Why You Haven’t Heard From Me
by Margaret Karmazin
I should never have agreed to go caving with Mark Greenberg. I got sucked in because we’d been hanging out and hooked up twice. Mark with his curly dark hair and wide shoulders... For that I gave up my life?
I still lived in a biological sense, but anything I’d hoped for, striven for — an eventual Ph.D. in art history, running in the New York Marathon, seeing the birth of my sister’s baby — all that was gone. Because of one day of going along with that man’s love of caves.
Heights are my fear, not confined spaces; I never experienced anxiety about joining him. I liked hearing my heart beat in the darkness, though we did wear lamps on our helmets and could see reasonably well.
This particular cave had been mapped part way in by former spelunkers. We weren’t there to explore deeper but to look for the Northern Long Ear bat, which Mark hoped to write his thesis on. Zoologists had learned little of the ecology and behavior of this bat, and Mark was planning to break new ground. Someone in his caving club claimed to have seen two or three of the critters in that very cave.
We passed through the cave’s front chamber and into the second larger one where we were confronted with three tunnels. One of them was small. “Not that one,” said Mark.
We chose the medium-sized one and I stooped to follow him, scraping the side of my arm against the not-so-smooth wall. At the end was a good-sized space with a ledge along one side and, further down, dripping water. There was something eerie about the space, more a feeling about it, not anything physical.
“Did you see that movement over there?” Mark pointed toward a narrow blackness at the far wall, apparently another tunnel, though from my angle, not for regular-sized people to fit through.
“No,” I said, my skin prickling. “Is it bats, you think?”
He pulled out his high powered flashlight and aimed it at the opening. Yes, a bat was flitting about over there. “Wow,” he said, turning the light to the ceiling. “The jackpot!”
Not my idea of a jackpot, but there was a moving carpet of bats on the ceiling. “Are they the right kind?”
“Won’t know till I get closer.” He moved in that direction.
I crept behind him. “If they’re Northern Long Ear, how will you catch some to study?”
“We’ll set up mist nets near the cave entrance and monitor them. I’ll get Justin to help, or maybe you could lend a hand?”
As we neared the colony, I was experiencing the “creeps.” Were the bats shitting on my head? Would we catch diseases from them, rabies even?
“I don’t know,” I said. As I rounded a protuberance in the wall that I hadn’t noticed before, an opening yawned before me. It was three feet wide, six or seven feet tall and the inside looked smooth, even polished. I thought I heard a faint humming noise.
“Where’d you go?” said Mark. “I can’t see you!”
“Over here,” I said as I moved a few feet into the polished tunnel. “You gotta see the surface of this tunnel! It looks... well... man-made.”
To this day, I do not know why I kept going. It is not my nature to be daring, but as I ran my fingers over that shiny, variegated wall, I found myself several feet inside and then I saw a soft light coming from further down.
“Mark!” I called. “There’s a light down here and some kind of noise. Hurry up!”
Busy as he was with the bats, he must not have heard me, and by the time I got to the end of the tunnel and saw what I saw, it was too late.
Standing less than thirty feet in front of me, in a room walled in metal and fitted with machinery, was a seven-foot tall, reptilian being. Next to him stood a smaller helper who appeared to be human. This person was male, six feet tall and slender, with dark blond hair and widely spaced blue eyes.
Their faces turned towards me. I was in deep trouble.
Something kept me from calling for Mark. Maybe I wanted to protect him.
The reptilian was across the room in a flash, had his claws around my arm and yanked me down a hallway before I could squeak. The “human” followed. I struggled, but what was the use?
Another chamber appeared, larger and equipped with more flashing machinery. They whisked me through it and into a small room where the reptilian slammed me onto a chair and motioned for the “human” to hold me still. The reptilian then lifted a communicator of some kind from a receptacle on the wall and barked into it.
