| I had already chosen my route across
Echo Auditorium, planning on
leaving the herd in my unseen dust the moment darkness fell.
There was an audible “chunk” when Pat shut off the lights, like
something heavy dropping from above, burying us in impenetrable
blackness. I immediately broke from the pack, hearing the
collective chatter falling ever farther behind me. From the sound
them, they were mostly huddled together like musk oxen and proceeding
with baby steps in no certain direction.
It was a long trek crossing the Auditorium in absolute darkness.
sort of power-walking, quickly but carefully feeling each footfall on
the gravelly floor, my arms outstretched, aching to touch the far wall
of the room, yet fearing collision at every step. Finally there
rock, moist and cool, like some immense abstract sculpture beneath my
hands. I could hear the pack as they slowly progressed behind
read the wall with my hands, following its undulating contours to the
left, searching for the void that would signal the passage to the
outside. The cave wall was far more convoluted than was readily discernible by eye; it
was hard to know when I was rounding a
merely feeling my way into one of the innumerable crannies pocketing
the cave wall.
I could hear the group
sniggering about their
Then all at once they seemed to be traveling at quite a clip. I
couldn’t imagine why they were suddenly moving so fast, hearing the
clatter of their little booted feet scampering over the stones.
Bart Bledsoe—the first out—explained to me later, Daryl Robinson, upon
encountering a boulder followed by a drop-off, had started flicking a
Bic lighter which gave enough of a flash that they could proceed with
haste. Bart had also broken from the pack; now that the lighter
being struck, he could nearly dash into the passageway in front of
never saw the flash, being pointed the
other way, having
rather elliptic swerve to the right during my plunge across the
unfathomable gloom. Distance is really hard to gauge in complete
darkness, by the way. I chuckled to myself, thinking the group
off course, trusting my own evaluation of the geography before
me. But when their voices were swallowed up en
masse, signifying that they had
made it into the exit passage, I realized it was I who was off course
and not the lumbering herd.
I “corrected” my
direction, reluctantly leaving the
cave wall and
heading once again into the void. This is creepier than you can
imagine, walking sightless across so vast a space. I was using my
to guide me toward their voices, but they sounded impossibly distant
now and the room rebounded with faint, confusing echoes. The
also becoming irregular, each step requiring more caution than the
last. “Where am I?” I thought, just before stumbling forward and
landing painfully on my hands and knees.
all fours, trying to determine my location with my hands. Finally
came across wooden planking, smooth and alien against my palms.
great,” I thought, “I’m in the saltpetre
obstacle course of display cases, leaching vats and assorted mining
memorabilia, it was definitely not a place to be without
I crawled backwards until I felt the rise of the floor taking me out of
the museum area and once again into Echo Auditorium.
I’m left to guess that this is where I got
around, heading off in the wrong direction entirely. All I knew
that, after a bit more fumbling forward, it seemed that I was finally
in the right passageway, or at least a passageway of the proper
dimensions. I could hear the reverberations of