2 June 2005

Good morning all,

I hope you've been enjoying the story to this point.  This is the third and final chapter.  If you have any comments, I try to respond to emails as quickly as possible.

Take care, enjoy, and have an excellent weekend.

Michael Garrison

This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This story also deals with love and consensual sexual activities between men. If you are not of legal age, reside in an area where viewing such material is illegal, or are offended by such themes, do not read further and leave this site now. The author retains all rights to this story. Reproductions or links to other sites are not allowed without the permission of the author.

The  Cavern

A Short Story by Michael Garrison

Part Three

Greg switched off the radio. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts as he drove home. He wanted nothing but the sound of the wind, the smell of the salt air. On his way home, he stopped at the One-Hour to pick up the few photos from his dive.

“The roll was empty except for three frames,” the boy behind the counter said. “Seems like a waste of film…especially these days. I’ve got some digital models you might like.”

Film was harder to come by due to the diversion of supplies and resources to Defense.

Greg smirked at the quick sales pitch. “Yeah,” he quipped. “I thought I’d used it all….sorry,” he said, as if he felt he owed Photo-boy an explanation.

He quickly flipped through them.

Where there should have been a close-up of Bryan with his impish smile, there was only a whitish colored ball of light. Glare, he thought, or a drop of water on the lens.

Where there should have been Bryan play-acting like a body-builder, looking very sleek in his diveskin, there was only the whitish colored ball of light again.

Where there should have been a shot of Bryan lying on his side, propping his head up on his arm there was only the whitish colored ball of light again. Greg pursed his lips, sighing through his nose.

“That’ll be twenty-two-fifty,” Photo-boy said.

“Twenty-two-fifty!” he fumed. “For three pictures? Are you kidding me?!”

“Hey, don’t blame me, buddy,” the kid said, holding up his hands in submission, “Blame the war; everything’s gone up! You been livin’ in a cave or somethin’?”

Greg smirked at him again, fished for his wallet and started to pull out his American Express.

“Sorry, buddy; new rules. Cash or check only. No credit cards. The boss says their fees are out past Pluto.”

Greg snarled at him and the boy stepped back. He fished around in his pockets and found some crumpled bills, which he threw on the counter.

“Between you and the damn gas stations, we’ll all be bankrupt by the end of the year! And I’m not your buddy!”

“Sorry! Jesus!” He was afraid to ask if he wanted a receipt; he knew the response he’d get.

Greg didn’t give him the chance to ask. He snatched up the photos and stormed out of the shop.

The night was still and clear. Greg decided to open up the house to get some fresh air moving through. It wasn’t that warm and the air conditioning was far too expensive to run. The war and the resulting skyrocketing cost of utilities had seen to it that things once considered absolute basics were now listed as luxuries by the Bureau of Resource Conservation, whom everyone lovingly referred to as the ‘Energy Nazis’. Only the elderly and the sick got a break on their allotment; everyone else got steep fines for going over. Even cooking had to be carefully monitored.

These days, he’d taken to doing all of his cooking on Sundays, freezing ahead for the week and microwaving as needed.

Greg’s ears perked up at the sound of the beeping microwave. He pulled his shredded pork out, grabbed a fork and a napkin and headed back to the small bedroom he’d made into a home office. He picked at the hot food, setting it aside to cool for a moment while he checked his emails.

He deleted everything that didn’t have an address book icon next to it or whose name he didn’t immediately recognize and scrolled quickly through the ample remaining  posts.

“There you are. Finally!” he muttered, sipping at his ice tea with one hand and clicking on the list with the other.

Greg picked up the three photos again that lay on top of his scanner, studying them again while his computer decided whether it was going to be nice and open the email or lock up on him like it did a lot lately. There was too much traffic these days, civilian and otherwise. He cursed at the machine constantly but couldn’t live without it.

He still couldn’t figure out what the balls of light were and what bothered him more was the fact that Bryan should have been in the photos, ball of light or no ball of light. Shortly after he’d returned from the photo shop, Greg scanned the images and sent them to a friend on the mainland who was sensitive to what he suspected but couldn’t put words to.

