“Eeew. Cockroaches?” Kumai cringed. “Are you watching for cave snakes?”
“What are those?” Kirby asked.
“I dunno. Just checking.”
“The Hawaiian islands don’t have snakes.”
“Another reason to live here.” Kumai said.
“You were thinking of leaving?” Kirby asked, slowing his pace.
“Don’t slow down unless you need to.” Kumai urged, looking back. “I can still see the cave mouth.”
“Were you?” Kirby asked again.
“I had, I dunno, I had wondered where I might go next. I didn’t have a plan to leave, I just also hadn’t planned to stay.”
“And when were you planning on not staying?” Kirby asked. “And telling me about it?”
Here we go. “Kirby, I don’t have plans to go anywhere right now. Anyway, I have no idea where I would go and I don’t have a means to travel, with no employment at the moment.” She wondered why she hadn’t heard back from the resort. “I was just talking about the kinds of things that people consider about places to live. You don’t have to…” She kept herself from reassuring him. If an opportunity presented itself, she couldn’t promise that she would stay on island.
The lava tube widened so that they no longer had to duck. Kirby broke into a gentle trot. Kumai scanned for any pukas or offshoots where they could go. The lava wall was lined with ridges where the cooling magma had left shelves along each drop in flow.
When the tube opened into a larger one, she checked behind them again. She couldn’t see the entrance or any approaching flashlights. What she did see was a second dark opening behind them.
“Kirby! Check this out.”
Kirby stopped and swung his light onto Kumai, then followed the direction of her point. Behind them was the tube that they had travelled, and beside it a fork where another tube branched off to the right.
“Good work.” Kirby patted her on the shoulder. “We need to risk taking it.”
They reversed direction down the parallel vein. Kumai sensed their path bend and head North. Taking her first easy breath in a while, she allowed hope that their pursuers wouldn’t find this passage. Kirby relaxed his pace and she stretched her neck. Then she realized that he had slowed because the ceiling was getting closer. They kept going, bending over to avoid hitting their heads on the rock surface.
“Much lower and we’ll have to crawl.” Kirby whispered.
“I am not crawling over cockroaches.”
Kirby lit the floor. There was nothing but smooth black stone. “The roaches were back in that section close to the entrance.”
“Right.” She followed Kirby, thinking aloud. “Do cockroaches sniff out food?”
“Sorry.” Kirby said, distracted, “I don’t know anything about cockroach noses. We can google it when we get home.”
She sighed. She really liked the sound of home and any hint that she would see it again. She also liked that Kirby was staying so positive.
“We’re stuck.” Kirby announced.
“Let’s sit and rest.” Kumai said. “Lemme think for a minute.”
They spread the fleece blanket on the time-polished floor and sat down cross-legged. Both of them groaned about their sore muscles from being tense. “How’s the cut?” Kumai asked.
“Burned shut.” Kirby quipped. He raised his shirt to show her a clean wound with very little bleeding. “To think I’ve been ingesting alcohol all these years for pain when it’s for topical use only.” He chuckled.
Kumai smiled. She thought about her own painkiller, cocaine, and how badly she had wanted to use it yesterday. But she had forgotten. Why? She recalled the evening with Kirby and sighed louder than she intended. She also admitted to herself that she had been able to take on their attackers without any of the chemical aid she told herself she needed.
“Cocaine is a big liar.” She blurted.
“Well, yeah. It is.” Kirby agreed. “But have you tried it as, I dunno, say, foot powder?”
Kumai laughed and said, “I think it would exacerbate athlete’s foot. It’s supposed to turn its user into a fun guy.”
“Oh geez.” Kirby groaned.
“I get punchy when I’m tired.”
“I’m wiped out too.” Kirby sounded surprised. “Maybe we could just lie down for a minute.”
He illuminated the blanket with his phone and patted beside him for Kumai to lie down. She wanted to rest but she knew that her mind would not get quiet. Kirby looked pale, maybe because of the weird light. A sheen of perspiration covered him even thought the cave was cooler than outside. His cut may have stopped bleeding, but Kumai could see that his body was still on high alert. Hoping to give him some rest, she stretched out where he indicated, lying so that his wound would be up if he lay down beside her.
“What is that?” Kumai asked.
“What?” Kirby stiffened, alarmed.
“Something’s poking me.” She patted his hip.
“Oh. That’s my action figure.” He said.
“It’s a transformer toy.” Kirby laughed and shifted the contents of his pocket.
She whispered, “Well, that’s a creative name. Just so you know, if a roach crawls into my hair, I can’t vouch for how quiet I’ll be about it.”
Kirby shut off his phone, spooned behind her, and murmured. “No bugs here.”
His breathing quickly turned soft and shallow. Kumai enjoyed the press and warmth of him behind her, remembering last night. This cave could be pretty romantic, with a few modifications. Like candles. And a mattress. Definitely a perimeter of bug spray. Oh, and no murderous pursuers.
She tensed, wondering how long they had rested, seconds or minutes? Resting suddenly felt too dangerous. She slipped out from under Kirby’s arm, sat up, bent his knees so that he wouldn’t roll, and slipped around behind him to turn on her phone.
