Under the Stars and Below the Moon

Martin Bolwaters firmly grasped his back-pack and pulled on it, bringing it closer to him. To create a sort of comfort for him, one that reflected a mother’s love and affection.

He was staring into a rocky abyss, the place where legends were created, and myths were found: Poddlin depths. It was an enormous cave that was named after the man who discovered it: Joseph Poddlin. Poddlin was never found within it. In fact, the cave had never been found. The last anyone had heard from Poddlin; he was at the local market filling up his water and explaining to one of the cashiers: “Found a cave out in Whitcom County. I haven’t seen anything like it before. A gaping entrance that was just calling out my name. I feel like it’s been doing that since I was a little boy.”

That was the last that was heard of Poddlin. Authorities went searching everywhere when the local sheriff, Poddlin’s good friend, noticed that he never came around for Tuesday morning Bible study. Once the authorities discovered that he had gone spelunking, they went in search of the cave out in Whitcom county. However, they never found it. The seemingly non-existent cave had never been found and was named after the man who discovered it. Poddlin’s spelunking into the cave made it a legend and to most, a myth. And yet, Martin was standing before the cave.

The cave’s maw had an eerily entrancing effect on Martin. The cave had been beckoning him. Its entrance was massive. Something that could swallow up the moon, or drink the oceans to create violent tides. The pine trees that surrounded it were old. Moss drooped off of their branches like old cobwebs and covered the rocks that bolstered them in the ground. The rocks were covered with dew from the drizzling rains of the grey skies. The invitation was quite clear and inescapable to the man who was standing before it.

Martin’s nerves slowly came back to him as his gaze became more and more transfixed on Poddlin’s entrance. He was the second man to discover this place, and the first man to come after Poddlin himself.

“Okay,” Martin breathed out and began to put one foot in front of the other.

He entered the cave and began to explore it. After going down an incline of the cave, Martin could not see anything except the imaginary stars he attempted to picture. He turned his headlamp on and continued to go downward.

The cave’s walls were smooth in some places, jagged in others, and knife-like on its ceiling. It was cool and wet inside. Terrifying for the average spelunker but not for Martin.

He had spent months preparing for this moment. He would go to a local cave that was well known and well-traveled and acclimated his body to the environment. He would go to lengths at a time without food to ensure that he could be prepared for the worse and always kept water on hand. He trained his body to go longer periods without its necessity. He had plenty of gear to help him go down holes that had no way to be climbed down and ways to drag his bag and gear with him in case there was a “squeeze.” He had prepared himself for the worst of the worst and accepted the fate that he could face if it should come.

He looked up to Poddlin, he was his role model and one that lived a life that seemed to beckon him to partake in. And just like Poddlin, he felt the beckoning of the cave too. The stiff walls and the loose rocks, the abyssal holes, and sharp “squeezes.” Martin would think that as if both he and Poddlin had the same kind of life that called them out. That both owned the cave.

The cave began to narrow down more and more as Martin went deeper and deeper into it. He was a long way away from the entrance. He expected to conquer this cave in honor of Poddlin or die trying. It didn’t matter to him that the cave began to narrow further and further, he wanted to defeat it.

There were no other options to take in the cave, Martin had one choice. The narrowing path was the only direction that he could take. He searched and searched the cave for any other paths and found none. So, he took the narrowest path, knowing that he was completely able to take it. The path began to tighten more and more. It strangled Martin as he was traversing through it. The ceiling above him started to narrow as well. Before Martin knew it, he was crawling on his belly with his hands out in front of him.

He took his bag off and drug it behind him with a rope tied around his shoulders. Martin’s skillset came in hand because the narrow path almost made it impossible for him to take a full breath into his lungs. It forced him to stop breathing at a certain point because the expansion of his lungs made it impossible for him to crawl further. Martin almost got nervous but crawled forward with arrogance and pride. The emotions that shoved his nervousness down its own hole.

And that is what Martin found, a hole at the end of the “tube.”

“Hugh,” Martin let out a gruntled sigh of relief.

