In Between: the Novel Excerpt © Shannon Foy 2016
“Um,” I started nervously, “is Mount Fuji active?”
“Yes,” Don answered, “but don’t worry; it hasn’t erupted in like three hundred years.”
That didn’t make me feel any safer.
Don grabbed a pack out of the back seat of the car and headed into the trees. I took a deep breath and followed him.
You can romanticize suicide anyway you like, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience.
I had not been afraid of death; I had killed people. But finding bodies littered about the trees affected me on a terribly deep level. I’d step over a fallen trunk only to trip upon a tangle of brush and body. I’d sweep a branch aside, chance a look up, and see another hanging above me. Eyes open. Eyes closed. Various states of decomposition. A man in a suit with his shoes set neatly next to him.
And the smell. I’ll never be able to properly describe the smell and I hope to never encounter it again. Blood. Gun powder. Moss. Decay. Earth. Hair. Sadness. Laundry detergent.
We hiked deeper and deeper into that suspended forest. The sounds of our footsteps, our voices, our invasion of the uninhabited landscape were swallowed by the soft earth. No echo. No breath of life beyond the flora. And us.
And then a gunshot—shattering the silence into a million pieces, the fragile glass of life gone in an instant.
I wanted nothing more than to be out of that forest immediately.
“Are you okay?” Don asked, tentatively.
I gulped and shook a quick nod, fear keeping my voice hostage. I didn’t mean to cry, but I did.
Don took my trembling hand and we continued on the path, which wasn’t much of a path at all, but rather the course of least resistance. And believe me, the forest resisted.
If Don hadn’t been leading the expedition or if I hadn’t been rapt with fear, alert to every micro detail, the sunken chamber in the ground would have swallowed me up forever. Barely a few yards across with roots emerging from where the soil had fallen away was a hole—the rabbit hole to Wonderland.
“This is it,” Don whispered.
“How do you know?” I had seen pictures of other ice caves around Mount Fuji. They all had signs, railings, stairways, or ladders. They were well-manicured and definitely not reminiscent of a place to dispose of a petite, American body.
“This is where Tatsuya found me.”
Don removed his backpack and started setting items out along the ground—a rope, a flashlight, and a knife that shone a brilliant silver. He quietly and quickly tied the rope around a nearby tree whose trunk was covered in thick moss.
“Take these,” he said, handing me the knife and the flashlight and the center of the rope. “You must go alone.”
“What? I thought that’s why I’m paying you?”
“You’re paying me to help you find Miyuki, but if you want her help, it is a journey you must make alone.”
I grumbled to myself as I wrapped the rope around my waist, knotting it so that I could slowly rappel into the earthen pit.
“I’ll wait here for you.”
“What do I do down there?”
“Just look,” he said simply.
I, the novice, and Don my mystical, Japanese Master—him speaking to me in riddles like Yoda or Mr. Miyagi. I squatted down and shimmied myself into the opening.
Slowly I went. I had rappelled a few times from a rock wall at the gym—my fear of heights calmed by the harnesses and belts and foam mats beneath me. Right at that moment, I was inching down toward anything—and it scared the shit out of me.
The deeper I got, the more heightened my senses became as blackness enveloped the passage through which I was lowered. The cold nipped at my nose and other uncovered bits of skin. I could hear the strain on the rope and the subtle echo off of the earthen walls. The overwhelming scent of damp soil was unbelievably refreshing compared to the stagnant air in the forest above.
I didn’t think it would ever end. I knew logically that I hadn’t gone that far below ground, but my mind played tricks on my stomach, and I thought I felt gravity switching. I came to my senses as my feet abruptly hit the ground, buckling my knees, landing my backside in the dirt. I untied myself, zipped up my hoodie, and removed the flashlight from my pocket. The floor was slick and my first steps were hesitant. Slipping on ice was not my favorite activity.
As I turned the flashlight on, its wide beam illuminated the narrow cave. There was nothing. No markings on the wall, no scratches on the floor, or giant sign that read, “Miyuki—Straight Ahead.” I had hoped for signs.
I followed the frozen floor along a straight path. There were no off-shoots or dead end corridors, just solid icy walls. It took me five and a half minutes to get from one end to the other.
Five and a half minutes of anticipation and fear and baited breath . . . and no Miyuki.
It wasn’t the right cave.
I turned and made my disappointed way out. I got back to my rope, tied it around my waist, and sent a ripple up the nylon cords. Shortly after, I felt a tug and was lifted back to the surface.
“Nothing?” Don asked.
“Then we keep going.”