The Cave of Grahame Wilson.


           The great eagle circled silently in the rising air. It was high, very high, and the rising currents from a billowing thunderhead lifted it effortlessly even further.

            Some miles away a jet fighter was streaking along just above the forest canopy. Patches of mist and rain flicked over the wings. Captain Mark Tedder eased the stick back and within seconds the powerful machine was charging vertically into the sky. There was a sudden hollow thump and a screeching whine, as the eagle slammed into his air intake, triggering an engine explosion. The aircraft, still climbing, tumbled violently out of control. He was sliding into unconciousness as he finally hit the eject button and blasted out into the cold black sky.

            A deep and distant rumble reached the forest far below. Ingrid Kiefer, shrouded in a raincoat, was taking a slow walk through the almost perpetual cloud and light drizzle. Probably thunder she thought, as she paused to listen. After wiping rain from her eyes, she continued along the lonely track which meandered along the base of ancient sandstone cliffs.

            Years ago, she and her husband Peter, had walked from their house, along that track and up to the cave on so many occasions. It was really a huge amphitheatre hidden under the overhanging rocky walls. There was a soft powdery floor, always dry and snug. They hadn't been married long, and on their very first visit, they made love on that soft warm whiteness. It became their very own special love cave.

            Two hours later, Ingrid reached the cave, and was lost in memories.  Peter had been gone now for four years. She tried to shut out those last memories. Her painful pregnancy. Peter rushing her to the hospital. The car sliding and rolling in the wet. Then waking in hospital to learn that Peter and the baby had died.

            Once or twice a week she wandered between those ancient rocky walls to the cave. At times the clouds would part and dusty shafts of warm sunlight would flood the cave floor. The loneliness was so great she would undress and lie on the very spot where they had loved. Sometimes she would sleep in its gentle dust.   

            There were inexplicable, crumbling symbols etched into the soft orange rock, and now and then she would have shadowy visions of  a dark mystical people, living, loving and dreaming within those same sculptured walls.

            The drizzle seemed heavier as she finally reached the protection of the cave. She turned and gazed out over the misty valley. There was something calm about the sea of greens and greys, softened by the gentle rain. She noticed that not far away, some white fabric was hanging limply amongst the trees. Puzzled she left the cave and pushed through the wet undergrowth. It was caught in a tree, and draped down to the ground. Reaching up high she tried to tear the cloth down and screamed when the body of a man was revealed, hanging only inches away from her.

            She staggered back in fear. He just hung there in his harness, swaying slowly. Dead perhaps. He was certainly no threat. Obviously an airman. He wore a dark blue helmet, the face concealed behind an oxygen mask and black visor. Ingrid reached out and gently pushed. There was a faint groan. Carefully she unclipped his visor and removed the oxygen mask. She could see he was rather bruised and there was a trickle of blood from his nose.

            She made further efforts to wake him up, but he was obviously very weak. Ingrid managed to undo part of the harness and ease him down onto the ground. It was then she noticed some bleeding from his leg. Perhaps it was broken. One arm was twisted unnaturally. Amongst the forest litter, she found two long poles. By tearing strips from the parachute, she was able to bind them to him, one on each side. Acting as splints and partly as a stretcher, she felt she could safely move him. She lifted one end and managed to drag him slowly out of that soaking rain and up to the security of the cave.

            Ingrid felt confused, yet somehow excited as she lay him on the soft dusty floor. She removed the wooden poles and his helmet. She felt flustered by a bizarre sense of guilt as she carefully removed his wet flying suit. Her hands were shaking, and she realised it was getting quite cold. A faint evening breeze added to the chill. The airman was starting to shiver slightly and groan with discomfort.

            The daylight was fading fast. Ingrid faced a dilemma. The only help was many miles away. A two hour walk to the house. No phone. Then a three hour horse ride to the telephone at Bilwood Station. She couldn't carry him back to the warmth of her house. Nor could she leave him to get food and blankets. It would take too long. She realised she would have to stay to keep him warm. She lay next to him and used her coat to cover them both. He murmured something incoherent and tried to roll closer. It was some time before her heart stopped pounding.

            A few times during the night she thought she heard a circling aircraft. Three times she awoke when he began rambling and struggling against some imagined adversary. There was little she could do except wipe his face with a damp cloth. It was almost dawn before she finally feel into a deep sleep.

            The clouds were gone, allowing the first shafts of morning light to break through the cool dawn, bathing the cave in a warm orange glow.  Ingrid stirred. She opened her eyes, then closed them again. Was this a dream? Were there two brown eyes observing her? And only inches away? And why was her arm around this man? She opened them again and pulled back in alarm. They had been very close.

            "Oh!  .  . Are you feeling better?" she said, wondering how long he'd been awake, watching her.

            "Better. I think." he groaned, obviously still in some pain.

            "I had to keep you warm. Your clothes were soaked, and it was too late to leave you and walk home."

Her explanations tumbled out in case he had the wrong impression.

            "Ah. . . Thought that must be it. Very kind of you."

            "How's your leg?" she replied, her fears allayed somewhat by his diplomatic response.

            "A little numb. Could be broken. I know this arm certainly is." he groaned
again as he tried to move it. "My name's Mark by the way."

            "Oh. . . Ingrid."

