1 - Cave Of Snark
Four plane tickets across the world, one bumpy cab ride, a long ass hike, and we were stuck in a small cave waiting out a thunderstorm.
It was shaping up to be a wonderful vacation.
“I would love even just one bar of service.” Damien scowled at his phone for the tenth time, steel blue eyes narrowed. I stifled a laugh, finding it ridiculous that he would be so whiny about cell service when we were supposed to be enjoying the great outdoors.
Though I had to admit, being stuffed in a dank smelling tunnel of rock complete with the steady dripdripdrip of leaking rainwater wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind for the first day. We had been forced to be careful with our fire and sleeping arrangement so we could all stay dry.
“Maybe if you’d brought an actual book, like words on paper, you’d have something to keep you occupied,” Lyla said in her silky monotone. She didn’t even bother to look up from the science fiction novel she was reading, ever so slowly turning a crisp page as if to accentuate her point.
She crossed her legs at the ankle, feet propped up on her backpack, the perfect picture of a quiet rainy day bookworm.
“I don’t like books,” Damien retorted, “I like news.” He stashed his useless phone back in his own pack, running his hands over his newly buzzed blonde hair. His boyish pout was endearing, and I couldn’t help but giggle at his exaggerated drama.
“Because Twitter is full of accurate news reports,” Archer commented with a smirk as he poked the small fire with a stick. He adjusted the black rimmed glasses adorning his slender face. The reflection of the flames on the lenses hid those mischievous green eyes, a stark contrast to his ebony locks.
“My own customized newspaper is more than just biased articles on world events.” Damien’s pout deepened, looking ridiculous on such a broad shouldered man.
“Bikini babes and motorcycles?” I piped up with an oh-so-innocent smile, and received a glower in return.
“Fuck all of you,” he muttered playfully, and the three of us shared a laugh at his expense.
He shoved Archer over so he could stretch out his legs, and curiously poked at Lyla’s backpack.
“Got anything good to read, then?” Damien asked, and she kicked his hand away with a combat-booted foot. He pinched the cinnamon colored skin of her thigh and she swatted him away as if shooing a fly. Her eyes never left her book, though there was a ghost of a smile on her face.
“Here,” I offered, digging around in my bag. I pulled out a worn copy of Fight Club and held it out to him.
“Like the movie?” Damien flipped it over to read the back.
“Better than the movie.” Lyla scoffed matter-of-factly, more distracted by our conversation than getting pinched. For a tomboy, she could be such a pretentious nerd sometimes.
“You’ll like it better than the dry-as-hell space operas Lyla’s got in—ow!” My teasing was cut off by her throwing a stone at me. I rubbed at the blast zone that was my kneecap, and she grinned deviously.
“Pussy,” she singsonged, turning back to her book. I threw the stone back, and missed by an embarrassing distance. It clattered off of the cave wall behind her and she didn’t even flinch.
“I can think of a better way to distract ourselves,” Archer waggled his eyebrows and ran a finger up Lyla’s smooth leg.
“I’d like to keep busy longer than two minutes, thanks,” she teased, and then it was Archer’s turn to get laughed at.
Thus was the way of our friendship.
We’d met working at Domino’s Pizza in small town Northern Ontario while still in high school. United under the idiot that managed the store, we’d become the best of friends.
Ten years later, we were on our annual summer trip to parts unknown. We’d been all over the world, mostly camping, but occasionally we’d do a resort or cruise for some extra pampering.
The Zigi Mountains of Switzerland had been Lyla’s idea—hiking and wilderness and gorgeous views. I gazed longingly out the mouth of the cave at the intense downpour beating the ground like Thor’s hammer.
A gut melting roar of thunder shook the earth and I glanced nervously at the low ceiling above us.
“Don’t worry, doll,” Archer said, giving my shoulder a gentle squeeze. “These caves have probably been through much worse than this.”
“And if it collapses and kills us,” Lyla put in with a wicked glint in her eye, “we can just haunt the shit out of future tourists.”
I woke to stillness, the smell of wet grass invading my nostrils. I enjoyed the clean feel of the mountain air, and rose into a sitting position. There was still a significant lack of sunlight coming from the mouth of the cafe, and I wondered what time it was. I felt pretty rested, considering I’d been sleeping on the ground.
