Julia Vadik had her tongue stuck out. This part was vital to the entire operation. If she screwed this up, well, she didn’t know what she would do. Her steady hand slowly worked, just trying to get the little curve just right. It took all Julia had to keep her hand from trembling. The slightest tremor, and it would be all for nothing.
Julia stopped the pencil. She had finished. She had finally done it! For the past hour she had been desperately trying to sketch a picture of her best friend, Lee. Julia picked up the picture of Lee, and set it next to her drawing to compare. She had spent the past ten minutes alone trying to get that little curve on the end of Lee’s button nose just right.
Julia intently studied the drawing, comparing every detail. Her heart stopped in her chest. She screwed up Lee’s eye shape! Julia didn’t know what drove her to do it, but she crumpled up the drawing, and threw it into her already overflowing waste basket. She groaned, and threw herself upon her bed. So was the life of an artist.
She looked around her room. It looked the same as any other thirteen-year old’s. There were articles of clothing strung along the floor. The walls were a pale blue, and were covered with pictures of her and her friends and family. She had a bulletin board tacked with several pictures and paintings. All amazing in her family’s eyes, but in hers they were only worth keeping because her family insisted that she should. On the wall farthest from her bed, was a large chalkboard. On it, was scrawled reminders, and small caricatures.
She heard a faint muffled voice calling from downstairs. She knew it was her mother, so she walked across the room and pulled open the door. “What?!” She shouted downstairs.
“It’s time to go!” Her mother repeated impatiently.
Julia looked around the room. She was one of those people who thought they were ready for everything until it was actually time to leave. She threw on one old grey sneaker, and then ran across the room to pull the other on. She grabbed Lee’s birthday present off the table, and took a quick glance at herself in the mirror. Her wide green eyes looked back at her. She was wearing an old yellow sweatshirt, and some old faded jeans. She had yet to tie her shoes, but she figured she could do that in the drive there. She grabbed a fistful of her black wildly curly hair. There was nothing she could do about that,
She thundered down the steps, slid her phone in her pocket, and threw the door open, slamming it behind her. She winced. Outside, her mother was waiting tensely in the car. Julia’s brother, Felix, was waiting in the back seat, looking at some sort of kid’s book. Julia slid into the car, and shut the car door, buckling herself in. The drive went by quickly. As soon as the car parked, Julia threw open the door and ran towards the swing set, where Lee and Luke were sitting, laughing.
“Happy birthday, Lee!” Julia panted, wrapping Lee into a hug.
“Thanks Julia, but jeez. You didn’t have to run,”
“Yes I did,” Julia insisted. “Hey, Luke.”
“Hey, ‘Lia.” Luke responded, giving Julia a high – five.
“Hey, Luke, why won’t you give me a cool nickname?” Lee smirked.
“In case you don’t remember, Lee, I was a kindergartener when I first met you. And in case you haven’t noticed, again, your name is super easy to say.” Luke answered.
Lee shrugged. “Just saying, I think I should have my own nickname.”
"That doesn't even make sense!" Lee protested.
Luke smirked, looking like he was fully enjoying this conversation. "Yeah it does,"
"Because Cynthia sounds a lot like the word 'cynic'."
"Wow, okay." Lee said. She dropped into a swing. She picked up a long stick, and began drawing random lines in the sand.
Lee didn’t look like an Cynthia. Not in the least. She had blonde – streaked copper red hair in a rather unique hairstyle. Half of it was up in a messy knot on the back of her head, the rest of it waving down to her waist, except for several thin braids tied with green yarn. She had hazel eyes, and was tall and willowy in appearance. She was wearing a tie – dye summer camp T – shirt, scrawled with a dozen names in Sharpie. She was wearing ripped jeans.
“Hey, where’s Oliver?” Julia asked, looking towards the parking lot as if staring would make Oliver appear.
“Fashionably late.” Luke answered, leaning against the swing set poles. His gunmetal blue eyes scanned the road for any cars. He was wearing a volunteer T – shirt over faded blue jeans. His old neon orange basketball shoes scuffed the dirt as he ran a hand through his mahogany hair.
As if on cue, a dusty maroon pickup truck drove into the tiny parking lot, taking up two whole parking spots. The door opened, and a tall, tan skinned black haired boy stepped out. As he walked closer, Julia noticed that he was wearing a red and black jacket over a scuffed up pair of jeans over a pair of dark brown cowboy boots.
Oliver approached them, and set Lee’s birthday present underneath the shelter house.
“Happy birthday, Lee.”
“Thanks, Oliver.” Lee responded with a smile. “What should we do now?”
“Hide and seek?” Julia suggested.
“Julia, don’t you think we’re a little old for that?” Lee grinned.
“No, you’re never too old for a good old fashioned game of hide and seek,” Julia said.
“We should explore the forest.” Lee decided.
