Breathing Earth

"You shouldn't litter," Zaria complained.

Another seventh grader on the bus had pulled down the window and thrown out his milk carton. He was an obnoxious curly red-headed boy named Nathan. He was just starting to get pimples and a deeper voice but no maturity. He stuck his tongue out at her.

"Make me," he taunted.   

"Yeah, who died and made you Captain Planet?" his friend with long string brown hair said.

"Who? We're on the Green Team, remember." She had her arms crossed and her dark brown eyes flashed with annoyance as the wind from his window blew her dark bangs around her heart shaped nut-brown face. She and three other members of their school’s team were on the trip. One was her best friend sitting beside her. 

Nathan’s friend mimicked her while she talked. There were about 25 students and 3 teachers on the weekend field trip. It was noisy, they were about mid-way back on the bus. No one seemed to be paying them much attention. 

Zaria’s best friend Conner was sitting next to her by the window. He wanted to stick up for her even though he knew it was pointless. Z was very passionate about recycling, reducing and reusing. He tried to be supportive since she was his closest friend. His only real one. She was always kind, never made fun of him when he was the new kid two years ago and generous with candy and chocolate treats at lunch.  "The whole point of the trip is to learn about nature and how to take care of the environment," he added.

Z had expected him to say something. He didn’t speak up much to other boys, but they always had to have each other's back. Conner had a rich dark brown head of hair that usually stood shorter than the boys and most of the girls in their grade. The shortness went along with the slight chubbiness she often assured him would even out with his next growth spurt. Even if it didn't she'd continue to verbally shred anyone who mentioned it negatively. She thought his round face, ruddy cheeks and usually cheerful eyes were so cute. Now, his dark blue eyes were serious for once. 

The redhead ignored them, tossed something else out and started horsing around with his friend. They stood up as they shoved each other.

“Sit down!” the 8th grade science teacher, Mr. Whitman, barked from up front. He was a tall middle aged man that most of them liked but also feared. 

“If he throws one more thing I'm going to tell,”  Z whispered to Conner. 

From across the aisle a blonde girl wearing purple eyeshadow that nicely highlighted her green speckled eyes caught her attention.

"Ignore him. What a jerk," she said sympathetically. "That's why he's failed a grade," she added loudly. 

There were 7th and 8th graders on the trip and everyone knew Nathan should have been an eighth grader that year. Everyone knew everyone else in their suburb and school. Z recognized Blaire even though they hadn’t really spoken before. Nathan glared at Blaire briefly then they went back to dumb games and mindless chatter to kill time until they reached the camp site. 

When they arrived just after lunch which they had on the bus, the three teachers chaperoning assigned them their rooms. The other two teachers were Mrs. Debbie Thornton who taught 7th grade science and Ms. Marcia who was a counselor.  The adults had their own little cabin on site. While it was still  a modest little cabin they each had a room to themselves and their own bathroom. The cabins were all old wood with some places having odd little patches  of concrete and outlet boxes as they gradually and haltingly updated. 

The common areas like the showers and cafeteria had concrete floors as did some of the kid’s cabins. Where the concrete went the better electricity followed. This seemed more important to the visiting youth. The main cabin sitting central on the site was used for indoor gatherings. Its floor had been covered with concrete. Then the cracking concrete was adorned with slightly smelly rugs. At least it had a fireplace and a second floor. It wasn't super nice, Z thought, but their sheets seemed clean enough and they would definitely connect with nature. They had to clean the rest themselves. That’s what they were instructed to do. What could you expect? They were a public school fortunate to have such an excursion.

Z ended up rooming with the blond 8th grade girl, Blaire. "So you like science?” she asked as she swept. “Geology? Ecology? Earth and environmental science are my thing." 

“Nah," Blaire said indifferently. She had plopped down on the bottom bunk bed and started leafing through a fashion magazine. "My mom just wanted me away for the weekend.”

“Oh.” It seemed to Z that might explain half their recruits for the trip. It might be a long weekend.

“You vape?” Blaire asked as she started to search through her purse. 

"No...I don’t." Z thought about going on. She could explain the unknown results the chemicals could have on Blaire’s young body. It was definitely addictive and who knew what the environmental impact would be yet.

