Not every cave search has a Terry Tarkington who knows the cave like his own home. Six months earlier three boys had vanished from the face of the earth near a similar Missouri cave they had been exploring. Despite weeklong search operations of incredible extent, they remain missing to this day.
– William R. Halliday, M.D. American Caves and Caving
When Navidson and Reston finally reach the foot of the stairway, Tom is not there.
It is almost noon on the third thy of the rescue attempt. Reston’s gloves are torn; his hands are blistered and bleeding. Wax’s breathing is shallow and inconsistent. Jed’s body weighs heavily on Navidson. All of which, bad as it is, is made even more unbearable when Navidson realizes his brother has not come down the stairs to meet them.
“We’ll manage Navy,” Reston says, trying to console his friend. “I shouldn’t be surprised,” Navidson says gruffly. “This is Tom. This is what Tom does best. He lets you down.”
Which is when the rope slaps down on the floor.
After making his unsuccessful bid to reach the bottom of the Spiral Staircase, Tom had retraced his way back to the living room where he began to construct a light gurney out of scrap wood. Karen helped out by going to town to purchase additional parts, including a pulley and extra rope.
Navidson was wrong. Tom may not have gone down those stairs but the alternative he came up with was far better.
Within minutes Navidson and Reston are hoisting Wax up the lOOft shaft. As a safety precaution, Navidson ties the end of the rope around the bottom banister. Thus if something should happen, causing them to lose their hold on the rope, the stretcher would still stop short of hitting the bottom by several feet.
A few seconds later, a quarter clatters on the floor, indicating that Wax has safely reached the top and the stretcher can be re-lowered and readied for the next load.
Jed is next. Hand over hand, Navidson and Reston haul the body upwards, the excess rope gathering in coils around their feet. As Tom does not operate a Hi 8 during this sequence, we can only imagine what his reaction was as he struggled to lift the corpse over the railing. Nonetheless, a minute later, a second quarter clatters on the floor. Reston goes next.
Navidson double-checks to make sure the end of the rope is still securely tied to the last banister and then begins hoisting his friend up the shaft.
“You are one heavy bastard,” Navidson grunts.
Reston lights a green flare and gives Navidson a big toothy grin:
“Going up like the fourth of July.”
At first everything seems to be proceeding smoothly. Slowly but surely, Navidson draws more and more slack rope down onto the floor, steadily lifting Reston up through the bore of those stairs. Then about half way up, something strange happens: the excess rope at Navidson’s feet starts to vanish while the rope he holds begins to slip across his fingers and palms with enough speed to leave a burning gash. Navidson finally has to let go. Reston, however, does not fall. In fact, Reston’s ascent only accelerates, marked by the burning green light he still holds in his hand.
But if Navidson is no longer holding onto the rope, what could possibly be pulling Reston to the
Then as the stairway starts getting darker and darker and as that faintly illuminated circle above – the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel- starts getting smaller and smaller, the answer becomes clear:
Navidson is sinking…
Or the stairway is
s t r e t c h 1 n g
e x p a n d i n g,
and as it slips,
d r a g g i n g
Then at a certain point, the depth of the stairway begins to exceed the length of the rope. By the time Reston reaches the top the rope has gone taut, but the stairway still continues to stretch. Realizing what is about to happen,
Navidson makes a desperate grab for the only remaining thread connecting him to home, but he is too late. About ten feet above the last banister
[… -Time has accelerated and I’ve done nothing to mark its passage Yesterday seemed like the beginning of July but somehow today finds me mid-way through August. When I went to work everyone got incredibly uncomfortable and drifted away. My boss looked stunned. He finally asked me what I was doing and I just shrugged and told him I was about to start building needles.
“Johnny, are you alright?” he said in a very sincere and concerned tone, without even a note of sarcasm, which was probably the weirdest part.
“Sort of, I guess,” I replied.
“I had to hire someone else, Johnny,” he said very quietly, pointing over to a young blonde woman already in the process of cleaning out the back storeroom. “You’ve been gone for three weeks.”
