Working Title: The Stories We Tell Part 2 of 3 WIP
Well, this thing has grown a bit longer than I estimated, so I’m extending it to 3 parts. At around 5-7 pages a piece, I think that’s manageable chunks. The last part is not completed; however I do have the ending written, so at least I know where this thing is going! Without further ado, here is part two*
* Rhyme completely unintentional.
Stepping into the cave from the previously blinding sunshine was akin to plunging from the shore of a warm, tropical beach directly into the arctic depths. My whole body took a moment to adjust to the profound and heavy darkness, even as the shade leached away the warmth in my skin. My sweat began to cool to clammy dampness, comforting me even as that same chill crept steadily along my vertebrae.
The walls were originally very narrow, clinging close to us as we pushed our way inside. The rock face bent and curved around as we walked, forming a tiny switchback before pushing us into a larger opening. The walls flared out as the ceiling rose into a room that was large enough for the four of us to gather comfortably. Our flashlights danced across the ceiling, filling in the tiny hills and crevasses that made up the mottled walls and ceiling. Brian found a bat, but only nudged me silently to share his discovery. Hayley hated bats, and he was not about to have her in hysterics. But he smiled anyway, obviously pleased with himself. I studied the room, feeling a deep appreciation for the natural state of it take hold. There were a few plastic bottle and food wrappers lying in the corners, but if you ignored those, it was pristine. The way the entrance wound into this room, no sunlight crept in from outside. It was almost difficult to even find the narrow passage we used to enter, but Brian dutifully pointed an arrow back at it in crisp blue chalk on the grey wall.
“Don’t go getting in a twist, Gretel,” snapped Brian as he eyed me watching him mark the exit. “We’ll make sure you make it to Grandma’s house.”
“Wrong story, Bri,” quipped Hayley, her head tilted back to a sharp angle to view the rough hewn ceiling. Her light danced over the ceiling, lighting briefly on Brian’s bat before rocketing back to the floor. “Are we just going to stand here all day?” Her discomfort at the winged rodent bled through her friendly smile.
“Just through here,” waved Jocelyn, her flashlight darting down a long stretching tunnel. The cool air and the brilliant joy of her smile revitalizing me, I jogged behind, yelling for her to wait up. I could hear Brian and Hayley exchanging slighted heated whispers behind me, the word “bat” slipping between them in whispered barks. Eventually Hayley pushed her way past me to join Jocelyn in the lead. Brian sidled up beside me, seemingly weighed down by the nearly empty pack on his back.
“It’s a cave. There are bats,” he sighed, exasperation creeping into his voice. There was no further explanation needed, and we continued in friendly silence as Jocelyn led the way through the winding tunnels. Occasionally, Brian would stop and make another mark on the walls, but we soldiered on until the view stopped us in our tracks.
What had been a mere thirty minute walk must have led us even deeper and farther into this cave system than I could have imaged. From where we stood, the emptiness of the cave stretched on for eternity. The rock floor we stood on arced down after about fifteen feet in, a craggy system of stones demonstrating a treacherous path down into what I assumed was the bottom of this cavern, though my flashlight had dimmed to the point that I could not be certain. Somewhere, the sound of water played over the rocks, echoing back and forth in the cavern to harmonize with itself again and again. As the flashlights shifted through the murky darkness, flashes of water on light illuminated a series of small pools and a steady trickle of water tumbling down. The sight and sound were beautiful, yet chilling. The summer warmth was gone now, leaving an empty feeling of cold.
“Are you guys hungry? I think this would be a great place for a bite to eat,” reported Jocelyn, slinging her pack from her shoulders to the dusty floor. I watched her stretch, the long muscles of her back moving smoothly in the shadowy light. Visions of the slender, lithe body under the dusty camping clothes pulled a smile to my face that I hoped she wouldn’t see.
The fruit in my bag—a single apple, banana, and orange—had not fared as well as I had hoped in the trek to the cave. All salvageable, but with a distinct mushiness that was less than appetizing. However, despite the relative brevity of our journey thus far, I was ravenous. The banana disappeared in a flash, and the apple was down to a bare core in similarly swift fashion. I pulled out a mushed peanut butter sandwich and opened the zipper bag. The sound was surprisingly loud in the cave, as if the walls were replaying over and over this foreign sound. It felt wrong, a chill shifting up and down my spine, but the sound of a plastic bag in the darkness seemed even more intruder than the previous loud crunch of the apple. No one else seemed to mind, however, so I tried to shake the growing sense of unease.
