07 Mar The Plunge
“The Plunge”Written by Chisto Healy Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 15 minutes
Wes didn’t care that it was dark. He didn’t care that it was cold. He didn’t care that he was miles from home. He just cared about getting away, about clearing his head. He wanted to be free under the stars for a while. He needed it. Screw her. Screw them all.
It was bad enough being almost thirty and having to go back home to live with your parents. Wes had a college degree. A lot of good it did him right now. Life didn’t give a damn about his degree. Life didn’t have an HR department for him to email. Life did what it wanted to do, and apparently, it wanted him to suffer. Isn’t that right, Tara?
It was even worse when your mom decided that catching your wife in bed with your best friend and losing your entire goddamned life meant you had now regressed back to a baby. Instead of compassion and understanding, his mother gave him her usual bossy nature and need for control. He immediately remembered why he had worked so hard to get his degree and move out of that house. He would never have gone back if he had had a choice. But I didn’t, did I? What was I supposed to do? Stay there? Sleep in that bed where she slept with him? Pretend like everything was going to be okay and go back to normal? To hell with that.
Wes couldn’t take it. He couldn’t take his mother’s constant nagging and griping, the talk about saving money, and doing chores like he was a child. It wasn’t just coming from her mouth either. The woman left post-it notes around the house with specific instructions for him to follow should he want to fix food or wash his clothes or do any number of things that he had been perfectly capable of doing for many years now. Who does that, Mom? Huh? Get some help, for God’s sake.
Wes didn’t ask for any of this to happen. Why couldn’t his mother understand his situation and feel for him, empathize, or at the least sympathize? He would prefer her pity to whatever this was that he was getting.
His father was even worse. He was cold, uncaring, rigid and set in his ways. You lived under his roof, you paid your share. The old man wanted him to pay rent weekly and no small share either. My son’s entire life just fell apart, seems like a good opportunity to bleed him dry! Isn’t that right, Dad? Pretty sure that’s not in the parents’ handbook. How was Wes ever supposed to get a place of his own and move out of that damned house if he gave his parents all his money? It was enough to drive anyone crazy. Wes felt like he was suffocating in that house, like it sucked the air right out of his lungs. He needed to get out of there, to get fresh air, to breathe freely. Nature was healing. Nature was peace. That was what he needed more than anything, just some honest peace.
Wes could still see Tara in his head, giggling and squirming under the sheets, his sheets, unaware that he was even there. He had been in shock when he walked in on them, and he stood there in the doorway, just staring at the horrible scene unfolding before his eyes. Kyle was the one that eventually saw him, and he shoved Kate off, playing the victim. Just the thought of it made Wes nauseous. Kyle started running his mouth immediately once he knew that he had been caught. He had tried to play it like Tara had seduced him, taken advantage of him. He wasted his breath explaining to Wes how none of this was his fault, and he never wanted it. He was a good loyal friend; more than that, they were brothers. It was pitiful, sickening, and Wes could see the betrayal in Tara’s face. She felt as betrayed by Kyle as Wes did. It was written all over her in all her nakedness. Screw them both. In truth, Wes didn’t care about what led up to that moment or who initiated it, only that it happened and that he believed it wasn’t the first time. Did she take advantage of you last time too? You’re both liars, horrible backstabbing selfish liars.
Hatred lived in Wes’s broken heart now. The house was in his name, but he didn’t want to live in it anymore after that. How could he? He would think about it every moment of every day. His anxious mind would never set him free. Wes let Tara have the house. He let her have everything. He couldn’t look at her without seeing her moaning above his best friend, biting her lip and smiling. Wes had thought Tara was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen from the moment he had laid eyes on her at the laundromat off-campus. It led to their first date, which led to their marriage, which led to this horrible, traumatizing moment. Apparently, Kyle thought his wife was beautiful too. What Wes saw that day wasn’t beautiful at all. It was ugly, horrible and ugly, and it was all he would ever see from now on. They can have each other. I don’t want anything to do with either of them.
Wes had a hard time going home, making the call even, but he didn’t have much of a choice. I didn’t have any choice, did I, Mom? Maybe she knew I would never have gone back to her willingly, and that bitterness drove her to be even worse than she’d been when I lived there before. Wes had needed out of his own house and marriage, and his money was tied up in bills or already spent on groceries for the week. He barely had money for gas. Being back home made everything so much worse, though. It brought back childhood trauma he didn’t even realize he had before now. Tonight, what led him out here into the North Carolina wilderness, was his mother was griping about the way he folded his own laundry. His father had wanted to see his paystub, to tell Wes how much of it belonged to him and how much was theirs. It was madness and driving him crazy, and Wes had to leave. He just had to. He needed air.