The computer finally opened his email, but at a snail’s pace. He fixed his eyes on the screen, reading it almost as the machine displayed each line.

Hey babe,

Nice to hear from you again...been to long. Everything cool out your way? Messy here...cant go into details... Thought Police might be watching. LOL <sigh>

Got your pix...very cool…definitely spirit orbs...I mentioned those before...if it was a dirty lens or something the orb would be in the exact same spot in each pic but its not...see? You say there was definitely supposed to be a guy in these?  Very weird...tell me more... Was he hot?  Enquiring minds want to know! <wink> LOL

Keep me posted.

Hugs always,


Greg stopped picking at his food and set it aside. He wanted to dash off a quick, wise-ass reply but couldn’t think of a good one; he’d sleep on it and get him back in the morning.

He read his reply again and again. Spirit orbs. If anyone knew what they were, Archangel did. He fondled the photos again, studying each one in turn, then picked up the portrait Bryan’s father had given him and held it in his lap.

Greg smiled as he stared at him, thinking how wonderful he looked in his crisp, white uniform, remembering him from the other day, his touch, his scent.

He turned off the lights in his small office and sat staring out of the window towards the water. In the darkness, he clutched Bryan’s photo, wondering what had actually happened to him. He felt a warmth wash over him that was somehow comforting.

Greg knew he was in love.

He cried openly, not caring if any of the neighbors heard him or some passerby on the street below. He was in love with Bryan Gobell and a knife cut through his very being, knowing that it would be unrequited. He was gone, now and forever.

Greg felt a familiar knot growing in his stomach as his mind battled with his heart.

Bryan couldn’t be gone. He’d seen him in the flesh and touched him. They’d shared themselves with each other and it was a memory he would never let go. Ghost, spirit, entity, orb, whatever anyone wanted to call him, Bryan was as real to him as the framed portrait he held, and Greg was determined to see him again.

It came to him in a flashing moment of clarity.

He wiped his eyes again and sniffled; he knew what he would do.

This was his favorite time of day.

The sun was lighting up the eastern horizon. It was a dazzling display of reds and pinks and yellows that Greg always loved. He liked getting a very early start, before the rest of the world woke up and started disturbing his peace and quiet. He stared at it and smiled.

He killed the motor on his small boat, gliding back into the familiar cove, and quietly dropped the anchor, as if fearful that he might wake up nature itself.

Greg stripped off his clothes and pulled on his diveskin and equipment, all the while telling himself that this had to be the dumbest thing he’d ever done in his life. It made no sense, but he thought that maybe it was time to throw sense out of the window. He grabbed his dive bag, rolled over the side into the dark water, switched on his light and headed for the narrow tunnel, for his secret place.

He picked his way through the tunnel. It was as black as a squid’s ink. Greg had been through here dozens of time but he felt himself shaking as his light cut a short path ahead, barely able to pierce the darkness.

Somewhere, maybe halfway through, he jumped, startled by a sudden snag as though someone had grabbed him by the waist. His heart felt like it would explode as he flung the light around, relaxing when he saw that his dive bag had snagged on a rock. Greg told himself to calm down and pulled it free and started back again.

He thought he heard something behind him, almost like the sound of metal hitting rock, and turned his light around again. There was nothing but the darkness and the silver reflections of his own bubbles on the roof of the tunnel. He couldn’t make out the entrance to the tunnel anymore, nor could he see the exit. This transit always unnerved him, but he pressed ahead. There was no other choice about it in his mind.

He couldn’t see it in the darkness, but Greg knew by the reflections of the sounds of his own breathing that he was through the tunnel; he was finally in his safe place where the world couldn’t touch him.

He spat out his regulator and pulled himself up on the rock ledge. Looking up at the oculus, he saw the sky lightening; dawn was breaking quickly outside.

Greg stripped off his gear and winced when he checked his air. He cursed himself for not getting the tank refilled the other day. It was dangerously low and he hoped he had enough to get back out, but that didn’t matter to him now. He shined his light in every corner of the cavern. He was alone.

There was nobody else and no place where anyone could hide.

