Then a terrified scream filled the whole cave. The creature immediately released him, and he heard it whisper across the cave floor. The scream rose in intensity, and Al lifted up his head. He saw one of the monster’s shadowy tentacles envelop that red object across the cave. The red thing flailed once before the tentacle had a full grip on it. That was enough of a look for Al to realize that it was a very small, redheaded boy.
Al was on his feet faster than he’d ever thought possible and charged for the creature. “Get away from him!” he shouted.
He bent down and grabbed at it, but his fingers couldn’t get a grip on it. The boy had run out of air from screaming and was just gasping, staring at Al with the widest blue eyes he’d ever seen. Al changed his approach and grabbed the boy. He lifted him easily and kicked at the tentacle at the same time. As he hugged the boy into his chest he felt suddenly stronger, and all of his aches and pains vanished.
“Get out of here,” he yelled at the creature.
It whipped toward his legs, but Al jumped back. Al kicked it again, and it actually fell back, snaking away into the darkness.
Al wasn’t going to take any chances. He kept hold of the boy and ran in the opposite direction. As he went along, the ceiling got lower and the walls came closer together. Soon they were in a small passage. Al felt a little safer because there were less openings for the monster to sneak up on them.
The boy had his head on Al’s shoulder and was clinging almost painfully to his neck. He not only had red hair, but also was wearing a red t-shirt and red shorts. “You don’t have to be afraid now. I’ll keep you safe,” Al told him.
“Where are we?” the boy asked a few minutes later. His voice was squeaky—almost like it was on the verge of changing, which Al had never expected to hear from a boy so small.
“I don’t know,” Al said. He certainly wasn’t going to express his fear that this might be Hell.
“I don’t like this cave,” the boy said.
“Let’s find a way out, and from there we can work on how to get home.”
The boy wiggled in his arms, and Al was about to put him down when he asked, “Can I sit on your shoulders?”
The last time he’d had a kid on his shoulders was more than 10 years ago when he’d taken Nadine to the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. “I don’t know if I can manage that anymore,” he said, but the boy had already climbed partway up his chest on his own.
Al helped get one of his legs around his neck, and soon the boy was settled with a firm grip on Al’s gray hair. “Careful,” Al told him. “I’ve kept my all hair so far—I don’t need you yanking it out.”
The boy laughed.
“By the way, what’s your name? I’m Al.”
“That’s an interesting name,” Al said.
“I thought it sounded fun.”
“Where are you from, Tango?”
“Where’s your home—your parents?”
“I don’t have any,” Tango said.
Tango didn’t seem too upset about it. Al wondered if he was an orphan like Nadine had been.
“Well, I’ll take care of you.”
“Look, the tunnel’s ending!” Tango called.