It had been dark maybe 10 minutes when Brandon edged his car into a secluded field surrounded by woods. Chas and Ty were both waiting for him.
“It’s about time,” grumbled Chas jokingly as Brandon climbed out of the car.
“Yeah, the two of us were starting to think you had lost your nerve,” added Ty.
“Sorry guys,” Brandon apologized and then added, “Not all of us are complete slackers at work who can just leave whenever we feel like it.”
This drew a laugh from Chas and Ty and Brandon chuckled along with them, but their laughs belied their nerves and the anxious tension among the trio was palpable.
“Does everyone have a flashlight?” Brandon asked pulling his bright LED light out of his pocket.
“Yeah, we’re both good,” Ty replied.
“Alright then, let’s go,” Brandon said as he headed off toward the sinkhole.
Chas and Ty fell in line behind Brandon. They were parked about 200 yards from the police tape that cordoned off the sunken area. They walked toward their objective with their flashlights turned off; navigating only by moonlight. The moon wasn’t full, but was bright enough to see where they were going once their eyes adjusted.
Not much of the surrounding area was visible in the darkness, but Brandon was familiar enough with this area to know that there wasn’t much to see anyway. He was pretty sure the ground they were on had once been a farm, but the fields hadn’t been tilled in years and were now derelict and overgrown with weeds and scrub brush. The several acres of fields were bordered on three sides by woods and on the fourth side by the road they had all traveled to get here.
Once they got within 50 yards or so of the sinkhole, it was easy to make out the bright yellow POLICE tape by the light of the moon. They headed toward it cautiously, but with purpose. Less than a minute later, they were gathered around the police tape, the blackness of the sinkhole gaping up at them like a monster waiting to swallow them.
Brandon said, “Let me go down first. I want to make sure it’s safe before the two of you come down.”
Chas and Ty gave Brandon doubtful looks telling him they didn’t like him going down there alone, but they grudgingly agreed, as they knew it made sense. If something went awry, Brandon would need someone to pull him out of there or get help; it didn’t do any good for all three of them to be trapped down there.
Brandon leaned down and shined his flashlight into the sinkhole. It didn’t appear to be too far down to solid ground so he sat on the edge and shimmied himself down. After a drop of five or six feet, his shoes sunk into the earth below. He had come down on top of what used to be the earth between the ceiling of the tunnel and the surface. He pulled his feet loose and took a step forward into the tunnel. Once he was on the actual floor of the tunnel, he was surprised to find that the it was at least six feet high and he could stand comfortably. He immediately shined his flashlight out into the mysterious blackness ahead of him. The light penetrated about 25 feet ahead, but he couldn’t see what lay beyond. Brandon walked a few more steps and shined his light up at the ceiling to see if the tunnel looked stable. It did. He didn’t know what made that one small section collapse, but the section that he was looking at now seemed solid. The walls and ceiling were just packed soil and seemed to have no structure holding them up; no beams or supports of any kind. They looked to have been hand dug through the Earth.
“Okay guys, you can come down,” Brandon called up to Chas and Ty. Ten seconds later, they were both standing in the tunnel behind him. “Come on,” Brandon whispered and they headed into the foreboding unknown of the tunnel.
Brandon could see the anxious tension on the faces of his two friends and he supposed that they could see it on his face as well. He wasn’t scared so much as on edge. Heading into the darkness brought out those primal survival instincts that had kept early Humans alive. He could feel the regular thump-thump of his heart and knew that his pulse and blood pressure were elevated. Despite it being a cool evening, clammy perspiration had formed on his hands, face, and neck. His body was tense and ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice.
The tunnel was only about four feet across so they had to travel single file. Brandon led, with Chas behind him and then Ty brought up the rear. The trio made steady progress down the tunnel and after about 20 feet, Brandon thought he saw an earthen wall and began to think that the tunnel was going to dead end just ahead. After going another 10 feet however, he realized that the tunnel made a sharp turn to the left. When he got close enough, he shined his light around the corner; holding his breath in expectation of what might lie beyond the turn. All he could see though was the tunnel stretching out before him.
Brandon looked back at his friends and whispered, “Should we keep going?” Both Chas and Ty nodded, resolute looks on their faces. He could tell that they were just as curious as he was about what might be down here. It was now obvious that someone had dug this tunnel, but for what purpose?
The group continued down the tunnel another 40 feet and then the tunnel made another sharp left turn. About 10 feet further on, the tunnel began to curve to the right and gradually got wider. Pretty soon they found themselves in a small room about 10 feet long and 15 feet wide. Brandon stopped and began shining his light around the room. Chas and Ty turned on their flashlights and followed suit.
“Wow, look at that,” Ty exclaimed as the beam of his light danced across walls and a ceiling lined with bricks.
“Yes, very interesting,” Brandon agreed as he began scanning the other side of the room. As he moved the beam of his light down the wall to the floor, he noticed something shiny reflecting the light back at him. “What do we have here?” Brandon quipped as he headed over to check it out.
Chas and Ty were close behind as Brandon bent down to see what had caught the beam of his flashlight. He sifted through some loose soil and several inches of dust to reveal a brown glass bottle.
“Check this out,” Brandon said as he cleaned off the bottle and held it up to inspect it.”
“It looks like someone’s garbage,” Ty commented.
“I think it’s more than that,” Brandon responded as he ran his light over it.
“I agree with Brandon,” Chas offered. “That bottle looks quite old. It has been down here for a long time I’m guessing.”
Chas shined her light back down to the spot from where Brandon had retrieved the bottle and noticed something else there. She reached down into the dirt and pulled out a dilapidated piece of wood about nine inches long and three inches wide. The one side seemed to have some lettering stenciled on it, but it was difficult to make out.
With Brandon and Chas both engrossed in inspecting their discoveries, Ty walked back to the room’s entrance and looked back the way they had come. A few seconds later, he was rushing back to their sides. “Uh guys,” he whispered urgently, “ it looks like someone is coming.”