She's been missing for two days. I stand on the back porch in the early morning, rattling dry cat food in a plastic bowl.
"Misty. Here, kitty kitty!"
Adam's already gone to work for the day and left me alone to look for the cat. I should be looking for a job instead. We just moved into this house, and I've been putting it off in lieu of wanting to finish the unpacking first, but now I have another distraction.
"Misty!" I shout and rattle the food.
Maybe something got her. There are owls out here. An owl can carry off a cat, can't it? Or maybe a bear. She'd be faster than a bear, wouldn't she? Stupid cat.
I turn around and go back inside to find my shoes. It rained last night, and the ground is wet, and I just want to go back to sleep for a little while, but I'm really worried about her. Moving must have really stressed her out. I don't want to think that she's run away for good. Maybe she's stuck up a tree somewhere.
I pull on a baggy wool sweater because the porch was freezing and I'm not sure how long I'll be willing to look. I take the bowl of cat food with me.
We're out in the middle of nowhere. Adam has to drive over half an hour just to get to work, but the rent out here is cheap, and we like not having any neighbors. I thought living out here would be good for Misty too. I wouldn't have to worry about her getting run over by cars. Instead, she gets lost.
I rattle the food. I call her name. I rattle the food. I yell. I'm getting pissed. The ground is slippery, it's cold, I want coffee, or I want sleep, and I want my stupid cat to hurry up and come home.
I also don't want to wander too far from the house. I don't know this area very well, and I do my best to keep track of my bearings through all the trees.
A sound. I stop rattling the food and strain my ears.
"Misty!" I shout. "Here kitty, come on. Come home, baby!"
I run towards the sound, doing my best to keep the cat food from rattling anymore in case it drowns out the sound of her meowing and also struggling not to slip and land on my ass.
If I drop this cat food, I'll never get her home.
Now I can't hear her.
"Here, kitty kitty. Where are you?"
Maybe I imagined it. Maybe it's some other cat.
What other cat? Out here? We're the only ones out here. My luck I would find someone else's directionally challenged cat.
Then I hear it again. I hear it for sure this time. It's more persistent, and it is definitely her. I'd know that squeaky little meow anywhere. It's just up ahead.
I stop short and look down in time to prevent myself from tripping into it - a great big gaping hole in the earth.
Was this a sinkhole? It didn't look recent.
And there's my little asshole; staring right up at me.
"Misty, climb up," I call in a sweet tone as I gently rattle the food bowl. "Come on, baby. Come eat."
But, she's stupid, and she just walks back and forth, back and forth, looking up at me and meowing pathetically. She can climb out of there. I know she can. The sides aren't that high. She's just being a brat.
I see another hole in the ground beside her that goes in at an angle, and I wonder if it's some sort of animal den. Do we have badgers out here? I have a creeping feeling of discomfort every time she paces in front of that hole, and I need to get her up here before something comes out of there and makes a meal out of her.
I try tossing in a few pieces of the cat food to see if I can tempt her. She loudly chews as she huddles in the damp hole, looking far too disinterested in her predicament.
"Get up here, you little shit!"
She only looks up at me, twitches her whiskers, and sniffs around for more dropped food bits.
"Well, you're not getting any more until you get up here!"
My threat means nothing to her as she starts to pace around inside the hole again.
I stand up with an exasperated sigh, my knees stiff from crouching at the edge of the hole. My hands are cold as I clutch the food dish. I have no choice.
I turn around and walk back to the house, feeling cranky every step of the way and vowing she won't be getting wet food or going outside again for a month.
When I finally get back to the house, I leave the food dish on the porch railing and go around to the garage. It's dark, and the air feels humid inside as I fumble around for the light switch while trying not to get icked out at the thought of brushing my hand up against some spider or its web. Finally, I turn on the light and look around. The landlords left a bunch of shit in here, using it for storage, but at least offering to let us use it for the same. How generous.
There aren't any windows, and the dim bulb overhead doesn't help much after coming in from the bright morning sunshine. Eventually, my eyes adjust and I find what I was looking for, a ladder.
It's gross. Dusty. Rusty. Covered in cobwebs. I try my best to drag it by not touching under any of the steps on the ladder until I get back outside in the better light to make sure there aren't any black widows hiding on the thing. Thankfully, there aren't any. I hoist it under one arm and begin the miserable walk back to that damn hole.
