Huffing in sleepy annoyance, I turned on my side, away from the obnoxiously bright sunlight streaming through the bay window and tugged the sheets over my head.
I groaned and shook my shoulder away from the annoying entity disturbing my peaceful slumber.
Prod prod, meow, prod.
"God, Cheese, you are such a bastard sometimes, I swear."
Said bastard made a low keening noise and nudged my shoulder again, a sad attempt at rolling me out of bed and into the kitchen for her breakfast. This is why I never purchased an alarm clock-I had my own living breathing one to wake me up.
Giving up, I threw the covers off and away from my body and scooped Cheesecake up into my arms as I swung my legs over the ledge of the bed. We meandered out of the bedroom and I grabbed a can of tuna off of the counter, waving it in my kitty's face.
"You see this, sweetie? If you ever roll mommy out of the bed and onto the floor like you tried to do this morning for some damn tuna, I'll have you shaved, understand?"
She mewed loudly, telling me off in cat, and twisted in my arms to get to the floor. I let her go, peeled the top back, and dumped the tuna out of the can and into her food bowl, setting the can beside her dish in case she wanted whatever was left.
I yawned my morning yawn and stretched my morning stretch as I combed my fingers through my hair, a goofy grin finding it's way on my face. Today was the day I'd been waiting for since the beginning of my long nine year career. Today was Olympic regional excavation day. No, not a holiday, but it certainly deserved to be one. For years, I'd been working my ass off for a pardon from the firm to visit the cave nestled high above the depressing town of Forks. Since I was a child, I'd always been completely fascinated with the cave mouth that was so far up from the town, so far and yet so close. It was large and inviting, beckoning me to pay a visit. I would pull on Charlie's sleeve, beg him to take me up to the summit just for a peek and every time he shot me down. I wouldn't take no for an answer forever. I pushed and pushed until the director of my firm gave me two weeks to dig up what I could.
Finally-finally!-I was going to get my chance to explore the Forks Crystal Cavern. The name was mostly for show. There were no actual crystals, I'd done the research, but the walls of the cave were rumored to be like sparkling diamonds. I skipped to the bathroom, singing some random song off-key and completed my morning ablutions, ignoring the mirror completely, followed by a hearty breakfast consisting of pesto scrambled eggs, sweet and spicy pecan bacon, cranberry almond caramel pancakes, and a cinnamon java brunch cocktail. I was being generous this morning, not to mention I would need all the energy and protein I could get for the hours I planned to spend on this project. If I could, my goal was to go nonstop for the big 24. I tidied up the kitchen, wrapped the left overs up and place them on shelves in the fridge to go get dressed.
I had to go casual today. No pencil skirts or skinny jeans. I opted for low riders, a sweater and a baseball cap to go with my tennis shoes. Charming, no? Just as I finished dressing I got a text from Rosalie as per every sun up.
Morning Sunshine. Excited for your nerd retreat today?
Morning yourself. And as a matter of fact I am.
Good to hear. At least I don't have to put up with your hyper ass anymore. Make me anything good?
Eggs. . .
Yep. Bacon. . .
Yep. Fruity pancakes. . .
You know it.
Oh, how you spoil me, Swan.
Pop your blonde ass over here when you get a chance and cop my fridge. Share with Alice. I'll make you a cocktail when I decide to come back home.
Sounds like a plan. Have fun, sweetheart and call me if anything.
I plan on it.
If there was anyone that I could depend on in my profession it was Rose, one of only a handful of females in my firm. She empathized like no other when we were trying to make it in a "male business". We dust rocks and find old artifacts. How manly did you really need to be? Rose didn't enjoy handling the dirty work, though, and I only got to see her in action when I got some action myself. She was a laboratory supervisor and she always got the job done, no nonsense or bologna to it. I giggled. Bologna. Rose, Alice and myself all attended college together, received our advanced degrees in anthropology together, but went our separate ways in terms of career paths, being sure to remain in the same firm.
Thinking back on how I managed to get this far made me a tad nostalgic. I wriggled my low riders up my hips and went to my study, eying my very first trowel that sat gritty and pretty under a glass case beside the wall. I let my fingertips graze it lightly and smiled at the memories we had. No, being a field technician, otherwise known as a shovel bum, was never a fun thing to do but it made some money and it was a prerequisite to get any farther as an aspiring archaeologist. Alice became a graphic artist, my little helper when it came to archaeological investigations and report writing so I saw her just about anytime I felt the urge to.
Me? I became a PI and I love my job more than anything under the sun. Almost more than I loved my cat. . . or orange tropical sunrise daiquiris. It was anything but easy getting to this position that I'm in now. I worked my ass off and eventually it paid off; that and I burrowed a niche in the firm manager's, Esme's, big welcoming spot of favorites. She was like a mother and mentor to me and without her I'd still be digging for minimum wage.
Cheesecake's soft pads entering the room brought me back from my thinking. She sat in the doorway, stared at me for a moment, and went to cleaning her bum. Charming.
