In the Dark
A man is trapped in a cave with only his phone for a light, and the battery is dying. He has to find a way out, fast.
The ground has finally stopped shaking. Wow, that was close. I should open my eyes. Wait, they are open. I'm opening and closing my eyes, but all I'm seeing is the same thing, absolute darkness. What the heck?
A flashlight, my smartphone's got one. I need it.
I've dropped it! God I hope it's still working, where is it. It has to be here, but all I can feel is the floor of the cave.
Got it, and it's still working, and thank God for the light from its LED screen, which now has a big crack along it. What's annoying is I just had a similar crack fixed, cost me £99!
Did I just think that? There are more important matters I need to deal with, namely getting the hell out of this cave. I need to activate the flashlight. There we go, a relief.
Short lived. The way out! It's gone! Totally filled in with rock!
It's fine, I have my phone, I'll just call for help.
It's fine, I'm fine. Just stay calm. There has to be a way out, another exit. Just don't panic, look around, use the flashlight.
I am looking around, there is no way out. None. The cave is tiny, no bigger than a double garage, and there's not even any hint of light coming from anywhere, no gaps in the walls, nothing. It's like the rock is welded together!
No, wait! Water, I can hear water.
There, a pool of water. Maybe a way out!
The water's clear, but so deep my phone's flashlight doesn't stretch to the bottom. Could still swim it maybe.
Wonder if it's warm or cold.
Cold. So damn cold.
I suddenly thought. What if this pool of water rises, like in those sea caves. I'm close to the sea.
No, relax, it's clear water.
But that doesn't mean it won't rise. Christ, what am I gonna do. What a horrendous way that would be to die, suffocating to death in a cave of absolute darkness.
Stay calm, you idiot, just stay calm.
How can I stay calm, the water might rise!
Wait... I don't need the water to drown me, what if the air runs out? Could that happen?
Those magicians who lock themselves in graves, is air running out a factor for them, a danger? I'm always watching those shows so I should know this.
But I don't! Why don't I know this!
Because I can't remember. Idiot! Idiot!
Just stay calm!
Stay calm! Are you not getting this, I don't know if the air is going to run out or not! I need to know!
And who am I talking to, Christ. Sort yourself out- Myself out. Argh!
Google, I'll just Google it. Google will know if the air will run out.
You can't access Google, you idiot! No damn reception.
Something just touched me.
The back wall, I've backed into it.
How could I not, this place is so damn small, I mean I'm not claustrophobic, but damn this place is just so damn small.
And the head clearance, it's barely a couple of feet, and it feels like it's getting less. How can it feel like that? Is it getting less, is the roof falling? I don't think it is. Oh wow, God, I'm hyperventilating, I'm hyperventilating, which means I'm wasting the air, air that that might run out. I need to preserve it.
Animals. Whenever you capture an animal and put it in a box, you have to give it air holes, right, or it'll suffocate? I've done that before with injured birds. Put the bird in a box while waiting for the RSPCA, then put holes in the box. Those holes are there to make sure the bird doesn't run out of air, right?
There are no air holes in this cave, absolutely none. Oh God, I'm going to run out of air, and I can't stop hyperventilating. I need to preserve air, and I can't stop hyperventilating!
Then take some deep breaths.
But that'll take up more air!
No it won't, calm yourself, you can get out of this. All you have to do is last long enough for people to find you.
No one is going to find me, how could they! Not in here. I'm screwed, totally screwed.
No, you're not, just manage your breathing and it'll be alright. In, out; in, out.
Something just touched me. Something just touched me.
The back wall again. You've backed up into it.
I have. Christ, what is wrong with me. I need to get myself together. And why do I keep talking to myself?
Forget that, just breathe. In, out; in, out.
It's not working! It's not working!
I am! Though maybe I should sit down, that might help, in fact, it does help, like there we go. That's better. But wow is the ground cold, and I'm going to die. I know it, I'm going to die, and all because I entered this stupid cave chasing...
I don't want to think it. I can't. The reason is just so stupid. But I mean I'm on holiday, and I just did what people do when they're on holiday, went out exploring. And there was no 'No Entry' sign out front.
I'm lying. Why am I lying? Stop lying. Who you even lying to? I mean what's the point, there was an old 'No entry' sign lying on the ground nearby the entrance, and you know it- I know it damn it. I. And "I" know what else it means, others have obviously been in here.
