In another hour or so, the excitement continued to mount as the passageway began to noticeably slope upward. Instead of still glistening pools, small rivulets cascaded down the rocky surface, giving a merry tinkling sound to the otherwise gloomy passage.
Presently however, our new optimism again reverted to apprehension. Ahead of us, several lights gleamed in the darkness, and one of the lights was clearly the lantern. “Why are they all together up there, Brad?” Ann asked nervously.
“They’ve stopped for some reason,” I answered calmly, trying to sound unperturbed. “Let’s get up there and see what’s going on.”
Advancing swiftly, I gathered something was amiss from the tense expressions visible on the faces illumined in the lamplight. “What’s up?” I asked immediately as Ann and I joined the small group assembled in the pool of soft glowing light.
“Just listen for a second and you’ll see,” returned Paul.
Abruptly, everyone quit talking, enfolding us in the deep silence of the cavern.
The utter stillness, however, no longer appeared so absolute, because a deep ominous rumbling reverberated through the subterranean depths. It sounded faint, but unmistakably audible. The low-pitched tone continually vibrated like some monstrous turbine thundering in the bowels of the earth.
Paul broke the strained stillness to say, “You can hear it better through the ground.”
Accordingly, I knelt down putting my ear to the wet stone floor. At once, the sound amplified to a resounding roar, rolling through the rigid rock below. “What in the world is that?” I cried, scrambling to my feet.
Glancing at one another, they all shrugged helplessly in collective ignorance. “I wish I knew,” commented Paul. “David says that it gets louder farther up the passage.”
“It does,” broke in Junior. “The grade levels out a little way up, and then there appears to be a steep drop, but I couldn’t see far past that point using the lantern. Since the flashlight beam penetrates farther into the darkness, I thought it would be best to stop here while a couple of us take the flashlights and go check it out.”
This suggestion touched off another row, as nobody seemed comfortable with the idea of remaining behind. It was quickly decided, however, that Paul and David would lead the way, with the rest of us carefully following close on their heels.
Just as Junior had reported, the passage continued mostly level for a hundred feet or so and then descended sharply, but only for a short distance. Initially it appeared as though the passageway abruptly terminated at a narrow stretch of rushing water, because from where we stood, it looked as if the tunnel roof curved downward to meet the surface of the subterranean stream. However, after half-sliding, half-climbing down the steep slippery surface to the water’s edge, a gap was visible between the water surface and the overhanging rock, but the opposite edge of the running stream was obscured by the darkness underneath the low ceiling.
The deep rumbling sound had steadily swelled to a thundering roar by the time we halted by the edge of the stream.
“What’ll we do now?” Lumbard called, shouting to be heard over the deep cacophony.
No one tried to say anything, but Junior got out his candle to check the air current. Meanwhile, I eased down to the water’s edge, trying to peer underneath the low hanging rock to see if I could tell what was on the other side of the stream. Before learning much though, a shout behind me alerted me that Paul was signaling for everyone to go back up the incline, probably so that we could hear ourselves talk.
The moment we had moved far enough back up the passage to be heard, everyone started shouting at once. All the commotion could be summarized in two questions: Have we pinned ourselves in a virtual dead-end like rats in a trap? And what is the source of that horrendous din?
In frustration, Paul raised his hands for silence. “We’re not getting anything solved like this,” he cried. Then turning to Junior he inquired, “What about the air movement, David?”
“There’s still the same slight current, but as I warned before, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to be able to negotiate every opening that air can pass through.”
At this, nobody had much to say. We all knew we couldn’t go back, and if we couldn’t go ahead either—well…
Then Jill asked Paul, “What’s causing that rumbling noise?”
He smiled, seeming relieved to respond to a question that he had an answer for. “There’s evidently a subterranean waterfall very close to where that river crosses this passageway. From the sound of it, there must be a tremendous volume of water draining through this area.”
“How could so much water be constantly suffusing through this rock?” Ann asked curiously.
