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I was down there for nearly eight days before I gave in. The thought to me was, at the time, quite sickening, and as I remember it now, I am still disgusted at what I have done to myself. I sought only survival, and now I lay dying, ironically as a result of what I have done to survive. My whole predicament is rich with delicious consequence, as it was my greatest passion that brought me to this place; this dreadful dark prison where I have lived for the last 24 days, and where I will die, probably momentarily. Spelunking has long been a great passion in my life, and the thing that has brought me the most joy. I have navigated caverns in India, Ireland, Spain, and throughout the United States, but my current location is among the least exotic I have explored: Serona, California. I have always treasured the solitude and silence of the deep, but after these last three plus weeks, I have learned to
despise the darkness for its ugliness, mystery, and the terrible emptiness that it brings. When I came into this cavern, I anticipated only a few hours of peace, but I received an awful lot more. I have experienced earthquakes in California before, but they are far more frightening when you are underground. When the cavern around me began to tremble, I immediately knew I was going to die. It turns out I was right, but this is not quite what I was expecting. Rocks began to tumble around me, and I struggled for footing on the ground, which seemed to wiggle and writhe beneath me like a serpent. I fell and hit my head against the jagged wall of the cavern, then dropped to the stillmoaning ground. The duration of the experience was probably less than a minute, but it seemed to rumble on for an eternity as I twisted for support on the rocky ground. Finally it stopped, and I lay panting on my back for a solid five minutes. I smiled, relieved to be alive, and breathed deep, knowing that I was lucky to avoid the rocks that tumbled from above me. Lucky? That actually seems rather funny now. When I finally dared myself to my feet, I could not find my flashlight, so I pulled out my lighter and attempted to search for it on the floor. As I stumbled through the dark, I kicked the flashlight, then located it with the lighter, only to find that it had been smashed by one of the raining stones. I remember not being too concerned at this point, as I knew the way back. Though it was quite a walk, my Zippo had been freshly filled, and I carried extra fluid for it in one of the pockets of my cargo shorts, so I knew I would have enough light to navigate back to the entrance I had come in. It wasn’t until I began walking back that I realized about ten feet in front of me the tunnel had become jammed. Where I had walked through moments ago, there was now a menacing wall of rocks impeding my way. I put the lighter into my pocket and began to push and pull at the
layer of impedance in front of me. But, I could not budge any of the large stones, each held tightly in place by the weight of the stack above it. This section of the tunnel was only about ten feet high, but that ten feet was completely consumed by the dreadnought wall. My next idea was to venture further down into the cavern and find another passageway out, but that’s when the situation proved to be much worse. For, when I walked less than ten yards in the other direction, I was greeted by an almost identical mountainous roadblock. Here, too, giant rocks had bonded together after collapse and formed a wall that prevented me from traveling further down into the cave. This is where I really began to panic, because at that point I realized that I was trapped in this place; a narrow, secluded tunnel below California. I think I tore wildly at the rocks on that side too, but at that point I entered some stage of shock, and my actions are rather blurry to me. So there I was, trapped in this dark cavern, walled in on all sides by rock and unable to travel more than a few yards in either direction. All I had with me was my lighter, the bottle of lighter fluid, my knife, a thankfully full canteen, and a crumpled ancient topographic map of California. Then I sat and thought for a very long time in the quiet, imposing darkness, alternating for several days between despair, deep repose, and uncomfortable sleep. Without the gentle gift of sunlight, I used my wristwatch to track the time, and four days passed with hardly a sound, and hardly a movement from me. I sat languishing on the floor for this entire time, nipping occasionally at my canteen, but doing so sparingly. The more I thought, the more frustrated I became, because I could not think of any way for me to escape this predicament. After these days, I began to tug feebly at the walls again, hoping that perhaps as they settled, the rocks had loosened slightly. I could not budge any of them, and I even tried climbing to the top of the wall and loosening stones at the ceiling. I
