It was one of the hottest summers on record and we loved every minute of it. We being myself and my two friends, Mike and Frank. Mike and Frank are brothers, Frank being 3 years older than his brother and Mike was about my age. Mike and I had met years prior when I was flipping burgers and frying eggs in the Flight Line cafeteria on North Island Naval Air Station near San Diego. I worked the graveyard shift and Mike would come in after his shift, just as mine was starting and over time we got to know each other pretty well. Once we found out we had been raised just miles apart, he in Fairfield California and me on Travis Air Force Base, just 8 miles away, we became even closer.
Mike got transferred to Japan and I moved on myself and we lost track of each other for a number of years. Coincidentally, I found myself behind him in line at the local Jack-in-the-Box in Fairfield shortly after I'd moved back there after a few years hitching around the country it was, after all, the early 70's and folks still did that in relative safety. I'd never recommend that to any young person nowadays, but then it was a stoned-out adventure of a lifetime.
Mike and I hung out from that moment on and we still do so to this day. Living with his brother, we too hit it off; our love of motorcycles being our main hang-out activity. That summer, "The Boys," as I called them, promised to take me to one of their favorite places; the South Fork of the Yuba River, in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 100 miles to the East of us, near Nevada City, California. Planning the road trip, with "The Boys" on their bikes and me in the "breakdown" vehicle, following close behind, headed up to the Yuba on a Friday that was so hot even the birds stopped flying as they sought whatever respite they could find from the heat.
We carefully wound our way down a very steep one lane road towards the river below, parking our vehicles near the bridge that spanned it and headed up-river towards their favorite swimming spot. We quickly found a wonderful spot near a huge wide spot in the deep, cold river that was formed by a natural semi-dam of huge granite boulders which slowed the river and forced it outwards to the sandy beaches surrounding it. Everyone was naked and we gladly joined in the fun. There must have been a hundred people by noon and joints were being passed around, bodies bouncing in and out of the water, huge flat boulders to lay on and soak up the hot sun; it was a beautiful day all around.
As the day wore on we became friends with a small group of locals who were also planning on spending the night and the next day, so we set up camp, staking out the best beach, making a food and beer run into Nevada City and had ourselves a good-ole time. The conversation that night somehow got around to local legends and ghosts and it was mentioned that there was an infamous underwater cave nearby where the cousin of one of our "guests" had drowned 10 years previously. It seems that if one dives into the deep pool, following the natural curve of one of the huge 50 ton boulders down under the water, there's a tight, natural tunnel that can be followed back up towards the surface, opening into a naturally formed cave between 4 surrounding boulders of equal size. This guy's cousin, drunk and cocky, had dove into the pool to explore the little cave and had never come back. Nobody knew what had happened to him. Divers were called in the next day by the local Sheriff's Department but there was nobody in the cave and the guy's body never surfaced, either there or down river, as might be expected had he drowned then floated underwater out of sight from the other swimmers. It was truly a mystery.
From what they said that night around the fire, sparks exploding and rising into the cold night air like a million brilliant fireflies, nobody had dared to go back into the cave since the accident happened (after the divers, of course). Frank, Mike and I looked at each other wide-eyed and spooked and the party mellowed out shortly thereafter, with each of us left to our thoughts as we lay in our sleeping bags, staring at the zillion stars above; the river providing a hypnotic rush just below.
This is the story of what happened the next day when I decided to explore the cave.
That night, I had a vivid dream. I was at a public pool, a zillion people laughing and playing and splashing around. Yet, no matter what I did, who I tried to talk to, nobody seemed to be able to see me! God it was frustrating to no end! I knew I should be having fun but I felt like a leper or something because no matter what I did I felt only sadness and alone. I finally got so angry that I tore around like a madman, splashing, yelling at everyone while still being ignored. I woke up with a mouthful of water, splashing for real. It seems I'd slid down the sand during my sleep and ended up half in the river! My yell woke everyone up and I had to bear the indignity of flopping around trying to get out of my bag as all those around laughed their heads off NOT a good way to wake up, let me tell ya!
