Nethertimes

  by m. james moore

  Unusually tired, and somewhat momentarily dazed, I continued to pack my gear for a cave exploration expedition that a bunch of my friends and co-workers at the museum did occasionally to get away from the boring, yet wonderfully paid, job as a museum curator. I kew my limits, but an early middle-aged man like myself strove to keep those limits at a maximum. Other than the slight lack of energy, which I always seem to containing a lot of, I kept having to this weird feeling that someone was watching me, other than one of my closest friends, Danny, who was packing the Jeep with me.

  "Hey, Jack, ready to go?" Danny said, clapping his hands, rubbing them together and smiling. He was dressed just like all of us were going to be, in lannel shirts and tight blue jeans, warm emough to survive the weatherless chasms and fit thru small cracks without getting yourself caught on something. Unfortunately, if we came across some water, we'd had to shed our shells and padd through the water bare, since there was an ordinance put into effect that nothing should contaminate the clean, untouched water that had been there so long. I gathered up my things and headed out the door.

  "Sure thing, Danny. Let's get moving," I told him, as he hopped in the driver's seat, both of us buckling our safety belts. We pulled out of the driveway.

  "Wait! Wait!" I said, unbuckling myself and running to the front door. I forgot to shut it when I left the house. I noticed my favorite hat I'd worn even on my first expedition, that looked like something right out of Indiana Jones. I locked the door and felt my head, thinking of my hat, and it was on my head. I wondered if I had just gone in and gotten it and didn't remember or had put in on already and just thought I saw it on the table. Anyhow, I dashed into the jeep, buckling myself in, and told Danny to gun it.

  After a few thousand street lights, and a few miles outside the large city limits, I noticed that the particular cave was in the opposite direction than the way we took off. Danny wanted to take the short way. When we finally arrived some ten minutes later, I unloaded my gear, and headed to the rest of the group with Danny trailing behind. We all gathered together and talked about the direction that we were going to hike to, and what it looks like from the outside. We headed for our destination, with a short pause to pray someone didn't get hurt like last year when one of my co-workers slipped and broke her ankle, causing us to abort the expedition. At last we were ready to go without any further delay.

  We walked for a mile or two, carrying all our ropes, straps, pulleys and miner caps on our backs. Soon we came upon some rocky territory, and Becky, the only woman in our group, noticed an opening. Larry, the self-appointed leader of the group, confirmed it as the opening. He rook a rock, and dropped it down the hole. We waited, and a few seconds later heard a faint sound of the rock as it landed on the hard cave floor. We prepared our ropes and landed all at the bottom, one at a time of course, safely and securely. Packing up our gear once again, we trekked off in a direction that Larry said was the best way. We passed over a thin bridge that seperated two shallow pools of water. We came upoin a split on our path, one going around a large column and the other turning downwardinto a slope. Lance, the youngest of the group and also the one one wh wanted to dare the slop somehow convinced us to traverse the slope. We climbed down it slowly but surely, and came to a small platform surrounded by water. A few yards across the water, an opening was visible, but we all knew that we would have to swim, and we all knew of the ordinance. We all looked at each other, and simultaneously agreed to climb back up and go around the column. It took us a bit longer to go back up than to go down it, but we all managed to make it. We walked around the column, and came to a cliff. Again, we came to an obstacle.

  "Let's go down," Lance said.

  "I guess we had better, the other way would be much more time consuming," Larry agreed. After a short pause to enjoy the tremendous beauty of the extremely parge cavern that we had landed into, we hooked up our gear to rapel the tall cliff. When it was my turn to o down, it felt like I had been carrying two people on my trip downward. Reaching the bottom, I sat down on the smooth floor, leaning back against the side wall. I watched the others come down, Lance right after me. He said something to me that I didn't manage to understand. Wondering what he was speaking about, I put my hand to my side to lean on, and placed it on a bone. I quickly jumped, and then kneeled down to find out what exactly I had put my hand on. It was a skeleton, whose previous owner had obviously fallen from the cliff and was reaching for something, for the other arm was pointed upward and leaning vertically on the wall. A piece of brown cloth was covering the face of the skull, giving it an even more myserious appearance. We all stood there, each developing our own theories, until Laarry interripted us with a bellow coming from a ways down the floor, inside a small hole in the opposite vliff. We lef the skeleton just like it was and moved to the wall and made our way throughthe crack, beg enough for just one at a time to entered. To our astonishment, what we found was much like a room than a hole in a cliff wall. There were blinking lights, and buttons on the walls of the five-sided alcove. I glanced back at Larry, and suddenly, then the entire enclosure gew so bright we had to cover our eyes. Dazed, we rubbed our eyes, and came to, and noticed that we were in the same exact place, but when I viewed the digits of my wristwatch, it appeared that time had elapsed fourteen hours.

  "Uh, guys?" I asked the group.

  "What now?" Becky replied.

  "It's 4am -- we've been down here quite a little while," I explained. "He's right," Larry said, looking at his watch. "I wonder who would have put these doodads in here, what in the world that light was, or why we've been here for so very long."

