Fiction Drama

Sitting on a camp chair, sipping steaming hot tea, I was transfixed on the pink hue spreading across the horizon. Rugged up in my army green, canvas sleeping bag, wearing a thick, brown beanie, and fingerless gloves, I barely even notices for the cold nipping on the exposed skin of my face and fingers. This precious moment, to me was perfection.

I watched intently, as the dusty pink gave way to a deep orange, before the blinding yellow circle, so bright that I winced, even with my eyes closed, burst into view and took over the morning sky. Then, with a loud clatter of metal camp mugs and plates, followed by a series of cursing, that moment of serenity gave way to chaos.

Simon came stumbled out of the tent, tripped over a securing line that, in turn sent his mobile phone hurtling through the air. Then, in what seemed like slow motion, grappling to catch hold of something to steady himself, Simon clipped the camp kitchen and both he, and the contents of the kitchen, ended up sprawled out on the dirt. 

Chocking back laughter, I slipped off my sleeping bag and went to his aid.

“Stop laughing at me Rebecca.” Simon muttered. I really did try not to, but it really was a sight!

I helped him Simon up and, immediately, he scrambled to his phone. I didn’t even need to ask, his face said it all. Cradling the phone as though it were a sick child, he sunk deep into his camp chair. I could see the morning sun refracting across the cracked surface, and I just knew this was going to be a sore point for some time.  

Simon and I had been together for about seven years, neither of us believed in marriage but we knew that we were in it for the long haul, but life had gotten a little dull. When I suggested taking leave from our jobs and going on an adventure, Simon was all for it. Two weeks later we were off to our first destination, the Limestone Coast in South Australia.

We were camping in the Bool Lagoon campground, and I was loving it, Simon however, was not. Simon complained constantly, and pleaded to pack up the tent and go to a hotel. Now with the demise of his only link to the hustle and bustle of home, this was not going to improve any time soon.

Handing Simon a cup of coffee, I sat back down and gazed over the lagoon. The suns glow shimmered across the water, only momentarily broken by the occasional water bird looking for some breakfast. The darkness of Simon’s mood, hung heavy like a rain cloud threatening to burst, so as a pre-emptive strike, I suggested that we travel to the nearby town of Naracoorte and find a nice hotel for the night.

Together we packed up our gear and we made our way towards the town. By now the sun had built up some momentum, and it was thirty degrees in the shade. Back on the open road, a sign caught my eye, reading Naracoorte Caves. Like an obnoxious child, I begged for Simon to make a stop to explore, and much to my delight, he agreed.

Being a bit of a history buff, I enjoyed exploring old buildings and structures so, as lame as it may sound, this was my idea of fun, well that and beers and ghost stories around a campfire. Although, I was a bit nervous about being underground. I had heard enough stories about people caught in cave collapses, but this isn’t exactly extreme cave exploring and even Simon was on board.

When we arrived at the cave’s entrance, I don’t know what I expected but it wasn’t that. The cave was called Alexandra Cave and the entrance was a small rectangle door and it opened into a reasonably steep descent into darkness. At first it was so dark that I couldn’t see, I gripped Simon’s hand tightly.

Stepping into the cave, instantly the illuminating warmth of the day dissolved into the cool deep darkness. As my eyes adjusted, the small lamps set up along the walls shone just enough to turn the darkness from black to a heavy red glow, only giving way to the direct light of the yellow lamp every few meters or so.

I turned to Simon to share my anticipation, but as I spoke it echoed out leading me to drop my voice to a whisper. Another couple passed us when we arrived, making their way back out to the light of day, but other than them, we appeared to be alone.

We wandered aimlessly through the pathways, stopping occasionally to marvel at the beautiful, auburn pointed structures, hanging precariously from parts of the cave’s ceiling. Small spot lights were pointing up towards them, giving them a sheen that made them resemble shards of discolored ice.

Lost in the moment, I was startled when all of a sudden we were plunged into complete darkness. Those small lamps had seemed to provide the smallest glow, but now in their absence, it felt as though they had withdrawn all of the light in the world.

I called to Simon and reached for him, but I fumbled blindly. I moved to my right, where I had last seen him prior to the blackout, but instead I smacked into a metal handrail, winding myself. I fought back panic and listened for Simon, feeling a momentary sense of relief when I heard his voice.

I reached into the back pocket of my jeans, took out my phone and activated the torch. Searching anxiously, the tiny beam of light finally found Simon.

I reached Simon and folded myself in his arms. I check the phone screen and was not surprised to see that there was no reception, but was concerned when I realized that the battery was only at 24 percent. That was not a whole lot of torch time.

 “We are going to be ok, just a blackout.” Simon’s reassurance did help, a little. But we had been walking for a couple of hours now, so there was no way my little torch was going to last the distance.