A repeated whistle called them to dinner. Afterward they gather around a campfire roasting marshmallows and making s'mores for dessert. Then the site director set up to give them a presentation. They had thrown down a concrete slab with an electrical hook up near the bonfire site for such occasions. The director told them her name was Laura Brown and went through their schedule for the weekend. She used a projection screen for visuals to go along with her speech. Her reddish brown hair was pulled back in a practical braid. She wore a shorts uniform for the camp and surrounding preserve that made her look like a ranger. 

“Please stay together during the hike. We are going to learn about many fascinating things. But remember this is a nature preserve. Nature can be as dangerous as it is beautiful so please pay attention.” She looked at a group prattling of boys. Nathan and his friend from the bus were leading it. Mr. Whitman went and hovered over them. They quieted down and Ms. Brown continued.

"Take a look at your packets and choose a specimen you would like to identify, photograph, sample and learn more about. Your teachers say you will do a report."

There were groans all around. "For extra credit some of you desperately need," Mrs. Thornton reminded them.

“At least we can use our phones. We have to for the pictures, right?” Blaire whispered to Zaria. Z didn’t know and just shrugged. “Reception sucks out here though,” Blaire said checking her phone on the sly. Z didn’t care; she really wanted to learn more about the area.

“At this site you have an example of breathing earth. Here's a show video taken from our woods. Please do not venture to the spot. It is potentially dangerous.”

The boys with Nathan exchanged mischievous looks. Z watched the video intently. It showed ground that appeared to heave like lungs. The ground lifted full size trees up and down with a steady pulse like a beat. As the video zoomed in Z shivered. Creepy, she thought. She suspected it was trapped gas something natural like that, but it seemed like the moist sandy brown earth was alive.

Another boy's hand shot. He waved it energetically. It was Timothy who was also on the Green Team. He was small and thin with a mop of mousy brown hair. He wore glasses and read all the time. He could be annoying but then Z thought most boys in her class were a pain. Timothy never Tim , usually thought he was smarter than everyone else and not afraid to share that opinion. They had classes together and had the Green Team after school and they got along okay when they had to work together.   

“Yes,” the director called on him.

  “I read that scientists don't know why the earth does that,” timothy commented.

“There could be different causes depending on the site. The solid Earth may exhale gasses or if the ground is loose and the wind very strong, it can cause trees to sway and pulling at their roots. Since their roots form a web under the ground it loosens the soil and can make it appear to breathe. Perhaps you can make another hypothesis.” 

Timothy had other ideas. “One book said that's what scientists claim but he researched the areas and interviewed campers and hikers. They reported that the whole earth was actually coming alive. Some were stalked by the ‘breathing earth’ and they swear it was trying to turn them into something. Some sort of monsters. Could that be true?”

“People can write anything they want. You've been learning about the scientific method. So think of a theory you can test. However, this weekend is all about the species presented in your packets. No one is allowed at our breathing earth site. And it won’t stalk you , I promise.”

“But has anyone seen anything?” Timothy insisted. Some other kids groaned and even told him to shut up. “Or reported people missing? Or transforming?” he added thinking of something more interesting.

“People often go missing in the wilderness. As I said it is very important to stay with the group  or a buddy and on the assigned path.”

As they headed back to their cabins for the night Timothy paused staring into the woods. Z noticed because she noticed most things and couldn’t help asking about most of the things she noticed.

“What are you looking at?” Z asked. 

“I saw something,” Timothy said in a hushed voice.

Z followed his gaze. “It’s the woods. There are lots of nocturnal animals.”

“No it wasn't shaped like an animal. And not exactly like a person either. I think the book I'm reading is right about monsters in the woods.”

“Like bigfoot? Monsters are not real.”

He shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not.” Then he grinned eerily at her. He had thought of something really clever. “But monstrous things happen all the time, don't they.”

She frowned and walked away from him as quickly as she could. When she got back to her room Blair was chatty.

"I'm so bored! That video was the only cool thing out of being here."

"Yeah too bad we're not going to see it," Z said. She really didn’t want to think about the creepy weird woods at night. 

"Right? I mean, come on who tells a bunch of eighth graders there's a really cool phenomenon in the woods but don't go check it out."

Z yawned and felt snarky. "Spell phenomenon."

“Don't be a brat...want to check out the breathing earth with me?”

Z had just pulled out her pjs and paused apprehensively. “We can't,” she said, staring at her pjs and avoiding looking at Blaire. 

“Scared?” Blaire teased. “Better get tough. What are you going to do in high school?”