I heard myself mutter “I have?” even though I knew I’d been away, it just hadn’t seemed that long, but of course it had been that long, I just hadn’t been able to make it in or even call. I hadn’t been able to make it anywhere for that matter and I pretty much kept the phone unplugged.
“I’m so sorry,” I blurted, suddenly feeling very bad, because I’d let my boss down and I could see he was a pretty decent guy after all, though at the same time feeling also a little relieved about the news of my replacement. It made everything seem a little lighter.
My boss handed me my last check and then wrote down a number.
“Get yourself in a program man. You look like shit.”
He didn’t even ask if I was strung out, he just assumed it and somehow that struck me as funny, although I held Offfrom laughing until I got outside. A hooker in silver slippers quickened by me.
Back in my studio, I discovered a message from Kyrie. I’d thrown her number out weeks ago. I’d thrown everyone’s number out. Nothing could be done. I was gone from everyone. I erased her message and returned to the house.
In the back of my mind, I understood I would need money soon, but for some reason that didn’t bother me. I still had my Visa card, and since selling my CD player, I’d further improved on that resulting silence by insulating my room with egg cartons and limiting the sun’s glare with strips of tinfoil stapled to pieces of cardboard placed over my windows, all of which helps me feel a little safer.
Mostly the clock tells me the time, though I suspect the hands run intermittently fast and slow, so I’m never sure of the exact hour. It doesn’t matter. I’m no longer tied to anyone’s schedule.
As a precaution, I’ve also nailed a number of measuring tapes along the floor and crisscrossed a few of them up and down the walls. That way I can tell for sure if there are any shifts. So far the dimensions of my room remain true to the mark.
Sadly enough, despite all this-even six weeks without alcohol, drugs or sex-the attacks persist. Mostly now when I’m sleeping. I suddenly jerk awake, unable to breathe, bound in ribbons of darkness, drenched in sweat, my heart dying to top two hundred. I’ve no recollection what vision has made me so apoplectic, but it feels like the hinges must have finally failed, whatever was trying to get in, at last succeeding, instantly tearing into me, and though I’m still conscious, slashing my throat with those long fingers and ripping my ribs out one by one with its brutal jaws.
On a few occasions, these episodes have caused me to dry heave, my system wrenching up stomach acid in response to all the fear and confusion. Maybe I have an ulcer. Maybe I have a tumor. Right now the only thing that keeps me going is some misunderstood desire to finish The Navidson Record. It’s almost as if I believe questions about the house will eventually return answers about myself, though if this is true, and it may very well not be, when the answers arrive the questions are already lost.
For example, on my way back from the Shop, something strange surfaced. I say “strange” because it doesn’t seem connected to anything- nothing my boss said or Navidson did or anything else immediately on my mind. I was just driving towards my place and all of a sudden I realized I was wrong. I’d been to Texas though not the state. And what’s more the memory came back to me with extraordinary vividness, as clean and crisp as a rare LA day, which usually happens in winter, when the wind’s high and the haze loosens its hold on the hills so the line between earth and sky suddenly comes alive with the shape of leaves, thousands of them on a thousand branches, flung up against an opaline sky-
-An eccentric gay millionaire from Norway who owned a colonial house in a Cleveland suburb and a tea shop in Kent. Mr. Tex Geisa. A friend of a friend of a passing someone I knew having passed along an invitation: come to Tex’s for an English tea, four sharp, on one unremarkable Saturday in April. I was almost eighteen.
