1 The cave
School can be a deadly battlefield full of brave and desperate students aiming to survive in a place where the word mercy is rarely mentioned. Maybe many of you don't remember what this meant since you had already passed and survived that époque of your life. Let me refresh your memory mentioning some of the things that everyone, including me, hated the most about the school. We had to spend the most active, happiest and irreplaceable years of our life in a place that many have called a prison of youth. If we had to compare the school to a prison I think it would be very easy to find the similarities between them. It would be easy to mention the high walls and cold cells from where you can´t get out unless for going to the bathroom. The daily moments in which the prisoners are permitted to go out and see the sun, though being under watch every second to maintain the control. The guards who are always ready to punish those who break the rules except when they´re too distracted to pay attention to the real problems that existed inside. There are even gangs and groups and every school has an underworld that the authorities prefer not to see nor touch. There are differences of course. At least in prisons they don´t force the prisoners to do things they don´t like the most of the time. They´re not forced to listen to boring people who think they have 25 hours a day 8 days a week only for their subjects which by the way, talk about things they won´t use in their daily life in a practical way. They don´t have to prepare for exams that sometimes decide their life or future and even if they did, well… at least the prisoners did bad things. The worst is that the most of the time the students have to face these moments in the most sensitive and critical moment of their life. Now that I´ve grown up I understand this is necessary but I´m sure many of the students that suffer this situation every day don't understand it this way.
-Economy continues rising- one of this students heard saying to his teacher in the middle of the class- slowly but steadily we´re recovering from the last years´ chaos we used to live in.
Many of the students sighed knowing that the teacher would start again with his characteristic speech about the horrible years in which their country had suffer political and economic troubles. They had heard the story many times and the most of them started to do other things to pass the time.
-He should change the song already…- one student whispered to his classmate who grinned.
Just some years ago the country had passed a terrible wave of death and destruction which left only poverty and pain behind. Even now that the dark times had gone the wounds remained opened and many more years had to pass for them to heal completely. However, the life went on and even if this new generation knew what had happened, they didn't remember the terror which ruled in the times of their parents and they lived normally. So it was normal for them to consider this an old story of traumatized old men who couldn't overcome problems that didn't exist anymore. They couldn't know.
After another hour the bell rang and the students ran to their momentary freedom which would last until the next day. However, a group of young ones stayed and gathered in a corner of the class to discuss a special task that had been offered to them. One of their best teachers had offered them the possibility to help with an investigation he was doing. The teacher had asked them to prepare a monograph about a zone inside the region where they lived. The teacher seemed to lack personal for the investigation and offered them recommendations and extra points if they agree to go with them.
-You won´t have to worry about projects or homework anymore- had assured the teacher
He mentioned they were going to a mountain known as "K'aphia" which was believed a sacred place for the belief that it was the source of mystic energy which made strange and inexplicable things to occur, being this the main reason of the choice of that place. The group had accepted and they had been given the zone they were supposed to cover which was one of the sides of the mountain.
-That's why I say the best would be to start for the below part and go up slowly- said Veronica who was the group leader.
She was a black-haired girl with white skin who had a deep and sharp look. Every time she looked at you it seemed she was examining you and everyone knew her leadership skills being able to manipulate every situation to get what she wanted.
-But doing so. Won't we get more tired?- said Cynthia- Wouldn't it be better reach the top and then going down after we set up the tents?
Cynthia was a latin girl of long black hair. Her personality was quiet most of the time. She was funny and quick-thinker. She knew how to make sharp responses. She was direct and she always said what she thought. Once she was convinced of what was right there was no human power capable of stop her.
-The most practical is going up- said Veronica- why should we lose time going to the top and then going down? We can use the day light to start taking pictures and collecting the samples the teacher has asked us.
-While we go up the night will catch us- mentioned Yenny- I think the best action would be assured the camp in the top where there is shelter and then go down…
Yenny was an Asian short and thin girl. She was the happy kind of person who just talked when was necessary. When she participated with an opinion she used to do it using solid arguments to support her idea. However she didn't complain and just followed what the group decided. She was the kind of person who adapted to the situation without take it personally.
-If we set the camp quick there won't be any problem-defended Veronica- we can use one of the many caves that there are around.
-But the camp could take time- said a male voice who didn't sound very convinced- what if it rains…?
