Panic was mounting an attack inside Penelope’s chest. Where is everyone? She thought to herself. “Hey, guys, where are you?” Penelope yelled. “Hello, anybody there?” But there was no answer.
Penelope could see nothing in the darkness. It was like a silent pause just before death, everything gone black. She stuck out both arms in a mummy-like stance and spread her feet wide for balance, not trusting the ground that she knew was just there a moment ago. She teetered a little, trying to accustom herself to the blindness and the instability darkness brought. Her eyes seemed to fight her brain, they continued to strain, trying to find something to grasp onto.
Her nose was alive though. For the first time in her life she smelled everything. She could smell the mildew and wet algae and the minerals as they penetrated her nostrils, bringing her into an animal-like trance. She could smell her own body, sweat penetrating her clothes despite the cool air. She could smell her own panic like a predator could smell its prey during pursuit.
Her ears seemed to perked up, wolf-like. She could hear the pitter patter of tiny water droplets inching their way down stalactites, finding solace on the floor, plinking into a small pool of like-minded drops. She almost thought she could hear human snickering, barely perceptible, leagues away. Everything sounded hollow though and pinpointing direction was all but impossible as echoes abounded.
She could feel nothing, even though she groped and stretched. She decided to take baby steps, just shuffling along. The fear of tripping or falling over the edge of a precipice was nearly insurmountable. Each step was agony for her brain, and rightly so. The panic of being blind after a lifetime of sight was almost too much for her system to bear, but her desire was pulling her along, driven by the natural instinct to live another day.
She seemed to go on like this forever, inching ever so slightly, probing her surroundings, senses screaming. At last, her hand struck something hard. She reached out hesitantly with both arms and found a cave wall, slick and moist from rivulets of water and microscopic plant growth. Her hands explored all directions. Relying on the buzz of her instincts, she decided to move right. Her feet shuffled sideways, bobbing along the uneven surface. Her hands were spread-eagle on the wall, rubbing each smoothed indention along the way as if they were trying to read Braille.
Suddenly, her outside foot folded over a deep crease in the cave floor and Penelope fell, slamming down to the ground, every inch of her body battered by the jagged rocks. Her ankle felt like a rubber band that had been stretched to its breaking point and her hip throbbed in protest. Bruised and beaten, Penelope cried out for help.
This time her cries for help were answered. Far off in the distance she heard a female voice scream, “Just hold on, we will be there in a second.” The sounds of clattering feet drawing near were a welcome noise. Light suddenly beamed in Penelope’s face as flash lights encircled her.
“Geez Penelope, we were just messing around. Why did you go freaking out and get yourself all bunged up?” said Robert. Penelope was raging on the inside and wanted to jump up and punch Robert in the face but she was still smarting from the fall.
“Yeah, dumbass, we were just playing a joke!” added Veronica.
Penelope just lay there unable to believe what she was hearing. Suddenly she screamed, “What kind of F’IN joke do you think that is… when you disappear and leave someone alone in a cave without a flashlight! I… I could have died or something. I think you guys suck, that’s what I think! And if I didn’t need help right now I’d be outta here.”
“Sorry Penelope, you are right that was pretty crappy of us” admitted Tim. “Let’s get you up and back to the car.”
Everyone chimed in with “sorry”, “our bad”, and other expressions of regret. Penelope felt a little better; she could dole out her fair share of bad jokes sometimes too.
“Alright guys, lift me up,” said Penelope. The group of friends grasped onto Penelope and hoisted her upright. Tim and Robert got under each of her armpits and they all hobbled toward the exit.
As they reached the mouth of the cave, sunlight streamed in every direction, birds were singing in their shrill voice and all was right with the world. The friends chuckled together, laughing off the unease and breathing in the wide world. Penelope sighed and her shoulders shuddered, releasing all of her tension.