Every Summer as far back as I can remember, my parents took us camping. They would find respite care for the foster kids and we would take a week for just us, camping in our big musty canvas tent until the year I turned twelve, and camping in our RV after that. Back in the tent days, when my sister was still really little (she's six years younger), I was usually allowed to invite my cousin Amethyst along to keep me company. She's three years older than I am, but until she started high school we were pretty much inseparable.
One year, we got to go to a cave as part of our trip. My love of caves goes pretty far back, clearly. I don't know for sure how old we were on this particular vacation, but I'm guessing I was about ten, my sister was about four, and Amethyst was about thirteen.
As with most "show caves" -- ones that are set up to give guided tours to visitors -- the guide had a talk to give that mixed cave facts with local lore. Near the high point of the tour, the crowd was ushered into a large cavern with benches, where we sat down to listen to the tale of an old cowboy who had done something-or-other in the cave. I don't remember anything about the story, only that at the end they insinuated he was still in the cave without being too overtly scary. Another guide put on a cowboy hat and walked up the back side of the giant rubble pile we were in the cavern to see, so that his or her be-hatted shadow was cast across the top of the rubble mountain at exactly the right moment. It was all very well done as far as I was concerned.
After the story, the guide announced that it was time for us to all experience total darkness. Every cave tour I have ever been on has included this. You're thirty, fifty, eighty feet underground, and they instruct everyone to stay put, and then they turn off all the lights. You literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. There is no light at all. None. It's wicked awesome, quite impressive, and a little bit eerie. As the lights went out that day, just after the end of the semi-spooky cowboy story, it occurred to Amethyst quite suddenly that my rather sensitive little sister was probably pretty scared. The crowd fell silent as the guide doused her flashlight, plunging us all into impenetrable black, and Amethyst quietly reached over and squeezed my sister's hand reassuringly.
As thirty people sat quietly in the dark, listening to the nothing of the soundless cave, a tiny, quavering voice broke the silence: "Who's holding my hand?!"