“Okay, I’ll ask our moms.” Luke volunteered.
“I’ve got it,” Lee stepped forward. “Mom, mom!” Lee shouted across the park.
Lee’s mom didn’t hear. Oliver’s didn’t appear to hear either.
Lee sighed exasperatedly. “Yo, Christi!”
Lee’s mom finally turned toward her.
“Can we explore the forest?!”
“Sure!” Lee’s mom yelled back. “Be back by twelve thirty!”
“Have fun!” Oliver’s mom bellowed.
Luke shrugged. “Well that was one way to do it,”
“It was quicker.” Lee explained, ducking underneath a tree branch.
They walked, talked, and joked around as they hiked on. Julia pulled her sweatshirt off over her head, and tied it around her waist. She looked behind her, and realized-
“Guys, these hills weren’t here before.” Julia frowned, looking down at her watch. They’ve only been walking three minutes.
Oliver turned and his eyes widened. He opened his mouth, and shut it again. “We must not have seen them from below. A trick with the trees or something.”
Up ahead, Luke snorted as he picked a stick up off the ground and began using it as a walking stick. “Oliver, trees can’t take away hills this size.”
Oliver turned his head back around towards Luke. “Do you have an explanation, Einstein?”
“Please. We all know I’m not Einstein, and I certainly don’t give explanations.”
Oliver rolled his eyes.
Lee stopped dead in her tracks. Luke, still watching Oliver with interest, smashed into her back. Lee sprawled onto the ground, and Luke tripped over her, flying ahead. Julia stepped on Lee’s foot. Oliver skirted the mess and held out his hand to help Lee up.
Julia grimaced, and lifted her foot off of Lee’s hand.
Lee grabbed Oliver’s hand and stood. “Thanks, Oliver.” She whipped her head around. “What was that about, Luke?”
Luke backed up a couple steps wearing a guilty look. “Sorry, Lee. Maybe if you didn’t stop that quickly, you wouldn’t have fell.”
Julia awkwardly glanced around, folding her hands behind her back. In all the years the four have been together, it was common knowledge that Lee was like a badger on energy drink when she was upset.
“Oh, so now it’s my fault!” Lee hissed.
“Yeah, maybe it is!” Luke retorted defensively.
“Guys, quit it.” Oliver interrupted.
Luke and Lee traded heated glares, but they quit and stepped away from each other. Julia let out a sigh of relief.
“So why did you stop, Lee?” Julia asked, eager to change the subject.
Lee’s eyes lit up. “I found the cave.”
“Well obviously.” Luke snorted. The cave wasn't exactly easy to miss. The mouth was almost as wide as half a football field, and the roof was nearly that same height. Stalactites clung to the stone roof of the mouth, and stalagmites pierced the rough surface of the ground. The sunlight lit only twenty feet inside, until it faded into nothingness.
Lee rolled her eyes. “No, I mean I found this cave again. I got lost once several years ago coming to this place, and I found the cave. I was curious, but I was like, six years old. So all that really mattered was coming home. Gosh, I wish I could explore it.”
Oliver looked at the cave with interest. “I wonder if there are bats in there. There are fourteen species in Ohio, and one of them has a wing span of a whole foot!”
Julia shivered. “Why on earth would you want to find that?”
Oliver drew a flashlight key chain out of his pocket and clicked it on, flashing it around the mouth of the cave. There were no bats to be seen. “They’re super fascinating. Not to mention a few species are endangered.”
Lee eyed the key chain. “You know, maybe we can explore the cave.”
Oliver clicked the keychain back off, and stowed it in his pocket. “Pardon me?”
“Excuse me,” Lee muttered, fishing the keychain back out of Oliver’s pocket.
“What are you –?”
Lee turned around to face the others. “Look. We can explore the cave using this flashlight that Oliver so graciously provided.”
Luke grinned. “Yeah, I’d guess we could!”
“Are you nuts?” Julia asked.
“Well duh.” Luke said.
“We can’t just go and explore a cave.” Oliver retorted.
Lee rolled her eyes. “Why not?”
“I can think of about six reasons why that’s a bad idea.” Oliver challenged.
Lee smirked. “Shoot.”
Oliver lifted his hand and counted the reasons on his fingers as he went. “One, we could get lost. Two, we could get hurt. Three, we could get bitten by something. Four, we could catch pneumonia. Five, we couldn’t return on time. Six, we could die from lack of oxygen.”
Julia shrugged. “Can’t argue with logic like that,”
Luke stepped up. “Actually, I can. I can think of seven reasons why we should. One, we’ll be having fun. Two, we’ll be bonding. Three, it gives Oliver a reason to lecture us on safety. Four, it’ll be an awesome experience. Five, Oliver can lecture us on bats. Six, it’s good exercise. And seven, it’ll help Oliver with his square syndrome.”
“Square syndrome?” Oliver asked.
