Fifteen-year-old Karina's life has changed dramatically in the last year. After losing both her parents in an airplane accident, she is now living in a facility known for using adventure education to turn troubled adolescents into responsible adults. As Karina and other students enter Devil's Icebox, a mazelike cave with a bad reputation for taking the lives of early explorers, they hope to experience a day of challenging spelunking. Instead, they soon are summoned by local authorities to rescue other spelunkers trapped inside-before it is too late.
As the thrill and excitement of cave exploration transforms into a living nightmare, Karina makes a fateful decision that results in the death of a child. In the aftermath, she seeks escape from the emotional trauma and nightmares that plague her by traveling to Hawaii, where she hopes to heal while studying volcanoes. But when Karina connects with a terminally ill child whose last wish is to see a volcanic eruption, she has no idea her world is about to tumble toward disaster.
In this captivating tale, a teenager puts her own life on the line in a perilous race against time-and flowing lava-in a desperate attempt to change a course of tragic events.
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Read an Excerpt
Darkness Comes before the Dawn
Book Four of the Karina Series
By Terry Umphenour
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Terry Umphenour
All rights reserved.
Bats! Karina froze in place as dozens of dark-winged shapes fluttered past her head. Her heart pounded wildly, but the bats didn't send icy chills up and down her spine. Bats didn't frighten Karina. Her flesh crept from the terrified shriek that still echoed in her ears—the shriek that drove countless little brown bats from daily slumber into frenzied flight, the shriek that dredged up unknown fears, and the shriek that could have only come from one of her friends.
"Hurry!" Karina yelled to Joe.
She ran recklessly down the shadowy passageway—against all rules for cave exploration. The dim light provided by the tiny halogen lamp fastened to her helmet bounced wildly along the wet, slippery cave floor.
"Stop running!" Joe shouted.
A restraining hand firmly gripped Karina's shoulder. Her feet slid forward and threw her off balance. She nearly crashed into the cave wall's sharp rocks. Her helmet slid forward on her forehead and blocked part of her vision. Karina struggled to control her emotions. She turned to face her partner.
"Sorry, I should have known better."
Karina fought against the impulse to race toward the direction of the scream—the direction her friends had traveled. She adjusted the unwieldy, mud-stained helmet that protected her from the jagged rock ceiling only inches above her head.
"There was only one scream," Joe said in a reassuring tone, as one might calm a frightened child. He swiped a strand of curly, black hair away from his brow. "Some bats probably startled Megan or Heather. My guess is that it was Megan. She was awfully nervous about going this deep into the cave without an adult leader."
At seventeen, Joe was two years her senior. Karina took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She shined her helmet light onto Joe's chest. Nearly six feet tall, Joe stood almost six inches taller than Karina. His blue eyes sparkled in the reflected light. "You're right," she conceded. "But let's hurry anyway, just in case."
She remembered how pale Megan had turned at breakfast when Martin, Karina's guardian and headmaster of Blue Horizons, had informed them that he felt the class had learned the necessary skills for safe cave exploration. Blue Horizons, a small alternative school located in the state of New York—far from the Missouri cave she currently explored—taught many courses through real-life experiences that included flying an ultralight airplane and cave exploration. Often these courses were taught off campus and lasted for many weeks. That morning, for the first time without adult supervision, Martin had sent three teams of students into Little Scott's Cave to explore.
Megan was so nervous that she hadn't even eaten breakfast. During the previous five days of exploration, Martin had been her partner. He had worked to help Megan overcome the claustrophobia that terrorized her during each underground excursion.
Continuing at a safer pace, Karina worked through the narrow, winding cave and dodged numerous serrated rock spurs jutting out from the limestone walls. Little Scott's Cave was "dead," meaning that its formations no longer grew larger, so Karina wasn't particularly worried about damaging a cave formation, but Martin had taught her to respect nature. She didn't want to break anything—or get cut. Injuring herself would only make whatever situation awaited her even worse.
"There," Karina said, pointing her light toward a hazy pinpoint glowing in the distance. "I see only one light."