Finally up on the sand, I yelled "SHUT UP! It isn't FUNNY!" but of course it was and laughed even harder. I stumbled around, still half asleep and hoping I was still dreaming and as I toweled off, I started laughing too, because I really must have been a sight! Settling down finally with a cup of coffee, I told the guys about the nightmare I'd had and for the next few hours, no matter what I did, I couldn't shake the feeling of loneliness and despair that hung over from the dream.
The sun finally crested the surrounding hills, more people arrived for the weekend and for awhile I joined in the fun, smoking the excellent pot being handed around and started to feel much better. Around noon, I was laying out on one of the big boulders, talking to this lovely naked lady named Cindy when Mike called me over to the camp. He had a big grin on his face and it told me he wouldn't have interrupted me had it not been important. As I stood up, maybe it was the beer I'd been drinking, or maybe just standing up too quickly but I suddenly got very lightheaded and I had to lean on a boulder nearby. A buzzing started in my ears and grew as loud, then louder still until it even drowned out the sound of the river rushing by. "Whoa!" I managed and Cindy came over and steadied me because I was leaning over towards the water and almost fell in.
"Hey Pat, what's wrong?" she exclaimed loudly. Happy to have a naked lady to lean on, the buzzing started to pass but just as I was starting to feel better, I got tunnel-vision and I heard another voice.
"Don't gooooooo " It said. "Don't go " It was a man's voice. No, not a man, more like a teenager.
"Huh?" I managed, not sure if it was someone who'd come up behind me.
"What's wrong?" Cindy said in response. I looked down at her with obvious confusion.
"Didn't you hear that guy?" I mumbled uncertainly, looking around and seeing no-one.
"Guy? What guy?" she looked concerned now, not knowing what I was talking about. I leaned on her a bit longer, making sure to wrap my hand around her tiny waist, admiring the view down her beautiful front side amidst the confusion I was feeling (hey, who says you can't do two things at once?) and she carefully walked me towards the camp where a group of about 10 people were standing, looking at us with a little concern, some smiling uncertainly.
"What was that all about, Pat?" Frank yelled over between swigs of beer.
"I don't know dude it was really weird; I could have sworn I heard some guy talking to me back there." I shook my head, trying to grin and put on a brave face, but not feeling like it at all. My legs were actually rubbery and I couldn't shake the strange feeling that something significant had just happened.
After sitting down on my towel next to Mike and accepting a beer, things settled out and I started feeling better.
Mike leaned over, a small open packet in his palm and said happily, "Here Pat, this will make you feel better!" and I looked inside the packet with curiosity. There, in the fold were these tiny little pieces of blotter paper with teeny little blue dots soaked into them.
"NO!" I laughed, "purple micro-dot?!!". I suddenly felt much better! I hadn't done acid in years and knew from experience that this was the perfect setting for it.
"Yeah man! Bob over there traded me 10 hits for some of the bud I'd brought!" he laughed and we both waved our appreciation to Bob across the sand.
"Alright Bob, thanks!" I grinned and I took 3 of the little squares, giving one to Cindy who also was really happy for the offer. "I did mine about 30 minutes ago," Mike grinned wickedly, "and I can tell already it's going to be a niiiiiice day!"
"And NIGHT!" I laughed, slapping him on the shoulder as I looked over to Cindy who blushed brightly in the sunshine, all the way down to her beautiful breasts!
Well, the day got better and better; Cindy and I took a walk upstream where the crowds thinned out and, ahem, got to know each other better. A LOT better actually! A couple of hours later, I'd forgotten all about my nightmare, all about the weird experience on that huge boulder that was supposed to be over the hidden cave and we rejoined the group of folks on the beach. We all decided to jump into the ice-cold river at once and for the next 20 minutes we were all splashing and trippin' and grabbin' and squeezin' and having a great time. The acid was working it's magic as Cindy, Mike, Bob and myself pulled ourselves out of the river on to a big flat rock, just enjoying the sun and the day.
After several minutes, Bob happened to lean over to me and in a serious voice, asked, "Um, Pat, you were saying something about hearing a voice or something earlier?"