            "I don't know what happened exactly. I remember bailing out, and then drifting forever through thick cloud. Suddenly - a dead tree, and bang - everything went black. Then I woke up here." he smiled weakly, "Quite a suprise."

            Ingrid tried not to blush, "You had a bad night. Nightmares or something."

            "Oh. . . I remember now. The bird. Eagle I think. Never seen one so high. Flew right into him. Yes. That's what brought me down. Kept dreaming about it. Huge black eagle"

            She stood up and pulled her coat around her, conscious of his curious eyes exploring her figure. "This suit of yours is still wet," she said getting it and spreading it over a sunny rock. "it might be O.K. in an hour or so."

            "I'm amazed. How you managed to get me here I'll never know. I'm not light. It was such luck that you were out here."

            "It's nothing. I come up here about once a week, for a walk."

            "I'm sure you've saved my life."

            "I haven't yet. We're very isolated here. It's going to take most of the day for me to get to a telephone and back. Two hours to walk home, then a three hour horse ride. I'll have to leave you here on your own."

            He pondered this for a while, "There's some food and drink in the pockets of that suit." he told her. She unzipped them, and began to discover not only little packs of food but an array of other items for survival .

            "A dressing! A dressing for your leg," she exclaimed. "I was worried about that old rag I used last night."                                               

            She busied herself removing the primitive dressing from a deep cut just below his knee. Some antiseptic and a new bandage were soon in place.

            "I might be able to sit up." he said. She helped him drag himself so that he was leaning more comfortably with his back against a rock. She could see he was trying to hide the pain.

            "Need to do something about the arm," she commented thoughtfully. She held up a triangular cloth. "This looks like a sling."

            "I certainly landed in the right spot. This incredible cave. And expert nursing."

            "Perhaps I'm making a mistake. You're probably a Russian spy." she joked, trying to pretend the situation wasn't serious.

He laughed, but the pain cut it short.

            "I suppose you'd better go. Have something to eat first. There's plenty. Enough for about five days in those little packs."

She ate a little, left her jacket with him, and rose to leave. "Don't run away Mark, I'll be back about 3 o'clock." she patted him on the shoulder and started off.

            "You're quite a girl Ingrid. I won't forget this." She waved and began a gentle jog back along the base of the cliffs.

            Mark slumbering fitfully for a while. He had just dozed off in the warmth of the morning sun when a deep thumping sound slowly aroused him. It became louder and a strong wind began to stir the trees just outside the cave. Then a man in a bright orange suit appeared on the end of a cable.

            About a mile away across the valley Ingrid heard the helicopter approaching. She climbed onto a rock and was just able to see the yellow machine hovering. It sat there for some time, then a stretcher was hauled up. With barely a pause, the machine turned and headed off in the opposite direction. A stillness came over the valley.  Ingrid continued on home, a lonely feeling gradually engulfing her. It worsened when she reached the empty house.                                     

            A month went by. Ingrid listened to news bulletins on her old radio but there was no mention of the crash, or the rescue. She resumed her visits to the cave, but her thoughts were never as before. Instead of looking out at the valley, she found she was searching the sky.

            One morning Ingrid had left the house and was heading towards the barn to attend to Trickster. She was a little later than usual and the horse was staring anxiously over the fence, snorting to get some attention. As she crossed the paddock she became aware of a familiar deep thumping sound. A military helicopter appeared. It circled the homestead and landed nearby. Two men climbed out and approached. One had a slight limp.

            "Ingrid! We found you at last!" he called out.

            "Mark? It's really you?" she replied. "You're alright?  I've been wondering. . ."

            "Mrs Keifer?  I'm Marks' Commanding officer." interrupted the other man. "I just came to thank you for helping our Mark here."

            "There was nothing on the news. . .?" she replied.

            "Mark was flying a rather special aircraft." he continued. "We really didn't want to advertise the event. . . . I'm sorry."

Mark interrupted. "They've only just let me out of hospital. All I knew was the name Ingrid, so it's taken a while to track you down."

Ingrid was feeling quite breathless with excitement. She noticed the pilot sitting in the helicopter, the rotors turning idly.

            "Like to come in?" she said. "What about your pilot?"

            "Thanks but we won't stay Mrs.Keifer," said the officer. "I'm on duty actually.
We'll fly back later in the afternoon. I could leave Mark here with you if you like. He's been worried about deserting you without any explanation."

            "I suppose I could cope." she smiled.

            "You're not too busy?" asked Mark.

            "Not really. Just a horse to feed."

            "See you later then." said the officer. He turned and trotted back to the helicopter. They watched as the machine lifted off and gradually receded amongst the wooded hills. It was quiet again.  Seeing him standing was something new. He was quite tall. A little pale, probably from the stay in hospital, but quite fit.

            "I'd better feed Trickster first." she said, feeling a little embarrassed now that they were alone.

            "Perhaps we could visit that cave again." he said. "In hospital I couldn't stop thinking about it. There's something special about that place."

            "We could go. . . there's time." she replied, with a far-off look in her eye.

            "It wasn't just the cave I kept thinking about." he said quietly, taking her hand. "I met someone special up there."

            Trickster kept snorting, and she wasn't fed for some time.                                                  

copyright Grahame Wilson