“For one thing,” replied Paul, “if we weren’t a couple of months into the rainy season, there wouldn’t be anywhere near this quantity of water. Before the start of the rainy season there’s likely no more than a trickle here, or possibly no flow at all. In aquifers like this one, there are often only a few locations where water can flow freely into the formation. Thus, during seasons of heavy rainfall, the subsurface water literally dams up above these choke points, causing a continuous flow through these recharge zones. Since ground-flow doesn’t respond as directly to rainfall as surface runoff, the flow rate won’t vary much through the season even if there’s some periods of relatively dry weather.”
“So you’re saying we might not get past here till next spring?” I asked bitterly.
Paul glanced grimly around at our anxious faces, and replied, “If we have to wait for that stream to go down, that’s probably right. Our only option right now is for me to go down there and see if we can get past.”
“Blast-it, Paul,” I burst out, “let’s don’t go through all that crap again. You know that except for Han, I’m taller and stronger than any of you are, and I’m much more comfortable in the water than Han is. So, give me the stinking flashlight and I’ll get going. I already tried to look under there, but I couldn’t see much from the edge of the water. I’ll have to wade out into the stream to get a good look under that rock shelf.”
Paul gripped my arm and gave me a searching look. “If that water gets very deep, the current could be completely overpowering, Brad. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Heck no!” I cried vehemently, “but I do want to get out of here, and this is the best chance we’ve got.”
They again wanted to loop a rope around my waist, but I absolutely refused, still preferring freedom of movement to the risk of being unexpectedly jerked around. As I saw it, the best game plan was having the four men, led by big Han, wade in behind me, ready to give me a hand if I should need it. The tricky part was the footing. That confounded stone floor sloped precariously and was as slippery as it could be.
Descending to the water’s edge, I peered apprehensively into the flowing stream. About eight feet of open water stretched from the shore to where the stream disappeared under the rock wall. It looked as if when the ceiling declined the passage widened, because the tunnel was more than twenty feet wide where the stream crossed. Gingerly stepping into the cold water, the swift current, flowing right to left, rippled and splashed around my ankles. Tentatively taking another step, the water rose to about mid-calf. Suddenly, my feet shot out from under me and I flopped sideways into the racing water. The powerful current spun me half around as I clawed franticly for a purchase on the slick stones. Lunging forward to help, Han’s feet flew sideways, and he too plunged into the shallow torrent. Smashing into me, his massive body dislodged my tenuous hold on the rocks, dashing me once more into the raging water. Luckily for both of us, the current slacked off near the left side wall and the two of us, all in a tangle, ground to a halt. Before either of us could clamber to our feet, Junior and Paul washed into us, thrashing and kicking like a couple of flounders. Only old Lumbard wasn’t in the water.
He stood thoughtfully on the bank, smoking his pipe and calmly gazing at us. “You know boys,” he called, as the four of us scrambled out of the water, “that looks like a lot of fun, but I don’t think we’ll get a lot done that way.”
“You know,” said Paul as he shook the water off his glasses, “you may be right.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” cried Junior, “We’ve managed to provide Mr. Lumbard some amusing entertainment.”
At this, Lumbard nodded his grizzled head and grinned broadly. “You got that right. But this time we’ll form a line and then lock arms. With Han’s grip though, we’d better have him in the front position holding on to Brad.”
So that is the way we did it. Using Han’s steadying grip, I eased into the stream and cautiously worked my way along the far right-hand side of the passage, in order to keep as far upstream as feasible. With the savage current tugging at my legs, the water surged around my waist as I reached the overhanging ledge. Needing both hands, I signaled Han to grab me around the middle. That way I could steady myself against the rock ledge with one hand, while freeing the flashlight off my belt to investigate the darkness between the ledge and the stream surface.
