Katelyn Price wiped the sweat off her brow as she finished capping her last algae sample. Like many teenagers, she was spending part of her summer vacation in Hawaii. Unlike most teenagers, Kate only got to be there because of her parents’ work. They were ecologists. Over the school year, through numerous hours of research, they had become very interested in Hawaii’s microscopic organisms. So, Kate got to take samples of algae. Joy.
Her blue eyes scanned the landscape, searching for a familiar head of messy dark brown hair. Sea blue met chocolate brown and Nick looked at her expectantly. She waved.
“Hey! I’m all done here, can I go take some pictures?” The blonde shouted. Kate’s older brother stared at her for a few seconds, contemplating.
“Fine. Just don’t go too far!” He eventually shouted in reply, “Mom and dad would kill me if you got dragged out to sea or something,” Nick muttered to himself the moment Kate was out of earshot. Not that he meant it. Nick cared, but often forgot to show it, acting out wholeheartedly the sullen teenager most people expected him to be.
“Yes!” Kate exclaimed, pumping a fist in the air before running off to a more scenic section of beach.
She made her way to a rocky area where tide pools had formed, somehow still in existence halfway through the day. Kate hopped from rock to rock, peering into the temporary homes of various sea creatures. Kate ogled at small crabs and other invertebra scuttling around the shallow puddles of water. She snapped a few pictures of what she deemed as the most interesting creatures and moved on.
Kate milled around for a bit, taking note of various locations that would make good postcards. As she walked, one particular location’s scenery kept popping into her mind. It was nagging at her, those perfectly sculpted stone arches, the beautiful blue hues of the sea… It was too much. She had to capture it in film.
The aspiring photographer immediately turned on her heel and marched her way back to the rocky arch she had spied earlier. She gazed up at the jagged, uneven edges of the archway, and began to experiment with different positions. Kate huffed in frustration. There was almost nowhere she could stand on the beach that would allow her to capture everything she wanted in the frame. Kate surveyed the area once more, bright blue eyes raking in every detail. She nodded to herself. Yes. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do.
She repositioned herself, back pressed against the hard, uneven rocks of the cliff. Kate raised the camera, squinting through the lense. These would have to be good. They would be her first consignment with the local novelty shops. Almost… she just needed to take one small step back and…
Kate yelped as the ground gave way beneath her feet, and she tumbled down a forgotten tunnel, covered by sand and time. It seemed like at least ten minutes before she finally stopped rolling, but that could have been because she had hit several sharp rocks on the way down. Kate slowly stood, assessing the damage. No limbs seemed to be broken. That was good. She was bleeding in several places. The rocks had left cuts in her cheeks and on her arms, and there was a large gash in her thigh, but other than that, Kate was fine. Minor injuries.
Minor injuries hurt.
Kate slowly knelt back down to the ground, and felt around for her camera. It wasn’t much, but the screen might provide some light. Her fingers finally landed on something smooth and square-ish. Kate’s victorious grin faded when she felt the spiderweb of cracks on the screen. Darn. That had been her favorite. And relatively new, too. Worse, it was now useless, even for light.
Kate sighed in frustration, and hot tears pricked at the corner of her eyes. No! She wouldn’t cry! Dan and Sean from Unnatural, -Kate’s favorite television show-, wouldn’t cry. They would stand up and search for a source of light. That would show her the way out. Kate sniffed and wiped her eyes on her shirt sleeve; not because she was crying, mind you, she wasn’t. She had just gotten some dirt in her eyes during the fall, and that had made her eyes water a bit. It could happen to anyone, really. Totally. Yeah.
Kate stood back up, and felt her way to the place she had landed. Dull light filtered in through the hole she had fallen through. It wasn’t much, but she could tell that it was too steep to climb back up. Despite having this knowledge, she tried anyway. Kate found a foothold, and attempted to pull herself up. She didn’t get too far. Kate took exactly one step before the rock gave way and she tumbled back into the earth. Darn. Kate silently cursed herself for leaving her cell phone back at the hotel. That could have been useful.
She stood once again, and dusted herself off, wincing as her hands struck the gash in her leg. A short hiss of pain escaped her lips. Kate searched for an exit in the other direction, using her hand and the earthy walls as a guide. She walked for awhile, every step slow, cautious. She wasn’t too keen on falling down another rabbit hole. And her leg hurt. It felt like ages before she finally saw it.
A new source of light.
A way out? Kate couldn’t be sure. It could be coming from the top of another impossibly steep hill. Or it could be bioluminescent. A beautiful sight, but altogether unhelpful. The girl moved closer, now noticing the color of the light.
It was blue.
Blue, but no specific variation. It wasn’t just a basic blue, but she couldn’t pinpoint it as cyan or sky blue either. The closer she got, Kate could see more and more. It seemed to be… shifting. Constantly changing. It had been so subtle, she almost hadn’t noticed. That was why she couldn’t place a name to the color, Kate realized, the light didn’t have a specific color. It was just blue. Turning the corner, Kate finally found the source of the light.
