Jonathan’s Wish (An Adventure Novel)
(Copyright 1984, Mark D. Jones, All Rights Reserved)
Book Three, Chapter Two, Part Ten
It was a persistent and unrelenting darkness that Jonathan awoke to, after a less than satisfying sleep on the staircase’s stone treads beside Sammy. There was no way to know if they’d slept for two hours or two days, as the pitch darkness surrounding them remained endlessly unchanged. Sammy was already awake and alert, and while not cold, Jonathan felt an uneasy discomfort from having slept while reclining on his backpack against the staircase, with his folded spare sweatshirt as a pillow atop the next higher stone tread. His joints complained with the stiffness of an old man as he sat up, and began digging into his backpack in the dark to find their last remaining canteen of water for both of them to sip from. The air was stagnant and clammy in the steeply descending tunnel, begging for the relief of an infusion of fresh oxygenated air.
“Here’s a few treats for you to snack on, Sammy, but we have to save the rest for later. This is your last treat bag,” explained Jonathan patiently as he ate one of his few remaining chocolate chip cookies. After a couple of sips of water following their snacks, he packed up the remaining food bags, the canteen, and his sweatshirt to begin descending the staircase into the pitch black depths again. They were both used to being immersed in the darkness by now, and didn’t give it a second thought as they carefully probed, scooted and stepped down each descending stair tread. It was almost second nature by now, and they were no longer afraid of the dark. Jonathan, however, was becoming more and more concerned about what they would do when their snacks and water ran out though, but it was a dilemma he wasn’t willing to dwell on – at least, not yet.
After what could have been hours, for he had no way of knowing, there was a distinct change in the air within their sandstone enclosure, and the hairs on Jonathan’s neck stood up alerting him to the fact that something wasn’t right. There was no way of knowing what was causing the foul smell in the air without turning on his flashlight briefly to take a quick look around. The beam of his flashlight revealed what Jonathan had been looking for all along, a side tunnel to the left of the descending staircase going off in a horizontal direction into the darkness. This perpendicular corridor in the rock was about the same size in diameter as the tunnel they were in, eight feet or so across, but with a level, smooth floor – while the stone staircase continued down beyond the junction into the unknown depths below.
Jonathan probed the first few feet of this horizontal tunnel, but Sammy refused to enter it, as it was the source of the foul air they had been breathing in recently. The air quality of this passageway didn’t give him any confidence that it was the best route to follow, so he instead followed Sammy’s lead back to the staircase and turned off his flashlight, as they resumed their descent into the dark void. It didn’t take very long to realize the staircase’s air was dramatically freshening as they continued descending into the unknown darkness beyond the intersecting passageway, as the source of the bad air all along had been the side corridor. What was causing the stench in the side tunnel was anyone’s guess, but Jonathan knew they were headed in the right direction at this point based on the better air quality they were now breathing – but where was the staircase leading them to?
It was all he could do to fight off the boredom of endlessly descending this stone staircase in the dark, not knowing how long they’d gone since waking up or how far they still had to go – but to where were they going? Was their demise inevitable? Was this simply a torturous exercise without the chance of a positive outcome? Jonathan couldn’t, and wouldn’t, focus on the nagging doubts hijacking his thoughts, for there must be a solution and way out of their sandstone entrapment. Wasn’t it Dijia who had told him there was always hope? All he had now was hope, and as the leader of this expedition it was Jonathan’s task to find a way, any way, to survive this misadventure. He insisted his mistakes wouldn’t decide their fate, and kept trying to convince himself that there was no reason to give up hope now.
They continued their endless descent into the dark void for longer than he could fathom it – to the point of exhaustion – before stopping for the day. Or was it night? Regardless of what time it might be, Jonathan dug into his backpack for another round of treats and cookies, knowing they had just one last round of snacks after sleeping and less than half a canteen of water left. He adjusted his backpack to get comfortable and refolded his sweatshirt into another makeshift pillow, and leaned back to fall asleep with Sammy resting his muzzle on Jonathan’s stomach again. He was so used to the darkness by this time, that it was as familiar to him as lying on his bed back on the farm, while looking up at the ceiling and across to the poster of Snoopy fighting the Red Barron on the wall of his room by moonlight.
In the stillness, he could now clearly discern a distant rhythmic sound within the stone tunnel repeating itself every 15 seconds or so, along with a distinct smell of fresh air tinged with salt. As if expecting to see his bedroom’s ceiling at night from his bed back home, Jonathan focused his eyes above him. In the darkness he couldn’t see anything of course, but he had the distinct impression that the darkness wasn’t as dark as it had been before. It was the vague awareness of an initial awakening of daylight long before dawn, in the first moments preceding twilight’s arrival. Sammy was aware of it as well, remaining wide awake and alert, while sniffing the air and listening intently. What was causing this combined sensation of a pre-dawn light, the faint repetitive rhythmic sounds within this sandstone prison, and the smell of salt infused fresh air? For now it didn’t matter, as Jonathan was too tired to think about it anymore, and within minutes fell fast asleep…
(The end of Chapter Two)