Plainly enough, the opposite bank sloped up out of the stream about thirty feet from where I stood. Because of the low ceiling, it was impossible to peer very far up the bank to see if the overhanging ledge rose sufficiently to create a passable tunnel. It appeared encouraging enough, if we could only manage to cross those thirty feet of rushing water.
The bottom of the rock ledge averaged about a foot to a foot and a half above the water. Odd to behold however, down stream ten feet or so the water gathered up, forming a dark standing wave, which thrashed and foamed against the stone ceiling. Presumably, something was lying beneath the surface causing the water to mound up in that manner. In any case, it was essential to determine if the stream depth remained shallow enough to ford afoot. If, by pressing against the underside of the stone ledge, sufficient leverage could be generated to withstand the force of the powerful current, we would all be able to cross safely.
It was hopeless to learn anything using the flashlight. The water was certainly clear enough, but with that swirling current the glimmering streambed wavered and danced crazily in the artificial light. Turning to Han, I shouted over the chaotic tumult, “I’ve got to see how deep it is under there. Hang on tight!”
Accordingly, I ducked under the ledge, stepping out carefully with an exploring foot. I had imagined that the deep thundering had seemed loud before, but under that confining stone ledge, the sound was positively deafening. It may have been the effect of that mind numbing roar, or perhaps just my own folly, but my next step nearly ended in disaster. Pressing hard against the low ceiling, I failed to carefully ease my foot to the bottom. Instead, I shifted my weight over to my forward foot, anticipating a regularity of the stream bottom. On the contrary, I encountered no bottom at all. Literally shoving myself under the water, my head plunged beneath the surface as I kicked impotently against the furious torrent. Fortunately for me, Han’s arm, like a steel-vice, locked around my waist, towing me safely into the shallow water.
Spluttering and coughing, I heaved myself back onto the bank and faced the others. “It’s only about thirty feet across,” I gasped, “but the bottom drops out just beyond that ledge.”
“I guess that means we don’t cross,” shouted Paul dismally.
“We don’t know that yet, not for sure,” I replied loudly. “I want to see why the current slacks off over on the left side. There’s a standing wave under there as if it was flowing against a submerged rock, but if that were the case, there shouldn’t be a back-water over on this side. If anything, the current should be stronger. Anyhow, I’d like to take a look and see if I can tell what’s going on under there.”
Once more, Han and the other men followed after me as I waded into the cold stream. This time however, I waved off Han’s supporting arm. Since now the cavern wall was to my left, by bracing myself with my left hand, and with much less current to contend with, there seemed little need for his assistance. Easing up to the overhanging ledge, the strange behavior of the current totally bewildered me. The water wasn’t lying still as I had first thought. Instead, seething and churning, it twisted about as if it couldn’t make up its mind. Only on nearing the ledge could I feel a definite tug from the current. And then, it made no sense at all, because the darn thing was flowing from left to right—uphill. I thought my senses must have been deserting me.
Rather than shouting over the din, I signaled Han to take the flashlight so I could brace myself against the ledge using both hands. I wanted to get a better look under that ledge, but it was extremely difficult to see anything. It appeared that the standing wave I had observed in the current curved around toward our side of the stream, because the surging water foamed up close to the edge of the overhang, occasionally dousing me in the face with a spray of water. At that point, I decided to move a little closer, and it almost cost me my life. Simply reaching out with my left leg, a staggering force seized my foot, instantly sucking me feet-first into a violent maelstrom. Clawing wildly to get a hold on the rock ledge, I frantically screamed for Han’s help. Grabbing hold of the rough stones, the tremendous power of the current tore at my grip, tearing the skin from my fingers. The instant my hands slipped free, an iron vice-like grip caught my wrist, suspending me in that raging furor. Vainly struggling against the current, the awesome power of that terrible maelstrom battered me against the underside of the ledge like a fluttering cloth in the wind.
Thank God though for the inexhaustible strength of mighty Han, and for the courageous assistance of the other three men. Because of the merciless beating I was enduring, the intense battle they waged against that devouring vortex only vaguely registered on my senses.
