Jacob sat down on an overhang in the cave and started shaking his flashlight absentmindedly. He and the professor, no sorry Paula, he had to think of her as Paula now. He already had gotten a couple of new scoldings that he shouldn’t call her professor now anymore. Paula and he had looked over every wall and cave exit.
Paula had explained that they were looking for unnatural straight lines. Those might be hard to spot through wear and tear through the centuries. She had explained to him how to make photos of suspect spots and to make relevant notes with them why he considered those suspect. At first, he had called Paula over several times to ask him now to note down certain things and she had given him some pointers on how to interpret features and how to describe them.
It turned out that examining walls covered in lichen and algae wasn’t all that exciting, especially since every bit had to be documented, examined and analyzed. It was a time-consuming business to work through everything in such great detail.
If most days in archeology were like this no wonder there weren’t that many students in it. It would probably take a lot of time and effort to find anything remotely interesting.
Jacob pulled out the top of his flashlight and it turned into a lamp that illuminated the area around him. It was very dark in the cave and he could see orange light of the sunset creeping in the cave. In the back of the cave, he saw Paula’s flashlight moving along the wall with the occasional flash of the camera.
“Paula! Can you come over for a moment?” He shouted to the moving light beam.
“One moment, I’ll be right there”
Jacob looked at his mobile and saw it move down to seven percent. That wasn’t much, soon it would die out. Good thing he wasn’t dependant on the mobile flash to be used as a flashlight. The cave was slippery and difficult enough to navigate as it was.
Jacob looked around in the area that was illuminated around him and tried to imagine having to live in this cave.
The sound of the sea resounded from the cave walls but wasn’t annoyingly loud, it was slightly muted, probably through the uneven cave walls around him.
If you’d want to live here you would have to build some walls and windows to close off the cave entrances he thought, if only to be able to properly heat and dry out this damp place.
This ledge could serve as a bed or workbench he thought. It was elevated from the ground and was ejected from the wall. Even if the ocean came in during a storm surge you would probably stay dry.
Paula’s flashlight came moving his way and he saw how she had to weave a path through the cave to make her way back to him. Through the centuries the cave had seen a lot of wear and tear and the water had made whatever form of flooring there might have been hard to navigate safely.
“Heya Jacob, found something interesting?”
“No not really, but my mobile is dying fast, I only have 7 percent left on it, and I believe that the sun is setting outside, it has gotten darker”
“Oh, right, well I guess we can call it a day then. We have a lot of data to analyze and study already and we can come back tomorrow and after Christmas to explore the rest for clues.”
Jacob nodded and put his flashlight back into flashlight mode and started to follow Paula to the exit of the cave. The ground was very slippery and you could see the sheen of water on the rocks they were making their path on. As they neared the exit the sound of the ocean grew louder and the cave grew brighter and it became easier to find proper footing.
“Have you found anything interesting professor, err Paula?”
Paula stopped and took a moment to stretch her back and looked back in the dark cave.
“Sadly no, just a bunch of lichen, moss, and rocks. Very disappointing really but not unexpected”
She looked at Jacob and grinned.
“Welcome to the world of archeology, where rocks, dirt and a lot of nothing is the biggest part of your job. The rest is documenting that you found nothing. This is a hunch I’m following anyway and I really didn’t expect much from an initial expedition.”
Paula shrugged and breathed deep in through her nose and exhaled loudly.
“At least we have gotten our dose of fresh ocean air. It’s supposed to be healthy, so at least we got our health boost!”
She turned around and started making her way to the exit again and Jacob moved at her side.
“Nice health boost, the temperature could have been a bit higher though, it’s really freezing cold. Merlin should send a complaint to the landlord about the drafty conditions here.”
“Hah!” Paula snorted. “But yea, weather conditions aren’t ideal, but it also helps with not having tourists bothering you every step of the way, pestering you with questions.”
They had reached the entrance of the cave and they stopped and stared.
“So… uhm, what now?’ Jacob asked.
The flood had come in and where they had waded through before was now clearly unpassable without risking falling into the water.
