March 20, 2008
By Jesse Hikel, Marlborough, MA

Courtney slowly edged her way around the cliff face. She was in the middle of Colorado and on the side of the Rockies. She loved to climb. The sun beat down upon her shiny blue helmet, and it glinted of her safety clips, but she wouldn’t let that distract her. The sky was perfectly clear and blue without a single cloud in sight. Her climbing partner was well ahead and she wouldn’t let something as insignificant as the scenery distract her.

She eventually made it to the nearest ledge and sat for a minute to survey the rest of her climb and perhaps see were her partner had climbed to. She took a sip of water, attached her harness to the nearest rock face and continued to climb.
Her sweat began to drip into and sting her eyes. She ignores the irritation and continued to climb towards Jay, her partner. A piece of rock dug a hole into her climbing gloves and into her hand causing her to loose her grip and slip down a little. Causing even more distance between her and Jay.
“Damn” she muttered under her breath.
She hadn’t even heard from Jay in over an hour. They were supposed to relay messages via two-way radio every fifteen minutes. She was worried. She started to climb again.
The next ledge was another twenty feet up and on her way she tried calling Jay’s radio, no response. She had made it to the ledge and immediately noticed a mark left by one of Jay’s boots. Although it wasn’t the print that caught her attention, but the large dark puddle next to it.
“Blood” she murmured. She dabbed her finger in to it to confirm her suspicion. Jay was wounded and for some reason he continued. Her worry was increased and she continued hastily.
As she continued her mind begin to pick up more traces of Jay’s journey. Both real and those caused by her afraid imagination.
Eventually her mind wandered to what could have happened.

“What if he fell?” She thought, “That’s absurd, you would have seen him, but he could be stuck and hurt” Her worry and her speed increased.

The next ledge worried her the most. There was a significant amount of vomit, and a dirty rag coated in blood. She went over to look at the rag, and it was a piece of the blue shirt he had been wearing.
“He’s sick and wounded, but then why doesn’t he stop? Unless…” She thought, “Unless he’s not alone” she finished her thought out loud.

She shook her head to rid herself of that thought, and she continued her way up. As she ascended the thought crept slowly into her head and she became paranoid of some presence. The rock it self began to almost seem human and frightening to her. Whenever the rock brushed against anything and made that awful scratching noise she would nearly jump, and twice she slipped and if not for her harness would have plummeted to the bottom.

At the next ledge she found were Jay had gone, but could unfortunately not see him. The ledge led into a pitch-black cave. Courtney looked down at the ground before the opening, and noticed a thick red smear leading into the shadow. Jay’s sunglasses were resting in the smear. Courtney picked them up, whipped them on her shirt, and put them in her pocket.

She again tried the two-way radio and very faintly, in the far distance, she heard the chirp that the radios give off when receiving a message. She put the radio back, and she pulled out her battery-powered flashlight. She made her way slowly into the darkness. The only thing she could hear were her echoing footsteps, and a steady dripping, like when a sink is left running. It was as if the cave had its own heart.

She clicked on the light and exposed little. The cave twisted and turned just like a gigantic snake. With the light still on she continued through the cave. She tripped over a rock, and the flashlight went flying from her grip ten feet away. Her nose had connected solidly with the floor of the cave, and she felt a steady flow of blood gush from her nose. She got up and walked toward the flashlight. Something moved. The light had shone something quickly scooting by.
It was the most wretched thing she had very seen. The thing had has at least two feet long, three eyes scales, and a feathery tail. She stood petrified, and could do nothing but watch the light and hope the thing wouldn’t come back. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, she walked forward grabbed the light and ran blindly deeper into the mountain.
She ran mindlessly through the many intersections without caring to pay attention for a way out and crouched deeply into a corner and held out the light trying to find the monstrosity of a creature, but she saw nothing other than the rocks and mosses of the inner mountain. While sitting she reached into her bag again and pulled out the radio. She clicked the trigger. It took too long to respond, and the response wasn’t good.
In its cool airy voice it said “ We are sorry, but your terminal has no service in your current location, and can not contact any other users at this moment. Again we here at ionshpere electronics apologize for the inconvenience, but we thank you for using our wonderful reliable network!”
She angrily stuffed the radio back into her gear bag. She surveyed her surroundings, and found her mistake; there were four exits to the round mountain cavity she was in. She came from one. She had no idea which one.

