0062: A Tight Spot

With What Strange Eyes? #35

Suddenly, the captain exclaimed: “I see him!” Before disappearing from view. Lamont scrambled to follow Carter as his voice carried through the cavern. “Rex? Rex?”

It was a tight squeeze. The irregular formations of rock forced the two men into uncomfortable contortions as they inched their way out of the open air and into the dark interior of the mountain. Now Lamont crawled on his hands and knees, the hard stone digging into the thick fabric of his suit; now he sat with his back against one rock formation to scoot through the space between another. He kept his eyes on the soles of Carter’s white boots a yard or two ahead of him, and the confusing contrasts of light and shadow created by the unsteady movement of their lamps. His ears were filled with the trickling of water as it reverberated against the rock, the steady shuffling of their movements, and the quiet grunts and groans they made as they navigated the restrictive space. Beneath it all was a low, forlorn moaning that Lamont identified as the wind outside whistling through the many small holes that pocked the mountain. 

“See anything?” He asked after what felt like about three minutes. He had raised his voice above the ambient sounds and immediately regretted it as the sound of his words boomed around them. The metallic stone was a natural echo chamber, and it sounded as if copies of him were repeating the question deep inside the mountain.

“Not yet, but I think it widens up ahead.” Apparently learning from Lamont’s mistake, the captain kept his voice low. To Lamont, it sounded as if Carter were right beside him.

“Rex couldn’t have radioed us again if he followed Rosemary into this,” The newspaperman pointed out. “The signal would’ve never gotten through.”

“Let’s hope that’s the only reason we haven’t heard from them,” Francis replied. Then, raising his voice, he called: “Mr. O’Neil! Miss Wells! Can you hear me?”

Lamont winced as the shout echoed loudly around them. Over the course of several long seconds, it disappeared into the darkness, followed only by the ambient sounds of the cave.

They shuffled on. Lamont noticed that the spaces between rock formations were growing larger, and their movement was becoming less restricted than it had been at the entrance. 

Suddenly, the captain exclaimed: “I see him!” Before disappearing from view. Lamont scrambled to follow Carter as his voice carried through the cavern. “Rex? Rex?”

A moment later, Lamont found himself able to stand at his full height. He had followed the captain into a chamber that must have been roughly ten yards in diameter, with a ceiling that disappeared into darkness above them. The stream, trickling downhill into the cavern alongside them, flowed into a small pool cut into the crags of the cave floor. Lamont noticed that the pitch blackness of the mountain interior was pierced by a soft, sickly luminescence from the water, so dim that in any other context it might have been unnoticeable. Between that and the narrow beam of his lamp, Lamont could clearly see Francis crouched beside the prone, silver-suited form of another expedition member. It was Rex O’Neil.

Lamont rushed to join the captain, who had his hand pressed to the side of the young man’s neck. But the tortured grimace that twisted Carter’s wide mouth and the milky eyes of the red-headed pilot that stared sightlessly upward told the story in an instant.

“He’s dead,” Captain Carter murmured through clenched teeth.

Next: Cause of Death