It was a glowing orb, a little smaller than her head. It hovered in the air, a few inches above a small pool of water that had formed underground. Unconsciously, Kate moved forward, only noticing the motion when her feet became submerged in the water.
Normally, Kate would have followed the standard ‘don’t touch the magic glowing object’ rule, but something about the orb drew her in. Like it was meant for her. She continued forward, barely aware of the fact that the pool was a lot deeper than she had originally thought. The saltwater had reached her waist, and she had reached the orb.
A small gasp escaped her lips. It was the strangest thing she had ever seen… the orb was pure light. It hummed with a foreign energy that Kate couldn’t quite place. She reached out, and as her fingers passed through the orb, it dissipated. Awash in total darkness, Kate blinked, bewildered. A second passed. Then… an odd tingling sensation spread throughout her body.
For a second, it seemed as though she could see it. The waves of energy traveling up her arms and legs and centering themselves in the middle of her chest. Kate thought she could see a small glowing circle appear where the waves had centered, but it was gone in an instant, and she was left wondering whether it had all been a strange dream. She stood stock still for a few seconds, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the now impenetrable darkness.
A low rumble sounded overhead, and the water began to lap at her legs. Kate’s breath caught in her throat. The cavern was collapsing.
And she was trapped inside.
A violent splash from what was presumably a large rock somewhere to her left jolted Kate into action. She turned on her heel and slogged as quickly as she could through the hip-deep water. Quickly realizing the futility of her methods, Kate took a deep breath and dived. Kaploosh! Another rock fell from the ceiling, inches from her right leg.
Her cuts stung, and then faded to a dull pain. Blindly, she swam forward, searching for shore. A dull bwoosh sounded behind her, and Kate gasped in pain when the rock struck her lower back. Precious bubbles of air escaped her lungs, floating up and out of her reach. Kate was swimming frantically now, desperately reaching for shore. To her despair, it didn’t seem to be getting any closer.
In a last ditch effort to get out alive, Kate kicked and…. Oh. She stood up. Apparently the shore wasn’t as far away as she’d thought. The rumbling noise overhead grew louder. The walls shook. Kate ran, gasping for breath with every step.
Kate bumped into the walls several times, but refused to stop running. If she stopped she was dead. Her heart pounded in her throat and her lungs burned. Her footsteps thundered through the cavern, stumbling as they tried to avoid projectiles she couldn’t see. Her foot caught on something, and Kate screamed as her body was pitched forward into a wall of earth.
Dazed, the girl slowly got up and groped around for the object that had tripped her. It was smooth, and one side was cracked… camera! But that would mean… Kate trained her blue orbs on the top of the steep hill she had fallen down. Yes, she could see the light. It was incredibly bright after the pitch black of the cavern. Kate wondered briefly how she had missed it. Then the cavern roared and groaned, reminding Kate that it was all coming down.
“Help!” She shrieked desperately, screaming barely above the dull booms and thuds that echoed across the cavern.
Kate could barely hear her own voice, and doubted anyone else would be able to. Surely they had heard the sounds of mountains of rock collapsing, though? She shook the thought from her head. No one was going to run towards danger. If she didn’t get herself out, no one would.
A wave of determination overcame her, and Kate began to climb.
It was difficult at first. The wall of earth was unbearably slick, and fistfulls of sand would rain down if she placed her hand in the wrong spot. Eventually, though, Kate found enough hand and foot-holds to clamber up the underground slide. Finally, her hand poked out of the hole, and grasped the sand above.
Kate pulled herself up, and she was about halfway through when the cavern shook violently. She gasped in pain as she was pulled back by the shifting mass of rock. ’This is it’, she thought, ’I’m going to die here’. Kate closed her eyes and braced herself, ready to accept her fate. ’Let go in one… two…’ A hand tightened around her own.
Blue eyes opened wide, training on the determined face of an older boy. Nick!
“Hang on! I’ve got you!” Nick shouted over the roar of the collapsing cavern. With a quick tug on her arms, Nick pulled his sister up. Kate used the momentum to scramble out of the hole. As soon as her feet touched the sand, Kate felt like she could collapse. Rocks rained down on them from above, and Nick grabbed her hand again.
“We gotta go!” He yelled urgently, tugging her along.
The two took off, sprinting towards safety. If either one of them had looked back, they would have seen the cliff face crumbling into the water.
“What were you thinking!?”
“You could have been killed!”
“Do you have any idea what could’ve happened!?”
After the initial shock back at the beach, there had been a lot of crying and hugs. Apparently that was over with.
“It was an accident!” Kate protested, “I didn’t know the ground was going to collapse!”
Her mother took a deep breath, as if to calm herself before continuing.
