Of all the harrowing stories of survival, the fact that this series lives on is the harrowingest. I’d have put money on May 21st being the last gasp of this particular concept, but I’ve proved everyone wrong (including me) with this: Volume 4!
It had been years since Alan Cooper had been spelunking, but rather than ease back in slowly he had plunged back into it with the reckless audacity of a twice-laid teen. Now several “rooms” deep into the cavern, Alan felt a twinge of regret for his foolhardy enthusiasm which, when coupled with the twinge of various pinched nerves, combined to immobilize him psychically.
It helped (or hurt) that he was also immobilized physically. With mind and body trapped in the same rock-strewn pinch point, he was free (figuratively) to consider his options and curse loudly at the small number which could be bothered to show up.
After several minutes of quiet contemplation, occasionally interrupted by loud, echoing, pointless cursing, Alan had narrowed his choices down to the following.
- Construct some sort of time machine/matter transporter from his flashlight and remaining Nutrigrain bars.
- Pray fervently, rotating deities every 5-7 minutes until saved.
- Stay still and hope that the pinch point would erode faster than his confidence/battery supply.
- Panic (accompanied by screaming, if needed).
- Change “saved” to “rescued” in order to be completely removed from the cave, rather than just accept Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.
- Continue moving incrementally forward and backward until freed.
Fearing a split timeline might result in an even more horrific fate and fearing that erosion could take up to and including millions of years, Alan decided to combine the remaining options.
Rocking himself back and forth while screaming for help in the direction of whatever deities/humans might be in the vicinity, Alan slowly began to work himself free. He had now gained nearly a half-foot, but was, unfortunately, heading deeper into the cave. Reasoning unreasonably that there was “probably another exit,” Alan headed forward into the abyss and backwards in relation to the exit/entrance.
After several hours of exploration, Alan found himself pinched in what he believed to be the same pinch point. In reality, however, he was nearly a half-mile further into the cave. Still holding out hope that he was near the exit, he pushed on, fully believing that he now would live to regret his series of mistakes.
Four hours later and still no closer to freedom, Alan began to believe that he would live to regret this, but that all the remaining living would be carried out in the underlit and circuitous cave. As he lay in the dark, pointlessly speculating as to who would or wouldn’t attend his upcoming funeral, his on-and-off screams/prayers were answered by a passing tour guide and his attendant tour, who had entered the cave via the clearly marked and well-lit entrance less than 200 yards away.
As he was led to safety (now less than 500 feet away), he was questioned about unmapped lower rooms of the cavern. Unfortunately, his answers of “It’s almost fully mapped?” and “Well, it was very dark…” failed to enlighten the tour staff, who expressed their annoyance by revoking his Parks and Recreation membership and recommended he stay at least 500 feet away from any unattended holes.
Attempting to negotiate a tricky cliff side trail, Steve loses his footing and tumbles nearly 300 feet to the forest floor below. While a fall of this distance is normally fatal, Steve is lucky. Rather than landing on the packed dirt and pointy rocks below, his fall is broken by a pack of mountain lions feasting on the corpse of a fallen hiker.
The feral cats quickly show their annoyance at the unexpected intrusion by ripping into Steve with their razor-sharp teeth, claws and sarcasm. When the brutal attack is over, Steve lays for a while in the surrounding pine needles and attempts to regain his strength. He’s in bad shape, losing copious amounts of blood and dignity at an alarming rate.
After several minutes, Steve rises slowly to his feet, embracing his recently questioned sexuality and heads toward the river. He gently bathes his flowing wounds in the water while attempting to smooth things over mentally with some light scarring. Concentrating intently on these two actions, Steve fails to notice a new and very distressing development.
The first is the fact that the stream, while appearing cool and clear, is steadily filling Steve’s bloodstream with a lively strain of e coli, thanks to an upstream dam constructed of wood, feces and animal corpses by a pack of rogue beavers. Even if he manages to stop the horrific bleeding, his internal organs have already been declared “Open Swim” by the new arrivals.
Secondly, Steve fails to notice the approach of a school of barracuda, drawn far from their normal habitat by the scent of fresh (and freshly tainted) blood. Of the two developments, this once proves to be the more immediately damaging.
Steve, suddenly brought to full consciousness by a series of sharp, biting pains, retrieves his arm from the river only to find it covered by hungry barracuda. His attempts to remove the fish only attracts the attention of the remaining school, who immediately leap for his remaining uncovered limbs. Steve turns and runs screaming through the forest, hampered by both an unimaginable amount of biting fish and his “stubby, little-girl legs.”
As he blindly charges through the underbrush, he encounters some bear traps, followed by some bear cubs and finally, the mother bear herself. Steve’s combined odor of fear, fish and less-than-normal amounts of testosterone triggers the bear’s killer instinct and she gives chase.
Steve begins running in a serpentine pattern, hoping to cut the bear’s number of “successfully landed mauling blows” in half. He reaches a clearing filled with environmental protesters, who mistake his collection of fish and the pursuing bear for some sort of half-assed poaching attempt.
The protesters interrupt their ritual drum circle long enough to hurl invective and badly written signs at Steve, questioning his selfish motives and sexual proclivities. The bear however, after spotting the protesters, turns back into the woods before its fur coat can be splattered with red paint.
Steve continues, pushing past the milling hippies, brandishing angry fish and loudly declaring his virility. He plunges through the underbrush, bleeding heavily and swearing at the remaining fish, who greet his rising anger with continued biting.
A short sprint later and Steve emerges on a gravel road. Seconds later, he is knocked to the ground by angry loggers who mistake his fish-riddled limbs as some sort of “tree-hugging nature intervention.” At this point, Steve passes out. He is revived moments later by the commencement of another swift beating and some not-very-heavily-veiled death threats.
Finally, an attending state trooper decides that Steve has “learned his lesson” and gives Steve a ride to the nearest hospital, lecturing him the entire way on the macroeconomics of the logging industry.