“David, don’t move,” I said calmly.

“What? Why?” He spun in place. There was a click as a tile under his foot shifted, then a loud grinding sound from within the walls.

“So you don’t set off the trap,” I said, sighing.

With a puff of dust, the floor started to move, two pieces sliding away from each other to expose what hid underneath. David stumbled into Melissa, who slapped his arm away.

“If we get out of this alive,” she hissed at him, “I’m going to kill you.”

The inside of the temple had been hot, but as the floor opened, the temperature rose until I thought I was going to melt. Unfortunately, if we didn’t move fast, I was more likely to burst into flame.

“The floor is turning into lava!” David shrieked.

“Very observant!” Melissa retorted.

“Up here!” My voice echoed in the cavernous room. I clambered onto a stone dais stained with fresh blood. A huge wooden statue towered over it, jutting out from the wall, arms extended as if to receive the sacrifice below. If we could get onto its head, we could jump to one of the viewing platforms carved into the rock above.

Melissa scrambled up beside me and started to climb, David close behind. I glanced down at the widening gap in the floor. At this rate, we’d just be able to make it out before–

Melissa, now at the top of the statue, yelped and clapped a hand to her neck. It came away tinged with blood and a darker, tarry substance.

“Curare,” I whispered. We only had a few minutes before the poison shut down her respiratory system. But now I saw that the natives who had chased us in here were up on the platform we’d been trying to reach. We had nowhere to go.

I pulled out my pistol and fired a few rounds at our pursuers, but I could hear them ricochet off the walls. The lava had almost reached the altar below us. Sweat ran into my eyes and made my grip on the statue slippery.

There was another platform on the other side of the cavern. But how to get to it? I scanned the walls and ceiling, dense with vegetation from the jungle outside. Vines thick as my arm looped down or dangled over us.

Melissa shot me a stricken look. “My arms’re getting stiff,” she slurred.

“We need to reach those vines and get up there,” I told David, pointing. “You help Melissa and I’ll cover for you.”

“There’s no way we can make that!” he exclaimed.

“It’s that or the lava,” I snapped. “Are you going to give up like you always do? Or are you finally going to pull yourself together and do something right?”

It was harsh, I knew. But the slant of his eyes told me it wasn’t enough.

“Are you just going to let Melissa die when you could be the hero and save her?” I asked, softly.

That did it. He scrunched up his face and shimmied up the statue. The vines were barely within reach, though it took David a few tries to get enough to support their weight. He wrapped Melissa’s arms around his neck and grabbed her by the waist. To my surprise, she planted a firm kiss on his mouth.

“For luck,” she said, her skin flushed. Probably from the heat.

David beamed and took a deep breath. “Geronimo!” he shouted, flinging the two of them toward the platform. The vines creaked under their weight as they swung, then tore free from the ceiling. For a long moment they arced through the air, over the shimmering golden death that burned below. Their momentum carried them up and over the lip of the platform and they landed with a thud, David on top of Melissa. I was sure she’d give him an earful about that later.

Now it was just me. I reached for as many vines as I could grab. I would have to hope that I could avoid any darts, because I doubted David was going to be able to give both of us CPR on top of getting us back to the plane. The huge emerald eyes of the statue winked at me, and I wondered if I could pry them out quickly, take them back to the museum…

And then the statue burst into flames. That settled it. I wrapped the vines around my wrist and threw myself backwards, shooting at the natives as I flew through the smoldering air. I dipped precariously low, my hat flying off and bursting into flame before it even hit the molten lava. Would the vines hold? Or would I join it? My vision swam and shimmered, spotted from the brightness beneath me.

And then my feet hit the platform and I fell, sliding away from the lip of the cave and hitting my head on an unfortunately placed rock. I stared at nothing. I’d have a goose egg in a few minutes, and a headache later, and for some reason that struck me as absurd. Icing on the cake. The big, gooey lava cake. I stifled a giggle.

Smoke from the fiery statue obscured our pursuers, so I turned my attention to David and Melissa. David was busily giving her mouth-to-mouth–or so I assumed. I opted to give them a moment to be sure, instead carefully climbing to my feet and investigating our new surroundings.

The cave was small, with a narrow entrance at the rear just wide enough for one person. Beyond it looked like the ground sloped up. And–dare I hope–sunlight?

Now we just had to walk through miles of dangerous jungle, avoiding hostile residents and predators while giving constant CPR to a poisoned, paralyzed person. I patted at a tiny flame that smoked on the sleeve of my shirt.

Piece of lava cake.

* * * * *
For Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge for February 22.

Leave a Reply