The someone had flaked at the last minute but having nothing better to do I’d gone on alone, only to find there, seated in a wicker chair, listening to Tex, nibbling on her scone… Strange how clarity can come at such a time and place, so unexpectedly, so out of the blue, though who’s firing the bolt?, a memory in this case, shot out of the August sun, Apollo invisible in all that light, unless you have a smoked glass which I didn’t, having only those weird sea stories, Tex delivering one after another in his equally strange monotone, strangely reminiscent of something else, whirlpools, polar bears, storms and sinking ships, one sinking ship after another, in fact that was the conclusion to every single story he told, so that we, his strange audience, learned not to wonder about the end but paid more attention to the tale preceding the end, those distinguishing events before the inevitable rush of icy water, whirlpools, polar bears and good ol’ ignis fatuus, perilous to chase, ideal to incarnate, especially when you’re the one pursued by the inevitable ending, an ending Tex had at that moment been relating- deckwood on fire, the ship tilting, giving way to the pursuit of the sea, water extinguishing the flames in a burst of steam, an unnoticed hiss, especially in that sounding out of death, a grinding relentless roar, which like a growl in fact, overwhelms the pumps, fills up deck after deck with the Indian Ocean, leaving those on board with no place else to go, I remember, no I don’t remember any of it anymore, I never heard the rest, I had gone off to pies, flushing the toilet, a roar there too, grinding, taking everything down in what could, yes it really could be described as a growl, but leaving Tex’s sinking ship and that sound for the garden where who should I find but… my memory, except I realize now my ship, isn’t Tex’s ship, the one I’m seeing now, not remembering but something else, resembling icy meadows and scrambles for a raft and loss… though not the same, a completely different story after all, built upon story after story, so many, how many?, stories high, but building what? and why?-like for instance, why-the approaching “it” proving momentarily vague-did it have to leave Longyearbyen, Norway and head North in the dead of summer? Up there summer means day, a constant ebb of days flowing into more days, nothing but constant light washing over all that ice and water, creating strange ice blinks on the horizon, flashing out a code, a distress signal?- maybe; or some other prehistoric meaning?-maybe; or nothing at all?- also maybe; nothing’s all; where monoliths of ice cloaked in the haar, suddenly rise up from the water, threatening to smash through the reinforced steel hull, until an instant before impact the monstrous ice vanishes and those who feared it become yet another victim to a looming mirage, caused by temperature changes frequent in summer, not to mention the chiding of the more experienced hands drunk on cold air and Bokkøl beer… Welcome to The Atrocity, a 412ft, 13,692 ton vessel carrying two cargoes within its holds, one secret, the other extremely flammable, like TNT, and though the sailors are pleasant enough and some married and with children and though the captain turns out to be a kind agent of art history, especially where the works of Turner, de Vos and Goya are concerned, that strange cargo could have cared less when towards the bow, in the first engine room, sparks from a blown fuse suddenly found a puddle of oil, an unhappy mistake any old mop could have corrected, should have, but it’s too late, the sparks from the fuse having spun wildly out into space, tiny embers, falling, cooling, gone, except for one which has with just one flickering kiss transformed the greasy shadow into a living Hand of angry yellow, suddenly washing over and through that room, across the threshold, past the open door, who left it open? and out into the corridors, heat building, sucking in the air, eating it, until the air comes in a wind, whistling through the corridors like the voice of god-not my description but the captain’s-and they all heard it even before the ugly black smoke confirmed the panic curdling in all of their guts: a fire loose and spreading with terrifying speed to other decks leaving the captain only one choice: order water on board, which he does, except he has misjudged the fire, no one could have imagined it would move that fast, so much fire and therefore more water needed, too much water, let loose now across the decks, an even mightier presence drowning out the flames and the hiss in its own terrifying roar, not the voice of god, but whose?, and when the captain hears that sound, he knows what will happen next, they all know what will happen next even before the thought, their thoughts, describe what their bodies have already begun to prepare for, the chthonic expectation which commanded the thought in the first place-… sos.sos.sos… SOS… SOS… SOS… sos.sos.sos…-way way too late, though who knew they’d all be so long, long gone by the time the spotter planes arrived, though they all fear it, a fear growing from that growl loose inside! their ship, tearing, slashing, hurling anyone aside who dares hesitate before it, bow before it, pray