In the dim light of the remaining coals, I could make out Damien’s cute scrunched up face as he snored lightly beside me. It felt like his body temperature had risen twenty degrees since we’d passed out, and as I wriggled out from our sleeping bag the cool night breeze refreshed my overheated skin.
There was a double lump on the far side of the cave, and I smiled. Lyla had agreed to Archer’s method of distraction, apparently.
The quiet was almost unsettling after being so used to the pounding rain and rolling thunder. I clasped my hands together and stretched my arms above my head, reveling in the crackle of my spine as I did so. I was happy for the lack of storming, because nature was calling and I was looking forward to not getting soaked.
I padded to the mouth of the cave, feeling like the queen of the forest under the full moon. The light blanketed the forest below with an ethereal glow, and I made my way out to find a spot to relieve myself.
I popped a squat behind a copse of soft bushes, and did my business. I pulled up my yoga pants and ran my hand through the lush ferns on my way back towards the cave.
I heard a snap and froze. It had come from the forest behind me. Slow turn. Pulse quickening, heart thumping, breath in short gasps. I scanned the darkness as I backed slowly towards the cave.
Lyla had done a ton of research on the wildlife here, and my mind fixated on the deadlier animals on the list. I imagined a brown bear as tall as a tree, blood dripping from its jaw, flanked by a snarling wolf.
There was no snarling in reality, but my imagination ran away with itself. I tried to steady my breathing. I was still backing towards the cave, though that was probably the worst place to be in the event of a large predator finding me. We’d be easy pickings then.
But I couldn’t leave my friends. If something had caught my scent and I managed to escape, it might track me back to the cave. They weren’t even awake; I had to warn them.
“Come on, Sapphire, hold it together,” I muttered to myself, trying to find some courage inside of me. I’d had no qualms about backpacking in the wilderness. And now, on the first night, I’m afraid of some snapping twigs? Lyla was right—I AM a pussy.
A rustling bush elicited a squeak from my throat. I staggered back a few steps and slammed into something.
“Oof!” Thud. I caught the glint of glasses in the moonlight as I whipped around. “Jesus, Saph, I think you broke my ass.” Archer rubbed the body part in question.
“Shhh!” I hissed wildly, motioning to the trees. “There’s something out here!” If I’d been thinking rationally, I would have figured an animal would have heard Archer regardless of my shushing. But I wasn’t thinking rationally. I was being an idiot.
“If something was going to come eat us, it would have come when Lyla did.” He smirked, and I felt the panic slipping away as I rolled my eyes.
“If she wasn’t loud enough to wake us up, then your skills-” A loud crack cut off my snark and I shrieked. I reached back for my friend, needing to clutch someone, but the world went white and my hands grasped at nothing but air.
The landscape slowly comes back into focus, but it is deathly silent, not even a single cricket or hoot. There is a haze over everything, like fog rolling behind frosted glass.
There’s a figure approaching, slow deliberate steps almost in time with the terrified surging of my heart. It’s a man, and the fog parts for him, swirling away from his black clad form like it’s alive.
I open my mouth but only manage a squeak, body frozen in place.
He half smiles and I blink lazily, the stiff cold flowing from my veins and being replaced by a thicker, warmer feeling. I can’t help but notice the ocean blue of his eyes. His short dark hair is the kind of unruly that looks like it’s styled that way. There is just enough stubble on his face to give a scruffiness to his look.
Heat rises in my belly.
“What’s your name, love?” His voice is silk, with an Irish lilt that makes my knees weaken. My mouth is still open and my lips are dry. “Speak,” he says, and the word seems to reverberate in my brain.
“Sapphire,” I reply, my voice husky.
“Sapphire.” The name falling from his perfect lips makes me lightheaded.
“Who… who are you?” I breathe the words, and he smirks, leaning closer to me. I’m still frozen as his mouth hovers over my neck. I can smell leather and whiskey and something else that I can’t identify. It’s heady and hazy and my eyelids flutter closed as his hand slides around the back of my neck.
“Marius,” he whispers into the sensitive skin of my throat, and I fight the urge to whimper.
His hot breath rises to my ear, and I’m bathed in fire. His voice is a low rumble as he speaks a single word.