“Yes. Because you’re a square.” Luke explained.
Oliver scoffed. “I’m not a square,”
“He’s not a square.” Julia agreed. “He’s just smart, and enjoys following the rules.”
“Yeah. In other words, a square.” Lee added.
“All those who vote to go inside the cave?” Julia asked, raising her hand. Luke and Lee joined in. “Majority rules, we’re going in.”
Oliver sighed, taking his flashlight back from Lee. “Okay, but we need a set of guidelines or something.”
“Okay, if we’re lost, we can go back.” Luke decided.
“If anyone needs an adult, come to me or Julia.” Oliver added.
Lee nodded. “And we can turn back if we run into anything dangerous, we can scurry out of there.”
Luke clapped his hands once together, as he often did when he was bored. “Okay, we’ve got a plan, let’s go.” He was the first to step foot in the cave. "Chop chop, lollipops!"
They delved into the cave, Oliver passing Luke and leading the way with his flashlight.
“Hey, Oliver. Why did you even have that in your pocket?” Luke asked from the back, looking around the cave with interest.
Oliver shrugged, quickly flashing the beam of light on the ceiling to check for bats. “I like to come prepared. A true gentleman always has a handkerchief, a flashlight, and a pocketknife on him at all times.”
Lee flipped her hood over her head as they came to a fork in the cave. “Gosh, I’m freezing.”
“Here. You can have my jacket,” Julia offered, unzipping her jacket and handing it to Lee. She could feel goosebumps popping up on her skin, but she ignored them.
Lee smiled at Julia gratefully. “Won’t you be cold?”
“I’ll be just fine.”
Lee waved off the jacket. “No, you keep it.”
They went left, and right, left, and right, right, right, right, left, left, right, left, left, left, left, then right. Julia soon lost track of which ways they turned.
“Any signs of bats, Oliver?” Julia finally asked.
Oliver glanced back at her. “Nothing yet,”
Just as he said this, he absently flashed his light up at a large colony of bats. There must have been at least two hundred. They seemed to have some sort of plum colored fur. Many appeared to be sleeping. The few that were flying around had green stretches of skin between their fingertips.
Oliver looked up, and his mouth fell open.
“Dang.” Luke muttered, gazing up at the bats.
Julia frowned a little. “What breed are those?”
Oliver squinted a little. “I don’t have a clue. It’s difficult to tell from here. I’ve never seen anything like them.” Oliver’s eyes widened. “Guys, I think we may have found a new species!”
“No way.” Julia grinned.
Oliver turned to the others. “I have to get a closer look.”
“How do you plan to do that?” Luke asked, not taking his eyes off the bats.
Oliver took his flashlight beam off of the bats, and flashed it around the cave. The light moved on to a large stone in the shape of a ramp to a large pile of rocks. A small stream of water trickled down several of them, forming a great puddle below. “Perfect. I’ll be only a second, guys.”
“Just be careful,” Lee warned.
But Oliver already left. He flashed them a thumbs up as he ran over to the ramp, his footsteps echoing off the roof of the cave. He ran up the ramp, and raised Julia’s phone to take a picture. He then lowered it, examining the screen. A dissatisfied frown appeared on his face, and he jumped onto the pile of rocks.
Luke grit his teeth together. “He’s going to die.”
Oliver’s sneaker slipped on a couple smaller rocks, sending them toppling down the pile.
“Oliver!” Julia whispered harshly. She glanced above to see if she startled any bats. Thankfully, they slept on. “Are you nuts?!” She whispered again.
Oliver didn’t look like he heard her. He climbed up a large rock. He lifted up Julia’s phone again. He didn’t take a picture this time, he just lowered it again and continued climbing. Julia was on tenterhooks as he climbed several more, finally inching his way to the biggest rock on the top.
Lee swore beside Julia. “That rock is wet. I hope he doesn’t fall.”
Oliver somehow made it halfway to the top. He pulled Julia’s phone out of his pocket, and continued to climb. He seemed dissatisfied with the photo quality. He stepped onto the top, and stepped slowly toward the bats. They didn’t seem to notice him coming. He took one more step, and his boot slipped in a small puddle of water. He let out a shout, and he slid down the rock, and began tumbling down the tall pile.
“Oliver!” Lee shouted. That set the bats off. They all unfastened themselves from the roof of the cave, and like they had one mind, they swirled around in one large frightening cloud, and descended upon Julia, Lee, and Luke.
Oliver rolled off of a rock that was sticking out, and gravity was pulling him down to the earth.
Julia screamed as dozens of bats descended upon her, scratching her arms, pulling at her clothing, and entangling themselves in her hair. There was the sound of something thudding onto the cave floor, and Oliver’s yelling silenced.
Whoo! Totally left you all on a cliff hangar. Sorry! (Not really. ;) ) Like it, comment, share it! Thanks for taking the time to read this chapter! :D