Brian ripped open a bag of chips, the same feeling of intrusion creeping along my body again. Maybe we shouldn’t be here. The thought raced through my mind and was dismissed almost too fast to realize. I chided myself for my unease in such a peaceful place.
“This place is amazing, Jocelyn. Did you come here a lot?”
She smiled. “No, only once or twice. It’s not the most riveting place, but I always found it calming, ya’ know?” She stared of wistfully into the darkness, and I could see her shoulders relax even more as her eyes slipped close.
Brian’s loud munching on his chips shattered the quiet moment, but he remained oblivious. “Yeah, you could totally set up a recording in here and make some serious bucks on Cave Sounds to Sleep To. I’d buy it.”
Hayley laughed. “You have more useless get-rich-quick schemes than most cartoon villains.”
“And one day you may be very happy that one pays out,” he reminded her with an emphasized crunch of chips.
Jocelyn sighed, opening her eyes and returning to the conversation. “I have to agree with him, Hayley, I could definitely fall asleep here.” She yawned minutely, and then smiled with contentment. “But there’s a lot more to explore, too.”
“You still awake over there Mark?” called Hayley, exaggeratedly searching the dark recesses of the cave for me. “You haven’t said much.”
I stretched. “Just taking it all in. Besides, you three have all the rings covered in this circus. Wouldn’t want to intrude.” From the dimly lit area where Brian’s flashlight lay, a piece of orange peel flew through the air to land in my hair.
“You’re just oh so clever, huh?” grumbled Brian good naturedly as he lifted his pack again.
“Trash,” stated Hayley blankly, a command she had obviously supplied time and again. Brian complied by toeing the empty chip bag over the edge of the cavern and smiling.
“Now we don’t have to worry about that ending up in some landfill,” he quipped in frail attempt to cover his own laziness. Hayley rolled her eyes. I felt anger rush in.
“What’s wrong with you? This place is pristine and you just go throwing you trash around? Stop acting like a child for once and take some responsibility.” The force of my words surprised me, and even more obviously surprised Brian. His face flashed from startled, to hurt, to angry in a matter of seconds before he turned away.
“Didn’t know we had a park ranger with us. Not much I can do about it now,” he grumbled. Hayley and Jocelyn stood uncertainly between us, caught in the crossfire of my harsh words.
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t—I just—Let’s just be careful, okay?” I said, trying to erase the heavy tension between us. As suddenly as the anger had appeared, it was gone again. I felt momentarily alien in my body, as if someone—something else had been the one propelling those angry words through my lips. With it gone, there was an empty, foreignness in my mind. I felt like a fool.
“Careful is key,” picked up Jocelyn. “We can go down into this cavern area pretty easily, but then we need to be especially careful. It’s big and you can get lost.”
Hayley moved towards Brian, her hand wrapping around his arm to send a gentle but clear message. Let it go. He sighed, and it was as if I could see the irritation roll off his body. He turned around with a fake smile. “No harm, no foul. I’ll be more careful.” As insincere as the message was, it was at least a sincere attempt. Having known him for years, he would wind down for real in a couple of hours. Per our unspoken agreement, this would join other petty arguments that we never spoke of again.
The path down was treacherous, with sliding gravel and an occasional gap in the trail. The stair steps leading down were rugged and irregular, but definitely passable. Years of shifting earth, running water, and solitude had turned them into an obstacle course leading to bottom.
Brian dutifully marked the way, though it was hard to imagine getting lost here. Go up was the primary direction; anything beyond that was merely designed to find the best path. I was bringing up the tail, trying to religiously follow Hayley’s steps in front of my. At one point, I caught movement from the side of my eyes. It was startling, capturing my mind with all kinds of terrible possibilities. My heart suddenly began to race and I felt clammy sweat break out over my body. I turned, trying to find what it was, when suddenly that lightness came into view.
In the dark, it seemed slightly more distinct, but remained utterly incomprehensible. It was a shape of light moving through the darkness, casting no illumination. Two distinct eyes appeared to take up most of its face, and there were two protrusion on either side—ears, I decided—that stretched out into the darkness. There was no discernible body or feet, but it glided through the dark like some swimming ocean creature. The more I studied it, the less it made sense. As I watched, however, it moved toward the wall, reaching out to briefly touch one of the arrows on the wall. In a blur of motion, the chalk seemed to shimmer, then move each particle at a time. After what my heart promised was less than a beat, the arrow reassembled itself, this time pointing the opposite direction.
