“It’s hard to believe there’s so much disaster happening in the world.” Sharon sighed as she gazed out over the silver sand and gently rolling surf. “Everything seems so peaceful.”
Her companion gave no reply and as Sharon turned towards her and saw Julie’s sad face, she felt a surge of pity. Julie had seemed much happier since they left home a week ago. The tramping holiday had brought back the colour to her cheeks and she had seemed to be recovering from the shock that the message about David’s death had given her. Her boyfriend David had been killed in a massive earthquake while working in Wellington, just over two months ago.
She shifted her pack into a more comfortable position. “Come on love, let’s go and see if the others have got lunch ready.”
Julie smiled fleetingly and adjusted her own pack as she turned, and they both walked towards three other girls who were setting up camp in a sheltered clearing among the rocks.
They had eaten their meal of beans and sausages and were lying back enjoying the warmth of the early afternoon sun, when one of the girls spoke.
“If we’re going to stay here for the night, what do you say we go back and have a quick look inside that cave?”
Sharon sat up and stretched her arms as she said, “Oh Marion! I’d be quite happy just sitting here for the rest of the day.”
Kathy jumped up and gave her a playful push. “Come on lazy bones, I think it’s a great idea. We can be back in time for tea.”
“Don’t be daft!” Claire pulled her cap over her eyes. “It’s at least a kilometre back to the cave; we’d never make it back by tea time.”
“Well then, we’ll take everything with us!” Marion rose to her feet and started packing away the plastic cups and plates.
“Let’s take a vote!” Kathy bubbled. “There’s Marion and I want to go, Claire and Sharon are happy just to sit and grow old,” she ducked a spoon tossed playfully at her. “That means you get the deciding vote Julie. What do you want to do?”
Julie shrugged her shoulders and tugged at a blade of grass. “I don’t mind, if everyone else wants to go, that’s fine with me.”
Sharon sat up and hugged her knees. If they sat around here doing nothing for the rest of the day, Julie would have too much time to think about David. She jumped to her feet. “Come on Claire we might as well humour these eager beavers.” She grabbed the pack of food and slung it over her shoulders.
Claire sighed and dragged herself up. “Ah well, if it will put a stop to the ageing process, let’s go!”
They all shouldered their packs, stamped out the dying fire and tramped back to the gravel road, which wound through the hills of Piha.
Thirty minutes later, their torches probed through the blackness inside the cave. After a suggestion from Claire to use only one torch to save batteries, the other four torches were turned off and tucked into the packs. With Claire leading the way, they walked further and further into the darkness.
Finally, they reached a large cavern, which the passage opened into and they all sat down to rest.
“Anybody got any chocolate?” Kathy asked, “I’m feeling a bit peckish.”
“Chocolate gives you pimples.” Sharon replied as she lay down with her feet propped up on her pack.
Marion stood up and rubbed her arms. “You know it’s quite spooky in here really – it’s so quiet and your voices sound funny.”
“So does yours!” Claire teased. “The acoustics are really marvellous. It’d make a fabulous opera house.”
“Ugh!” Sharon grimaced, “I’d rather use it as a sound shell.” She began singing: “These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do, one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.”
Julie joined in “Are you ready boots? Start walkin’”
Marion, Kathy and Claire joined in and when the song was over they showed their appreciation for the sound of their own voices by applauding loudly, then bursting into laughter.
Claire shook her head. “Where’d you dig that old song up from?”
“My Gran’s got and old CD with it on. I love it and play it every time I go over there,” Sharon said.
“Some of those old songs are really cool.” Marion said.
They discussed their likes and dislikes in music for a few minutes, then Kathy broke the spell. “Well, I don’t know about you lot, but I think we’d better get out of here and set up camp for the night.”
“Yes, I suppose we’d better get going.” Sharon was the first to shoulder her pack, with the others following.
Halfway along the cave’s passage, Marion, who was in the lead with the torch, stopped and said “Listen!”
“What?” Claire asked as she almost walked into her.
“I heard something.” Marion whispered.
They all stood quietly listening for a few seconds, and Claire playfully punched her arm.
“Stop trying to frighten us you clot! You didn’t hear anything.”
“I did! It sounded like an explosion.”
“Oh, you’re dreaming!” Kathy remarked. “Come on, let’s get out of here. You’re giving me the creeps.”
Marion shrugged her shoulders and moved on again. They had taken a few steps when they all stopped short as an explosion rumbled through the cave and the ground shook beneath their feet.
“Get out of here quick! It’s a cave-in! Sharon yelled and they all started running. Another explosion, even louder this time and the ground shook so hard, they tumbled over each other and panic stricken, got to their feet quickly and ran on.
