The floor was still at least twenty feet below her.
Surrounded by utter blackness, Lisa Maxwell tipped her head so the cone light from her helmet could slide over the interior of the cave. Then wondered what the heck she’d gotten herself into.
“You okay down there?”
The man’s voice echoing from above drew her back to reality, and she shook off strange feelings of self-doubt as she continued her descent into darkness. Her hand slid down the rope as she let out slack inch by inch. When her boots hit the slippery rocks at the bottom, she unhooked the rope from her harness and stepped back. “Off belay,” she called.
“Belay off,” the voice yelled back.
She rested her hands on her hips and drew a breath of damp air. Mildew and the rich scent of earth filled her nostrils.
The ray from her carbide lantern bounced off thin, pointed stalactites hanging from the ceiling, orange and red sediments swirling through the fragile structures. Scattered throughout the room, large columns covered in white residue flowed from floor to ceiling, and everywhere, dripping water echoed through the vast dark space.
A shiver raced down her spine, so she pulled up the zipper on her coveralls. It might be nine million degrees outside in the Jamaican sun, but underneath all this limestone rock, it was downright cold.
Metal scraped against rock above, and she glanced up while her brawny guide descended the rope and dropped to the floor next to her. He unhooked his harness, letting the rope hang from the small hole in the ceiling they’d just come through.
“This room is bigger than the maps indicate.” His thick Jamaican accent hung in the air.
As she turned to get a better look, her light swept over the darkness, landing on a translucent structure suspended from the ceiling. Though she’d have liked to spend more time examining that drapery, there were more pressing issues at hand. She gestured to the left. “You start over there, Simeon. I’ll look to the right. Be sure to note any tunnels or passageways.”
He disappeared into the darkness, his light bouncing off structures he passed, his feet shuffling along the rock floor. Lisa began her own in-depth search while he worked. As she moved, she checked her watch periodically, calculating how long they’d been below the surface, as was her habit whenever she was caving.
Simeon wasn’t one for talking, and today she was thankful for the quiet. She skirted a small rimstone pool filled with murky water, picked her way around columns, careful not to touch any in the process. A gypsum flower jutted out of the wall, the presence of the curling, rosette-shaped calcium-sulfite structure indicating this cave was more stable than she’d thought. The knowledge calmed her.
“Anything?” she asked after they’d been searching nearly fifteen minutes.
“A couple small tunnels. None big enough for a man.”
Damn. She wasn’t going to get discouraged yet. They’d only been in this cavern a few hours. There were lots of rooms left to check.
She resumed her search. When she reached the far side of the room, she glanced up and a stream of light from her helmet spilled over the cave. The undulating drapery now hung above her, the banded structure blocking her view of the opposite wall.
She needed a wider perspective. Without looking behind her, she took a step back. A loud crack resounded through the quiet, followed by the rush of flowing water. Lisa lost her balance, and her arms flew out to the side to steady herself, but it was already too late. She managed one shrill scream before the floor dropped out from