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John continued to caterpillar forward with a diminishing rate of progress.

" The water coming off these roots taste funny. "  John said while moving his head from side to side trying to avoid the water dripping in his face.

" Hay! Wow! This is interesting. There is a couple of blue crystals mixed in with the quarts. Their probably amethyst. "  Luke guest.

" Right now, I'm more interested in breathing. "  John squeaked.

" What was that? "  Asked Luke.

" Probably vibration from another blast. "  John suggested.

There was another vibration.

" That's it for me. I'm outa here. "  John chocked.

" Second that. "  Luke replied.

The vibration intensified, and there was a snapping sound from the rock back in the passage.

" My legs! My legs! "  John yelled.

Luke crawled around to John. John was trying to scream with his teeth clinched.

" Can you tell how bad it is? "  Luke asked without expecting an answer.

Luke began to cough from the dust filling the cave. John kept screaming with his teeth clinched, sneezing and choking at the same time. After fifteen minutes Luke stopped coughing. John's screaming had subsided but he was now making a gurgling type noise spiked with guttural moans. Luke laid trembling with the side of face in a shallow pool of water. They both knew they would never get out of that cave alive.

" Can you tell how bad it is? "  Luke asked.

" Bad. Real bad. Feels like I'm crushed above the knees. "  John cried out as he began screaming again.

After a few hours John had stopped moaning. He was breathing in short intense gulps. Luke was crawling around on his stomach looking for anything that might help his John. All he could find was the roots making their way through the cracks in the ceiling, and the water dripping from them. There was no place were Luke had more than a foot of space between him and the ceiling. And the light source was several feet beyond his reach.

" I really hate to die this way. Really. "  Said John.

" Were not dead just yet. We got water and fresh air. These roots taste terrible, but in a pinch. "  Luke returned.

John began to scream again, but passed out after a few seconds. Luke watched the light streaming through the hole in the back of the cave which was illuminating the dust floating in the air fade to black. He couldn't stop shaking.

" John! Still there? "  Luke shouted.

There was no reply, but Luke could hear John's strained breathing. Luke began thinking of his wife and how she will get along without him. He soon fell into a deep sleep while staring at the light no longer there.

With the sun rise came the canyon winds which drove the air through the cave, and the light slowly made it's entrance.

" John! John! The air is moving through the cave. It's not totally blocked. John! "  Luke said in a loud voice.

Luke was shivering from the cool temperature and from being soaked by the dripping water. He was relieved to hear John's hampered breathing.

" Hang in there buddy, we're gonna make it out of here. They'll find us. English and geology professors don't die in caves. It's one of those unwritten laws. I wonder what old Mr. Cullum would say if he could see us now. We're gona have a real tall tail to tell. "  Luke said trying to smile.

Luke kept talking to keep John engaged, even if he wasn't responding. After four days he couldn't hear John breathing, but he kept talking anyway.

" Did I ever tell you about the time Betty and I met the guy who found the Little Rock gold mine. I'll tell you what, that guy could though a party. "  Luke said, and then he began to cry thinking about his wife again.

On day seven the smell of John's body was overwhelming. Luke's thoughts stayed with his wife. Then with a jolting scream, John suddenly made his presents known. He screamed for hours. Gradually he calmed down to just a blubbering cry.

" I thought you were dead. Great old friend. Great. We'll be out of here pretty soon. Just don't give up. " Luke said with astonishment after almost suffering a heart attack at Johns startling scream.

Luke felt sick to his stomach over the suffering of his friend, but also felt relief when John quit screaming. John was trying to speak, but could not form intelligible words.

" John! John! "  Luke shouted.

There was no reply. John just kept making a gurgling sound.

" John, did I ever tell you how much I hate bugs. "  Luke said paying close attention to the bugs on his face.

After three more days John fell silent again. Luke could sense himself dying. He was ready to great death with open arms. A welcome and desired release from the inching and burning from laying in the cool water, the hungry insects, his own hunger, not being able to move from lack of energy, the smell of his friends rotting body, and the loss of hope knowing there would be no rescue. As the life faded from his mind Luke's last thoughts again turned to his wife Betty.

Seven days later Luke awoke with a violent series of jerks and twists. The pain was beyond total. Every part of his body was vibrating with pain. It lasted for days. Then Luke could feel himself began to breath. He could feel his teeth clench and right hand make a fist. He also realized he was making the same guttural noises as did John. He could not understand why he was alive. He wanted to be dead. The pain was unbearable. All he could do is writhe in torment. After another day of agony the pain began to subside. The burning and itching sensations were becoming less intense. He moved his hand to his face. He felt his eyes as they seem to inflate. He jerked his hand away. He slowly put his trembling fingers back on his face. He could indeed feel his eyes slowly inflating.

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Robert Evan Howard
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