When it was time to go, I packed my lunch bag, dawned my coat, and brought Cheese next door to stay with my neighbor Lauren for a few days. At one point in time, I was scared that Lauren wanted to rape my cat because of the way she stared at the feline's fanny. To this day, I make sure to keep a close eye.
The team was set to meet at the rendezvous point and skip going to the office altogether. I hoped they brought donuts. Once outside I climbed into my Jeep and started down the long narrow streets of Port Angeles until I was on the highway when I got a text from Alice.
Not now. Driving.
Like you can't multitask.
I can, but I prefer to ignore you.
Whatever. Make me anything good today?
Is that all you whores text me for? To find out if I made you food?
No, there are other reasons.
Waiting. . .
I texted you last night making sure you got home safe!
No, you texted me last night to make sure my zucchini bread got home safe.
Well maybe I was checking on the both of you!
Save it. Rose is gonna bring you leftovers from this morning.
Spicy and fruity?
You know it, pixie.
Perfect! Love you, Bells. Have fun!
Will do, love.
I pocketed my phone and drove as safely as I could through the thick Forks morning fog. I set the GPS and mindlessly drove through Forks, up a winding cliff and through a pants load of trees until I was there. I was finally there.
"Short trip," I muttered to myself, grabbing my things and slamming the car door shut. I'd yet to have the pleasure to set foot on the land but I knew coordinates and the whole nine from research alone.
My heart would forever go swollen at seeing this-seeing my team up and moving and on the ball without my supervision, even though that's sort of what I'm paid to do. We were in a small clearing blanketed with two inch thick snow. Last night was a windy storm and though I loved me some snow, I didn't like hindrance to my work. My field technicians were working their asses off, shoveling the mouth of the cave clear of snow and I wanted to give them all big hugs for their work. Without a lawsuit for sexual harassment of course. Whatever small crop of land the shovel bums exposed the archaeobotanists and geoarchaeologists were on in a matter of seconds, observing and analyzing and collecting with such an intensity it seemed wrong to watch. Not much had to be done today. Before the project had been in my hands, the firm had been sending out scouts for about three years digging up what they could on this place. They didn't find much of interest but I had hope. Now, I was in no way an amateur in this field-far from it!-but exploring an unexcavated cave of such a magnitude gave me nerves like you wouldn't believe.
Forks Crystal Cavern was approximately 105, 600 feet in diameter; roughly 20 miles of pure unexplored cave. It was information that made me want to both masturbate and cry at the same time. I was responsible for just about this entire trip. Field techs, geoarches, archaeobots, an d zooarchs-even though they happened to be sitting on their asses right now. This was my hand picked tight knit little group and I felt my barely-there motherly senses kick in. These were my children for the length of this project and I had to-had to!-keep everyone safe or die trying.
"Bella! Can you believe it? We're finally here!"
I knew that sweet voice anywhere, one of my favorite voices to hear, in fact. I turned to see Angela practically bouncing in my direction with uncontained excitement. Other than me Angela had been one of the most adamant people suggesting we go out on this dig.
"I still to this very minute have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming. After all of these years!" I gushed, throwing my arms around the best field supervisor a gal could ask for.
I shook my head before I broke out in a rant that only old age could stop. We talked casually for a few minutes then broke out in full on nerd terms as we discussed the schedule for today. We would first have the Heritage Environment Records transferred over for further review, followed by another viewing of topographical maps in order to scout the surrounding area. After the foreplay, we would dive straight into the main course: searching the cave. Barely two miles of it though. Our plate was loaded as it was and overwhelming ourselves was certainly not a bright idea. Immediately after, we would need a fully detailed report on every movement that was executed. I was ready to work, because they'd brought donuts.
It was just past noon when we were ready to enter the cave. Angela was at my right hand, awaiting my first move in to begin the tedious process of excavation. Every archaeologist had their own way of going about their job. Some preferred to just dive right in. I, on the other hand, was 100% careful not do to anything that seemed too outlandish, too extreme compared to how I'd originally found the site. I wanted to preserve the space as best as was physically possible and I wanted my team to reflect my views; they did. To a 't'.
I took a few steps until I was completely within it's mouth, my entire group behind me, mirroring my actions. It was almost comical. I took a few more steps, slowly and deliberately as I looked around me. It truly was beautiful. I let my eyelids flutter shut, to capture the moment before I would be able to fulfill a childhood dream that wreaked havoc upon my days and plagued my nights.
Only a few more, Swan.
I claimed those few yards that separated me and the cave as a whole and when I felt that cool, whistling breeze comb through my hair, sting my cheeks with it's frost and warm my belly with it's life, I knew I was home.
I let my eyes open and had my breath taken away from the beauty that reside here.
It was a large cavern, about 15 feet in height, 20 in width, and a beautiful iridescent glow shimmered lightly across surfaces at random, some every few feet, some within inches of each other before it reflected and bounced off another surface it's opposite and scattered along the cave floor. Stalactites covered the ceiling, the luminescence a glaze on it's enamel with lightly mossed tips that just barely connected with he stalagmites below it, forming pillars of varying sizes. The further inside, the steeper the decline of the floor. There was not one doubt in my mind that this cave was made of mostly limestone, but where did the water come from to make such an immaculate formation?
