Open Spaces

By Aevin Mayman

“Come on, Teya!” Amy yelled up through the tunnel. “We’ve bugged the boss for months about this project. Now we’re here and you’re just staring at rocks!”

Teya let out a puff of air and focused on the water-carved tunnel ahead of her, looking away from the glittering substance in the earthen walls. “You’ve bugged the boss for months about it. I was just the scapegoat.” She accused. Amy laughed from behind her and Teya rolled her eyes. “We still have a few hours before dark,” she called behind her. “Might as well make the best of them.”

They had been at the dig for five hours already today. Seismic readings had indicated a cavern somewhere ahead in the uncharted territory. In the end, those readings were what had made the boss’s decision.

“Not that it gets any darker in this place, anyway,” Amy grumbled under her breath. Teya grinned. “Hey, by the way,” Amy continued. “The map ends about…”

Teya heard the shuffling of paper and the click of a flashlight.

“Twenty meters. After that’s uncharted territory. We good?” She asked.

“Yeah,” Teya responded. Silence fell as they continued. There wasn’t much room for conversation, as the section of tunnel they had entered had narrowed to merely two feet in height. Army crawls would have to do, and both women were out of breath.

The difference in air brought Teya’s gaze up from the earth beneath her. She paused, lifting her head. Amy collided with Teya’s boots and let out a noise of indignation.

“Teya!” She exclaimed. “What are you-”

“Stop,” Teya said. “Do you smell that?”

Amy shook her head. “No,” she said, then, “The air.”

Teya nodded. “Does it smell fresher to you?” She asked.

“Yeah, it does.” Amy agreed. “Any air shafts would be highly unlikely. We’re more than nine-hundred meters below the surface.” Teya could hear her grinning through her words.

“The Krubera-Varonya cave’s still got us by thirteen-hundred. Come on.” Teya let out a heavy sigh and continued forward. “Let’s keep going.”

She could still feel the enthusiasm of the scientist behind and felt a smile creep onto her face. The air only got clearer as they went on, the musty smell of untouched earth slowly being replaced with fresh air.

Teya pulled up sharply when her arm’s next foray hit open air instead of earth.

“What?” Amy called up. “What is it?”

Teya shuffled sideways so she could pull herself up without moving further over the edge. She reached her free hand back to pull the flashlight out of her belt and clicked it on, shining it forward. “Amy,” She whispered. “We found it.”

Amy’s breath caught in her throat in the darkness behind Teya. Teya moved the light downwards and illuminated the solid ground a yard below her. She slid herself forwards and rolled off the ledge, hitting the ground beneath on all fours.

“Teya!” Amy called.

“I’m fine!” She yelled back. “I’m fine.” She moved the light around the cavern. Amy fell with a thud and a rather obnoxious expression of pain behind her.

Amy scrambled to her feet and came to stand beside Teya. “Whoa.” She breathed.

The light of their flashlights only reached about five meters ahead of them, but the cave was lit all the same. A red-gold light filtered from far above.

“The sun.” Teya said quietly. “It’s the goddamn sun.” She felt herself break into a grin. “Amy, we found it!” She turned and grabbed Amy by the arms. Amy laughed, the sound echoing through the cave. Teya jumped away and looked around.

It was as though the surface above had creeped into the cavern. Long tendrils of vine hung down from the crater. A waterfall cascaded over the easternmost lip to gather in a deep pool at the bottom of the cave. The pool ran into what could only be described as a small river coursing through the center of the cave. The river curved into a hidden vent under the cave’s wall and disappeared. The further into the sun’s light the cave went, the more vegetation covered the cave floor. Green growth clung onto the earth around the mouth of the cave’s roof entrance for nearly ten yards before giving away to water-slick stone. Lush undergrowth hugged the rocky surface beneath their feet, occasionally giving way to pointed rocks that seemed to mold out from the cave’s floor. Tropical trees grew up from the center of the cave, spreading their thick leafy branches into canopies.

As the sun set, so did the brilliance of the cave. The jewel-green leaves and grasses dimmed with the dying light, changing their hue from red to blue. The section of river under the spot of sun slowly lost its glimmer, fading into a deep blue-black.

“Teya.” Amy’s quiet voice broke the silence of the evening. “We did it.”

Teya closed her eyes and took a deep breath, inhaling the scents of stone and running water. “Yeah,” she said, opening her eyes. “We did.”

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