As I flew the few feet through the air, I hoped that my rope, my knot, and the jagged rock would hold. I also hoped that the giant rat wasn’t smart enough to chew through the rope. I lowered myself down the rope a few feet before I was sure it was ok to slow down to catch my breath.
I wrapped the rope around my waist and put my feet on the rock wall. It took at least five minutes of just hanging there before I had caught my breath. The whole time the enormous cave rat stayed perched at the top of the jagged rock.
I wondered for a while if I could wait him out. I thought maybe he would realize he was beaten, get bored, and wander off. It turns out that enormous cave rats are surprisingly single-minded.
The rat stayed at the top of that rock and bellowed at me over and over. I was far enough away to not feel too scared but close enough to still get a whiff of his terrible breath every once in awhile. It was like he’d been eating his own barf everyday for his entire life.
“I think I’ll name you Smelly,” I said to him playfully. “I think we should see other people.” I laughed out loud. “It’s not you, it’s me.”
I decided that since I wasn’t going anywhere for a while, I ought to sketch his picture. I tied myself off and pulled my sketchbook from my bag. Honestly, the picture wasn’t very good considering that I was hanging from a rope. Not to mention that the rope was really starting to dig into my backside. After a rough sketch, I put my sketchbook away. It was clear that the big doofus was not going away.
I finally decided I would have to climb down and try to find another way out. I didn’t want to, but I didn’t have another choice. If I climbed back up, Smelly would get me for sure. I untied my loop and started to come down the rope slowly.
I know that when you’re up high, you’re not supposed to look down. Well, I did, and I knew quickly that it was a bad idea. It was so far down that I couldn’t even see the bottom. I gulped hard and tried not to think about what might be waiting for me down there.
At first, I was able to hold onto the rope and step my way down the side of the cliff. After a while, though the cliff face opened up into a huge cave room and I had to slide down the rope in open space. I realized about halfway down that my rope was not going to be long enough. I looked below and could see that it didn’t stretch to the cave floor.
I continued to slide down. When I got near the end of the rope, I couldn’t decide if I was close enough to the bottom to drop or if it was too far. If it was too far I would drop and possibly break my leg, which would be worse than being eaten by the huge mouse. A broken leg in a cave is almost certain death.
I also thought maybe I could climb back up the rope but in the distance I could still hear Smelly’s burpy voice. My hands were starting to hurt and I thought I might not be able to hold on much longer.
I held on with one hand and let go with the other. Just that was scary enough but I knew I had to tie off or I wasn’t going to make it. With a little bit of adjusting, I was able to wrap the rest of the rope around my body and lash it around me so that I wouldn’t fall. Once I did that, I dug out another length of rope from my backpack. This was not easy hanging in mid-air. I then was able to take the end of the rope I was hanging on and tie another piece onto it.
I tugged on it to make sure it would hold. Once I was sure it could carry my weight, I undid the loop I had made and started to climb down the rest of the way. By the time I got to the bottom my hands were aching and my waist hurt where I had tied myself up. My heart was still beating fast and I had to catch my breath. Coming down the rope had been hard work. I rested there for a long time.
The cavern I had lowered myself into was massive. It was warm in the cave, but as I looked around I thought I saw ice. I adjusted my light to see what it was. Instead of ice, I realized that everywhere I shined my light it reflected off of crystals that grew from the floor level. They were huge translucent spikes that came up in all directions. They were so beautiful that I had to stop and sketch them.
My sketch wasn’t that good. Dad had never taught me how to draw clear stuff. I was happy to be away from Smelly, and off the rope, but it was very lonely down there. The crystals were beautiful, but I wished that Dad could have seen them. I put my sketchbook away and started moving through the crystal cave. After about a half hour of searching the chamber, I was able to find a path that led to one end.
I was completely surprised when I got to one end of the cavern. I thought it would just lead to more chambers and caves. The opening of the cave had seemed to be man made, but that was miles above me. Everything down here looked as if it had never been seen by human eyes.
I had expected to wander through chamber after chamber until I ran out of air or food or water. I expected to never see another man-made thing again. So, when I came to the end of the crystal chamber and found a huge wooden door, it seemed out of place to say the least. Ok, now I must be dreaming, I thought. This is impossible.
I thought about how much work it would be to cut wood at the surface and drag it all the way down here. I stared at that door for a very long time thinking about how they might have done it. My path to this point was not easy and I couldn’t imagine having to bring this type of timber to this depth.
The door looked old but was not in as bad of shape as some of the passageways I had already come through. It looked like something out of a movie. It was incredibly tall as if it were built by a giant. It was lined with metal hinges and bolts. I decided to take a closer look.
I decided to push on the door a little. I knew I couldn’t go back, so my only option was to get it open. It was so old, that I doubted that it would be easy.
The thing didn’t budge. I guessed it was locked. I tried pulling at the handle, and pushing on various parts. Nothing worked. In all, I probably spent fifteen minutes poking at the giant door but couldn’t figure it out.
I decided I needed another break. I sat right in front of the door and stared at it. I wasn’t sure if I could open it, and I didn’t have an axe to cut through it. I didn’t know what I would do. I needed something to eat. I started to unload my backpack. I pulled my sketchbook out and set it on the ground. I then put the glowing half circle thing next to it.
I found a meal bar and my water bottle. The snow had melted and the bottle was full of liquid water. I downed that first and then went at the meal bar. Feeling a little better, I grabbed for my sketchbook. I thought sketching the door might help me think about the problem. I started to draw what I saw. I started with the top of the wooden structure. I followed it down with my pencil. I drew the big metal hinges. When my pencil got to the lock, I stopped.
I couldn’t believe it. I had missed it before. I was in too much of a hurry to notice. I finished my sketch happily because I didn’t like the idea of a half finished drawing, but I knew what I had to do. I packed my bag back up, but I kept the glowing object out.
The shape of the half moon maze I had found in the box was right on the center of the lock in the door. I hadn’t seen it until I stopped to draw it. It took me a second to figure out which way it had to go, but before long I had it in place. I knew what the glowing half circle thing was now. It was most definitely a key. Once I had it in place, I pushed lightly with my thumb and found that the half moon was the perfect fit.
Once it was pushed in, a series of clicks and clacks came from all around the door. It sounded as if some type of automatic unlocking system was working within the wall. A moment later the latch in front of me snapped one last time and moved to an open position.
The door was unlocked. I couldn’t imagine what might be behind a door like this. I thought of how I would explain this to Dad when I saw him again. He wouldn’t believe the adventure I was having. I placed my hands on either side of the massive door and pushed. Nothing happened. So I took a deep breath and tried again. I pushed as hard as I could. The doors swung open slowly.