Spelunker (Part 1)

(Start at the Prolog)

Spelunker (Part 1)

They were three hours down the new spur, going slowly and mapping the way. They’d squeezed through a couple keyholes, and found a new fork and two new, if somewhat boring, rooms. They were in a wide, deep crack just off “Dave’s Doldrums”, heading down at about 10% grade, Lorelei in the lead. The small hole to the side of the main passage looked innocent enough, but the limestone floor crumbled under Lorelei’s slight weight as she passed it. Luck failed her a second time as a sharp rock edge cleanly severed her rope connection to the team behind her. Down she went with a yelp of surprise.

A fall of a few feet ended in a steep, smooth sided chute that bore Lorelei downward for a harrowing ride. She slid boots first, the narrow rock tube flashing by inches from her face, spot-lit only by the headlamp on her helmet.  The chute was damp and slick. Its smoothness kept her from getting seriously injured beyond bumps and bruises, but allowed no grip for her knobby boots. Lorelei thrust her rock pick above her head trying to dig it into the stone, but found no purchase there either, and almost lost her grip on it in the bargain.

Then there was a brief sickening fall as she dropped out of the tube’s end; a heart stopping second before she hit water. The slap almost stunned her, but she gathered her wits quickly, shrugging out of her pack and dropping what heavy things she could to avoid sinking. She kicked hard upward, losing her helmet as she broke the surface and gasped air. She treaded water for a few seconds then quickly made for the nearest side she could find, grabbing a rocky protrusion and just holding on while her adrenaline levels calmed down. The battery operated lights of her helmet lamp shimmered up through crystal clear water – maybe 15-20 feet deep, it was the only source of light in the chamber.

Lorelei listened carefully – she could hear someone calling. Colin?

“Lore! Haaay! Lorelei! You OK down there?”

“Yes!” she shouted back. She quickly checked for cuts or other injuries. “Yes, I’m OK!”

“We’re trying to reach you,” came the reply. Lorelei saw faint light play at the opening twenty feet above the water. Banging, dust, and curses filtered down over the course of the next few minutes. A carabineer fell through the opening and splashed into the water of the pool.

“It’s too deep. We don’t have enough rope!” came the angry call, “We’re going to have to go back and get more.”

Lorelei was unhappy to hear the news, but what could she do? “OK!” she shouted up.

“You want one of us to come down there?”

“No. I was lucky not to get hurt. One of you clods could break something on the way down and we’d be way worse off.”

“OK,” Colin sounded a tad relieved, to Lorelei’s disappointment. But then: “I’m gonna stay camped up here. Chris, Dave and Theresa will go back. They’ll be faster without my two left feet anyway.” It was true, Colin was the slowest of the group, so it made logical sense. Lorelei’s slightly lifted spirits were not due merely to logic, however. It was going to be lonely enough separated by however many yards of rock.

“It’s going to take a day to get back, then maybe another to get down.” This was Dave speaking. It made sense. They were on a multi-day trek after all. Getting out in just a day was a bit of a boast even for Dave.

“Best leave five days of food then,” Lorelei called.

“Ha, Ha,” Sarcasm traveled well through limestone, it turned out.

“Wrap it well – the hole comes out over water”

“Water!? Is there a place you can get out?”

Lore hadn’t thought of that much yet. She surely wouldn’t last two days treading water. She looked around quickly and saw a couple ledges and one wider shelf at one end of the chamber – and another opening.

“Yes! I can get out. Maybe even dry off.”

A couple minutes more, and sliding sounds heralded the arrival of her care package – plenty of rations, and another lamp, with some empty bags inflated as floats. One of those survived the fall, letting Lorelei fish it out of the water to the nearest ledge.

“Got it?” Came Theresa’s voice from above.

“Yes, Thanks. Now get going before I get melancholy.”

“We’re on our way out. Don’t go anywhere.”

“Ha, Ha,” Lorelei said in her normal voice. She was alone now, nearly, deep in a newly discovered part of the cavern system, “Ha.” A couple minutes passed in which the faint sounds of the spelunking team disappeared altogether. Only some bubbling and dripping of water in the pool and cavern sounded now. Colin’s attenuated voice broke through from above.

“So! Lore. What do you want to talk about? You got a date for the Commencement Dance?”

Colin was still there.

“No!” she shouted up. “Why, you want to take me?”

“Uh.. Yeah! You bet I do! Sorry I’m asking now though.”

Communication yelling up and down through that long neck was going to give them both sore throats quickly.

“That’s OK. Listen, Colin. I appreciate the conversation, but we should save it for occasional check-ins to save our voices all right?”

A pause, “OK” maybe with a little disappointment? Colin was a nice boy after all, a year younger than she. And he had sort of just asked her out.

“Colin?”

“Yeah?”

“If you can get me out of here you can take me to Commencement.”

“Woo! Lore! You bet!” There. Damage control and a date. Not too bad.

“I’m going to check out the chamber and maybe recover the stuff that fell in the water. I’ll call up when I’m done?”