before it… breaking some, ripping apart others, burying all of them, and it’s still only water, gutting the inside, destroying the pumps, impotent things impossibly set against transporting outside that which has always waited outside but now on gaining entrance, on finding itself inside, has started to make an outside of the whole-there is no more inside-and the decks tilt to the starboard side, all that awesome weight rocking the ship, driving the hull down towards deeper water, closing the gap between the deck rail and the surface of the sea, until the physics of tugawar intercede, keel and ballast fighting back against the violent heave, driving The Atrocity away from this final starboard plunge, heading back up, that’s right, righting itself, a recorrection promising balance, outside and inside again, except the rock and roll away from the sea proves a useless challenge.. the monstrous war of ice water below also heads away from the starboard side of the ship and as the captain’s deck for a brief instant levels out, the water within also levels out, everyone hopes for a pause, though really the water never stops, following through on the powerful surge away from the starboard side, heading now towards the port side-Sososososos-past the center- Sososososos- coalescing into a wave-Sososososos. useless, obviously- and the captain knows it, hearing their death before the actual impact reverberates through the hull-and there never really had been time for lifeboats… -the wave beneath them pounding into the port side, this time powerful enough to drive the ship all the way over, burying the rail of the top deck beneath water, then the stack, letting all of the sea within, banishing the inside once and for all, and though some fathers still make for the lifeboats, it’s all useless, a theatrical gesture born out of habit and habit is never hope, though some actually might have survived-habit does have its place-had there been a little more time, sinking time, except what was flammable below, now explodes, an angry Hand punching through bulkhead and hull, where a reciprocal nearly maternal Hand reaches up from the darkness below and drags all of them down, captain, deck hands, fathers, loners and of course sons-though no daughters-so many of them trapped inside it now, tons of dark steel, slicing down into the blackness, vanishing in under twelve minutes from the midnight sun, so much sun and glistening light, sparking signals to the horizon, reminiscent of a message written once upon a time, a long, long time ago, though now no more, lost, or am I wrong again? never written at all, let alone before… unlawful hopes?… retroactive crimes?… unknowable rapes? an attempt to conceal the Hand that never set a word upon this page, or any page, nor ever was for that matter, no Hand at all, though I still know the message, I think, in all those blinks of light upon the ice, inferring something from what is not there or ever was to begin with, otherwise who’s left to catch the signs? crack the codes? even if the message is ultimately preternatural and unsympathetic.. especially since right now in that place where The Atrocity sunk without a trace there is no sympathy, just blind blinks of light upon the ice, a mockery of meaning where meaning had never been needed before, there away from the towering glacial peaks near Nordaustlandet, a flat plate of water with only a few solitary bubbles and even those gone soon enough, long gone by the time the spotter plane flies over this mirror of sky, the only distinguishing mark, a hole of blinding light, rising and descending with the hours, though never disappearing, so that even as the plane’s tiny shadow races across the whisper of old storms, or is it the approach of a new storm?, something foretold in those thousands and thousands of cat paws, reflection draws a second shadow on the vault of heaven… Atrocity is lost along with its secret cargo and all aboard. shhhhhhhhhhhh… and who would ever know of the pocket of air in that second hold where one man hid, having sealed the doors, creating a momentary bit of inside, a place to live in, to breathe in, a man who survived the blast and the water and instead lived to feel another kind of death, a closing in of such impenetrable darkness, far blacker than any Haitian night or recounted murder, though he did find a flashlight, not much against the darkness he could hear outside and nothing against the cold rushing in as this great coffin plummeted downwards, pressure building though not enough to kill him before the ship hit a shelf of rock and rested, knocks in the hull like divers knocking with hammers-though, he knows, there are no divers only air bubbles and creaks lying about the future. He drops the flashlight, the bulb breaks, nothing to see anyway, losing air, losing his sense of his home, his daughters, his five blonde daughters and… and… he feels the shelf of rock give way and suddenly the ship rushes down again, no rock now, no earth, so black, and nothing to stop this final descent except maybe the shelf of rock didn’t give way, maybe the ship hasn’t moved at all, maybe what he feels now is only his own fall as the air runs out and the cold closes in for good and I’ve lost Bight of him, I’m