Start writing here…It was my first visit to Jenolan caves, the magnificent collection of limestone caves to the west of Sydney, and my second outing with Liam. He was very tall, which was great as I am almost six feet and gangly with it! My eyes are grey and I have straight, fair hair; not exactly the star of any man’s fantasy. That being so, I was pleasantly surprised when Liam, who has kind brown eyes and a really nice smile, had begun to talk to me in the bookshop where I worked. He asked me out for coffee. We sat in the cafe next to the shop and he told me he worked in the offices next door. We talked, at least I did, (it’s an awful habit I have when I’m nervous,) but he didn’t seem to mind. A few days later he suggested that we should visit the caves that weekend.
In the 1960s the caves were not brightly lit as they are now; no coloured lights enhancing the formations, just a guide with a torch and some rather dim general lighting in the actual caves. The guide used his torch to show us the way through the tunnels and to highlight the most interesting formations. These limestone caves, he told us, were the oldest in the world and were a closely guarded secret for many years.
The stalagmites and stalactites were amazing, some incredibly huge, others very tiny. There was a huge white column which had formed when a stalagmite and stalactite had joined. The guide called it Lot’s wife. It did resemble a pillar of salt. Other formations, as the stalactites grew down close together from the roof of a cave, looked like organ pipes, and there was one amazing formation that hung down in folds like an angel’s wing. This was translucent when the guide shone his torch over it. The guide said that the angel guarded the cave. He told us of bushrangers hiding out in here during the early colonial days, and also frightening tales of people finding the caves accidentally, and getting lost in the complex, never to be seen again. It was all quite spooky.
It was damp and cold and I was glad of my thick jacket. Liam was wrapped up warm too, with a woollen scarf and warm fleecy coat. Except when holding a railing for safety, I kept my hands in my pockets. I had rather hoped Liam might put his arm around me to keep me warmer, but he obviously felt shy. This was only our first real date after all.
We were in a very large cave and standing close to the wall. I spotted a hole in the rock beside me and turned to examine it. Deep inside, tiny stalagmites grew upward, looking like groups of little people gossiping together. Just above them, small stalactites hung, most with a tiny drop of limestone rich water at the tip. The guide had explained that the tiny drops fell every now and again, landing on the point of the stalagmite, solidifying and increasing its height. Eventually the two would join forming a pillar. The guide was talking, but I was so engrossed, that I only heard him say something about standing very still and telling the children, ‘No talking. Hold hands.’ He then said, ‘When I switch off, you will experience absolute blackness.’ I stood up, and the light went out.
Blackness was exactly what it was; a deep, dense, suffocating darkness. It felt sinister, soulless, as if something primeval was out there watching, waiting in the unearthly silence. Isolated, shaking and terrified, I reached out for Liam and stretched up to where his ear should be. Despite the ‘No talking’ rule, I whispered, ‘I’m scared.’ He wrapped his arms around me and stroked my hair. I raised my face and felt his warm breath. He put his hand under my chin and kissed me gently. It was so beautiful and comforting. I relaxed against his chest. Enfolded in his protective embrace, feeling the warmth of him, my fears vanished. I thought, I could truly love this man.
At the sound of the guide’s voice we sprang apart.
‘Alright,’ he said, ‘awesome isn’t it?’ And the light went on. I felt an inexplicable sadness.
It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the brightness. I stared. Liam was directly in front of me, smiling over the heads of two children. He walked around them saying. ‘Well that was something, eh?’ I nodded. I stood stunned. Involuntarily I turned. An elderly woman was standing beside me, with a much younger girl who was wearing a hooded parka. I looked around the rest of the group. He had been tall like Liam. No-one in the group was as tall as Liam.
When the tour was over, we sat having a much needed, hot coffee in the cafe, close to the entrance to the caves. I tried to make sense of it. ‘Liam,’ I asked. ‘Were you beside me when the light went out?’ He looked surprised.
‘No,’ he said. ‘I had just walked across to look at some red pillars and you were crouched down looking at something in the wall. The guide said not to talk, and switched the light off before I knew it. I couldn’t move about in that darkness. You were okay though, weren’t you?’
I was speechless. Who was the man? Where was he?
Was he even there?
Val McMurray© 2016
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