“All right. Good luck! Be Careful!”

“I will.”

Lorelei heaved herself out of the water onto the ledge, dragged her floating pack and care package up as well, removed her waterlogged boots, and got the battery-lantern on.

The lantern’s light caught the cavern walls and diffused throughout the space. Lorelei found she sat now in the junction of a double cavern. The dual chambers were like a tilted hourglass. The lower chamber, into which she’d  fallen, was an irregular sphere about 40 feet across, roughly half filled with water. The hole she had fallen through was in the ceiling a few yards off center. Water bubbled from the far end of the pool. Its warmth implied that the source was a hot spring of some sort.

The ‘neck’ of the hourglass, where Lorelei had clambered out of the water, arched 10 or so feet overhead, and opened into the upper chamber. This domed chamber was a little smaller than the one below, arching up some 20 feet. The floor was only a slight depression, sinking bowl-like a few feet from walls to center. There was a few inches to maybe a foot of water in the bottom. But it was the formations that took Lorelei’s breath away. Curtains across the walls, lines of six-foot tubules crisscrossing the ceiling, and hundreds of stalagmites and stalactites around the periphery of the room. The center had twenty or more massive ones. Several columns almost symmetrically surrounded the center formation where massive squat, lumpy stalagmites rose a few feet and tapered from two foot thick bases from the pool to almost touch the more delicate looking hanging stalactites in the middle. Someday they too would touch and fuse to become columns.

There were no apparent exits from the upper chamber save the neck where she sat, and it would have been foolish to explore through them at this point anyway, she knew. The water in both chambers was clean; what she’s swallowed in the pool seemed fresh and pure. Both rooms must have fissure or other sources and exits to keep the water from accumulating debris. Water must percolate out through them. One jumbled area on the far wall of the upper chamber might have once been another entrance, but it had long ago caved in and was welded shut by flowstone deposits.

Then Lorelei paused, catching sight of something on the far wall. Curiosity bit her, but she had to get herself taken care of first. The rocks around her glimmered with reflected light, and at least it was warm. Had it been the normal ambient 55 degrees of this cavern system, she’d be in for a miserable wet time. The pool must be geothermal to keep the place so comfortable. Lucky for her. The quietly bubbling water made the cavern warm and humid instead of cold and dank.

The neck was reasonably flat, with almost enough space to lie down full length. Certainly enough to set up her little “camp” with lantern and pack.

Lorelei laid out her waterlogged boots and socks, then, began shedding soaked clothes. Climbing harness and cavesuit (“the opposite of a Jumpsuit!”, Chris had proclaimed), T-shirt, then she paused.

“What the hell,” she said out loud “Who’s going to see?”, and slipped off her bra and panties. She spread everything around the lantern to dry as best as possible in the warm, moist air.

“A lot of good that will do,” Lorelei thought, realizing from the echo, she’d spoken the words. “Well. Best keep my own company.”

“Hello! You OK down there?”

Lorelei froze at Colin’s voice, sure she’d been ‘caught’. Her hands moved automatically to cover her nakedness. But he wasn’t there. He was a dozens and more feet away though the rock. Had he heard her?

“Yep! Everything’s perfect! I’m… just talking to myself.” She could feel herself blushing, and tried to shake it off as silly.

“All right. Let me know if you plan on going insane, though.”

“Colin?”

“Yeah?”

“Shut up.”

“Shutting up!” That seemed to satisfy him, at least.

She was OK with her body. More than OK. It was just that no guys had seen her in this completely bare state as of yet, and Colin wasn’t on the list of candidates. Not yet anyway. She’d just never thought of him that way. He was cute, and funny… Lorelei shook herself, and resisted the urge to put some of her soaked clothes back on. But she couldn’t help glancing up at the hole she’d fallen through occasionally as she began to look around.

The neck between the two caverns was reasonably comfortable – there were few sharp edges to be seen anywhere in the pool chamber, and none at all in the neck or upper chamber. Now that the rush of the fall and current situation had worn off, the day’s long spelunk caught up with Lorelei, and she found herself exhausted as she surveyed. With about two days wait before rescue, she had nothing to do but relax and wait.

“Colin?” she called up.

“Yeah?” the response was nearly immediate.

“I’m wiped out. I’m going to try to sleep.”

“OK. Call me when you wake up. Don’t worry about waking me. If I don’t answer quick, I’ll just be asleep. I’m not moving from this spot. All right?” That was actually more reassuring than Lorelei thought it would be. Colin sounded protective, actually. As much as he could be, given the situation. She smiled up at the opening.

“All right. Good night!”

“Good night, Lore. Sleep well.”

Lorelei decided that she’d rather not get her sleeping bag damp in the humid atmosphere of the cave if she didn’t have to, and  left it in its waterproof sack, opting to use it as a pillow. It certainly seemed warm enough, and a little exiting to curl up naked in the ‘open’ as it were. After checking her things and looking over the chambers one more time, the young woman turned off the lanterns and was quickly fast asleep.

(Continued in Part 2)

– Monocle

 

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