Jacob bent through his knees and dipped his fingertips in the water. It was icy cold, no way you could swim in that, not to mention that they had their gear to consider and it was a long way home. The ocean might drag them to open sea with those strong currents at the coast. It would be dangerous in these low light conditions to even try it.
“Well, fuck. Didn’t think to keep track of when high tide would come in.”
Paula took out her mobile and quickly checked a few sites.
“It seems like we’re stuck here until nine o’clock. Then we can try to get back to the walkway.”
“Let’s back up in the cave a bit where it’s warmer” Jacob replied.
Paula nodded at the suggestion and they set off to back up in the cave. They found a couple of rocks that were moderately dry and set themselves on it. Paula put the camera bag on a third rock.
They passed the time by chatting a bit and looking at the photo’s Paula had made on her camera and discussing certain features and what they could possibly mean and from which geological periods they were.
At some point, they moved together on the same rock to share some body heat. The temperature was dropping significantly as time progressed. The cave around them turned darker and darker as night settled in and the cave mouth didn’t let in any light anymore. The starlight was far too weak to penetrate into the cave. If it wasn’t for the flashlights they could charge themselves they wouldn’t have been able to see a hand before their eyes.
As they shared body heat sitting closely against each other, Jacob’s arm around Paula their conversation turned a bit more personal.
“So that’s how I ended up teaching here at the University. There were just too many clashes with boards, too many constraints, too much pressure to publish meaningless papers instead of actually getting in the field and thinking on your feet.”
Paula sighed and looked at Jacob “You know it’s very cheap to have someone analyze something someone else dug up and to write a paper on why a thing is such or so. It adds a lot of prestige to a university in how many papers were published.”
Paula nodded her head “But it’s so boring, and totally not why I became an archeologist. I wanted to be out in the field, fielding new theories and finding new things no-one had found before.”
“And you get that full freedom here at Gate University?” Jacob asked
“Well, it’s not like there unlimited funds to dig down a hill, I still have to make a proposal, but if I plan it properly and give a good reason why I want to research something any budget will be granted really if I give a well-founded reason. But field trips like this that just basically cost my time and salary, I can do at my own discretion. I only need a budget if I need equipment or money for permits and staff to help out at a dig site.”
Paula pressed her body a bit closer against Jacob and he was very aware of her breasts pressing against his side even through his winter coat. Paula shuddered and Jacob pressed her a bit firmer against him.
“But this is a first for me that I’m trapped by the elements at a site I’m exploring. Next time I’m exploring an ocean cave I’m going to review the tide tables before I set out.”
“Yea, that might be helpful next time so we don’t get stuck in another cold dark cave.”
“Hah, yea, I guess that also comes with the freedom to do and research what you want, that you don’t spend that much time planning ahead. I just followed a whim here, that I now deeply regret. We found nothing, we’re cold, wet and hungry. Less than ideal in my book”
Jacob nodded and looked at the entrance and the light that entered through it. A cold glow illuminated the cave mouth and bathed the entire cave in stark shadows and illuminated rocks giving it an alien appearance.
“Look at that, I think the moon is out,” Jacob said and pointed at the cave entrance.
“Huh, I guess so. Fancy to see the moon over the ocean?”
“Sure, a bit of moment will do good.”
They made their way to the entrance of the cave and saw how the full moon was hovering over the ocean in front of the cave, and the reflection seemed to span over the entire ocean to the cave. The stars were bright pinpricks in the moon illuminated sky. The milky way spanned its long arm through the sky.
“What a beautiful night,” Paula said whilst she snuggled against Jacob.
“It’s rare you see the sky like this in Exeter. The city drowns out all starlight and it’s a long drive to get away from civilization enough so that light pollution doesn’t interrupt the night sky anymore.”
Jacob nodded. Paula liked to talk a lot. That suited him fine because he always had trouble coming up with good subjects to talk about. Paula provided at least enough hooks to reply to if he were inclined to, but even if he didn’t reply she usually kept the conversation going all on her own.
He didn’t mind being the listener in a conversation, it gave him more time to think things over and to absorb more information of what was said instead of having to mull over what to say so he didn’t have time to really listen to the other person.
“We could do more field trips to the ocean side in winter. Better chances of seeing the night sky when night falls. We’ll be freezing cold though at the places where it’s dark enough.”