Marion stopped again and this time Claire did run into her. “Keep going Marion! We’ve got to get out of here.”
“We can’t!” Marion cried, “Look!”
They all stared wide-eyed as Marion shone the torch across and up the wall of rock, which blocked their exit.
“We’re trapped!” Kathy screamed. How are we going to get out?”
. “Oh no!” Sharon sobbed as she clawed at the stones. “We can’t be! We can’t be!”
They all began clutching and tugging frantically at the pile of rocks. Julie stopped almost immediately with the back of her hand to her mouth and watched the other girls from the torch light which had been dropped to the floor of the cave and fallen at an angle which lit up the girls backs as they scrambled hysterically at the immovable wall.
“Stop it!” She said weakly, then when she realised they weren’t taking any notice, she screamed, “For god’s sake stop it! You can’t move it!”
They all stopped, Karen sinking to the floor sobbing. Claire knelt beside her and put her hand around her shoulders. The others just stood with their back to the cave wall and stared at Julie.
“Calm down, will you,” She said gently, “There’s no use ruining your hands on those rocks. It’ll take more than that to shift them.”
Sharon let out a shaky sigh and sank to the floor, wondering at Julie being the sensible one in a crisis, when they’d all been trying so hard to bring her out of her gloom.
Marion sat down beside Sharon and picked up the torch. “What are we going to do?” She whispered hoarsely.
“There may be another way out.” Julie said hopefully. “Let’s go back to where we were and have a good look around.”
“There’s no other passage.” Claire said as she got to her feet. “I had a look when we were there.”
Julie bit her lip. “Well, it won’t hurt to have another look, you may have missed something.”
The rest of the girls got to their feet and they all headed back along the passage.
Occasionally the ground trembled and dust and chips fell from the roof of the cave as they made their way.
“What can be causing all this?” Claire asked.
“I don’t know.” Julie replied thoughtfully. “It’s either earthquakes or -----.’
“Or we’ve been invaded!” Sharon finished and they all stopped and looked at each other.
“That is possible isn’t it?” Marion exclaimed incredulously.
They all stood thoughtfully until another tremor jolted them into motion and they carried on.
“I can’t believe anyone would be dropping bombs on New Zealand.” Marion said doubtfully. “I’m sure it must be earthquakes.”
“We haven’t read a paper or listened to the news for a few days have we!” It was more of a statement than a question from Claire, so nobody bothered to reply.
When they reached the cavern, Marion shone the torch slowly around the wall, scanning every inch of it, but finding not even a small gap.
“Now what?” Claire’s voice had a hint of returning hysteria.
Julie sat down against the wall and slipped her pack off her shoulders. “Let’s just sit and think for a minute before we panic again.”
Kathy and Marion followed her example, but Claire and Sharon remained standing, Sharon leaning against the wall.
“Look, we’ve got to do something!” Claire paced up and down. “We can’t just sit here on our backsides. That won’t get us out!”
“Well, what do you suggest Lady?” Kathy snapped. “Have you got your drilling equipment with you? And whose bright idea was it to leave our cell phones at home?”
Julie squeezed her arm. “Don’t let’s fight now kids – please?”
Claire dropped her pack to the ground and sank down beside it. “I’m sorry.” She said softly, “But what are we going to do?”
Julie tucked her arms around her legs. “We’re going to be missed eventually, aren’t we and they’ll send out a search party for us won’t they?” She reached for her pack and pulled it towards her, speaking as she undid the straps. “Our folks all know where we were headed and when they find our campfire and the cave nearby, they’ll put two and two together.” She hoped she sounded more convincing than she felt as she pulled a cake of chocolate from her pack, opened it and handed it on to Kathy after breaking off a piece for herself.
“But we aren’t due back for about three days.” Marion popped a piece of chocolate into her mouth. “That means we’ll be here for at least a week!”
They all gave way to their own thoughts for a few minutes, and then Sharon pushed herself away from the wall and dropped her pack to the ground. “This just can’t be happening!” She strode to the other side of the cavern and pressed her hands against the wall. “There must be some way out of here!”
Her head rested on one arm for a few seconds, and then she dropped her hands and walked back to her pack. “I’m going to have another look at that cave-in.” She unhooked her torch from the strap and as she started to leave the cavern, Julie leapt to her feet and grabbed at Sharon’s arm.
“No Sharon, it’s too dangerous! What if there’s another quake! That whole tunnel could cave in!”
“Are we any safer in here?” Sharon demanded, “If there is another quake this cavern is just as likely to cave in on us as the tunnel is, so what difference is it going to make?”
