****The story below is a work of fiction and thus should be treated as such, all characters are entirely fictitious and are in no way based upon real people****
What actually is caving? Why do i do caving? Do i actually enjoy caving? Am i dead inside? and am going to die alone? These are all things cavers ask themselves on a regular basis before descending into the bowels of the earth. On this dreary derbyshire Sunday i believed the answer to at least two of the above questions to be “yes”.
Ben squeezed his toned body into his almost outrageously tight undersuit, looking over his shoulder and giving me a wry smile before doing up the zip. He knew i had been watching. Conor sluggishly undertook a similar endeavour but with far less elegance, still trying to shake of his hangover from the previous nights ‘pop tarts’. I too was also struggling due to sleep deprivation for the previous night i had couldn’t sleep so decided to stay up and write pointless dumb stories on the internet till gone4am. Thankfully Ben’s boundless enthusiasm made up for mine and Conor’s shortcomings. Consequently we were underground by a very respectable 1:38pm, far too early if you ask me.
We made our way down in to the gaping maw of the modestly named ‘Botcherby cavern’ ; the Peak Districts latest great speleological marvel, discovered after the CHECC overlord flexed his autocratic muscles and brought to bear the full logistical might of his regime to dig straight down in a spot that “seemed pretty good at the time”. By some miracle this pit happened onseveral kilometres of virgin passage which to many legitimised his militaristic coup several months previous and lead others to believe he indeed had some sort of ‘divine powers’. Of course, i had little care for such matters as they didn’t involve large quantities of low quality cider…. “mmmm, liquid gold”.
Right from the beginning of the trip something felt wrong. Perhaps it was the bad weather or the dead sheep by the entrance, or perhaps it was the plague of large frogs that seemed to have descended upon the cave. Ben simply disregarded it, reassuring us that they must have simply been washed down here due to the excessive rainfall but i was shaken non the less.
The first real incident occurred during a tight squeeze. Ben had wiggled his way through with ease, barely slowing, so i assumed i could do the same. Oh how wrong i was. I had barely inserted myself into the crack when i felt my girth severely pressing against all sides however not wanting to disappoint Ben, i foolishly persisted to push deeper but i soon became truly lodged. It was only Ben’s emotional support that prevented me from panicking, his dulcet tones calming until i could eventually wiggle free. Meanwhile Conor simply had his mind on other things; probably poontang or whatever else Chem-eng students think about.
Whilst i was descending the first major pitch i heard a noise. It grew, and grew and grew and grew, echoing throughout the cavern until i realised what it was. A FALLING BOULDER!!! it had rolled down the slope and off the pitch head and was heading straight towards me!!!! BELOW!!! i screeched and pushed myself to the right with all my might, narrowly missing the large rock. Unfortunately i underestimated my own strength and swung so far to one side that the rope hit a protruding bit of pointy rock and was cut clean in two. Now i was falling…
Was this it? was this the end? is this how i die? Fear consumed me as i plunged into the darkness below and i said my silent final goodbyes. But then i felt something. It wasn’t the pain of turning into a meat paste from a high speed collision with a rock floor instead was almost… cosy. Bewildered i looked around and found that Ben had caught me with his strong but gentle arms and was now holding me like an oversized newborn baby. I blushed and blurted out all sorts of thanks and apologies. Ben just smiled his charming smile. “How are we supposed to get out now though” proclaimed conor, looking at the newly severed rope. “Don’t worry” said Ben, i know a different way through this boulder choke, displaying his expert knowledge of the system, after all he was part of the team that discovered it. “We will have to be careful and quick though”, he stated as the section was known for it’s bad air, hence we had initially planned to avoid it.
Disaster struck again. What was it with this trip? It had really started to become quite irritating. Conor had dislodged a rock in the boulder choke and caused a positive feedback loop the caused the whole thing to collapse in on us, trapping us in a small side chamber which had thankfully all managed to scramble too with nothing more than a few bumps and scrapes. Looking back at where we came from though it quickly became apparent though there was no going back that way. “HEEEEEELP” i screamed but there was no response, all three of us where trapped. We knew it was highly unlikely anyone else would be in this cave today as basically all other cavers would be a the TSG’s tickling party. On top of that our call out was set for midnight and i could already feel myself becoming light headed due to lack of air… Oh no, the bad air… How long did we have left? i looked down at my casio watch to find it had broken in the scramble to ‘safety’ in this chamber. This truly must be a forsaken place if not even a casio could survive…
I look over at Ben, a solemn look on his face. We both knew there wasnt much air left and what we have to do. In that moment of eye contact an understanding was reached and we both knew what we had to do. “Look at me” i say to conor. “I’m sorry, its not you it’s us”. Conor looked confused. “You need to leave” i say and he then realises what is happened and panic shoots across his face but it already too late. “We just need more air” escapes Ben’s lips, barely a whisper as a single tear rolls down his cheek as he plunges the spatha into Conor’s throat, once, twice, three times. A scream barely has time to escape his lips before turning into a soft gurgle and then … nothing.
We say our goodbyes and bury Conor under some light rubble. We know we have bought ourselves some time but not much. Maybe I will die alone, well not alone at least. At least i have Ben, i can take some solace in that at least. I look deeply into Ben’s eyes thinking of how to put all the things i want to say to him into words yet find myself tongue tied. Suddenly a flicker of hope sparks in Ben’s eyes. “Wait a second, i know where we are!!” he proclaimed and pointed to a small opening in the chamber 3 meters up. Why hadn’t we bothered to look up, how foolish of us, there was a way out after all. We free-climbed up, crawled for 10 minutes and ducked through a short free dive and walked through 5 more minutes of passage and suddenly i could see the sky again!!! A sight i never thought i would get to see. Fresh air filled my lungs.
We arrive back at the TSG just as the festivities are ending and wipe our call out off the board. “Where i Conor” we get asked as we do so. I reply; “I dont know, havent seen him all day… guess he’s still at poptarts…”