managed to pull away a few small rocks, but there were layers behind the ones I removed, and I could make no impact on the massive hindrance. In desperation, I tried kicking at the rocks, but only succeeded in making my feet throb with an unholy pain. I clawed at the stones like a trapped animal, which, in essence, I was. But, there was no effect, and five days in, I was no closer to leaving the cavern. Somewhere long before then, my stomach had become knotted with an insatiable emptiness. I hadn’t eaten since before leaving for my journey, and after five restless days without food, I was ragged to say the least. By the sixth day, hunger became an obsession, and as I lay curled on the hard floor, defeated and despaired, it was all I could think about. Even water didn’t seem appealing to me, as the wetness only upset my stomach as it entered. At some point on this day, I crawled optimistically across the floor, fingering the rocks searching for bugs, plants, or anything I could put into my stomach. But, there was nothing living in this tunnel but me. After a week without food, I was weak, delirious, and barely alive. A large part of me wanted to die, but the pain in my stomach kept me disturbingly alert, and my hunger consumed and ravaged me. I mumbled phrases that didn’t make sense even to me, and I knew for sure that I would die very soon. I could almost feel cold fingers wrapping around me, and my stomach throbbed unyieldingly. The pain was worse than anything I had the displeasure of enduring before, and if I had any energy in my body at all, I would have been screaming into the darkness. I awoke on the eighth day in agony, the tightening in my stomach refusing to subside. I needed to eat, or die, and I don’t know why survival even seemed like a positive option at this point, but food sounded like a much better idea. More than anything, I just wanted to take away that cruel pain that tormented me from within, and my muddled brain told me that I would do anything to have something to eat.
I don’t remember exactly how the thought blossomed in my head, but I realized that I had 180 pounds of meat in this cave with me, and that there was one way I could quell the fire in my stomach. I managed to sit up and remove the Zippo from my pocket. After taking a couple of attempts at lighting it, I succeeded and used the light of the flame to survey my disheveled self. I looked down at my feet, which were bare, though I did not remember when I had taken my shoes off. I moved my toes slightly —it was all I could manage— and I saw life. I specifically remember studying my foot, and when I did, I didn’t see my appendage. I saw meat: ripe, plump sustenance, right in front of me, taunting my stomach with its proximity. My whole body shuddered, and my parched lips parted as I drooled from the corner of them. I thought of sinking my teeth into tender flesh, and my mouth watered sadistically. Then, I merely decided that I wanted to eat. I don’t know how, in my delirium, I summoned such a plot, but my preparation was actually quite ingenious. I gathered a medium sized stone from the floor and doused one face of it with lighter fluid. I used my Zippo to ignite the fluid repeatedly, and gradually, the surface of the rock became red hot. I eased the edge of my knife over this rock several times then touched my thumb to the blade, sending a stinging surge of heat through my hand. My stomach gurgled with anticipation as I lowered the knife to my ankle. The first cut was the most difficult, and more painful than the ache of starvation in my stomach. I shrieked through the tunnel as the hot knife pierced my flesh. I stopped immediately. I could feel hot blood pouring from the cut, and the agony sent a wave up my twitching leg. Somehow, I was able to continue, my eyes glowing with a desperate madness as I sawed at my anklebone, stifling my screams by bellowing “food” with each pass of the blade. Tears burned from the corners of my eyes, but I cut away, and in
a moment, I heard a sickening thud as my foot fell from the stump on my upraised leg to the floor. My leg was spasming violently, and when I rested it on the floor, I could feel a warm pool of blood creep beneath me. I could see the still-glowing surface of the rock though the darkness, and I hurriedly pressed the hemorrhaging stump against the red-hot surface. I felt only a slight burning though my shock, and somehow I remained conscious through the ordeal. There was a sizzling sound as the wound was crudely cauterized, and I laughed (can you believe that?) as the flesh closed together over the heat. When the sizzling dwindled slightly, I pulled the stump away from the rock and reached down to inspect my work. As I ran my fingers across the bumpy surface where my foot had been moments before, an icy chill ran through me. But, my inspection revealed that the wound had been successfully closed, and I could feel no warm fluid flowing through the wall of flesh I had built over the sever. I was stunned