"Don't panic." Joe moved in front of her and led the way. "Stay close."
Trembling and fearing the worst, Karina followed Joe through the dark passageway. She refused to let her imagination run wild. He would handle the situation as he always did. Past experiences gave her confidence that Joe could handle whatever emergency awaited them. In just over a year, he had rescued her three times, twice saving her life. Joe had helped her land an ultralight airplane when she was deathly ill from a rattlesnake bite. Without his timely assistance, she would have crashed. Then he had rescued her from the Amazon rainforest when she had gone off on an ill-fated search for a lost pilot. And only three months earlier, he had helped her survive a shipwreck.
Joe's headlamp suddenly illuminated a slim, dark figure with long blonde hair flowing from beneath her helmet. He asked quietly, "Heather, are you hurt? Where's Megan?"
"I twisted my ankle."
Heather sat on the damp, slippery mud. Grasping her right, boot-enclosed ankle with both hands, she rocked back and forth, obviously in great pain. "Megan, like, lost her balance and put her hand on the ceiling to keep from falling. She touched a bat and freaked. I grabbed her arm and tried to keep her from running, but I slipped and went down. Megan ran down that passageway on your right."
Karina knelt beside the much taller girl. "Take off your boot and let me have a look."
Heather shook her head. "No. I might not be able to get it back on. I can feel my ankle swelling. There is almost half a mile of passageway to navigate to get out of here. Like, I don't intend to walk barefoot on this slippery mud and sharp rocks. Go after Megan. I'll wait here for you."
Karina shook her head. "We can't leave you alone. You're hurt."
Joe grasped Karina's right arm and gently pulled her to her feet. "Heather's right. Paul and Jessica should be along soon. We'd better search for Megan. According to the map Martin showed us last night, that passageway breaks up into many divergent smaller ones, some of which have deep holes filled with water."
She bent over Heather and placed a gloved hand on the taller girl's shoulder. Not long ago Heather and Karina had been something less than friends, but after surviving a shipwreck and other adventures together, they had become close. "Stay put," she instructed. "No heroics. Understand?"
Heather nodded agreement. "Yeah. Like, go. I'll wait here."
"Paul and Jessica are supposed to meet us here within the next ten or fifteen minutes. Break out a light stick and save your batteries," Joe said. Then he pointed his headlamp down a narrow passageway to his right.
"Use your emergency blanket to keep warm," Karina added. "Fifty-four degrees Fahrenheit seems warm when you're moving, but it doesn't take long to get cold when you're sitting on damp ground."
Heather pulled a chemical light stick and a thin emergency blanket from her backpack. "I'll be fine. Like, go already. Find Megan before she does something dumb and hurts herself."
Karina edged past Joe. "I'll lead. You have better eyes in the dark than I do. I'll light up the floor; you concentrate on searching the shadows."
"Good thinking." Joe positioned himself directly behind Karina and a little to her left. "Goslow. If Megan has fallen and is unconscious, we don't want to miss her."
Karina ducked under a rock outcrop, and darkness closed around her. She entered the narrow, winding passageway that led deep into the cave—a passageway that led to more than eight miles of dark shadows and unknown hazards. Martin had instructed them not to enter the wilder sections without adult supervision, but Megan had given her and Joe no choice.
Ankle-deep water reminded her of Martin's lecture on dangers that might be encountered while exploring caves. She realized that Megan faced two immediate dangers: falling and hypothermia. Megan could also get lost or slip into deep water and drown, but falling and hypothermia presented the most likely threats. Falling might lead to fractures or head injuries. Both could lead to serious consequences, possibly even death.
"Take that passageway on the right," Joe instructed, his words breaking the silent darkness and making her jump. She had been so absorbed in thought that she hadn't even seen the new passageway. Karina shined her headlamp first toward the right and then down a much larger passageway on her left.
"Are you sure? The left is bigger, and it's dry."
"Megan would be panicking, not using rational thought." Joe stepped into the right passageway, removed his backpack, and took out a map. "Megan's right-handed. She probably hugged the wall to her right and didn't even notice the other passageway. This one is more dangerous. The map indicates waist-deep water and a long way to go before reaching dry ground. The one on the left is much longer, but it's dry and pretty easy to travel."
