“Flashlights off,” whispered Brandon with tension in his voice and a rising sense of panic in his mind.
Click. Click. Click. Three flashlights went dark in seconds.
Brandon’s mind was racing. Who’s coming? Is it the landowner? Is he going to shoot them for trespassing? Who else could be down here? What should they do? Should they run deeper into the tunnel?
The beam of light from the mysterious person’s flashlight appeared brighter as the person moved ever closer.
Brandon tried to calm down and think. It was pitch dark so he couldn’t see the faces of his friends, but he could feel their tightly-coiled tension; it emanated from them like a radio wave – invisible, but powerful. Every neuron in his amygdala screamed for him to flee yet he knew it was no use. They couldn’t go back the way that they came as they would run headlong into the person approaching. Going deeper wasn’t really an option either as they wouldn’t get far without turning their flashlights back on and of course the lights would give them away and they’d quickly be caught anyway. Not to mention, they didn’t know the layout of the tunnels beyond where they stood. As Brandon’s mind calmed a bit, he realized that the best course of action was to just allow whoever this person was to confront them and hope for the best.
Brandon clicked his flashlight back on and at the edge of its light beam he registered the tightly drawn and surprised expressions on the faces of his companions. The look in their eyes was an accusing [i]what are you doing[/i], but Brandon knew this was the only viable option.
The light from the most recent intruder into the tunnel stopped moving and Brandon realized that was because the person had seen the light from his flashlight.
Suddenly, a man’s voice rang out from around the corner and despite the quieting effect all of the surrounding dirt should have had on the volume of the voice, it still seemed booming in the taut silence of the tunnel.
“This is the Taylorsville Police. Stay where you are.”
Not that being pursued by the police was a good thing, but Brandon breathed a small sigh of relief that it wasn’t some trigger-happy backwoods type with a double-barreled shotgun.
“I’m coming around the corner. Keep your hands where I can see them,” the police officer’s voice sounded again.
As the voice registered in Brandon’s mind, it dawned on him that the voice sounded familiar.
Within seconds that felt like long minutes, a figure appeared around the corner and it was indeed a police officer. He was tall and had to stoop slightly to move through the tunnel. He held a flashlight in his left hand and his right hand rested on the butt of his holstered pistol. The beam of his light quickly darted back and forth among the three companions who all stood with their hands raised in front of them. Then the light darted back to Brandon and stayed there.
“Weston, is that you?” the officer asked Brandon. Weston being his last name.
With a sudden wash of realization, Brandon understood why the voice had sounded familiar. It belonged to Charlie Anderson – one of his high school classmates.
“Yeah, it’s me,” Brandon replied sheepishly. “How you doin’ Charlie?” Brandon added, feeling stupid even as the words left his lips.
“Hi Charlie,” Chas said from a few feet away. “Long time, no see.”
Charlie’s flashlight swung to Chas. “Reynolds? You’re here too? I should have known where I found the one I’d find the other.”
Now that he knew who he was confronting, Charlie was more relaxed and he removed his hand from the Glock at his side.
“My name’s Tyrone officer,” offered Ty. “Tyrone Collins.”
Charlie shined the flashlight over to Ty and acknowledged him with a curt nod. “Just what in THE hell are you all doing down here?” demanded Charlie of the group.
“Just doing a bit of exploring,” Chas quipped.
“I read about the sinkhole and the tunnel on WTAY’s website and we had to come check it out,” explained Brandon.
“This area is a safety hazard and is off-limits to the public,” Charlie shot back. “I have orders to make sure no one is skulking around down here. I ought to cite all of your asses for criminal trespass.”
“What?” Brandon asked sounding worried and incredulous at the same time. “We aren’t hurting anything down here. We were just nosing around a bit. Can’t you just let us leave?”
Charlie took a few breaths and seemed to ponder this for a few seconds. “I’ll tell you what, Weston. I’ll cut you a break this time. You’re lucky that I know you and realize that you’re relatively harmless. You leave with me now and I’ll forget that I found the three of you down here.”
“Thanks Charlie,” said Brandon sounding relieved. “I appreciate it.”
Chas and Ty echoed Brandon’s gratitude.
“You better,” said Charlie with a snort. “Don’t let me catch any of you down here again. Let’s get out of here.”
Reigniting their flashlights, the three friends turned to begin filing down the tunnel back toward the sinkhole. With all of the light illuminating the interior of the tunnel including Charlie’s powerful light, something caught Brandon’s eye as he turned. Something just beyond the small chamber where they stood. With that he turned and began walking with the others, Charlie walking behind them to ensure they vacated the premises.
On the walk back through the tunnel and back to his car, Brandon could think of nothing else but what he saw during that last moment in the tunnel. What was that…?