  "I don't know, but I'm not sticking around to find out," Lance explained, quickly removing himself from the enclosure. We all departed from the enclosure. We all matched his movements and got our gear back up and as fast as we could scurried back up the cliff. I somehow slipped in my footing, and fell back down half of the cliff, watching the ground suddenly fly up at me and meet my feet with a slap, knocking me against the side wall, where I had rested. I tried to scream in pain but I couldn't. There was a rumble-like sound emitting from the air between us of the otherwise noiseless cave that shivers up my spine, and made the rest of the crew to leave me down at the bottom in fright. I began to reach up to the light coming from the edge of the cliff as my friends left me, but suddenly could not breathe. I sighed my last breath, and with my last ounce of enery, remembered the skeleton. I cocked my head to look at it, but it was gone. I briefly wondered why, as I went limp, with my arm leaning up against the wall vertically. There I took my last thought to the darkness of death, my hat falling over my face.

  I woke up in my bedroom. I was surprised that I hd actually even regained consciousness, as I knew that I had died. I got up from my bed and noticed that my blood stained clothes that I had on when I died were not stained, but as clean as when I left. I walked into my living room, startled to see myself standing there, packing. I quickly darted around the corner of the hall, and peeked around the edge. The personal that had my exact same looks didn't notice me, but seemed to think t here was someone else in the room. Then I saw Danny come in, and say exactly what he said the first time, before we had left for the expedition.

  This can't be right, I thought to myself, If that's me, then what am I doing here" I contemplated this very strange feeling as I sat down in a chair, next to the table that my hat was lying on. I watched myself leave the house, forgetting to close the door, as usual. I waited for myself to come back in and shut it, and I did. The hat was still there. I felt of my head, and my original hat was still on. I took it off, and set it right over the top of the other hat. The same bright blinding flash came but I didn't black out. I looked back at the table, and both hats were gone. I unlocked the door, and walked outside, to see that the Jeep was speeding off around the corner, with Danny at the wheel and me with my hat on. This even further confused me, but had discovered one thing. I managed to make the light flash, by placing an object I had on another object just like it. I locked the door this time, and ras fast as I could to the direction of the cave. It seemed that I could run right through things, just like a ghost, and wasn't really surprised, since I knew I had already died, or thought I had, anyway. I ran like the wind, and managed to get to the opening of the cave to find that the group and myself had already lowered ourselves to the bottom. I jumped down the hole. I landed rather lightly, yet not surprisingly. I followed them around, waving my hands in front of their faces, trying to get their attention. It was only my image that seemed to thing there was someone else in the cave.

  "Terrible, isn't it?" a voice called, that none of the others but me, the ghost me, could hear. I turned around to see another fellow standing there. "Hello, I'm Ralph Jameson, from the FBI, and I've got a LOT of explaining for you."

  "Good! Can you tell me what exactly I'm doing here?" I exclaimed.

  "That I can," he said, talking to me. I listened, finding out that the government had used the cavern as a testing facility, for a mechanism dealing in transmitting audio waves. One day, for some unexplained reason, the mechanism started blinking wildly, and going crazy on the technicians., There was a bright light, much like the one I saw twice, that reset itself sixteen hours later, working just fine. Again, the mechanism went haywire, and reset it self again. This constant loss of control and resetting had continued for about a week. During the day that some technicians were supposed to show up to atempt to fit it, my group went spelunking. My group had gone down, explored around, and found the control room. Then a bright flash occurred and reset time when I was resting, which at that point, time was overlapping itself. For a whole month this same process had been repeating itself, my group going down and exploring the cave, and seeing the bright flash, and running back up. It was until the overlapping occurred one too many times when I encountered the skeleton that I was then pulled out of the loop. That was when Ralph removed the skeleton and I had lied there and died. I tried to sink all this information in, for it was very confusing to me, but Ralph walked me to the cliff edge and shoed me something. I saw the rest of the group was walking down through the crack at the bottom of the cliff. Then waht starled me was, that another group was examining the skeleton, and yet another group was on top climbing down, as the rgoup at the skepeton moved to the crack. When the second group walked into the crack and bright light flashed through the crack. The group that was not at the skeleton that had moved from the top, had started to move to the crack, as another group stepped up to the ledge. I saw myself die numerous times, which I quickly grew tired of. The rumble-like sound that scared the others back up was the mechanism malfunctioning. I decided to jump down, but Ralph stopped me. He ha a better idea. we climbed onto the shoulders on one of the group members as he descended the cliff. I got on my image's shoulders, and rode down. At the bottom, the other members of the government and technical crew were present. We all stood there and watched as I died numerous times, and tens of twenties of groups explored, and scurried away. I gew very tired of seeing myself die, and looked around the area for something else to do, since we were pretty much stuck. I found a gun of all things, on the ground, and picked it up. I hid it in my flannel shirt, and walked around aimlessly, drifiting my footsteps toward the control room. I reached the control room, explaining to the rest of the people that I was just looking at the mechanism, and fired many shot. It stopped, and all the groups of me and my friends stopped still in their tracks. I ran out of the control room wand was instantly enveloped in an extremely large bright flash, covering the entire cavernm agenst and technicians included. I blacked out.

  When I regained my sense of direction, I was in my home, packing my bag, getting reading to go spelunking. I felt dazed, and unusually tired. I continued packing, and Danny came into the room through the front door.

  "Hey, Jack, ready to go?" Danny said, clapping his hands and rubbing them together, smiling. I turned to him, smiled and grabbed my gear. Just before I left the hous,e I looked back, and saw my hat was on the table. I walked over and picked it up, putting it on my head. I looked around making sure there was no "other me" looking at me. I closed and locked the door, off to go explore a cave as a wonderful weekend getaway with my friends.

  THE END (?)