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Thursday, 8/31/3023 (Link to edition here)

by Joel Jacobs
Chapter One – Surprise

The bullet chinked off the flowstone next to my head sending a burst of calcite dust into my left ear just below the edge of my helmet. A wild second shot assured me that the shooter was firing for effect, trying to scare me so that I might move and give away my position. Another echoing blast proved my theory, but this one ricocheted around the spacious cavern whizzing by me near enough so that I could hear it pass in front of me like a rocket propelled mosquito and caroming back towards its origination eliciting an agonizing scream. Someone was hit and while they paused to attend to him, I split.

I like exploring caves. I have adapted a construction hard hat to take a small, brass carbide lamp square in front so that my hands are free as I negotiate the sometimes rigorous passages. It has a large, round, silvered reflector that directs the white light from the burning acetylene gas forward, so wherever I look it shines its brightness. To make that gas it uses calcium carbide onto which water drips in a controlled manner from a container above. Have to thank the coal miners for that innovation because it is much more intense than candles, safer than torches and it can be directed.

The cave I was in had multiple entrances. I dropped through a small hole that friends who had left me off told me about. It was a bell shaped pit. You either rigged it so that you could climb back out or you committed to going out another exit. I made the drop and left nothing behind. I was headed for the largest entrance. It had a beautiful stream coursing through a third of it and a flat area with a domed ceiling which could be used as a sheltered campsite.

Imagine how surprised I was, when instead of finding the tents of my fellow cavers, I discovered a still and a half dozen toughs working it.

Friday, 9/1/2023 (Link to issue here)

by Joel Jacobs

Chapter Two – Baby Ruth

The wounded man was howling in pain, “Ow, ow, ow. It hurts,” as I pulled on the strap of my gas mask bag and rolled over in my Sears coveralls and leather palmed gloves. I slid up and over the rim above the wide entrance from which I had emerged. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t seen, but they knew I was there and they may have wanted to find me to keep me quiet. Maybe they’d hold me, or kill me? I didn’t know and I wasn’t sticking around to learn what their disposition was.

I needed to illude them, if they searched for me, and I needed to stay away from the danger they represented, not only to me, but to my friends who they either chased away or captured. One of those friends was my girl, Jenny, the new love of my life. Where she was, and how she was, concerned me. I had to find out what happened to her, save her, rescue her, whatever. To do that, I had to find one of the other exits.

I could also thin out the bad guys waiting at the entrance arch by teasing them into the cave, luring them to what they would think was an easy catch, but sending them into a maze from which they would have trouble escaping. They were mobsters, right? They wouldn’t know anything about caving. They weren’t dressed for it and they didn’t have the right supplies; flashlights, perhaps, but nothing like my carbide lamp. In the cave I had the advantage.

If they began to look for me, they would have to climb up to the ledge. There was no way to go upstream against the water which flowed right out of the rock. Once atop, there was a steep passage that narrowed in about fifty feet to an inverted Y presenting two choices; go left or go right.

I opened a Baby Ruth candy bar and ate it. Then I ventured into the right tunnel and placed a tiny scrap of the wrapper on the floor. I backed out and placed another small piece of it on the ground at the opening. I was hoping that they would notice the first fragment, enter the tube and be reassured that they were on the correct path when they spotted the second that their ‘dumb’ quarry left behind. What they didn’t know was that after about a hundred feet of narrowing passage they would be jammed head first into a descending shaft that dove into emptiness. Good luck with that.

Saturday, 9/2/2023 (Link to Issue Here)

by Joel Jacobs

Chapter Three – Jenny

I had taken a good look at the map of this cave during the ride down. I’d been in it before. There is one water passage that is really fun to negotiate. It’s a single crack with a coursing stream that varies in width from about four to six feet. The trick is to not get wet by bridging the gap above the rushing torrent. I did it on the way in and now I had to do it again in the opposite direction in order to get back to where I recalled the closest entrance was to the still. Not wanting to waste time, I jumped into it and fought the oncoming current.

I remembered if I stayed left I would find the exit. After a long crawl in a wide squeeze, I did. My clothes were soggy and I was now tired from the exertion, but I had to press on and find Jen. I removed my boots, stripped off the coveralls and dropped onto my back for a few minutes of rest and thought. I reckoned that I was about a quarter of a mile away from the still. I put the boots back on and headed for where I thought the rough lane approached the cave entrance.

I wasn’t sure about the rest of the group, but I figured that Jenny would hang around to wait for me, maybe position herself where she could see into the cave. That is, if she weren’t being held by the guys operating the alcohol factory. This had to be a bathtub gin operation. It’s called that because the product, which is 100% pure when it is made, has to be diluted. So, it is poured into tall bottles which won’t fit in a sink, hence, bathtub. It is often laced with Juniper and other flavors.

I had taken a compass reading in the cave and did so again to make sure that I was going in the right direction. I circled wide through the woods, found the track, located our car and to my dismay through the trees saw Jenny’s red hair hanging down over her face. She was on her knees with her wrists tied to the chrome, rear bumper of a black DeSoto Six. What now?

Sunday, 9/3/2023 (Link to issue here)

by Joel Jacobs

Chapter Four – Whump

There were two men working the still. I remembered seeing two cars and a pick-up truck parked out of the way. Now there was one car. Perhaps someone was driving the injured thug to a hospital. If there were guys trying to find me in the cave, and if they were lost, or stranded, that left only the two who were busy with the operation to deal with. I had a chance to release Jenny.

Putting the DeSoto between me and the still, I worked my way around in back of Jen and called to her in a soft whisper. She looked up with a smile of relief and said, “I knew you’d come.”

I freed her with my folding knife, and asked her to stay where she was. There were cases of half-filled bottles of alcohol stacked near the pick-up. Going back into the woods I snuck up on the truck, took three bottles and returned to Jenny without being seen.

I pulled my chambray shirt out of my dungarees, cut off three pieces of cloth and stuffed them into the bottles. I shook them to dampen the material and said, “We’re going to create a diversion with these to cover our escape. After I light them, you lob yours at the truck. It’s closer. I’ll toss my two at the still. Then we run to our ride. Ok?”

She nodded and asked, “When?”

I flipped open my Zippo, lit each rag, said, “On three,” and began the count.

We stood together and threw our incendiaries. As we ran, I heard those glass containers smash onto their targets followed by a whump, and a whump, whump. One of the men started screaming as if he were on fire, but I didn’t turn to see. Jenny had the keys, so she drove.

“Where are our friends?” I asked.

“I heard them holler, ‘Mill,’ when they reversed in back of me, after we saw the still. I couldn’t get turned around in time and those brutes pulled the door open and grabbed me. Cripes, my wrists hurt.”

“Well, you’re ok now and we’re not going to the mill.”

“Where are we going?” she asked with a sly smile.

“To the first roadside hotel we can find,” I answered.

“That works for me,” she said with enthusiasm.

The End