Karina sighed deeply and took a final moment to shine her light into both passageways. She wanted to go left, but Joe's logic forced her to accept his decision.
"Let's leave a light stick here and a marker pointing which way is out in case Megan went that way and comes back before we do," Karina suggested.
Joe pulled her close to him and gave her a warm, enduring hug. "Great idea. When it comes to handling a crisis, you've come a long way."
"I've had lots of experience lately," Karina said dryly and returned his hug, burying her head against Joe's chest. Why is it that every time we have a chance to be truly alone, there is always some emergency? Karina sighed and gently pulled free from Joe's strong arms. First things first.
She stared into the dark void and decided that this situation wasn't as serious as others she and Joe had shared. Still, being lost in a cave had its own dangers, and Megan might be in serious trouble.
Joe broke the inside cylinder of a chemical light stick and shook it to mix the two liquids inside. Immediately, the cave around them filled with a soft, white light. Using the heel of his boot, Joe scraped an arrow in a muddy section of the cave floor that stood above the water level. It pointed down the passageway to where Heather waited for them. Then he etched the word "out" along the shaft of the arrow and placed the light stick next to the drawing.
Karina shivered slightly. Her feet and legs were soaking wet from splashing through the shallow stream. "Let's hurry. I'm getting cold. If Megan came this way, she must be freezing by now."
"She'll be fine as long as she keeps moving. Lead on."
Twenty minutes later Karina and Joe waded through cold, hip-deep water but saw no signs that Megan had traveled through the water-filled passageway. Karina was ready to suggest going back and getting more help when Joe abruptly grabbed her arm and pulled her to a complete stop.
"Look! A flashlight!" Joe pointed his headlamp toward a small plastic object floating in the brown water. He picked up the flashlight and examined it closely. "It's one of ours. Megan must have come this way."
"Megan!" Karina shouted and then listened as her own voice echoed down the seemingly endless passageway. Only silence greeted her effort. The dark cave swallowed her voice, leaving an uneasy silence.
"Walk slowly. We might find more signs," Joe said.
Trembling from cold and fear of what she might find, Karina strained her eyes, seeking out any clue that might lead the way to her friend. She sloshed forward; the water's depth increased, inching above her waist and coming to rest halfway up her chest. Karina's teeth chattered slightly; her exhaled breath produced wispy clouds that her headlamp illuminated.
Karina thought, Poor Megan must be terrified and cold. Maybe she's injured and all alone in this eternal darkness.
Joe swung his headlamp to their right and switched on a backup flashlight, interrupting her worried thoughts. Increased brightness from the combined light sources exposed a dark object half submerged in the murky water. He carefully lifted a nylon backpack from the water by a broken strap and then opened it.
"That's Megan's backpack," Karina stammered, trying to control her shivering.
Joe rummaged through the soggy bag. "This isn't good. Her extra flashlight, batteries, water, emergency blanket, and light sticks are all here. Megan has only her headlamp and what she's wearing. If she hasn't changed batteries, she may already be without light."
Karina shined her light in every direction. "Then she can't be far. She wouldn't try moving in total darkness. Even if she's still panicked, she'd grab onto something and stay put."
"Megan!" Joe's voice echoed. "Shout if you can hear us."
Only silence answered from the darkness beyond. Karina shined her light onto Joe's chest to get his attention. "I'll look to the right. You look to the left. We've got to find her quickly. How long did Martin say a person could survive in fifty-degree water?"
"About two hours if a person is in the water and isn't able to move and generate heat," Joe responded. "If Megan's out of the water, she should be able to last five or six hours. But she's tiny and doesn't have much body fat."
Karina increased her pace, determined to find her friend as quickly as possible. At least thirty minutes had passed since Megan had broken away from Heather. Megan would be turning fifteen the next day, and the class had planned a surprise birthday party. Karina feared tragedy might annul the celebration unless she and Joe acted quickly.
