Thursday, July 06, 2006


In a Hole

I'm not done for the day, since I'll probably be putting in some more hours after Georgia goes to sleep, but I figured I'd stop and regroup a bit, having reached a natural stopping point.

It's looking like the book will be closer to 80K or so, when it's all said and done, but I've left the progress meter at 90K, just cause. I'm much nearer the end than meter shows, though, more like 86%, and two solid days works (or one solid day and a couple of nights) might put me past the finish line.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
68,388 / 90,000

Today's excerpt is a brief flashback of sorts, while RJ Stone waits between torture sessions. Or perhaps not torture, but beatings at least. It isn't anything kinky, though, I assure you. You know the inevitable scene in classic Star Trek episodes where Kirk is stripped to the waist, beat up, and shackled to a wall, covered in tasteful scars and bruises? It's like that.

Of course, the next thing Kirk always does is get loose and kick the bad guy's ass. Don't expect for RJ to do any less.


When I was a kid, I joined the Bharat Scouts. Then I fell in a hole, and decided I’d had enough of scouting for a while.

I’d earned the rank of Rashtrapati Scout, and moved up to the Rovers, and was going for my Rambler Badge. My crew had already been drilled on first aid and survival techniques, and all that was left was to complete a four day journey, organized by me and approved by the rest of the crew. The trip could be by land or water, and by foot, vehicle, or vessel, which meant we could have sailed, or flown ultralights, or any number of other options. Me? For some reason I opted to walk. We’d go trekking in the hills of Meghalaya, four days and nights.

The journey had to present a “definite test of endurance,” and “bring out qualities of self-reliance, intiative, determination, and leadership.”

Right. Some leader I turned out to be.

Four of us set out on foot from a village in the East Khasi Hills district. My dad had been our escort from Bangalore, but he’d be sleeping in a hotel bed in Shillong while we kids slept rough under the stars. I hadn’t told the adults, but I’d planned our route to increase our chances of getting to spend the night along the way in one of the little villages of the hill tribes, where we’d have a better chance of a comfortable bed—though still a pretty slim chance, at that.

I had a satellite phone with me, in case something went wrong. But aside from getting blisters on our feet, and aching calves and backs, I couldn’t imagine what could possibly happen.

Then, before we’d even gone a full days’ trek, the earth opened up and swallowed me whole.

There were caves all over the Khasi Hills, among them the deepest and longest in all of South Asia. People had been coming to Meghalaya to chart and explore caves for centuries, and if you’d asked me at the time, I would have figured that every cave that could be discovered, had been discovered. And then I fell into one that no one seemed to have found before.

One of the other kids fell in with me, but the other two managed to scramble back out of the way quick enough not to get dragged down as well. Apparently, we’d stepped where no one else had stepped, in the history of forever, because the roof of the cave was separated from the ground above by a layer of dirt and gravel only a few centimeters thick, and with our weight on it the whole thing just gave way.

Vikram was knocked unconscious by the fall, but for all I knew he was dead. It was almost pitch black, with only a hazy light streaming down from the hole we’d made far overhead. I’d landed at a bad angle, my legs tangled up in stalagmites, both of them broken in multiple places and my left arm pulled out of its socket. Only my right arm could still move at all, but any attempt to drag myself across the floor sent waves of nausea and pain ripping across my body, so I quickly decided to give that a rest.

I had the satellite phone in my pack, but after spending long, bone-grinding minutes digging it out, I discovered that it didn’t work, the signal blocked by the ceiling of rock and dirt overhead. Sanjay and Arati shouted down that they were going to go for help, and I discovered that one of my lungs must have punctured in the fall, since I couldn’t caught enough breath to shout up that one of them, at least, should stay behind.

They both ran off, back the way we’d come, and I was left down in the darkness, with the unconscious Vikram and a body racked with pain.

Then, night fell.

I’m not sure what was worse. The pain, or the waiting. Waiting, not knowing whether Sanjay and Arati would bring back help in time, or if they did come back, whether they’d be able to find the site of the cave-in again. Waiting, not knowing whether I was bleeding internally, and not sure how long I’d last if I was. Waiting, unsure whether I’d ever see daylight again. But ever-present, and inescapable, was the pain.
That’s what it was like, bound to the wall in the Iron Mass mining platform. Senses numbed with pain, waiting for the hatch to open again, and for new torments to begin. And I felt the same, dull ache in the pit of my stomach now as I did then, the same sick sense of expectation and anticipation.

The only difference was, this time there was no chance that my dad would show up in the morning to rescue me.

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