Joe wakes up to the smell of eggs, bacon, and waffles. He pulls himself up and throws off the covers, his bare feet hit the floor as he grunts before getting up and walking out his room toward the kitchen. Cheryl, Ricky, Mike already have their clothes on and are sitting at the fireplace where finished plates and cups of cocoa clutter the coffee table. Joe says nothing as he walks past them and makes his breakfast, he sits at the table and eats by himself–his mind empty–then gets up, places his dishes in the sink, and walks to the bathroom without a word. Twenty minutes later, Joe has his clothes on and takes a deep breath when he comes out then stretches.
“You guys ready?” Joe asks.
They look at him with exasperated expressions.
Joe looks at the cluttered coffee table, “Seriously?” he says, “just leave the table cluttered, Joe’ll clean it.”
He rolls his eyes, “You read the map, Mike?”
“Yeah,” Mike answers, “it sucks.”
“When we heading out?”
“As soon as you’re ready, Your Highness,” Ricky says and bows in mockery.
“Fuck. You.” Joe chuckles, “Alright, let’s get this shit over with.”
Everyone gets up and puts their dishes in the kitchen–not bothering to wash them–and come out, get their coats and packs, then head out into the Minnesota blizzard.
“Holy shit, it’s cold!” Cheryl zips up her coat in a hurry.
The snow pours like rain over their heads, visibility is slim to none and the sky is paper white. The trees are covered in clumps of snow, branches reaching capacity as snow falls off the branches and make room for new piles to accumulate. The four go up the hill and keep straight for about one to two thousand feet then make a left, go straight for another thousand feet and make a right, then go straight for about three thousand feet and make a right. They stop and rest in caves along the way but never go too deep into them, for the hibernating animals don’t like to share space with other creatures–especially humans. During one break, Joe looked at his map and calculated their distance from where they were to the cabin and realized they were at Gordon’s Cave, the place wolf biologist Gordon James died when trying to gather DNA samples of Timberwolves. Mike asked if Joe knew where the hell they were and Joe nodded while calculating and asked if the rest were ready to move, they all nodded and got up.
They arrive at Wolfgang’s Cave at four o’clock, from what Joe’s watch says, and the cave is large, dark, and intimidating. The blizzard lightens up enough to see the individual snowflakes as they hit the ground and the sheet stops just short of the cave’s entrance as if the cave has a force-field around it. A breath of smoke emerges from the cave and a hollow sound reverberates through it. The four stand in silence for a long time, not noticing the snow falling lightly on their heads; a soft breeze washes over them and the snow at the cave’s entrance floats away. Joe looks at the map and then the cave then the map and the cave again and confirms it in his mind, he says to the others. . .
“This is it.”
“This would be it, wouldn’t it?” Cheryl says, “Who’s going first?”
“Guess that’s where I come in,” Mike says, “Joe, you’re behind me, Cher, you and Ricky bring up the rear, that cool?”
Cheryl and Ricky nod.
“Alright, let’s do it.”
They enter the cave with flashlights ready.
Although it’s negative three degrees in Minnesota, and that’s plenty cold, the cave feels like negative three hundred. The crew is zipped up to the teeth and yet the chill has their bodies in a death grip. Joe’s hands tremble violently, and he has to put the map in his pocket to warm them every few minutes. Ricky’s teeth have been chattering for the past two minutes straight, and no matter how hard he tries to stop it, it seems to make it worse rather than better. Cheryl–the woman of many words and snarky remarks–is literally frozen speechless and although the silence is a blessing to the three men, Mike and Joe look back every so often to see if she’s still alive. Speaking of Mike, he’s the only one who doesn’t seem affected.
They come across three tunnels where each entry is darker than the last; Mike shines his flashlight right and finds a full skeleton which is not Wallace Wolfgang, but someone more recent. He goes over and examines the body. Joe shines his flashlight left and flinches then shouts. . .
The others turn and see what Joe flinched at. Another body.
A fresh body.
Ricky pushes past Joe and goes over to it without a care in the world and looks at it with a scientific focus. He deduces the frigid environment slowed up the decomposition process which is why they didn’t smell the body from a mile away, Rick also deduces that the guy died a couple days before they came here and that it was shit luck, they were late and couldn’t save him had they known. Ricky checks the dead man’s pockets for any form of ID and finds none, he sighs then shrugs and walks back to the group and tells them what he thinks happened when Mike walks over to listen.
“Alright,” Mike says, “the guy on the right’s been dead for years, the only thing keeping the bones strong is the cold, and from what Ricky says, the guy on the left died a few days ago and there’s no way to ID him because he doesn’t have a wallet. Talk about shit luck,”
The others nod in agreement.
“Aside from all that,” he continues, “the next question is–”
“Do we go down that tunnel?” Joe finishes for him and Mike nods.
“What say you, Navigator?” Ricky asks jokingly despite the situation.
“Nothing, this is where I stopped.” Joe answers, “Wasn’t gonna risk getting lost.”
“So that means we get to find out together,” Mike says.
“You guys aren’t serious, are you?” Cheryl asks.
“So, she is alive,” Ricky says, “welcome to the Land of The Living.”
“Funny,” she looks at him, annoyed, “I say let’s get out of here, this place gives me the creeps.”
“Well, good thing you’re not leading,” Mike says, “‘cause we’re going.” He points to the tunnel ahead.
Ricky shrugs, “alright,”
Joe rolls his eyes, “lead the way, Columbus.”
Cheryl looks at all of them in disbelief then sighs and relents, “Fine, but the moment one of you disappears I’m out of here. Count on it.”
They go down the tunnel.
When they get to the other side, they encounter four tunnels.
“What the hell?” Mike says.
The cave seems to have gotten bigger, the space expanding to twice the size of the entrance despite the frigid air. There are no bodies; in fact, there’s nothing, just four tunnels and dust particles in the air and jagged, rocky walls and a low ceiling.
Ricky and Joe come up beside Mike and stare in confused awe. They all shine their flashlights, trying to figure out anyone could even do something like this. Sure, there were civilizations that could do amazing things in the past: Egypt, Mesopotamia, Athens, Rome, and many others but. . .
“Joe,” Mike says, “how long did it take us to get through that tunnel?”
“How long would you say it took to build that tunnel?”
“A year and some change,” Joe answers, “Why?”
“Crazy theory,” Mike says, “what if Wolfgang built these tunnels?”
“By himself?” Ricky asks, “Impossible.”
“I did say ‘crazy theory’,”
“What would give you that idea?” Cheryl asks from behind as she comes up beside Joe, “he was a wolf biologist, not an architect.”
“I don’t know,” Mike says, “but something tells me this cave didn’t come about naturally. The way it just expanded gives me a bad feeling.”
“Now you wanna get some sense,” Cheryl rolls her eyes.
“I wouldn’t count on that, Cher,” Ricky says, “you know what happens when Mike gets a bad feeling.”
“Crazy idea,” Mike says,
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