"A man. He's...*sniffle* dead. He's been..*sob* d-d-dead for at lllleast a wee-ek."
Whatever she had seen must have been more than awful, because it took a lot to make Diana Fitz cry.
Tim realized that they would need his flashlight, because it was getting dark and would be pitch black in their prison. Sitting in the dark with... Whatever their friend saw, was definitely something they did not need.
Alex seemed to have come to the same conclusion. They made eye contact, and silently agreed. Tim rose to stare at the gap in the rocks.
"I can't fit," Alex muttered, standing next to him.
"I know," Tim said. "If we can move one more rock, I should be able to squeeze through."
"Don't go in there!" the girls exclaimed.
"I have to," Tim said. "If we don't have a light we'll have to wait until morning to find a way out."
No one answered, so he and Alex moved another stone, careful not to start another collapse. When the hole was big enough he crawled through, trying to ignore the stench coming from the corner. His eyes traced the beam of light...right up to an illuminated corpse.
Shortstop was right when she said the man had been dead for a while. He was dropped there in the corner of the cave, with no dignity. He was beginning to...decompose. And insects had found their way to him. Maggots crawled everywhere.
"Oh my god," Tim said, losing his lunch just like Di had.
"Tim, just get back here," Kristen encouraged. "Hurry."
But as James and Alex stuck their arms through to help hoist him back out, a rumbling could be heard from the base of the trail.
"A car!" James said. "Maybe it's the cops!"
"Or those creeps coming back here to finish us," everyone thought. The teens kept up the hope that it was in fact the police. The sign of a car might have been good, but it shook the very foundations of the mine shaft, causing the gap to fall apart. Pebbles and stones flew everywhere, cutting McGee off from his friends!
Everyone jumped back. Tim fell backwards, landing on his back.
"Tim!" James shouted from the other side of the wall. "You ok?"
"Yeah," he groaned, shaking the dust out of his hair. "Anyone hurt?"
"Kristen cut her knee..."
"I'm fine." Tim could almost see Kristen roll her eyes.
He stood and turned, realizing his problem. The entire passage between the halves of the cave was blocked. Besides the flashlight- which was fading fast- he was in pitch. It was only him...and the body. His lungs tightened from the airborne dust. He focused on his breathing, worried. His asthma hadn't made an appearance in a long time.
"Oh no. No, no no!" he squeaked. "You've got to get me out of here. I can't stay here with this guy!"
"Calm down," Kristen said soothingly. "We're gonna get you out. Stay away from the wall just in case everything shakes again."
"What about the car?" Tim said.
"It must have driven by," Diana responded. "I don't hear anybody. Maybe they found our car?"
"Maybe," Tim called weakly. He flicked off the flashlight to preserve battery.
It was silent for awhile, while the four worked on the wall. Tim tried to help, bit they made him stand back. He couldn't focus on much anyways, not with the man in the corner. Being in the dark with him was just as bad as seeing him. McGee's mind went wild. He couldn't take it, between the smell and his gruesome mental image of the nameless victim. Was it just him, or could he...hear those maggots going to work? He groaned and shook his head.
"How're ya holding up, Tim?" Alex called through the barrier.
"Ok," he said.
"Don't worry boy scout, we're making good progress," Diana said. She sighed. Then a frightening idea came to her mind. "Tim?" she called. "How's your breathing?"
The rest of the kids caught up to her train of thought. Their eyes went wide.
"I'm ok," he said. "The dust is making it hard. And the smell."
"Are you getting oxygen?" James said.
"A little," he replied. Well, he wasn't lying. He was in fact getting a little air from tiny holes in the wall, but they weren't giving him enough air to last forever. This made things urgent. With a new burst of energy, they pulled at the stones.
Meanwhile, Tim started to drift off in the dark. He couldn't see, but the maggots were still there, he knew it. He eventually fell asleep...
It was an awful dream. He was in the cave, staring at his friends. They were suffocating. He was able to move through the wall, and stared at his own figure slumped against the wall. The worst part?
He couldn't tell the difference between himself, and the dead man next to him.
He woke up with a gasp, and clapped his hands over his chest, stomach, legs. He was ok. Thank god..
"Tim!" Diana was calling. "You ok?"
"Yeah...just dosed off," he said.
"Well we have one more tug and you're out," James said. "Well, out of there."
Tim laughed in relief. "Thank you."
