At this week’s meeting of the Young Mountain Movers, there would be no talk, Pastor Matt said. Instead, we would be doing an exercise. This, he said, gesturing to a circle of chairs in the center of the room covered with brown butcher paper and held together with painters tape, was The Cave.
What’s in there, Robin Dernberger asked.
The answer, Pastor Matt said.
The answer to what, Greg Horne asked.
To the only question there is, Pastor Matt said.
We went into The Cave and sat down in a circle. Pastor Matt tugged his ball cap low and opened in prayer. He led us in singing a church song and then another one. After he put his guitar down, he looked up at us with shiny eyes.
Right now there are kids just like you trapped in a cave just like this.
Just like this? Jeremy Howser asked, poking at the brown butcher paper.
On the other side of the world, Pastor Matt said. He told us to close our eyes. Now imagine it. You’re all just messing around with your coach, and that’s me, I’m your coach and, we’re all a team of some sort, okay? And we do this all the time, just explore together. Except this time, it happens in a way where we can’t leave, so now we’re trapped and we can’t, you know. Get out.
I can get out, Greg Horne said, lifting a corner of the butcher paper.
I can too, said Jeremy Howser, trying to peel off the painters tape without tearing it. Sorry, he said, tearing it.
Pastor Matt reminded everyone that our eyes were supposed to be closed and described our surroundings and how dire our situation was. Do you feel it, he said, his voice shaking slightly. How close death is in this place? Can you smell its sulfur breath? And it’s, well, it’s just very uncomfortable too. Cold. Wet. You’re miserable, is what it comes down to. I mean, there’s really no hope. So every breath is one more closer to, you know, dying, and I mean, that fact is staring you right in the face. So now you’re basically panicking, right? And remember death’s hot breath? Well, it’s closer now and—
Greg Horne interrupted by making a long and loud farting sound with his palms and lips. Pastor Matt bowed his head and waited for the laughter to peter out. He looked around at each of our faces and smiled thinly.
See, now, I’m actually glad you did that. Because that’s one way to deal with it, I suppose. Like it’s all a big joke. But tell me, Greg. What do you see when you close your eyes? Hm? What special treatment do your farts buy you in The Cave? Think about it, I’m serious.
None, I guess, Greg Horne said after thinking about it.
None, Pastor Matt repeated with his eyes closed.
Pastor Matt, Robin Dernberger said. My mom is doing the snack this week and she texted me that she’s here with a bunch of Taco Bell and that she needs help carrying and that she’s parked in the loading zone out back.
Darn it, Pastor Matt said, opening his eyes and looking at his watch. Okay, well. Darn it. Wait, don’t all go. Just one second. Okay, so The Cave is really the world because well, that’s the lesson, okay? So please remember to pray for those boys in Thailand, yes, but when they get out of their cave, there’s going to be another one, yeah? Because The Cave is the world, do you get that? It’s all one big cave and that’s why Jesus—okay guys, yeah tear it up, that’s right, but you get it? Because what’s really outside The Cave is Heaven and that’s really where we’re going after we get rescued and that’s the Jesus part? Everyone gets that? Rachel, explain it back to me.
Do you mean Rachel P. or Rachel W.? someone asked.
Rachel P. is at her dad’s this week, someone else said.
Then I mean the only Rachel here today, Pastor Matt said in a sharp voice. Everyone stopped and looked at him.
Rachel Palmers’ eyes went wide and darting. Um, that Jesus saves us from The Cave? she said.
Yes, basically, Pastor Matt said, standing and adjusting the brim of his ball cap. He looked around at the torn and crushed paper. Yes, that’s basically it, he said.
Greg Horne lingered as the rest of the group rushed out the double doors. Pastor Matt, I think I have a question, he said. How do we know what’s outside The Cave?
Pastor Matt was collecting scraps of brown butcher paper in a garbage bag. It’s a, uh, do you do metaphors in school yet? Okay, well, it’s one of those. It’s pretend to make a point.