“Let’s keep it by this experience. I really don’t fancy standing in the cold for a view I’m done with after 5 minutes. Let’s go back inside out of the wind.”
Jacob took a last look at the sky above him. There were uncountable stars looking back at him, cold cloudless air making them shimmer as priceless diamonds. The milky way brightly lit hung impressively in the sky and the moon was a bright large beacon that hung over the ocean as a big eye looking them in the face.
A cloud of breath escaped his mouth and quickly dissolved in the air around him. The cold wind pinching him like a thousand needle pins on his cheeks and nose. The ocean filled his ears with it’s crashing and drumming. He felt alive at this singular moment. As if the world was at his feet, the sky could be touched, the stars could be plucked. He was a giant walking among the stars, he was a tiny speck of dust quickly forgotten. In this beautiful moment, he felt truly alive. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the moment.
When he opened them again he noticed that Paula had already returned to the cave and that he stood alone in the cold wind before the crashing sea. His feet and fingers were getting cold. That snapped him back to reality where he had to care about things like comfort.
He turned around and saw how the moonlight entered the cave in a straight line. He stepped aside to not block the light so he could see where he was going when he saw something.
“Paula, can you come here? Quick!”
An annoyed sigh escaped the cave and the sound of someone scraping their boots over the cave. A shivering Paula emerged from the cave and joined Jacob.
“What’s the rush. I don’t particularly enjoy freezing you know.”
Jacob pointed to the cave entrance illuminated by the moonlight.
“Take a good look, tell me if you see what I’m seeing or if I’m just seeing things.”
Paula peered into the cave entrance, looked over her shoulder to the moon and back to the cave entrance.
“That looks like a cave tunnel that was sealed up doesn’t it?”
“Do you think that’s where Nimue locked merlin up? Like in the book you read?” Jacob asked.
“ I doubt it but it’s worth taking a look at isn’t it. Curious that we didn’t see it before, I must have passed that spot several times and I didn’t notice anything off.”
“It might just be a play of the light. The right shadows and such. Let’s take a closer look.”
Jacob moved towards where the cave tunnel outline appeared to be and Paula followed him. Jacob let his hands glide over the stone but he didn’t feel anything special.
“Do you feel something at your side, Paula?”
“No, just normal damp stone here too. No edges, no lines, just a smooth wall really. It must a play of the light.”
Jacob let his hands slide past the edges of the tunnel outline but didn’t feel anything there either. He took a step back and took another look at it. The moon had moved a bit in the sky and the shadows had shifted and new shadows had appeared.
“Heh, now it kinda looks like a door. Look at that shadow there kinda looks like a doorknob.”
Jacob pointed to the shadow that looked like a doorknob. His shadow pointed along and his pitch black shadow poked the knob. He felt a strange nudging feeling on the tip of his finger.
“What the hell…” Jacob mumbled
Jacob moved his shadow around the knob and it was as if he could feel it poking against his hand, but he was standing three meters away from it.
“Hey Paula, this is going to sound crazy, but could you take a step back, I’m going to try something.”
Paula looked to Jacob, shrugged in a why not fashion and let go of the wall she was examining and took two steps back.
Jacob wrapped his hands around the shadow doorknob and felt it pressing in his hand. He froze. What was this? What could cause such a strange experience? Was this just his mind playing tricks on him? Had he fallen asleep and was he dreaming this?
Something in him said to stop. That it didn’t feel right. That he should let this go and just continue on, forgetting about this freak occurrence. It was probably just the cold playing tricks on him. He had been sitting for hours in the dark cave. You would probably just start to hallucinate if you were cold, wet and hungry.
He had basically hallucinated just now when he was outside and looked at the starry sky. He would probably make a fool of himself in front of Paula by pretending to open a shadow door. He let go of the doorknob and his shadow followed.
“What’s this? You’re performing a shadow puppet theater now?” Paula asked him.
“This is going to sound crazy, but when I stand here and touch that doorknob it feels as if I actually feel it in my hand as if I can turn it. I think I might be losing it because of the cold here.”
Paula walked over to him and both their shadows were now cast on the door. Paula huddled close against him again.
