by L. E. Carlin
Trapped in a cave, three students find themselves stricken with paranoia and horror.
The cave I entered was dark, damp, and eerily quiet except for the occasional 'drip' of water falling from stalactites. A narrow stream of light from the flashlight illuminated the dirt and dust covered ground as I walked. My footsteps were echoed by two others. They too had signed up for this extra credit course at our college, just like me. And also just like me, they were randomly assigned to Group 6, the last group to head out into the caves. Lady luck was against us as we were the smallest group with the least amount of supplies and only two hours until sunset. That didn't leave a lot of time to explore the wonders of the caves that I was so looking forward to.
Next to me a girl stumbled but caught herself on my arm. "Be more careful, Anya."
"I'm sorry, Ryker." She said as she looked at me with her clear blue eyes. I felt myself blush and quickly turned the other way. Somehow I was in the same group as Anya, the benevolent beauty of our class. I felt lucky to be alive. A couple of stones hit the back of my and I glanced behind me into the darkness. There stood Lane. the other member of our group, with a sour look on her face. 'Hurry up' she seemed to say. If Anya was an angel then Lane would no doubt be a demon of sorts. As the class recluse, she almost never attended lessons and never made any friends, or acquaintances for that matter. Always scowling and bitter toward the world, she was someone you avoided at all costs. And yet here I am walking with both girls in an empty cave, looking for who-knows-what.
Ignoring Lane's glare, I shone the flashlight over some stalagmites growing from the earth.
"Oh Ryker, Ryker! Look over there!" Anya pointed to the stalagmites I had just observed. "I gotta get one of those! Lend me the flashlight real fast." She quickly quickly took it from me and began to run toward the crystallized water droplets. Before she even reached them I noticed her foot catch on a rock, and watched her fall face first into the dirt. The flashlight tumbled out of her hand and immediately went out.
"You okay?!" I asked as I scrambled over to help her up. Awkwardly, she stood up and smiled in embarrassment.
"Sorry, Sorry. I shouldn't have ran."
I gave a sigh of relief and kneeled down to retrieve the flashlight. After hitting it against the ground a half-dozen times, I finally determined that Anya had killed it. Now we had no light and it seemed to be getting darker by the second. I clenched my backpack nervously and felt the outline of my uncle's gun. I remembered my uncle telling me that wild animals lurk everywhere in the wilderness, even in caves. He told me to be prepared to defend myself from anything and everything, as he pressed the gun into my hands. He was old, but he cared for me. I figured the least I could do was humor the old man. I wouldn't have to use it anyway.
Instantly, Lane was much closer to us. She was tense and stiff as a board. I could feel the unease radiating from her body.
"Hey listen, if it's too dark why don't we just go back? It'd be much safer that way, right?" Even Anya could sense something was wrong with Lane. I looked over my shoulder and tried to make out the passage ways back to civilization. Panic overcame me as I realized I couldn't remember which way we came, or even which way we were going. It was like we were trapped in a hellish maze. I looked to Anya for a sign of hope, but only found the same panic-stricken face. We were lost.
"What's that?" Lane's voice made us jump.
"That... that noise."
I listened to the cave and the air but only heard silence. Anya shook her head. "Stop trying to scare us, silly." Our eyes darted to one another searching for some knowledge of what to do next. Finally I spoke.
"Well we're not doing anything by just standing here. Before we know it the sun will have set and we'll be here probably succumbing to hypothermia. Let's find our way outta this place and go home."
Little did I know that what I had just said would turn out to be the worst decision I had ever made in my life.
We walked for what seemed like hours, almost in complete silence. "Getting scared?" I asked, half-jokingly. Neither answered right away, but eventually Anya spoke up.
"I... I wasn't supposed to be on this trip."
I looked at her incredulously.
