March 15, 1942
Wilford Igoe Jr. wrapped his fingers around the pumpkin-shaped rock, steeled himself with a deep breath, and pushed with all his strength. The rock slid back a half inch, accompanied by the sound of stone on stone. He held his breath, waiting, listening for further grinding sounds, for the sound of settling rocks-the sounds of certain death.
But no sounds came. He let his breath out in a long sigh of relieved tension. No point in relaxing, he told himself, I'm just going to have to go through it a dozen more times until I clear this rock.
"Just a little more, Will," said his friend Samuel, who stood behind him in the cramped cave, watching for any signs of settling. Will could only grunt in response. The light from Samuel's mining helmet jittered from side to side, up and down, bouncing all over the rough gray rock that filled Will's hands. Will's own helmet lay behind him and to the right-he'd had to take it off to squeeze into the narrow crawl space among the cluster of ancient boulders.
The headlamps' illumination was the first light this pitch-black place had known in decades, possibly centuries. Sunlight had never graced the interior of the cave; they were too far into the zone of perpetual darkness.
"Stop moving that damn light, Samuel," Will said, grunting out the words. "If I move this rock the wrong way we all die." Samuel's light stopped bouncing, but only for a moment, then began flittering about again, following the excited movements of his head.
Will fought down his irritation and tried to concentrate, which wasn't easy considering his position. He was wedged into the crawl space that he and Samuel and Douglas had made during the last three days. The space was part of a much larger tunnel that led steadily down into the mountain. Will's head was at the low end of that incline, his body lying in powdery cave silt. It felt like going down a slide headfirst, although he wasn't actually moving, especially if he couldn't budge that boulder.
But removing the rock wasn't the real problem. He had to move it right, he had to move it just so. The boulders surrounding him were remnants of an ancient cave-in. You couldn't tell how these rocks settled against one another. Move out a "linchpin" rock, even if it was a tiny one, and sudden settling would crush anything lying below.
"Come on Will," Samuel said. His excited voice rang off the dead stone walls. "Try a little to the left."
"Up yours, Anderson," Will said. He wrestled with the chunk of limestone, his thick arms shaking with a combination of concerted effort and exhaustion.
Thousands of years ago this passage had housed a swiftly churning underground river. Now all that remained of the ancient stream was the tunnel itself and a floor of bone-dry silt, two inches thick and as fine as high-grade flour. That same silt coated Will's sweaty skin.
Sweat dripped from his face, the inverted position making it seem as if it ran up his neck, up his cheeks and into his stinging eyes. Will heard his own labored breathing as he wrestled with the rock, which had already split open two of his knuckles. His breath sounded loud-not because of the claustrophobically confined space, but because there were no background sounds. A hundred yards into the cave and all sound ceased. Not even the insects made noise, although that far down the insects were strange indeed-blind crickets with fragile antenna twice as long as their body, tiny beetles that burrowed ceaselessly into the sand, and ghostly-white, long-legged spiders that had never felt the faintest trickle of sun.
"Keep that fucking light still!" Samuel was really beginning to annoy him. To Sam, the opportunity to take the cave deep into the mountain's layers-to travel into the mountain as if they were a blood cell in the circulatory system of the very stone itself-was like heaven on Earth. Sam couldn't wait to get through this cave-in and continue exploring the tunnel. Will wanted to know what lay beyond as well, but for the moment he didn't give a good goddamn about the tunnel or geology or the fact that he had to piss like a racehorse. His world narrowed to his hands, his arms, and the damn stubborn pumpkin-shaped boulder streaked with his blood.
"Try a little to the left, Will," Samuel said again.
"Yeah, thanks for the tip, Einstein," Will said. But for lack of a better idea, he pushed it hard to the left-and it slid a good two inches.
"Oh shoot!" Samuel yelled. "Holy moley, it's moving!"
"I think I've almost got it," Will said, grunting and panting. He had it now. Oh, it wanted to fight him, but it was too late, he had that bastard of a rock and he wasn't letting go.
