With the book release fast approaching, I wanted to share with you the first chapter. Drop me a line in the comments section and let me know what you think.
Ruth Anne closed her eyes and took deep steady breaths, trying to slow her heart rate and not think about the mountain of rock pressing down on her. She’d never gone spelunking before, and after today? She never would again.
She reopened her eyes. Thanks to the light on her helmet, she could see the reason she agreed to come at all: the hunky figure of Jason Mueller snaking further down “the wormhole.” That’s what Jason called this part of the cave, a long very narrow tunnel through solid rock. They were both students at the University of Kentucky, he in pre-med, she still stuck on undecided while a member of the cheerleading squad. Her friends teased her she was after an MRS degree, and they weren’t far off.
Jason was from one of Lexington’s oldest and richest families and she had her eye on him for the entire semester. When he invited her to go cave diving, she all too quickly said, yes, forgetting how much she hated being in tight spaces and was even more terrified of bugs. The thought of spiders climbing all over her kept her up at night. But Jason was into extreme sports and she was into him. She didn’t dare say no once he asked her to join him on this underground expedition, for fear she might not get a second chance to go out with him.
So here she was, a billion miles underground, on her stomach, crawling through a space where the gap left only inches to spare in any direction. He promised, since this was her first time, that they would go to an “easy” cave for her first dive and brought her to a farm his family owned down near Mammoth Cave National Park in Edmonson County, Kentucky. Jason believed their cave had to hook up at some point with Mammoth Cave, and was convinced he could find that connection given enough time.
He told her Mammoth Cave was nearly four hundred miles long, the longest in the world, blah, blah, blah. She couldn’t care less. She just liked his curly black hair, blue eyes and the way he looked in his faded jeans. Wearing a red, black and blue checkered flannel shirt, he looked like a lumberjack dream boat.
And up until about an hour ago, their trek through the cave was the easy trip he promised with fewer bugs than expected, thank God, and no bats. But after going through one very tight squeeze, Jason came to a complete stop. Looking up, Jason noticed an opening about six feet off the ground where a large boulder, matching the size of the hole, now rested at their feet.
“That’s new,” Jason said. “I’ll bet those tremors earlier this year must have shaken that boulder loose and caused a breakdown. Let’s take a look.”
Jumping, he grabbed the edge of the ledge. Pulling himself up, he first glanced around and then climbed the rest of the way and disappeared from view. Ruth Anne nearly had a panic attack as she looked around at nothing but rock and a darkness that seemed to close in around her. She started calling for Jason, but he soon stuck his head out of the hole, his face lit up with excitement.
“You have to see this,” he said. “Here, take my hand and I’ll pull you up.”
Every part of her being told her not to do it, but then she looked into those smiling blue eyes, jumped, grabbed his hands and climbed up beside him.
She crawled onto the ledge and could see another tunnel disappearing downward, further than the light of her helmet could reach. She was about to say something when she froze and goose bumps popped out all over her body. She could swear she heard what sounded like someone whispering. It was just barely audible and she closed her eyes and strained to make out the words. But it stopped and all she heard was Jason. “Think about it,” he said. “No one in the history of the planet has ever seen what we’re about to see. This passage goes out quite a bit, then there’s a flattener and I came to get you before exploring that part. Is this awesome, or what?”
She voted for the “or what” and tried talking him into getting more people before exploring this new part of the cave, but he said he wanted to be the first one to see this area and to share it only with her. If she wanted to wait for him, well, that was up to her and she could stay here and he’d return later. She considered her limited options and decided splitting up and staying behind was a bad plan, so she reluctantly agreed to further explore the new area with him. She thought about mentioning the whispering and her growing sense of unease, but was worried he might think she was some nut job. But there was no way in hell he was leaving her in the dark by herself.
She breathed in the musty cave air and continued crawling on her stomach after Jason and thought to herself, maybe he isn’t worth it. After a bit the opening widened, but the ceiling remained low. She bumped her head several times as she tried to scratch her nose.
Jason stopped. “Do you see that?” he asked.
“See what?” She inched closer to him, trying to look past him, but saw nothing.
“Turn your helmet light off for just a moment. I think I see some kind of glow up ahead.”
“You can’t be serious?”
“Just do it. It’ll only be for a minute.”
Ruth Anne hesitated, then reached up and begrudgingly turned off her helmet lamp. Jason did the same and for a terrifying moment, the darkness was total. She reached out and put her hand on his boot, but then she could see what caught his attention. Up ahead there was a soft red glow.