Together we decided the best course of action was to stay put and wait for the lights to come back on. Simon kept one arm around me, and reached the other out towards the wall to lean against. Surely it wouldn’t take to long for the lights to come back on, so the plan was to get comfortable and wait.

I don’t know how much time had passed, it felt like hours, but really it was probably a lot less. Deciding to spare what little battery my phone had left, we sat wrapped in a cloak of darkness. I reasoned that eventually my eyes would adjust and I would be able to see at least the slightest bit, but still I could not make out my own hand in front of my face.

I wished I had my trusty sleeping bag because I was really beginning to feel the cold, and although Simon, oddly enough, didn’t complain, I could feel his body beginning to tremble too.

Both Simon and I were only wearing t-shirts, jeans and walking shoes. We had no food and our water bottles were all but empty. It was becoming evident that waiting it out may not be the best option. Simon and I decided to try and find our way back to the entrance, but it was going to be no easy feat, and we could not count on my torch for long.

Remembering hitting the handrail, we decided to use them and follow along as far as we could without light. I didn’t expect it to be too difficult, we had just followed along the pathways. So, only using the torchlight to find the handrail, we began our trek back through the beckoning darkness.

Using the torch only to catch a glimpse of where to go, my confidence began to grow. Simon also seemed confident and we laughed at how rotten our luck seemed to be on that day. Simon’s phone smashing, then this cave blackout, when we got out of this cave we were definitely going to spend, in the very least, a couple of days in the comfort of a nice hotel, and room service. We were so relaxed that another hour had passed, and the torch flickered out altogether.

I am not going to lie my heart did skip a beat, but after walking so far surely the entrance couldn’t be that far. So, taking Simon’s hand and feeling my way between the pieces of handrail and cave wall, we kept moving. Surly the end wasn’t that far.

But apparently it was, and after what felt like forever, Simon stopped moving and I bumped into him. For a moment I felt hopeful and asked if he had found something, sadly that was not the case. Exhausted, Simon and I needed to face the fact that we may actually need to stop and rest.

We had not eaten since that morning, having planned to stop for lunch in Naracoorte, and our water bottles had been empty for hours, although in no danger of dying of thirst or starvation, hunger and thirst were setting in. I had no idea how long we had been in the cave, but I assumed it would be getting into the evening, and the temperature in the cave had dropped considerably.

Clutching each other’s hands, we sank down against the wall. How could no-one else be around? Surly, a tourist attraction like this would have someone keeping an eye out. I don’t know how I managed it, but clinging to Simon I dozed off.

By now I couldn’t even estimate what time it was, but I awoke with a start. Instantly I felt terror as I opened my eyes and saw nothing but stark black. Simon soothed me, reminding me of our predicament, and it all flooded back. Then I grabbed Simon desperately and told him to listen.

Maybe delusional, I thought I could hear a sound in the distance. I wanted to scream out but fear filled my chest, holding me back. What if it was an animal, a snake perhaps? We were underground and I’ve seen enough documentaries to know that animals adapt to living in darkness. Then taking the decision out of my hands entirely, Simon called out into the nothingness.

Recoiling, in case he had just called unwanted attention to us, I cautiously joined him. Stopping long enough to listen for further noise, there was a distinct sound of someone calling out. We called back, and my throat burned raw. After what felt like an eternity, the voice became clearer and I saw the most beautiful sight that I could imagine in that moment, the tiniest speck of light broke through the abyss.

Finally the figure, a young woman, came into view. She shone her torch over us, this one obviously more powerful than the one on my phone. It cut through what had become thick, heavy ebony haze, like a comet through the night sky. She spoke into her two way radio, confirming that she had found us.

After confirming that neither of us were injured, Shannon introduced herself and we began the task of finally leaving the cave. The light from Shannon’s torch flooded the path before us, leaving me feeling a little foolish at being afraid. Silently we followed Shannon until I noticed that we were approaching what looked like a lamp lit corridor, like those we had seen when we first began this journey.

Shannon explained that there had been a blackout, but it had ended some time ago. It appeared that when we were following the handrails, we had inadvertently turned at a point that was not part of the trail. By the time the lights had come back on, we were far from the lit areas. The alert had been raised at closing, when the caretaker noticed our car still parked in the lot.

Returning to the warm glow of the lamps, they might have well had been spotlights. My eyes felt like they were staring directly at the sun. Sheepishly we were led to the exit, a small rectangle door, at the top of a steep incline.

As we reached the door and opened it, we were met by the most majestic night sky. Limited street lighting meant that every star was visible, and the moons glow rivalled that of the sun. The cool breeze on my face felt fresh and comforting, although I insisted we make our way to the car immediately, so I could put on my jacket.

Finally, after fourteen hours from arriving, Simon and I made our way to the town of Naracoorte. We stopped at a lovely hotel and booked a room, ordered room service and settled in for a well-deserved break from our adventure.   

May 02, 2021 12:24

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