This story is by RM Usry and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The voice of the tour guide seems to fade as my mind drifts off into another place. After several minutes of staring at an underground waterfall, I realize that once again my curiosity has gotten the best of me. I am separated from my tour group.
It seems that I had a practice of doing this type of thing as a kid. That’s what my parents always said, that I had gotten separated from them several times when visiting places like the zoo or the park. Now here I am, a 32 year old writer for a magazine, lost in this cave. My assignment is to tour this place and write an article for “Fun Tours to Take Section,” in our magazine.
No wife, no girlfriend or pets. I take my daily 5 mile run by myself and I like it that way. But now, I find myself in a very uncomfortable situation. This cave is so different from the world up above. I can feel the moisture in the air. It clings to me like it does the walls of this cave. The air is cool, even colder in some places. The dimly lit lights offer some comfort though. But I know if they were to go out for some reason, I would not be able to see my hand in front of my face. The thought of total darkness all alone puts chill bumps down my back. The way a scary movie would. I will not stay here!
I start out down the rocky walking path, the ground unlevel with different size stones. I come to an area where there are three paths, all going in different directions of the cave. Which one did the group go down? I thought. Not wanting to make a bad situation worse than it was, I stop. To my right side I notice a bench. I sit down and ponder on my next move. If I go on I could end up who knows where. What if I just sit and wait for the next tour to come through, but what if my group was the last tour of the day? Maybe they don’t notice me missing from the group I was in. What if they shut down for the night? Do they leave the lights on or cut them off to save money? My thoughts were all over the place. At this point, I wish I had another living, breathing, warm human to sit next to.
As my mind spirals with all these fears of possibilities I need to calm myself down, but how? Going on is not an option, too many trail choices. I guess I’ll sit here and just hope somebody will come along this way soon. As I wait, I think about how alone I am. The choices I have made in life, that put me here. Always preoccupied with me and my own desires. I know those decisions kept me distant from others. I easily get off into my own world, like this cave situation.
I have two sisters that I never call and usually only see a couple times a year and one friend in the world that I rarely see. I guess he thinks of me as a friend, I’m not sure?
My thoughts go to what my grandfather who told me about the men that died in wars. How many would lie on the ground in foreign lands wounded and dying. Their fellow soldiers already deceased. They would lie there all alone to die. No one to comfort them. No friendly smile or human touch that brings comfort. I briefly come to myself for a moment. Still no signs of life, no voices that I wish I could hear. The silence was deafening.
The bench is as cold to the touch as the surrounding cave is, as I sit waiting for something or someone. Some kind of life other than mine. My thoughts once again drift off. What about the old people that die in nursing homes. A lot of them all alone with no family or friends. Or even the inmate in prison on death row locked up by themselves 24 hours a day. Only seeing, maybe a few hours of daylight in a day. My temporary condition of being alone in this cave is pale in comparison with those people.
In the distance I can hear water dripping. I don’t think I like caves. My article on this place will be an interesting one to say the least. Definitely not going to do this again. Once again my mind drifts to other thoughts and I remember Pops, my mom’s dad, always talking about choices in life. Pops said that your life was nothing but the configuration of the choices we make. He often talked about his friend and how he was always there for him, through the good and bad. He told me that his friend wanted to meet me and get to know me also. But I never seemed to have time to meet him.
Things will be different when I get out of this cave. I don’t like being alone anymore. It’s time to make new friends. Maybe join a gym and find a running partner. Time for a girlfriend again too. I don’t want to grow old by myself. Maybe I’ll even join a church fellowship and get to know Pops friend, Jesus. Suddenly, I hear the sound of voices. Then the appearance of another tour group. It felt like being a kid, when Christmas morning finally arrives.
People need each other. Nobody was made to be an Island to themself. We all have something to give that somebody else needs. Maybe something even as small as a gentle hug and smile.