Four more “humans” arrived to handcuff me and drag me down endless hallways until we emerged into a large, well-lit laboratory appointed at one end with a comfortable looking seating arrangement. “Frrrrrrikbuuur!” snapped the reptilian, nodding his head at one of the large chairs. I was dragged over and made to sit.
A woman appeared from one of several doors and regarded me coldly with oddly slanted cobalt eyes. She reminded me of a movie Nazi.
“You will not be permitted to leave,” she told me in accented English. “You have seen what you have seen, and therefore we cannot allow you to go.”
“What have I seen?” some part of me quipped, the part that lives in James Bond and other smart-assed heroes. I knew it was hopeless, so why bother being compliant, at least with my mouth?
She ignored this. “We could kill you, but we can use the occasional entertainment of captured surfacers. You will be given quarters and things to do. What are your talents?”
She stunned me with that one. I experienced a horrible wave of longing to be back in the apartment I shared with two sloppy friends, to be anywhere out there doing anything I’d taken for granted, even bitched about: cleaning a toilet, writing a paper on a tedious subject, cleaning up cat litter, spending an afternoon being criticized by my mother, anything at all.
I thought about things I loved without realizing it, such as watching an ant scurry about on a sidewalk, seeing a baby reach for a bright object, biting into a Snickers Bar. Then I burst into hysterical sobbing.
“Calm yourself,” said the woman. “Just tell me what your interests are, your profession on the surface?”
I tried to get words out. “I... I’m a student! I’m only twenty-three!” You freaking horror, I wanted to add. “Can’t you let me go? I won’t tell anyone ever!”
She smiled but her eyes did not match her mouth. “What were you a student of?”
She used the past tense. It was like I was dead and entering the afterlife. “Art History,” I said between sobs.
“You’re an artist?” she asked. The reptilian’s head turned in my direction as if this interested him. I think he licked his chops.
I couldn’t answer. Were they going to eat me? I peed my pants.
The woman registered faint disgust. She nodded to the men who had me surrounded. “We need to clean you,” she said.
The reptilian walked over to stand in front of me. I was so out of it by this time that any new level of fear could not add to my distress unless they were planning to torture me.
My head, since I was still sitting, was in line with his crotch, which was covered by a sort of diaper garnished in front with a long, embroidered rectangle. He wore bracelets on each arm, thick metal bands, some of which were gold. His form was like that of a human, though his waist longer and legs a bit shorter in proportion. His shoulders and arms were well muscled and covered, as was the rest of him, in thick, pale olive skin, smooth in some places, scaled in others.
“Look at me,” he said gruffly.
I moved my eyes up to his face. His head was squarish, the jaw especially so, though the chin not as pronounced as that of a human. His mouth was wide and thin-lipped, and as it parted to form words, revealed a pink, normal-looking tongue and regular teeth.
His nose was broad and flat and his eyes... How can I describe them? Horrifying, though eventually I’d become used to and hardly notice them. Large with bloodshot sclera and vermilion irises and worst of all, vertical pupils. Clearly, I had entered Hell without yet having died. Or had I somehow done so and just didn’t know it?
“You will be grateful,” he growled. Later I would learn this was his species’ normal mode of speaking, like gruff Japanese men in films barking out regular sentences as if giving military orders. “Pass the salt!” said meanly.
“We could end your little life right now. But instead you will serve the community. Agine here will educate you. And do keep yourself clean; we do not enjoy unpleasant odors.”
“What have you done with my friend? Did you take him too?”
The reptilian’s eyes flickered. “The tunnel closed behind you. Anyone outside of it will not know where you went.”
Mark would think I had just disappeared into nowhere. He would bring in search teams, but they would find nothing. The newspapers would report the story and then it would fade away. My mother who never quite approved of me would shake her head and say that my weird ideas had led me to such bizarre activities as caving and it was no surprise that I ended up missing. I’d be forgotten in no time.
They blindfolded me and took me what seemed a great distance.
Copyright © 2013 by Margaret Karmazin