Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Echo Cave

ECHO CAVE            THE remarkable REVELATION
            ECHO CAVE            THE remarkable REVELATION

            Echo Cave had been only recently opened to tours.  Previously it had been regarded potentially unstable.  But the state had needed a good way of raising money without taxing anyone, so cave specialists and then construction workers were sent in, to make the place safe and tourist accessible. 
The specialists had seen thousands of caves, and so Echo Cave did not stick out to them.  A nice, relatively large cave of type such-and-such and that one structure, of course, but they had seen dozens like it.
The construction workers were a little more careful, a little more wary, only about half of them had been on cave jobs before and those that had moved around slowly with their heads bent a little forward, and peered around constantly, as if something might fall down if they didn’t notice it first.  There were enough workers on the team, and they were being paid little enough, that when one of them briefly disappeared, no one noticed.  What they did notice was the unnatural paleness of his face when he returned.  He stared straight ahead, and his chin shifted, as if he were simultaneously chewing on something and thinking very hard about it.  His fellow workers obligingly made the expected comment that he looked as though he had seen a ghost.  But either he had not seen enough movies or he had no narrative instinct about him at all, for he refused to enlighten them as to what had happened to him.  He simply quit the next day, without giving any reasons to them or to the boss.  They shook their heads.  He had always been a strange one anyway.  Within a couple days, he was no longer talked about, and by the end of the week, he was no longer even occasionally thought about.  Whether society in general was better or worse for this development is beyond the scope of this narrative.
Echo Cave was opened to tourists as planned—on schedule and with all the necessary precautions in place.  The opening day there was a big event touting the cave’s “natural wonders” and “extravagant beauties.”  However, despite the overblown add campaign—which the governor insisted would draw thousands and thousands of dollars and surely pay back for itself very quickly with tourists’ dollars being spent in the state—despite all of this, Echo Cave refused to perform as expected at first, and drew only minimal amounts of curious cave enthusiasts or random fun-seekers.  After a few truly atrocious weeks, the private aides of the governor were advising him to step back the ad campaign and warning him that it might be best if he just not mention the cave at all anymore, because it was truly becoming an embarrassment, a giant sinkhole of a project which was going absolutely nowhere.  Some whispered that it probably should be shut down, because it could become a flash point for bad PR, especially with the next round of elections coming up.  Others opined that it really should never have been invested in the first place.
But all of this did not prevent Paul David Hope from making his last minute decision to join a lonely tourist group heading in there late in the afternoon of a remarkably chilly late October day.  Neither did the fact that he really knew nothing about caves and had just stepped in as a lark—because he had some time to kill before catching his redeye flight back to New York—keep him from lagging behind the group.  His thoughts were vaguely, and in fact, almost unconsciously, preoccupied with his sister’s divorce from a guy named Seth, which she had insisted that he, Paul, manage, although he was just out of law school and barely set up in his own practice, and thus not nearly as qualified as all his family and acquaintances seemed to think, at least not in his own eyes, and probably not in the opinion of anyone in the profession, anyone who had a reasonable idea of how messy these things got.  And yet, his impetuous sister had got the notion in her head somehow that he was the one for it, and had insisted, and he found himself saddled with the case, and immediately more than little bit in over his head.  He had been highly concerned, until he discovered that Seth had not hired a lawyer at all and intended to represent himself, a very unwise move, in Paul’s book, which had ensured that things actually went rather smoothly after all, and Paul was able to wrap things up smoothly, boosting his own self confidence and his reputation in the eyes of his flighty sister.
All at once, Paul looked about him and there was no one in sight.  Somewhere in the distance he could hear voices, but this cave did strange things to sound.  There was no way to tell where the noises, the floating fragments of conversation, were coming from.  Something about the rock walls, how they wound around, passages doubling back on themselves, again and again, a twisted maze—somewhere in all of that, time and sound got mixed up.
            Suddenly he heard echoes, but these reflected noises were different, oddly familiar.  His spine tingled, but for a moment he did not understand.  What?  Where had he heard that odd voice before?  Strangely like his sisters, yet masculine, like his own, yet more reedy. . . . He stopped dead.  He remembered his voice on his own answering machine.  Take out the fuzz, and that was it.  Almost.  The weird echo was in fact his own voice reflected back to him, as if from the other side of a universe of difference.  There was still something off.  And he could not make out what this voice—it? him? was saying. . . .
            “Hello?  Who’s there?” he called.
            “Paul David Hope,” came the answer, booming, reverberating.
            “That’s, that’s MY name!”
            “And it’s my name.  You’re not going to understand, but I am you.  In 2054.  Don’t you hear the sound of an old man in my voice?  I’m . . . what you become.  What we become, I suppose.  But we have to have this conversation.”
            Paul puts his hands to his head!  “Why?”
            “Because you, I, we, must hear it, in 2010, so that I can exist in 2054.  If I, if you, do not hear this conversation then, in your now, in your present, I, or you, or we—whatever—do not become who I am in my now!”
            “And who am I then, I mean, in 2054?”  Paul heard a weird desperation in his own voice.
            “Well, you’re me, of course!”
            “I mean what are you, what am I, like?”
            “I can only say that I am what you will become with the knowledge of this dramatic conversation.  It will change our life, Paul.”
            “No!  Come on.  This is bizarre.  This is too weird!”
            “It’s strange for me too,” the spectral voice booms back.  “To return to this cave after all these years, knowing that I inflict upon myself the very thing that has turned me into what I am, a man of science, who has seen both great progress and great setbacks, great love and great isolation, and who is continually wondering over time and space.  I forgot, until I told you just now, what year it was I was told.  In a few days, you will forget it, try as you will not to.  And so I wondered, you will wonder, when this day will come again.  That is the price of forgetting.  You will pay a price for the knowledge too, though.  Your family will abandon you.  All that respect you were feeling as a lawyer will evaporate.”
            “No!” Paul murmured.  “I don’t want things to change.  You know we hate change.  So why are you doing this?”
            “Don’t you see?  We have no choice.  This conversation happened the first time, and so now it must happen again!  I came here because I had to.  And you, alas, you, I in 2010, have no choice but to listen, unpleasant though it be!  And yet . . . I just have to try this:  watch your step!”
            “What?”  Paul’s head was spinning.  He staggered backwards, stumbled into a stalagmite, and tripped.  Rock leapt up to meet his forehead.
            When he awoke, he was frigid, and alone.