My shoulder is aching, and my arm feels dead by the time I got back with the ladder, but she's still in there. Still just looking up at me as if there wasn't a care in the world.
I carefully lower the ladder and watch her skitter away as it touches the bottom with a loud smack despite my best effort to be graceful.
"You want to climb up?" I ask, hopeful.
Of course not. Of course, her dumb ass won't climb the ladder, and she wanders closer to the other hole, and now I know I have to hurry up and grab her before something comes out of there, or she freaks out and goes in.
"It's okay; I'm coming," I say as I shakily get onto the ladder and begin to climb down and struggling not to bash my knees on every step.
She meows a little in response but just watches my predicament in amusement. I should have got a dog instead.
I finally get down into the hole and make to grab her, and the little brat pulls away from me.
"Misty, get over here!"
She looks nervous as I try to pick her up and just when my hand brushes up against her fur, she skitters away, ducking out of my reach and running a circle in the hole and under the ladder as she tries to escape me.
In her desperate attempt to get away, you'd think she'd finally just jump out of the hole, but no, she runs into that other hole. The deeper, darker, possibly inhabited hole.
"Misty, get back here!" I call as I crouch in front of the dark opening, but of course, she ignores me. Not even a 'fuck you' meow.
I could go in after her. It looks big enough to get into if I crawl on my belly, but I shudder at the thought. Who knows what's in there? Not me. That brat can come out on her own. I've had it!
I turn around and begin climbing the ladder. When I finally get out of the hole, I look down and feel a little sick. What if something eats her? I'm angry, but that's still my baby.
I leave the ladder behind in case she decides to come out and make my way back to the house.
A few hours roll by, and I can't stop thinking about her down there. I certainly wasn't able to go back to sleep. What if she gets stuck? What if there's water and she drowns? It did just rain. I don't think she'd of gone down there if it was an occupied animal den. She'd of smelled if it were, wouldn't she? This move has been upsetting for her and yelling at her probably didn't help. I start to feel guilty that I just left her down there.
I tear open one of the boxes I hadn't got around to unpacking yet marked 'house tools' and dig around inside until I find my husband's heavy-duty flashlight. I test it to make sure the batteries are still good and when I'm satisfied I go back outside and grab the dish of cat food from the porch railing.
I'm coming home with her if it's the last thing I do!
I make my way back to the hole and back down the ladder as I struggle to balance the food dish and not drop the flashlight at the same time. Somehow, I manage.
She's still down the deeper hole...I think.
If she came out, she certainly didn't come home.
I rattle the food in the dish and try calling her in as sweet and welcoming of a voice as I can manage.
"Misty. Baby. Come on out. You gotta be hungry."
Yep, she's still in there.
I shine the flashlight inside but only see a dark tunnel going diagonally down. How deep is it? I hear her pretty clearly; it can't be that deep, can it?
"Baby," I call again and whistle the note that usually brings her to eat when it's dinner time.
Another meow. No cat.
No. No, I am not going in there after her. This is ridiculous! She'll come out when she's ready. When she's done being stressed out.
And then her meows get loud, and they get frantic, and I know something is wrong.
"Baby!" I cry. "Misty, come here. Come on!" I shout down the hole, but her meows sound like they're getting further away, muffled...frightened.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
What am I going to do? Did she fall into something? Did she get lost?
I can't leave her. I can't leave her in there all alone. She's scared. I can hear her yowling now.
Oh, god. Oh, god my cat. My poor baby!
Mustering some courage I set down the food dish and, flashlight in hand, I wriggle into the tight hole.
This is upsetting. This is not good. The angle of descent is getting steep. It's dark and damp, and I suddenly realize; what if I can't turn around?
Oh, fuck no! Fuck this!
I try to wriggle backward as I'm suddenly panicking in regret.
I can't back up! I try pushing myself back with my hands in desperation but the dirt under me is slick from the rain, and I'm not getting any traction. And then I drop the flashlight. I watch in horror as it rolls ahead of me, leaving me alone in the dark. Somewhere, deeper down the hole, I hear it clatter.
