Getting out of the cave was even more terrifying knowing that the walls or ceiling collapsing and crushing us was a real possibility.
As I walk out into the fresh air and stare at a dim evening sky, I've never felt happier to be under that blue canopy we all take for granted.
I can see the same relief on the faces of the others. After such an experience, the moment seems right for some kind of wise or witty comment, but all I can think to say is, "I'm thirsty."
Well, what do you want from me? I'm tired and my mouth is dry from the air and that face-full of dirt Haruhi gave me earlier.
I watch Haruhi's face react like she's about to yell at me, but then it relaxes.
"Here," she says, tossing me her canteen as we continue walking toward Tsuruya-san's house.
Haruhi actually shared something? With me? Maybe she feels guilty for putting us all in danger.
I take two heavy gulps before she swipes it back.
"That's all you get."
"I can't believe you still have almost a whole canteen left. Were you secretly drinking out of mine or something?" I ask, and Haruhi immediately takes offense at the accusation.
"No, unlike you, I'm smart. After I emptied my canteen, I filled it up from one of the pools of water at the bottom of the cave. It's a little murky, but it's cool and tastes fine."
"Ahem." Koizumi clears his throat long enough to make it clear he wants our attention. "That was probably not such a good idea," he says, his grin faltering just slightly.
"Why, it's not poisonous, is it?" I ask.
I always figured that Haruhi would be the death of me, but poison? I expected something much more dramatic from you, Haruhi.
"Not poisonous exactly, but let's see. . . just how should I put this. Due to certain mineral deposits, cave water acts as a powerful . . . laxative."
Oh no. . . .
I'm not going to go into any details, but I'll say that Sunday there were no SOS Brigade activities because the chief and a certain member were 'under the weather.' We did manage to make it to school on Monday, but I spent the whole day wishing I was at home.
Haruhi didn't show up at the clubroom that afternoon; I don't know if she felt sick or if she was concocting some new scheme. But with her gone, I didn't stay long. I did, however, find enough time to have a short conversation with Koizumi.
"I'm surprised you made it," he said when I walked in.
"I wish I hadn't."
"You shouldn't hold that one misfortune against the whole trip. It was rather fun in the end."
"Rather fun?" I say, ready to slap him. "We were almost crushed or trapped forever down there. Not to mention there's some new species running around in that cave now."
"You really shouldn't worry about that little creature. By now I'm sure he living a full life of scaring the guano out of bats," he says, maintaining that smug air that follows him around like cologne. "And as for that cave in, I don't believe we were in any real danger."
I've got to hear how he's going to justify this one.
"Because I believe Suzumiya-san was responsible for it."
"I thought you said she didn't want to be in any danger."
"I did, which is why I believe we were completely safe during the whole thing. The chances of a naturally occurring cave-in of that magnitude coinciding with what was likely the cave's first visit by humans are extremely small."
Okay, I'll bite. "So why would she want to cause a cave-in?"
"Did you happen to notice how Suzumiya-san reacted when I told Tsuruya-san that she could have a tourist attraction down there?"
The sight of Haruhi's disappointed scowl came back to me.
"I might have seen something."
"I believe that Suzumiya-san sees that room as a monument to us. Its grandeur, its secret nature, the fact that we discovered it all contribute to a great accomplishment on our part. The prospect of thousands of people visiting it cheapens those things. It doesn't completely take them away, but it wouldn't have the same meaning. So by writing our names on the walls and sealing it away with a cave-in, she has essentially ensured that no one will touch what she views as belonging to the SOS Brigade. Think about it; as is, that room is likely to remain untouched for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, carrying the name of our club farther into the future than anyone of us ever could. Don't you think that sounds like the kind of thing Suzumiya-san would want to accomplish?"
I stare at Koizumi for a long time without speaking. I'm not sure what I think about all he's said, but I know what question I want to ask.
"Is that your personal opinion or your esper powers telling you that?"
"I couldn't say."
Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed it, and I'd love to hear what you thought.