Veronica saw the boy with impatience. When they had visual contact the boy this just put down the head and said nothing more. Carlos was a Latin tall and thin boy. He was 14 years old and had skipped a year due to his notes being the youngest in the class. However, due to his height nobody knew this and many people believed he was older and aggressive and were fearful of him. However, his personality had never been violent but passive. He preferred talking to fighting and he tried to get along with everyone which made others take advantage of him a lot of times. He was part of the school basquetball team. He was a daydreaming boy who usually was lost in his own thoughts and he was deeply in love with Veronica and he was trying to have her favor every time he could. However, we must say he totally failed the most of the time. In short words, Veronica's presence stunned him and he didn't know how to react and he was frankly obvious.
- We can set the camp fast, right Enrique?-asked Veronica to the other guy of the group
-…Mmm…hum…-agreed Enrique raising the look after a long time- yeah, we can do it… there's no problem…
Enrique was a thin guy who had a white skin so pale that looked as if he had always live in the shadows. He had a rebel hair and used glasses. He was a very smart but carefree boy who always seemed to be thinking in something. He normally had the eyes lost in the distance and he was a little gone. He was what many would call a guy of few words. However, he always listened and was alert and had many practical abilities that made him a "surprise box." Even though he looked weak physically, he was very fast and had quick reflexes. Enrique preferred not complicate the things so he always said yes to anything other people asked to him so he just agreed with Veronica.
-Yes… thinking about it better… it's true- said Carlos trying to win points with Veronica and laughing nervously-… if we do it quick there won't be any problem…
Cynthia sighed with exasperation. Yenny raised the eyebrows like saying "I knew it." Veronica smiled with satisfaction knowing that now she had the majority of votes.
-It's decided then- said she with confidence- tomorrow we depart at 7:00. Bring all the materials you are in charge and don't be late.
The truth was that Carlos was in favor of Cynthia's idea. It was logic taking in consideration that the top was the main zone of the investigation and there was a high risk of rain for the season. Furthermore, it was better to leave the heavy and valuable objects safe in the camp to be taking them slowly all the way up. But Carlos decided to support Veronica because of his feelings and not his logic. In the way to the bus stop all were talking except for Enrique. The girls chatted about many things and Carlos tried to participate in the conversation as much as he could. However, he tried to direct the attention too much to himself to attract Veronica's attention, not noticing this only had opposite effect.
Everyone said good bye and Carlos and Veronica were left alone. There was a momentary silence.
- Nice night, right?-said Carlos he thought it was a cliché phrase but he didn't get other idea in the moment.
- Yes, hehe-replied Veronica-I hope tomorrow all goes right. This is a rare and nice opportunity. We can't let it pass.
- I'm sure all will be ok-answered Carlos quickly trying to use a deeper and more mature voice- we have passed for more difficult situations and we have always been victorious.
-Yes, but there are always non planned things. Don't you remember what happened with the "Boas" group in the same project?-said Veronica and Carlos laughed remembering.
-Yeah but, that was just bad luck-said he- Poor Noelia… you remember her face?
-Don't be bad-said Veronica laughing- poor of her…
They laughed together for a long time until the bus arrived and Veronica had to go. They said good bye and Carlos returned his house walking. He felt they had a great chemistry and he was sure it was only matter of time. With a huge smile he continued walking. As they say: There's not worse blind than the one who doesn't want to see.
-How was the school?- asked Carlos' mother when she arrived home after she gave him a kiss of welcome- all went fine?
-Yeah- said Carlos smiling- there were no problems at all, mom.
-I'm glad to hear it- said she- I'll prepare the dinner.
-Just rest- said Carlos- I'm already doing it.
Her mother smiled and thanked him but she went and helped him anyway. Carlos would have preferred her to rest but he knew her mother wouldn't. She had a great sense of responsibility and she started to wash the vegetables while talking with Carlos.
-How was the job?- said Carlos even though he knew what she would say.
-Nothing new- she said- the same as usual.
Carlos knew that even if she had had a terrible day she wouldn't say it. She would always show a smile and a strong image before him and his little brother. She knew she was the pillar of the family and she would always be the perfect example of strength and stability. Carlos sighed but said nothing, he had his function as well. He had to be the perfect child for the perfect mother and he was honored to be it. There was nothing besides that in which he could help after all…
-You helped me a lot, Carlos- said she like guessing what he was thinking- so don't let it affect you, ok?
Carlos just nodded but inside he felt a huge pain. Her mother had had a hard life and he knew it well. She was born the 7th in a big family of eight brothers and sisters. In such a big family she couldn't ask for the best and the attention was very little since her parents were always working and always gave them the necessary. Her brothers had gone home very fast and the sisters started to do their own life. The older sister that was with her always was pretending to suffer from cardiac problems so she didn't have to do anything in the house and the last sister was the baby of the family so since very young her mother had to be responsible for the house and she was always being pressured to be the best student in her class. For years she had to bear a lot of stress and pressure from their sisters but the limit arrived when she committed a mistake and she preferred to run away from home. She decided this and as all her decisions she didn't hesitate. She traveled to many cities escaping from her family which had a lot of connections and power. She started to work in many things like secretary and cashier since she was very good with numbers and speaking. She had a high level in social skills and wherever she went she found honest and kind people who were ready to help her. Many of them were still her friends and Carlos used to call them "aunts" even when they were not related by blood. In one of these cities she met the person who would be her husband and they had two children being Carlos the eldest.