“Oh Sharon!” Please listen!” At least we’re together in here and it is surely the safest place!” Then as Sharon didn’t look convinced, she went on: “At least wait a couple of hours and see if there’s any more shakes – then I’ll go with you! OK?” She breathed a sigh of relief as Sharon allowed herself to be led back to the others.
They all sat chatting self-consciously for a while, trying to get their minds off their predicament for a short time at least.
Sharon pulled a packet of crackers and some cheese out of her pack and they ate their light tea, seated in a circle at one end of the cavern.
They felt the ground shake several times and heard, during lulls in their conversation, the distant sound of rocks falling further along the passage.
“I’d love a cup of coffee.” Claire looked up at the high ceiling. “Think we could light the primus in here?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Sharon pushed a piece of cheese into her mouth. “Might gas us to sleep.”
Julie yawned with carefully acted nonchalance and lay on her back, gazing up at the ceiling. “Talking about sleep, why don’t we all settle down and get a good nights rest?” She noticed Sharon’s restless look towards the tunnel and continued: “Even if we found a way out of here it would be dark outside and we’d be no better off than we are now.”
“At least we’d have fresh air –,” Kathy leapt to her feet. “Hey! That’s something we hadn’t thought of; how long will it be before we run out of air down here?”
The other girls, startled by the reality of her words, began moving restlessly. Even Julie, who had been trying to be calm, gave an involuntary start.
“Oh, my God!” Marion’s hand flew to her mouth and she bit hard into her knuckle.
Claire grabbed hold of Sharon’s arm. “We’ve got to get out of here now! If we go to sleep we’ll probably never wake up!”
“Wait a minute!” Julie cried excitedly. “If there was no air coming in we would have noticed by now surely!”
“But we’ll have to make sure before we settle down won’t we?” Kathy insisted.
“How can we be sure?” Marion reached into her pack. “I need a cigarette. Anyone else want to calm their nerves?” She tossed the packet to Claire.
“That’s it!” Sharon exclaimed, “Give me your matches, quick!”
“Here.” Claire tossed the matches and cigarettes to her. “What do you want them for? You don’t usually smoke.
Sharon let the cigarettes fall to the ground and snatched at the box of matches and struck one, holding it above her head.
“What on earth are you doing?” Kathy asked.
“Just keep still!” Sharon dropped the match, walked to the tunnel entrance and lit another, holding it out in front of her.
The others just stared at her until Julie cried: “Of course: “Of course! Just sit still everyone and watch the match.”
They all sat quietly watching as they realized what Sharon was doing. She lit a third match and they all breathed a sigh of relief, as the flame flickered in the slight draught coming from the passage.
“There is air coming from somewhere!” She dropped the match and went back to the others, picking up the packet of cigarettes. “I will have that cigarette now thanks” She sat down again. “You know if air is getting in here, then we must be able to get out. But Julie is right. We might as well settle down here for the night and tackle that problem in the morning.”
They were all too exhausted to argue, so each of them unpacked their sleeping bags and settled down, close together. All except Julie were soon sound asleep. She lay listening to their breathing for a while and gradually her thoughts wandered to the explosions that had caused the cave-in. She had never been in a real earthquake, but somehow felt that this had been no earthquake. The explosions were definite explosions. She wondered if David had heard explosions in the earthquake that killed him. How did he feel in that horrible moment? She knew he had thought of her. Perhaps she was the only thing on his mind as he died. Could Sharon have been right? Had some warring country attacked New Zealand? Everyone had been so sure they were safe with all the major allies trying to restore peace in the Middle East.
“Julie?” Sharon’s voice broke into her thoughts. “Julie, are you awake?”
“Yes, I thought you were asleep.”
“I did doze off for a few minutes. She moved closer to Julie and whispered, “What were you thinking about?”
“Oh, just – everything I guess.”
“What do you think has been happening out there?”
“I wish I knew.” Julie turned to face Sharon. “Do you really think it was the war – you know – bombs and things?”
Sharon bit her lip in the darkness. “I don’t know Julie, but I can’t think what else it could be. Although we didn’t hear anything like it before we entered the cave and we didn’t see anything while we were on the beach, did we?”
“No – but they have missiles and things don’t they. It could have been a sudden attack.”
“Well, I think right now we’d better get some sleep. I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of hard work for us in the morning.”
Julie yawned and snuggled down into the warmth of her sleeping bag. “Mmm. I think we’re just tired and letting our imaginations run away with us. Goodnight”
“Night Julie.” Sharon lay for a long time just staring into the darkness before sleep finally claimed her.