A trio of children explore a flooded cave...although one has a different idea of fun.
| The jungle sprawled for miles, thick with sticky heat. Distant bird calls floated through the morning mists. Amid the frequent slap at welts rising upon the children’s skin, Annie, the oldest and only girl of the three children, went on and on about the massive cave only a short walk from their hotel. Conner and Robbie weren’t too keen on following their sister into the secluded jungle, but she had promised her sundaes to them for two nights if they complied, and so they did.
Just ahead, drooping fronds parted to reveal a mammoth opening in a rocky wall. As the trio stepped closer, they sensed a cool rush of air flowing from the cavern, buoyed over to them by the pool of water settled at the mouth of the tunnel. Conner shivered.
“Mother said we’re not to be away from the hotel alone like this. ‘Specially not by a spooky cave.”
“So, you're scared,” teased Annie. However, her taunt did not have the desired effect and Conner nodded eagerly at her words.
“Yea, I’m scared!” He turned to leave, but Annie pulled him back and led him to the edge of the pool.
“Come on, it’s not so bad. Even the water’s warm!” They stepped down, and the water rippled over their toes. It was freezing cold.
“Ok, not warm then. But look how clear!” Annie bent down and splashed her brother. The crystal droplets caught in his hair, and he shivered as they dripped off the golden strands and down his back. Eyes narrowed, he pouted at his sister, and crossed his arms over his chest. Annie refused to take no for an answer.
“See? It’s fun! If you go in with me, you can prove to everyone in school how brave you are.” This was tempting. Conner finally conceded with a slight nod.
“Ok, fine, but you owe me.”
“Of course,” Annie replied amiably, “consider it a done deal.” She grinned and reached for the pool floaties they had half dragged, half carried from the hotel. Robbie, the youngest, watched trustingly as she handed him a floatie smeared with mud, while she kept the clean floatie for herself.
Annie waded into the pool and pushed off, shrieking gleefully when the frigid water lapped at her calves. She maneuvered the green floatie into the mouth of the cavern. Robbie fumbled with his muddy flamingo floatie, nearly twice his size, but eagerly followed his sister and parroted her laughter. His high-pitched giggles echoed off the cavern’s walls as he entered after Annie, and they mingled with the rhythmic drip and splash of the water as it moved through the cool chamber.
Annie waited briefly for Conner to enter the pool, shooting him encouraging smiles as anticipation danced in her eyes. Robbie, meanwhile, struggled to keep close to his sister and ended up holding onto her left ankle. Once everyone was accounted for, Annie set off into the cave.
Gliding into the shadowed space, the trio felt they had entered the mouth of a massive sea creature. Darkness engulfed them and jagged formations pierced the silky clutch of the water. Quickly, the temperature dropped, brushing away the sweltering heat of the jungle. Silence filled the gaps between the children’s giggles. The black water lapped eerily at the walls, and the rocky face was damp and cold to the touch, like snowmelt.
Annie swam on ahead. The water fanned out behind her and its wake left Robbie bouncing along merrily. Entranced by the ominous arcs of sediment, pillars that reached the ceiling, and the cave spiders large as Robbie’s palm, each forgot to check on Conner.
All too soon, the other end of the cavern appeared. Brilliant light spilled into the cave and the water grew clear once again. Annie spilled out of her floatie when the water grew shallow enough for her to reach the pebbled bottom. She helped Robbie to shore, and turned to grab Conner’s floatie, hoping to do the same; but Conner was gone.
“Conner!” she snapped at the empty cave opening, “Don’t play games, come out here.”
“Conner, I mean it. I’ll tell mom and then we’ll all be in trouble.”
“Conner!” Annie shouted his name again, a hint of desperation now apparent. Robbie had caught on to the situation and copied Annie’s calls. His sister waded into the mouth of the cavern and continued shouting for Conner, but when the water became too deep, she was forced to retreat. Robbie checked under the floaties, though he grew frustrated with the results, and began to throw handfuls of sand around the rocky beach.
"Robbie, c’mon, let's go back through the cavern, he must be on the other side...” As they entered the water, a chill swept through Annie. The water was deep and cold, and she wondered if Conner had slipped out of his floatie. But then she would have seen the blue inflatable floating upon the water’s surface. She kicked angrily at the pool and propelled herself forward. Conner was always ruining vacations with his stubborn temperament. Why couldn’t he just listen to Annie for once? “Robbie! Hurry up!” Annie continued to fume.
The two reached the other side of the cavern but found no trace of Conner. Annie knew she would be blamed. Robbie chalked it up to the cave spiders. They passed through the passage two more times but found nothing. The mysterious cavern lost more and more of its allure each time they passed through and when the two had finally given up, they marched back to the hotel, utterly exhausted. How would they ever tell their parents?
Eventually, the white-washed gates loomed ahead, Annie fumbled for the keys she had swiped earlier and opened the pool-side door. “Let's get this over with,” she mumbled, her confidence abandoning her when she saw the gleeful families playing in the pool.
As they trudged back to the room, someone shouted to them from an umbrella shaded table. Annie looked up and locked eyes with Conner. It took less than a second to rush over and knock him to the ground.
“You filthy rat....I hate you!” Annie screamed. They tussled for a while, Annie slapping at him angrily, Conner defending himself, a smear of chocolate on his lip. Robbie looked on calmly. When the two older siblings at last rose, Annie grumbling off to the room, he embraced Conner.
“Hey buddy,” Conner ruffled his little brother’s hair and sat down to his smoothie, a reward for blowing the whistle on his sibling’s mischievous antics.
They sat together, watching the families splash about in the warm crystal water. Conner passed the chocolate banana swirl to Robbie and they slurped happily away, just two brothers with the sister nowhere in sight.