I tightened my helmet and bent my knees one more time to move the pads into their natural resting spot. I checked my phone again – no voicemail, no texts. It was late, but someone else in the cave rescue group should have been available to be my backup.
“Looks like it’s just me,” I said to the two EMTs who had driven me out. “I’ll be back in two hours. If someone else shows up – hopefully Barbara – keep her out here until I come back. We need to coordinate.”
I explained to them that cells and radios would be blocked by the rock, so they’d just have to wait without word from me.
I was looking for a professor from out of state. He was a geologist, athletic, about 43 years old. He had a lot of experience spelunking. His graduate student called the police when he didn’t return from the Copper Spar cave system. Copper Spar isn’t marked for the public because of it’s confusing branches and counterintuitive grade changes. You can be going up when you think you’re going down. Not a problem going in… coming out is another story.
I moved quickly, chalking my route so I could retreat easily. I saw absolutely no signs of someone ahead of me for almost 40 minutes.
Then I found a page torn from a graphing sheet notebook. They’re drinking my blood, was all it said.
My heart jumped a little before I got it under control. There were bats in these caves. Maybe it was that simple. Or the professor had a stroke. Something.
Around the 70-minute mark, when I should have been starting my return, I found the rest of the notebook lying on the cave floor in front of three branching tunnels. The notes were arranged in bullets:
- The exit appears every 99 minutes – pagan numerology??? 9 x 11 = 99
- 3 passages also related to numerology?
- Passage 1 (left) can only be entered in the first 33 minutes of the cycle. Entering after leads to capture. They drink your blood.
- Passage 2 is always open. The walls move here, evidenced by skeletons sliced clean in half. To survive: left 7 paces, forward 13, right 9, back 3, at this point there should be a backpack attached to a rotting torso. Right 111 paces, forward 16, right 11, forward 13. Opens onto the throne room – bodies opened like autopsies, obsidian knives hanging on the walls.
- Passage 3 is open for only 13 minutes, end coincides with opening of exit. Passage 3 is darkness. Fires go out, batteries die. Screams fill the chamber and intensify with each step in. I have only made it 21 steps. Can’t bear the wailing and horrid things they shout to me. Things no one should know. Things I’d forgotten.
- They’re always behind me.
I dropped the notebook and turned back. My chalk marked a blank face of rock. There was no exit.