“So you don’t want to open the big Moonshadow door do you?” Paula whispered in a hoarse voice.
“Be wary of the dangers that lurk behind Moonshadow doors. There might be pink ballerina’s behind them that will dance with you” Paula started laughing and the laughter resounded through the cave echoing over and over and mixing with the spray and it dispelled all dark thoughts Jacob had.
The thought of pink ballerina’s rushing out the shadow door dancing and springing through the cave in the dark, probably followed by pink stage lights filled him with mirth.
“Okay, yea, I made a fool of myself, I don’t know what I was thinking. It must really be the cold.”
Paula slapped him on his back.
“Don’t worry about it. We all get a bit crazy in the field of archeology. You can only dig for so long before your fantasy starts to run wild.”
Paula studied the shadow door.
“It really does like a door doesn’t it. It would fit both of us if it were actually there. Don’t worry, this is actually a find in itself too. It’s not every day you find a natural phenomenon like this.”
She looked back to the moon, the reflection on the water and to the light on the cave wall.
“I bet that the circumstances that require this illusion to be triggered are very rare. They might happen like once per hundred years or so. And a high tide, and a cloudless sky and a full moon at the right position. Those are rare circumstances to happen. If we hadn’t gotten stuck here as we had we would have never seen it.”
Paula took her camera from her back and quickly shot a couple of pictures of the moon position, the shadow door on the wall.
She then walked outside and made a few reference shots of the water level.
“Okay, I think I have enough data now so we can recreate the event and bring out the shadow door when we want to with these photos”
Paula laughed and her laughter once more resounded through the cave.
“The tourist office here will be very grateful for all the extra free advertising they’ll get out of this. The Sun will probably make this it’s frontpage news. And our names will be under it. You’re going to be famous Jacob, for a day at least”
Jacob didn’t know how he felt about that. He really didn’t fancy having his name in a newspaper. What about paparazzi, would he have people stalking his every move, taking pictures of him when he was moving through his house or walking to work? Would he be pestered by requests for interviews by all kind of newspapers and blogs and whatnot? That would give so much stress and he really didn’t feel like handling with all that busy work around it.
“Uhm, Paula? You can leave my name off it. I feel perfectly fine if you take all the credit.”
Paula looked at him quizzically.
“What? Oh, uh, no that won’t work. I’ll have to detail how I found this and you will be mentioned as my assistant. One way or another they’re going to find out you helped me and if we tried to hide your involvement then conspiracy theories will run wild. Believe me, it will be easier if we’re open from the start.”
She looked at him thoughtfully and hugged him a bit.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get out media liaison to give you some media training so you can fend off the vultures and I’ll do my best to hog the spotlight. Deal?”
“I guess so. I’ve never had to deal with a potential media circus. Will this be big?”
“Maybe, maybe not. This is ideal fodder for the theorists and storytellers though. It depends on how a fantastical story the newspapers will make out of it. The university is going to make a killing though from the sales of these photos I just made. There will probably be a history channel episode made here saying that aliens made this door or something. But the initial storm will be over after a week when new things pop up.”
Paula chuckled to herself “The Sun is probably going to add a few romantic lines in there as bait for follow up articles ‘Professor and assistant spend the night in a cave together having only each other to stay warm.’ More they won’t have to say.”
“Don’t worry about that and try to ignore any articles that will hint at a thing between us. The more you’ll try to resist the more they’ll think there is something there and they’ll make up stuff.”
“Alright, if you say so Pro- Paula. I guess this will be another few days to tough it out. I’ll just hide in the university cellar as usual I guess. Without permission, nobody can get down there”
Jacob was unsure of himself if he could actually stay cooped down there all day long. He liked to make short walks in between sessions to not go totally crazy in the room down there.
It was fine if he was working, but if he felt being locked up there it was a different experience.
She waved at the door and started to say something.
“Ow! what the…”
Her shadow had followed the wave movement of her arm and he had brushed in full wave speed against the shadow doorknob.
“What just happened…”
Paula looked at Jacob and back at the doorknob. She let her shadow touch it from all the sides and even grabbed it. Jacob could see the flesh on her fingertips being dented when her shadow touched the doorknob. A shiver went down his spine, that was really really freaky and unnatural.