If possible, she shrunk deeper still into herself. She slowly turned the light to each exit, looking for any possible sign of her entrance, and she saw nothing but the cold smooth stone. Then that awful thought re-occurred.
What if I’m not alone? She couldn’t force it out of her head this time, the stone seemed to smooth to be natural, the precision of the tunnels was something to be awed, no mountain animal could have ever done this. Yet there were no signs of human life, no litter, no waste, not anything.
What about Jay? She hadn’t seen any clue of his travel since entering the mountain. She grabbed onto the light with every ounce of power she had left, and after a series of deep calming breaths stood up.

She stepped into what she presumed to be the center of the chamber, set the light down and spun it. The light danced and glittered against the smooth stonewalls. The light began to slow down and eventually pointed toward the tunnel directly behind her. She picked it up and began walking with her left hand on the wall, a trick she learned from her uncle about mazes. She held her light like a sword out in front of her as if to defend her from the darkness that was every were around her light circle.

After what felt like miles of walking had passed, Courtney became paranoid. She Began to hear things, see things in the dark. The shadows seemed to inch closer and closer to her. Her hands began to shake and sweat with her fear increasing. The glinting light frightened her to the point that she crouched down with her hands in front of her eyes terrified of the outcome.

She made her timid way deeper into the beast that was the mountain. The air got colder and the walls began to feel wet. Every once in awhile her hand would slip, and she would stand completely still for seconds that felt like hours. With the wet walls, she felt like she was wandering in the belly of some behemoth snake.

Why did I come in here? She thought There are people out there who know this mountain like the back of there hand, And I decide to take it upon myself to find Jay. What the hell was I thinking? I’m never going to get out of here am I? Just lonely me stu-

Something moved. She was dead certain that something had slithered by in the darkness. She froze and carefully moved the flashlight around looking for anything. Her hands shook so bad that her own light began to frighten her worse. She ever slowly stumbled down the tunnel. Something slithered again and she screamed and through the light. She watched as it arced delicately through the air its white light briefly revealing something similar to the monstrosity she saw earlier. The light hit the floor and broke sending plastic and glass shrapnel in every direction.

She fell to her knees and cried. The slithering grew closer as if compelled to come to the cries. She backed up until she hit the wall. She was petrified. Something glided over her feet. She let out another scream, and she scuffled further back into the wall. It bit her thigh. She let out the loudest shriek she had ever heard and her hand fell right to her the two hole wound. As it did the beast bit her arm. She went kick the beast with her good leg and as it jumped out of the way it bit her there too. The thing let out a frog like croak and went to attach again when from deep within the dark came the growl of such tremendous noise that the whole tunnel shook. The beast ran down the tunnel. Courtney just sat there and cried.

After the larger animals growls got closer Courtney tried to stand and found that her legs and bitten arm felt like jelly, and she fell again. She stood on her awkward legs and began to make it down the tunnel. Hand tried to support her against the wall and every time it would slip, so she began to wonder blindly. She began to feel very cold, and very lightheaded. She tripped and stumbled into one of the walls, and her nose gave forth a warm gush of blood, which ran all down her front. She got back up, her legs shaking uncontrollably, and still attempted down the tunnel.

It began to grow warmer, but she only grew colder. She stumbled once more and couldn’t find the strength to stand anymore; she pulled herself forward with her one good arm. The rock began to dig up into her face, but she continued through the tunnels. Her legs lost all feeling, and the numbness was spreading up through her body, and slowly to her good arm, which was beginning to feel cold and weak.

The rock began to feel warmer and warmer, but the feeling was completely gone from that one last hand that somehow found the strength to pull her through. The numbness spread to her neck and began to creep to her head. There it was. Sunlight at the end of the tunnel.

Courtney saw it, and the best way she could express emotion was by quickly inhaling a sharp short breath. Her hand began to loose coordination, but she kept going forward determined to make it into the light.

Her pale hand reaches into the light and gives one last pull as her face enters the light with it. She closes her eyes and finally lets the numbness take her in. The last thing she hears before she fall into the final light at the end of her final tunnel is that ever familiar beep of her radio picking up a message.

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