Monday, February 4, 2013

The Cavern's Lights


As promised, here is a story I read about Black Path Caverns when I was younger.  Notice that some of the references seem right out of the same mythos as the rest of Pale Forest.  The author is unknown, and we've always assumed it was fiction, though no one ever knew for sure.

The Cavern's Lights 
I remember my first trip to the cave.  I was only fourteen, but my dad had been many times and finally gotten around to taking me with him.  He was something of a “weekend spelunker”, I guess, and though the gene hadn’t been passed to my older brother, I was always fascinated by his stories of hidden passageways and subterranean rivers.  Now that I was actually here, I couldn’t wait to see everything for myself.
It was a little disappointing, then, when I realized that this first trip was to be limited in scale.  As I look back on it, plunging down into the depths of the caverns right away would have been potentially catastrophic, but the teenage me didn’t hold the same appreciation for my dad’s common sense.  Nevertheless, this was only a taste of things to come, serving to heighten my desire to know more about the world hidden from the sun.
Caving soon became the way my dad and I connected.  He was often busy at work, so spending time with my brother and I was difficult.  Here, lost in the labyrinthine tunnels, we were free to relate without the worries of the outside world.  It was if nothing else existed beyond us and the silent, stone walls.
Before too long, I was an expert within the confines of the cave.  Smaller than my dad, I was capable of wedging myself into areas that he couldn’t venture, exposing the cavern’s innermost secrets.  He of course protested to these solo missions at first, but later realized just how knowledgeable I had become and relented more often.  The pictures I often brought back didn’t hurt, either.
Eventually I “out-grew” my father.  My ability had eclipsed his, and I’d begun to see him as a sort of anchor.  I knew I’d never discover all the cave had to teach me with him holding me back.  That’s why at the age of seventeen, I began caving by myself—I’ve been doing so ever since.  No matter how often I return to the caves, though, I am always filled with nervous anticipation of new discoveries.
I am now twenty-five and my knowledge of the caves near my hometown is beyond any other living person.  I have seen things in the depths that no other eye has, a fact in which I take no small amount of satisfaction.  Some locations, however, I have shared with others as their beauty has compelled me to do so.  This, then, is my account of one such trip I took with an ex-girlfriend.
From the moment we arrived at the caverns, I could tell Sharon was anxious.  Whether this was because of the activity itself—she was a caver as well, but the risk associated with this particular descent was inherent—or the anticipation of what the weekend might hold between us, I wasn’t sure.  I should pause here to explain that I had been seeing Sharon for over a year at this point, and the general feeling was that we were creeping closer to a proposal on my part. I actually did have a ring with me, so her expectations, if she indeed had them, weren’t unfounded.  I remember putting my arm around her shoulders to try and reassure her.
“Don’t be scared.  I know this place really well,” I explained. 
She only nodded, but her attitude did perk up a bit after that.  I suspect my words played less of a role than my touch.
Our wristwatches were the only indication of how long we spent crawling through the cave’s meandering passageways that day, but I know it took hours.  Between the exertion itself and convincing Sharon to follow me into the suffocating darkness, I was exhausted when we finally stopped to rest.  So was she, but my promise that the trip would be worth the work had pushed us both along.  We were already well past the portion of the caves that she had seen and were now approaching areas that only I had ever mapped, so the break seemed well earned.  I took out a few small protein bars and spread a blanket on a flat portion of the cave floor.  Though we had often shown each other a great deal of “affection” while in the caves, today we found ourselves too weary to do much.  We had no such problems devouring the bars, however. 
To pass the time, I told Sharon several stories about my experiences in the cave.  She listened intently to all of them, but seemed the most interested in those dealing with the unexplained or frightening.  My story of a shadow that seemed to follow me through the tunnels one day brought squeals of delight, as did the mystery of a child’s laughter I’d heard in one small room.  Sharon seemed unsure of whether or not I was simply making them up, but, for my part, I wasn’t about to admit either way.
After a brief respite, we decided to push on towards our first destination: an underground grotto.  Sharon had often heard me speak of it, and since I’d assured her that we were no more than an hour away, we quickly picked up our threadbare camp and resumed our descent.  True to my word, we were soon staring into the shimmering surface of the most beautiful and untouched body of water we’d ever seen.  Illuminated by the single lamp I had brought along, it looked almost like glass.  Initially Sharon dipped a single toe as I began to strip, but soon after joined me.  Thanks to underground vents, the water was as warm as any hot tub and felt great on our sore muscles.  We spent several hours enjoying ourselves before climbing out and falling asleep wrapped around one another.
We reluctantly said farewell to the grotto some hours later and continued on towards our next point of interest.  This room I had also told Sharon of—deep in the caves sat a magnificent ballroom of sorts, held aloft by crystalline columns of stone.  It was not easy to reach; one had to shamble down a fissure in the cavern itself and then through several tight passages.  It took us around four hours from the time we’d left the grotto to reach it.  I watched as Sharon marveled at nature’s architecture.  She agreed that my stories had hardly done it justice.  I’d brought some actual food which we ate here in a kind of subterranean picnic.  Though the meal wasn’t fancy, the setting made it seem fit for royalty.  After a few pictures, we moved on towards more of my discoveries.
