Laughter pranced in the grass like wind and bounced off the rocks. Lisa skipped along, her blonde ponytail whipping behind her. She yelled, "I'm gonna find you! You can't hide forever!"
Andrew shifted his weight on the ledge and craned his head out from behind a great boulder. He smiled when he saw that Lisa was going away from him, and he dropped down to the base of the stone. He rubbed the dirt out of his short-cut black hair and brushed off the back of his pants, and a little rock escaped his pockets and hit the boulder.
Lisa turned and announced, "I heard that!"
Andrew scrambled to find a hiding place and settled for burying himself in the grass. He flailed and grabbed at air when the ground swallowed him and dropped him onto a hard, wet floor. In the dim light Andrew could decipher the outline of a cave, and it seemed to become gigantic only beyond the reach of his fingers. He massaged the memory of the unexpected drop and impact from the back of his head.
Lisa found the rock and the ledge and the tall grass. She looked all around and huffed. The shuffling noise of her footsteps faded while she ran to look elsewhere.
Andrew crawled out through the grass and arrived in the sunlight. Lisa's voice piped from behind and startled him. "You found a cave, didn't you? What'd your mom say about caves?"
"Nothing," Andrew said. He tried to shake the mess of earth off his clothes. "My mom didn't say anything."
Lisa eyed him. She said, "I found you, now you're it."
"I don't want to play anymore." Andrew began to walk back home. Lisa watched him as he left, and she began searching the ground for flowers and humming to herself.
Andrew came to his house. He avoided going inside because he didn't want to confront his mother while he was covered in grime. He followed the sounds of play and hubbub and found his younger brother in the backyard with his friend.
"Hi, Andrew," his brother said. He blew the brown bangs of his bowl cut out of his eyes.
Andrew answered, "Hi, Calvin." He said to his brother's friend, "Hi, Ethan."
Calvin put a toy firetruck on top of Andrew's shoe and made siren noises with his mouth. Ethan swatted a fly out of his long, curly orange hair.
"I found a cave," Andrew said. "It was really big."
Ethan pondered and said, "I bet we could use it as a clubhouse."
"Yeah!" Calvin bobbed up and down excitedly. "Like a secret one, just for us!" He said, "Mom always hears us when we go into the crawlspace."
"Do you want me to show you it?" Andrew turned and started on the way back.
Calvin called, "Hey, wait for us!"
Andrew told him, "Go get a flashlight from inside and meet us back out here." Calvin nodded and obeyed. He returned with a big, red flashlight and gave it to Andrew.
The boys ran along the grass and rocks and pushed through bramble until they found where Andrew had been playing. Lisa was still there, laying perched on top of the same boulder Andrew had been hiding behind. She said, "What are you all doing?"
Before Andrew could quiet him, Calvin said, "We're gonna explore a cave!"
Ethan added, "No girls allowed!"
Lisa demanded, "If you're exploring a cave then I wanna come with you." When they were unresponsive, "If you don't let me then I'll go tell your mom where you are."
The boys sighed. Andrew said, "Okay, you can come. But you better keep the cave a secret."
They crawled into the cave, Andrew leading them through. They stood crouched at the entrance, heads bumping against the low ceiling. The glow of the flashlight showed the cave expanding into an open space the size of a whole house. They climbed down to it and stood under the huge, dripping stalactites. Andrew shone the light around and they spotted another arm of the cave. He said, "Let's go that way."
They navigated toward it and Calvin ran ahead. He pointed out weird, iridescent mosses and the pale caps of oversized funguses. The group continued on, each child made dumbfounded by the new sights and the reverberating sounds and the sour-sweet smells of must. They heard the screechings of bats and the gentle lullabies of flowing water.
The floor of the cave became narrower, interrupted on one side by a drop that the flashlight didn't reveal the bottom of. Calvin crouched beside it, cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted into the dark, "Hullo!" His voice carried through the crevice and the cavern and it seemed as though the echoes would never go completely silent.
While he stood to join the others his foot discovered a slick rock. Andrew pointed the flashlight directly at him and cried, "No!" Calvin fell backwards, and his groping hands encountered only air. He careened into the hole.
The children hid their backs against the opposite wall. Fright paralyzed them and stopped them covering their ears against the echoes of Calvin's frenzied screams.
The echoes died, finally, and Lisa said through a stream of tears, "I want to go home."
They walked more slowly and more alert back into the large room of the cavern. The sheer ascent to the exit faced them and Andrew clambered up it first, and Lisa followed behind him. They crouched at the top and Andrew showed the way to Ethan with the light.
Ethan choked, "It's too steep. I can't do it!"
Andrew said, "It's easy. Come on, just how I did it."
Ethan swallowed his fears and grabbed at a ledge and pulled himself onto it. He stared upward at the older two and gaped at the distance still to go. His trembling hands found another grip. The flashlight shone blinding in Ethan's eyes and he shouted, and his fingers slipped. His foot caught the ledge and he tumbled backwards. Andrew's shout mingled with the collision of head with rock.
They watched the blood flow out of Ethan's head before turning away, pushing through the the grass, and standing in the glaring sunlight. Andrew shambled away and Lisa went with him. Their damp shoes squelched.
"What are we going to say happened?" Andrew glowered. He kicked a stone and it flew far away, and he didn't hear it land.
Lisa said, "Just the truth?"
When they arrived at Andrew's home the numbness had faded a little. Both of them walked in through the front door. The rushing of water sounded from the kitchen sink. Andrew's mother called, "Dinner's almost ready! Wash your hands before you come to the table!"
The pair of children came into the kitchen, where the mother had her back to them. "I didn't hear you wash," she said. She turned around and saw them. "Lisa! What're you-" she lost that thought and gasped, "How did you get to be such a mess?"
Before she could be answered, "Where's your brother?" She stole a look out the window to the backyard. "Where's Ethan?" She demanded, "Where've they gone?"
Andrew mumbled something. His mother said, "I can't hear you. Louder!"
"There was an animal!" Andrew said. "It attacked us. It took Calvin and Ethan and I think it ate them."
The mother stared at him in disbelief. Lisa opened her mouth, trying to word a correction. Before anything escaped Lisa's mouth the mother gathered herself together and scrambled to a telephone.
Andrew and Lisa could hear her frantic in the other room. "My son is missing, and his friend. Yes, this is an emergency! Yes. My son said- No, my other son. Yes!"
Andrew walked out of the house. He sat on the steps that led down from the door. Lisa came and sat beside him. She said, "Why didn't you tell the truth?"
"I don't want to get in trouble." Andrew smacked his forehead with the flashlight like a metronome. He said, "It's my fault we went in the cave. Mom always said not to go in caves." He shook with the force with which he held back tears.
Lisa stood up. She said, "I'm going to tell the truth. She should know what we did."
Andrew screeched wordlessly at her. He grabbed her ponytail before she could open the door. Lisa shouted, "Let me go! Let me go! I'll tell on you!" He swung the flashlight at her temple and she dropped unconscious onto the stairs. He stared at her, shocked, and waited for his mother to come and inquire about the yelling. When she didn't come he exhaled his dread and hurried and dragged Lisa through the lawn and to the small door that opened into the house's crawlspace.
Andrew held the flashlight firm with both hands and rammed it down onto Lisa's head until he thought she was dead. He crammed her body through the door, threw the flashlight in with her, and he closed it shut.
He returned to the stairs and sat. He cradled his head in his hands and he tore out his hair in clumps.
Andrew's mother peeked out the door and held the phone at her hip. She said, "Are you alright?" When Andrew didn't answer, "Where's Lisa gone?"
"I think she went to tell her parents."