“I’m only in 7th grade. I don’t have to worry yet.”

“But you’re bright. You want to be a scientist or something right?” she asked, switching tactics.

“I will be,” Z confirmed.

“Then let’s check it out. You can study it and I can make an awesome new video. My fans demand it.” 

“You mean now?”

“Yes, it'll be lame in the daytime.”

Zaria didn't really want to do it. She wasn’t a rule breaker and it could be dangerous. “The director said it's maybe gas or who knows it could be a sinkhole or something. Those are really not safe.”

  “I’ve never known a 12 year old to worry so much,” Blaire said, shaking her head.

Z didn’t want to admit she was still 11. Blaire was an eighth grader and a pretty cool one. She seemed to read people pretty well and guessed Zaria was close to giving in.

“All you have to do is hold the camera for me. Please,” she said sweetly.  “It's probably going to be the only neat video I'll get out of this weekend.” 

“What do you want to take the video for?”

“For my channel. I've got thousands of viewers and followers and they want to know what I'm doing if it's not completely boring. Come on, I thought we were friends.”

“Okay,” she agreed. She put away her pjs. 

After the lights-out Blaire grabbed a messenger bag  and climbed up the bunk bed to alert Z. “Let's go.” 

The window was placed high. They had to climb up to the top bunk and then lean over to it. Maybe it was made that way on purpose so that kids wouldn't have such an easy time sneaking out. Since the cabin was just one floor they easily landed outside. Blaire pressed a manicured finger to her lips to make sure Zaria stayed quiet then waved for her to follow along. 

Z followed dutifully as Blaire walked confidently off the campsite into the surrounding woods. She acted as if she'd been there a hundred times before. Once they were safely out of earshot Blaire showed Z a map on her phone. 

“I found the location on my phone. Even though there’s not really a signal out here you can still see our position,” she explained. Suddenly she stopped and they looked around. There were a lot of trees but also some bare patches of earth like in the director’s video. Yes, they could see it moving up and down in the moonlight. There were plenty of stars out too.

  “See it?” Blaire asked.

“Yes. I don’t know if it’ll show on a cellphone though.”

“No worries. This is great! It's not cloudy at all. I feel like it might be a little hard to see. But I have a real camera.” She talked as she set up “I'm going to set up my phone here with the light. You take the real camera,” she took it out of her messenger bag then tossed the bag at Zaria’s feet, “and hold it like this. Yes, right. There will be perfect.” She showed her how to record and stop, then she stood in front of the breathing earth and did a cheery little intro.

“ Let's check this place out.” She continued for the camera. “If it's really breathing or a place of monsters.” She did a devious laugh and took some steps back. The ground was not bare. There were are a lot of roots and vegetation that made it hard to tell where exactly the earth started “breathing”. Even worse, Z could hear the trees growing out of the area creaking.

“Hey Blaire, I don't think you should go back there.”

  “Really?” She turned around and ran over to a spot near a moving tree, so she was clearly bouncing up and down with it. Suddenly she turned to face Z with a shocked expression.

“What's wrong?”

“Help! My foot’s stuck.” Blaire tried to pull herself loose. “Something's got me!” Z froze. She didn’t know what to do. Blaire started to fall down towards the ground. “Help!” 

“Blaire?” Z took a couple of steps closer not knowing what she would do to help. Then Blair popped back up laughing.

  “Oh, I should have had you record your face. What a pushover. Are you a fifth grader?” She kept laughing and going on. “I can't believe you fell for that. Come on, let's go.”

Blaire started heading back towards her. “You're such a worry wart I told you nothing would—" 

Suddenly the ground fell away beneath her and Blaire was gone, swallowed up by the Earth. Z was frozen again. She still held the camera up, recording, but this time it couldn't be a joke. Z dropped the camera and went over to the spot where there was a hole. She could tell it was a hole but before she could reach it sealed over. She knelt down beside a patch of very solid looking earth that just moments ago swallowed up her new friend. Shaking she stood and took a step back further and further away from where the solid ground resumed its breathing.


There were more boys on the trip than girls. Only a handful were there because they were interested in studying the area. The other's needed to raise a grade and or their parents felt the trip would give them a needed break. The boys' shower was just the place to cause the type of mischief that gave their folks persistent and pounding headaches and the boys a week of detention that did little curve their bad behavior the next time they had the opportunity for some “fun”. The usual suspects hadn't caused too much soap in the eyes and slaps before Mr. Whitman came over and told them to hurry up. 

