As Kirby turned to see who had spoken, his right foot lifted. On cue, Kumai pushed from below. Kirby, surprised by sudden levitation, stabilized himself on the rock ledge and swung his legs up beside him. He lay on his belly and reached down for Kumai.
The cave was lit by a strange halo around Kirby’s face-down phone on the dirt floor and a discotheque lashing of light from their pursuer’s flashlight as she ran toward them.
“Kumai, grab my hands.” Kirby whispered.
Kumai looked up to see Kirby’s extended arms. Maybe she would make it. She leapt up on the stepping slab, keeping her weight on her left foot.
The woman behind her lashed out at Kumai’s legs with a knife, just missing the achille’s tendon. Kumai could hear the blade whistle as it sliced through the air and returned for another strike. Kumai kicked out in the Tae Kwan Do that a babysitter had taught her as a kid. The woman ducked like she had taken the same class. Kumai couldn’t remember how to do any other moves, so she improvised.
Her steps were a delicate right-left as she pushed up on the stone step, using its falling momentum to launch her. She jumped up to grab Kirby. She circled her leg inward to make a reverse-direction kick and connected with the woman’s jaw. A loud crack combined with Kumai’s landing “ugh.”
The slab fell onto the woman’s foot. She screamed, dropped the flashlight, and yelled, “Bud! Get in here. I’m stuck.”
Kumai looked down at the woman’s face and hissed, “You.”
“Let’s go.” Kirby said and got up on his knees. “Get out your phone.”
She illuminated a crawling-height tunnel. They went in. Kirby asked, “Do you know that woman?”
“She was the new stewardess on a yacht in Kona.” Where I was poisoned.
Fresh air wafted up from their left as the tunnel met up with another larger tube. “The makai breezes.” Kirby whispered.
“Phew.” Kumai sighed. “We’re gonna make it out of here.”
They stood up in the larger tube. Kumai winced as she stretched, feeling the sting of a fresh cut on her leg.
Kirby led the way toward the gently moving air. Soon the light grew to a glow and Kumai could shut off the LED. “Wait. Any signal?” Kirby asked, looking at her screen.
She turned on the wireless setting and waited. After multiple messages that several of her applications wanted to update, the phone stopped playing with itself and presented the message NO SERVICE.
“How much battery did that use up?” He grumbled.
“It said 47% when I turned off the light. Now I’m at 35%.” She turned off her phone.
Kumai sucked in a deep breath of clean air, stepped to the ledge, then stepped back. Kirby tossed a rock over without looking. His eyes widened when he didn’t hear the rock hit any ground below.
“Yup.” Kumai said, sitting down to swing her legs over the ledge. “Dead end.”
“Let’s not say dead.” Kirby suggested. “End of the trail. We can still go uphill in this cave.”
“True.” Kumai nodded and sighed. She didn’t want to go back in there. But Kirby was right.
As they watched, the sun sank toward the distant horizon. She asked, “Wanna watch for a green flash?”
“Might as well.” Kirby sat cross-legged beside her, staying back from the ledge.
“Did you say that Susan is the owner of Kealoha Ranch?” Kirby asked.
“The Susan that I met at your house?”
“Yeah, why?” She asked.
“I guess I pictured her as Hawaiian. The Coconut Wireless in Waimea is buzzing with news that Kealoha Ranch will be accepting proposals for Ahupua’a homesteads. Word is that the new owner wants to return the ranch to the Kama’aina way.”
“What’s that?” Kumai asked.
“Where we belong to the land, not the other way around. People are already proposing taro farms, hala orchards and other crops, and small communities.”
“Here it comes.” Kumai pointed to the sun sinking into the sea.
“I’ve never seen a green flash.” Kirby admitted.
“You’ve lived in Hawaii your whole life? Well, it does only happen over water.”
“That explains it.” Kirby said. “I try to be surrounded by land at sundown.”
“Sorry to spoil your record, Cowboy.”
“Nobody I’d rather see my first with than you.”
They watched as the sun’s coin melted to a single drop of gold and with a tiny burst of green light marked the end of this day.
“See you on the other side.” Kumai said to the sun.
“We hope. Better chance of that if we keep moving.” Kirby said. “Ready?”
“Is this the last minute?” She sat on the ledge. “Cuz that’s when I’m usually ready.”
“Pretty close.” Kirby said and held out his hand. She swung her legs up on the ledge and stood. “Your leg. You have a cut.”
“It’s okay. Just stings.” She brushed off her backside and looked at his outstretched hand. “I’m okay, I got up.”
“Actually,” he said, “I was asking for your phone.”
“No way.” Kumai said. She squeezed his hand. “I’ll be in charge of that. Your phone is back in that cave if you want to have a light.”
“Sheesh.” Kirby tried to release her hand but she held on.
“Is this where you draw the line on women taking the lead?” She asked and stepped in front of him with a sideways grin.
“Well, I just wanted to be the first to go into any danger.”
“That’s actually very thoughtful. But I think those people will be occupied for tonight.” She drew him close and nuzzled up to kiss him.
He turned his head away and studied her for a moment.
She wondered if he was battling with his new awareness that she might leave the island some day. Or her taking the lead. Or… “Let’s enjoy the evening air.” She pulled him inside the cave mouth to where the floor debris lessened. He spread out the blanket. Gently and carefully she removed his shirt, then pulled her shirt overhead and off. The fragrant air caressed them with warmth.