Wes hadn’t considered the weather or the danger. He simply walked out the front door with his father, demanding he return like he was sixteen all over again. He bit back the urge to scream, I’m 29 years old! Then he got into the car and decided he needed a hike. Wes needed some self-care for the soul. It was long overdue. Nature was always calming. It was also far away from his mother’s shrill voice and his father’s extended hand. Wes hated that he needed them at all, even as a child.
The chill in the air stung, and Wes realized far too late that he should have worn a heavier coat. At least it wasn’t raining. That really would have made my life feel like a sad movie.
Wes could see his breath as he hiked along, climbing through the endless trees of the woodland. There were lots of places like this off the parkway. Gorgeous scenic views and trails, waterfalls and streams. It was too dark right now to see any of that, but it was there. Wes could hear the rushing water nearby, and it helped him to breathe. This is therapy, he thought. This is real freedom.
Wes stepped on the rocks and climbed through the trees, and he was beginning to feel like a kid again; not in the way his mother saw him, but in a good way, a nostalgic way. He felt the childlike sense of adventure, the magic and wonder of his youth. This was definitely what he needed. “Woo-hoo!” he cried out into the night.
Then the world fell away.
Wes was just going through the trees. He wasn’t anywhere near an edge; at least, he didn’t think he was. It was dark, but he could see enough, or he thought he could. It happened so suddenly. It caught him off guard.
One second he was hiking through the woods, and the next, the earth was gone out from under him, and he was plummeting downward into oblivion. He gasped. You would expect to scream in a situation like that. If he was imagining it, he would have seen himself screaming and cussing. In reality, the shock was like a weight on his chest. It stole his breath and with it, his voice. He made little to no sound as he descended into the darkness.
Wes hit the bottom hard and pain lanced through his back. His head smacked off of something hard. He was seeing stars, and if it wasn’t for that, he wouldn’t have seen anything at all. The darkness was deeper wherever he had fallen to. He groaned and tried to get up only to find that he couldn’t. There wasn’t room to. The fall had taken him into some kind of thin tunnel. Maybe he had slid when he hit bottom. If he fell hard enough, he could see that happening. He supposed it made sense.
Whatever the explanation, Wes had fallen down a narrow hole and landed in a small alcove with a low ceiling. He couldn’t see it, but he could feel it all around him like he was in a tanning bed, but far more snug. There was no room for Wes to do anything. It frightened him, made him anxious and affected his vitals.
Wes had stormed out of the house in anger. He hadn’t told anyone where he was going. I screwed up. Oh God, I really screwed up. Please don’t let me die out here.
This was hiker’s country, though, he reminded himself. People traversed these trails daily, sometimes even in big groups. Someone was bound to find him eventually, but how long would it actually take? He had no way to know. How far out of sight was he? How many people would have to pass before someone noticed him? It could be days. That was a frightening realization. He didn’t have any water with him. He only planned to be gone a few hours. I thought I was going to blow some steam off and then return home, hating my parents and my life a little less. Now I may not make it back at all. Wes felt a surge of panic.
He tried screaming for help, calling out in hopes that someone else was nearby. Maybe there was some poor sap having just as bad a day as he was. He cried out to anyone and everyone, asking if they could hear him. “Anybody! Please help! I’m trapped! Please!”
The only response he received was just dirt and gravel raining down on him. It spattered his face and fell into his mouth. He coughed and choked and squeezed his eye’s shut to fight off tears. He wanted to scream, but he knew it wouldn’t do any good.
Wes’s life had been a mess, a tragic and pitiful mess, but he didn’t want to lose it, not like this. He had been upset because he wanted to change his fate, to have a chance to live again and be happy. Wes had come out here for clarity, and all he found was darkness and death. He felt terror course through him like an electric current, and his body trembled. It sped his heart and made his breath catch in his chest. He knew it would only make this situation worse, but he didn’t know how to stop it. He was having a panic attack. How do you convince yourself to be calm when you’re trapped alone in the dark in the middle of nowhere? How do you relax when you might die?
Wes reached out into the darkness, and he dug at the surrounding dirt with his fingers. He felt for the opening, the hole he had fallen down. He thought maybe if he could find the spot where he fell down, he could shimmy in and climb back out. He wished he could see. His fingers just seemed to find thick dry earth. He felt it filling in and caking up under his nails that burned like they were bleeding. They felt like they were going to tear off if he kept scratching.
