Scott had gotten it into his head to go explore some of the more promising of the many West Virginia caves that he had seen in an old book. I was not sure how he found the book with maps, locations, and surveys of so many local caves. It was apparently buried somewhere in the vastness of Newman Library. The GPS location of each of the caves was listen, along with a brief description of the prominent features of each cave, and a caricatured sketch of the layout.
To me, GPS coordinates would have been as useful as a bicycle to a fish. In the days before the internet and cell phones, I had no earthly idea as to how one would navigate the wilderness of the Unmarked Interstate, Scott had no problem with navigation, and both Kevin and Ian shared a complete trust in Scott’s ability. Of course,we all trusted Scott’s dumb luck. Not a one of us had been even the least bit surprised when, almost from thin air, Scott produced a detailed topographical map of the West Virginia mountains, complete with full GPS coordinates.
Showing all the bravado and foresight of second-year college students, we pile into Scott’s unwieldy maroon boat of an Oldsmobile at dusk on a cold winter’s day. We headed for the limestone hills of eastern West Virginia with a complete lack of provision, and without so much as a not of explanation, should we all go missing.
I got sick. Under the best circumstances, for example a calm driver on flat roads, I could handle short trips by car. Scott had never been a calm driver, and anyone who has traveled West Virginia knows that the roads snaking up and down those mountains are as crooked as the Devil’s own heart. The tires of the Olds squealed as we flew around the switchbacks at a full twenty mile per hour over the posted speed limit. I alternated between terror of careening to my death in a ravine, and the most sincere hope that an oncoming pickup would end my tortuous journey with a compassionate head-on collision. Oblivious to my obscene discomfort, and with no though to consult his maps, Scott thrust on adventurously to our destination.
In hindsight, Kevin and Ian were slightly generous in their estimation of Scott’s navigational prowess. It was well after dark, and snowing steadily as we made our third pass through the small mountaintop collection of homesteads in search of any sight remotely like a limestone sinkhole.
“Let’s stop fo directions,” Scott said and swerved into the first driveway he saw.
Kevin voiced his dissent, his cheek twitching with a tick characteristic of his mood. Ian was utterly silent, as usual, belying no sign of his true thoughts but radiating a simple bemused contention with the whole situation. I was riding shotgun, and so I was quickly and silently volunteered as a member of the two-man informational expedition. I was only too happy for any excuse to quit the rolling maroon death machine.
Scott dropped his keys into his pocket as I followed him along a snow-dusted concrete walkway to the house. The fat snowflakes floated gently through the night air to rest on the dropping branches of the yews lining the walk. Thew full moon painted everything a deep purplish blue when it happened to glance out from behind the drifting, gray clouds. Everything was so silent and peaceful, as if the world on that mountain-top community had just stopped for a while to rest, taking time to ponder life under an early-season snow.
Warm yellow light spilled out from chinks in the curtains inside the windows. The air smelled cold, but the scent of wood smoke hinted at a hidden warmth within. Without slowing, without a thought as to what lay on the other side of that door, Scott reached up a gloved hand and rapped out a quick, muffled knock. After just enough time had passed for me to begin to imagine the Friday night habits of the homeowner, the door opened.
A warm drought of air and an even warmer “good evening!” rushed out over the threshold and caressed out cheeks.
“Hello,” began Scott, “we’re looking for the Old Bent Tooth cave. We know it’s around here, and we were wondering if you could tell us how to find it.”
“Oh, do come in,” said the forty-something year-old woman. Opening the door fully to a pair of complete strangers, “come in out of the cold.”
The doorway opened into a cozy living room. A beige sofa rested along the front wall of the house, just below the window through which the tiny sliver of light streaked onto the porch. A plush easy chair sat opposite the sofa, with a commanding view of the front door and an 80’s model, 20 inch color TV. Between the sofa and the chaise was an off-white shag rug, protecting the hardwood floor from the rough feet of an old coffee table.
“Please, sit down,” our hostess said. She seemed to have nothing better to do at 9 pm on a Friday night than to accommodate the chill and thirst of a couple of disoriented young men.