His suit was warm. Greg unzipped it down to his waist and felt the air cool his skin.

“Oh, God; that feels good,” he mumbled to himself as he sat down and rummaged around in his dive bag.

He took out the ziplocked fruit and bit into the apple, holding it in his mouth while he unsealed his journal from its triple bagging. He had left the pen in the middle and it opened naturally to the page where Bryan had scrawled his address. Greg let his hand glide over the page as if it were Bryan’s face and sighed, looking up to survey the cavern again, hoping that by some magic he would reappear.

There was nothing but the sound of a few drops of condensation hitting the water from the curving walls above. Satisfied, but disappointed, Greg set the light beside him, casting enough of a glow for his to write. He flipped to the next blank page.

Frankly…”, he began, pausing, not knowing whether he really wanted to write what was on his mind.

…I can’t believe what I’m doing. I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my life but this one takes the cake. Two days ago I met Bryan Gobell here and he was just incredible. Then he disappears and I go looking for him and find out that he was….”

Greg stopped. He felt a childish embarrassment. He could barely see and wiped away tears that clouded his eyes. He couldn’t do this anymore, not right now. The memories were too fresh, too painful, and he snapped the book shut.

“This is crazy,” he thought, wiping his eyes again. He didn’t care.

Greg knew that all the evidence, the pictures, his conversation with his father, Archangel’s assessment, all told him that Bryan was dead, that the person he’d made love with that sunny afternoon in his private place was just not there. But he’d felt so real, he was there, right before his eyes. He’d felt his hands on his body; he’d smelled and tasted him and shared himself with him. Greg fought off years of rational schooling and decided that he didn’t care about the evidence. He wanted Bryan and if coming back here was the only way to find him, then that’s what he had to do. His family could have him committed later for all he cared.

He looked around to the spot a few feet away where they’d made love, almost seeing himself there, entwined with Bryan and a familiar warmth washed over his again.

He glanced around the cavern again to make certain he was alone. Greg jumped up and stripped off his diveskin, making a bedding of it as they’d done before, and lay down. He cupped his hands beneath his head, closed his eyes and waited, listening.

Anxiety took its toll and put him to sleep. A bright beam of sunlight shining through the oculus crept over his face and Greg awoke with a violent sneeze.

He was groggy and ran his hands over his face, rubbing the tickle away from his nose. It must have been later than he thought and he snapped wide awake, fearful that he’d missed something, someone.

Bryan?!” he cried out, hearing only his own voice echoing in response.

He turned, looking everywhere. There was no one there; nothing had changed. Greg was still alone. He snatched up his journal and flipped to the last written page, hoping that maybe he’d at least come and left a message. There was nothing there. He fanned the pages with his thumb, hoping that something would jump out. Nothing did; the rest of the book was blank, just as he’d left it.

Greg sighed and tossed the book on top of his bag. He felt like a fool and chided himself for acting like one. Maybe none of it had been real. Maybe he had imagined the whole thing. He knew he hadn’t but maybe, just maybe he could convince himself that it was all in his mind so that his rational half could still live in the same brain as his emotional half. He decided it was time to stop acting like a mentally unbalanced, smitten school girl and get back to the real world, however unsettling that might be.

It was time to go.

Greg packed his journal and uneaten fruit and stowed it in his bag. He checked his air again, mindful that he’d better go easy on it. Ready now, he set his face mask in place and was ready to enter the water when he stopped himself and sat back for a moment, thinking.

He pulled the bag from behind him and brought out his journal. Undoing the triple bagging, he held the book in his hand, studying it and then flung it as hard as he could to the far side of the cavern. He saw the reflection of the splash from the sunlight and saw it floating there. Greg heaved a sigh, set his gear in place and rolled forward into the water.

It was nearing noon on a bright day outside but the tunnel back to his boat was still as dark as pitch. Greg carefully picked his way back trying to exert as little effort as possible. He still had a long way to go. Halfway through, he thought he heard that sound again, like metal against stone that he’d heard on the way in and turned quickly, so quickly that he didn’t pay attention and hit his flashlight against the rock wall.

He was in total darkness.

