Is That Us? By Skye Riddell

Day three of death. It seemed to only grow darker, colder, lonelier. The growling of stomachs caught on the wind, picking up the ears of any nearby predators. The loss of protection from the burning sun. 

Lucas and his friends are huddled around one another, passing around what is left of Lucas’ flavored drink. The last one of the day. They were only granted a few, forcing them to ration what is left, before they are forced to walk the treacherous trail to the wateringhole. 

“Man, I’m tired of this,” Carlyle yelled, exasperated.

“It is not a field day for us either, Car,” Lily rolled her eyes at the frizzy haired boy across from her. 

Lucas smacked a green-eyed bug off his freckled arm, wincing from the stinging sensation left behind. “Come on, guys, there has to be something we can do.” They all have a week left of this torture. Seven days until they are rescued. 168 hours until they are saved from this torturous reality. But Lucas was too impatient to wait another minute. 

“What is it you suggest?” Piper chimed in, eager to hear any idea that could get her out of the sun’s piercing glare. Her arms and legs were already coated in scabs of dead skin from the burn of the sun. 

Lucas stared up at the sky for a minute, contemplating, but quickly moved his gaze back down; he didn’t remember the sun ever being that bright. “We are out here for a reason, right?”

“Yeah, because Piper had to go and-” Car started muttering before Lily elbowed him.

“If there was a way here, there has to be a way out,” Lucas continued.

“Are you kidding?” Lily noted sarcastically. “This isn’t a maze, Lucas.”

“Maybe, maybe not. Look, this our fifth time being out here. I think there is something out here that we haven’t found yet.”

“That’s absurd. If there was something, we would have seen it.” 

“Hang on, guys,” Piper spoke up, “I think Lucas might have a point.”

Lucas smirked at Lily, “thank you, Piper!”

“I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?” To be honest, Piper was glad to finally have an excuse to get away from the scorching sun.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Car sarcastic, “we could die!”

“You’re exaggerating, Car. Kids like us have gone through those woods many times. What’s to say we can’t?”

All of four of them stared at the daunting forest in front of them. Sounds of predators and the breaking of branches were echoing through shadowed trees. They watched as a large cat gracefully strotted its way to an apple hanging on the end of the branch. It halted at the end before swiping the apple from the branch. Seconds passed as the group felt the hair on their arms stick up, anticipation getting the best of them. They immediately jump back when a giant bird swoops down and fetches the fruit, cawing in its wake. 

“Okay, I take back what I said,” Piper voiced, the sun no longer seeming so bad.

After closing his agape mouth, Lucas glanced at his friends, noticing the fear laced in their stares. Despite the sweat on his palms, he cleared his throat and stood up. Brushing off his pants, he ignored the curious glares from his friends. “I’m going in.”

None of them thought he was serious. 

He will walk to the edge and then come running back, Piper thought. 

I wish this was a maze, Lily considered. 

If he dies, I get both Lily and Piper to myself, Car reasoned, unintentionally smirking. 

“Wait!” Piper yelled when Lucas got the edge. When he turned around, watching them over his shoulder, she lowered her voice and spoke to the rest of the group. “We can’t let him go in there alone.”

“We’ll all die if we go in there,” Lily retorted.

“I think she has a point,” Car agreed, “and it would be a much better option if only one of us died.”

Piper dared a glance at Lucas, realizing how much she would miss meeting his blue-eyed gaze. “Come on,” Piper pleaded, “Lucas is the only reason we were even granted those flavored drinks you chugged down. I think it’s only fair that we repay him the favor.”

Lily and Car shared a knowing look, before sighing and standing up. “Fine, let’s go.” They both said. 

Piper excitedly got up from the itchy grass, relieved to be out of the sun. As the three neared the woods, she started to regret her decision. 

“You guys sure you want to do this?” Lucas asked them, purposely keeping his gaze on Piper.

“Yep,” Piper gulped.

Lucas grinned, excited for the new adventure. While Lily irritatingly stomped through the mush, and Car muttered profanities under his breath.

The group of four headed into the woods, each of them feeling a different emotion.

They continued on a stony path, wincing at the cuts on their legs from the thorns around them. Lily swiped the bangs from her forehead, irritated with how much she was sweating, while Piper shooed every bug that landed on her injured skin. Lucas was still in the lead, eager to find something that could get them out of this. When a giant buzz began to chase Car, he ran past Lucas, screaming at the poisonous form. While flailing his arms around, he didn’t pay much attention to the ground beneath him; his foot caught in a metal loop, tugging him to the ground.

“Ow,” he weakly voiced, trying to pull himself up. 

Lucas helped him regain his balance after pulling Car’s foot out of the loop. Lily yelled at Car for his stupidity while Piper picked the stick out of his hair. 

“Guys, check this out,” Lucas uttered. 

They all joined around him, observing the cement hatch in front of them. The metal loop Car caught his foot on was a handle to the door. Lucas began to reach down until Car stopped him. “What are you doing?”

 “I’m opening it.”

“Man, do you know what could be in there?”

“No, but I’m about to find out.” Car took a step back, distancing himself from the suspicious hatch.

Lucas knelt down once more, as his fingers grazed the cool handle. Fighting the ache in his arms, he lifted the door, an odorous smell blowing through the space. 

All four of them waved their hands in the air, pushing the smell away from their cringing faces. 

“Ugh, what is that smell?” Car asked, covering his nose with his shirt.

All at once, they leaned over the hole, gasping at the sight below them. Lily’s gaze was caught on the sight of her corpse below her, the grazes from vines evident on the body’s legs. Car stared wide-eyed at the frizzy haired boy below him, covered in soot from his fall, only this boy didn’t get back up. Piper’s voice hitched in her throat when she saw the sun-burned scabbed covered body laying inside the dark pit. Lucas felt his heart stop at the sight of his and his friends’ dead bodies laying in the cavern below them. 

There really was no way out of here.

The running of water echoed through the quiet house as Julie washed the dishes in her sunlit kitchen. It was peaceful. No phones were ringing off the hook. No music was blaring. No doors were slamming shut to gain some sort of privacy in the house. Instead, the house was silent. All except for the graceful sound of the running water. 

“How’s the kids?” Kayla asked, referring to the group of kids in the backyard.

Julie glanced out the window, observing the huddled group on the grass. Lucas and his friends were all lying on the grass, with their kool aid stained mouths evident in the sun. Noticing the painted scabs and scratches on Piper and Lily, and the obviously thrown dirt on Car and Lucas, Julie rolled her eyes at the scene in front of her. They would do anything to gain their parents sympathy into giving them their phones back.

“Oh, you know,” Julie replied to Car’s mom, “being dramatic as usual.”

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