To Forego Adventure
I open the door of my car and look around me. The frosty air of a day in early February hits me, forcing tears out of my narrowed eyes. I cannot tell if they are real tears that are running down my face, or if it is simply water induced by the wind. It doesn’t matter, anyway. I have been crying for the past few days.
I get out of my car and shut the door, leaning against it and closing my eyes. I am not supposed to be here. I am running away—running away from everything I have been living with for the past seventeen years. Everything I have been living with—and everything I have been trying to escape from. I’m sick of being cooped up every day in the same house with the same people, going through the same, mundane routine, looking in every moldy corner and dark crevice for joy in life and finding none. I’m disgusted with this world, with its violence, its apathy, its individualistic culture.
But that’s the problem. I can run away from home, try to start over, but I can’t run away from the world. It’s stupid, I know. There is no gas in my car or money in my wallet. I don’t even have a plan in mind. But I just want so desperately to get away.
I pull my thin jacket tighter around myself and squint up at the dreary sky. Tall trees rear up against it, their bare branches reaching toward the clouds like claws. My gaze follows their slender trunks downward. Before me is a small pond, backed by a dense forest. The pond is frozen, the ground covered in snow. A narrow trail runs crookedly through the trees.
I look back at my car. It is the last thing I will see that reminds me of home. A sense of loneliness threatens to overtake me, and with a burning sense of rage, I slam the door and begin walking toward the path.
Sadness lingers in the back of my mind. No one seems to understand me. It’s not like I’ve had a bad life. My family loved me. I had lots of friends. I did well in school. I was good at a lot of things, but I never really had anyone close enough to me with whom I could share my darkest secrets. There was never anyone who really understood me. I guess that’s why I wanted to run away—so I could spend some time alone with the only person with whom I could be the real me—myself.
Every twist and turn the path makes I follow, not questioning where it is leading me. I walk until my legs are sore and my face is numb. The sky begins to get dark, and still I keep walking along the path. Suddenly I turn a corner and come upon a large cave, looming darkly against the twilit sky. I stop in front of it and look inside. It is utterly dark, and a chill air emanates from its mouth. I can’t help myself. I’m curious.
I go in.
It’s even colder inside than it was out in the open. I hesitate, shivering, and look back. Past the gaping mouth of the cave, I can see snow falling. The flakes drift lazily down until they are caught by an unwelcome wind and swirled sharply around. Daylight is fading fast. Steeling myself, I face the darkness before me and advance into the murky blackness.
I stretch my arms out to keep myself from running into the walls, but I can feel nothing. There is nothing but the hard, rocky ground beneath my boots, icy air against my bare skin, and the thudding of my own heart. I feel like a blind man, groping in the dark for something to hold on to. I feel as if everything my heart has been going through during the past few years is now being put into a real life illustration. I’ve been searching in the darkness for a light, for someone to really love me for who I am. But I’ve found nothing. And so it is, as I tread my weary way in the stifling dark, that nothing comes to my aid. No one comes to show me the way.
Suddenly I catch my foot on a jutting stone in the floor and fall to my knees in shallow water. It is so cold that at first I do not notice the pain in my knees, but as I get up, they begin to sting. The splash created when I fell still echoes around me; instead of going directly away, it crescendos and then finally fades altogether.
Then in the distance I see a pale light. I wonder if my eyes are playing tricks on me, and I rub them, but the light is still there; in fact, it is coming closer. It bobs slightly, as if someone is holding it in a lantern, and I hear the faint patter of feet. I stand still and wait.
The light comes yet closer. In its faint glow, I can see a slender figure, about five feet tall, with long shaggy hair. It is a mere child, probably around twelve years old. I wait until the light stops in front of me. I can see now that the figure is a girl, clad in a dirty grey-blue dress. Her eyes are dark and deep-set, and her brown hair falls tangled past her slim shoulders.
I speak first. “Who are you?” I say.
She holds the light up and squints at my face. “Who are you?” Her voice is rough and low, as if she has not used it in a long time.
“My name is Lorena,” I say hesitantly, not sure whether to bow or curtsy or offer my hand. I stand awkwardly while her dark gaze peruses me.
“I am Artha,” she says at last, her eyes never leaving me. “I have never seen you before.”
“I—I’ve never been here,” I say.
“Where are you from, then?”
“Well…” I pause and point up the cave the way I came. “Back there.”
For the first time, I see emotion cross the girl’s face. “Then there really is a world out there?”
Disbelief fills me. “Of course there is! I take it you’ve never been there.”
She shakes her head.
“Well then, how would you like to come with me?”
Her eyes widen. “Why?”
“I’m running away,” I say, and feel suddenly stupid.
Still she stares at me. “From what?”
I am suddenly lost for words. “From my family,” I say finally. “From the life I used to have.”
The lantern in her pale hand quivers. “You can just do that?”
“Well…it’s not a good thing, I suppose.”
She bends to set her lantern on the ground. I can see excitement burning in her eyes, but her voice is carefully emotionless. “Will you take me with you?”