So it’s not a real cave after we die?
Pastor Matt turned to face him. No, no, no. Life is The Cave, Greg. The world is The Cave. After The Cave is heaven. Because of Easter, remember?
Yeah, Greg Horne said. But I think I still have a question though? Because I think, okay so how do we know? Like, if our whole lives are in The Cave, then how do we know what’s outside of it is better or even different? Like, what if after this cave there’s just another cave? Or what if it’s just… nothing?
Pastor Matt looked into his garbage bag and frowned. He cleared his throat and said, Well, but didn’t say anything after. His forehead creased. He stayed like that for a long moment. Eventually, he bent down and returned to picking up the shreds of paper. Greg Horne started to leave and was almost out the door before Pastor Matt said, Greg hold on a second. When he looked back, Pastor Matt’s eyes were shiny again.
Because of the Bible, Pastor Matt said, in a cracked voice. Because that’s what it says. I mean, there’s also the, uh, well, I’m forgetting it now for some reason. I mean, I don’t know, really. I mean, I’m sorry, I guess. He swallowed. Does that answer your question?
Greg Horne said it did.
Courtney Cousins spilled her Baja Blast and Kenny Lucas ate seven soft tacos before getting sick in the volleyball court and Sharon Hutchinson was pulled aside for a quick chat about being too cliquey and why it’s so important to include girls like Kathy Fleming and boys like Gary Medina because they maybe don’t have as many friends at their schools, so Mountain Movers becomes a really important part of their week and to keep that in mind, just for next time. And when Pastor Matt was bending down to say this, he took off his ball cap to look Sharon Hutchinson in the eye and when he did, she saw that his hair was different in a way that made her feel sad.
C’mon, Pastor Matt said, quickly putting the hat back on.
They rejoined the rest of the Young Mountain Movers and Pastor Matt stood in the middle of the multipurpose room and waved his hands. This is a good group, he said. Don’t you think? I just can’t say enough good things about you guys. Don’t I say that Mrs. Dernberger? Always how much I love this group?
You do, Mrs. Dernberger said, who had stayed for Taco Bell.
See? I’m serious. Best part of my week, right here, Pastor Matt said.
Other parents began arriving for pick up. They kept their coats on and waited for Pastor Matt to close the meeting in prayer.
Okay gang, let’s bow our heads. Heavenly Father, we just come to you tonight in prayer and in fellowship this day, this day you have given us, Lord Jesus, and we thank you God for the opportunity we have to be here and worship you with our relationships with each other. And I just pray for each of these Mountain Movers, Father God, that you may guide them through their own Caves, God, and you deliver them, you rescue them because they are your faithful explorers. Because you are a kind God, a just God, and you do not tempt your children, no Jesus, you merely test us, and uh, the Bible says, the Bible says you will not give us more than we can bear, so I guess that means if it’s happening then I can bear it, right? You know, I mean, because—
Amen, Pastor Matt, one of the parents said.
Thank you, Pastor Matt, another parent said.
You can beat this thing, Jeremy Howser’s dad said and next to him Robin Dernberger’s mom touched the corners of her eyes with a Taco Bell napkin.
Amen, Pastor Matt said, in a voice just above a whisper.
Everyone rumbled Amen in response and the fluorescent lights in the multipurpose room flickered overhead. Coats were zipped, key fobs blorped, and Pastor Matt locked the doors behind us. We sat in the backseats of our warm little cars and drove out into the pale dark, each of us buoyed, at least for the moment, by the unshakeable belief that everyone can be saved.
Kyle Seibel is a writer in Santa Barbara, CA. His stories have appeared in Pithead Chapel, X-R-A-Y, and trampset. His tweets, which mostly suck, can be found @kylerseibel. His debut collection, HEY YOU ASSHOLES, will be published on Bear Creek Press in 2023.