‘I’d be happy to help,’ Harvey had said eagerly, as the opportunity would be something different to do.
Helen had made the invitation a week earlier to Harvey’s local bushwalking group. She was looking for someone to assist with her research project.
‘Ok. We’ll meet up at the pub next Saturday arvo, say about three o’clock,’ she had replied, and Harvey nodded his agreement.
Helen possessed a magnetism to turn the head of any man or woman. Her attire consisted of a close-fitting khaki outfit which showed off her slender toned body. Every person at the bar had turned to stare when they entered the pub. Harvey could hear the silent thoughts of the gawkers; “how come that weedy little accountant, Harvey Trott, knows such a stunner.”
Their destination was an hour’s drive out of town. Helen and Harvey walked from the tourist carpark to the end of the walkway, where they set up the electronic sensor. Now all they had to do was wait. Helen stood poised at a small control panel mounted at the end of the railing.
‘I’ll turn off the lights. Are you ready?’ Helen asked.
‘Ok.’ Harvey replied, and everything turned pitch black.
He lay down. Soon he could hear Helen’s soft, steady breathing. A weird nervous excitement came over him at lying so close to her. Then Harvey detected a flutter. Was it in his tummy, or did that sound come from far off?
The noise grew a little louder, giving away a hint of why they were there. Then, a flurry of tiny flapping wings began to create a whirlpool of gentle air around Harvey’s arms, legs, and face. Little orange horseshoe bats were coming in waves up from the depths of the cave to leave for their nighttime feeding. Harvey lay motionless upon the metal walkway as the tiny creatures flew the coop.
Something about small outback towns seems to attract the weird and the wonderful. Back in the 1950s, a hermit had spent a long time alone in the cave. That recollection just popped into Harvey’s mind. On their guided tours, Park Rangers point out the campsite and indicate remnant artefacts. Then, to give tourists a sense of being in utter darkness, the Rangers turn off the lights for a moment. Did the man make friends with the little creatures, Harvey wondered?
Finally, the electronic counter stopped beeping, and Harvey waited for Helen to move. But, instead, all was silent, and his eyes swam in a sea of absolute darkness. Then Helen began to move. Harvey sat up and felt for the nearest guard rail. Waving his right arm about cautiously, it eventually hit metal. With a grab, he clutched the railing and hauled himself up, but something brushed his hand that he could not see.
‘I’ll turn on the lights if you’re ready?”
Helen’s voice echoed in the cavern.
Harvey heard a shuffle of feet and squinted his eyes in preparation. Light pierced the blackness of the cave.
Harvey’s loud expletive reverberated into the depths of the cave.
‘How are we going to get past them?’
His finger pointed to a menacing multitude along the way back.
‘Don’t worry,’ Helen replied nonchalantly.
Looking down at the rail, Harvey saw the thing that had brushed his hand. It was too close for comfort. His arm jerked back in fear. Around the cavern, banded tree snakes clung to every stalactite and stalagmite. The slithery serpents also dangled along the length of the railings on either side of the walkway
‘They’re known as Night Tigers,’ Helen said unphased by the den of snakes as she packed away the electronic counter.
Harvey, on the other hand, was fighting to overcome a rising panic in his guts.
‘They can’t hurt; they only have a mouth big enough to catch tiny critters like orange horseshoe bats. Besides, they are only mildly venomous,’
Helen’s words trailed off as she began to stride back along the walkway.
“ONLY!” Harvey’s mind screamed as his legs dashed to catch up.
He followed close behind, keeping to the middle of the walkway with his arms folded in front. But at every step, a snake would strike in Harvey’s direction. Each snake’s bulging eyes made their dart more menacing.
At the cave entrance, Harvey bolted to the carpark loo. He had no fear of creepy crawlies in the unlit interior after what Helen had put him through. She could cool her heels outside for a while. Alone, Harvey thought of the hermit. Did the man ever escape, or had the snakes kept the hermit trapped? When Harvey stepped outside, he was glad to breathe in the fresh evening’s air, and with it, he inhaled a valuable lesson; be wary of innocent invitations, for they can hide a menacing exit.
© Tropical Writers Inc 2024