Greg toggled the switch with his thumb. There was no response. He banged the side of it with his hand, but it was no use. He realized now that he shouldn’t have left it on while he tried to write, the battery was too weak now and the impact must have finished it off.

He screamed into his regulator, looking back and forth in the dark water, unable to see his hand in front of his face, unable to get his bearings. Greg panicked and set off in direction he thought he’d been heading, towards the cove, towards badly needed air.

He kicked his fins as hard as his muscles would allow, clawing his way through the narrow tunnel, trying to pull himself along, when he felt it. That last hard pull from his tank, that last breath, letting his know that he was about to join Bryan.

He pressed himself, kicking harder, as fast as the last breath in his lungs would allow, hoping, praying, that it was enough, that soon he’d see the light at the other end. But his limbs felt heavy, his legs tightened. Greg felt like he was swimming in lead instead of water and a dizziness fogged his brain.

The path ahead was still dark. He couldn’t see his hands in front of him trying to pull him along. He couldn’t see the dark veil closing over his eyes as his arms and legs slowed.

In the distance, Greg again heard the crack of metal against stone and awoke with a gasp, sneezing from the sunlight waking him from a mid-day nap.

He trembled like a leaf and sat on the edge of his bed, gasping for breath and rubbing his head, hoping that his heart would calm down.

He heard the sound again, but this time it was different; more like metal against metal, followed by the sound of water and a stream of cursing.

“Great; what now?” he thought, rising and going to the open window to see a street crew three floors down. One man was cursing at a fellow holding a pick axe. They were being drenched by a geyser of water coming from a buried pipe. Greg turned and leaned against the windowsill.

“Thank God,” he laughed, running his hand over his forehead. “Jesus; what a dream!”

He went to the refrigerator and fished out his water bottle from amidst the boxes of half-eaten take-out food and downed half of it in one gulp, taking the rest of it with him to check emails. Maybe one of his chat buddies was online.

Greg was just getting into his account when he heard the door buzzer. He pursed his lips and sighed, “Why is it that something always happens just when I’m getting settled?” he cursed under his breath. It was probably some Mormons or some nosy energy inspector. That’s who it always was. The few people he called friends didn’t come by without calling first.

He was pissed and still a little shaken from the dream and he pitied whoever was pushing that buzzer.

“I’m coming, okay?! Give it a rest already!” he said to himself.

Greg opened the door and was about to lay into the uninvited visitor but froze.  He saw the young man’s expression go from relaxed to puzzled when he saw Greg’s reaction.

“I’m…..sorry,” he fumbled, waving a couple of letters in the air. “I hope I haven’t interrupted anything,” the visitor said.

“NO…no, I…,” Greg said, catching his breath, studying the blond young man dressed in a tee shirt and blue and gold swim trunks. “I’m sorry,” he continued, “I thought you were someone else; I’m sorry,” he repeated, self-consciously.

“Oh…I, uh….,” he fumbled again. “The, uh, mailman stuck a couple of your letters in my box,” he said, offering the envelopes in his hand. “I just thought I’d bring them up.”

“OH! …Thank you!” Greg said, running a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry for staring. You remind me of someone I...,” he trailed off. “Have we met before?”

“No, sir; I don’t think so,” he said, “I just moved in. Only been here a week or so; I haven’t had too much time to get to know anyone.”

“Transferred in?” Greg asked, judging him to be military by his haircut.

“Yeah, I’m in the Navy….just moved in,” he repeated, looking for anything to say. “I’m a native, actually, so I guess I was lucky to finally get stationed here.”

Greg studied him for a second. It couldn’t be. Someone, somewhere was giving him this chance and he knew he had to take it, somehow make it different, better.

“Hey,” he said, smiling as he tapped the letters against the young man’s arm, “Interested in some iced tea? Just made it this morning.”

“Sure,” he smiled back, relaxing. “Is it sweet?”

“I hope so,” Greg said.

The young man smiled at his reply but still looked puzzled. Greg stood aside and ushered him into his apartment.

“I’m Greg Kashihara,” he said, offering his hand.

“Bryan Gobell.”