The story so far: Still on the tracks, making their way to Herald Rock, the group has split (never split your group). Marshall, Catrin, Tilly, and Nick continue along the tracks. It’s been a beautiful day…
POV: Marshall Cooper
Lead in story: Walking the rails
It was mid-morning now, and the sky was a ruffled sheet of thin, white, rolling clouds. The air was still cool, at about sixty degrees, but the long walk had warmed Marshall up and he had taken off his jacket and put it in his pack. The path narrowed again, and after going around a curve, Marshall was presented with a spectacular view of the ocean. It was about three miles away now, and more than a thousand feet below. Out on the water, Marshall could see an aircraft carrier with two smaller ships slightly ahead of it. As they walked Marshall saw a fighter jet pull in and land on the deck. Marshall wanted to comment, but he couldn’t think of anything cleverer than “Did you see that?”
After another half-mile, they came to a long, flat stone outcropping that overlooked the ocean. They agreed to sit and have a snack. With bored resignation, Marshall munched on walnuts and drank a liter of water.
“You can’t taste things, can you?” Tilly asked. She was eating what appeared to be a pastrami sandwich.
“No,” Marshall said.
“That’s a pity,” Tilly said. “I love food.”
“I did too,” Marshall said. “I remember the last meal I had before the accident. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a bowl of pho bo and a couple of spring rolls, but I remember the flavors because it was my last real meal. I remember the basil and the squeeze of lime. I remember dipping the spring rolls in plum sauce. I think about the meal at least once a week. I have a hard time even remembering the flavors of most things anymore, but that one sticks in my head.”
After eating they rested for a few more minutes. A passenger jet flew high above them, leaving a white contrail that stretched just below the ruffled clouds. A cool breeze drifted by, and Marshall momentarily considered putting his jacket back on.
Marshall was just about to suggest that they get walking again, when Catrin said, “I remember my last meal with Reece. It was the night before the game, and we had gone out to dinner. We ate at the Coconut Garden. It was a Malaysian place that shut down about a year later.”
“I remember it,” Tilly said. “My mother would take my brother and I there when we were kids.”
“My parents did too,” Catrin said. “I don’t remember the name of the thing I ate, but it was rice cooked in coconut milk, and served with shrimp and this yellow sauce. I didn’t think I was going to like it, but I ate the whole thing. It was so good. We never went there afterward, and then it was gone. I would have liked to eat there again.”
They sat in silence for a bit, then Nick said, “I wish I had a good story about my last meal with my parents, but I honestly can’t remember. I never even thought about it until now. I have no idea what it was. My father used to cook burritos with the tortillas made from scratch, but I don’t know the last time he did that. It would have been a good last meal.”
They sat in silence a while longer before Marshall made himself get up. His left leg was stiff now, and it took him a minute of walking around and doing stretches before the ligaments started to loosen up. Once they did, he started down the tracks. The others followed. They walked for another hour, passing through two more small tunnels. Marshall tensed a little each time.
They reached an area where the ground was flat soil, for the most part, but nothing seemed to be growing. It went on for about the size of a football field. There were no animals, no grasses. There was just lifeless dirt. It felt desolated and made Marshall nervous. There was a chemical scent to the area. No one commented. They walked quickly through.
It was about one in the afternoon when they came to the big tunnel. Unlike the other tunnels, this one was over a quarter-mile long. They stopped for a quick break and each person got out a flashlight. “I was kind of hoping they would stop and wait for us here,” Marshall said. “It would have been nice to do this part all together.”
The four of them set off into the tunnel. They kept their lights mainly trained on the ground. The tracks were uneven here, as if something had damaged them. Every once in a while, they would hear noises that sounded like animals skittering, but they never caught anything with the light until they were almost to the center of the cave when Nick shined the light on the ceiling and said, “Bats.”
They all shined their lights up, and sure enough, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of bats hanging upside down. “Oh my,” Tilly said, “That’s a lot of bats.”
“Just keep walking,” Marshall said. “Keep your lights pointed down. We don’t want to disturb them. Try to walk softly.”
They walked forward, carefully and quietly. They had gone about fifty more feet when the rumble started. They were never sure if the rumble caused the bats to start flying, or if the rumble was the bats. Either way, they were quickly engulfed in flying bats. Screams were screamed. Lights were dropped. Marshall pinned himself against the side of the tunnel and yelled for the others to do the same. One by one the flashlights went out. The bats kept flying past, making high-pitched noises. More than once Marshall felt the tips of wings brushing by him. Marshall heard the footfalls of someone running. “Don’t run, just stay still. They’ll be gone in a minute,” Marshall yelled. He heard no response.
Eventually, the commotion died down. Marshall pulled his phone out of his pocket and turned on the small light. He scanned the tunnel but didn’t see anyone, so he concentrated on finding his flashlight. It wasn’t far, just about ten feet away. He picked it up and tried to turn it on again, but got no response. He shone his phone light around again, and saw someone sitting on the ground. He walked closer until he could see it was Tilly. “Are you ok?” He asked.
Tilly seemed a little dazed, but eventually she answered. “I think so. I hit my head pretty hard, but it’s starting to feel better now.” Marshall helped her up.
“Let me know if you feel unsteady,” he said.
“I definitely feel unsteady,” Tilly answered, “but I’ll be ok. I think.” They looked around and found her flashlight. It turned back on, providing them with more light. Marshall heard footsteps approach and both he and Tilly shined their light in that direction to see Catrin walking up. She was using the light on her phone to navigate.
“That was something,” Catrin said. “I have no idea where my flashlight went, I looked around but it was nowhere to be seen.” They each shined their remaining lights around, but didn’t see anything.
“Where’s Nick?” Tilly asked. They called out his name several times, but there was no answer. They walked the length of the tunnel in both directions, and eventually found Catrin’s flashlight, but there was no sign of Nick. After a half-hour of looking, they came out of the tunnel on the Herald Rock side and waited. Marshall tried to figure out what to do next. None of the options seemed very good.