I recollect an immense release of pressure, and then many hands tugging at me and helping me up the steep slope back to the relative quiet of the passageway away from the subterranean river. Despite being a bit dazed after getting knocked around like that, when I heard Ann crying over my cuts and bruises, I immediately shook out the cobwebs and emphatically proclaimed that I was perfectly all right.
“But look at your poor hands,” moaned Ann.
To my amazement, because I really hadn’t noticed any pain, my hands were indeed dripping large drops of blood, and much of the skin on the inner side of my fingers hung in shreds. My clothes too, were ripped and torn in several places. Without a doubt, if it hadn’t been for my belt my trousers would have been completely stripped off.
“What in the world happened down there?” asked Ann, as she opened the first-aid kit and commenced treating my injured paws.
Glancing up at Paul’s disheartening visage, I replied bleakly, “I’m afraid our subterranean waterfall is more like a subterranean whirlpool.”
Paul nodded quickly, bluntly affirming my conclusion. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a gigantic drain-hole, with an enormous quantity of water funneling through to the depths below. The sheer power of that vortex is absolutely mind-boggling. If you hadn’t grabbed on to that rock ledge, Brad, you would’ve been lost for sure. It was unbelievable. One minute you were standing there, and in the blink of an eye, you were gone. We just saw two hands grasping at the rock. Then Han grabbed for your wrist, we grabbed for Han, and the tug of war was on. And I thought for a while that we weren’t going to win.”
“Well, thank God you did!” Ann exclaimed ardently.
“I’ll go along with that,” I added, lightly kissing her sweet head as she bent over my wounded hands.
Needless to say, the collective attitude of our crew fell considerably short of cheerful optimism. To tell the truth, I never saw a more dispirited group of people; excepting Ann, who was too busy fussing with my injuries to consider anything else. Despite knowing the damage was no more than superficial, I threw in a piteous groan every now and then for good effect. I might have laid it on a little thick, but who could resist being ministered to by such a lovely nurse.
At last, fed up with all the dismal expressions and the general aspect of impending doom, I interrupted the despondent silence. “I don’t mean to be overly critical, but I swear, you guys look like you ought to go to a funeral just to cheer up.”
“Well, Brad,” returned Junior, “I’m not sure what you expect, but I think everybody understands the gravity of our situation here. We can’t go on, and the idea of going back is utterly abhorrent.”
“Oh my God,” wailed Whitney, “we’re going to die down here!” Then crying uncontrollably, she slumped to the ground, while Junior tried ineffectually to calm her down. Next, Jill began showing signs of cracking up. Between the two of them, they created quite a commotion. So I figured it was time to put an end to this nonsense, and pronto.
Splitting the air with a piercing whistle, I immediately drew everyone’s attention. “I don’t know where you guys are getting the notion we can’t go on. But for my part, as soon as Ann finishes with me, I’m getting the heck out of here!”
Gaping at me skeptically, they looked like a school of curious fish all wide eyed and opened mouthed. In a minute though, Selby recovered enough to ask, “What the devil are you babbling about? Just where do you propose on going?”
“I’m not proposing anything,” I retorted sharply. “I’m simply stating the fact that I’m going on up this passageway, and I presume the rest of you guys are coming along. Aside from getting a little wet, we’ll be all right.”
Junior started to speak, but motioning for silence, Paul gave me an inquisitive glance and then asked seriously, “Are you saying there’s a way to get past that savage current?”
“Exactly,” I responded promptly, trying to sound more confident than I felt, “I’ll tie the rope around my waist and swim to the other side. Then, we’ll pull the rope tight, and the rest of you can pull yourselves across.”
Immediately everyone began clamoring in protest.
“That’s insane; it would just be plain suicide!” cried Junior.
Ann clutched franticly at my arm and urged passionately, “No, Brad, please don’t try it!”
