I crane my neck to spy with my little eye this bespectacled, Leland Sklar-looking old man set up with a small desk and chair beside the cave entrance. On the wall behind him, sandwiched between a time clock and calendar, is an enormous, brooding, black and white mugshot of Tommy Carlton from his Tarzan days. In big, bold letters below: “BANNED.” I’m guessing this has something to do with the, uh, unpleasantness during my last visit. I’m glad I stuck with my default skin after all if it means I won’t be recognized.
“Speak up, lass,” the old man prompts, squinting at me in the torchlight. “I haven’t got all day.”
Lass? I roll onto all fours, check for broken bones. “Um…er—”
“I’m just, uh…” Think quick, dork! “…clocking in.”
“Ah, why didn’t you say so?” The old man nods, adjusts his glasses. “You must be Al’s niece. Kirsty, right?”
“Um…that’s right. Kirsty.”
“He’s told us all so much about you!”
I’m beginning to suspect this guy’s eyesight is about as good as mine when I’m without my special contacts. “Only, um, good things, I hope?”
“Oh, of course, of course! Nice to finally put a face to the name.”
“Yeah. Uh, nice to finally meet you too.”
“But look here, don’t you go letting me talk your ear off until the cows come home.”
I do my best tween girl laugh—
“If you’ll just give me the password, darling, I’ll let you right in.”
—and that’s it. I’m done for. Found out, discovered, moments away from being tossed into the demogorgonzola’s den. I’ve never had to guess a password before. The only reference I have for doing so is cheesy movies or TV shows where passwords are always “12345” or the first name of someone relevant. Which, I guess, is why I find myself replying with… “Rebbecca.”
The old man frowns. “What did you say?”
“Speak up, treats. I’m a little hard of hearing.”
Was that the correct password, and he didn’t hear it? Or was it incorrect, and he merely wants to confirm that it’s incorrect? Should I say it again? Try something new? Run like a mofo back up the stairs?
I clear my throat. “Um…Rebbecca?”
“Mm-hm,” the old man says, shaking his head. “That’s what I thought you said. It’s a shame, too, because…” He reaches for a giant lever that’s been installed behind his desk. “…that’s…correct!” He yanks the lever.
—and I nearly jump out of my skin as the gate jolts alive, rolling upward.
The old man leans back, cackling amusedly as all old folks do. “I’m just yanking your chain, princess. You’re good to go.”
“Thanks,” I tell him, getting to my feet. His laughter follows me as I stumble into the cave.
* * *
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