I looked across to this week’s guy. We’d come to a hill range an hour away from the hostel to go exploring in some caves around here. “What was Nam thinking?” I fumed as I climbed onto one more slippery ridge. “In what universe would I enjoy outdoor physical activity as a date? I really must stand up for myself more.”
The guy- (Harsh?) Harsh!- was standing ahead waiting to help me up. I was a bit annoyed that I wasn’t exactly putting my best foot forward. He seemed nice, though. Very attentive and sweet. “Oh no. I really hope he doesn’t think we’re going to make out in a cave or something. He’s nice, but really not my type.” I smiled awkwardly at him. I tried to think of something to talk about, but I was too out of breath to bother much.
The caves were cool and dark and musty. Most of them were fairly shallow, not more than a few metres deep. Some, however, melted into each other to form a honeycomb of caves that spanned the width of the mountain. I was very, very tired by the fourth cave that we saw, and I’d lost all sympathy for the guy by the time he insisted on exploring the eighth. The ninth one was the largest yet. It was huge, with small caverns and crevices branching off to the left and right. The floor dipped and rose, with hardly a horizontal surface.
My ankles hurt and my feet were sore. I’d had enough. I told him I’d wait for him at the entrance. He could very well explore by himself, if he wanted me alive by the end of the day. He took one look at my face, and agreed. I sat down and listened to his footsteps fade away. The view was fabulous. We should have stopped and looked at the view, not some musty old cave.
Half an hour later, I was worried. He should have been back by now. I called him tentatively. No reply. I tried ringing his mobile. I didn’t have coverage, and I doubted he did. I decided to try and find him. I stepped inside the cave. It was almost oppressively musty. I’d switched the torchlight in my phone on, but it wasn’t making much difference. I was not feeling good about this. The floor of the cave was knobbly, with just circles of greater darkness showing the entrance to the tunnels that formed the honeycomb. The deeper I went, the more the floor became indistinguishable from the wall.
I called out again. It was getting positively claustrophobic by now, and I was really worried. My foot slipped and I fell.
“This is great. Just great.”
Fumbling around in the black, I didn’t realise what I’d fallen next to until I started tumbling down a narrow tunnel. I crashed into rock where the tunnel ended abruptly.
There was no space to move. The air was stale, like the oxygen in it had been lost decades ago. I reached out with my hands and realised I’d somehow managed to shut myself in the smallest cave I had ever seen. I was gulping for air and sobbing. I couldn’t find the entrance to the tunnel, and even if I had, I couldn’t have climbed it. I’d either lost or broken my phone, not that it would’ve been much use to me anyway.
I screamed and I screamed and I screamed. It felt like ages that I’d been shouting for help. I wondered vaguely if Harsh was in the same situation as me. My throat hurt. The air was choking me from the inside, and the cave seemed to be getting smaller and smaller every second. I was feeling dizzy from screaming, so I paused.
The images flooded my mind like they’d been waiting all along.
I was screaming and crying in the dark; but it was a different darkness. I could hear a storm. I had heard the tremendous crash when the poplar fell into this part of the house, effectively locking me into my bedroom. I heard one more crash as I realised that the floor above me was falling down. I hid under the bed, praying and crying as the world fell on top of me, burying me under it. Dust filled the air as I struggled to lift the debris that had once been the ceiling. I was screaming and crying and gulping for air until I didn’t know which darkness I was surrounded by. It felt like my entire being had been building up to this point; that I had lived only so I would exist in this terrifying darkness, screaming for air.
It hit me like a freight train. Of course I knew what bad thing had happened at the house. Of course I knew why I dreaded entering it. I gave a soft, unhinged laugh. Of course!
I died there.