Drip, drip, drip endlessly like clockwork ticking, tick, tick in my head, eating at my brain like a bug in my ears. It had been what, days? Weeks? Years? Perry had lost count, living off of fish and the water flowing between rocks made time run in a strange manner. It smelt odd in the caves as well, but it was hard to tell if it was just him, or the dead fish. Maybe he was being poisoned by natural gas creeping through cracks in the wall. But, who knows?
The stalactites leaked small drops of water, one at a time. He knew he was beneath, and surrounded by some body of the stuff. Perry would count the drops at times, but it drove him mad at around three thousand and forty, usually.
His reflection spoke to him, laughing at him and smiling through piss colored teeth. His breath was death as his tongue was the Reaper’s scythe. Laughing, tempting and commanding his demise. “Do it, pussy. Hold yourself under water, cut yourself with a sharp rock, eat a bad fish. There is no way out of this place,” it mocked.
The poor man believed the poisonous words that oozed from his reflection. He had been stuck for some time. There was no saving him. He was trapped, on his own. If he was to be saved, he would have to do it himself. Death sounded good. It was only him in the cave. There was no reason to live. But was there a reason to die?
He laughed, or cried, he was unsure, and slapped the reflection in its ugly, wet face. The splash carried through the cave, echoing and reverberating. He had no idea how deep he could go into the antre prison, but he walked where he heard his voice carry and did so with a childish grin. He might be stuck in a cave, but at least it was a really big cave.
He had wandered through some of it a few times, thinking of possible ways to go to get out, wondering if he could even go as deep as the cave goes. He drew a map a few times with an old pen and a dress shirt he had in his bags when he first got trapped. But each time he went to look for the map, he realized he didn’t ever have a pen. His dress shirt had a picture of John Cusack’s face drawn on it in something brown and smelly. At least, it looked like John Cusack. He held the shirt to sniff it once and realized what it was. He burned the shirt shortly after; it roasted some funny tasting fish.
What was his name? Gary? Jerry? Carry? No, not Carry. That’s a woman’s name. Maybe it was a less common name.
Perry! That was his name. Perry.
Perry ventured forward into the Caverns. It was dark in most places, but he had a cell phone that was turned off most of the time to conserve what was left of the battery. To hell with it today, though. Playing music, skipping and dancing between puddles and large boulders, he made his way deep into the caves, kicking rocks and small creatures to the rhythm. Deeper and deeper, as far as he could go, swinging around on stalagmites and using the flashlight on the front of the phone where it was too dark to see.
Smaller openings that lead into narrower tunnels were like beasts with no tongues that wanted to eat him. Their large open mouths, their teeth made of sharp stalactites and a subsequent path resembling the innards of a snake. He was walking into the mouth of a terrible serpent and did so with style as he moved to the music. He had girlfriends more frightening than this thing. The thought was quickly forced from his mind. Forgetting things from when he wasn’t in the cave was difficult. It wasn’t easy forgetting a nice warm bed and having people to talk to—but to maintain his momentum, he had to try harder than before.
Passing through the tunnels, he realized he no longer needed the flashlight as green light illuminated his path. It was almost as if they were guiding him as he became enthralled by the beautiful glow of the worms on the walls. They formed patterns, writing him messages to keep moving further. “Follow us,” they said. They made arrows and signs, some of which looked like a large sea creature, maybe an alligator. He was just happy to make new friends as he obeyed their requests and followed as the colors got brighter, thicker, some hanging low and others sticking tight to the walls. He laughed as he danced with them in the cold, dank air of the snake’s tummy.
Finally, an opening. He entered a huge, round room with chandeliers of calcium and glow worms, a path to what could have been an altar or a pew of some kind with effulgent light. An enormous crook of water allowed a large path to the centerpiece of the cavern’s throne room. From a top view, it must have resembled the symbol for the power button on his cell phone, but upside down. He walked slowly to the place that called to him, unaware of what lurked in the crook.
It was a slight incline to the heart of the centerpiece. The light hadn’t felt warm like he imagined it would, but it was still one of the greatest experiences he’d ever had, and in the face of such misfortune. In the face of bad luck, he still found a twinkle in its eye, a redeemable feature that made him fall in love with his solitude. That place was incredible and it was his. At least he thought so.
Against the wall, where the water and cave met each other in wet slapping noises, he realized there was an opening. Red and yellow light accompanied the green of the glow worms. If he could swim under it, he might have found an even greater room to call his own. Or maybe a way out.
The thought left him where he stood. He had been alone for so long in the caverns, and he just started to like it. He had found a way to live and enjoy it. What would he want that he didn’t find in here? He found truth and light, something he could call his own. The cavern was not his prison. It was his refining. Redemption had come to him in the disguise of bad luck and poor timing.
The pain of being alone for so long had sunk like a bag of bricks. The sadness of a numbing existence, surviving to survive had been too little. But he had found something greater than he could have ever found in the world outside. To hell with the world. He had found peace. In his solitude, he found himself.