With some difficulty, I soon subdued the general uproar enough to spell out my reasoning. “Look, it’s just this simple. Sooner or later that hideous dragon’s going to be coming up behind us. When that happens, we’ll be willing enough to attempt the crossing, but in a wild panic we wouldn’t have a chance. Whereas, with care and planning, there’s a good bet we’ll make it. The most important thing to consider about that whirlpool is that its rotation is counterclockwise. There are at most only thirty feet to cover, and half of that, I can make with one good push. At that point, even if I get carried into the edge of the vortex, the current will then be hurtling me directly toward the opposite bank. I’m not trying to pretend that there’s not a chance the inward pull might be too much for me, but I honestly believe it can be done, and I certainly intend to give it a try.”
Everyone continued to stare for a moment, and then Paul spoke hesitantly. “It’s agonizing to be so desperate, but you may be right. You’re certainly right about that current; you’ll going to have trouble getting out on the other side.”
Having said all there was to say; I stripped down to my jogging shorts, figuring to cut down as much drag as possible. Then, looping the rope around my middle, I secured a good bowline knot. The main problem was figuring the safest way to bring along a flashlight. I had no desire to get to the other side and then be completely in the dark. Accordingly, I secured a strap around my head and fastened the flashlight to the right side, hoping in that way it would encounter the least resistance.
And speaking of resistance, the only real opposition to my scheme came from Ann. Although she perfectly understood the necessity of such desperate tactics, she begged me not to attempt it. Instead, the silly, but adorable little goose insisted that she should be the one to go, claiming that since she had been on her high-school swim team she would have a better chance of making it than I would. That wasn’t the end of it, either. She flung a barrage of other arguments at me too, like she was lighter and would present less resistance, and I was all beat up and exhausted, and so on.
Inevitably however, I took her into my arms, kissed her and said firmly, “My precious girl, I’m sure you’re a wonderful swimmer and as light as a feather and everything, but it simply boils down to one thing. I’m a heck of a lot bigger than you are, and I’m going and you’re not! Besides, you do a much better job of praying, and I definitely want God on our side.”
Resigned at last, she pressed her head hard against my chest and breathed, “I’ll do that, Brad, with all my heart.”
Tossing the loose end of the rope over to Paul, I carefully explained my strategy. “I’m going to push off as far to the right of the opening as possible, so hopefully I’ll be a good way across before hitting the edge of the whirlpool. I’ll also try to stay close to the surface, because the current seems to be considerably stronger in the deeper water. The main thing for you to do is to keep slack in the rope. I don’t want to be suddenly yanked backwards while fighting to reach the other side.”
“But what if you get caught up into that vortex?” Paul broke in anxiously. “We’ll have to try to pull you out.”
“If that hell-hole sucks me in, Paul, there’s no way you guys, even with big Han, could pull me back—not alive, anyway. Just keep track of how much line’s paid out. It’s only about thirty feet across, so if it starts zinging away well beyond that—then you’ll need to cut the line. You guys might need what’s left of the rope.
“Another bad thing is that only a few feet of the opposite bank is visible because of the way the heaving edge of the vortex surges up blocking the view. Meaning, of course, you won’t be able to see what happens as I attempt to climb onto the bank. Just keep an eye on the other side and after getting out, I’ll move back over till we can see each other again.”
I would like to relate how I calmly marched down to the brink of that vicious maelstrom, grinning nonchalantly into the face of death, but I promised myself a long time ago to always report truthfully in this journal. So, I had a heck of a time keeping my hands from trembling and my teeth from chattering even before getting into the cold stream. I was scared silly.
Anyhow, not daring to pause to look the situation over for fear that I would never go at all, I immediately dove with all my strength into the swift current as soon as I reached the overhanging ledge. Franticly kicking and stroking, I surged swiftly toward the opposite side. For a brief moment it appeared as if I might make it all the way across without encountering the vicious current of the whirlpool. In an instant however, the turbulence rose over me as an appalling wave of incredible power wrenched me into its relentless grip.
