Not A Damn Thing
Ezra T. Gray
I could see nothing. Neither black nor white, no colors, nothing. Even pitch black is something. I’d spent a lot time in caves and even in the deepest darkest crevices of eternal night there was black. This was different. I could hear nothing, taste nothing, smell nothing, feel nothing.
I tried to move my lips. I wasn’t sure if they were moving. I couldn’t feel them. I couldn’t feel any part of my body. I was, I supposed, a disembodied spirit, an intellect with no container in which to abide, but how could that be? To produce thought one needs a brain. As a child I’d been taught by my fourth grade teacher, old Miss Gundership, that a brain was a necessary element in the thought process, that it was, indeed, the most important and vital component thereof.
So, where am I? Who am I?
I am Pete George, Chief Petty Officer, U.S. navy.
I am no longer married.
My fourth grade teacher was Miss Gundership. My third grade teacher was Miss Owens. My second grade teacher was Mrs…Graves…no, Grate…no, Gray. I can’t recall the name of my first grade teacher. She was…
Dear God, I can’t remember. Sweet Lord, it’s all slipping away. I concentrated hard. How did I get here? I strained to think. A cave. It had started in a cave — Mammoth Cave.
The Jinn! I remember the Jinn!
Charlie and I were spelunking partners, a hobby we’d had for many years. The section of the cave in which we worked was mostly unexplored, however, a few brave souls had ventured in. Mammoth Cave is not just one cave, but is, in fact, a series of subterranean honeycombs that crisscross, double back and meander beneath the Kentucky countryside. The truth of the matter is that no one really knows how many caves exist under that part of the planet.
We were several miles in when, unbeknownst to us, it began to rain on top. A little rain should be no problem, right? Wrong. In the subterranean world rain is a big problem. It causes some cave systems to flood and that’s exactly what this one did. We were not worried, though, as the water began to rise, we had come prepared for such an event. We had brought in air tanks. They were not for flooding, necessarily—there was a group of underground lakes in which we wished
to dive. But, I told Charlie, if the water table goes up the scuba gear would be an added bonus.
Unfortunately, it was the gear that killed him. The water came in so fast we couldn’t get all our gear on in time. We abandoned the wet suits and strapped the tanks on over our caving clothes. I had just helped Charlie put on his tank and
was going for mine when a torrent of water ripped the cylinder from my grasp. Charlie was bending over in the darkness to rinse his mouthpiece out in the muddy current. The steel tank, torn from my clutches, struck him squarely on top of the head. He went down like a rock.
I dove into the water, grasping for him. I could see his headlamp glaring through the brown swirls of liquid death. I came up and dove again. The water was cold, icy cold, but I could still see his light. He’d only been under twenty or thirty seconds. I fought my way over to the spot where he was. Clinging to a rocky projection with one hand, I reached deep under the surface with the other. I could feel the illuminated headlamp, but there was no Charlie. He was gone. I searched frantically, diving, feeling, hoping against all odds, but he was gone, gone forever. Minutes passed. I was gasping for breath, but still I plunged, again and again, knowing in my heart of hearts it was futile. Charlie was dead, drowned in the icy cold depths of a subterranean deluge. At length my strength failed me and I drug myself onto a rocky shelf.
Blue-white lantern light bathed the walls of the cave in an iridescent wash. I could see that the room in which I was trapped was filling up fast. It was obvious that I would soon join Charlie. All sailors consider the possibility that they might some day drown. I’d had my share of close calls and I’d been in the drink a time or two. Once I was on a gunship that had taken a direct hit. It was one thing, however, to drown in the ocean. It was quite another to choke in a deep, dark, cold pit.
They would never find our bodies. The stream undoubtedly emptied into one of the subterranean lakes. The water in those lakes was so cold that our bodies would undoubtedly sink to the deepest, darkest part and remain there, slowly decomposing, while blind fish nipped off small bits of our rotting flesh. A hell of a fate, I thought dismally.
“Hell of a fate,” a voice said.
I looked around quickly, but Charlie was not there. I was alone. Unnerved, I adjusted my headlamp and tucked Charlie’s under my belt. It was obvious that no one could possibly be there and I thought I must be coming unhinged.
For years the biggest problem spelunkers had was light. Incandescent bulbs sap the life out of batteries, draining them in a matter of hours, but all of that changed with the advent of LEDs. My headlamp would burn on full brightness, continually, for four full days. It would give off useful light for days after that. Perhaps, between mine and Charlie’s, they would last long enough to help someone find my body.
The water continued to rise, now less than ten feet from the cave roof. I briefly considered diving into the black torrent, but I knew I would be dashed to bits in a matter of seconds. I moved to higher ground to wait. I sat and watched the water rise. Minutes ticked past like hours. I did not want to drown.
I removed a knife from my pocket and placed the blade to my wrist. I considered a moment and then moved the blade to my throat, just below my left ear. I pressed the knife hard. All that was left was to drag it.
I am not a coward. I knew that I didn’t have a chance, but I did have a choice. It would be quick and easy, and bleeding to death would be much better than drowning. I lowered the knife, though, because I realized that they, whoever they were, would still not find my remains. Then I had an idea. I gathered a long length of rope and lashed it to a large boulder. The old rock had weathered thousands of floods. It would still be there when the water subsided and I would be lashed to it. I would be dead, but at least someone would find me.