It was almost lights-out. Conner was relieved. The little shower stalls didn't give much privacy. He had to leave his pjs on a hook away from the shower's spray with the towel. He hoped that would keep them safer than the cubbies by the bench near the sinks. Nathan of course ran by and got them anyway. He probably didn't bathe, Conner thought. That would explain the smell and why he had nothing better to do. Nathan was still fully dressed as he tossed Conner’s pajamas  out of Conner’s reach with the help of two friends. Finally, the red-haired bandit returned them at Mr. Whitman's warning.

  Timothy was smaller even than Conner and irritated the bigger boys more than any other kid on the trip. He waited for them to move out of the showers and back to the cabins then went quickly to take his shower. 

Nathan had got his two friends to wait with him in the shadows. When Timothy was missing, Nathan decided to pick on Conner instead. They noticed Timothy was missing when everyone else showered. 

“Dork thinks he's pretty smart.” The redhead chuckled. “Let’s get him.”

Timothy heard a noise. He shut off the shower and wrapped his towel around his waist. His pack with his toothbrush and other small shower stuff was still there on the bench by the sinks. He could put on his underwear under his towel, but the rest of his clothes were missing. He hoped that was the end of their prank. It wasn’t.

They jumped out from around the corner, bust out laughing as they swung his clothes around like a captured flag.

“Please don't,” he mumbled, looking down. He didn't want to plead with them. Suddenly the room shook.

“What was that?” One of the boys asked.

“An earthquake?” Timothy suggested. He hoped for a moment it would frighten or distract them. “We have breathing earth around here, remember? It could be dangerous gas escaping.”

Nathan had an idea. “That’s right. It's the breathing earth. It's a monster.” They laughed mocking his claims. “Guys, we must appease it… with human sacrifice.”

Nathan was cracking his friends up. They helped drag Timothy to the woods for the sacrifice. It was so funny how he squirmed but was pretty much helpless. They couldn’t stop laughing. Eventually they started to get tired of his struggling. 

“Where is it anyway Nathan?”

“Dang he's slippery,” the other added.

They couldn’t see the camp lights anymore, so he figured they’d gone far enough. “Alright,” Nathan said, “dump him here.”

They tied him to a tree with his clothes. They left him cold and wet and scared. It was a bright clear night even with the tree cover it wasn't completely dark. The quiet without the boys somehow made it feel darker. Timothy’s shower flipflops had fallen off long ago. His bare feet slipped into the dirt. It wasn't soft. It pricked him with bits of needles, stems and sticks. 

“Help! Someone there?!"

Would they really leave him all night? Would Mr. Whitman notice? Probably not. Nathan was his roommate. He’d probably just stuff a bundle under the blankets and lie.

Timothy thought he heard something break into his thoughts. It was too quiet. He barely heard insects, no owls or anything. All living things seemed far away. Some words from earlier came back to his mind.  Monstrous things happened all the time. But were there real monsters? He shook his head. No they are not real, Z had said. 

He started to cry. He pulled on the tied clothing. It was tight. He felt scratches break his skin. Then he heard a crack.

  "Who's there?" No one. He looked up. It was the trees moving. He heard the wood creaking and cracking and getting closer. He realized it was the earth. That was strange. Breathing earth didn't move. It didn't come in ripples like a wave wanting to swallow you up like the ocean. It didn’t stalk you Ms. Brown had promised.

Damn the cuts. He was skinny, he could pull his arms free. He did and it hurt. He didn't pause to untie his clothes. He took off running. His chest was pounding more with fear than the effort as he ran.  Almost there, almost free of the woods. He saw the root. He was going to jump over it when it was suddenly pushed up so high it hit him in the chest, and he fell backward. He felt consciousness slipping away. He was no longer able to process fear as the earth sunk beneath him and buried the boy itself. 

Z ran back to the camp. She went to Ms. Marcia's room.

“Open up, please!” 

Marcia tossed on a robe and drowsily opened her door. 

“What’s wrong Z?” She asked, stifling a yawn. “Did you have a bad dream?”

  “No,” She felt so guilty, but she had to tell. “Blair and I went into the woods to get a video and now she's gone!”

“Wait, calm down. What happened?”

  “The Earth ate her.”

