I had never felt guilt so intense before now. I knew it was all my fault, and I knew that we were going to die because of me.
It should have been routine: take some new friends into a cave, explore, have a little fun. By no means was I an expert. Just someone who liked to live a little dangerously. I convinced them to go, and before any of us knew it, we had no idea where we were.
“Jordon, this isn’t okay, just get us out,” my friend Maya shouted. Her voice echoed from the cave walls and back into my panicked mind.
The thing was, I was so scared I could barely think. I’d been to this cave hundreds of times, I knew every twist and turn, and it really was not that large. So many summers had been spent in these tight spaces, and I had always felt completely safe. I’d literally found my way out in the dark. I should have been able to find it with five people, all with bright lights.
“I’m not doing this on purpose!” I shouted back, desperate for any kind of natural light, for a breeze, for something beside dead air. “We should cut the lights again.”
Instant repulse flooded to me from the group. “I am NOT hearing that again,” was the general response.
I remembered only too well the noises. As soon as the lights and our sounds died, they rose. Sprinting feet, scratching, heavy breathing. I understood their fear, because nothing compared to that feeling of absolute dread. It came only second to the complete powerlessness that overtook my senses.
“Well, we can’t really find natural light if ours is flooding the place!” I argued, anger replacing the panic, even though I was still horribly anxious.
“I KNOW I heard footsteps, and none of us were moving. It only happened when we turned off the lights, and I’m not taking the risk again.” Everyone nodded, but I knew they were desperate.
“I don’t want to either, but it’s the only way! Do you want to be stuck here any longer than we have to?”
With reluctance, one by one the lights died until only mine remained. It illuminated the dirty, sweaty, panicked faces of my friends, who all looked to me for guidance I now knew I had no business offering.
“Okay, I’m going to turn it off. When I do, everyone look for light. Okay?” Agreements came, and I took a deep breath.
I stood alone at the head of the group, back exposed. “I’m gonna count to three.
Before I could say the third number, a hand reached around my shoulder and pressed the flashlight switch.
“Three,” it whispered.