-Where's Arturo?- asked Marisol which was her mother's name- he hasn't returned from his training?
-The competition will be next week so he must be having double training.
His brother was in the basketball team in elementary school just like Carlos was in the high school team. He thought in his brother and he felt sad for him. His family had been very happy for six years but then just after his brother was born, his father met another woman and decided to abandon the one he had until the moment. He decided to think in other thing since the thought of his father always brought a bitter taste since he only remembered good things about him and couldn't understand why he had done so. His mother had never talked wrong about him and just focused in raising her two sons alone. She never remarried even when she was very attractive and Carlos was sure there were many pretenders.
-"I don't have time for that"- she had said and Carlos hadn't asked further- "don't worry about it and just focus in enjoy your life and finish your studies."
She had raised two boys alone for nine years and even if she had suffered for that, she had never showed it and she was an example for Carlos and his brother. Carlos felt once again that nasty feeling of impotence and regret that was becoming more and more regular lately. He wished he could help more, especially economically and he was already looking for small jobs to start somehow but he knew this may be just drops in the ocean.
-"Tell me your day"- said Carlos serving the dinner looking at that woman with worshipping eyes.
-"You first"- she said showing a radiant smile.
An amazing feeling of peace filled his heart and he promised again. He was just a powerless boy that couldn't help with debt paying or support her economically but at least he could give her peace of mind by being a good student and prepare for when he could return all she had done for him.
- "Someday… someday I'll compensate her"
The next day they departed to the Mount K'aphia, on the way there Veronica sat next to Enrique to discuss some topics related to the project. Cynthia and Yenny were talking and Carlos was alone looking to the window. He sighed regretting his luck. He really had wanted to travel with Veronica and talk about anything but as usual she had gone to Enrique. He was his friend but he couldn't stop feeling jealous since in comparison with him, Carlos wasn't useful at all. Many times he used to get lost in his imagination where he did heroic and impressive acts which impressed Veronica and they finished together. He did this because sometimes the fantasy world was more merciful and there you can do and be whoever you want. He also used these moments as inspiration to write stories and novels. He was in one of this fantasies when a voice returned him to the reality abruptly.
-So, any progress in your crusade for love?-asked Cynthia who looked at him expectantly.
Carlos looked at her puzzled and he noticed what she referred after a while. He felt his ears burn.
-I knew it-said Cynthia and with Yenny they smiled- There was no advance… ay Carlos… you're so obvious.
-Don't bother me-said Carlos totally red but the girls continued for some minutes.
-But Carlos- said Cynthia- do you really like her so much?
Carlos didn't answer but his face answered "yes, a lot". He just wanted to avoid Veronica listen to the conversation.
- Just leave me alone.
-Ok, ok-said Cynthia and she stayed in silence for a moment but then her eyes changed and showed worried- but Carlos… don't make a lot of illusions… you could be hurt in the end…
Carlos had thought in that many times. Could really a common and normal boy like he have any chance to be with someone like Veronica who came from a powerful and wealthy family? He had to accept she never had shown any trace of romantic interest on him. It was like an expensive flower that he could not afford even after selling everything he had. But his male pride and the hope which every in loved man has encouraged him to think that he would get her love by try harder.
-"Even in the novels the MC can get the girl even if she comes from a celestial family"- he thought- "they just have to give their best. I know that if I give my best I'll win her heart and make her family recognize me."
He was still in this delusion when they arrived to the place. They took their things and immediately started to take pictures and collect samples of plants and rocks. Enrique as usual climbed to the highest rocks to take panoramic pictures not paying attention to the continuous "careful" which Veronica and Carlos. Carlos had to recognize his friend was amazing and there was no place he couldn't reach and just climbed everything like a monkey with an incredible agility.
- I wish he didn't do that- said Veronica with a worried voice and Carlos wished she were referring to him. However, he controlled these thoughts and understood her worry and he continued with his part of the job.
The day passed very fast and the light started to diminish. The problem was that they hadn't even reached a 30% of the zone and they hadn't found any good place to camp. The tiredness was starting to affect the group and Carlos begged for a good place to show. He saw the sky.