The brightness of the screen surprised her and she shushed it by holding it to her leg for a moment while her eyes adjusted. Then she quickly navigated the menus to turn off any unnecessary settings, switched on the camera LED for a light, and walked the perimeter of the cave.
Any fold in the lava could provide them with cover but she found nothing. In her imagination, she could hear talking come from the distant fork in the tubes. But she was also certain that her pursuers wouldn’t think to look behind them like she had done. The only way that they might find this route is if they decided to call off the search and took a wrong turn on their way out. She gasped at the thought. She and Kirby would be sitting ducks.
She did another quick round of searching and after circling had to admit to herself that she might be panicking. A little. Reflexively, she crouched, her back against the cave wall. Her light shone out to Kirby. He was sleeping. She walked back over to him and gently sat with her back against his. He let out a big snuffly sigh.
Letting darkness take over, she shut off her light and closed her eyes because then it felt like it should be this dark. She focused on what she knew.
When a diver is in distress, one of the first moves is to come up a level and get some pressure off. How could she come up a level in a cave if she couldn’t surface? She considered the “high water” mark of the old lava flow, which had left a distinct shelf. If it was wide enough, maybe she could crawl up there. But it was at the top of her reach. There were a few boulders in the cave that she could climb, but then what?
She turned on her light again and walked back to the cave wall. Reaching up to measure the height of the shelf, she wanted to know what might be up there before she set a hand on it. She poked her camera icon and pulled up a perfectly-lit view of an 18″ wide shelf. If they climbed up there, they would still be in plain view.
Continuing around the perimeter, she used her camera lens to check for a deeper section of the shelf. Instead, it diminished to a few inches wide, and then her camera lens went black. She lowered her blanked-out phone to shake it but now it displayed just fine her feet, her other hand, the cave wall. Again she raised it above the ridge and looked up to see a blank screen. She rotated her scan a few degrees around the right and the flow lines showed up on the screen. So she had found something, but it looked a lot like nothing. Perfect.
“Kirby.” She whispered and walked over to wake him. Kirby stirred. Unscrewing the flask lid, she took a sip then offered water to him. “Wake up please. I may have found a place to hide.”
“Okay.” He muttered and sounded like he meant it not at all. He sipped from the offered flask. He handed it back to her, stood, and winced as he gathered up the blanket. “Show me.”
Kumai showed him. He agreed it had potential, but then asked the question. “How do we get up there?”
“Yeah.” Kumai said.
“I’m pretty sure that I can lift you.” He said.
“And then?” Kumai asked.
“You hide. I will too.” Kirby turned on his phone, scanned the floor. “I can crouch behind that boulder.”
“I’m not going anywhere without you.” She said. “Do you think you can keep from reopening the wound if you stand on my back and pull yourself up on the ridge?”
“I’m not going anywhere without you either.” Kirby said.
“I’m not injured. I’ll get up there.” Kumai assured him.
“How?” He asked.
“Okay… I’ll drag over a rock for us to stand on. That way I can push from below while you pull yourself up, then you can pull me up when I follow.” She scanned the cave floor for any rock that she could actually move. A chunk lay on its long side. She dragged it and stood it on end near the place in the ridge where she had found a dark hole.
“Lemme check it out before we try anything.” Kirby offered.
“I got it.” Kumai said. “Save your strength for the climb.” Then she realized that she may have just neutered him with her show of strength. “Okay?” she asked.
“Sure.” He sat on another rock and aimed his phone light for her.
She shut off her light and pocketed her phone, shifted the rock, and tested its balance. “It’s teetery. Be sure to put your weight on your left foot because it wants to fall to the right.”
“Okay. Would you like some water?” He asked, extending the flask.
“No thanks.” Kumai said, noting that Kirby was taking her direction remarkably well. He didn’t seem threatened by her. “How would you define strength in a man, Kirby?”
“Um, well, I’m a little counter-cultural. I guess I’d say that while I enjoy having physical strength, my work has shown me that there is more to it. For everyone, not just men.”
“Yeah? What’s the more?” Kumai asked, pausing to catch her breath. She turned on her phone, stepped up on the rock, and scanned the dark space with her camera.
“I would define strength in human beings as emotional connection and the skill or capacity to handle emotions.” Kirby shrugged at his own answer. “Do you see anything?”
Yes. The strongest man I’ve ever met. “Well, even if it goes nowhere, there’s a space here to keep us out of sight.”
“That will have to do. Night’s coming and we need to rest.” Kirby stood up and asked, “How would you define strength in a woman?”
“Oh.” She stepped down from the rock and put out her hand to Kirby for him to step up. “Hm. Maybe that would be her ability to take her lumps in a male-dominated society without perpetuating the fight and without becoming bitter.”
“Or lumping all males together as the same.” Kirby added.
“Yes.” She nodded.
Kirby kissed her, brushed her nose with his, and stepped up on the stone. Kumai stabilized him with a firm grip on his backside. “Tell me how to help here.” She said.
“When I lift my right foot, push up on the bottom of it.” He instructed, “Ready?”
“Yes.” A woman’s voice answered from the tube behind them.