Marcia couldn’t help thinking that sounded like a dream. She did notice Z was fully dressed not in pjs.

“Hold on, let me put on some shoes. Come in and tell me what happened. The other teachers heard the commotion and entered the hall.

“What's going on?”

“She says Blaire is missing in the woods.”

“I didn't say, ‘missing’” Z protested. She was getting upset then the lights went out. She felt frozen with fear again.

“Don’t worry I’ll check it out,” Z heard Mr. Whitman’s voice say.

“What's going on?” she asked Ms. Marcia. She felt a comforting hand on her shoulder.

  “It's an old place, this happens sometimes.”

 The other two teachers maneuvered their way to the fuse box.

“I think she's dead,” Z whispered in the dark.

The lights came back on and Z screamed. There was a muddy figure lurking at the door. It was covered with grime but familiar as it came closer.


“Hey Z, I thought you came here.” 

  “Blaire, what is going on?” Marcia asked.

“I was just playing a little prank on my roommate. I thought maybe I scared her too much.”

  “A prank? She was really scared,” Ms. Marcia chastised her.

“I'm sorry.”

“But you– I saw it!” Z cried. Her mind raced. Blaire was completely covered, buried. You can’t breathe under the earth. Shouldn't she have suffocated? Maybe there was a cave or pocket of air and then she climbed out? But wasn't it poisonous gas causing the "breathing earth?” She felt so confused.

“I’m sorry I was just playing a joke. Didn't mean to scare you. Want me to walk you back to our room?” 

Z looked at her feet. She was twisting a toe into the wood planks. Dirt coming up through wood planks of the floor. She stopped and looked at Blaire. She didn't want to go with her. Blaire looked ...different. Yes she was covered with dirt, but it was her eyes that made Z feel queasy. They were dull and hard brown.

“Z, you okay returning by yourself?” Ms. Marcia asked. “I want to have a talk with Blaire.”

“Okay,” she said, relieved.

“But I said I was sorry,” Blaire complained as Z left. 

“Sorry is not going to cut it, Miss. I will be talking to your parents and you can be sure you'll have detention.”

“Oh come on, it was just a joke.”

  “And you're filthy.”

“I’m not filthy. People who pollute…”

Z didn’t hear the rest. She wasn’t outside long when the earth  shook the teachers' building.  The lights flashed and went out again. She wanted to run back to find out what was going on. Instead she ran from where the earth was shaking to her cabin with the concrete floors. It seemed to follow her until she got there, but that was crazy. She peeked out the door’s window facing the teachers’ cabin. The lights were out. She was afraid to know what happened. How could Blaire be there? What was that weird earthquake? It hadn't got her... but would she be next?


Z must have slept because she woke up early with a headache. Blaire wasn't there. She went outside. In the sunshine with birds chirping everything seemed cheery and normal.

At breakfast it was normal. She sat with Conner and Josh. They competed over who could chug chocolate milk the fastest. She noticed Blaire sitting with Timothy of all people and the teachers were at the opposite end of the same table. Was it part of a punishment? They also all looked like they’d already been on the morning hike. She thought about her last hike. 

“You guys,” she said to her friends, “I have to tell you something.”

Blair was watching Nathan. He winked at her as he headed outside. She stood abruptly and followed him. 

She caught up and tapped his shoulder. He was happy to talk to her. He thought she was hot. She was kind of a mess that morning but still hot. 

“Hey,” he said trying to sound smooth. Her dark brown eyes looked almost black and stared him down.

“I know what you did.”

“What do you mean?”

She grabbed his wrist and twisted it hard. He cried out in pain. Then the director clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention, so Blair released him. 

“Watch your back,” she hissed before joining the group gathering around Ms. Brown.

Ms. Brown reminded them to stay together. But she knew someone always wandered off so she gave them instructions for getting back to the camp if they lost the group and their buddy. 

Hiking wasn’t really Nathan’s thing. He needlessly broke branches and crushed small plants and insects. He ate all his snacks and drinks then he looked for some cover so he could pee. He’d barely finished and was having a rare moment of calm when a hand clamped over his mouth so he couldn’t scream as he was dragged away. A voice whispered close to his ear, “Told you to watch your back.”

Conner and Zaria had partnered up. She couldn’t stop talking about the crazy story she told at breakfast. 

“Don’t you think it’s weird Blaire and Timothy sat together.”

