Night Swimming

"What if someone sees us?"

"What if they do?"

"I freely admit that I'm not perfectly versed in the laws of Georgia, but I'm pretty sure skinny dipping is discouraged."

"They also discourage being an accessory to fraud and aiding and abetting a felon, but that hasn't stopped you."

"That's different."

"Right. Skinny dipping is probably just a misdemeanor. Besides, you were the one complaining that it's too hot."

"That was before I remembered."

"Remembered what, that you didn't pack a swimsuit?"

"No. That the movie 'Deliverance' took place somewhere near here."

"OK. This time you may have a point."


Wilson paid an extra three bucks for the guidebook to the cave and read it out loud at every numbered guidepost as they headed further and further under ground.

The first open area had sheltered families hiding from Sherman's troops on their march to the sea, he read, and before that had hidden runaway slaves on their journey north.

"I suppose you're expecting me to make some comment about irony now," House said.

Wilson looked at him and waited.

"Sorry." House headed toward the far end of the cave. "Too easy."

Two stops past that the book claimed the cave had been a storehouse for smoked meats and vegetables to protect them from the summer heat.

"Think if we looked long enough we could find a ham sandwich still hidden behind those rocks?"

"Think if I waited long enough you'd stop whining?"

"It's a cave," House said. "It's a big hole in the ground. It's boring."

"It's not boring. It's a natural wonder. It took hundreds of thousands of years of water seeping into stone, drop by drop, to create a cave this size."

"Then it's naturally boring." House headed toward the tracks where the converted coal car rolled past to pick up and drop off tourists along the main path into the cave.

Wilson heard the echo of his own sigh come back at him from the rock walls. He looked over the guide again, letting his eyes follow the dotted lines from one natural room to another. At the center of the cave, the book said, the walls rose hundreds of feet and stalactites hung down from the roof of the cave, growing drip by drip to create new formations. The room looked different now than it had when it was first discovered, and it would change even more in another year, or ten, or 100.

He heard the shuffle of House's steps, the tap of the cane as it hit the stone floor.

"Why'd you want to come anyway?" House was suddenly beside him. The echo had disguised his approach.

"I thought it'd be fun," Wilson said. "Besides, it's supposed to rain all day. Would you rather be out in the storm?"

House walked past him again, toward the edges of the room where photos hung beneath the narrow beam of a spotlight, showing the way things once were. "What made you think it would be fun?"

"Didn't you ever try to dig a cave when you were a kid?"

House didn't answer.

"You know, head out to the woods with your friends and your lunch and keep digging until it was time for dinner?" Wilson grinned. "One summer, we worked at it for three days. We swore we were going to make one big enough so we'd each have our own bunk in there. Furthest we got was a hole just big enough to fit Danny and the dog. The dog hated it."

"The Marines called that destruction of property." House turned toward him. "I tried. The digging thing, anyway. Not so much with the friends. Or the dog either."

House looked around the cave walls: the iron pegs driven deep into stone that may have once held some dried bit of beef, the rocks that were big enough to hold a family's apples for a season, the dark patches were soot probably collected from torches and lamps.

Wilson heard the whine of the electric engine on the coal car that could take them back to the surface, or further into the cave. "We can leave if you want," he said.

House nodded toward the guidebook. "What else does that say is in here?"

Wilson folded back the pages to the map, his fingers following the dotted line. "Says here that one of the rooms was used to cook moonshine during prohibition."

"Does it say if the still is still in operation?"

Wilson closed the book. "I suppose we could find out."

House shrugged. "As long as we're here."