A frown appeared on Paula’s face and she looked slightly annoyed.
“This shouldn’t be possible. This isn’t possible. Is there some kind of psychostimulant moss in this cave? Am I hallucinating? Am I tripping? This must be that I’m tripping, this isn’t possible” She muttered to herself.
“Well, you are experiencing the same thing I experienced when I first discovered this.”
Jacob turned to look at Paula and saw a hint of fear and panic in her eyes. Her world was fraying at the edges. He knew how she felt because he felt the same panic in himself.
“Let’s go logically about this, shall we? Does your phone still have juice?”
Paula pulled her phone from her pocket and unlocked it with her thumbprint.
“I have 25% left. Why?”
“Can you turn on the camera and record my hand as the moonlight reflects off it?”
Paula turned on the camera and fiddled with the settings to get the best quality picture. It was still grainy but details could be discerned.
“All right, hit record.”
Jacob turned to the camera and spread his hands.
“Hello, I’m Jacob Douglas, and I’m here with professor Paula Balduin who is recording this in Merlin’s cave at Tintagel. The moon behind us is casting a shadow in the shape of the door on the wall behind me. We suspect we’re hallucinating and this video is to help us to ascertain if we are in fact hallucinating.”
Jacob pointed at the shadow doorknob on the wall.
“Our assumed hallucination tells us that we can feel the shadow that looks like a doorknob over there as our shadows touch it.”
Jacob mimicked grabbing a door handle in the empty air
“As professor Balduin just shadow grabbed the door I thought I show her flesh to be indented as she touched the door.”
Paula’s eyes grew large as he told that and Jacob nodded to her. She hadn’t noticed that apparently. She had probably been overwhelmed by the experience or she hadn’t seen it. It might have been part of his hallucination.
“I am now going to touch the shadow doorknob and professor Balduin will move closer to my hand as to make a closeup of my flesh to see if it will be indented as my shadow touches the door.”
Paula moved closer and tried to find a spot where and Jacobs' hand was clearly in sight as the shadow on the door behind him.
Jacob moved his hand to the doorknob and hovered his shadow above it. He looked at Paula to confirm she had everything in focus. She looked up from the display and nodded to him.
He looked back at the shadow and let it drop. As the shadow touched the doorknob he could feel it pressing against his flesh. A shudder ran along his spine and he wanted to jerk his hand back.
“As you can hopefully see my flesh is indented by the shadow door without any obvious object being here that could offer resistance.”
Paula looked shocked from the display where she was recording to his hand and back again.
“I can even grab the handle with my hand and it feels as if I’m holding an actual doorknob here in my hand, even though my eyes tell me I’m touching nothing but air. But my shadow is touching something”
His heart beat in his chest. Why was he doing this? Why was he talking like that? Why was he still holding this damned door handle? But something urged him on. A primitive curiosity welled up in him. Curious about what would happen if he actually pulled on the door handle. Large drops of sweat started to build upon his forehead. He tried to let go of the handle but he was unable to open his hand!
Full blown panic rushed through him and he pulled like crazy to let go.
Paula looked up at him with shock but he didn’t notice. He grabbed his hand with his other arm and started pulling with both his arms to get his hand free.
Paula shouted something but he didn’t hear it. He had to get free, he needed to release. Why couldn’t he open his damned hand and release? He had to let go.
His heartbeat resounded as a drumbeat in his ears. Streams of sweat ran down his back and he dug his heels in the rock underneath him and pulled with all his might.
Something started to give and Jacob looked up and then everything went pitch black.
Support "When hell freezes over"
I decided to try my hand at writing the story I had rolling around in my head for twenty years. English isn't my native language so some obvious errors might occur in my story but I hope that the readers will be forgiving.
If not, nobody forces you to read my mangled English. I recommend you read the wandering inn instead if my English bothers you. :-)
Attribution: The cave picture in the book cover is made by Stanislav Sedov and is licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ This picture was modified from the original with an overlaid moon and sea picture to be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/ssedov/26342569905 The photographer has no affiliation to Tschallacka nor can be held accountable for the use of this picture the way as it is here.