that it worked, and shocked at myself for enduring the process. I was shaken, but the trauma had left me feeling little pain, and soon it was my stomach that was overwhelming me again. I laughed again, and cried some, at this point probably insane with hunger, and when I was done, my act was almost forgotten. My mind returned to nourishment, and I could think of nothing but eating. So I felt through the dark and picked up my severed foot. I don’t know if my mind even really registered that I was holding my own foot in my hands, but my stomach roared at the upraised appendage, its message all too clear. The surface of the rock was still warm, and I used it to lightly cook my foot, turning it often to get every side. There was a bittersweet smell that arose as my flesh was charred, and though it was somewhat sickening, the smoke sent the unmistakable odor of cooking meat into the tunnel, and no barbeque I can remember attending has ever offered such a
pleasing air. I grew impatient with the cooking though, and I was in agony to be so near food, but forced to wait for its preparation. The hunger spoke to me again, and I greedily pulled the foot to my mouth and sank my teeth into the tender tissue of my heel. I have heard that human flesh has a flavor reminiscent of chicken, but I found it to be much different. The meat was very salty, and maintained moisture with the blood that drained out with each bite. After the first taste, I swallowed a chunk, then immediately vomited the remnants of bile left in my completely empty stomach. The bite of flesh came out with it, and I started to cry again. Now, I had food, but my stomach refused to take it. Determined to survive, I raised the foot to my mouth again and gnawed off another bite. This second bite was perhaps the most stunning experience of my tunnel ordeal. Because, as I chewed the flesh, I was not nauseated, I was enraptured. The meat was not disgusting, it was delicious. The taste reminded me of beef jerky, but the consistency of the raw flesh was doughy and tender, not dry. I savored every chew of that bite, and I think I moaned “oh, god” as the blood and tissue swirled around on my tongue. Perhaps it was the circumstances, but the meat was the best I had ever tasted, better than lamb, veal, or any steak I had ever devoured. I enjoyed the bite thoroughly, then took another. Then another. Within moments, I had picked the foot bone clean, leaving nothing but stringy bits of sinew attached to the joints. I dropped the husk and the bones rattled on the stone floor as they landed. I took a long swig from my canteen, which was dwindling, and washed the salty remnants down my throat. I burped, and it was such a beautiful sound in this lonely darkness. It still didn’t fully hit me what I had just done, but the throbbing agony in my stomach was gone, replaced by a new and far more pleasant pain. As I swayed on the bumpy ground laughing like a madman, my stomach now hurt because I was full.
It was that night, as I vomited up the digested mass I had devoured earlier, that it became clear to me exactly what I had done to myself. I crawled around on the floor, and screamed into the cruel, dark tunnel, which answered me with the echo of my cries. My small area had become filled with the pungent stench of my sickness on the ground. As I crawled aimlessly, my hands would occasionally slide through one of the puddles, as there were several. I think by this time I had completely lost my mind, and it seems odd to me that I can remember it so lucidly now. I was a complete mess, and the stump that had once held my left foot to my body began to throb in disagreement with what I had done. I don’t know how I made it through that night, but eventually I exhausted myself into a shaky sleep. On day nine, I was surprisingly calm. The meal and rest had done me good, and I was focused and alert. I used a shoe (my left, since I would not be needing it) to start a comforting fire. The light that filled the chamber soothed me, but I would occasionally shift my eyes to the stump, which sent an unpleasant shock through my body. Though the wound was closed, thick bulging blisters had gathered over the surface of the stump. It was a revolting sight, compounded by the fact that I had produced this monstrosity on my leg myself. As days went on the blisters began to pop, sending a rainbow of nauseating fluids across the floor of my prison. The stump was revolting and I spent some time wishing I could get rid of the infected mess. The light of the shoe-fire added to my perception of my surroundings. I discovered that the cavern I was in had been used at one time as a mineshaft. There were bulky wooden beams lining the tunnel walls, and several timbers had broken free and spilled to the ground, perhaps from the earthquake I experienced, or perhaps from one countless years before. I assessed a fair amount of firewood, and I knew that I could hold off on igniting the shoe for my still-functional foot.