Helpless against such power, as well as blinded by the turbulent water, I struggled vainly for control. Then, abruptly the inexorable current slammed me onto the stone bank thrusting me half out of the water. The breath knocked out of me, I clung desperately to a projecting rock just to my left, but the relentless current still clawed furiously at my legs. Yet, I had almost heaved myself free, when suddenly my hands slipped. Franticly, I tried to wrap myself around the projecting rock, but only succeeded in twisting around to the other side of the stone before tumbling back into the maelstrom. Seized headfirst by the pitiless torrent, I realized instantly how utterly useless were my feeble efforts to resist the relentless pull of that hellish vortex.
Unexpectedly, a terrific jerk about my waist wrenched me to an abrupt halt. Whipping around like a kite in a windstorm, the raging current washed over me with horrendous fury. Evidently, the trailing line had snagged itself over the projecting rock, leaving me suspended in the wild rapids at the end of eight feet or so of rigidly taut rope.
Quickly realizing that any effort to fight the current was utterly futile, I tried to use the pull of the whirling torrent that was straining on the rope around my middle. By applying leverage supplied by the taut line, it was just possible to pivot my legs underneath me and brace my feet firmly on to the streambed. Then, my lungs burning for precious air, I braced my hands against the overhanging ledge. At that point, the separation between the floor and the ceiling only being about four feet, it allowed me to apply considerable pressure to stabilize my position. Then, utilizing the force of the rope to secure myself against the weight of the current, I crab walked toward the edge of the stream. Thankfully, after only a few feet, the overhanging ledge lifted, my head broke through the foaming surface, and I could breathe the wonderful air again.
Finally, with the last of my strength, I thrust out hard with my legs, hurtling myself onto the rocky bank. Rolling over several times, I made sure of my separation from that dreadful hell-hole. Spluttering, coughing, and gasping for precious air, I scooted myself backward a little to relieve the pressure of the line around my waist. Being secured to the rope had undoubtedly saved my life, but it had also caused me to undergo a vicious thrashing. As a result, the skin around my middle was chafed raw and stung like crazy. So fumbling awkwardly with my sore fingers, I untied the knot and tossed the loose end from my waist. Surprisingly, not till that moment, did I become aware of the light shining around me. To my utter amazement, through all that tumbling about, not only the strap around my head, but the flashlight as well had remained in place. And amazingly, the flashlight was still on.
Unhooking the light, and tentatively inspecting my surroundings, the chamber and connecting passageway on this side of that maniacal watercourse was clearly less spacious. The floor and ceiling sloped upward in the same manner, but somewhat less steeply. The passage leading out appeared to only rise to seven or eight feet, and a little less than that amount in width.
Gingerly rising to my feet, still wobbly in the knees, I tottered over to the spot that was visible from the opposite bank in order to signal to the others that I had successfully crossed. On this side the edge of the stream only extended two or three feet beyond the overhanging rock ledge. In addition, the cave floor dropped precipitously at the water’s edge, resulting in an abrupt depth of three feet or more. Not daring to step into the unmanageable current, I had to kneel down on the bank to peer under the ledge.
Casting my light over the stream surface, two drawn and anxious faces came into view, Paul, and Han. Flashing the O.K. sign, I grinned broadly, intending to alleviate their anxiety. It was, of course, completely impossible to communicate verbally because of that thundering uproar. It was even louder on this side because the center of the whirlpool was obviously closer here. Just to the right of where I knelt, the tortured waters lashed violently against the bank, sending spray far up the cavern walls.
Curiously, the two faces appeared relieved for a moment only, then appearing greatly distressed, they began gesticulating unintelligibly. Even when Paul shook the loose end of his rope over the water, I was at a loss to fathom his meaning. Why was he brandishing his end of the rope and pointing at it? But when he made sevaral useless attempts to cast the rope across the gap separating us, the chilling truth began to dawn on me.
