Grade 6 Humanities students have been working on developing their skills as creative writers. Through the writing process, students brainstorm ideas, organize their storylines, draft, edit, and publish. Students have been encouraged to use descriptive language to appeal to the reader’s senses. One of our young writers decided to share her story with us this week:
by Terra, Grade 6
“Alice and Tyler Lewis, world famous experts in speleology and geology, have announced their second trip to the North Xanh Caves of Vietnam, starting three months from now. With them on the expedition will be their two children, twins Eva and William Lewis, North Xanh Caves expert Allen McDaniel, geologists Kate and Norman Sanchez, and cave biologist Francis Carter.” Will tosses me the newspaper, rolling his eyes. “Mum and Dad look ridiculous – Dad looks like Alfredo when you forget to feed him dinner!”
Alfredo is our cat. Will, at age four, picked the name.
I peer down at the black and white picture of our parents above the newspaper article, “They look great, Will. You’re just annoyed with this.”
My twin slumps down on the couch beside me. “Yeah, I’m annoyed. Who would want to waste their entire summer in some humid foreign country without cell phone reception, holed up in some dark, slimy cave?”
“If you had been listening when they explained it, you would know that the North Xanh Caves are in fact full of plant life. The cave roof is partially open, letting in sunlight and plant seeds. The cave system apparently has a flourishing ecosystem. Look at some of these pictures!” I reach for the photo album on the bookshelf behind us, but Will stops me with a wave of his hand.
“I know, Eva. That’s not the point. The point is that I don’t want to go on this stupid thing. It’s utterly pointless.”
I shrug, “Your problem, not mine.”
Three Months Later
Thick grey fog forms a blanket over me, closing up the way to the outside, blocking me from the world. Underneath me, the cocoa soil is cold and hard-packed, a fine dust clinging to my boots. Strangely out of place, a stunted tree with thick, broad leaves grows nearby, overlapping with the shadows of other equally out-of-place things: ferns, long and elegant, their emerald leaves reaching up to the silver sky; knee-height shrubs that scratch at my legs; something similar to the leaves of a palm tree, each frond smooth and sharp-edged, tickles my face as I walk closer to the jungle.
A jungle in a cave, yet another surprise suddenly pulled out of nature’s seemingly endless bag of tricks. Jagged stone walls, as sharp and unforgiving as knives, frame a lush, tangled forest of jade and emerald. According to Dad, an average-sized skyscraper would fit in here. I have no problem believing him.
I jump, my head snapping around to face the speaker. He’s a man, middle-aged, probably, with slightly dishevelled red hair that flops into his face. Round, wire-rimmed glasses perch precariously on his crooked, acne-scarred nose. He’s one of the scientists – cave biology, I think – but I have no idea what his name is, or why he knows mine, for that matter.
“Hello…” I look questioningly at him, hoping that he’ll pick up on my social cue. Knowing Mum and Dad’s co-workers, though, that actually happening is unlikely, to say the least. Will and I have, on several occasions, compared them to – oh, never mind.
“Dr. Francis Carter,” he says, sticking out his hand. It takes me a second to realize what he’s doing, and then we shake. “I’m the cave biologist. Cave biology is the study of the plants and animals in caves. Biology is,” he begins, but I interrupt. A bit rudely, but he really deserved it. God, did he honestly think that I didn’t know what biology was?
“I know what biology is, thank you.” I stare daggers at him, daring the idiot to try being that patronizing again anytime soon.
“I… er, I mean, um…” Dr. Carter shifts from side to side, looking slightly miserable. Part of me feels sorry for the man. Barely, though.
“Dr. Carter!” I spin around despite knowing who that voice belongs to. When you’ve spent every waking moment with him since birth, it’s hard not to know exactly what it sounds like. Will, as obnoxious as he is, can truly be amazing sometimes. “Sorry about Eva here, she’s an inconvenience that we all have to put up with. Rude, too,” he says, shaking his head sorrowfully. If looks could kill…
“Um, I, I, I, I, um…” Dr. Carter falters for a second, unsure of what to make of Will. “The last expedition here revealed that there was an underground river that possibly contains fish. I’ve already found some interesting samples from the jungle,” Dr. Carter says, motioning back to the campsite. “However, I would also like to know where this river is. The last explorers left a marker near the entrance, which is apparently somewhere near that tree.” He points at a huge, moss-covered tree near the cave’s walls. It reaches up to the crack of iron sky high above, desperately clinging onto any tiny ray of sunlight that might break through the clouds. “Anyway,” he continues, nervously clearing his throat, “I cannot search for the entrance right now, but I was wondering if both of you could…” He trails off, uncertain.
