Ch. 10: Last In, First Out?
- Ch. 1: I’ll go in if you go in.
- Ch. 2: Like a cat’s eye at night. But it wasn’t night … and it wasn’t a cat.
- Ch. 3: Into the The Heart of Parkness
- Ch. 4: Do we stay or do we go?
- Ch. 5: Just Give In
- Ch. 6: Do we dare dig ourselves even deeper?
- Ch. 7: Who do you listen to?
- Ch. 8: Lu Goes First: Aliens, Farting, and Pepper!
- Ch. 9: Li Goes Deep: A Maze, Spiders, and Pepper
- Ch. 10: Last In, First Out?
- Ch. 11: Fright at the End of the Tunnel
- Ch. 12: Hi honey, I’m home!
- Ch. 13: It’ll be our Secret
Every second seemed to last a minute.
“This has got to be the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever done,” I said out loud, although under my breath. I’m not really one to talk to myself, but it seemed the opportune time. A flash went through my mind of a quick collection of other irresponsible things I’ve done in my life, but so fast I can’t list them here. I do recall jumping out of a moving train. Maybe I should just get moving.
The boys had gone down their respective paths and I was now alone, waiting for a sign, a signal, something to tell me it was my turn. Nothing came. It was time for action.
My chosen tunnel would have been fine for Lu to walk in, but I had to hunch over and perform something of a gorilla walk on my feet and hands. The light from behind shone enough for me to see ahead that there was yet more light if I kept going. I kept going.
Light wells only as wide as grapefruits gave the tunnels their own overhead track lighting. This wasn’t by accident and couldn’t have been natural. There’s no way this was all created by coyotes or raccoons or even coyotes working together with raccoons. No, we were not the first to visit these caves. A quick flash to the future had me explaining to tourists how we first found the caves and about the light wells and … but we needed to get out first before we turned it into a tourist attraction. I’m thinking about visiting Germans, and my boys are in other tunnels looking for Pepper. As I say to Lu on a regular basis: Focus.
I scuffled along and found that I again had a choice: two more tunnels. No signs, not much difference, I just had to choose. I put my head into each one and listened. I thought I heard more from the one on the left. Down I went.
It was quickly darker and I hesitated. I slowly went further and I thought I heard a bark and some chatter. Kids’ chatter. But it was muffled.
“Li!” I screamed. “Lu!” I yelled. I waited. Nothing. The chatter dimmed out to nothing. I scurried down a few more feet, stopped, listened, looked. Then the faint darkness turned to complete darkness.
A flicker of light, then darkness. I thought about the light wells. If they went up to the ground, then possibly something was blocking the sunlight from coming in. Could have been anything, someone standing over it, a dog peeing, not knowing they were blocking the only sliver of light that kept me from complete blackness. Blackness is all I had now. Coal black, silence, and nothingness.
Every second lasted at least a minute. I just needed someone to flip the switch, turn it all back on. Get off of my light well, please! I took conscious breaths: in and out, in and out. Slowly. Visions of my sons flashed in front of me, those kind you see in movies where they pass through the happy-go-lucky childhood: jumping on the trampoline, giggling while giving us a dance performance at dinner. It was a regular advertisement for laundry detergent where the kids frolic and laugh silently, and then mom smiles as she washes out the grass stains.
But I only had darkness. I waited patiently as you do for the power to come back on. Someone would turn it back on. It wasn’t just night time already, was it? Well, at least not just like that, not from one moment to another. I wondered where the light well came up into the world? Under a tree? Hopefully not somewhere that wouldn’t become unblocked. I waited not very patiently. Visions of clean-laundry boys came back. No, I’ll find them. Be gone with the laundry visions!
Another flicker of sunlight in the distance. Then, like a lightbulb coming back to life, it shuttered and flashed and there was again light. I heard nothing more. I had taken the wrong tunnel. I crawled back to the choice of two tunnels and went into the right one this time.
There was enough light and it was steady. I called out to the boys one at a time, waited for an answer. Maybe they were waiting for me, maybe they were scared. “I’ll be right there!” I yelled to no one. I listened. I heard the voices again, but muffled, as if through a wall, a dirt wall. “Li! Lu! Pepper!” I screamed. My voice didn’t echo but was soaked up by the dirt like a sponge. “Where are you?” I stopped, listened. I heard more voices, but I couldn’t make out Li or Lu. I heard what sounded like a bark. My tunnel made a turn, it was a bit darker, but the sounds were closer. “Li! Lu!” I screamed again, trying to be loud but not panic-sounding.
“Dad!” I think I heard. It might have been ‘ad’ or ‘sad’ or ‘glad’ or ‘bad’ or the country of ‘Chad.’ “Help!” I heard. That was clear. Help? Were they in trouble? Oh, besides that they’re alone under a mountain and I let them go their own ways down tunnels at the ages of 8 and 10? Yes, besides that.
“I’m here!” I yelled, not heeding my own advice of yelling actually useful things when in the middle of a panic. Here? Where’s here? Oh, forget it.
“Li! Lu! Where are you? Can you hear me?” I screamed into the direction I thought their voices had come from.
I moved deeper into my cave, but it got darker. Unfortunately, it was light enough to see what was at the end of my tunnel.