Even as I cursed the act I had performed on myself, I soon found myself in the same situation as before. I hadn’t actually retained most of the foot meat I had digested, and I was exhausted and hungry once again. My stomach ached, and my canteen was nearly empty. I felt myself growing weaker, and I alternated between my instinct to survive and my shattered will to live. Though a part of me struggled for survival, the more rational part of me wondered exactly why I wanted to survive in this hell the earthquake had buried me in. I was sickened by what I had done, but there was always a voice whispering through my head that I could do it again. It was five days before I gave in to the hunger again. After a particularly painful night of stomach cramps, I severed my left leg below the knee. My shinbone was very difficult to slice through, and it took me some time. I almost lost consciousness during the operation, and if I had, I would have bled to death for sure. I cauterized the wound as before, but this time with a fire I built from a small pile of shredded wood. The open flames hurt worse than the cutting, but I forced myself to hold the gushing stump over the miniature inferno. Even through the pain, I began salivating in anticipation of my meal. Once I was satisfied with the charred closing of the stump, I used the dwindling remnants of my flame to cook the bloody piece. The meat was tender and delicious and I was careful to cut away the scabbed remains of where my foot had been. This time, the meat stayed in my stomach, and for the first time since I had become trapped in the cave, I was happy. I did not think about the fact that I had severed half of my leg off, merely that my stomach was sated. I have always been sleepy after a big meal, so I settled into a deep rest, a broad smile stretched across my face. After that, I did not hesitate when the hunger became unbearable. I still waited at least a day between meals, but to be
honest, I’m not sure if that was because I was reluctant to mutilate myself, or reluctant to squander the limited supply of meat I had. On day 18, I ran out of water, and was forced to fill my canteen with my urine. I found it far less refreshing than water, and it did not complement the meat nearly as well. It became sort of an addiction, for the more I ate, the more I craved the food between each sitting. My stomach was expanding with each meal, and it demanded more nourishment. Very quickly, I ate my way through both of my legs, finding the thighs to be the tastiest bits of meat. But then, I was at a loss, for I did not know what piece I should take next. I was reluctant to begin work on an arm, for I knew that food preparation and transportation of my legless tusk would be much more difficult with only one arm. I hesitated to make a decision right away, so for a couple of days, I attempted to sustain myself with accumulated feces from the corner of the cavern that I had designated for such activities. I found the taste to be most vile, and its consistency was beyond description. The foul meal only made my stomach ache more for the sweet taste of my flesh. On day 21, I submitted to the tight pangs of hunger within me and severed my left arm at the shoulder. It was a greedy cut, I realized, preparing a whole section of my body at once. But my analysis had found the limb to be somewhat frail after the previous three weeks of malnourishment, and there was precious little meat to be had on the arm. I ate through it quickly, using my remaining arm to hold the long piece as I tore into it, then discarded the bones into a corner with the scraps of my previous meals. Two days later, yesterday, I was in agony, and the hunger consumed me like never before. I wanted to eat so badly, but I did not know what part of me was left to take. I could not cut off my right arm, for if I did, I wouldn’t be able to cut anything else, and there was sparse meat on my
thinning trunk. I considered my next cut carefully through the night, and when I awoke this morning, I had chosen. I finally settled on my buttocks, two round shanks of meat that still rested above the stumps that remained where I had removed my legs. It was no easy task cutting the rump meat off, as I could barely see where I was slicing, even with fresh fire illuminating the scene. I managed to get one side off, then the other, but my incisions were far sloppier than I would have hoped. The chunks of meat were small, and would not fill me up, I knew, but they were something. I eagerly attempted to cauterize the gaping openings I had carved into myself. However, it was even more difficult than the cutting when I attempted to align the wounds with my fire. I could not contort my body into a good angle to access the blaze, and with my lone arm, I could not navigate my torso around very well. I was