“Why do you care?

“Because it shows she is not herself. I mean she likes makeup and manicures and she doesn’t even look  like she showered today.”

“I don’t know,” Conner said for what felt like the hundredth time, as they fell back to the rear of the group to talk with some privacy. “You don’t have proof. It was dark. Probably your imagination.”

“But she’s different. Like…her eyes. You remember she has green eyes.”

“I don’t really remember.”

“They were green. Go look at them now. They’re brown.”

“Maybe they’re hazel and they just look brown today because it’s cloudy. And I don’t see her now.” He looked up at the sky poking between the tree canopy. “I bet it rains.”

Z looked up too and shivered. It would probably get dark. She didn’t like not knowing where Blaire had gone. “Conner you have to believe me. If I only had the video...” She slapped her head. “Duh. I dropped the camera. Maybe we can find it.” 

It was easy enough to fall behind the group and wander off. When they went to the spot she remembered, the camera was waiting.

“Hey, I see it.” Conner pointed. It was on a clear patch of dirt but surrounded by a tangle of plants and huge roots.

“How did it get over there?” 

They had to practically crawl over raised roots to get near it. Z tried to lean from the root of the tree nearest without setting foot on the ground. She still feared it opening up again. Conner crouched beside her and watched.

“You can’t reach.”

“Thanks, I know that.” She would have to hop down to get it. Her foot hung over the air. She couldn’t do it. “I’ve got an idea. Let’s make a chain.”

“Yeah I bet it’d work.”

Conner pressed a hand to the tree and made sure his weight was leaning toward it. She took his other hand and  leaned herself sideways over the camera. It gave her just enough reach to grab the strap.

“Got it! Pull me back!”

As soon as the camera moved the earth around it fell away. For a second only her friend’s grip saved her from plummeting into the waiting hole. She screamed and then he pulled her back. She was shaking beside him, leaning against the sturdy tree. 

“How was it sitting on that spot and not falling in?” he asked.

  She thought it was a good question. 

They watched the video. All Conner managed to say was, “Whoa.”

“Man, the battery is dying,” Z said, shutting it off.

“Let me see,” he took out the memory card. “This is all that really matters,” he said as he put it in his pocket. 

Z put the camera’s strap over her head. “Don’t lose it or no one will believe me.” 

They tried to find the group but there was no trace. “I’m sure we’re back on the trail,” Z said puzzled.a

“You know,” said Conner, “now that I know that really happened last night. I think you should call for help but there's no signal out here.” “Then we’ll have to go back to camp. We should head further this way,” she said pointing to the left.


“I don’t want to believe it, but that breathing earth site seems to be taking up a much bigger area.”

  When they came back to camp, the sky was overcast and ominously silent.

“Where is everyone?”

“Shh. I hear something.”

They went toward one of the student’s cabins and looked in a window. 

“It’s Blaire,” Z whispered. Blaire and some others were chopping up the concrete floor. 

“What are they doing?” Conner asked. 


Suddenly their rhythmic hacking at the floor stopped. And Blaire turned. They ducked and held their breath, feeling like she was looking directly. Was she coming to get them at that moment? Finally Z swallowed and made hand motions singling Conner that they should try the director’s office for a phone. He looked at her quizzically and shrugged. She started to move and waved for him to follow. Her cabin had a concrete floor, but no one was chopping it up.

“Looks like they already got to this one,” Conner said. “Why do you think they’re doing that?”

“No idea.”

It was partially removed. They went over to the hole in the ground. Z gasped and Conner looked away. It was the director. She was covered with dirt. It was clearly in her mouth and nostrils. Conner glanced again, “What should we do?”

“I think she's dead,” Z said slowly. “We are basically made of the same materials of earth but we can’t breathe it.”

“The office phone! We can call for help.”

Z nodded. They went to the office and saw a beautiful landline on the desk. Z ran to it. Conner locked the door behind them. She dialed 911 and a kind voice asked what her emergency was. 

“You have to send help quickly, we’re all in danger. I think the camp director is dead!”  Z went anxiously over to the window as the operator promised help was on the way. There was something that came to the camp entrance by the asphalt road they had taken. She could just see it across the camp campus. It was moving like something, not human or animal. Thunder clapped and Z jumped.

“Are you in a safe place? Can you stay on the line until help arrives?” the 911 operator asked.