Will beats me to it, “Sure.” What? How could he do that? The last thing I want to do is help out Dr. Carter!
“Thank you, William, Eva.” Dr. Carter claps Will on the back, glares at me, and strides off. My twin and I begin the walk to the tree, which soon turns out to be farther away than I thought. The walk takes ten minutes, and then we’re there. The tree is huge, dwarfing the all the other greenery, stretching up, impossibly skinny. Right below it there’s a fissure in the rock, big enough for two people to fit through, side-by-side. Beside it is a large loop of hot pink marker tape.
“What are you waiting for?” Will asks, gesturing at the opening.
“Will, he asked us to find the entrance, not explore it. Chances are that it is dangerous, anyway.” I pull him away, but he escapes and slips through the crack. Sighing, I follow him into the darkness. My twin is sometimes too reckless for his own good.
As soon as I enter, everything disappears. I can’t see a foot in front of my face. Rocks jut out at strange angles like the bones of a broken man, jabbing my in the arms and legs, scratching again my ankles and making me trip. I can hear Will in front of me, cursing and fumbling through the inky blackness. You would think that boy his age wouldn’t even know most of the words that are coming out of his mouth, but no, not Will. He swears far too much, to the point that it’s almost painful to be around him when he hurts himself.
And then all of the sudden, the cursing stops. I reach out in front of myself, hoping that my fingers will find him, even if I know that all that they’re going to bring up is air.
“Will? Will! WILL!” My voice turns hoarse, my throat raw. Where is he? “WILL!” I feel like I am ice and my heart is stone. I break into a blind run, stones tracing thin lines of red into me as I sprint past. Will is nowhere. I can’t see anything. For all I know, I could have already passed him. Or he could be playing a trick on me. No, this isn’t a trick. This is real, and that’s what terrifies me.
That’s when I fall into the river. It rushes around me as I scramble to grab hold of the rocks, fingers slipping and bleeding over the jagged rock. Cold, numbing, excruciating water pours down, soaking me. I sink farther into the river, flailing, screaming names: Will, Mum, Dad, Dr. Carter. Right now, I really don’t care who rescues me, even the idiot biologist who got me into this mess.
There’s a strong surge of water, and my fingers break away. I go under, fear paralyzing me, heart pounding like a drum in my chest. One hand manages to grab onto something, and then it slips away. Slowly, everything dulls, turning slow and sluggish. I’m giving up, and I know it. I am dying, and I don’t even care. Well, I don’t care until I feel something warm and soft brush against my hand, edged by the thick fabric of jeans.
Will. Oh god, Will.
You may think that this is stupid or cliché or whatever, but that’s when I decide that there’s strength left in me. I claw my way to the surface, fighting through every inch of water, fighting for every inch of air that floods through my lungs. The outline of my brother is barely visible in the near darkness, draped over the rocky, knife-sharp edge, half in and half out of the river. Blood flows freely from my hands now, coating the rocks in slick liquid. If it wasn’t for the frigid water, my hands would hurt like, well, I’m probably better off not saying.
Please tell me he’s not dead. Please…
I haul myself over the edge, panting hard, eyes streaming. Will lies right there, motionless. He doesn’t move. I shake one of his hands, slap at his cheeks, and poke at his face and arms. Still nothing, complete stillness. I feel as if something inside of me has frozen up, made me immobile and completely incapable of doing anything.
“Eva?” His eyes open.
“Oh my god!” I lean forward, wrapping my arms around him. “I thought you were dead!”
“Nope,” he says, smiling. “Are you okay?”
“I guess,” I reply, letting out a shaky laugh. “Drowning isn’t the nicest thing.”
If I had to name my most eventful moment of the summer, this would win, hands down. Don’t try to deny it. Really though, the best thing about the North Xanh Caves was this: Will never once complained about the trip being boring again.