“Guys! What is that? What is that thing?” I was frozen, staring behind me with my arm pointing into the darkness. There was nothing there. Brian pushed through Hayley to stand by me, all hints of irritation gone and replaced by a warrior’s calm.
“What? Where is it?”
“It was—It was just there. It moved out arrows.”
Jocelyn’s hand on my arm. My eyes broke from the darkness and found her face. “There’s nothing there, Mark. Maybe a bat or something, but chalk arrows don’t move.”
I could hear Hayley shudder at the thought, but she remained silent.
“It wasn’t a bat. It was a—” the words dried up in my mouth. What was it? How could I describe it to them without everyone thinking I was crazy?
“Being in the dark like this can make your eyes play tricks on you. Let’s get to the bottom and take a rest, okay?” Jocelyn’s hand gently guided me down the remaining section of rocks. While I frequently glanced back, the light from Hayley and Brian’s flashlight turned the dark background into an impenetrable cloud. Still, I could have sworn I saw something moving through those shadows.
The sounds of water dripping and pooling was even louder down in the cavern. I could feel myself relaxing in the sound ever so slightly as Jocelyn, her hand still supporting me with its gentle touch on my arm, sat down beside me on a conveniently placed crop of stones.
“Are you okay?” she asked in a soft whisper, leaning in close to me.
“Yeah,” I lied, “like you said, probably just the dark playing tricks on me.”
“Alright, well how about you and I just sit here for a bit,” she smiled as the flashlight threw terrifying sharp shadows across her face.
“I don’t want to ruin it for them,” I replied, nodding towards a brooding Brian and concerned Hayley standing an uncomfortable distance away.
“I’ll tell them that they can go on a bit without us, just to mark everything really well so we can find them later if we need.”
Unless that thing moves it, I wanted to remark, but realized how crazy that sounded. Jocelyn had to be right; just tricks of the darkness on my poor light typical mind. “Okay, sure.”
She stood and walked towards the others. There was a quiet conversation, she motioned towards me, laughed, and waved them on. I watched as Brian snapped his trusty piece of chalk in half and handed one piece to Jocelyn, the eyes of a protector looking at her before drifting to me with a half smile. Jocelyn pointed towards one small opening in the cavern walls, and the two of them drifted off that direction with smiles and laughter.
“I told them we’d catch up in a bit,” she said with a wide smile.
“No need for us to hurry,” I responded with what I thought was a bit of sly suggestion, trying to shake the strange experience from before.
“How are you feeling?” Too subtle, I mentally catalogued.
“Better. I think I was just a bit on edge from the whole trash incident, and then got spooked. These caves are kind of creepy.”
She laughed. “Yeah, you went all Smokey the Bear on him up there. I appreciate a man who cares for the environment,” she responded.
We sat in silence for a few moments, just listening to the water falling somewhere in the distance and basking in the harsh artificial lighting. She was the one to finally break the silence. “Was this all some ploy to get me alone?”
No, I wanted to say. There is something out there and it’s dangerous, even though it hasn’t done anything to us. However, logic won out and the words sounded a bit different when they finally came out. “I thought I was being terribly sneaky.” You’re being crazy, I reminded myself. It was just a trick of the shadows and nothing more. Maybe a bat, but you aren’t Hayley, so chill out.
Her fingers twined through mine as she stood, pulling me up along with her. “Come on, let me show you something really amazing.”
“I can see something amazing from right here.” My eyes ran up and down her once in an exaggerated pattern. She simply rolled hers at me.
“Obviously, I was really lucky to find you in one of the rare times you were single. Come on,” she pulled at me, leading me through the darkness. The sounds of water grew louder and louder as we moved, until finally I could see water reflecting back the flashlight’s beam. Water dripped from far up above, plinking softly against the surface of the water and creating some of the sounds we had heard before. “There are little pools like this all over the place in here. They’re not deep, but surprisingly not cold, either. We spent an entire day just swimming and relaxing here once.”
“Is it safe?”
She slapped my arm playfully. “You have got to stop being such a worrywart. It’s just as safe as skinny dipping down at the quarry,” she responded with a knowing eyebrow lift. Touché.
Dropping her pack, Jocelyn quickly pulled off layers until she was standing in nothing but a tank top and underwear. Goosebumps broke out over her exposed skin, but she seemed invulnerable as she radiated a bright smile. “Last one in owes me a kiss,” she chimed before disappearing into the inky water. I am not ashamed to admit I was steps behind her, stripping down to my boxers in a blink as her face bobbed along the surface of the water.
