Melissa - Page 227


The cold air of evening makes you shiver as you hike through the woods. Your wet shoes squish with every uncomfortable step. Great, you think, they're probably ruined.

Darren marches swiftly up the steep incline of the mountainside, seemingly following some unknown trail in his head.

"Where are you going?" You ask, looking for whatever it is that Darren is following. His legs keep pumping as he ascends the hill. If he heard you, he doesn't show it.

"Darren!" You yell. Stopping to catch your breath. Finally, he turns and looks at you. His eyes are full of an emotion you don't recognize. Fury? Rage? Sorrow? Whatever it is, it terrifies you.

"I don't know, Melissa," his voice cracks as he attempts to whisper past a growing lump in his throat. Fear. That's what lurks behind his eyes. You've never seen Darren afraid before and it unsettles you to the core of your being. You've watched every one of his football games and he has always been the pinnacle of calmness under pressure. Never afraid, never panicking - now, fear seeps from his body like a foul aroma.

"There's some sort of trail here," he manages to say, pointing to an almost indecipherable path at his feet.

"Probably some sort of deer trail," you say, but you don't find any hoof prints. Scraggly pine trees scratch at your wet shirt as you take a step closer to Darren. "We're going to make it," you reassure him with a hand on his muscled shoulder.

Darren pulls away and continues up the mountain without another word. Fine, be that way. The more time you spend with the love of your life, the more you begin to resent him. Maybe tonight, if you can find someplace to sleep, things will be different. Maybe.

Hours after nightfall, you reach the top of the mountain. Darren ducks into the low opening of a cave and sits down, rubbing his weary eyes. "We can figure things out in the morning," he says, never meeting your eyes.

"Darren, look," you point to the back of the cavern. The natural structure extends twenty or so feet and then turns abruptly. The darkness is so thick that you can barely make out walls. "Let's see where it leads. I don't want to accidentally sleep in the same cave as a bear or something."

Darren slumps down against the side of the cavern and shakes his head. His fear is still plainly stamped on his face. "You can check it out," he halfheartedly replies. "I'm going to sleep."

"Fine," you sigh. So much for keeping each other warm through the night.

You place your right hand along the wall of the cavern and take timid steps into the darkness. The air is cool, like you expected, but an unfamiliar smell permeates the air. It grows stronger when you turn the corner and continue down the next section of the cave. "Barbecue?" You wonder, trying to place the pungent aroma. It isn't quite familiar to you, but something about it reminds you of pulled pork from one of those parking lot smokers that are so popular in the summer.

You continue to walk and the corridor gets tighter and tighter. You have to stoop down on your hands and knees to continue as the passageway takes another turn. Finally, the narrow stone pathway ends. You feel all around in front of you, unable to even see your own hand.

Your foot inches forward and feels a gap in the floor. You blindly grope the opening with one hand. There's a hole in the cave floor. It feels big enough for you to fit through and deep enough that you can't feel the bottom with your arm. Darren isn't going to do anything, I might as well explore a little.

You swing your feet over the hole and push off, falling through the opening. 


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