But unlikely for the same reason as you, you idiot. How stupid you've been.
I know, so stupid, how could I have been so stupid, I'm so annoyed in fact I just want to scream.
Scream? Is that the right word, do men do that? I guess they do, because it's how I feel, I'm a man and I want to scream in anger at my own stupidity, just like I bet my wife will want to if I get out. She'll go nuts, why would you even do that she'd say. Just why?
Because I saw no harm in doing it, no danger. It was just a cave. Just a cave. Now I'm going to die in this cave and never again hear her voice. I'd kill for her to be shouting at me right now, telling me I'm an idiot.
My phone battery, it's going down, and fast. I've just noticed. It was on twenty-five percent just before, now it's on twenty-one percent!
The flashlight. Idiot! It's killing the battery. Switch it off!
Oh my God, the darkness. I can't deal with this. Switch it back on. Switch it back on.
There we go, back on. Wow. That level of dark, it was too much. I can't deal with that. My room back at home, at night, after I've switched off the light and closed my eyes, I thought that was pitch black.
Not even close, this place is pitch black. I need the flashlight on. Need it on.
But I can't leave it on, it'll kill the battery. Twenty percent now.
Damn it, why didn't I charge it before I left.
You know why, because you were going to charge it when you got back, leave it on overnight.
I'm never going back now though am I, and all because I was chasing some stupid...
I still can't think it. I can't. How could I have been so stupid!
The LED light on my phone's screen, I can use that for light can't I, that won't kill the battery as much as the flashlight.
But then, how long can I keep that on without the phone dying. One way to find out, check the power management options.
Why did you check that, you idiot! The battery's gone down three percentage points! Three! And your only reward was to find out you've got just fifty minutes of LED light, less than twenty if you use the flashlight.
I can't face the dark. The LED light from the screen, fifty minutes. I'll stick with that, but fifty minutes. Christ. I need to do something, I have to get out of here. Now. But how?
The water. I can swim.
But then, can I? The last time I swam was back at school when I did those twenty-five metre and fifty-metre badges. I'm in my thirties now, and the only time I've been in the water since was to lounge around.
But swimming is like riding a bike, right, you never forget. Right? Maybe this pool of water will lead me to the way out. Possible, right? I dive in, swim to the bottom and then follow it to wherever it leads, right? Possible, right? Better to die trying rather than just sitting here waiting to die, right? And it's impossible for anyone to find me, no one has a clue where to look. No one. Right?
Maybe I should dial 999, give it a go. It might work, I mean I've not tried.
There is zero reception, you'll just be wasting battery life!
Maybe the phone is wrong, and if I call it will ring. Worth a try.
It won't work.
I'm going to try. Argh! No reception! No damn reception! Argh and no, it cost me another percentage point! Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! Why does the world hate me!
Calm yourself, don't do anything stupid.
I already have done something stupid! And I want to do something even more stupid, smash this stupid phone to pieces. It's the cause of everything, even me not knowing the answers to the questions I should know the answers to, like am I going to run out of air. I should know this!
If it wasn't for Google, I would know it, but instead all I know is that Google knows it! That's my answer to everything. Google it. Now I don't have Google, I'm clueless! Google has made me clueless! It has all the knowledge, and all I know is that it has all the knowledge. This is all Google's fault. I hate Google. Hate it!
Forget that, the battery's down to thirteen percentage points!
The flashlight, you idiot! It's on!
What! But I don't remember switching it back on?
Just switch it off!
It's off, it's off, back to the light from the LED screen. And oh wow, I need to get out of here. The water, it's my only option. I have to take a risk and swim for it, and I'm going to do it. I'm going to swim for it.
But what about breath, how long can I hold my breath for?
I don't know, but I can find out. All I have to do is pinch my nose and test.
So do it.
I am doing it, but wow this is tough. I need air. Like I'm dying. Literally dying.
But if I can just hold it for a few more seconds. There we go, now breathe. Phew. How long did I hold it for there?
Fifteen seconds! That's it? That's how long I lasted. Fifteen seconds! What can I do with fifteen seconds! Nothing. And why did I use the timer on my phone! Wasting battery!
Forget that, you have to be able to do better.