For the next hour, she waded through cold, muddy water, stopping to shout every twenty yards. She and Joe searched two short side passageways that they found on the right side of the cave, but they found nothing and had to continue down the long, wet main passageway.
Shivering from being cold and wet, Karina stopped. "Do you think we should turn back? Did we miss something on the left side?"
The side-to-side movement of his helmet light indicated Joe's dismissal of her idea to turn back. "This is our best hope for finding Megan in a timely manner. Martin and the others should be searching by now. Let's give it another twenty minutes. If we don't find Megan by then, we'll leave a marker to show how far we searched and then go get more help."
Joe pulled her to him, hugged her for a few long seconds, and then vigorously rubbed her shoulders and arms. In spite of the fact that she and Joe were unofficially going steady—Blue Horizons discouraged formal commitments of affection among its students—she found little relief in Joe's attempt to warm and reassure her. She slipped from his arms and splashed onward.
Karina felt the tightness of panic rising in her voice. A sudden heaviness settled on her chest. Worry made her careless; she nearly fell headfirst several times. Near the end of Joe's twenty-minute deadline, she stopped and shouted. "Megan!"
"Here ... I'm here."
A barely perceptible voice floated to Karina, bringing a vast measure of relief. Karina and Joe shined their lights in every direction, seeking the source of Megan's voice.
"Megan! Keep shouting! We're coming!"
"Here ... here ... here," the voice echoed. "I'm up here ... here ... here. I can see your light ... light ... light."
Joe shined his headlamp and flashlight upward. The light revealed a small hole on the right side of the cave wall. The narrow opening was about two feet above the water level. Skid marks streaked the muddy wall—evidence of recent climbing.
"She has to be in there." Karina moved toward the hole. "Boost me up. I'll check it out. Megan, I'm coming."
Joe easily hoisted her ninety-eight pounds up the incline. Karina scrambled on hands and knees for nearly ten yards before her light landed on a small, muddy girl cuddled up against a rock.
Megan sat with arms wrapped around her legs. Her chin rested on top of her knees, and her teeth clicked with great intensity.
"Megan," Karina called softly, scrambling to the shivering teen. "I'm here. Joe's here. Look at me."
"Is she there?" Joe's voice penetrated the darkness.
"Yes," Karina yelled.
She removed Megan's useless helmet. Water dripped from the shivering girl's soggy hair and soaked clothing. Seconds later Karina heard a scrambling sound behind her.
"How is she?" Joe asked.
"Freezing," Karina lifted Megan's pallid face. The shivering girl tried to speak, but clicking teeth made intelligible speech impossible. "I don't think she can walk. What should we do?"
"I'll go back for help. You begin treatment for hypothermia," Joe directed.
"Okay, but hurry. Time is short. I'll try to warm Megan. Be careful. We're counting on you."
In a facetious manner, Joe saluted her stream of orders. "Yes, ma'am. Help will be here in no time." He moved close, slipped off a soggy glove, lifted Karina's mud-smudged face, and lightly kissed her cheek. Then, without saying another word, he slid down the muddy incline and disappeared.
Excerpted from Darkness Comes before the Dawn by Terry Umphenour. Copyright © 2013 Terry Umphenour. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Underworld.................... 1
Chapter 2 Hypothermia.................... 10
Chapter 3 Going Vertical.................... 24
Chapter 4 Cave Rescue.................... 39
Chapter 5 The Maze.................... 47
Chapter 6 Devil's Icebox.................... 64
Chapter 7 A Race against Time.................... 72
Chapter 8 A Return to the Past.................... 85
Chapter 9 Hawaiian Holiday.................... 99
Chapter 10 Make-A-Wish Foundation.................... 113
Chapter 11 Volcanoes National Park.................... 123
Chapter 12 Earthquake.................... 135
Chapter 13 A Hot Time at Sea.................... 148
Chapter 14 Eruption.................... 158
Chapter 15 On the Run.................... 169
Chapter 16 The Darkness before Dawn.................... 179
Chapter 17 The New Dawn.................... 194