This was the farthest he had ever explored. Why was the gully so enticing? His mom had warned him to stay away ever since he was little.
“Your grandmother was so devastated when her little Pete got swept away by the stream and lost in there,” she had said fearfully, pointing to the large cave-like opening at the end of the gully. “We found him three days later, drowned in the mud. He had such a look of—of—oh, I can’t imagine what would happen if you got lost down there, Evan.”
Evan shifted gingerly toward the cave. Though he was eleven now, he could still feel the same nervousness instilled in him by his mother’s warnings. Part of him was embarrassed because he knew they were only empty warnings. The gully was just a big, muddy ditch whose stream trickled down into a hollow cave. He could hear strange gurgling sounds echoing through its curved walls. The mud clutched his sneakers, sucking the rubber with oozing lips. The cave’s mouth urged him into its darkness. He didn’t want to risk it. No, he knew he did, but he told himself he didn’t have a choice.
A clap of thunder above him warned that he didn’t have much time to find shelter. Evan felt a chill settling in his bones. The fright urged him forward. Another roll of thunder shook the sky, followed by a second thunderclap so quickly, the two were practically one.
Evan stopped and looked back at the thick, black storm clouds above the woods. His heart pounded harder than the thunderclouds.
The monsoon rain was coming.
“Whenever you hear the double-thunder clap, run for cover, Ev,” his weather-wise cousin had warned him, “The raindrops that fall after a double-clap could drown you right where you stand!”
Evan waded harder toward the cave. Every step was heavier than the last. He stumbled and his knees were licked by the mud slide. The sound of fat water droplets rustled the thick woods behind him. He choked in his fright and reached for the mouth of the cave. The muddied rim gave way in his hand but he scrambled to his feet, clawing away the slippery muck until he grasped the dry edge.
Throwing a glance over his shoulder, he saw enormous raindrops falling like water balloons. The monsoon was almost upon him. The wind kicked up and one drop pummeled his shoulder. The splash sent water into his mouth and eyes, blinding and choking him. Coughing hard, he pulled himself forward into the cave. The awning of earth above him blocked the downpour, but he didn’t stop struggling forward until he had left the mouth well behind him.
The interior of the cave was dimly discernible as Evan pushed himself deeper into it. The air was damp and its moisture tickled his throat. The ground was still wet here and his sneakers collected mud with every weary trudge. He heard a thick splash as his foot sank into a puddle. The chilly water crawled into his shoe and gathered in his sock. Shivering, he pulled his blue cardigan closer around his shoulders and plodded on through the water puddles. The stream seemed wider than it should have been, but Evan knew the dark was making him stray in the water’s path more than he normally would have.
A flash from outside brightened the end of the cave and another roll of thunder could be heard. Evan glanced fearfully back to the mouth of the cave. The monsoon was still emptying itself on the grounds below. His brows furrowed as he noticed the stream definitely seemed a little wider than he remembered. There was more water than mud, and the ripples in the water were way too large if he could see them from this distance.
Evan caught his breath as the light turned on in his brain. The gully was filling with water! No wonder he could hardly avoid the puddles now, no matter how closely he hugged the edge of the tunnel. If he did not find higher ground soon—
Panic gripped him hard. He should have climbed out of the gully as soon as he heard the thunder. But he’d seen those raindrops rip boughs from trees before. He wouldn’t have been safe in the woods, he reminded himself, his chest hitching. He stared at the growing rapids, fighting the desperate urge to run back to the gully, climb out, and brave the distance home. He wanted to see his mother, his cousin, anyone! What if he died alone?!
Evan wrenched his eyes from the cave’s mouth. He plunged deeper into the tunnel. This was the only way to survive the monsoon. He’d drown in the gully before he could ever climb out of it. The forest would hardly protect him from the torrential raindrops, and the gully was a good acre away from the farmhouse. His breath came in sharp gasps, and he shivered when the sting of his frightened tears reminded him of the rains outside. If only the monsoon would stop!
Another lightening bolt flashed outside. As its brightness shone down the tunnel, Evan took in his surroundings in that brief instant. The dark and muddy passage continued onward, but he thought the earthen roof stooped lower the deeper the tunnel burrowed underground.
A lump formed in his throat. If the tunnel only went down, then that meant he—
Whoosh! Evan screamed as he fell backward into the murky waters. The stream’s current had wrapped its rippled strings around his ankles and knocked him off his feet. Landing heavily on his elbows, he felt the cold water seeping into his clothes. He wasn’t submerged in the stream, but the cold clawed through him nonetheless. Gasping, Evan struggled to his feet. How was the stream so deep?
He looked again toward the mouth of the cave, at the gully now swollen with rain. If the stream was deceptively deep this far into the cave, what would happen when the passage dipped lower? At least in the gully, Evan would have a chance to swim up for air, but when water filled the cave...?
Evan turned back and began to wade back toward the mouth. It was so hard fighting the current. He understood its power now. Oh, why hadn’t he turned back sooner?
He panted heavily, feeling breathless from plodding through the watery mire. It reached halfway up his shins, now it swam just above his knees.
Splash! the mud flow slapped him down to his hands and knees. Evan began to stand, but stumbled again under the tug of the current. A broken shriek escaped his lips. Swirling against his frame, the stream sloshed into his open mouth. Alarmed, he frantically spat out the dirty water.
Why did he feel like the stream meant to do that?
The water was just beneath his chin now. He was barely able to stand. The stream was quickly turning into underground rapids. His sneakers were practically cemented in the mud and the splintered mini-tides forced him to plod painfully slowly. His kept his eyes fastened on the entrance. He just had to reach the edge of the cave. He could hold on there.
The water was now riding around his waist. How was it rising so fast? It had been raining for only fifteen minutes. Why was all the rain flooding the tunnel now? A heavy wave surged toward him. He braced himself moments before it battered against his middle, punching the breath from his stomach. Evan saw the entrance was only a few feet away. The wind outside roared, sending a flurry of drops inside.
“It’s like it knows I want to get out,” Evan said.
He pressed onward, convinced his thought was true but not knowing how. He was almost there—bam! another wave narrowly repulsed—just a few more steps—swoosh! the raindrops exploded in the churning rapids under his armpits—come on! Almost there! Just—one—more—step!
Evan dug his fingers into the mouth’s rim, shoving them in so deep, he could feel the dirt crawling under his fingernails. As he grabbed hold, the raindrops finally found their mark. He yelled with pain as they stung his cheeks and eyes. Turning his face from the outside, he saw how high the stream had risen inside the tunnel. There was barely a foot between the earthy roof and the lashing waters.
Evan felt like every wave beating against him threatened to sweep him into the whirlpool of darkness and mire. Oh, God, could someone hear him? Was help out there?
“Mom! Mom! I’m in the gully!” he screamed, “Help me! I’m gonna—I can’t hold on! Help, somebody!”
A bolt of lightening ripped the sky above him. Evan saw the cave’s interior exposed again. The boy screamed in terror. What were those eyes leering at him just above the rushing waters?
“Help!!” Evan shrieked. His arms began to deaden through terror. “Somebody, hel—”
The rim he clutched broke off. He was yanked down, down, down into the inky blackness. He felt himself pressed beneath the earthen roof of the tunnel. Evan was barely able to inhale one last gasp before the waters closed over his head. He was dragged under the tide of the rapids and everything went dark.