I could tell that this wasn't a jab at my ego or just an off the cuff attempt at small talk so I went through the whole experience, telling him about the guy's voice saying "don't go" and expressing my confusion as to who it was, where it was coming from and most importantly, what it meant.
He sat back, considering what I'd said. Finally, in a deadly serious voice, he said, "Jim's heard it too " and didn't say anything else. I sat up straight, like a bolt of lightning had struck me.
"WHAT? Jim? Who's Jim?!" I spurted out, taking his arm in my hand, having to know NOW!
"Jim, the cousin of the guy who drowned 10 years ago he's heard his cousin's voice, saying exactly the same THING!"
I became numb with those words; they cut right through my soul and suddenly, the effects of the pot and the acid and the beer disappeared as my consciousness seemed to clear with unnatural lucidity. "It was him," I stated without question, a statement of fact, not speculation.
"I believe you," Bob responded, looking at me with a combination of curiosity and new-found respect. "You'll be wantin' to be talking to him then," Bob said as he stood up, the sun gleaming brightly off his long golden hair.
We hopped rocks back to shore and climbed over the boulders separating us from our camp. Bob introduced me to Jim, a sullen, rail-thin dude of about thirty. He sat apart from the rest of his friends, his wife and daughters moving around him almost protectively, but making no demands on his attention. Jim hardly acknowledged me, until, that is, Bob mentioned my story about the voice, then his eyes lit up with shock, then disbelief, then fascination as I related the details of the experience.
"Oh man!" he finally said with relief. He stood quickly and lunged for me as if I'd told him he'd just won the State lottery. His wife and kids came over, having seen the exchange and heard what I'd told Jim. They all nearly swooned with a kind of relief and wonder and we all hugged warmly. It seems this has been a heavy burden not only on Jim, but on his family too. They'd not heard the voice and could only take his word that it was "real" and now, it was as if a heavy curtain had been drawn back and sunlight had lit up the family for the first time in years. It was a singularly special moment in my life, sharing what had obviously been an important part of the family's dynamics all these years. Father cried with daughters, wife sobbed with husband and I was overwhelmed with emotion myself as this cathartic moment swelled and peaked there on the beach.
Mike and Frank could only look on with expressions of confusion and wonder as they watched our little group of six hug and cry. Finally, we stepped back and, still wiping tears away while giggling and laughing at the same time, realized what a spectacle we were making of ourselves. "Oh Daddy, that's so wonderful!" his oldest daughter, Sue exclaimed as we shuffled around and found our seats on the blankets.
"Yes dear, it really is; I knew I was telling the truth but I also know it was hard for y'all to understand and believe yourselves...and now, now this; thank you Patrick for letting me know I wasn't crazy after all. But still, what do you think it means? I mean, 'don't go' could mean a couple of things. Don't go back in the cave; don't go crazy with thinking I had something to do with his death." He shook his head, all these thoughts, buried for years now, coming out in a stream.
"I really couldn't say Jim. However, I know I felt a great frustration, even sadness in the voice. His body was never found, right?"
"Yeah, they sent a diver down the next day, but you know, I thought it was kinda done too fast; I mean, the diver wasn't underwater for more than a couple of minutes. It seemed weird then and weird now." He shook his head, remembering.
"Nobody's gone back in since then?" I inquired, sucking down a gulp of beer.
"Not as far as I know. Someone else maybe, I mean, lots of people knew about the cave in there, but nobody I know went in and I'm," he hesitated, "I'm still afraid to try myself. The tunnel reaching up between the river's bottom and the bottom of that boulder," he said, pointing, "wasn't very wide then and I assume it's got to be smaller still now." He looked pensive, almost embarrassed to admit any kind of weakness or fear in front of his family. "Plus," he added with less than the intended humor, "I've gained a few pounds since then and think I'd get stuck trying." He grew silent as his youngest daughter came up and sat on his thigh, wrapping her long, thin arms around his neck lovingly and giving him a kiss on the cheek.
"Well then, I guess it's time someone goes down and checks one more time, wouldn't you say?" I asked weakly, wanting to sound sure of myself and not quite making it believable.
