“It’s through here.” The older man’s rough voice teemed with excitement. “I can’t believe it. All these years …” He trailed off as the small team pushed through the tunnel.
Alice Benson examined her team mates. Childlike excitement danced across each face.
“This will be the discovery of the century Benson.” The man next to her ran a hand over his tired eyes. “We’re lucky it didn’t take a century to find.”
“It did, kind of.” Alice ventured. “I mean, think about it, how long has it been a central part of literature? I mean … I can’t remember off the top of my head … but perhaps since before we started writing stories down.” Ahead of her another woman, slightly older, let out a chuckle while she rubbed her glasses against her torn and faded button down.
“Benson’s got a point. The fountain of youth ring any bells?” The trio giggled like children on Christmas.
“We’re almost there.” The older man’s rough voice brought them back to reality. “Just through these vines here.”
“Hold on.” Alice suddenly felt the urge to run. Adrenaline pumped through her, fueling the heightening vibrations she felt pulsing through her body. “We need to take a minute. This is going to be the greatest discovery … ever maybe.” She watched as the realization dawned on the face of each member of the team. “Rob, how long have you searched? How many years ago was it that you pulled us together for this?”
The older man’s rough voice cracked with emotion, “So long.”
“And Gina, Gina, how many nights have we spent on this? Pouring over research? Drawing up maps? Throwing out ‘what if’ scenarios?” The slightly older woman nodded somberly. Alice couldn’t help but notice the tears in the corners of her eyes. “And Josh, Jesus, you’ve been on this almost as long as Rob. Without you two … without you two we wouldn’t be here.”
Josh closed his eyes in quiet reverence. “We would have found a way to search for centuries if that was what it took.”
“In a way we have.” Gina pressed her palms together and rested her fingertips against her chin. “And here we are.”
“Here we are.” Alice finished. “Let’s just take a moment. We’re about to make history.” The lump in her throat grew as tears threatened to spill over. Each member of the team stood quietly, staring into space, considering the possibilities. Where would they all be if they weren’t here? What would this change?
“It’ll change everything.” Josh quietly answered the question hanging in the air.
“Let’s go make history folks.” Rob broke away from the group and took the first steps towards the vine covered opening.
The cavern glowed with warm blues and purples. The coolness of the tunnels evaporated into a humid mist. Positioned directly in the middle of the cavern was a well made of smooth limestone.
“Man made?” The question emerged from Gina’s lips as a sigh in the silence. Alice ran her fingers slowly along the slick limestone.
“Not natural for sure.” The condensation on the rocks was warm. “Maybe it’s built over a spring? This is warm.” Alice peered into the well, through the steam she could see a thick dark liquid swirling inside.
“Let me get a sample.” Rob leaned in close to Alice. “Looks kind of sinister doesn’t it?” Alice watched the liquid swirling gently.
“It’s very odd. Warm? Swirling like that? And … it smells. Do you smell that?” Rob inhaled deeply.
“I don’t smell anything but damp rocks and plants.” Josh fished a container of small glass vials from his bag. “Do you smell anything Gina?” Gina focused her camera on one of the plants climbing along the wall.
“Nope.” The flash thew the cavern into sharp contrast for a split second before fading. Alice drew in a sharp breath and jumped back.
“Gina, holy shit. Did you guys see that? Gina bring the camera over here, take a picture of that corner.”
The team watched intently as the flash cast a harsh light onto the corner.
“There!” Alice cried. “Did you guys see that?” The team exchanged glances. “What kind of place is this? Rob, where did you bring us?” Josh placed his hands on Alice’s shoulders.
“Benson what are you looking at? There’s nothing in that corner.”
“What do you mean there’s nothing? You don’t see it? It’s only becoming more clear now. I guess my eyes just needed to adjust.” Tears spilled over Alice’s cheeks.
“Alice.” Rob turned her to face him. “Alice, look at me. There’s nothing in that corner. Come on, I’ve got the samples. Let’s head back out.”
“Yeah.” Gina stared at her small watch. “I’ve completely lost what time it is. This thing isn’t working anymore.”
Josh tapped at his watch impatiently. “Mine too. Doesn’t matter, we haven’t been down here that long. Maybe an hour? We can head back to town and get some grub when we get back.”
“We can’t go back out there.” Alice muttered quietly. “Everything. This changes everything.” Rob slipped a comforting arm around Alice’s shoulders.
“The weight of the discovery. I know, when I found my first big thing it took me days to really have it sink in. Come on, we’ll talk about it over lunch.” The man pulled a stiff Alice towards the opening. “Come on, you have to cooperate a little, the tunnels too small for me to carry you.”
Alice’s legs moved stiffly, the further the team pulled her from the cavern the greater her urge to run back into it became. Josh moved the flashlight rapidly between two openings.
“I thought we just came straight.” The confusion in Gina’s voice echoed through the tunnels.
“Yeah, I don’t remember this split.” Josh ran his fingers through his short hair.
“Maybe we just didn’t notice it.” Rob kept his voice reassuring as he pulled Alice along. “Which one is the straighter of the two?” Josh squinted as he peered down each dark path.
“Neither looks particularly straight …”
“The one on the left seems to veer off more, let’s go right. I definitely don’t remember many twists and turns.” The team moved slowly down the path.
“Do you hear that?” Alice’s voice caused Rob to jump.
“Hear? What exactly?” Gina turned her light back towards the two slower members of the team.
“You don’t hear it?” Alice whispered. “We have to go back.” Rob let out a loud groan.
“No. We’re not going back. Look, we all know this is intense but you have to get it together.”
“Maybe we should have the doc check her out when we get back.” Josh called from ahead. “I see an opening!”
“Finally. Come on.” Rob continued pulling Alice through the tunnel.
“The light is coming from right up here. I’m not sure it’s the way we came in but once we get out we can get a better idea of where we are.”
“Oh shit. It’s hot. Was it this hot when we left?” Gina pulled at her collar. The heat emanating from the cavern entrance was almost overwhelming.
“Well, we are in the jungle.” Rob offered. Even several feet back the heat was causing beads of sweat to form on his forehead. Behind him Alice let out a shrill scream.
“Don’t go!” She cried. “Can you not hear them?! It’s so loud!” Rob watched the young woman drop to her knees and bury her face in her hands.
“We need to get her to the doctor, maybe something bit her in the cave.” Gina wiped the sweat from her neck. “It is freaking hot though.”
“Let’s get out of here and find out where the road is.” Josh turned back to Alice. “I’ll carry her, this is getting ridiculous.” He scooped the woman from the floor and nodded towards Gina. “Lead the way.”
I feel good about this.