They followed the path.  There weren’t many options as to where else they could go, and Neal hoped that maybe it would reveal a turn somewhere that headed down as well as up.  Neal led the way, with Owen and Genevieve right behind.  Dan and Alex carried Ethan on a stretcher that had somehow fallen from the plane (as unlikely as that seemed), while the others all bore the suitcases and duffel bags that had somehow managed to escape the plane with them. 

            Neal felt the wind pick up and he looked to the west, the direction it was blowing from.  While there was clear sky above them, the west was dominated by angry grey clouds, covering the peaks of the jagged mountains in the distance.  It was a cold and forbidding sight, especially when Neal realized what it meant.

            “Owen, look at the sky above us, and then at those clouds over there,” he said, pointing.  “Does that mean what I think it means?”

            “It’s impossible!”  Owen said, “How could we possibly be in the eye of a hurricane?  We’re in the mountains!”

            “I don’t know, but it explains why the storm was so strong and also why it wasn’t attacking us when we woke up.  We had passed through the front and were safe in the eye.”

            “Well, we’re not going to be safe much longer!”  Owen was forced to shout as the wind continued to gain power, “It won’t take long for the outer edge to reach us, and we can’t be out here when that happens!”

            “I know!”  Neal shouted back, and continued to press on.  He tried to appear calm and brave, unconcerned with the danger.  Inwardly, however, he knew that things were probably going to get worse before they got better.  A lot worse.

            Rain started to fall again, and the wind gained some ferocity, its cold breath biting at their exposed faces.  Neal was glad that he had made them all put on their warm coats, brought along for the ski trip.  He wished that they were at his dad’s ski lodge, drinking hot chocolate and resting by a warm fire.

            Lost in this idle daydream, it took Neal a moment to hear Genevieve.  She was shouting about something, and then pointed ahead of them along the path.  Neal followed her finger past the sheets of rain and discerned the object of her excitement.  An opening into the mountainside was just ahead.

            “A cave!”  Neal heard Owen yell.

            “We can hide in there for the rest of the storm!”  Neal shouted in return, pushing forward.  Well, here was one more problem solved.  Please God, just keep making it this easy to keep us alive, Neal prayed silently.  He knew that good fortune had more to do with their survival so far than his leadership did, and he hoped his luck would hold out just a little longer, at least.               

The cave was as high as a room in a house near the entrance, but it was too dark to see how far back it extended into the interior of the mountain.  No one was really inclined to explore just yet, as they were cold, wet and hungry.  Genevieve immediately checked on Ethan as Dan and Alex put him down.  His condition hadn’t changed, so she took a moment to search her suitcase.  She brought out a flashlight, pulled on it, and suddenly it was a lantern.  A small circle of light, about four or five feet wide, spilled out of it.

            By its light she noticed something in her suitcase that shouldn’t have been there.

            “There are boxes of crackers and cereal in here, and water bottles.”  She said, stunned as to how they had made their way into her luggage.  The others checked their bags, and were equally shocked to find food and water there, as well.

            “It looks like somebody knew we’d be needing this stuff.”  Evan said.  That was all anyone said about it, however, because it frightened everyone that someone knew what would happen, and had done nothing about it save provide these emergency rations.

            While the guys just stood or sat staring at food that shouldn’t have been there, Genevieve got sweaters and jackets from her suitcase and from Ethan’s duffel and then covered her brother with them to keep him warm.  She couldn’t think of anything else to do, so she sat restlessly beside him, hugging her knees and resting her chin on her arms.  Her long brown hair was dishevelled, and she was tired and hungry, but Genevieve was too worried about Ethan’s well being to even think of taking care of herself.

            The others were huddled around the lantern, discussing what their options were and eating breakfast:  dry Shreddies from Jason’s hockey bag.  Owen joked that it was actually an improvement on the usual coach meal service. 

            The group had a lot to talk about and plan.  They knew that they were trapped here for the time being.  The storm made it impossible to leave, and it also made their rescue unlikely anytime soon.  They were primarily concerned with what they should do in the meantime, and how long they might have to wait.

            “Food won’t be a problem for at least a little while,” Evan said.

            “I think the only real problem is that we’re going to get bored,” Neal put forth, “If we’re trapped in here long enough we’ll probably get argumentative and frustrated.”

            “Cabin fever,” Jason agreed, nodding his light blond head.