"Huh? You?" he looked up with arched eyebrows. "No, no, I wouldn't ask anyone to go in there again; there's too much danger of you getting stuck too," although I could see some glimmer of hope in his voice.
"That's my choice, now isn't it, Jim?" I stood up. "Show me just where the entrance is my friend, and I'll go check it out." I reached down and slipped on my sneakers and a pair of cut-off jeans because I knew I'd be scraping up against the rocks and I was getting, ahem, tender in my "private parts" because of all the sun I'd been soaking off. His wife and kids grew silent, looking at me with both shock and respect.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked again, slowly standing up also.
"It's the only way we're going to know, isn't it? I mean, what if the diver missed something? What if your cousin's body is still down there? It would make what we heard much more believable, right? I mean, what if he's still calling out to you, to me, wanting to be found?" I was feeling more certain now and started down the beach towards the big grouping of boulders.
"Ok Pat, but I'll tell ya right now, if you don't show up in 5 minutes or so, don't expect ME to be coming in after you, you understand?" he said loudly, following about 10 feet behind.
"Hey Pat!" Mike called out from 50 feet away. "Where ya going?" He got up with Frank, seeing the whole group of us heading for the river.
"I'm going down into that cave dude!" I called back, a sideways, uncertain grin on my sunburned face.
"What?! Down in...there?!" he yelled. Then, "Wait for us!" as he and Frank grabbed their beers and started trotting over to join us. I reached the edge of the boulder, leaning over and peering into the greenish, clear river. It was deep here, yet I could easily see 25 feet or so down to the river bottom, the water swirling and distorting the few fish down below.
"Ok Jim, where is it exactly?" I asked, sitting down on the edge of the boulder. He and Bob joined me. Bob slipped into the cold water just on the up-stream side, keeping himself steady by wedging his arms apart between two boulders. I jumped in beside him and, shivered out loud said, "DAMN it's cold!" laughing weakly.
"Just two hours ago, it melted from snow higher up," Bob explained, shivering himself but steeled to the situation at hand. "Ok," he pointed straight down below my feet, "about 10 feet down, you need to follow the curve of the boulder into where it meets the side of the riverbank. If you just turn into the current and go straight down, you'll feel the entrance to the tunnel or at least, should!" he looked knowingly. "If you DON'T feel an opening, come up immediately, because it means the sand has plugged it up.
"Here, let me go see " and before I could say anything, he rose up then dived down next to me, brushing my feet on the way. I watched as best I could through the swirling water as his body, then only his feet remained visible. He was right, the entrance was directly beneath me, I just had to account for the rather swift current so I didn't get swept aside and miss it.
Soon thereafter, I saw him reappear and he came up beside me, whipping his head back and forth to clear his eyes of water. "Yep! Still down there alright!" he nearly shouted as he spit some water out his nose. "I went into the tunnel a couple of feet to just make sure; it's dark, cold and the water's strong down there, but if you find the entrance, feel your way up into it." He paused, making sure I understood the directions.
"Then, I remember it was easiest to turn upside down as you go up into the tunnel and then, you keep your hands on the granite rock and pull yourself up inside. It's about 10 feet long, angling about 45 degrees or so, and it's black, pitch black in there, so don't expect to see light or anything. Then, you'll just pop up into the cave formed between the big boulders; it isn't all that big, not really a cave, but it's bigger than a hole in the rocks. Once your head pops up into the cave, turn yourself back around and you can scoot up the sand and even half-stand inside. It's probably, oh " he paused, looking in the distance, remembering, "Oh, probably 10 feet wide, 15 feet long and 4 feet tall or so. I remember that if you stay a few minutes, light coming in from somewhere up there filters down and it's possible to start making out stuff around you once your eyes adjust to the low light." He stopped, looking at me, serious. "Are you SURE you want to do this? You don't have to, you know, we won't care if you change your mind," he asked one more time.
"Yep, I'm sure," I smiled, trying to put on a brave face. I looked up to Mike, standing above us. "Hey Mike, if I don't come out in ten minutes, will you come get me?" half kidding, half deadly serious. Mike was much thinner than I and an ex-Navy diver.