Conner had his doubts about the strength of the door. He kept peeking through the cracks between the door and frame. Didn’t seem like anyone was out there. He was about to tell Z when he saw movement. He leaned in close and peeked through. He jumped back when he realized who it was. 

“Z,” he ran over to her. “The director, she's alive out there.” There was tapping at the door. “Why doesn’t she say anything?” he wondered.

“Maybe her lungs are still filled with dirt.”

The door handle shook. 

“Miss are you there?”Conner questioned.

“Yes, but,” her voice trailed off as the rattling at the door stopped. 

“You think she’s getting tools?” Conner asked.

“Or back up,” Z thought out loud. She put the receiver back up to her face. “I don't think it's safe here,” she said. “We're going to try to get to the road!” She hung up and looked at Conner.

He shrugged, “Let’s do it.”

They climbed out the window and ran for the road. The rain had started. Another thunderclap almost gave her a heart attack as she ran past a cabin. She was faster than Conner but wanted them to stay together. 

“Go,” he huffed. “I’ll catch up.”

She did what he said, thinking whoever got there first would help the police see where they were. They needed help. Even though the rain was picking up and clouding her vision she knew they were close to the road. Just as she passed the last cabin, before reaching it, Blair ran out and tackled her. She scratched Z’s neck and Z screamed. Z pulled her legs up and used them to push Blaire off. Then she rolled away and struggled back to her feet. She was disoriented for a second. And heard Blaire yell, “Give me the camera!”

Before she took off toward the road again. Blaire was going to catch her, but Conner had caught up too. Connor was actually shorter than Blair. He was shorter than all the 8th graders so he felt it was fair. He tackled Blaire. 

“Run Z!” he managed to shout before Blaire shoved his face in the mud. He kept fighting her.

Z kept running as the rain started coming down harder. Each drop felt hard like they were also attacking her. She went past the entrance and could see the asphalt road. The earth began to tremble. It was quaking back by the campsite where it bordered the woods. She couldn't pay attention to that and she couldn’t stop. Then someone else was there again. She hoped it was Conner. She couldn’t make them out but that someone pulled at the strap around her neck before seeming to fall and melt into the muddy earth. The pull was strong enough that she stumbled too. She wasn't caught and pushed herself to run again. She pulled the camera off and threw it away from her. Her body was starting to burn with heat from running. She was finally close to the road and she thought and prayed she wasn't hallucinating hearing sirens. Her foot sank into the muddy ground just steps from the blacktop road. And then the other. She felt like she was being sucked into it. She felt pulled down and she slid to the ground. Blaire was back.

“Please, I already gave back the camera. Just let me go, please!” The sirens were real close and Z thought she saw the lights too. Blaire had to see it too.

“They're almost here,” Blaire confirmed. “I don’t think I can hold it together much longer.” Her words were slurred. Z was soaked and covered in mud but Blaire looked saturated like a muddy clay model instead of a person that could dry herself off. “I like you Z. You can go home. You and the rest of the Green Team.” Her voice sounded sticky and fading. Still she tried to smile at Z. “Just remember mother earth is just like any other parent. I brought you into this world and I can take you out.”

Then she was gone, dissolved back into the earth. Z shrieked and scrambled onto the road. She pulled herself up and the first cop car swerved to the side and stopped. 

They loaded her into an ambulance and waited a while, cleaning her up as others were sent on to the campsite. She only had minor scrapes and bruises. Then they closed the door, leaving her in the back sitting on the gurney, staring at the wall as they finished a final check before heading to the hospital.

It opened and one of the EMTs said, “Think we found a friend of yours.”

He helped Connor in. She was relieved he'd made it. She hugged him tight. And the EMT smiled. “You two can ride together just buckle in there.”

  He closed the door again  and headed to the front. As Z pulled back from the hug. Something felt off. 

“Are you ok?” She asked.

“Yes. Just a little beat up.” His brown eyes questioned hers. “Is something wrong?”

  “No, nothing,” she said quietly. She looked away from him, seeming as crushed as the memory card in his pocket.

The emergency response team stood amazed at the edge of the camp site. It was a massive gaping hole.

“What do you think happened?” one asked. 

“Maybe some sort or sinkhole. Looks devastating.”

  “Do you think there are any survivors,” a new less experienced team member asked her veteran partner.

“We'll keep looking. But either way, what a tragedy.”