We walked through another tunnel, searching for a way out. The clues I had led us from one dark, dusty cave to another. I coward against the wall as a few small random rocks from the ceiling fell.
“Come on! We’re almost to the end,” Matt yelled as he walked ahead.
Erik had the lantern and I could see the bouncing motion of the light as he jogged to keep up the rest of our group.
I glanced down at the last clue again. Leap of Faith! What does that mean? Matt ran straight to the opening and jumped. I held my breath as he flew through the darkness and landed safely on a ledge on the other side. Five more followed him. How did we talk so many into risking their lives in search of a hidden treasure?
Rocks fell faster, bigger ones this time. The area groaned and shifted. Without thinking, I mimicked Matt’s example and made it safely to the other side.
“Erik!” I shouted as debris rained from the spot I just left. I watched in horror as Erik’s escape was blocked. I fell to my knees and sobbed. Had the tunnel become his tomb as well? We couldn’t go back for him. The passages we took were sealed now.
I don’t remember much after that. Our group found the way through the caves, coming out empty-handed: nothing of untold wealth waiting to be plucked. Someone led me around, giving me food to eat or water to drink. I didn’t care. Later I learned Matt protected me the whole time, never leaving my side. He got our group out safely and back to our base camp.
The last day before we headed home, I woke out of the fog surrounding my senses. Matt sat next to me on a bench at a handmade table inside a bamboo hut. Vivid colored fruit waited on a plate to be eaten.
Our team filled past us to say thank you. For what? I asked. For saving our lives.
I dropped my head in shame. They’re telling me it wasn’t anyone’s fault we lost one of our own. I feel differently.
Shouts from outside failed to move me until Matt stood suddenly. “Erik?” he asked in a whisper. Matt put his arm around me when I rose, keeping me upright.
Then I ran through the door and into the bright sun. My body slammed into a filthy, tired Erik. I couldn’t stop the tears coursing down my cheeks.
“How—where—why—“ Every question out of my mouth wouldn’t form right.
Matt proved himself the smart one by bringing Erik water. He gulped it like he might not drink again. We helped Erik to shade and someone brought him fruit.
I sat nearby, my eyes never leaving him. I didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that his eyes never found mine.
The rest of the group and a few villagers gathered to hear Erik’s story. He dodged crushing rocks and crawled through the tunnels to safety by following the rats out.
He didn’t accuse anyone of abandoning him but the way he avoided me stabbed my heart.
No one saw me disappear from the circle. I packed my backpack and walked away, hoping to leave my guilt in the camp.
I’m still walking today, around tunnels, and the guilt follows me.