Will felt the thud of footsteps approaching from up the tunnel. Douglas Nadia moved with all the grace of a drunken elephant. Will always wondered how someone so thin could make so much noise.
"Where have you been, Douglas?" Samuel asked impatiently. "We've been working on this boulder for the last twenty minutes."
"What do you mean we?" Will said between grunts. He pushed, and with each fractional movement he listened for the sounds of settling rock, but nothing moved except the pumpkin-shaped boulder.
"I did a little chiseling back up at the plateau," Douglas said. His thick Texan drawl betrayed his excitement.
Samuel sounded immensely annoyed. "Douglas, please tell me you didn't carve your name on the tunnel mouth."
"Hell no. I carved all our names. Hey, you think we'll find any more cave drawings, or maybe another goofy knife like last time?"
"Who cares about that?" Samuel asked. "Once we're through, and if this tunnel continues to descend, I surmise we'll drop below the next sedimentary layer within fifty feet or so. That will give us a real good look at this mountain's composition."
"You crack me up, Anderson," Douglas said, his sharp laugh bouncing off the rough, narrow walls. "We've found some lost Injun tribe in here, maybe even with buried treasure, and all you can think of is geology. You're a screwball."
The two continued to babble, but Will tuned them out. The rock was the last obstacle that stood between them and continued exploration. They'd found the opening while researching Samuel's Ph.D. thesis. The Wah Wah Mountains were only a three-hour drive from Brigham Young University, and yet were a wild and obscure treasure of geological wonders. The thick limestone mountains seemed to rise straight out of southwestern Utah's scrub-brush deserts.
Five months earlier they'd been a thousand feet up the side of an unnamed peak when they discovered a small plateau and a dark, cramped opening. The opening led into a long, slender tunnel that traveled well over one hundred yards into the mountain before dead-ending at the ancient cave-in. Low on supplies, they'd decided to head home and try again later.
Now, well supplied and eager to explore the caves, they had to clear a path through the cumbersome boulders to access the tunnel they knew lay beyond. For three days they'd probed the cave-in, placing small charges of dynamite to help break up the tightly packed rocks. Following each blast, they labored to clear loose stones. It had been three days of noisy, backbreaking work, but the intensive effort was all but forgotten as Will slowly worried the last stone clear.
The stone finally came loose with a horrible grinding sound of protest. As Will pushed it free, they held their collective breaths, waiting for the suspended rockfall to give way and crush them all.
"Take that," Will said, his voice an exhausted whisper. "Take that, you piece of shit."
"Quit cursing," Samuel said. "Hurry up and get out of there, will you?"
Will wanted to squeeze out of the opening, sit up, and wring Samuel's neck, but he didn't have the strength. Samuel and Douglas each took an ankle and pulled, hauling Will out like a dead animal.
Samuel rushed to the opening, laying flat and letting his light probe the newfound depths.
"How's it look?" Douglas asked, leaning on Samuel's shoulder and craning his head for a peek.
Samuel's exuberant yell pealed off the stone wall, accompanied by the hint of an echo from the unexplored passage beyond. "Looks like a straight shot! As far as I can see-at least another fifty yards!" He whooped triumphantly. Douglas's Texan yelp joined in. Will lay flat on his back, stomach heaving, sweat pooling in sandy little lumps on the cave floor.
Douglas slapped at Will's thigh, "Get up, lazybones. Lookit Samuel-he's already crawling in."
Will remained on his back, breathing deeply, but turned his head to see Samuel's skinny body wiggle through the narrow opening. Will thought it looked like the rocks were a giant stone mouth with pursed lips and Samuel was a piece of slurped spaghetti.
"You go on ahead," Will said.
Douglas again whacked Will's thigh. "Get up, rich boy."
With effort, Will lifted himself to one elbow. "Doug, you hit me again and I swear I'll-"
"Fellas," Samuel interrupted. Both Douglas and Will jumped slightly as Samuel's head suddenly reappeared in the narrow opening. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Douglas and Will intoned together.
"That sound," Samuel said. A lock of his thin blond hair fell free from under his helmet, dangling on his high forehead. Only his head and hands were visible. In the poor lighting, he looked like a talking guillotine victim perched on a wall of tan and red boulders.