Kirby sighed and shook his head. “You.”
“And you.” She unbuttoned his pants and let them drop.
“Wait.” He said. “I need something from the pocket.”
“Your Power Ranger?” She asked.
“No. I carry that on me at all times. I just need his super-power cape.”
“You also carry that with you?”
“I bought some earlier when we stopped for petrol.”
“What a boyscout.” She knelt down on the blanket and handed him his pants. While he fished for what he needed, she did too.
Later when she stirred from a gentle sleep, the parabola of visible sky had changed from bright to dark grey. “What if the sky is actually some stretchy stuff covering the globe and it has little pinholes all over in it?” Kumai asked.
“And what would the sun be?” Kirby asked in a sleepy voice.
“A big hole. And the moon would be a partial hole-punch that still has its flap attached. So it sometimes closes up.”
“And you say that I have an interesting way of viewing the world.” Kirby chuckled. “What if the sky is actually a big sphere of outward gravity and somebody tripped when they were carrying a bunch of tiny lights?”
“And the sun is…?”
“Gone for today, so we need to get moving.” Kirby’s voice was tinged with regret.
Kumai liked it here too. The soft glow of starlight and the continued warmth of the night air invited her to linger. But the fact that she had awakened to scurrying noises and that those noises seemed to be increasing made her more inclined to stand up, get dressed, and get moving.
“You’re moving fast. Is it the last minute?” Kirby asked.
“This cave is coming alive in the dark.” Kumai turned on her phone and illuminated rats scurrying along the ledge at the cave mouth. “Oh, rats.”
“D’you forget something?” He asked.
“What?” He leapt up. “What’s wrong?”
She lit the edges and corners of the cave.
Everywhere they looked something slithered away, ducked back into a puka, or scurried out of sight.
“Time to move on.” Kirby said, shaking out Kumai’s shirt while he kicked away the centipede. He handed the top to her and said, “Your leg is still bleeding. May I take a look at it?”
She nodded yes. He examined the cut on the back of her calf, started kissing the back of her thigh, then her bottom.
“This isn’t really an environment conducive to lingering.” She said. “Let’s get ourselves out of here and home to a proper bed.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Kirby stood up. “Thank you for sharing yourself with me.”
Kumai turned as he embraced her. “My pleasure.” She said, “No. Really.”
She shook out the blanket and he stuffed it back into the KTA bag asking, “Do we have any water left?”
Kumai handed him the canteen. “A few drops.”
Kirby put the container into the grocery bag. “Then let’s save it.”
They reentered the dark cool of the cave. Kumai had to pretend that she was night diving so that she would not run back to the opening for fresh air. She heard a trickling noise and saw a faint glow of silver light. Both increased as they walked deeper into the tube.
“I think we’re coming to a grotto.” Kirby whispered.
“I would call it a burial site.” Kumai said. She stepped to the side and lit up skeletons along the tube ledge. “They were placed here very carefully. And look at all these artifacts!”
“Those feather capes are priceless. And the kapa is still intact.” Kirby walked over to a collection of stones and sticks. “Weapons, poi pounders…”
“How has this site stayed undisturbed?” Kumai asked, studying a curved stone that must have been a tool.
“Good question.” Kirby said. “Let’s leave it that way.”
“I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.”
“May we be so fortunate as to have the chance.” Kirby pointed in the direction of the trickling noise. “Let’s see where that’s coming from. It might be fresh spring water and I’m getting seriously thirsty.”
They left the burial site and walked toward the babble of water. The tunnel roof opened out to a star-covered cave-in, with vines and ferns draping down from above. Kumai reached up for the dangling roots and pulled to see if they would bear any weight. They came down in a tumble of rocks to join the rubble on the cave floor.
Kirby picked his steps through a shallow pool to a rivulet of water that seeped from a crack. He held the canteen mouth to the water. “Come get a drink.” he said, chugging down the first fill.
Kumai stepped carefully through the water. She shut off her light and let her eyes adjust. The cold water stung her throat as she guzzled, then she handed Kirby the empty flask to fill again. They stood and drank to their fill. “Why would they lower bodies here?” She asked. “It seems like an unlikely site.”
“This cave-in used to be part of the tube we were in. The ceiling fell when the rock structure collapsed.” Kirby looked up.
So did Kumai. She moved away to stand out from under the arch of lava that formed the top of the tube if it had continued across. She turned on her light to better search for signs of collapse.
“The sky looks light. Must be a full moon coming up.” Kirby said. He waited a moment, then continued, “So… you might want to save your phone battery for when we really need it.”
“Oh.” Kumai said. “I was just checking the tube structure…” She lowered the phone to turn it off.
“Wait.” Kirby said. “Shine it up there again? If the tube continued before the cave in, then we might have a way through there.” He pointed to the top of a rock pile where the arch curved in a dark frown.
He sealed the full canteen and they both scrambled up the rock pile. At the top was a narrow gap just wide enough to belly crawl through. Kumai sighed and headed in, hoping she could catch herself if she started falling headfirst. Kirby must have had the same thought because he followed with a grip on her ankle. She stopped suddenly.
“What is it?” Kirby asked.
“Do you want to lead after all?” She asked.
“Kumai, there isn’t room to trade places.” He whispered.
“Go back, then?” She squeaked.
“I hate to tell you, but I think we are beyond the last minute. I hear others talking behind us. What’s the problem?” He asked.