not even sure if he really had five blonde daughters, I’m losing any sense of who he was, no name, no history, only the awful panic he felt, universal to us all, as he sunk inside that thing, down into the unyielding waters, until peace finally did follow panic, a sad and mournful peace but somewhat pleasant after all, even though he lay there alone, chest heaving, yes, understanding home, understanding hope, and losing all of it, all long long gone a long long time ago shhhhhhhhhhhhh… when next to him, not a foot away, lay Something he never saw, no one saw, for he had come upon the secret when he escaped into this cargo hold but never knew it, though it might have saved him, saved us all for that matter, but it’s gone, letters of salt read by the sea… and I too have lost The Atrocity… and the sun pours in on me, surfaces once transparent now reflect, like a sea of a different sort, and I forget my ship, or I lose sight of it, or is that the same thing? to a time long before I saw in my own holds two cargoes, one a secret, the other extremely flammable, the flammable put there by invisible hands for invisible reasons… when I remembered her in the garden where she wandered away from all those ugly ends in the Indian Ocean, far from my arctic one, and found flowers and a fountain, perfume and a breeze, a warm breeze… Not Texas but Tex’s, Tex’s tea, where I met Ashley-Ashley, Ashley, Ashley… the sun could make you sneeze-only back then her hair was dyed neon green, matching her Doc boots, a match made in heaven, both of us together, talking and talking, at first timidly and then responding more avidly to the obvious attraction both of us could feel until she gave me her number and I wrote down my number, my first name and my last name, which was how, years later, she finally found the right number to call and she kissed me and I kissed her and we kissed for a while more until she invited me home and I said no. I had fallen in love with her, flash of gold and sunlight and Rome, and I wanted to wait, in three days call her, court her, marry her, impregnate her and fill our house with five blonde daughters, until… oh no, where have I gone now? horror but not horror but another kind of -orro-? or both, or
I’m not sure, suddenly flooding through me, what back then had only been weeks away, in fact right around the corner from there, a legacy of leaving, fast approaching: excrement-let go… -urine-let go… -and burst conjunctiva-letting go streaks of red tears. All I could hold but in the end not save. Of course I lost everything. I lost her number, I lost her, and then in a fugue of erasure, I lost the memory of her, so that by the time she called she was gone along with the kisses and the promise and all that hope. Even after our strange reunion in the hammock suspended over strewn & decomposing leaves from a banana tree, later followed by an even stranger goodbye, she was still long, long gone. I know I am too late. I’m lost inside and no longer convinced there’s a way out. Bye-bye Ashley and goodbye to the one you knew before I found him and had to let him go.
(Considering this was a 7/16″ dynamic kernmantle cord it is not difficult to imagine the sort of force acting upon jt.) [250-Breaks at 6,000 to 7,000 pounds. – Ed.]
Above him, Navidson hears a faint cry and then nothing. Not even the tiniest hole of light.
In The Reston Interview, we learn from Billy how the pulley at the top was torn from the banister. Luckily, Tom managed to grab him as well as the rope before “the whole kit and caboodle” plummeted back down the shaft. “It took us a few minutes to get our bearings,” Reston tells the camera. “We still weren’t sure what happened”
For the final shot of this section, Navidson loads his Affiflex with a 100ft of high-speed tungsten, uses a five minute ultra high intensity lightstick to illuminate the area, and rolls his Hi 8 to record sound.
“For almost an hour,” he begins. “I waited, rested, kept hoping something would change. It didn’t. Eventually I started going over my stuff, trying to figure out what exactly to do next. Then all of a sudden I heard something clatter behind me. I turned around and there lying on the floor, just off to the side here, was the third quarter. [He holds up the coin] If Tom dropped it say a few minutes after Reston reached the top, then it’s been falling for at least fifty minutes. I’m too muddled to do the math but it doesn’t take a genius to realize I’m an impossible distance down. [251-If Dft = 16t2 where time is calculated in seconds, the quarter would have to have fallen 27,273 miles exceeding even the earth’s circumference at the equator by 2,371 miles. Calculating at 32 ft/sec2 the number climbs even higher to 54.545 miles. An “impossible distance” indeed. [252-This formula isn’t entirely accurate. A more precise calculation can be made by [fill in later] [253-Mr. Truant never completed this note. – Ed.]
“I don’t know how I’m going to get back. The radio’s dead. If I can find my pack and Jed’s, I’ll have water and food for at least three days with maybe four days worth of batteries. But what will that do? Non gratum anus rodentum. [254-“Not worth a rat’s ass.” – Ed.] Hell.”
The film runs out here,
leaving nothing else behind but an unremarkable