            “Well, I brought a deck of cards,” Alex said.

            “I’ve got my sketchbook,” said Dan.

            “And I brought my guitar and some books,” Evan said, causing the others to grin.  Even in an emergency, Evan had refused to abandon his prized instrument.  Thankfully it had been in an easy to carry cloth gig-bag, and he had simply strapped his beloved guitar to his back.

            “Mostly all that we have is each other.  We have to talk things out, as a group, and not let tempers get the best of us.  We can get through this together.  That will probably end up being what we spend most of our time doing.  Talking.”  Neal said, asserting his leadership again.

            “Hey, at least it gives us time to catch up after a busy year at school away from each other,” interjected Owen, attempting to find a bright side and add some levity to the discussion. “That was kind of the idea of this week, wasn’t it?  Well, now we have plenty of time for it.”

            “What about the cold, and the damp?  We need a fire.”  Alex said, addressing an issue no one else had given thought to.

            “Where would we get fuel?”  Neal asked.  “It’s too wet outside, so the trees out there are out of the question.”

            “Maybe we should explore the cave.  I have a flashlight.”  Dan said.

            “Alright, but don’t go back too far.  Someone should go with you.”

            “I will.” Evan said.  The two got up and headed deeper into the cave. 

            Alex and Jay started playing a game of cards together, just to pass the time.  Neal turned to Owen, who was being uncharacteristically quiet.

            “Are you okay?”

            “I’m fine.  It’s just a little hard on the nerves, you know?  It’s a cave, for crying out loud.”

            Neal nodded, fully aware of Owen’s fear of enclosed spaces.  “You want to talk about it?”

            “Nah, I’ll be fine.”  Owen shrugged it off.  He stared out at the rain, taking some comfort from the fact that there was at least a way out.

            There hadn’t been a way out the day his claustrophobia started.  He had been about five years old, and was playing hide and seek with his cousins around their house.  They were by the barn out beyond the house, and he hid among some hay bales on the top of the pile.  The smell of hay was thick in the hot summer air, and he sneezed mightily.  He fell backwards then, and fell through a gap between bales and got stuck somewhere in the middle of the pile.

            He’d been terrified because he couldn’t get out and couldn’t see.  But it got worse, because there were mice in the dark, and some of them ran over him.  His cousins figured out where he was because of his screams, and they got his father and his uncle to help get him out.  Ever since, he’d been afraid of the dark, let alone being trapped.  Even now, as a young man, he wasn’t comfortable in such surroundings.

            Neal got up and left the circle, and then headed towards Genevieve and the prone Ethan.

            “How is he?”  He asked, placing a hand on her shoulder. 

            She looked up at him and offered a quiet smile, but only shook her head.  Ethan hadn’t even stirred since their arrival, his only movement the slow steady rhythm of his breathing.

            “You should get some sleep,” Neal suggested.  “I can watch him, if you want to rest.”

            “Thank you, but I’m all right for now.  You can sleep, and I could wake you when I’m tired.”  She smiled again, and went back to watching her unconscious brother.

            “How about some food, then?”  Neal ventured, but he just got that same dismissive shake of the head.  He shrugged and walked back to the others.  He lay down near his cousin Alex and made a makeshift pillow out of one of his sweaters, draping his winter jacket on his torso as an impromptu blanket.

            “Is she okay?”  Alex whispered to him.

            “She’s just worried about him.  She’ll go to sleep when she’s tired.” Neal replied softly.

            “I don’t know about that.  She’s a Pitney, you know how stubborn they are.  And they always put others before themselves.” He took a glance in her direction.

            “I know.  I figure I’ll catnap and then make her get to bed in a couple hours.  She can’t just wait for him to wake up and for help to arrive, it could be days.”  Neal said.

            “Do you think they’ll find us?”  Alex asked.

            “Of course they will.  They probably had us on radar until we came down, so it probably won’t take long to send a rescue crew to our last known position.  The storm might make things difficult for a little while, but it’s only a matter of time, really.” 

            Neal hoped his words sounded reassuring, but he was more than a little worried.  He kept his fears to himself, but he figured that the storm was probably wreaking havoc all over the place, so a rescue operation might take awhile, considering the authorities probably already had their hands full with the effects of the hurricane on population centres.  It was only a matter of time, but how much time was the question.  He just had to find a way to make it easier on the group, so they didn’t get cabin fever and lose hope while waiting.

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