Maybe if he could get his phone out of his pocket, he could use it to see. Wes told himself to remain calm, to use his head. He told himself that he would get out of here and then he would get out of his parents’ house, and everything would be okay. He didn’t believe a word of it, but he was trying to manifest it into being.
Wes pulled his fingers back from the surrounding earth and let them walk down his own torso like a tarantula until they came to his jeans pocket. He pushed his fingers inside and felt nothing. No. No, no, no! Oh God, no.
His phone had to have fallen out at some point. He hoped to God that it was when he fell into this hole, and it was just laying somewhere nearby. If it was down there with him, that would mean he could still find it and use it, but if he had lost it somewhere on his hike before he got to whatever it was that he fell through, then he would be in real trouble. He supposed it could have fallen out at any time without him even realizing. That was a terrifying thought, and he pushed it out of his head. Ruminating on bad things that could be wasn’t going to help him survive those bad things that definitely were.
It’s here, find it, he told himself.
Wes tried to roll over onto his belly, but he found that he was in a space too small for that. He knew he needed to do it, though. He had to find his phone. The phone meant survival. This was literally life or death. Man up, Wes. You can do this. Okay, okay. Come on. You’ve got this. Just take it slow.
Wes twisted to one side. He hit cold dirt that was as sharp as the stones protruding from it and just as solid. He gritted his teeth and tried to force himself to complete the turn, as painful as it was. Inch by inch he went, and the earth didn’t give. It tore through his clothes and the flesh beneath, scraping and scratching like knives coated in so many sheets of sandpaper. Tears welled in his eyes, but Wes kept going. He cried out when he made it and completed the turn at last. His body burned with the agony of his efforts. He was sure he was bleeding and for the first time was glad that he couldn’t see. In the dark, I can convince myself that it’s not as bad as it feels.
Wes didn’t understand how he could have fallen into such a tight space. It was like the chamber he had gone down into got smaller as it went, so when he finally hit the bottom he was wedged in tight like a sardine in a can. If he was right, that was about as bad as luck gets. He knew from the past month that his luck was pretty bad, but this was next level. Just focus on the phone. Find the phone. Stop thinking about that stuff and think about getting out of here.
Wes put his palms down against the ground beneath him, and a shiver ran through him. The cold was really biting him down here. Cold could kill, he knew. Would the sun even reach him where he was, once it rose? Would he even warm up with the day? He wasn’t willing to bet on it.
Wes felt around, moving his fingers like worms across the frozen ground. He felt for anything he could touch, feel in the dark that wasn’t a stone. He cringed as his fingers passed over insects that squirmed and squiggled beneath his touch, but he kept looking. He prayed the phone was there. God, please let it be here.
Wes felt something then, and he wriggled his body so he could inch forward to try to get a better feel. Please be my phone. I need to call for help. Would he even have service down here? Even if he didn’t, the phone would be a light until the battery died. And you could make an emergency call without service, couldn’t you? He felt confident that he could. It was about the only thing he felt confident about at this moment.
Wes’s fingers had run across something smooth. It could have just been a stone, but it felt different to him. Could it be the screen to his phone? It would be amazing if it fell all the way down here and didn’t even crack. How far had he even fallen, really? He didn’t have a clue. It felt far to him, but he didn’t really know. He couldn’t even find the way back up, and if he did, he couldn’t see up it to judge the length of the drop. Maybe it’s not as far as it feels like it is. I could be just a few feet down. Maybe someone will see or hear me. Wishful thinking?
Wes wasn’t going to scream. He remembered the mouthful of dirt he got last time. It would come down on the back of his head this time, but what if more came? What if it blocked the exit and sealed him in, trapped him for good? In his mind, Wes imagined what it would be like to be buried alive, to slowly run out of air, to panic and freak out and have that only make it worse and steal precious minutes of the little life he had left until he died there, down in the earth with hikers climbing and jogging over his corpse unknowingly.
It wasn’t a good thing to imagine things like that. His heart was speeding up, and his breaths were coming quicker. What would he do if he hyperventilated down here? Wes closed his eyes and counted to ten slowly. When his body rhythms were back to a more normal level, he inched forward again. His fingers slid across the surface of whatever was there, and then his index finger slipped through a hole. His eyes went wide even in the blackness of his confines, and he moved his index finger around the hole. He backed his hand up and let his finger slip back out and he tried again, with a gentle caress. He felt the way it ebbed and curved. There was another smaller hole, then…teeth? Wes didn’t need light to know that he had just found a skull. It felt big, human, and it stole what remained of his hope.