"I don't know Pat, I'm pretty wasted on that acid, but yes, if I don't see you in exactly 10 minutes, I'll do my best to come in and see what's up," he said, not quite sure if he believed himself, but with all the people standing there watching us, he didn't want to sound like a wuss.
As we spoke, Frank hopped back to his blanket and returned to the rock with a watch in his hands. "Ten minutes Pat, that's it, ok?" he yelled down at me. I nodded and smiled one last time. I looked up to Jim who nodded a silent "thank you" and then, without further ado, I took a deep breath and plunged head-first towards the entrance of the hidden cave, having no idea what I'd find or even if I could fit my large frame into the tunnel, but knowing I had to try; for Bob, for Jim, certainly, but also for myself and most importantly, for their lost cousin.
As described, I was able to see pretty well as I kicked my feet and swam against the current, keeping one hand against the face of the huge boulder as I went further down. The rock face curved inwards and I had to turn my body to the left side, keeping my face close to the rock and I could detect a dark shadow that indicated the beginning of the tunnel. The words, "don't go" rang in my ear as I reached out with both hands and started to aim my body through the hole and upwards into the darkness. I've never been very claustrophobic, but this was something different altogether. Usually, you can see the walls around you, you can focus your eyes beyond the confines of a small space, fooling yourself into believing that it's bigger than it is, but this! Oh man, it was really a weird, oppressive feeling that crept over me as my air was starting to pressure my chest; in fact, I had to force myself to expel even more of my air supply as I went further up into the tunnel just to get my big chest through the opening. Then, I got wedged in! I stopped, the rock face scraping my chest because I'd taken Bob's advice and turned "upside down" as I traversed the tunnel, and the hard-packed sand on my back. I kicked hard with my feet, hitting my toes and heels on the hard surface while pulling myself upwards with all my might, panic starting to come over me. "Oh god, please don't let me die like this I'm trying to do good here God, surely this isn't my time to go " and at that moment, I popped upwards, as if propelled, and my head broke the surface inside the cave just as I was about to burst.
"AAAAHHHH!!!" I breathed in hard, exhaling and breathing in again. I'd done it! I was inside! "Damn, that was too close." I whispered between huffs and puffs, my words somewhat modulated on the granite walls surrounding me. I lay there perched on my elbows, facing upwards, allowing my breath to return to normal and after a couple of minutes, I could indeed start to notice the walls around me coming into focus. Not much light, but just enough to start to see the dimensions of the cave I was in. Over there, to my left, I could see something white reflecting the light slightly more so than the surrounding darkness.
"What the hell is that?" I spoke aloud, turning to my side and leaning forwards.
"A damn Budweiser can!" I laughed and it echoed around me as I tossed it aside. "Hmm, I could use a beer right about now myself." I spoke to myself, licking my lips and sitting up now, totally out of the water. "So could I," a voice from the darkness answered!
I jumped up at the sound of the voice and yelled out in response, "Wha..!" and as I backed away in reflex from the source of the voice, I hit the back of my head on the granite rock above. "OH SHIT!" I reacted, my eyes filled with stars and I was immediately reminded that I still had LSD in my bloodstream because the stars immediately turned into huge swirling masses of color that now blocked out any real vision I may have been gaining.
"It's about time you came in here for me, asshole! Do you know how long I've been waiting here?!" the voice was angry now as I blindly crawled away from the voice, seeking to get as far away as I could, but I was still dealing with the adrenaline and acid shooting through my brain! I was in a state of panic! I had to make some sense of this! Was this the cousin? Had there been someone else who'd dived down without our noticing it earlier in the day?!
My mind reeled in fright and I yelled out, "Leave me alone!" I was now out of control, there was no rational thought, no understanding for my cave-mate. I just knew I had to get out of there FAST! But I was blind and I'd lost track of where exactly the entrance to the tunnel was; I just knew that it was generally closer to the source of the voice than I was now and there was NO WAY I was going back over THERE!
"DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG I'VE BEEN WAITING!??!" the voice again demanded and now I could hear movement as he or IT started moving towards me.