The hole’s entrance was smaller than the one he was already in. However, within the hole was breathing room and a small ledge for him to sit on and take a breather. He had been crawling for at least two hours now and was wanting a break from the long travel and a way to finally take in a deep breath. As he looked down the hole, he began to shuffle down into it. His head went in first but realized that he could not get his shoulders through. He stuck his right hand in through the hole and started to make his way down towards the ledge; however, his shoulders were still too broad for the hole. There was no way for him to push himself back up, the ledge was too far from his right hand. He had to go in further. As he tightened up his body as much as he could and breathed out as much as his chest would allow him, without breaking his ribs; he began to slowly slide in through the hole. His sliding was met with an echoing “pop.”

He screamed out in shock and pain as his left shoulder finally made it through, but not without payment. It dislocated as the rest of his body started to speedily slide through the hole. As he slid down, he let out another yelp of pain as his waste stopped him from sliding all the way through. He hung there upside down for fifteen minutes in pain. He knew what he had to do and that was to tighten his body up, once again, as much as possible in order to slide through. As this was happening, he began to feel his right femur attempt to shift from its original position. He fell down onto the ledge before another one of his joints popped out.

Slamming onto the ground, he felt his shoulder reposition itself back into its original position. After writhing on the ledge for a short moment, Martin sat up and turned his light off to take in the dark.

“I rule over you,” he exclaimed with a grunt.

After about an hour of rest, he turned his light back on and looked down the crevice that had no bottom to it. He threw a rock down and only heard the echoes of the rock bouncing off the walls and never onto the ground beneath it. The rock’s noises only faded away. Martin grabbed his gear and prepared himself to repel down into the deep abyss below him.

Repelling downward into the abyss, he watched the cave walls around him bellow in and out as if they were alive and breathing, consuming him whole. He felt as if he were swallowed by a creature of hell. The jagged walls had crevices that led to more places of unexplored area. The walls became smooth at some points with water trickling down and jagged crags in the next moment. At one point, the esophagus began to constrict. Martin had to squeeze his way through; there wasn’t much difficulty in this, but he had almost felt claustrophobic. Almost.

He traveled through the constrictive hole. Feeling as if this tunnel would continue after this squeeze. Until something so absurd and impossible struck his eyes. His descent through the esophagus revealed the great expanse that was lying beneath him. It was almost as if he had gone through the ceiling of a building, except there were no walls. Looking around and below, his headlamp caught nothing around him except the abyss. He could only see the ceiling of the cave above him. His rope continued to travel downward, so he descended further.

Nothing surrounded him. The comforting abyss was the only thing he could see. He almost became disoriented and couldn’t tell which way was up and which way was down. All he could tell this by was that if he let go of his rope, he would know which direction he would be going.

Martin was coming to the end of his rope, all 700ft of it; then, he noticed something. He was finally able to see a protruding wall below him as he was reaching the end of his rope. The wall looked more like a tunnel extending out to him. The protrusion stuck out next to the end of his rope and at the end of the protrusion was a hole. A hole right next to him at the end of his rope and in the side of the wall. There was still nothing but pitch black below him and a beckoning before him. The hole was at least five feet away from him, making him have to swing over to it in order to reach it. Heart pounding, he began to swing.

His swinging was methodical and highly thought out. Yet, he didn’t make it. He became too zealous for the hole and misjudged how far in he would make it. He threw his arms in, expecting his body to follow. His body didn’t. He slipped out from the hole and began to fall, with an abrupt stop. He had tied a stopper knot at the very end of his rope that caught him. He hung there for five long minutes, grabbed hold of the rope, and climbed up the few feet that he fell down. Steeling his nerves, he began to swing back and forth again, with better judgment in mind and made it through the hole. Backpack and all.

Thankfully, he and everything he had on himself was able to fit through. As he was crawling in the hole, it soon began to become tighter and tighter, causing him to take off his backpack. His arrogance steeled him forward, emotions were a thing of the past for him. He only sought to venerate his idle: Poddlin. He came to a new conviction at that moment; he wanted to be a sacrifice to Poddlin.

The constricting cave began to go downward, first at an incline, then as a steep down cline. Before Martin knew it, he was crawling downward upside down. This strained his body, but he could see a ninety-degree shift below him. He was almost to it until he became the worst thing imaginable: stuck. He couldn’t budge a muscle. He began to scream and struggle.