I settled back against the rock and wound the rope around me. Soon I was tied down hard. The rope was tested at over three thousand pounds and I knew it would hold. I was finished and all there was to do was wait.
Then another thought occurred to me. I reached into my pocket and removed a Ziploc bag containing a pen and a journal which I usually used to record our passages through the caverns. I penned the events that had taken place. I also wrote a short letter to Charlie’s family, apologizing for what had transpired. Although it was an accident, I felt responsible.
I had no one to write to. My best friend was dead and I had no family. My parents died when I was twelve and I lived in an orphanage until I was seventeen, when I joined the Navy. I married, but it did not last long and no children were produced. I had no brothers, no sisters. I was alone in life, and now I would die alone.
The water continued to rise, swirling about my knees, now less than six feet from the ceiling. I put the journal back into the bag and secured it in my pocket. There was nothing left to do. I placed the knife back to my throat. It would soon be over.
I glanced down to where Charlie’s light hung from my belt. I thought I should secure it better and I reached for another length of rope. In doing so, I dropped my knife. “Damn it,” I shouted. “Damn, damn, damn!” I started to unlash myself, but I knew the knife was gone, lost in the black water that now churned about my belly. Even if I located it, which I was sure I could not, I could never re-secure myself before the water overtook me. I cursed my clumsiness. And I waited. I waited to drown.
How would it be? I knew there would be a few minutes of panic, not full panic, but panic. Then, when the water overcame me, there would be about ninety seconds of pure terror. As my larynx closed and the oxygen ran out, I would black out and die peacefully. “Oh, boy,” I said, “I can hardly wait.”
Then I noticed something. The water was subsiding. In fact, the water level was dropping very quickly. Soon the room was almost free of water. I shone the light around the small chamber in amazement. The water was nearly gone. I could not understand how it went down that fast. I untied myself so I could investigate and it did not take me long to discover where the water had gone. The water pressure had dislodged a huge boulder, widening the narrow exit of the chamber I was in. The greater cave was still flooding, but aside from a steady stream of water rushing through unabated, my little antechamber was drying out.
“Great,” I said out loud to no one, “I’m not going to drown. I’m just gonna’ die of starvation!”
“No you are not.”
“Huh!” I said, jerking my head around and trying to look in all directions at once. “Who . . .”
“No, you are not going to die. If you free me from my rocky prison, I will free you from yours.” The voice grew louder as it spoke, until it was almost a scream. “Free me!”
“What the hell?” I decided my mind was playing tricks on me. Imminent death was causing delusions.
The voice sounded again, more insistent. “Free me, damn you!”
I looked around again, more carefully this time. Several feet in front of me on a pile of other rocks was one about the size and shape of a bowling ball. It was glowing. As I watched, the outside became transparent and inside was a small figure, a miniature man. He was shaking his fist at me.
“Free me!” he demanded again. “Free me!”
I sat down on a rock and examined the object closer. I was afraid to pick it up. It was unbelievable, unfathomable.
I finally did pick it up and found it to be amazingly lightweight. It glowed brighter at my touch and the moist walls of the cave threw reflections back at me from every angle.
The little man inside crossed his arms with an air of expectation. “Free me. Now!”
He was naked, save for a loin cloth. His black hair was long and straight, his tiny features hawkish and sharp. He brought me in mind of a Genie.
I squinted and peered deeper into the globe. “Who are you? What are you?”
“Azeal,” the little man spat. “King Azeal. King of the Jinn. Now, you hairless ape, release me!” He spoke with the air of one used to getting what he wanted.
“How did you get in there?”
“Damn your soul!” He stomped his foot and hit his fist against the inside of the globe. “Damn you, release me!”
“How?” I shook my head, puzzled. “How and with what?”
“Strike the stone!” The Jinn gestured urgently. “Strike the stone and I will be released!”
“And grant me three wishes?” I jested sarcastically.
“If you wish,” the mini-man said mildly, “but you already get one.”
“What? What do you mean?” I decided he must be trying to tease me into letting him out.
“You may have one of anything you want.” His voice had become a siren song dripping with evil.
I dropped the globe and stepped back into the dark. Whatever or whoever had put the little beast into his rocky prison must have been very powerful, perhaps All Powerful, and I wasn’t sure I should second guess their decision.
A deep evil-sounding hum resonated from the orb, echoing off the walls in a low groan, pulsing with the beat in my veins. “What do you wish for?” The voice enticed me, drew me. “What? Your friend’s life? What? Money, wealth, what?”
I backed away. I was scared, horrified. I knew the beast was pure evil.
The creature’s voice rose to a piercing screech. “What! What do you wish!?”
“Nothing!” I screamed, closing my eyes and clapping my hands over my ears. “Nothing, for God’s sake! Nothing! Not a damn thing!”
The flash of light was instantaneous and overwhelming. I heard the crazy lingering echo of the Jinn’s laughter and then there was…nothing. No light, no dark, no taste, no feeling. Nothing. Just a lingering echo of the Jinn’s laughter, and then…nothing. Not a damn thing.