“Katelyn,” She began, “I do understand that, but you need to understand that you can’t just run off on your own. If it wasn’t an earthquake, it could have been a kidnapper, or a murderer, or… or… who knows what?!” Marilyn Price was quickly dissolving into hysterics. Tears pooled in her brown eyes, threatening to spill over.
“It’s been a long day,” Her father Jonathan stepped in, placing a comforting arm around her mother. “We should all get some rest. We’ll pack up and leave in the morning. In the meantime, how does pizza sound?”
Pizza sounded good. The Price family almost never ordered out. They made healthy, organic meals. In Kate’s mind, that was just another way of saying ‘boring and tasteless’. But pizza? Pizza was good.
All throughout that evening, something bugged Kate. It was right on the tip of her tongue, but she just couldn’t reach it. She tapped her fingers absentmindedly against her leg. Her leg. It didn’t hurt anymore. The pain had long since faded, even though the gash had been new. Perplexed, Kate ran her fingers over the spot where the injury had been. Nothing. It was gone. ’What the-’
“Katelyn,” She looked up, stray strands of wavy blond hair falling into her face.
Jonathan Price seated himself at the edge of his daughter’s hotel bed. His grey
blue eyes were serious, and Kate felt a lecture coming on.
“It was very reckless of you to run off on your own like that. Something very bad could have happened to you. You were lucky you got out without so much as a scratch,” He sighed tiredly, then placed an arm around Kate’s shoulder in a sort of awkward half-hug.
“You don’t have to worry so much,” It irked Kate that she wasn’t yet seen as a capable person. Fourteen was a very mature age, thank you very much. “I can take care of myself,”
“We’re your parents,” Her father replied, “It’s our job to worry,” There was a moment of silence. Jonathan sighed,, “I don’t know what we would do if anything happened to you or Nick. Promise me that from now on, you’ll be more careful?” Kate frowned. “Katelyn…”
“Fine! I promise,” She shrugged his hand off. Her father ruffled her hair.
“That’s my girl. Come on, let’s go get some pizza,”
Dinner was relatively quiet. No one seemed to have enough energy to start or continue a conversation. Kate’s mother alternated between picking at her food and studying some data sheets before retiring to bed hours earlier than normal. Their father, for the first time in years, neglected to start up even the politest of conversations with the delivery woman. Even Nick, who always seemed to have something to complain about, stayed silent.
Kate noticed all of this, and realized she should probably be exhausted herself. She wasn’t. At all. In fact, Kate felt like she had enough energy to run a marathon. Maybe two. It kind of worried her, but she shook it off. It was probably just left over adrenaline. It would be gone by morning.
It was not gone by morning. Her whole family moved at their usual sluggish pace, shuffling around, zombie-like while they packed their belongings into suitcases. Kate was like a human rocket compared to them. She rushed through the morning on an energy high, all her belongings packed before anyone else had even cracked open an eyelid.
Nick was the first one awake, as always. He had set his clock to 6:00 AM like the paranoia-riddled teen that he was. He shuffled tiredly to the hotel fridge, yawning while he tugged halfheartedly on the door handle.
Nick almost had a heart attack. He spun to confront the strangely chipper speaker, fists raised in defense. The 16 year old almost couldn’t comprehend the sight in front of him. Kate was wide awake. Before him. She sat there, perched on the edge of a hotel bed, a perfect picture of innocence. That annoying little sister of his was already dressed, and looked like she had been up for hours.
“W-what are you-” He sputtered.
“Couldn’t sleep,” She shrugged, her shoulder-length wavy blonde hair bouncing along with the movement. “Need help packing? I’m already done!” She blurted, impossibly cheerful for the time of day that it was. Nick stared.
“Okay, how many cups of coffee did you steal from mom?”
“None, I swear! I just have a lot of energy today,”
“Whatever, weirdo,” Kate, being the very mature person she was, immediately stuck her tongue out at him.
“You know, I was gonna help you... but now I don’t think you deserve it, jerk,”
Nick rolled his eyes at her, reaching into the hotel’s mini-fridge to grab a piece of cold pizza.
“What, like I can’t pack my stuff by myself?” He mumbled thickly through his breakfast. Kate made a face.
“Didn’t our parents ever teach you not to talk with food in your mouth? Oh, that’s right… you weren’t here for that part. I forgot you were raised by wolverines,” Kate flashed him a positively shark-like grin. Nick moved to toss his pizza at her. Kate flinched back, and Nick laughed.
“The wolverines taught me well,” He remarked sagely. Then he shoved the rest of the pizza slice in his mouth.
Before Kate could shoot back with another insult, a groan sounded from across the room accompanied by the unmistakable creaking of bed springs. The parents were awake.
“G’morning,” Their father yawned. Their mother awoke soon after, and it was not long before the family was rushed into a packing daze. The Price family was going home.