I can, and I will. Big breath, deep breath. There we go, and now we're getting somewhere. Keep holding, keep holding.
Oh wow, fifty seconds. I made fifty seconds.
No I didn't, I forgot to pinch my nose. What an idiot!
And fifty seconds, that's all I can last even while still half breathing through my nose! I can't even see the bottom of the pool, and that's all I've got. I'm screwed.
No you're not, you just have to keep trying.
But then, even if I can hold my breath long enough, how am I going to be able to see anything when I'm in the water, it's pitch black, and even if it wasn't I've never been able to keep my eyes open underwater.
In swimming pools that is, but chlorine makes it harder to see underwater, right? And this is clear water, so I should be able to see. Right?
Google. That was my thought. Google it. Beyond belief! Google can't help me, I need to get it into my head.
Forget that, what are you going to do?
Dunk my head into the water and see if I can open my eyes, then I'll know if I can see underwater, and at the same time I can properly test how long I can hold my breath underwater.
And my phone, it's waterproof, I just remembered, that's why I bought it, I even remember the phone person in the shop saying that this phone can last thirty minutes underwater, like those watches. So the flashlight should work underwater.
Wow, I can do this. I truly can. I'm going to do this, I'm going to save myself.
Then get on with it!
Right, yes, I intend to, though perhaps I'll first dip a finger into the water.
No, you've done that. It's cold.
But cold enough to give me hypothermia?
It doesn't matter, just dunk your head in and test if you can open your eyes underwater, and see how long you can hold your breath for.
Maybe I should put my whole hand in first and keep it in there for a while, see how it goes.
What's the point in that!
To acclimatise to the cold.
Oh my God, just jump in!
I should shouldn't I, just jump in, testing is pointless, and I've nothing to lose, no one is going to find me. Like I say, the way I had ended up here...
I still can't think it, how stupid I've been. How stupid!
My phone battery, it's just dropped another percentage point. If it dies, then the choice will be made for me, I'll have to just sit here and die. It's now or never, not even any point putting my head in and testing, I have to just jump in.
And I'm going to. I'm going to jump in and try to swim for it, swim down and down in the hopes that I'll be able to find a way out. I've no other option, none at all.
Then why aren't you doing it?
Will you shut up, and why do I keep talking to myself!
Oh my God, another percentage point just fell away, I have to jump.
I can't, I just realised something, I've never in my life dived headfirst into water, I always jump in legs first.
But you can't jump in legs first, the pool is too narrow, it has to be headfirst.
I know, I can see that.
Then jump in headfirst.
But I don't know if I can, and oh wow, I've just realised something, how narrow the pool of water is. How will I come back up if I go in?
You don't want to come back up this side.
I don't, but what if I have to?
Then you're dead anyhow, now jump in.
But how do I dive?
Did you just ask that! You hold your hands above your head in prayer formation and jump.
But if I jump in like that, what about my phone, I might drop it, and speaking of my phone, another percentage point just fell away! Just nine remaining!
Exactly, so jump!
But God, if I do I might get to the bottom and be left with nowhere to go, and then I'll drown because I can't turn around.
One way to find out.
I can't, I just can't. How can I?
How can you not, it's the only option you have.
I know, the only reward for staying here is certain death, jumping in is my only chance, and yet I can't do it. I can't do it. Why can't I do it? It's not fair. I want to do it. But I can't. I just can't.
Something touched me.
The back wall again, I've backed all the way up to it, and now I'm sitting on the floor cowering like a scared little child. I'm screwed, totally screwed. I can't believe I'm going to die like this, and all because...
I still can't think it, think how I came to be stuck in this cave.
Yes I can, the phone's battery has just hit one percent, and now it's all I can think. I'm trapped in this cave because I was taking part in the latest phone craze, Pokémon Go.
Not even joking. Can you believe it? I'm going to die because I chased an imaginary Pokémon into a cave system that I should never in a million years have entered. But my phone was telling me that there was a super rare Pokémon down here, so I squeezed through the smallest gap in the world to enter this cave, caught the Pokémon, yayy me, then in shock watched as the Earth tremor hit and the door behind me slammed shut.
My phone died on that thought. I died with it.
This short story was shortlisted in both the Fiction Factory short story competition (2017) and the Writers' Forum monthly short story competition (2018). To read more short stories like this check out my website!
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