On a sudden impulse, I reach for her hand. “Can you show me the way out of here?”
She stares at me. “I have never been out of here. I do not know.”
So I will just have to try to go back the way I came. I pick up the lantern and start back down the dark tunnel. It is bigger than I had thought it was, now that I can see it. Huge stalactites hang from the ceiling, and drops of water bead on their ends, quivering for a second before they fall. We walk in silence for a long time.
We have taken a wrong turn, I’m sure of it. We should be out by now. But I say nothing to Artha. I don’t wish to frighten her, but even more than that, I don’t want her to go away and leave me wandering this cave for the rest of my days. So we keep going. After a while, I feel a light wind circling through the cave. I follow it eagerly, hoping this means we will soon be out in the open.
It does. Within a few minutes, I see a glimpse of white ahead. I speed up my pace and hand the lantern to Artha, pulling her along with me. I realize that my mind has been disoriented by my seemingly endless wandering in the cave. It ought to be night; instead, the snow covering the ground is made blinding white by broad daylight. I have to squint my eyes against the light, but Artha fares worse. She drops her lamp in the snow and covers her eyes with her hands. I suppose she has never seen snow before. She has probably never even seen daylight. It is several minutes before I can coax her to get up and look around. Only then do I look to see where we are.
We are in a totally foreign place. I don’t recognize anything. My heart suddenly starts to pound as a feeling of unease envelopes me. A twig cracks somewhere to my right. I swing around in time to hear the sound of a gun. My heart seizes. I don’t have time to wonder what is happening or why someone is shooting at us. I have just enough wits left to grab Artha’s arm and run.
Shots fire after us, and my heart feels as if it is about to explode. My lungs and eyes burn from the cold air. Artha’s once expressionless face is filled with terror. Amidst my panic, I have time for only one thought. She is just a child. What have I dragged her into? I chance a glance behind me, and then over at Artha’s face. It is pale; she is breathing hard and crying. I pull us both down behind a fallen log. “What is going on?”
Tears stream down her face. “It’s my father,” she sobs.
“He’s shooting at you?” I ask in disbelief.
She nods. “No one from the caves is allowed to leave. The consequence is death.” Her heavy eyes flick up to peer over the log. “He doesn’t care about me.”
Her words cut me to the heart. I suddenly realize how good I have it. My parents would never try to kill me, no matter what I did.
The gunshots have stopped. Artha shifts beside me. “What do we do now?”
I ignore her question, because I don’t know the answer. “Did you know this would happen if you left?” I ask.
She looks down. “No. Well, yes. But…I don’t know how he found out.”
I am about to make a stinging remark about how she never should have left the cave, when Artha throws herself on top of me with a cry that almost drowns out the harsh bang of a gun. I gape in horror at the bloody hole in the side of her head. Her glazed eyes stare at the sky, unseeing. I look up over the cover of the log, and panic seizes me. I see a man dressed completely in black standing in the distance. His long ebony hair blows out behind him like a cape. He is holding a gun in his hand, and he is coming toward me. I know that if I run, he could very well shoot me down, but if I stay here, I will certainly face a worse death. I scramble to my numb feet and run.
A bullet whizzes past my face, and I force myself to run faster. Something slams into my arm, and then I feel pain. I have never felt such pain. I stumble; my vision blurs, and I can feel something warm soaking into the sleeve of my jacket and spreading down my arm. I think I hear a shout behind me, but I can’t tell. The wind is too strong; I am running too fast.
Too fast. The ground slants sharply underneath me, and before I can stop myself, I tumble down a snow covered slope, bouncing hard against jutting rocks and roots. I can hear nothing but the sound of my body striking the ground again and again. I can feel nothing but pain. And I can see nothing but white, as the snow flashes past my eyes all in a blur. Then I manage to catch hold of a root protruding from the side of the cliff. My left arm feels as if it has been jerked out of place, but I hold on. I look up and see that what I had fallen down is just a slanted slope; the real cliff wall drops off just below my dangling legs, giving way to a drop that is thousands of feet.
I force myself to relax; I will my heart to stop pounding and my limbs to stop trembling. My mind goes blank and my vision hazy. I can hear myself breathing heavily. In my mind, I see my parents smiling at me, my friends laughing with me, and my brothers and sisters waving to me. Then they are all standing at the top of the cliff, far, far away; yet I can hear their voices clearly. They are shouting my name. They want me to come up to them. I try to call back, but my chest hurts too much to draw breath, and my voice is hoarse. Even if I could speak, my words would be carried away in the wind.
Even though I can still see them, their voices fade away, and a rushing fills my ears, blocking out every other sound. The pain in my injured arm becomes unbearable. Tears run down my face as the icy wind wrenches them from my eyes. I gaze up at the people at the top of the cliff. The people who love me; the people whom I love. They are still waving at me. They want me to join them. I raise my right hand to wave back, and my left hand slips on the root that I am holding. For a second, my numb, bloodless hands grip the icy slope.
And then I feel myself falling.
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