I’D BEEN RUNNING FOR what felt like forever before I finally stopped to rest. Tunnel after tunnel, room to room, choosing my path with less thought then I would chose my socks. Of course, if you don’t know me that well then you wouldn’t know that I don’t put a lot of thought into choosing socks. Probably because all of them are the same color and brand.
Anyway, I can tell you that I felt like a real idiot. There I was, underground, lost, and I was running all over the place like some dern fool. There could be all manner of creatures lurking about down here and I wouldn’t know it until it was too late.
I looked up and down the tunnel I rested in. I could go back, but the moment I reached a crossroads I would have to guess. I could go forward. Either choice could get me closer to getting out, or take me in deeper. I wanted to cry.
Instead, I sat and switched off the headlamp. There, in the dark, I calmed my breathing and listened.
You could call it meditating I suppose. I mean, I wouldn’t, but I suppose others would.
But what I did was to focus outward, listening. I was hoping to hear something, anything out there in the darkness. Any sound that might help guide me out.
It wasn’t easy. My own heartbeat for example, sounded like one of them giant Japanese drums. And my breathing was like a hurricane. Heck, I could even hear the blood flowing through my veins. It’s amazing what you can hear when there is nothing else out there. No television, no cars passing by, no birds chirping or insects buzzing, no wind, nothing. When the only thing you have to hear is what’s happening inside your own body, it’s like someone plugged you into a state of the art PA system.
Me, I had to try and tune it all out.
Like I said, it wasn’t easy. But when you have no choice and you’re desperate, you can accomplish quite a lot.
My stomach growled and I cursed. I hadn’t eaten since the sausage biscuit I’d had on the way to Clem’s. I checked my watch. That had been nearly three hours ago. I’d been running around down here like some kind of insane marathon runner for longer than I thought.
I checked my bag and found a candy bar, one of those they had packed with peanuts. I tore into it, tossed the wrapper aside, and washed it down with a small bottle of warm water I’d also brought along.
Then I went back to it.
I pictured myself reaching out with my ears. Sounds stupid, but it helps in situations such as these.
I heard nothing.
The silence pressed down on me. The darkness absolute. It was suffocating. But I ignored it. I had too. The candy bar was all I had. If I couldn’t find my way out, if I was trapped down here for a while then I might starve to death.
Honestly, I wasn’t even sure that I could starve to death, but I sure as hell wasn’t willing to find out if.
I was all there was. The only sounds where those made by me. The beating of my heart. My own breath. I tried to tune them out.
But, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could see a faint glow to my right, off in the far distance. It wasn’t much, more like a memory, a remembrance of light. But it was something. A way to go. A place to start. Not back, but forward. It wasn’t green, so it wasn’t a glow stick. But could it be another room?
I stood and moved toward it. Despite the fear that slithered up and down my spine, I left the headlamp off. But I clutched at the rifle like a life raft.
I moved slowly, but with purpose. Pausing now and again to listen, thinking I’d heard something behind me only to realize it was the sound of my own feet scraping across the floor. Then, as I drew toward the light, as it was still nothing more than a whisper of a glow, I heard something up ahead. It was almost imperceptible and I couldn’t identify the source, but you combine it with the indistinct light, then there was certainly something up ahead.
I crept closer.
Eventually, as the light grew brighter, I could make the sound out as voices. Maybe more than five, all speaking in unison. Chanting. I couldn’t make out any words though, I still had a ways to go.
I checked the rifle, it was cocked and loaded. I had no idea what I was walking into, but I wanted to make sure I was ready in case there would be shooting involved.
I moved slowly, giving my eyes time to adjust to the light as it grew brighter. Soon I could make out enough of the chanting to realize that it was in a language I didn’t recognize. Which just meant it wasn’t in English. I may be over a hundred years old, but that doesn’t mean I’ve had time to learn a second language.
The light was straight ahead of me now, and I could see figures from within, though they were nothing more than blobs. They were still a ways off, so they looked like toys at this distance, but I could make out thirteen of them. Twelve were all in a group facing one standing alone.
Before I could get any closer, however, I tripped over something that hissed and screeched beneath me. I fell, hard, the cold stone floor rising up to meet me like inevitability.
I didn’t move from where I struck, sprawled face down across the tunnel. I was still quite a distance away from the group of chanters, but sound carries far down here. But the chanting continued, and the blobular group ahead of me in the light didn’t move.
I breathed a little easier. But then something rough and wet touched my hand and I nearly screamed.
I was the cat. Biscuit.
The dern cat that got me lost down here in the first place. I have to admit that I thought about smacking it in the head with my rifle. But then it started to purr and rub its head against my hand and well, I couldn’t very well brain it at that point, could I.
Then Biscuit did something a bit odd. It walked away from me, down the tunnel from where I’d come. Just a few steps, then it stopped and looked back at me.
I arched a brow.
Then Biscuit did it again. It walked a few more steps, then turned to look at me.
I sat up.
Did it want me to follow it? That’s not normal cat behavior, is it? A dog, sure, but a cat?
Biscuit loped back to me, and once again, purring, it rubbed its head against my hand. Then, still purring, it walked away a few steps and then turned to look at me.
What did I have to lose?
I stood and the cat moved off into the dark with me not far behind.