"My brother... he had a fever when I left. I wanted to take care of him but... when he found out about this trip he insisted I go." She sniffed and I could tell she was on the verge on crying. "He said I should enjoy my life to the fullest. That I shouldn't let him hold me back." She chuckled. "He's really thoughtful for a little kid. So... I wanted to bring back something for him."
"Is that the reason why you wanted that stalagmite back there?" I said, trying to understand. "For your brother?" She nodded her head, shoulders trembling. Poor thing.
"Don't you hear that?" Lane's voice suddenly brought me back to reality. "Something's here. I know it. It's... following us. We need to run! Right now!"
"Don't go all mental on us now."
"Yeah really. Listen I-" Anya turned on her heel but lost her balance and slipped down a slight slope in front of us. She was dirty, but okay.
"Jeez, you gotta stop-" I was cut off abruptly by a loud crumbling noise above us. I looked up in time to watch a good-sized stalactite break from the ceiling and impale itself through Anya's right thigh. There was a brief moment of shock before the screaming began. It was a sound of pain and fear and it rang throughout my entire body. I had enough sense to run to her and offer what help I could. Her leg was such a bloody mess, I couldn't even begin do describe what I was seeing.
She wouldn't stop screaming. "IT HURTS! GET IT OUT!!"
"It'll get worse if I just rip it out." I tried to reason with her.
"NO! GET IT OUT NOW!!"
I closed my eyes, put both hands on the now blood-covered stalactite and pulled. What was left was a gaping hole in the middle of her torn thigh. Frantically I dumped out my entire backpack, looking for some sort of rag. 'Stop the bleeding' I kept thinking. 'Stop the bleeding!' After finding an extra shirt, I tied it around her leg hoping it would do until she got medical attention. I scrambled to put everything back, got up, and tried to carry Anya to safety. Lane wouldn't help. She just stared into the darkness, shaking.
"We have to get out of here!" I snapped. "Move it! Leaving Lane behind I searched the passages for a way out. Every minute was critical. Eventually Lane caught up with me, though I hardly noticed her presence. I was more concerned with Anya. She was drifting in and out of consciousness, and I could tell she wasn't thinking right. The pain must have drove her into a dream-like state.
"Hey Lane..." She muttered, "Whatsa matter? You look... scared. You... dun like the dark?"
I guess she has a heart because she answered. "No, I don't. I really don't like the dark."
"Because..." She hesitated. "Because when I was little, I got trapped in an underground storage shed. It's never been the same since." I could easily detect distaste in her voice. She obviously didn't like mentioning it but she still gave into Anya in her time of need. I wanted to thank her.
"If you don't like that dark, then why did you sign up for this trip?" I was puzzled.
"College credit. I needed more."
I was going to push for more but I heard her gasp and say "It's coming." I turned to question her, but was greeted by the barrel of a gun.
"Put her down and step away."
That was the first time I had a gun pointed at my face, so of course I obeyed. "Wait..." My hand instantly went to my backpack. "When..." I wasn't paying attention when I put my supplies back in my bag after getting that shirt for Anya. But... She took it and didn't tell me? "Why... why are you doing this?" As I looked into her eyes I realized I wasn't talking to a sane person anymore. In an instant something triggered her madness and now I was paying the price.
"I told you!" She nearly screamed, "It's coming! Something is here! It's following us and we need to run! We need to get away now!" Dementia had set in. "She a hindrance." Lane pointed the gun toward Anya who was now fully awake. "She can't run. She can't get away. If we stay with her, we'll get caught! We must save ourselves!" She unlocked the safety and took aim. "It's not too late..."
Anya's scream was cut short by the sound of a gunshot. Her body slumped over and blood pooled around her head. Fearing for my life I ran in the opposite direction. My mind was spinning with so many thoughts and images. Then I heard another scream as I ran. This one however was pure madness. Madness with a hint a laughter and disbelief. But that too was cut off by another gunshot and a thump. That's the last thing I remember as I ran toward the light. Even today it still haunts me, almost as if something were following me for the rest of my life.