I won another award! In February, 2016, I won 1st Place in the Non-fiction Short Story category for the Warm the Winter Writing Contest held by the American Night Writers Association (ANWA.) Here’s my entry:
Hiking in the Dark
“How can there be a cave if there aren’t any mountains around here?” Kate squinted under the noon-day sun, as she searched the pine trees of the, admittedly, flat forest.
My husband, Ken, smiled knowingly as he led the way down the dirt pathway. “You’re just going to have to trust me. This isn’t my first girl’s camp hike.”
Kate shook her head. “But there’s nothing here except trees and rocks and …. Oh.” Her nose wrinkled in confusion as she stopped and stared ahead. She stood still for a moment which allowed a few more young women in the group to catch up to her.
She looked up at Ken. “A hole in the ground. That’s our big, exciting cave?”
“Trust me, Kate. Have I ever led you astray?” Wisely, my practical joker husband, didn’t wait around for an answer, but strode forward toward the ring of jagged rocks around the opening.
Most of the girls stopped at the information sign and one of them read aloud. “Lava River Cave … just over ¾ of a mile long … formed about 675,000 years ago when molten lava flowed through this area and created a tube as it hardened.”
Kate looked at the map with her eyes wide. “It looks like a big, long rattlesnake.”
“Yeah. With something huge in its stomach,” another girl added, pointing to the part of the map which showed the cave branching off and then meeting back up with the main tube a short distance later.
“Well, if that’s a rattlesnake,” Ken said, with a mischievous grin, as he rejoined the group, “Come see its fangs.”
Several of the girls shuddered at the thought, but they all followed him slowly toward the sharp rocks around the funnel-shaped opening that led down into darkness, the gaping mouth of a long, snaking cave.
With a gleam in his eyes, Ken spoke to the whole group, who had gathered around, staring down into the black hole. “Since this cave is open to the public, it might appear to be a harmless garden snake, but don’t forget that every snake has fangs. If you dare to climb down into the belly of the cave, make sure that you are prepared with a flashlight … or two or three … because once you climb down into the cave’s mouth, the sunlight disappears and you are left in unforgiving blackness.”
The group shuddered and huddled closer together.
“Now you’re just scaring them,” I reprimanded my husband, teasingly. “This hike will be fun.”
“Does everyone have at least two flashlights?” Ken asked.
The girls all nodded.
“Then let’s be snake food. Follow me.” Ken began slowly picking his way down the sloping boulder pile.
Gradually, as we descended the rock slide a few hundred feet into the hole, the glaring sunlight faded, and then dimmed. Light disappeared completely about the time the boulders grew smaller, the floor leveled off, and the cavern opened up.
By that time, we all had our flashlights out, sweeping the cavern. Kate tapped her flashlight on her hand, trying to make the beam brighter. It flickered and dimmed more. Then it died.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I brought a back-up light.”
I pointed my light to allow her to dig the second flashlight out of her backpack. When the bright beam clicked on, she scanned the cavern. The cave floor was littered with jagged rocks, while the half-circle ceiling soared above, speckled with black bats. After a while of hiking over sharp rocks, the cave shifted again. The ceiling descended until we had to stoop to keep from hitting foreheads in the darkness. More than once, I bumped my head on a low-hanging rock formation while pointing the light at my feet. It took concentration to look ahead, above, and below at the same time.
We caught up to girls waiting where the passageway divided from the main tube.
“Which way do we go?” Kate asked Ken.
“I told you, it doesn’t matter,” another girl chimed in. “Both tunnels meet back up further on.”
“True,” Ken added. “But the route to the left is the easier way.”
The girls consulted in whispers, before a larger group followed Ken into the smaller passageway to the right and a few girls went with me to the left.
Knowing my husband, I was expecting … something … when we met again, but I still startled when a group of screaming girls jumped out of the dark, flashlights off, a few minutes later. They all giggled through the last area, where they rock- hopped over large fissures that ran the length of the cave floor. The tube ended, rather anti-climatically, at another rock pile, a cave-in almost a mile in.
While our group sat to rest on a ring of boulders at the end, my husband suggested that the girls turn off their lights and experience total darkness. It was an odd feeling, knowing that my hand was right in front of my face, but not being able to see it. Then, he asked them to be silent for a moment. Once the giggles settled down, there was a quiet that came in the pitch dark that was unnerving.
Ken used this moment in the dark to teach. “Each of us walk in darkness through this life, trying to avoid the boulders and low passageways which threaten to trip us up or knock us down. We don’t want surprises. We don’t want doubts or fear. We want to walk in light to guide us in our journey. We want to know our future path. But in Corinthians, Paul reminded us, “For we walk by faith, not by sight ….”
“So,” he asked, “How is walking by faith different than walking by sight?”
“We have to trust Heavenly Father,” one young voice, in the dark, replied.
“And ask for inspiration,” another voice added. “And because Heavenly Father loves us, He’ll flash the light ahead and show us the direction we should travel.”
“You’re both right,” Ken agreed. “And the main difference between walking by faith and walking by sight is that Heavenly Father’s plan isn’t to leave the light on.”
“What do you mean?” another voice asked. Kate, I thought.
Ken continued. “When we ask in faith, God gives us the inspiration to light the way ahead a few steps. Then He asks us to walk forward in the direction that He has guided us.
“Into the darkness.
“Step by agonizing step.
The girls were silent in the dark.
My experiment with my hand prompted me to ask a question. “So, in darkness so deep that we can’t see our hand in front of our face, how do we know that we are still on the right path?”
Ken explained. “As we walk forward, still praying for light, every once in a while God gives us another flash of inspiration that lets us see a little further ahead. But he doesn’t give us more light until we’ve taken a few steps into the darkness.”
“That’s why,” I added, “We often feel the burning of testimony after we’ve said the words.”
“Or gain a testimony of tithing only after we pay it,” a girl chimed in.
“And of the Word of Wisdom only after we live it,” another added.
“But sometimes doubt and fear overwhelm us,” Ken continued, “And we stop moving forward. We wait for the light to appear, not understanding that faith, not fear, is required for us to receive additional light.”
My bumped forehead prompted another question. “So, as we are hiking forward into the dark, how do we know we won’t run into a boulder or bruise our head on a low ceiling?
The girls, of course, had the answers.
“We trust Him to clear our path.”
“We trust Him to warn us of dangers.”
Ken then let the girls experiment with walking forward into the dark after only a flash of light. After everyone had a turn, we turned on our lights and picked up our things. Most of the girls, hurried ahead, eager to finish the hike and return to the sunlight at the entrance.
When Kate, who was already on her second flashlight, went to turn it on, her flashlight wouldn’t work, despite shaking it and thumping it against her hand again. In a bit of a panic, she hurried after the fading light of the other girls, but tripped and landed on her hands and knees. When Ken and I realized she was hiking in the dark without a light, we helped her up.
“Wow,” she said to Ken. “You really love your object lessons, don’t you? You probably sabotaged my flashlight.”
We started hiking back, helping each other by alternating between shining the light at Kate’s footsteps, our own footsteps, and the rocky ceiling above.
“Not me,” Ken laughed. “I didn’t mess with your flashlight. But I know someone a lot more powerful who likes object lessons too.”