"Sounded like sand blowing across the desert or something like that," Samuel said. "Didn't you hear it?"
"Didn't hear a thing," Douglas said. Will simply fell to his back again, staring back down the pitch-black tunnel, ignoring the overexuberant Douglas. Sometimes he hated that kid's nonstop energy.
"Maybe there's a connecting tunnel down here and there's some air circulation," Samuel said quietly. "Oh, forget it. Come on, fellas, let's see where this thing leads."
"I think rich boy is staying here," Douglas said, aiming a slap at Will's thigh but pulling back at the last second, avoiding contact.
Will said nothing, merely raised his hand, extended his middle finger, and let the hand whump heavily back into dry silt.
Samuel's head disappeared into the dark hole. Douglas laughed and followed him headfirst into the mouth, working his way into the confined opening.
Will lay motionless, eyes closed, listening to his friends' excited laughter fade into nothingness. He'd catch up to the goldbrickers in a moment, he just needed to rest. The cave was so peaceful, so still. He'd just close his eyes for a few minutes, just relax in the motionless, timeless caverns. Just a catnap, perhaps, and then --
His eyes flew open, yet he remained deathly still. He'd heard the faintest echo of a noise, a noise that somehow didn't belong in that serene place. A faint clicking, the sound of metal tapping rock. And another sound, something he couldn't put his finger on and yet it stirred recollections of Chicago, his hometown.
He strained to grasp the noise again, as if by concentrating his hearing he could tear free of the thick veil of silence enveloping the tunnel. Not moving, not breathing, not understanding the cause of his sudden fear, he listened.
And heard the noises again.
click-click, click, click-click
The clicking, followed by that hissing, breathy, scraping sound. He immediately understood why the noise made Samuel think of a sandstorm, but that analogy wasn't quite right. Samuel had spent all twenty-two years of his life in the deserts of southern Utah. For Will, however, the sound brought back memories of Chicago's powerful weather.
It was the sound of dry, windblown leaves and loose paper hissing across concrete streets and sidewalks. But unlike steady gusts of Chicago wind, the new sound ebbed and flowed with a jerky, stop-start feel. It reminded Will of another noise, a noise he'd learned to watch out for since he'd started hiking into the mountains with Samuel and Douglas some three years ago-the malignant sound of a rattlesnake's warning.
He fought down a creeping panic and a sudden, clutching stab of claustrophobia. His reaction to the strange noise was primitive, instinctive, and raw.
Will rolled to his knees and peered into the hole he'd labored so long to create. He felt a strong urge to run, but his friends were in there. He stared into the tunnel, listening to the bone-dry hissing-rattling sound grow and swell-until another, more recognizable sound joined the approaching noise.
The sound of a man screaming billowed up from some unseen place far down the tunnel. Will knew it was Samuel, although he'd never before heard Samuel scream. It was a high, piercing noise, almost feminine, full of agony and terror that transcended either sex. The scream lasted only a few seconds, faded to a single, mournful, fearful moan, then ceased. Will forced himself to remain rooted to the spot. He couldn't summon the courage to cram himself into the narrow opening, to crawl farther into the mountain's belly, but he could keep himself from a cowardly flight while his friends remained in the tunnel.
He saw a bouncing light before he heard the rhythmic pound of heavy footsteps and the strained breathing of a man running for his life. He recognized Douglas, pounding hard and fast up the sandy incline, blood smearing his face and covering his chest as if someone had splashed him with a great bucket of gore. Douglas fell hard, his face skidding in the loose dirt, his helmet rolling and bouncing like a decapitated head. Ignoring the lost helmet, he scrambled to his feet and ran some more, kicking up arcing streams of the fine cave silt with each desperate step.
Confusion and panic gripping his voice and thoughts, Will screamed to his friend. "Douglas! What's happening?"
Douglas said nothing. His eyes were wide, their whites shining intently in the glow of Will's headlamp. Douglas closed the distance quickly. Will saw strange flashing lights and movement behind his sprinting friend-the subtle, rushing form of something his mind couldn't place. Before he could register the image, Douglas dove for the narrow opening and blocked all sight into the deep tunnel.
