Some consider me a brooding sort. I think that is what everyone says of deep thinkers. My few friends call me Owen. I am not one who particularly cares what you call me. Our names are such weak attempts to identify who we are. Souls yet to be discovered and then gone. Forever lost back to the earth.
I had a close friend once. His name no longer matters. We used to hike among the rocks and mountains on the edges of the Mojave Desert. That fateful day, we were hiking along as we often did. Dust rose from the ground with each foot fall. If our feet did not stir the dirt from the ground, the occasional wind did. We had long since given up any effort to stay clean. Even in late September, the sun’s heat baked our skin mercilessly. Hot and dirty, we were thrilled to find the long lost ghost town nestled between the rocky cliffs of a small pass. We both sat down in front of a dilapidated school house.
We drank down the warm water from our canteens. Thankful for the opportunity to catch our breath. I was the first to notice it while putting my bottle away. It looked like a cave at first glance. On closer inspection, the cut rock entrance was easy enough to identify. I showed my friend the entrance scant fifty yards away. The old mine meant refreshing air. We would have to listen for rattlesnakes, but if we were careful, we might find something to occupy us until the day had cooled and we could return to our camping spot.
My friend and I walked quickly to the mine’s entrance. We did not even feel the heat those final fifty yards. All we could think about was the chilled air waiting for us inside. Taking a step in we stopped and listened. Only the wind could be heard blowing through the tunnel. We allowed our eyes to adjust and our skin enjoyed the cool breeze rushing towards the entrance behind us. We each chose a side of the shaft and pushed our backs against the wall. The sunlight passed between us in a pale hue. We could make out rocks on the floor and the changing shadows deeper inside. We began stepping along the wall and had gone in at least 200 feet when I spied the end of the tunnel and could tell it turned in two directions.
In anticipation of what lay beyond we quickened our step. Two steps later the world changed. I heard my friend scream. I could barely make out the horror on his face as he fell down the black hole in the floor. His screams seemed to go on forever until they quietly faded away. I stepped closer to the other side and yelled his name again and again, but he never answered. I picked up a rock off the floor of the mine and dropped it down the hole, it never hit the bottom. Digging around my small backpack, my fingers fell upon an old forgotten penlight. I turned it on and dropped it down the shaft. The light simply disappeared into the darkness.
With no cell phone coverage, I expedited my way back to our camp. Three hours later I stumbled into what had been our sanctuary that morning. With a weak cell signal, I called for help. The ranger station knew the location well; we had not been the first visitors there. The rangers finally rolled into my camp site. How long I had waited, I don’t know. My world felt frozen in time. One ranger said they never could find the bottom of that shaft. Every rope they attempted to use would only go deeper. How far could he have fallen? My friend is lost forever in the earth. His screams forever riding upon the winds.