It has been months, maybe even a year since I hike the woods near my home. Part of Pigeon Creek runs through it. This part of the creek is not the most beautiful or sanitary. So, often I pay it little attention. Yet, something deep inside of me urges me to take a closer look this particular day.
I hesitate because at my advanced age I am not the most agile of creatures. Even though, the creek at that moment is down, the water was dark and eerie looking as always. I muster my courage and obey my curiosity and shuffle and stumble my way to the edge of the creek.
I follow along the creek bed, climbing over fallen limbs, listening to the crunch of layers of dead and rotting leaves and questioning my decision all along the way. Then, suddenly, I saw it. The probable reason for this bold unhealthy trek of mine stands open mouthed before me.
The entrance to the cave stares back at me. Normally, I am not excited about exploring a hole in the side of a sandstone hill, maybe as a kid, but not as an adult. But there is something about this hole that is inviting.
First, it is huge. I can stand in the entrance and see several feet ahead. It is obvious that I am not the first to discover it. I don’t have to crawl. I can walk right in. Yet, I remain transfixed at the entrance arguing with myself if I should.
Southern Indiana summers are not only hot but also extremely humid. I felt that steamy, sticky discomfort standing still fearful and curious about the unknown a few steps ahead. The No-see-ums began to dive toward my eyes. A trickle of sweat tumbles down between my shoulder blades. My hair matted damp against my forehead. At the moment I became aware of the heat, the soft, gentle coolness of the cave entices me in.
I take a step inside. My body temperature drops 5 degrees. It is so refreshing I take another step and then another and another. Fear and doubt surrender to relief. I spy a well-worn stone with ample space on top to fit my posterior.
This makeshift stool is close enough to one wall of the cave that I can lean against its coolness. The sudden change from the heat of the day and the cool of the shadowy cave cause me to shiver.
I glance around this stony hole in the side of this hill to make sure I am alone. It is a fair sized space about the size of a walk-in closet. Strangely, it appears to be clear of cobwebs or debris. For being inside the sandstone bed of a creek, its walls are very smooth.
I start to suspect one of the homeless I see panhandling or picking up recyclables along the walkway nearby may claim this as a bedroom at night. It could also be a neighborhood kid discovered it before I did. I glance around for clues that might confirm or deny these suspicions.
I pull my cellphone from my pocket and utilize the flashlight to do a quick search. At the opposite end of the cave is a well-worn mattress. Someone must sleep or rest here. This produces an uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. If I am caught in his or her place, will I have to fight or will they be merciful? Maybe I should leave now.
I’m not ready to leave. It is very hot out and I’m curious. Even more curious to know who sleeps here. What kind of person are they? What forces one into homelessness?
I search for something that might provide evidence into this person’s character. I shine the light all around the enclosure. There it is 360 degrees later.
Lying between my rocky seat and the cave wall is a stack of notebooks, loose paper including torn wrapping paper, pieces of what appears to be grocery bags and very thin tree bark. I bend down to get a closer look, the stack of material seems bound together with string wound three times around and tied in a bow like a shoelace.
I pick the bundle up and start to examine it. At first, I suspect the bundle to be fire-starter material. I start to return it to where I found it. Then, I notice some writing on a ragged piece of brown paper bag. The same type of writing on the back side of some wrapping paper becomes visible.
I carefully wrangle the paper sack piece from the bundle, not completely but enough to read some of the writing. It appears to be written as a journal entry.
Suddenly, I hear the snap of a twig and crunch of foliage above me. My heart leaps out of my chest. I fumble with my cellphone nervously trying to turn off the light without losing my grip on this bundle of mystery. The sound of footsteps grows closer moving this way toward the only opening to this cave.
I need to put the bundle back, but I can’t make myself do it. I want to read more. I rush out of the cave clutching the bundle with both hands next to my chest.
Outside, I do not see anyone ahead of me. I try to run up the embankment to the clearing above. If I can clear the woods, it is only a few yards to the public walkway. Surely on the walkway in broad daylight I’ll be safe.
Trying to climb the steep embankment while clinging to this bundle proves to be a greater challenge than I anticipate. I stumble and fall, not just once but three times. Yet, I top the crest. I can see rays of sunlight streaming through the still thick tree line.
I tuck the bundle under my arm like a running back with a football and run as fast as my septuagenarian legs can muster. I am not fast enough. Someone shoves against my back causing me to fall flat on my face.
I try to push myself up from the ground, but something heavy pushes down between my shoulder blades flattening me face first against the ground. I manage to raise my head in time to see a large hand snatch the bundle that I must have dropped on the first fall.
The heaviness against my back lightens and I can hear whomever turn and run. I get up as quickly as I can, but years and lack of exercise make it challenging. I catch a glimpse of something as it drops down the embankment out of sight.
I realize my cellphone is missing, so I search the area around me crawling on my hands and knees. My mind plays back the past few moments again. The hand that retrieves the bundle is huge and hairy. The body that disappears below the top of the embankment seems more like an animal than human. I don’t find my phone.