My heart is thundering. I'm starting to hyperventilate. I'm stuck.
Calm down. Calm down.
I hear the echoing of my cat's meows below, and I struggle to get a grip.
Okay, well, I heard the flashlight rattle. It landed somewhere. The cat's still down there. There's gotta be a way. There's just gotta be a way to turn around down there. Some way to come back up. If I can just turn around. I'll be okay. Don't panic. You can get out of here. You can get the cat. You can get the flashlight. You can go home. It'll be okay.
With no way to go back, I force myself to go forward, cursing myself along every agonizing inch. Why? Why did I do this? This is the stupidest thing I've ever done.
I can't see. It's pitch black, and I'm scared shitless. There's nothing worse than the dark, and I don't know where I'm going, but I keep going anyway.
"Misty?" I call. She hasn't meowed in a while. I need to hear her. I need to believe there's life down there. If she's alive, it would be some comfort to me. Some ray of hope, but now I don't hear her at all.
My hand slips and the rest of my body follows as I reach a particularly slick patch of wet earth and before I know it I'm slipping fast, and I can't stop myself. Falling headfirst, and then I strike a wall.
I blacked out...I think. It's still black. Am I even awake?
My head hurts. Am I blind? Oh, god. Where am I? Why am I still here? This is a nightmare, right? I gotta wake up. I gotta wake up.
I'm not waking up.
I'm crying hysterically, frantically groping around in the dark, for what, I don't even know. Anything. Anything at all.
And then I feel it.
"Yes! Yes, thank you, god. Thank you! Thank you!"
But when I flip the switch...it doesn't turn on.
"Oh, god no. Please no!" I beg as I continue to flip the switch and shake the flashlight.
I gently try to unscrew the top of the flashlight. Maybe if I fiddle with the batteries. They're new, aren't they? They can't be dead!
My hands are shaking, and I wonder if I'm having a heart attack.
"Come on. Come on."
I screw the top back again, and the light turns on.
"Yes!" I shout as I clutch my only joy in my dirty hands.
When I finally look around, my one moment of relief is snatched from me.
I can turn around, which is good, but barely. I can't stand up; it's too tight in here. There's a tunnel to the left of me, and two above me...two.
A slow trickle of mud is dribbling from both.
Which one did I fall down? How can I get back up? It's too slick and muddy. I can't get out the way I got in!
I hear a forlorn meow somewhere down the left tunnel.
"Misty? Misty, baby, come here! Please come here!" I shout and try to shine the flashlight into the tunnel, but it winds away at an angle, and there isn't much to see.
No wonder she couldn't get back out again. She must have slipped on the way down too.
I try reaching up to see if I can force my way up one of the tunnels, not even being certain if it was the same one I descended. My hands slip and sink into the dirt which begins to break apart, and I panic as I imagine it all caving in on me.
No. No. I can't. Not that way. I can't.
I cry and shake, and I start shouting for help.
"Help! Someone help me! Please!"
I start shouting for help over and over again. How long was I blacked out? Adam would be home from work now, wouldn't he? He'd be looking for me, right? He'd find the ladder and know I had come down here.
Stay calm. Stay calm. Help will come.
Help will come with search and rescue and a big machine to dig me out of here.
I'll go home. I'll go home. It'll be okay.
I don't want to turn out my light. It's all I've got, but who knows how long it'll take? What if it's hours before someone comes? I need to use it sparingly.
But what if it does that scary thing where it doesn't turn on again?
God, what do I do?
With trembling hands, I switch it off.
And I wait.
I shout for help.
But nobody comes.
Nobody is coming.
I want to throw up. I want to be sick. I can't stop crying. I can't stop shaking. I want to see my husband again. I want him to hold me and take me away from this place. Hell, I'd be happy just to see that stupid cat, but I'm alone.
"Help!" I shout at the top of my lungs. My throat is aching and dry.
I have to be dehydrated. I have to be hungry, but I'm too scared to care. I just want out. There has to be a way.
I turn on the flashlight again. I can't take even one more second of the darkness. I just can't. I gotta get out of here.
In desperation, I make my way into the left tunnel.
I haven't heard Misty in a while, maybe hours. It's been hours by now, hasn't it? It's felt like hours. Maybe she got out. Maybe she found a tunnel that leads out of here. Maybe that's why she's not crying anymore. That little brat found a way out and left me behind!