The water rolled in still, the light of the other side dancing in his eyes. If it was just another part of the cave closed off to the outside then it was just more for him to explore, and to own. He decided “screw it” and jumped into the water, kicking his feet out and falling forward in an awkward and clumsy sprawl. He slapped the water, just hard enough think maybe he should have just climbed. But he didn’t have coffee in the cave, so he considered it one hell of a way to wake himself up. He’ll try that again later.
The water was cold, almost sending his body into shock as soon as he was under. Face to the ceiling, he relaxed and let the current take him to the wall while he steadied his breathing. It felt great being under water for the first time in several days, or months or however long it had been. He was filthy, and even the coldest water had its way of cleansing. At least, that’s what it feels like when you’re half dead. He was hardly able to eat since the cave closed off and the water there wasn’t exactly fresh. To Perry, it smelled like the carcass of a fish that died due to a copious amount of methane build up. The fish died of holding farts, basically. Just imagine that for a moment. A farting fish.
When Perry reached the wall, he wriggled his way through the crevice that had been illuminated for his attention. He held his arms to the wall and thrust forward like he was doing chin ups and carried through the other side. He almost caught a glimpse of what the light had to offer him before something caught his leg and violently dragged him back into crook, the moat around the throne.
Ripping, gouging deep into his calf, he could feel the thing tearing into him. It’s teeth almost felt like thorns as they broke the bone and tore away the bottom half of his shin. It was too good to be true that he had a place to call his own. Such a beautiful place, too. The thought was barely finished when the pain of missing his foot registered and his screams carried through the cave like the bats that haunted his dreams. Or was he awake for all of that?
He shuffled, swimming frantically for the dirt path that would be his only shot at surviving. But what would be the point? His leg would probably get infected, assuming he didn’t bleed to death. This was his doom. In times of peril, these thoughts are only hindsight. He didn’t take his time to stop and ponder his mortality, to contemplate the void. He acted as quickly as any human would, instinctively. His mind was blank, filled only with escaping the jaws of hell.
Too easy. It was too easy to escape hell. The beast had taken a good chunk of his leg, swallowing his foot in one gulp and he escaped within seconds after the first attack. Crawling, crying and keeping his nub pointed to the glow worms, Perry dragged himself to a wall and rested for a moment. The water was still replaying the event, but he heard nothing beyond that. “Too quiet,” he thought. “Too fucking quiet.”
His new rival was nowhere to be seen, nor heard. If this thing wanted him so badly, why didn’t it keep him in the water? Why would it let him go? He began to feel relieved before these thoughts occurred. It is an uneasy feeling when you solve a mystery you didn’t want to. The realization struck when the beast rose slowly from the water, ascending with four webbed feet with claws like pickaxes and teeth like shattered glass. It let him go because it didn’t need him in the water. Perry laughed.
The light on the other side had been so tempting, so tantalizing. He wanted to see it, to take it for himself, to claim it. Every turn to this point had warned him, but he was too oblivious to care. The light is always tempting, but the cost is too high. Perry had no toll to pay this creature. He had no way of getting past it. Except maybe fighting it. With no chance of survival, that was his best, and really his only option.
Perry shuffled to his foot, felt white hot pain shoot from where his foot used to be as blood spat heavily from the wound. Every hop was that pain as he made his way for the entrance with all the teeth. He already lost a lot of blood, but he wasn’t ready to die yet. He had a plan.
He stumbled through the bowels, lit by scurrying beetles and worms, heading for the teeth of the first beast to swallow him this evening. Or was it day? Who cares? He’s in a cave. He was already winded, feeling the pain every second getting worse, gushing more and more, leaving a trail for the beast behind him to lick as it slowly followed him. It was teasing him, moving slowly, nonchalantly. It was cocky.
Finally reaching his entrance, he looked behind him. It was close, moving slowly but steadily. It was pacing itself, but that made it easy to time his last ditch effort to save himself. He sat where the teeth of the opening separated in a hockey player’s gap just big enough to walk through. The beast stopped in front of him, concerned at his lack of concern. It pounced with jaws wide open, as Perry anticipated. He shifted to the side and shoved the creatures head down on the stalagmites. One stalagmite pierced through the roof of the creatures mouth, another shoving one of its eyes out. Perry rolled away, feeling colder than he had before as the monster wiggled and roared for it’s freedom. Again, Perry laughed and shuffled to his foot.
He hopped down to the crook once more. He felt cold, light headed, his ears were muffled and he knew he had lost too much blood. Behind him, he could tell the monster was getting loose. If it wasn’t already, it would hunt him down soon. He laid down in the water, floating and falling out of consciousness. He thought of escape, he thought of the beast that tried to devour him, and he thought of death. He thought of what was on the other side of that wall that seemed so promising.
It almost burned his leg, the salt in the water eating at his open wound that was almost bled dry. Perry heard the monster once more and smiled when he turned his head to look at the green, red and yellow lights of whatever was there past the hole in the wall. He took a deep breath, reached for it with everything he had and grabbed the wall. The water cradled him, rocking back and forth. When he saw stars, he wasn’t sure if he was blacking out or staring at the night sky the glow worms provided him.
He smiled a little and crossed to the other side.