As a cave explorer and a botanist, he has been to many natural tunnels. Caves that mystify him; caves that follow the curve of normalcy and caves he never wishes to speak of or go back to. Standing close to the vertical archipelagos of land, he always marvels at the dynamic cast of nature’s architecture – is this how it is than what it appears? Now?
He hinges at the word now – the infinite effort of cosmos presenting itself in current history. It baffles him for he is a man who inspects the past – who studies the causes and questions the effects and presents his findings in a thick file of time with appropriate evidence.
It is 2009. With a group of explorers and geologists, he is at the doorstep of the infinite cave in Vietnam – an unsymmetrical arch over still, breathing river – alive with fern and jungle plants holding a crease of several centuries. They see a passage, one of a kind – extending three hundred feet wide and as some place, as high as six hundred feet. He enters with others, and soon they disperse with ghost headlights leading into a depth of darkness. A few feet after, a spiral of sunlight punches through, crowned with wispy clouds – one of them looks like the head of a bear.
He stops, locating the silence brimming with life, careless and abundant, unexplored, hungry and indifferent to any intrusion. For a moment, he is dizzy in the magnitude of flora extended before him.
It is that moment when he feels a breath nearby, subtle but existent. And it seems that the rocks come alive with shinning eyes of stalactites. An invisible artist at work, weaving an ominous masterpiece, he feels as his pulse climbs. The entity walks with him, neither inhaling or exhaling, just a swoosh of air around his head, a feeble frequency instructing to turn, to go on, to stop. It whispers the ingredients of rocks, the ones he had never thought of especially in this climate. His mind feels awake beaming with information he never possessed. Perhaps, he is hallucinating, he tries to subdue the sensation. Ahead there is a curve where he lets his gear down and sits. It has turned dark again, and now, he hears dripping water – like far away winds curling into chimes.
He knows exactly where he is. He can see the entire cave in a blue light, passages marked, paths explored and pathways shut down by falling rocks and overwhelming palms and fern growth. He is suddenly, devoid of curiosity and that bothers him. He thinks of writing it down but feels a lethargy he has not experienced in years. He knows it all by heart – every species that is drawing air and food at that moment. Uncomfortable with his sluggishness and information, he calls out the name of other caver. No answer.
The exit beams in the map of his mind as soon as he thinks about it out but a part of him holds him back. He grabs the limestone wall, knowing what lies beneath it, behind and over. It isn’t pretty. Most likely, humans skulls, forming the irregular contours of the wall. What is more disturbing is that he knows the names, the places, these buried people are from. They were here, hiding, when bombs rained during the war. He wants to go out, he wants to forget – the screams, the chaos, the stampede right where he is standing. He pushes himself and runs – blocking his mind – the images, the knowledge that is overpowering him every moment.
“Michael are you alright? Tim, another explorer, asks him as he reaches the entrance.
“Yea, I am fine. Was lost.” He says, catching his breath.
“Others left for the camp, I decided to stay to collect some more specimen.” Tim adjusts his straps, almost brushing his shoulders.”
“I am glad to see you.”
“You look pale. Michael?”
“I feel better now. Listen Tim, I think there is something in ….” He pauses as they cross the threshold and step outside facing the mountain river, several hundred years old.
“Yea? We could not find much because of limited light, we plan to come here again tomorrow after dawn. It is majestic, one of a kind in the world, isn’t it?” Tim turns around looking at the dark monument.
Michael stares at the rocks – unsure of where he is, his purpose here – uncertain of his studies, his findings till date for they stand meaningless in front of his current moments but it is all fading fast, with every step. The weight of earth and it’s mysteries is quickly dissolving in itself – shutting it down – even the fact that he is here, now.
“Did I go in?” He mumbles.
“What?” Tim’s shocking look meets his.
“Nothing,” Michael walks on, leaving the unbearable burden of knowing, behind.
Above inspired by the picture of one of a kind, Infinite Cave in Vietnam posted on Moi’s weekly writing challenge – Once More with feeling #10