The tunnel is small. I have to crawl on my hands and knees, but at least it's not as tight as the tunnel that first led me down here.
It goes on, and on, and on.
The light flickers.
It's getting dimmer.
"No. No, don't do that! Don't you dare do that!" I shout as I frantically shake the flashlight in my hand, but the light's not getting any stronger.
I have to turn it off. I have no choice. I'll need it when I reach the end of this to see where to go next, and there's not much to see in the meantime, right? It just winds along like this the whole way.
I pathetically sob as I switch it off. Why did I keep it on for so long? I should have been more careful.
I grope along with my hands, moving slower now; trying to make sure I don't fall into anything or smack my head again. The ground feels drier. I can still breathe. There's still air. That's a good sign, isn't it? The way out has to be just up ahead.
I keep trying to imagine light that will appear faintly in the distance if only I strain my eyes hard enough, the way out will appear.
It never appears, and I've been crawling for ages.
But that's good, isn't it? She's gone home, right? She got out somehow!
I can't take it anymore, and I switch the flashlight back on. The tunnel gets tighter. There's still more winding darkness ahead, but when I look to the side, I scream.
There's another tunnel right behind me. Which one did I come out of? How many of these are there?
Oh, god, I'm lost. I'm so lost. I can't even be certain I can go back the same way I came, and it's getting too tight to keep going straight.
I huddle up in a ball, shaking uncontrollably. I can't breathe, there's no more air, no more.
But yet I keep breathing. I'm just freaking out. I'm freaking out, that's all.
And then I hear it, the distant meow of a cat.
She's still here. She's still in here somewhere. She didn't get out. Oh, god no, there's no way out. There's no way out!
"Help! Somebody help me! God help me please!" I scream at the top of my lungs, but of course, there's no one to hear, only the cat, whose pathetic cries echo somewhere in the distance. I can't even tell which tunnel she's in.
I don't want to die here. I don't want to die alone like this.
The flashlight flickers.
No. No, not that!
I frantically shake it and the light flickers and grows even dimmer. There isn't much time left. Fuck it! I'm dead if I don't move. Move damn it! Move!
I make a snap decision and pick the tunnel that looks the least likely to be the one from which I came and begin to crawl.
"Misty! Where are you?"
I need my cat. I need her meow. I need life down here other than just me, and then I hear her.
A sad, tortured little yowl, somewhere in the distance.
The light goes out.
"No!" I cry and flip the switch over and over again. "No. No, god no. Please no. Please don't do this. Please don't do this me!"
It's not coming on. It's not coming on, and no one is coming to help me.
Please god, I don't want to die like this.
I grope around, desperate to feel anything, but the tunnel just keeps going.
A little further. Keep going. If you stop here, you'll die. Just move! There's nothing to lose now. It doesn't matter, anywhere but here. Move!
Refusing to leave behind the dead flashlight in some vain hope that it can still come back to life, I frantically grope my way along.
There's gotta be something here. Something.
The ground feels damp. Damper. Slick. I'm wriggling on my belly; the tunnel is too tight to even crawl ahead on my knees.
I'm praying I don't encounter a dead end, but worse, I begin slipping forward again with no way to stop myself, sliding uncontrollably downwards.
No, not down! Not further down!
But it's too late, and I reach the bottom with a splash. Wherever I am, I can sit up, barely, with my head bent at an awkward angle because it's so cramped in here. I'm shivering, whether from terror or the cold, muddy water, I'm not sure.
It doesn't work, but I need it. I need it! It's all I've got, and I slosh my hands around me searching, but below the water is thick mud and I'm starting to sink slowly. The more I thrash and move, the more mired I become.
At last, my foot touches something that rolls away slightly in the mud, and I reach down and pull the flashlight above the water.
It turns on. The light is very faint, but it turns on, and that's when I finally can see around me. I'm in a very small pocket of earth; there are no other tunnels except the vertical one that's directly above me. I can't climb straight up. There's no way out. I can't get back up that way. I can't.
The light flickers twice and is gone, leavening me alone in the darkness once again.
Somewhere in the distance, I hear the echoing cry of a cat.