"And Tim!" Diana said. "Kristen found a opening we might be able to use to get out of this hell hole."
"Great!" Alex said. "I'm starving."
"Seriously?!" Di said. Tim agreed, thinking he might never eat anything ever again.
"Ok," James said. "One..more...sec..."
Tim could immediately feel the change in pressure. He stuck his head through the new space, gasping the slightly-fresher air.
"Alright, ready?" Alex said, getting ready to help him out.
"Wait!" McGee said. "The flashlight. What would be the point of this if I left without the flashlight?!"
"Just leave it, Tim," Kristen hissed.
But being his stubborn self, he refused to listen. Groping around for the flashlight, he tripped.
"Ouch," he muttered. But registering his soft landing, he knew exactly what he fell on.
"Holy-" he squeaked. He stood up, ironically tripping over the flashlight. He picked it up and climbed through the hole, falling down, writhing, trying to get anything off of him.
"Help me!" he yelled. His friends helped beat off a couple stray maggots.
"You're ok," Diana said, grabbing him and hugging him gently. "You're ok."
They helped him calm down similarly to Diana. Tim felt sick and probably would have cried. Luckily, he was too occupied with getting out for good for that.
"Where's the way out?" he asked.
"Right," Kristen began. "It's here," she pointed to a spot near the door. "Just a little bit of work and we're gone."
Again Tim tried to help, but they ordered him to sit and rest.
About fifteen minutes later Diana stopped. I can fit here. I'll just slip out and open the door."
She squeezed through and jumped up, breathing in the fresh air. The nice weather made her smile. Di found the door in the dark and tugged. She squinted at the handle when it wouldn't move.
"What!? Those bastards cemented us in!"
The whole handle and lock was covered in cement, which had dried in the few hours they had been stuck inside. She darted back to the hole in the mine and explained the problem.
"Go down to the van," Alex instructed. "There's a toolbox in the back."
The girl nodded and darted down the trail, careful not to fall off the ledge. When she reached the van, she found the box, which had a crowbar and some screwdrivers. Grabbing the crowbar, Di made her way back.
She braced herself, and swung at the handle. It took several tries but she finally cracked the dried shell. After some more swinging and prying, the cement was busted off.
With a sigh, Shortstop pulled open the door. Everyone rushed out. James picked up Diana and twirled her around. Kristen hugged Alex and Tim, and Tim picked up Di as soon as James put her down.
"Thank god!" Alex exclaimed.
"Let's go," Kristen said. "I'll drive."
They walked in silence, silly grins on their faces.
"You know we're going to have to take this to the police," Tim said.
Nobody wanted to, though. It was really late...
"We have to," Kristen said quietly.
They drove in silence until they reached the police station. They fell through the door, exhausted.
"What the...?" the officer on duty dropped his newspaper.
"Look, man," Alex began. "I mean, officer. We've got a lot to tell you..."
When they started their story, the officer thought it was a joke. But he looked at their clothes and the cuts on their faces and hands and started to believe them. His expression went from amused to horrified.
"You're the kids who were reported missing three hours ago?"
"Did Penny Langston call it in?" Tim asked.
"Yeah. You Tim?"
"Yes," he sighed.
"Boy, your grandmother was worried about you all. Oh, and who's Alex? Your grandmother is worried too. Ok...uhm...would you all mind giving statements?"
They all gave individual statements and stood to leave.
"We'll look for the two guys. Could you pick them out of a lineup?"
"Absolutely," Kristen muttered.
The officer escorted them home. They dropped off Diana and James, and then Tim. He walked through the front door, and was attacked by Penny.
"Timothy McGee where were you?! Do you want to give me a heart attack? What happened? Why do you smell so badly?"
"Sorry Penny. We just had some trouble on our hike. We're ok. I promise."
Penny stared at him and then sighed. She hugged him again. "I don't care what happened. I'm so glad you're alright. Go shower then go to bed."
"Ok," Tim said.
"Are you hungry?"
"No!" Tim said sharply. At Penny's surprised look he back pedaled. "I mean, no. I'm not hungry. Maybe tomorrow morning?"
"Alright sweetheart. Goodnight."
Tim went through the motions, mechanically showering and getting ready for bed. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow. He knew none of his friends would be at the diner that night- no one could stay awake.
Unfortunately, he didn't sleep well. Over and over again he would see the same picture of he and his friends, and maggots everywhere. He would have this nightmare every once and a while for years into his life.