losing blood quickly, and growing weaker as I struggled valiantly to heal my wounds. Exhausted, my back plopped to the floor, but I felt no pain as my severed backside hit the stone ground. I could feel the escaping blood flowing under me, and I knew at that moment that I could not fix the cuts I had inflicted. I roll my head to the side, eyeing the two bloody lumps of flesh that rest haphazardly beside the fire. They seem so close, but as I reach out with my single arm, I cannot grasp them. My flailing appendage smacks on the ground in defeat, and I struggle for air that is rapidly becoming more difficult to summon. I remain very calm, and draw in a deep breath, which invigorates me, but my vision is beginning to blur, and as I release it, I know that I will only be able to take a few more.... And then I realize that I am breathing underground in a section of cave completely walled away from the outside. So, how am I able to get air in this tight space? Furthermore, why has the smoke of my fires not suffocated me if it is truly trapped in this cavern with me? I realize that the tiny cracks between the rocks that had
pinned me in here would not be sufficient to allow these things to happen, and I curse myself for not pondering this earlier. I know there must be air coming into this place, and freely going, and as my consciousness drifts, it hits me that I had obviously overlooked something in this cavern. Then I hear it: a joyous, buoyant laughter from somewhere distant. The woman’s voice is haunting as it echoes from beyond my entrapment, and I roll my eyes back searching for the source. Then there is another sound: a dim unintelligible voice, this one belonging to a man. He is speaking to her, but I cannot hear what he is saying. But, the words themselves are not important to me. My concern is that I can hear people, and they are close by. I try to cry out for help, but I have no voice left, and no energy left to use it. I manage a winded “unh,” then I can do no more. The voices are getting closer, and though I don’t think anyone can save me, I want them to hear me. Very quickly, they are close enough for me to understand them, and I can clearly hear the woman. “Where is that smoke coming from?” Then suddenly there is a light in my eyes, a blinding blast of illumination that makes me squint in agony. Still, I look up into the light, and there is a white circular beam of illumination coming through the tunnel ceiling. The circle is large, and it almost looks like a sun above me, beaming straight down on me like a spotlight. The woman speaks again. “Oh my god!” As this happens, I realize that there is a hole in the ceiling large enough for me to fit through. The blinding glare on me is from a flashlight aiming down through this hole, and the woman and man I hear are in a cavern above me. Though I am rapidly losing consciousness, my brain is still active, and I don’t like what it is saying to me. It tells me that for the last 24 days there has been a hole in the ceiling above me and I have been too busy losing my mind to notice. It tells me that there are people on the other side of this hole, and obviously they entered this cave somehow, and if they did, they can exit it. My distant head
tells me that there is a way out of this imprisoning cavern, and it is through the hole in the ceiling that has yawned above me the entire time I have been down here. The woman’s voice comes again. “Oh, my god! Dale, come here! I’ve found something!” Now I know that she is looking at me, and I picture what I look like through that hole: a legless, bloody, one-armed torso floating in a widening pool of its own gore. And, I don’t know why, but all I can do is laugh. It hurts to do so, but I am laughing as deeply as my fading body will let me. The man’s voice comes through the hole. “Holy fuck! What is that? Jesus Christ, is that a....person?” He is panicking, and I am too weak to do anything but lie on my bleeding backside and stare up into the light above, hiccupping laughter into the small cavern around me. “Hello? Oh, my god, Christy, it’s moving! Hello?” The light seems to dim as my eyes struggle to remain open, and the couple is speaking frantically again, but I can’t really hear what they are saying, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. I am still laughing as best as I can, because this is fiercely comical on so many levels, but it gets harder and harder to focus, and each sound comes with a labored breath that stings in my chest. The light is dancing around whimsically, but soon I cannot see it, only feel its warmth on my face as the tunnel grows darker around me. Very quickly, I feel almost nothing. However, my last living memory is an echo through the cavern as my taunting stomach growls demandingly.
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