- "I don't like those clouds"- he thought- "I hope we can find something before it rains."
Unfortunately, it started to rain not long after and they were obligated to look for any shelter they could find. The wind and the rain were so strong they could barely see a thing. After run up the mount for 5 minutes they found a cave almost at the top of it. Enrique checked that there was safe and they put all their things down. They were hungry, tired and totally soaked.
-We should assemble the tents-said Carlos and Veronica looked at him as if he were blaming her.
-Unless you want us to sleep on the floor and get frozen to death I think so-said Veronica in a very surly manner.
Carlos felt angry. Why the hell did she talk to him like that? Who had had the great idea of going up slowly in first place? He was about to tell her that but he somehow controlled himself. Everyone was angry and it was natural. He said no more and started to make the tents with Enrique, but he was sure this wouldn't be the last conflict of the night.
-It's a pity we didn't collect wood first-said Cynthia. Her voice was filled with an obvious dose of sarcasm that everyone noticed. Carlos sighed since he had been correct.
-If you have something to tell-said Veronica glaring at Cynthia with huge animosity- Just say it!
-I think I did! - replied Cynthia also looking at Veronica.
-You should have told it before then- said Veronica whose face was totally red.
-Would have it be of any use?- replied Cynthia who was really angry.
-Girls please stop- said Carlos trying to calm them down- the tents are ready and I think we should change clothes and try to sleep before we got pneumonia.
The girls got into the tent. You could see sparkles going out from their eyes. Carlos was sure the matter won't finish there, but at least it would continue far from him. Along with Enrique they entered the tent and they tried to get into their sleeping bags. But the cold didn't show any mercy and he couldn't sleep. He heard Cynthia calling and they went to their tent which was with light.
- Come in- They greeted and they saw they had food and hot coffee. They had brought an oil lamp.
They ate and played a lot, it seemed Veronica and Cynthia had made up their differences. Now they laughed and played normally. All was really funny until they started to play "drunken bottle," a game in which you made roll the bottle and the person who is pointed with the head of the bottle can punish or ask anything to any person. In a moment someone asked Veronica her idea of ideal boy.
-Mature, intelligent, independent, strong… in short, interesting-said she thinking, then she changed her face- but what I really dislike… I'd say I hate is a mother-dependable boy… who is always talking about his mother… who is always boasting and talking too much.
The rest looked at Carlos. The direct was definite. Veronica looked at him analyzing waiting to see what kind of reaction he would show. Carlos just smiled but his face showed such an expression that all the people around noticed his anger and frustration. Afterwards, They changed the topic. Carlos also continued acting normal trying to hide his outrage. However, he didn't know that the others knew perfectly how he really was.
-Calm down- said for himself- she's only kidding… she is not serious.
After some minutes more it was time to sleep and the guys went out the tent. Carlos decided to be alone and told Enrique he was going to check the cave. Enrique insisted in going with him and he had to accept. They advanced with a flashlight in hand and they were in silence. It was always like that, normally the one who started a conversation was Carlos and then they finished having a nice chatting. But now Carlos was not in humor.
-…Veronica… sometimes she passes the line with her jokes. Right?- said Enrique and Carlos noticed he was trying to cheer him up.
-Yeah…-said Carlos- she's like that and sometimes she's just too much. But I suppose she doesn't try to hurt.
Enrique was in silence and said a soft "mmh". They advanced a little more "If what Veronica said is true then she likes the bad guys," thought Carlos. Then they stopped and paid attention. They heard a sound coming from the depth of the cave. It was like an intermittent buzz. The boys looked at each other and nodded. If there was something dangerous they should go and check. They noticed that the sound was growing noisier as they went deeper. Carlos put his hand on the wall and it shone. Not only that part but all the wall of the cave was now shining in a glowing violet and the sound changed into a one which reminded the hit of the sea waves. The boys were immobile for the surprise.
-Damn… damn…-thought Carlos. His legs were shaking and it looked like he was stick to the floor- move… move… MOVE!!
From the depth of the cave a huge mass of light dashed to them an in a second all the place was covered in light. Carlos and Enrique felt the floor disappeared and they started to fall. Carlos screamed trying to control the horrible feeling of emptiness in his stomach and the whirl in his head.
-What???- the desperation got over Carlos- WHAT IS THIS? A DREAM? IF IT IS… WAKE UP NOW!!!!
He felt an itchy feeling in his limbs and he saw how his arms and legs were slowly disintegrating. Carlos only could see with horror without being able to do a thing.
-I… I'm going to… die?- He lost the conscience and felt being swallowed by the cold and darkness. After some seconds he felt and knew no more.