His struggling did not help him, and his screaming only pained his ears. Blood began to further fill his head as he could hear his own heart pounding over his screams. His face became incredibly red. He could feel his feet struggle to gain any sort of blood and pound away in vain attempts to get any of it. He could feel his lungs become constricted both by the cave around him and his organs that were laying on top of him. His struggling became softer and his screams quieter. The sound of his heart soon became faint to him. He blacked out.

Martin hung there for two or three hours, going in and out of consciousness. His headlamp began to flicker and powered off. Swallowed whole by the darkness, Martin had nothing left for himself. Four hours passed.

After the strike of the fourth hour, Martin let out a deep sigh while out of consciousness and began to slide down the cave. The few feet that he did slide down, he stopped right before his head reached the floor below him. He realized that he was sliding after slipping into consciousness. He wiggled some and realized that he made it down to the ninety-degree angle. He could feel the new cave location in front of him. Adrenaline rushed through his body as he used his arms to grab hold of the wall and pull himself through the ninety degrees. He lied there in the part of the cave in full relief.

He couldn’t feel his legs but could feel that blood was attempting to make its way back through them. He lied there in the pitch black and passed out.

He awoke not knowing how long he had been out. All he knew was that he had to push through his feelings and make it. He began crawling through once again. Only, he was weak and much slower than before. He didn’t know where he was heading, but he realized that he started to go up an incline. Something was different too, it seemed warmer.

As he continued up the incline, the warmth continued to grow along with humidity. He noticed something: light. There was light at the end of this tunnel. He was dumbfounded and shocked. He stopped crawling in that moment not knowing what he was seeing. It had to be light. He crawled in the jet-black tunnel, eyes adjusted to the dark and sensitive to light. He knew what he was staring at, it was really light at the “end of the tunnel.” It became brighter to a certain greyness and then stopped becoming brighter. He then reached the exit.

The exit to the cave was more like an entrance, an entrance to the outside. He left the cave and inhaled as deeply as he could because there was so much space around him. He lied down on the soft grass and passed out once again. He awoke, laying on the supple grass and dirt. Hunger pangs ruined the moment, and he quickly grabbed his bag to drink water and eat what he had. He then looked around at that moment. He noticed that he was in a massive opening: a field of gently flowing grass and tall pine trees all around. There was a light foggy haze within the air, it surrounded him and seemed to be the source of warmth he felt. He took time to rest a little longer. While resting, he looked far off into the distance and saw a beam of light coming down onto a bolder and what seemed to be a log. Stumbling to his feet, he shakily went down the field toward the beam.

Reaching the beam of light, he first noticed the bolder. It was large but movable. He then looked at the log and saw a backpack. It was darkly colored as if time had shaded it. However, he looked at the log once again and saw that it was not a log but a human being. He looked closer and noticed that the person’s hands were folded over their chest and were lying in a manner as if they were properly buried. He looked peaceful and untouched, only disturbed by time. Upon looking closer, a book was underneath the body’s hands. Martin took the book from him and opened it to the first page: Joseph Poddlin.

Martin was right, this was Poddlin Depths, and this was Joseph Poddlin. He had done it; he had conquered the cave that he had crawled hours through and made it to the myth himself! He began to flip through the book and noticed that Poddlin had a book-marked page. The words within it were underlined: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

“What?” Martin murmured to himself.

He noticed a note next to the underlined passage: “Oh, damned be me for not realizing the mistake I have made. Forgive me, Lord.”

“Forgive me? Forgive me! For what!?” Martin cried out. “You are my legend and my idle, I have studied your ways and training in order to become my own spelunker! I wanted to be just like you in every way that you spelunked! And this is what you write!?”

Martin stood up furiously from the body and looked down at it in disdain.

“Bullshit,” Martin murmured in enmity.

He looked at the bolder and realized that it was able to be moved. Out of animosity, he rolled the boulder over the dead body. He realized something further, the bolder was covering another cave. “I will become a sacrifice to myself, for myself.”

Martin crawled in headfirst downwards into the hole. As he did so, the bolder that Joseph Poddlin once rolled over the hole covered it once again.

Peace was in the air around Poddlin’s body, as if nothing had touched it.

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Collyn Dixon

Collyn Dixon

Student at New Orleans Theological Seminary. Philosophy, Theology, Christianity, and Phenomenology.