The rockslide clackity-clacked to a stop. Weak light from an aperture above meandered through the curtains of dust. The cave took on aura of dusky grey. Centuries of silence fought through the last of the gravel trickling through the boulders and bouncing to the floor. The mouth of the cave, once large enough to admit a man, now admitted nothing.
Carson knelt against a wall inside the cave and lamented that this wouldn’t make a good story back home. He’d already been standing in the mouth when the rumbling started, so he’d had time to seek shelter. His only moment of tension had come when a small hole opened in the ceiling and a shower of debris had fallen. He’d feared that the whole cave might implode. Now he knelt, waiting, with his T-shirt over his nose to filter out the dust, his backpack on the floor nearby, his eyes adjusting to the wavering light. The dust settled around him with an audible silky whoosh.
After the cave grew calm Carson’s instinct took over and he moved. He grabbed loose medium-sized rocks and piled them under the hole above. He thought of the growing pile as an altar he’d ascend to get out, then rejected the sentiment as drivel and grabbed another rock. He worked until the pile seemed tall enough, nearly his own eye level. The sweat running down his back told him to slow down and conserve energy. He listened again to the gravel clicking on the floor where he’d disturbed the slide. He sat against the wall and took a sip from the canteen in his backpack. His shirt clung to his skin. His phone had no bars.
When his breath returned Carson rose and circled the cave. It was about the size of his bedroom. The walls were dry and cool; he wondered if the granite dispersed the expected dampness. Near the base of the wall opposite the mouth Carson caught the faint sound of running water. He knelt in the shadow and found an opening into the mountain. He heard a stream just behind the wall. He thought about reaching in, then paused, not crazy about risking an arm just yet. Maybe later. His canteen was mostly full.
Carson sat again. He listened as the rocks nestled against themselves. He listened inside himself for that first instinctive panic to return, but heard nothing. He’d packed four days’ rations for his two-day hike. He’d left home with a reminder to Jen that he’d be out of touch – he had stretched the point without forethought and told her he’d be gone a week, and she’d responded without looking up that a week would be fine, whatever. He wasn’t expected back at work till next Tuesday. He had access to water and air. He had a possible, even symbolic, means of escape. He felt stillness inside. He matched the cave.
He said to himself, perhaps to make the feelings come, to face them: I am buried alive. I am cut off. But nothing moved, inside or out. After another still moment, he whooped as loudly as he could, then regretted it as the walls pummeled him with his own reverberated voice. He took a sip from his canteen and settled once more into silence. The rock felt cool against his back. He thought: I might stay here awhile.