Fear wrenched at my gut as I turned my gaze toward the wet stone floor. Agonizingly, I inspected the sloping ground. The rope was gone!
Furiously pounding my fist against my thigh, I cursed myself, then the rope, then the raging water. I was even about to curse God, when Ann’s gentle voice came into mind, as I remembered something she once said to me. “We so often rage at God for things that are nothing more than our own folly. I don’t want to blame God because I make a mistake. Instead, I would be better off asking God for help surmounting my mistakes. Problems are seldom solved by just getting mad at them.”
Thereupon, I settled down and commenced racking my brain for some solution to this predicament. Obviously, the rope had remained securely snagged on the rock only as long as strong tension was being applied. When I loosened the rope from around my waist, the force of the current immediately sucked it into the stream. Paul and the others realized at once that the whirlpool was swallowing up the line, so hauling it back in, they had the whole rope on their side and that was my end of the rope that Paul was fruitlessly trying to throw across the stream.
Helplessly watching their futile efforts to cast the rope-end across, it soon became evident that there just wasn’t enough space between the overhanging rock and the stream surface. The rope never made it more than halfway across. They even tried tying weighted objects to the rope-end, in order to give more impetus to the throw, but to no avail. It either plunged directly into the water or hit the rock over head and ricocheted in.
Desperate for a solution, even the insane idea of re-crossing that maniacal stream flashed into mind, but getting myself flushed down that gigantic toilet would hardly be much help. The thought that was torturing me wasn’t that I had cut myself off from the others and would have to go it alone, or anything of that sort. I couldn’t have been more certain of what was happening over there than if I had actually been with them. Once they realized that it was hopeless to throw the line over, they would undoubtedly conclude that one of them must undertake that insidious crossing. And that is what scared me. Not that one of them must do it, that was unavoidable, but who would it be. Surely they would see that there was only one logical choice. It had to be David Selby. He was strong, athletic, and undoubtedly the best swimmer of the four men. Han, Lumbard, and Paul all have guts enough; any one of them would give it a try, but they wouldn’t stand a chance. Lumbard is tough as an old stick, but he is well in his sixties. Paul can do little more than tread water and Han—well, I wouldn’t leave Han alone in a bathtub without a life preserver.
The problem, of course, was Whitney. I could just hear her shrill hysterics at the suggestion of Junior’s going. Unquestionably, Selby is courageous enough to give it a try, but did he have the guts to defy Whitney? Frankly, I doubted it.
For a long time no one appeared on the opposite bank, meaning they must be having quite a debate on who would hazard the crossing. Agonizingly, I peered under the ledge, afraid yet all the time knowing who it would be. Every point Ann had first raised asserting her fitness to attempt the crossing was perfectly valid, and I well knew it, too. Forcing myself to face the truth, it is Ann who had the best chance of success. Not only is she a stronger swimmer than Junior, but if it became necessary, it would obviously be much easier for me to extricate Ann from that fierce current.
At last, when Ann’s frightened, but determined face appeared across the turbulent stream, it took all the restraint I could muster to keep from signaling “NO”, and waving her back. For Ann’s sake, for all our sakes, I had to master the awful dread that was numbing my brain and wrenching my guts out. This extreme terror far exceeded anything I had experienced before. Nonetheless, managing a weak grin, I flashed her thumbs-up. She quickly grinned back, and after drawing the wet hair from her pale face, returned my thumbs-up and prepared to lunge forward.
Immediately springing to the place where the violent current had first hurled me against the bank, I secured my footing, ready to help in any way. In spite of my vigilance however, the savage force of the vortex flung her so violently against the bank where I waited that I could only hook one hand around her waist. Quickly bracing myself with the other hand, I almost plunged headlong into the maelstrom. Relentlessly, the prodigious force of the raging current tore at my grip. And with Ann’s slippery body struggling in the foaming turbulence, there was no hope of lifting her out.