"SHIT!" I called out and finally, my vision had cleared up enough to at least separate light from dark and the colors I was seeing were just in the periphery of my vision, instead of directly ahead. I almost wished I WAS still blind though, because now I could see HIM!
And HE wasn't happy at all. NOT AT ALL! "You made me WAIT FOREVER!!" he/it was now screaming, crawling, lunging towards me.
"STAY AWAY FROM ME!" I screamed and I knew I'd have to get out now or I'd be down there with HIM with IT forever! I dove forward towards the water. Just the slightest bit of sunlight at the end of the tunnel indicating where I had to point my body, I splashed into the water but the damned thing GRABBED my legs! I nearly screamed underwater, sealing my fate, but somehow managed to grab hold of the sides of the tunnel as his sharp, stabbing fingers dug into my ankle; "NO! NO!" I was screaming to myself, unable to get free! I was twisting left and right, kicking back with my free foot and pulling with all my strength to get away and in my head I could hear him screaming as his fingers dug deeper into my flesh.
"DON'T GOOOOO!!! DON'T GOOOOOOOOOOOO!" and finally, just as I as about to give into his strength, I jerked forward with my last bit of energy and something gave and I shot forward through the tunnel, towards the light! Thank GOD! I shouted to myself, my lungs screaming for air and I was on the verge of passing out when AGAIN! Something was now grabbing at my FACE and at my HAIR!!! NOOOOO!!! Not NOW! I was almost free and now THIS!! I reached up and grabbed the bony hand that now had a tight grip of my hair and tried time and again to pull it away! My strength was waning, my lungs finally gave in and I expelled most of my air.
"Oh shit I'm dead. I'm dead. I'm dead." was all I remember as somehow, I was heading upwards to the light.
I passed out there and then and don't remember much; just the words "DON"T GOOOOOO!" screaming in my ears. The next thing I remembered, I was hearing mumbled voices of concern around me. Someone was pushing, pushing HARD on my chest and I convulsed as I spat out water, coughing and sputtering as I sat up, then doubled over as I nearly coughed my lungs out then and there.
"He'll be ok now." I heard a voice say far away, it seemed. Then, I sensed the hot sun and it was now burning into my eyelids as the coughing subsided. Several minutes passed as I recovered my composure. Mike had been the one who grabbed me and it was he that I was fighting at the end poor guy. But he'd hung on like a trooper and had pulled me to the surface. Finally, I started to tell the tale of my visit to the cave to all those around me. A number of people had run over from the surrounding beaches, wondering what was going on.
"You mean my cousin IS still down there Pat?!", Jim said excitedly.
"YES! That's what I'm trying to TELL you! He's not only still down there, he's ALIVE!" and I leaned back, exhausted.
"But how COULD he be?" was echoed all around me.
"I don't have the slightest idea guys, but I'm telling you, when he started yelling at me, I kinda freaked out and as I was trying to leave, he grabbed onto my legs to stop me!"
Everyone had fallen silent. It wasn't just that they were having a hard time believing me they were looking down towards my legs. Good, I thought, they must be seeing the marks left when the guy had grabbed my leg and ankle.
"He yelled at you, Pat?" Jim's voice was the only sound now as people leaned in, looking down at my leg.
"Yeah! He was mad about how long he'd been down there and why had I left him there so long. THEN, when I tried to leave, he started yelling 'DON"T '" and I stopped dead. I realized what I'd heard earlier and what was being screamed by the cousin in the cave. I didn't have to finish the sentence because Jim did it for me.
"Go. He said don't go, right?" and I nodded silently.
It was only then that I was getting a little pissed off by what people were looking at. "Geez, I thought, haven't they seen scratches before?!" and I cocked my feet out in front of me, leaning forward and I cried out in terror! EVERYONE cried out in terror as there, sticking out the rear of my right sneaker, was the white bone of a finger tip, wedged between my heel and my tennis shoes! I'm told that's when I passed out.
All of RPM's ghost stories can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/soho/gallery/3549/stories.htm. A proud member of the Haunted Porch webring! View the warped and wacky visions of my dreams and nightmares at: RPM's Gallery of Dreams and Weirdness at: http://www.legendsmagazine.net/pan/rayn/rpm.