I was gripping the clipboard in my hand a little too tightly and the now broken skin of my palm was suffering the consequences. Knowledge made me intense, always had, always will. Questions? Questions made me stark raving, and for nothing in particular. This cave, I could tell, was going to both give me an infinite amount of knowledge and produce an innumerable count of questions. I felt a smile curl the ends of my lips as I thought of the fun to be had.
"Alright, everyone. Listen up." I prayed my voice wasn't as wavered as it sounded in my ears. "This is our first visit inside the cave but it most definitely will not be our last. Put on your gloves, have a look around, document everything and touch nothing. Leave it all as you found it and tomorrow we will be further investigating, understood? One hour and then we fill our reports. Have fun, guys."
Everyone went their own separate way and I implored Angela to supervise any stray hands with disobedient ears. I would have done it myself but I needed to examine things a little more critically. The scouts who pre-excavated before us swore that there was nothing interesting to the cave at all. Just the name alone proved them wrong! Clearly they hadn't even bothered to really look at the cave or even what was inside of it because there reports were hopelessly flawed and analysis' slacking. We have a cave consisting of sedimentary rock, pure calcium carbonate but their is definitely a precipitation of sea water coming from somewhere.
I briefly turned back to my team, looking as if I was just taking in the view of the rocks but step by baby step I was venturing further down the decline of the cave. When I was sure I was far enough away that no one saw me, I turned to the ever expanding tunnel and trekked further than ever documented before. This was monumental to me. Like the first man to walk on the moon. The first woman to explore FCC. It sounded silly. The deeper down I got, the hotter, the darker. I pulled my sweater over my head, thankful I'd worn a t-shirt beneath, and fished a flashlight out of my bag, flashing it through the mouth of where I was going. The crystals danced with light and blinded me for only a second before dimming again and creating a pathway. Another 10 minutes had passes and I was still on the move, going down further and further. Suddenly I see two mouths open before me. As I step through the naturally formed doorway, I notice a series of mouths are about me. Curiouser and curiouser. Document this. Now!
I slid my bag off my back and rummaged through for a pen and pad when, me being Bella, I dropped everything in my hands, including the flashlight. It was now pitch black and I could see not an inch in front of me. I felt around blindly for any solid objects but my hand encountered only a few things of interest. The pad I felt but I scooted it away from me, no longer needing it. The pen grazed my fingertips but I'd no use for that either. I felt my thermos of soup and thermos of coffee under my palms and went to rescuing them, placing them in the bag that sat right in front of me. It would have honestly take me years to find everything else so I decided to turn back without them; I'd instructed only an hour of sight seeing and I didn't want my team functioning solely without their Principle Investigator. I reached my hand out to feel in front of me and encountered nothing so I went in that direction.
It had been an entire thirty minutes of walking and I was positive it hadn't taken me that long to reach my checkpoint. I refused to think I'd gotten myself lost and just kept going. Another ten minutes and I was starting to feel the rejection of my body; it could not go on for much longer. We're almost there, I promised emptily. Almost back with the others.I was wrong and I don't think I'd ever been more wrong in my life.
As I felt the strain and exhaustion make itself apparent the toe of my foot caught onto a rock and sent me flying forward. I pushed myself up with my arms, ignoring this fresh pain on my side as I tried to right myself. It took longer than expected.
When I was finally up, I was moving again. Pushing myself, I had to keep pushing. The cavern wall stretched forward for about another 15 feet before curving sharply. My brain immediately took note of the change but every other organ in my body ignored it and kept at it's pace. The wall curved left then right, and left again, like a maze. From there, it was another 30 yards or so before curving a tight switchback and elevating 4 or 5 feet off of the ground, giving me a glimmer of hope. The smooth cave floor was nothing but jagged rock and pebbles under my shoes compared to the smooth walk before. Again, those warning bells had gone off in my head but I ignored it, tired and willing to do anything for rest that was sure to come. I began walking again when I noticed that there was now the rustling of leaves and rock. I froze.
How in the hell did leaves get so far in the cave?
The next breath I took was my last as I was sent spiraling downward from the floor collapsing beneath my feet. Instinctively, I reached my hand out for anything solid to find purchase on but there was nothing but air whooshing through my agape fingers. I try to scream, try to make a noise but it is caught in my throat, muted. I want to cry but I cannot do that either. I want to die before my body reaches the ground but that is also impossible.
So this is how I will find death. With no one to her me scream? No tears to shed? Hmm, is it ironic that my occupation is to uncover the past of those of eternal rest when I myself will now be joining them? Extremely.
That was my last thought before I blacked out. The last sound I heard was a grunt, and it did not come from me. The last thing I felt was an iron grip catch around my wrist and a towel be put to my face. The last thing I smelt was chloroform. And my last sight was of copper hair. . .