“No, we’re not going down separate tunnels.” Cheryl finishes.
“I think we have to,” Mike says,
“Says who?” Cheryl replies, “A three-century-old ghost? Are you serious?”
Joe and Ricky glance at each other with raised brows.
“Mike ignores her, “did you guys feel anything when we were walking through the tunnel?”
“How do you mean?” Joe asks.
“Like,” Mike pauses, “you were in a dream or something–like you weren’t really walking but rather gliding through it.”
Cheryl lets out an exasperated sigh and turns from the crew muttering to herself.
“Now that you mention it,” Ricky contemplates, “I did feel like I was in the zone for some reason, like all sense of time just vanished.”
A low, growling sound permeates throughout the cave and the other heads snap in its direction, flashlights beaming. Nothing, just dust particles and four tunnels surrounded with craggy and jagged walls. They hear the sound again, louder this time, and Cheryl makes her way behind the three men, shining the flashlight over Ricky’s shoulder. The sound goes from growling to a hollow whisper, echoing from all four tunnels.
Ricky hears the second tunnel. . . take the second tunnel. . .
Mike hears, the fourth. . . take. . . the fourth. . .
Joe hears, the first. . . the first tunnel
And Cheryl hears, the third. . .
“It just me or did you guys hear it too?” Joe asks.
“Yeah,” Mike says, “It said ‘take the fourth’, whatever that means.”
“What the hell were you hearing?” Joe says, “It obviously said ‘take the first tunnel’”
“What?” Ricky says, “it said ‘take the second tunnel’, I’m sure of it.”
Cheryl listens to each of them and realizes then says, “it wants us to take separate tunnels.”
They look back at her.
She looks at them with an annoyed expression, “Duh, it’s called ‘common sense’, get some.”
“So, I take the fourth,” Mike says, “Joe takes the first, Ricky takes the second which means Cher takes the third.” He pauses, “In what order? Left to right or right to left?”
“Does it matter?” Cheryl asks then shakes her head, “The better question is why the hell are we even considering this? We need to get the hell out of here while we still can, and we need to–”
The cave shakes violently and knocks Cheryl to the ground, the men stumble but manage to keep their balance; Joe falls to one knee and Mike look like he’s about to attempt a split while Ricky remains an imperceptibly immovable object–his calf muscles flexing to maintain fortitude. The sound of falling rocks in the distance gets Cheryl’s attention and she slumps her head in defeat, knowing before the others that getting out is no longer an option.
Wasn’t like they were going to listen anyway, Cheryl thinks when she stands.
The shaking subsides to a low rumble then stops a moment later, Mike walks over to the tunnel on the far left and stands in front of it. The others look on.
“So, we doing this?” Mike asks.
Joe and Ricky look at Cheryl then look back then look at Cheryl again, seeing the resignation in her eyes and feeling some sort of sympathy for her.
“Maybe we should consider going back,” Joe says.
“We can’t,” Cheryl says, and they all look at her, “when the cave shook, rocks fell on the other side of the tunnel we came from so, we’re trapped.”
“So, forward it is,” Ricky says and walks to the first tunnel on the right and stands in front of it.
“Well, see ya on the other side, I guess.” Joe walks over to the tunnel on the far right and stands in front of it.
“Yup,” Mike says when he walks to his assigned tunnel and stands in front.
Cheryl hesitates for a moment while the others wait for her. She looks back once more, knowing that if she decided to go back, she’d find it shut up on the other side. She looks at the remaining tunnel–the cold and unforgiving darkness beckoning her. She drops her shoulders in resignation and walks to the third tunnel and stands in front with the others.
They all stare into the darkness then walk in.
Joe is the first to emerge on the other side, the first thing he sees is three tunnels in front of him and the realization dawns on him that one of the others won’t make it.
“Oh shit,” he mutters.
There are three flat and large boulders stationed randomly and he walks over to one and sits to await their arrival. The temperature of the cave has dropped ten to twenty degrees and Joe begins to feel it when he’s able to see his breath; when he looks up, he sees the white sky and tiny snowflakes falling and hears footsteps approaching in the snow. He stands on the boulder and listens closely to the rhythm of the steps, he recognizes the rhythm as too fast for anything on two legs and deduces it’s an animal, most likely a Timberwolf. His hypothesis proves correct when a wolf shows up and looks down, its eyes meeting Joe’s. The wolf has a look of apathy and curiosity and Joe looks at the wolf with abject wonder. Its white fur blowing in the wind and its calm, unaffected demeanor in the face of such frigid weather. The wolf’s ears shoot up then it runs off to investigate some sound it hears in the distance, leaving Joe to his indeterminable fate.
Joe stares into the white sky a moment longer before the sound of footsteps approaching grabs his attention and his head snaps in its direction. A human-shaped silhouette emerges from the tunnel, in short, hesitant steps. Joe looks at the figure and feels the figure looking at him, they stare for a long time.
She sighs, “thank god,” she walks out the tunnel toward him.
She hugs him, he awkwardly hugs her back.
She looks around, “It’s just you here?”
“Pretty much,” he looks at the other tunnel, “looks like one of them is not gonna make it.”
Joe points to the three tunnels in front. Cheryl looks at the four tunnels then the three and then at Joe; she shakes her head slowly, trying to ward off the realization as it inevitably dawns on her that only one of them is going to make it. Joe tightens his awkward hold on her when she tries to run toward one of the other tunnels.
“Let go!” Cheryl says, “we can’t just sit around, we have to help them!”
Joe simply looks at the other tunnels and waits, his hold on Cheryl remains tight.
“Joe, what the hell is wrong with you?!” she says, “We have to save them! They’re in trouble!”
“There’s nothing we can do, Cher.”
“What do you mean there’s nothing we can do?” She tries to pull away, but Joe won’t let her.
She steps on Joe’s foot then kicks him in the groin and he lets go, Cheryl runs for one of the tunnels as Joe hits the ground and groans silently in pain and curses under his breath. The sound of footsteps approaching stops Cheryl in her tracks and she watches the same way Joe did when another human-shaped silhouette appears, this one taking more confident steps.
Cheryl runs to him and they hug, Ricky looks over Cheryl’s shoulder and sees Joe on the floor in pain then chuckles when he guesses what happened a moment before. Cheryl releases him and pushes him back. She looks into his eyes as if to ask where’s Mike, subconsciously aware of the slashes on his cheeks and the knife in his bloody hand, and Ricky looks away–hiding the damage. Cheryl’s expression goes from happiness to worry to terror.
“Ricky, what happened?” Cheryl asks, “and where’s Mike?”
Ricky clenches his jaw and Joe gets up and limps over to a nearby wall and plops down on the ground to watch the denial run its course.
“Ricky,” Cheryl asks with a shaky voice, “What happened to Mike?”
Ricky closes his eyes and pushes away from her and turns his back. He shivers then clenches his fist, “he’s dead.”
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