And so it went for hours.  We saw rivers and plunging falls, ornate stalactites, and even a hole I’d not thought to descend for the fumes that it emitted.  With every stop, Sharon and I grew to understand each other more.  Here were two kindred spirits in the one place they both could understand.  It was an amazing time for both of us.
Finally there was but one more stop on our tour.  The grand finale before returning to the surface.  This secret I had not told Sharon anything about, though she knew I was keeping something special for the end.  I only hoped she’d complete the arduous task of reaching it.  She almost backed out when we reached the water’s edge.
“What are we doing here?” she asked.  “We’ve seen rivers like this already.”
“True.  We’re going past this, though.”
“But how would we reach…” she paused as I handed her a snorkel.
After a few moments of insisting I wasn’t joking, followed by a few more of cajoling, she reluctantly agreed to the trip.  We packed most of our clothes in my waterproof pack before going under, and then set out with only our small, underwater flashlights to see.  Of course I could have gotten us there blindfolded, but I don’t think Sharon would have approved.
Eventually the trip through the murky waters required us to actually pass under a stone wall and swim briefly with the cavern directly overhead.  I am not at all claustrophobic, but this portion even gets to me at times.  I had not told Sharon about it beforehand.  As I had feared, she hesitated at this point and seemed ready to double back.  Not willing to let her miss out, I grabbed her by the hand and began pulling her along.  Though she resisted at first, Sharon did seem to realize I knew what I was doing and allowed me to lead.  The experience made me feel quite close to her.
Emerging on the other side, we both began to gasp for air and I hugged her close before she could bemoan my slight bit of treachery.  Switching off my flashlight, I whispered into her ear, “We’re here.”
She didn’t seem to notice the main attraction until after I had switched hers off as well.  Curiously, we could still see each other’s faces.  She gave me a quizzical look before looking up into the source of the faint, blue light filling the room.  Sharon gasped at the sight.
We were standing in an expansive dome, at least three stories high, the top of which was filled with dazzling orbs of light!  They seemed to float just beyond arm’s reach.
“It’s amazing,” she cooed.  “Like we’re outside, looking at the most beautiful night sky ever.”
This of course she knew to be impossible, but the description was accurate.  Remembering how I felt the first time I’d seen this seemingly impossible sight, I suggested we lay down and just stare at them for a while.  We did, and their hypnotic effect was just as I had remembered.
A half hour later—or perhaps more; we were quite drowsy—I finally got up the nerve to go through with the final part of my plan for the weekend. Reaching into my pocket, I fumbled for the ring I had brought along.  Producing it, I turned to face Sharon, the first person I’d thought enough of to bring here.
“I know about you and Scott.”
Sharon seemed startled from her restful state.  “Hmm?” she asked, dreamily.
I could feel the anger in my voice.  “Your ex, Scott.  I know.”
Sharon, still on her back, pushed up on her elbows.  “You know what?”
“You went to see him when I was out of town two weeks ago.”
Even in the darkness, I could sense the color running from her face.  “I think you’re confused…”
“Don’t lie to me!” I snapped.  “I found the messages!”
“What?  You went into my phone?”
Something horrible was welling up in me.  “You have no right to be self-righteous.  You cheated on me, remember?”
Sharon sat silently for a moment or two.  “Look,” she began, “it was a terrible mistake.  I’m so sorry.”  She reached for my arm but I pulled away which seemed to wound her.  “I don’t understand.”  I could tell she was about to begin crying.  “Why did you even bring me down here if…”
I knew what her pause meant.  “Oh don’t be ridiculous,” I scolded her.  “If I had planned some sort of revenge, I could have taken it at any time.”  The idea that I would hurt her actually stung.  I was not a violent person.
“Then why?”
I shrugged.  “Maybe I just wanted to see if there was anything to save.”  I took the ring and showed it to her.  “But I guess there isn’t.”  Chucking the ring across the cavern for effect, I got up to pack.
Then it happened.  Sharon, without a word, stood and began crossing the room towards the place where the ring had landed.  But she didn’t get there.  Within a dozen feet or so, she stopped, as if caught by something.  She immediately began to scream.
Cautiously I made my way out beside her, sidestepping the danger she had so foolishly missed.
“Help!” she yelled rather piteously.  “I’m…”
“Stuck?” I suggested.  She continued to writhe in front of me which only succeeded in causing the long, sticky thread to wind more tightly about her. “What would you have me do?”
Sharon had real fear in her eyes.  “Get me out of this… thing!  What is this?  Where did you bring me?”
Turning away, I smiled as I made my way back towards our blanket.  Behind me, the trap wound about Sharon’s face, silencing her screams.  This made it much more enjoyable to watch.
Glowworms are amazing creatures, I had always thought so.  But it wasn’t until I’d found these, that I’d fully understood just how fantastic they truly are.  At almost eight feet in length—or as best I could estimate—they were like nothing known to man.  What they normally ate, I shudder to imagine, but on this occasion they had me to thank for their meal.  I knew I’d never have been able to do it myself, after all, so perhaps I owed them a bit of gratitude as well. When it was all over and done with, I gathered our things and set out on the journey upwards.  
There have been questions about Sharon since that day, lingering doubts in people’s minds, but with no body or way to find her, they have all but faded completely.  And I am free to return to the caves almost daily, to plumb their depths and discover their secrets.
Maybe this makes my reluctance to hang around the cave for longer than I did a little more defensible.

Until next time...