern Couchort was famous for its strange creatures, Corin knew. For all good intents and purposes, there could be worse in this cave than bear-eating Ptarmudgeons.
Corin sprinted back the way he came, not caring to look to the left or the right to see if anything was coming. After all that noise he made, anything in the cave with the curiosity of a small feline would have been running in his direction, and that knowledge alone made the boy all the more paranoid. When he got out, chest heaving, he found Zelda still sitting near the cave entrance, planted headlong in her book.
“Zelda! What was that?!”
“What was what?”
Corin tried his best to respond through deep breaths. “What kind of silly theory were you testing with me in a bear suit and a box in a cave full of bear-eating whatevermudgeons? I didn’t think you were so much into animals. Or seeing me killed. Or. You know.” Zelda giggled. She set aside her book and jumped to her feet. Corin walked over, lifting his hands above his head and breathing carefully.
“I wanted to test two theories. First, I didn’t think you could follow directions very well.” She eyed him. “And from the looks of it, I was right. Second, and this was more of a question than a theory, I wanted to see how well you’d respond to a practical joke.”
Despite being nearly out of breath, Corin found the energy to chase the giggling girl around the field outside the cave until he was too tired to care any longer.