Douglas tried to worm his way through the tight bottleneck, but panic slowed his efforts. His hands lashed forward more like he was drowning than crawling through a mountain. His knuckles burst open each time they slammed into jagged, unforgiving rock.
"Hold on Doug, calm down!" Will shrieked as he grabbed at his friend's flailing arms and bloody hands. "Let me pull you out!" Douglas made noises that weren't words. Spittle flew from his wide-open mouth, splattering against his face, mixing with the blood that Will knew once belonged to Samuel.
Will pulled and Douglas started to slide through, but whatever had been chasing him caught up and pulled back-hard. Will lost his grip on Douglas's blood-slick skin. Doug's hands grasped desperately at the rocks, his fingers as taut and rigid as dry sticks scattered by the desert wind. Douglas's eyes somehow grew even wider and his mouth opened with a throat-ripping scream that made Will want to cover his ears and run.
Will once again fought down his urge to flee. He dove forward, grabbing Douglas's left arm just as the unseen assailant yanked again. Douglas lurched backward into the darkness, into the opening. Will pulled with all his might, fighting to keep his friend alive. The strange lights flickered inside the tunnel, coming from whatever played tug-of-war with Douglas's body.
Will planted his feet on the same boulder he'd worked so hard to move, arched his back, and heaved with every last ounce of strength.
From inside the opening, Will saw a flash of something silver. A sudden release of opposite pressure made him fall backward on his ass, as if his opponent in the tug-of-war had just dropped the rope.
Only it wasn't a rope he'd been pulling.
Will looked down, even as the urge to run claimed his mind, even as he scrambled backward, trying to get to his feet. In his grasp he clutched Douglas's bloody mess of a hand-which had been neatly severed just above the wrist with a cut as clean as that of a butcher's meat-saw.
Silhouetted in the lone spotlight of his headlamp, the only light in the eternally black cave, he saw blood patter down in long drips to the silt below. The radius and ulna gleamed white and oozed gooey marrow. The darkness seemed to close in around him like a noxious cloud.
But it wasn't all dark.
Flickers of colored light still sparkled from the opening, playing off the rough gray rocks as they quickly grew brighter-whatever had taken Samuel was coming through the opening.
Good-Samaritan time was over.
Will tossed the hand aside and scrambled to his feet. As he did, he heard movement, something sliding through the narrow opening. It came after him, those strange lights flashing maliciously. Will didn't look back. Fueled by sheer terror, he scrambled up the narrow tunnel, attacking the incline like an animal dashing away from a predator. If he could just make it back to the opening, back to camp, out of the narrow tunnel and into the sunlight, maybe he could escape. Maybe this thing couldn't leave the cave.
He clung to that hope as he made his desperate dash. Chest heaving, limbs screaming white-hot from fatigue, at last he saw sunlight. With a last burst of energy, he escaped the shaft and made it to the small clearing outside.
Wilford Igoe Jr. didn't make it any farther.
Article from The Y News, Brigham Young University
April 4, 1942
Graduate Students Presumed Missing
Presumed lost in caves
By Shannon Carmichael
Today police declared three Brigham Young graduate students missing. The three geology students were doing fieldwork in the Wah Wah Mountains in western Utah.
Samuel J. Anderson, 22, Douglas Nadia, 21, and Wilford Igoe Jr., 22, were doing research in the remote area. Officials became concerned when Anderson's parents contacted the university, saying that he was due home on March 27. Utah State Police hiked out to their last reported location, which sits at an elevation of 3,500 feet.
"It was difficult reaching the site," said Henry Isbey of the Utah State Police. "We had a plane fly over their last reported location, but couldn't find anything. We hiked up and found no sign of them."
Police officials said the search could prove difficult because of the terrain, and because the students have been in the hills for almost a month with no contact. Isbey added that it's impossible to know when the students ran into trouble.
"As far as we know, they may have been missing for two or three weeks," Isbey said.
School officials said they would do anything in their power to help find the students.
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