Desperately, I struggled against the current. But suddenly, with an overpowering surge, Ann was gone. Crying out in anguish, I half buried myself in the wild torrent vainly trying to reach her. Instantly consumed in a wave of agony and grief, I teetered on the brink of throwing myself after my darling into the hellish vortex. Suddenly however, when something grazed my hand, I automatically grabbed at it. It was the rope!
Acting purely instinctively, because there wasn’t time to give it thought, I heaved the line out of the water by pulling sideways to the current, not against it. Then, immediately looping the slack end over the same projecting rock, the rope snagged tight, just as it had done before. With the rope secured around the rock, I quickly pulled the line onto the bank. The moment Ann broke out of the whirling spray, I snatched the rope tied round her waist and yanked her clear of the water.
Holding my dear girl tight, she coughed and gasped for breath. I don’t know whether it was from the water or from me clasping her so tight, but I wasn’t about to let her go, not yet anyway.
After a while, we had both stopped shaking and I held her out to feast my eyes on her loveliness. Raising my eyebrows, I shouted over the thundering noise, “Man! I love that swimming ensemble of yours.”
“Oh, Brad,” she yelled back, “you would say that. The other guys were gentlemen enough to turn their heads when I undressed and got into the water.”
“They better have,” I retorted. “But I never claimed to be a gentleman, and those other guys aren’t going to marry you, either.”
“Well, we are not married yet, and please untie me from this rope.”
Untying the rope with Ann in her bra and panties was fun. Although I am not sure Ann enjoyed it as much as I did. It was too shadowy to see if she was blushing, but I will lay any odds that she was. As soon as the line was free, she scampered over to the flashlight, picked it up, and hid in the darkness behind the light. “Oh, come on,” I called, “I’ve seen girls in bikini’s that show more than that.”
“Well, they weren’t me and this isn’t a bikini,” she called back.
Chuckling at her modesty, I soon found a heavy boulder to tie the rope to, and signaled to Paul that we were ready for them to cross.
It went even smoother than we had hoped. Lumbard slid along the rope first, wrapping his legs around the rope and pulling his way across hand-over-hand. He brought the lantern, along with Ann’s clothes, in its waterproof bag. Ann, being the nimble little sprite that she is, snatched her clothes and hastily dressed before I could get the lantern set up and turned on—darn-it.
The others slithered over without incident. Whitney and Jill’s eyes were as big as saucers, but they made it across just fine. Where we thought there might be a problem was in getting Han across. They had failed to find anything on the other side staunch enough to secure the rope to, so big Han had simply held the rope, anchoring his huge feet against a protruding stone ridge. The trouble, of course, was in getting Han over without the line being secured on both ends. As it turned out though, with the entire crew hauling on the other end, we whipped him across so quickly that he hardly had time to enjoy the ride.
With little loss of time, primarily to get out of that awful din, we gathered up our junk and hiked out of that area. The passageway soon leveled off, but remained about the same size. Notwithstanding, as soon as the thundering subsided, we halted for our night’s rest. It wasn’t till then that it dawned on us what we had done. It almost seemed to occur to everyone at the same time, because all at once, everybody began smiling, laughing and generally acting silly. If an outside observer had seen us, they would probably think we had lost our doogies, but the indescribable relief we all felt was downright exhilarating. For the first time in what seemed like ages, we no longer had to fear one of those hideous monsters following behind. Besides the smaller tunnel we were now in, it was impossible for a creature of any size to pass beyond the low-hanging rock ledge that roofed the subterranean river.
Amazingly, although still having no assurance that we can escape this way, our spirits have never been higher. That is even considering that our food is almost depleted, and that physically we are pretty well battered and worn. It has taken quite a while for everyone to settle down to sleep, but all is quiet now.
In another hour or so, the excitement continued to mount as the passageway began to noticeably slope upward. Instead of still glistening pools, small rivulets cascaded down the rocky surface, giving a merry tinkling sound to the otherwise gloomy passage.