She was right about the water—surprisingly warm. It was welcomed after how cold the inside of this cave had ultimately become. And it was barely deep enough to swim in. If I submerged my head and stretched, my toes touched a rough hewn bottom. I lazily paddled towards her, before snaring her in my arms. She floated there, looking at me with playful eyes. “I think I owe you something.”
Jocelyn and I had kissed dozens if not hundreds of times. I knew the feel of her lips, the taste of her tongue, the pressure of her kisses against my lips. I would, however, be lying if I said any of the hundreds of kisses before in my life came close to that moment. Maybe it was that heightened sense bull people pull, but in the dark, with the soothing sounds of the falling water, surrounded by the warmth of this little pool, there was something beautiful. Her hands and mine wandering beneath the water, clinging to one another while seeking out those soft touches of warm skin. The water droplets beaded on her face, falling against my lips as we embraced. Each droplet, chilled by the outside air, brought a fresh tingle along my spine. Her body pushed against mine, our lips meeting and holding us fast as we floated and drifted. If I had to choose one moment to live in forever, that would be it.
Eventually we parted and I sighed deeply in the dark and peaceful solitude. She laughed, splashing water against my chest as she swam towards the other side of the pool. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to seduce me,” I called after her. She merely laughed again, kicking a wave of water towards me. “I want to assure you, it is not working.”
The tension from before was melting away, softened up by the rhythmic tap and enveloping warmth of the water. From a distance, all I could see of her was an area of pale skin within the encompassing darkness. I saw her arm reach out of the water, reaching for her water bottle on the outside of her pack. There was a hiss of a lid opening, then the silent sounds of the cavern. I leaned into the water until I could float on my back, meandering lazily through the pool. The water fell, tapping lightly against my stomach as I drifted along in the darkness. This must be like those sensory deprivation chambers, I thought. People throwing money away when nature had already perfected it.
There were soft sounds of splashing in the water, something cutting smoothly through and moving towards me. “Jocelyn—” I began before something grabbed me, pulling me under.
I thrashed and flailed, pulling myself back toward the surface as whatever it was released me. Breaking the surface, I gasped for air, eyes darting through the darkness as if I could locate the danger. Then, there was laughter.
“That’s what you get for not listening to me,” she laughed, splashing water at me yet again.
“Jocelyn! You—that—” I continued gulping in the air, more out of fear than any prolonged deprivation. “I’m already a little on edge, okay?”
“I’m sorry. But come on, you have to lighten up a little bit,” she said, moving in a little closer. I felt her hand find mine, drawing me towards her in the darkness of the water. Her face was a pale shadow on the water, her eyes empty spaces that gazed into my own. She was kissing me again, and I was mentally acquiescing to her remark. Yes, I needed to lighten up. Just a joke. Her lips met mine again and again; we were floating through nothingness, bound to reality only by the presence of the other’s body in that vast emptiness. I was lighter than air.
It was I who broke away this time, coming up for air in a far more metaphorical sense than before. “I have to say, your method is a good one.” She laughed, her hands moving away from me to help her better stay above water.
“So, as I was saying, do you think we should try to catch up with Brian and Hayley. I’m guessing we’ve given them plenty of private time by now.”
“How long have we been in here?”
I heard rather than saw her shrug her shoulders. “You zoned out there for a good while. Plus, our other exercises bought us some more time. But it’s not like there’s a clock in here.”
I nodded before realizing how useless that was. “Right. I guess we should start trying to find them. But, if we hear strange noises, promise me we’ll come right back out here.”
“Deal,” she laughed.
I kicked my way towards the edge and fumbled along the ground until I found our packs. I thumbed on my flashlight and began looking for the other, and turning it on. I stumbled around, trying to get my pants to fit back over my damp legs. In my mad dance, I felt my foot gently tap Jocelyn’s flashlight, and then had the pleasure of watching it drift into the water.
“Uh-oh,” I grumbled.
“I’ve got it,” she said. I heard a splash, then saw her making her way down towards the wavering light. I finally overcame my pants, and tugged my shift over my head just as she broke above the water with the flashlight in hand.
“Good heavy duty one. The water didn’t bother it one bit.” As she began to make her way out of the water, something broke the silence. Something unmistakably chilling.
From somewhere in the darkness, far away and muffled by walls of solid rock, Hayley screamed.
Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you think, what could be better, and what you like!
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License