As the last rays of sunlight disappeared over the horizon, I pulled my damp beach towel tighter around me to suppress the small shivers beginning to rack my body. My sun kissed, pink flushed skin was bruised and battered from a day of sliding down giant tubes on my barely covered bottom; clinging for dear life to small rings that whipped me through twists and turns of darkness, shadow and tunnels; and being hammered repeatedly by wave after wave of cascading water in the wave pool. All in all, it had been a perfect day. And it was finally time for dinner before we hit the rides one last time before and headed home for hot showers, warm beds and a well deserved rest.
The smell of barbequed meat drifted through the air and made my mouth water and my stomach growl in hunger. I headed over to where my family stood in line, plates held out in front of them in eager anticipation of well-earned food. Grabbing my plate from my Dad, I took my place and devoured the meal piling up before me with my eyes. The meat, so tender and juicy nestled against a bed of lettuce, tomato and cucumber. The fluffy, white bread roll balanced precariously on the side of the plate looked like it would melt in my mouth and as soon as we sat down, I tore into it, closing my eyes and moaning in delight as the first of the food hit my cavernous stomach.
Demolishing my meal in no time flat, I laid back and rested by head on the ground, looking up and watching the last remnants of the day fade away in a flare of orange, pink and yellow. Closing my eyes I laid content for a while, letting the food settle and my tired and screaming muscles relax after the ruthless pounding I had given it today.
A bone chilling, piercing scream filled the air and yanked me from my reprieve; its terrified tremor penetrating me to core and filling me with a cold dread.
Startling up, I took off in a sprint behind dad towards the ‘cave’ rapids and the sound of the scream. Without hesitation, Dad leapt into the current and dived under the water searching for the boy who was drowning. Leaning over the edge of the rock, I reached down into the rapids as if I could grab Dad and the boy out myself. I noticed I had started crying, but the salty rivulets streaming down my face as I screamed were washed away by the splash of chlorinated water pounding against the side of the rocks.
Watching for a sign of movement, any sign, I started hyperventilating that Dad wasn’t going to come back up. Taking a deep breath, I launched myself over the edge of the rock and into the rapids myself. Spluttering and choking as the water threatened to invade my lungs and suck me under too, I flailed helplessly realising all too late that this was a stupid idea. The current had me now, and I tried to relax as it carried me quickly towards the end of the line, and hopefully, Dad and the boy.
Spitting me out, I tumbled and landed on all fours on cold, hard ground at the bottom of a cave. I looked around anxiously – this wasn’t where he ride had ended before. It was cold and dreary; the only light penetrating the cavern coming from a few scattered floodlights attached to the ceiling and the brief illumination of passing semi trailers. A huge whiplash of wind threw me across the ground, and I lay shaking in shock as I watched the truck that had flown past disappear into the distance. I had no idea where I was. It was cold, and dark and looked like the bottom of a cave system somewhere, but there were still trucks travelling at exorbitant speeds as they hurried to their destination. So it had to go somewhere.
“DAD?” I screamed, “DADDY WHERE ARE YOU????” I cried, clutching my arms around my body in earnest to try and stop the sobs and bone chilling shakes that were wracking my torso.
“It’s ok,” a voice sounded softly from behind me, “we’re both here.” I turned around and saw my Dad and the drowning boy standing behind me.
“Where’s here?” I asked, swiping my hand across my face and trying to control my trembling voice.
Looking up, Dad replied, “I don’t know sweetie. But we’re going to get out.” Holding his hand out to me, I climbed to my feet. Clutching each other tightly, our trio made our way to edge of the road and started following the slight descent out of the caves.
Photo credit: http://nationalgeographicmagazine.tumblr.com/post/22996395147/ora-cave-papua-new-guinea-photograph-by-stephen