“Oh, Jesus. Do you think there’s lava up there?” she asked.
“Don’t be silly. There’s no volcanic activity in this part of the country.”
“Yeah, but what about the earthquakes. Maybe they did something and now lava is bubbling to the surface.”
He switched his light on again and she did the same. “Think about it, Ruth Anne. If it was lava, it would be getting warmer. And it’s not.”
He was right. It was snowing when they entered the cave and it was down to about twenty-five degrees outside. But once in the cave the temperature stayed constant, in the mid-fifties, and it didn’t feel any different the closer they got to the light.
He continued, “And we would smell sulfur. The smell would drive us out of here, but I don’t smell any. Do you?”
No, not that she was aware of. They moved slowly on, towards the source of the mysterious light. They crawled another hundred feet or so where the ceiling rose to about sitting height and the bottom dropped off to a small ledge. Jason glanced over the side and said, “There’s what looks like a fissure and the glow is coming down from one end. Hang on a sec’.”
He swung his legs over the side and dropped down, then raised his arms up ready to catch her. But Ruth Anne, backing away slightly said, “Look, Jason, let’s go back. I’m getting a bad feeling about this. I mean, what if you step into a sinkhole, or something like that, and get hurt? We’re down here all alone and no one knows where we are.”
He dropped his hands to his sides and didn’t look happy. “Fine,” he said. “How about this? I’ll walk up the fissure a bit to see if I can tell where the glow is coming from. Then we’ll head back and get a group in here to explore this new section more thoroughly. O.K?”
Ruth Anne looked down the cave fissure towards the glowing red light, her sense of unease growing. She nodded yes and said, “Be careful. And stay where I can see you. Please?”
“You got it.” Jason moved quickly down the path and just to the end of her light’s reach when he stopped and seemed to look off to his right, where the passageway made a sharp right turn. He shouted to her, “Just another minute,” he paused. “I think I see something.” He took another step and disappeared from view.
“Jason! Wait!” Ruth Anne shouted. But he didn’t. She wrung her hands while counting the seconds, waiting for him to return. She could still see the glow from his helmet lamp and was watching it intently when it blinkedout. The other end of the fissure was now barely illuminated by her own lamp and the same peculiar soft red glow.
She screamed his name several times, but there was no answer. A low moan escaped her body as she looked over her shoulder at the barely visible path that led them here. Her body began to shake uncontrollably and panic seeped into her bones. She wasn’t sure she could remember the way they came into the cave without Jason leading the way. Frozen with fear, she was too afraid to go after Jason and too terrified to try to leave alone.
After several paralyzing moments, she knew she couldn’t stay where she was. The terror of being lost forever in the cave trumped her fear of going after Jason. She jumped down and followed his footsteps, carefully.
When she reached the end of the fissure, the path made a hard right turn. She slowly peeked around the corner and could tell the red glow was stronger just up ahead. She inched forward, checking the ground for sinkholes or drop offs, but the path looked solid. Like Jason, she thought she could see something. But as she moved closer and strained her eyes for a better look, she came to an abrupt stop, her mind instantly in shock beyond understanding by what she now saw.
There, in front of her, was a really tall old man sitting on a stone block. She assumed he was old because his hair flowed down nearly to his waist and was as white as the snow falling outside the cave. Not only that, but the man was huge. As a cheerleader for the basketball and football teams, she spent a lot of time around some really big men, but this guy was as tall or taller than any of them.
Jason must be right, she thought. The cave on his family’s farm must hook up to Mammoth Cave, and that’s how he got here, from another entrance. There’s no way he could fit through the “wormhole” like we did.
The red glow was emanating from somewhere in front of and below the man, as if he sat around a fire pit. The man turned his head and she could see he was eating something. Noticing her, he stood and began taking long strides towards her. He was wearing a long robe, like you see people in the Middle East wear, but without the headdress. Her shock intensified when she noticed shackles around his wrists, with short lengths of chain dangling from them. Was he an escaped prisoner?
As he approached her she saw he was chewing on something. Her terror exploded when she realized he was holding the end of a human arm. He casually raised it to his mouth, tore off another bite, then wiped his mouth with his hand. Blood dripped from his fingers. The arm still contained bloody shreds of Jason’s checkered shirt.
The man smiled and Ruth Anne began to scream.