47. Lost World

HOLLY SAYS ALL SHE wanted was to drive from her home in Baltimore to the Lost World Caves in West Virginia. She took her ex-boyfriend’s Impala without asking because they had an arrangement: he had a key to her apartment and she had a key to his car. She says she'd never been inside a cave before as she's always been afraid of caves. She couldn’t remember anything in her childhood that might explain her fear - her childhood had been more or less normal, although her parents had since separated and her father lived in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The Lost World Caves are just off the Interstate 64, and there were seven others in the group with her, as well as the guide. They were all given helmets to wear although she remembers they only served to light the way, and any protection they might afford in case of emergency would have been purely symbolic. She says stepping into the cave she noticed a smell of ammonia, which the guide explained as bat faeces. The tour began well enough and she felt only low levels of anxiety - at least until the guide told a story that made her nauseous. The guide’s story concerned an expedition of experienced speleologists who in the 1960s had set out to explore the cave networks under the Appalachians, a network said to be so vast they have yet to be fully mapped. The expedition was due to last six weeks, but two months after setting off none of the expedition members had surfaced. So a second expedition had set off to find the first group, and weeks later none of its members had returned. Finally, she says, the guide told them that after much debate it was decided to bring together the best, most experienced speleologists in the country to try to discover what had happened to the first two expeditions. Holly says that it was at this point that she blacked out. She didn’t hear what had happened to the third expedition, although she presumed that, in the manner of things, it had not ended well. However, on reflection she suspects the guide's story had been invented for the sake of the tourists, or lifted from elsewhere. Be that as it may, she says, she blacked out, but because she was sitting down against a wall at the back of the group, at first nobody noticed. Although she couldn't say exactly how long she lost consciousness, when she came to she remembers feeling inexplicably happy at first, blissfully groggy such as after an afternoon nap on a hot day, and for a moment she believed was in her father’s house in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, which is an adobe house and as cool and quiet as a cave, but when she remembered where she was, and realised she was alone, she was overcome with a sense of panic such as she had never felt before. She says she could hear voices calling her name in the distance, but when she tried to walk towards them they only grew more distant. She says by this point she wished she had never decided to take the tour of the Lost World Caves, that her fear of caves was stronger than her desire to overcome it, that she began to fear she too would never find her way out of the underground maze. It was at this point, she says, that she she began to scream, screams that seemed blood-curdling even to herself, although in fact other visitors that day report having heard no screams. Holly admits she may have imagined herself screaming, as in a nightmare from which one can not wake. She says that from this point she has no memory of the events of the next couple of hours, and the next thing she remembers is checking into a Motel 6 in Lewisburg late that same afternoon with a man she had met on the tour. She says the man had told her his name was Orlando and it was he who had signed the register Mr and Mrs Orlando Bloom. She can't say why the man had used such an obvious pseudonym but remembers he did bear a passing resemblance to the actor, and that he might even have told her he worked in the movie business in Los Angeles as a stunt double, although she can't be sure about this. She says later she and the stunt double had eaten deep fried chicken and that, although she normally doesn't eat such food, after the ordeal she'd just been through she felt like she was eating for the first time in her life. Later, she says, she and the stunt double had been intimate - this is her choice of expression - and that during their intimacy she once again found herself screaming involuntarily, to such a point that he put her hand over her mouth, causing her to panic and to jump from the bed gasping for breath. Enquiries to the motel comfirm no complaints made by guests that night of screams coming from her room. Afterwards the stunt double had fallen asleep watching Letterman, although Holly says she couldn't sleep. She wanted him to leave but couldn't bring herself round to asking. She says in the middle of the night she decided to take a walk but only got as far as the balcony outside her room where she simply looked up at the stars, which she realised she hadn’t properly seen in many years. She says it was cold and she wasn't appropriately dressed, wearing only a tshirt, as she hadn't packed for an overnight stay. Watching the stars, she says she had an important epiphany, one that she was sure would change everything, but that by the next morning she had forgotten it. When told that weather records for the night in question indicate the sky was overcast, she says it was possible she had in fact fallen asleep and had dreamed seeing the stars and having the epiphany, all the while imagining herself awake. After some time, she re-entered the motel room - or she dreamed she re-entered the motel room - where the stunt double was still sleeping, and she took a long shower and finally went to sleep, or at least she dreamed she did. She slept so deeply that she didn't wake up when the stunt double left, and for such a long time that when she checked out it was afternoon and she had to pay for a second night, although she didn’t stay a second night. She says by this stage her phone was dead, and that she only bought a charger for it two days later, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and her phone record bears this out. She says it was only once she'd paid at the motel reception that she realised her boyfriend’s car had been stolen. She says at this point she considered returning to Baltimore, but as she sat drinking a coffee at a nearby roadhouse she noticed a Saturn dealership across the road and a Walmart next to it, and she decided to buy herself some clothes and a car and visit her father in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It was at this point that she made a number of unauthorised transactions with her ex-boyfriend's credit card by forging her ex-boyfriend's signature.

With apologies to Thomas Bernhard.