He or she or it must have taken my phone. I must go get that phone. But I also want to live a while longer. Do I risk returning to the cave for that phone? I must. I’m a dead man if I do. I will any way. What other choice do I have?
I get up, then somehow make it to the crest a few feet away. Parts of my body ache from the tumble and tussle. My stomach begins to ache with anxiety. My heart pounds against my chest. I realize I’m taking quick shallow breaths. I remain determined to get my phone. I breathe deeply and slowly exhale.
I carefully ease down this steep embankment. I cannot believe I ever made it up this tangled mess of grass and weeds and woodsy debris. The urge to survive can sometimes be a good motivator.
My right foot finds a loose limb and it slides down the hill faster than the rest of me can manage and I fall. I catch myself with my right hand which finds its way through the thick underbrush to sharp sandstone and punctures a small whole in the fleshy heel of my hand. The hand manages to slide mixing blood and underbrush and dirt. Without thinking, I automatically brush my hand against a pant leg. My hand stings. My pants are stained with the earth and human mixture.
I fight off the desire to give up. I assess the damage to the hand, clear as much grass and dirt as possible off the wound carefully with my other hand and determine to press on.
When I look ahead, I see my phone lying in a very large palm. I follow the hand up an almost human-like arm into bright gray eyes overshadowed by thick dark brown bushy eyebrows. The eyes are clear, sad but friendly. I hope to keep them friendly.
I carefully reach out to take my phone, but stop in midair. This person’s dark brown shaggy haired and scruffy bearded head nods and thrusts the phone gently in my direction. I take the phone. This new acquaintance smiles flashing a mouthful of massive mustard colored teeth.
He speaks. I assume at this moment this creature towering over me is male. He wears a garment over his loins and underneath the massive hair appears to be male breasts.
“Leave me and forget you saw me, I beg you.”
My first thought is to honor this request immediately. On second thought, I recognize that there is no way I will suppress this from my memory.
“I cannot promise to forget what I’ve seen.”
“Then, promise me you’ll tell no one about me,” he helps me stand to my feet and his grip on my arm grows stronger as I rise.
We stand on the long steep hill leading down to the creek. I stand above him on the incline of the hill, yet he towers over me still even though he stands slightly stooped.
Suddenly, I become very bold or very foolish, “I will make that promise if you share what’s in that bundle.”
The first thing I notice is his yellowish teeth. This time, clenched as he growls, “You mean the bundle you tried to steal from me.”
I shudder from shame. He is correct. I deserve his wrath. Instead, he turns and beckons me to follow him. It is then I notice that the bundle is no longer in his possession.
His body language reveals no animosity, so I follow carefully ready to flee at any signs of treachery. We return to his cave. Still no danger signals. He motions me to sit. I do. He then turns and leaves.
In my wait, I begin to question my decision to follow this stranger who apparently desires anonymity. Fear and doubt start to build and travel from thoughts in my head to action in my feet.
Before I can make the first step to exit the cave, he enters. He carries the bundle. As he enters this enclosure, I amaze at his massive size which matches his hideous animal-like features. Have I made a mistake to come back here?
He hands me a piece of bark from the bottom of the pile. I stare at him as I hold the smooth hewn wood in midair between us. He points gently to the bark. My eyes continue to absorb his features. He taps the paper-sized chip harshly.
I force myself to look away from his countenance and to the plank in my hand. It is stained with some purplish spots which I slowly realize are in the form of letters forming words into sentences. I become aware that these crudely drawn entries are personal accounts, observations and conclusions.
I get lost in the mature astuteness of the accounts until the crudeness of the mediums becomes insignificant. I stop and re-examine the one who I believe wrote these words. I’m astounded at how more human he looks to me in the poor light of this semi-dark cave.
“I’m sorry, I forgot to ask you your name or even introduce myself. I’m Doug,” this sudden thought pops into my head and tumbles out of my mouth.
“I’ve been called many things in my life. The orphanage where I spent my first sixteen years named me Harold,” he shares with surprisingly distinct diction.
He begins to open up and share his story from his being left as a baby at a firehouse to the struggles and disappointments he had being different than everyone else causing him to leave the orphanage at sixteen and eventually his decision to live as a hermit.
I thought he should tell his story. He disagrees. He does consent to allow me to tell his story after he’s gone. I thought this a veiled promise because he knew he’d outlive me. He doesn’t.
In the next few weeks or months, I hope to piece together the accounts from his rough mixture of media and things he’s shared with me to tell his story. It not only reveals what I learned about Harold, but I learned some things about me. Maybe you will benefit as well.
I write about what I'm thinking or what I've imagined in an effort to regain that childhood imagination and marry with my many years of real experiences. I'm getting better at it the more I write.I am a published author of two romantic intrigue novels.My books can be found at Amazon.com or if you want a personalized copy, by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.