He twisted, turned and screamed. His earthly cage scraped and tore at him, and sprays of dirt and rocks showered him where he lay. He gagged on it, but continued to scream. Then he was bathed in light, and he cut his scream off. His throat felt hoarse, and he could taste dirt in his mouth, feel it grinding into his teeth.
Wes didn’t think he’d been down in this hole long enough for the sun to rise, so the light had to come from somewhere else. He fought against the tight scratching walls in order to look around for the opening that sent him there. It may have been irrational, but he felt like the light could be temporary, like he had to take advantage of it before it was taken away, and he was left with only pitch-black darkness as company.
He clenched his jaw against the pain and kept going. Then he saw it, and he released a few notes of hysterical laughter. Immediately he began to pull himself in that direction. As he went, his eyes fell upon the skull he had felt earlier. It wasn’t alone. There were several bones and even other skulls. Wes didn’t want to think about what that meant. I just have to get to that opening. I have to get out of here. I have to live.
It wasn’t lost on him that the emergence of the light could mean that someone was up there. Maybe they had heard him scream. “Hello!” he called out. “Hello? Is someone up there? I’m trapped down here. I fell in. I don’t know what happened. I need help.”
Wes poked his head into the opening and stared up the shaft of earth he had fallen through, but the light was so bright that he still couldn’t see anything. He squinted hard and groaned. His eyes burned. “Hello?” he said again. “Is someone there? It’s too bright. I can’t see. I need help.”
There was no response, nothing but that blinding light shining down from above. Wes wanted to scream again, to kick and tug at his hair and cry. He wanted to freak out, but he kept it contained for the time being, at least. Someone has to be there, right? The light had to come from somewhere. It had to. Who’s there?
“Can you hear me?” he yelled. “I need help. I’m trapped down here. I lost my phone. I don’t think it’s down here. I don’t know what happened to it, but I couldn’t call anyone for help. Can you help me? Hello?”
At last, the light dimmed. Through the flashes of color floating in front of his eyes, Wes could see a man looking down at him. Oh, thank God. I’m saved. The guy did seem pretty far away. It was hard to tell for sure but from this angle it looked like the stranger was a good thirty or forty feet up. “Hey. My name is Wes. I was taking a late night hike to clear my head. Obviously not my best idea, I know. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t even see this hole. I just fell right through it and got trapped. It’s so cold. Can you help me?”
“Your phone is right here. I’ve got it,” the man called down to him. He held it down into the hole so Wes could see that it was indeed his. He wasn’t entirely sure from that long of a distance but it looked enough like it. He had no reason not to believe the guy.
“Great. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me. I ain’t giving it to ya.”
“What?” Wes called up to the man, panic finding its way back into his heart.
“You said you don’t know what happened, so let me help you out with that,” the man told him. “You wandered onto private property on your late night stroll, and you fell into my hole. I used to keep signs up to let people know, but they all just ignored them anyway, so I took the damn things down. Besides, it’s more fun this way when folks like you don’t realize you’re on my land until it comes out from under you. Used to be that hole was just where I threw the kids I shot for trespassing, to keep their bodies out of sight. Now I don’t shoot no one anymore. I just dig more holes. It just gets me tickled to watch you folks die slow.”
What is this guy saying? This can’t be real. He’s not going to just leave me down here to die. He can’t. “I’m so sorry,” Wes called up to the man. “I had no idea I was on private property. I swear. I wouldn’t have come this way if I knew. I meant no offense. Please. Please help me. I’m really stuck down here.”
“Yeah. I designed it that way. You ain’t getting out, but I’ll love it if you try. Goodbye now.” The light blinked away, and total darkness returned. “No, wait!” Wes begged. “Please don’t go. You can’t just leave me down here. Please come back. Please!” There was no answer.
Wes tried again and again, begging and calling to the man, pleading with him, but he got nothing, nothing but silence and darkness. He tried to twist himself, to bend up into the hole so he could climb out, but he got jammed up and further stuck in an awkward and painful half-sitting position. “Please. You’ve got to help me. Please. You can’t leave me down here like this. Oh, my God. Please.”
Then the man’s voice returned, reaching out to him through the darkness and letting Wes know that he had never truly left. “It’s the thirst that really gets you,” he said. “You’ll see.”
That’s when Wes started screaming, really screaming. He released his terror in primal agonizing throat tearing cries, cries that were met only with laughter.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A