Raised by her aunts after her mother's death, Arianna lives a strange and troubled life.

Then, she witnesses the death of 12 year old Lauren Mason, and realizes that she might have inadvertently caused it to happen

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Dearest

Prologue

Lauren followed her mother down the stone trail. It was very odd, walking in this cave, it made Lauren feel claustrophobic. It was as if the stone was slowly getting smaller and smaller, crushing her.

Lauren glanced at the creased paper map, trying to shake her anxiety, and saw a green circle on the map. Apparently, there would be a special cave ahead.

"Wait up Mom!" she called as she stowed the map in her back pocket.

Her mother turned around and waited, calling to Lauren's father to wait as well.

Lauren jogged a bit to catch up to her parents, then the trio walked on, ducking often to avoid lower parts of the tunnel.

Finally, they reached a fork in the trail, a large sign was affixed to the rock, but the letters had long since been carved off, the work of countless tourists.

Lauren saw a slit in the rock wall, like a tiny window into the next room. Excited, she clambered up onto the ledge. Through the slits, she could see a cave. It was lined with what appeared to be green spongy looking rock. Lauren laughed in delight. She grabbed her camera and snapped some pictures, but couldn't really see anything.

So, she decided to fit through the slits. They were about half her height tall and her width wide. Taking off her back pack, Lauren bent over and squeezed through the opening.

"Lauren!" she heard her mother calling.

"I'm coming in a minute!" Lauren responded.

This green cave was amazing. It was as big as Lauren's bed room and had a ceiling twice as tall. On the far side, there was a wooden door, set into the rock.

Lauren ventured towards the door, wondering what it would lead too. And then, it opened.

A woman stepped out and Lauren began to scream as loud as she could.

Her face was hideous, lined with red scars. Her hair was lank and she wore a long dress, covering the rest of her body. She walked hunched over, and she was coming straight towards Lauren.

Two faces peered from behind the door, two more women. Lauren kept screaming as the ugly woman dumped a jar of something bubbling on the cave's floor.

Suddenly, there was an explosion that knocked Lauren to the floor. The spongy stuff on the cave floor was expanding. It started to fill the cave.

Lauren gasped as some of it touched her toes, bared by her sandals. It felt like icy fire. She shivered and stopped screaming to run for the exit.

Now the stuff was the consistency of jello, gooey and clear. Lauren turned to run, but she splashed some of the green stuff on her leg. Again it stung and she tripped. And fell onto her face.

The burning sensation was all over her legs and she couldn't run. She felt sleepy and tired. It was work to keep her eyes open.

Now, her mother was screaming and trying to reach Lauren through the slit, but stopped when the acid began to cover her arms.

Lauren lay on the floor, tears coming, and she watched, as if under water, if only the water was green.

Newspaper Article:

Twelve year old Lauren Mason has died after suffering from serious burns. She was hospitalized in the Ashen Caves after an accident in the caves the day before. It is unclear what occurred but she received third degree burns.

Her parents Janette and Evan Mason are also hospitalized, but doctors say that their prognosis is positive.