“Are you sure about this?” Randy peered up nervously from the small dark hole beneath the giant sandstone formation. His hiking boots, khaki shorts, and white t-shirt matched Beth’s close enough to have been planned that way. Above them towered the famous Kissing Camels of the Colorado Springs’ Garden of the Gods, resplendently golden in the morning sunlight.
“Have I ever steered you wrong?” Beth stopped next to a small evergreen tree and threw back her shoulders to drop off her backpack, causing her chest to jut out as magnificently as the hogback rock formations around them.
The effect was not lost on Randy. Beth was in her prime with the golden skin tone, sun-bleached hair, and tight musculature of many hours spent in rugged country. A college student majoring in both geology and archaeology, she was proficient outdoors.
“No. You haven’t steered me wrong—yet.” Randy tried to keep his eyes on Beth’s face as he spoke to her, “But we’ve only known each other for a couple of months. I’m sure you’re still full of surprises.”
“You got that right,” she grinned at him slyly. “I might even surprise you a little somewhere down in that deep dark hole.” She raised one eyebrow at Randy and his pulse quickened.
He watched her, entranced, as she pulled a light jacket out of her pack and put it on lithely. He realized she was preparing for the coolness of the cave and he glanced back at the hole with a grim look on his face. Once sealed with concrete, someone had attacked it with a hammer, exposing a jagged entrance. There was nothing else around to mark the place.
Beth had told him the history of Spaulding’s Cave, sealed up by the City of Colorado Springs in 1935 and then again in 1963. People had been arguing for opening it back up for several years, and now someone had apparently decided to take it upon themselves to do so. Beth wanted to take advantage of it while she could, before the Park realized it was open and sealed it again.
Randy sighed and dug out his own jacket while Beth fiddled with her camera. He was big on the idea of Beth, but not caving. Especially in a place he was sure they weren’t supposed to be.
She had finally lured him here with his weakness—cryptozoology. He was a Bigfoot freak, spending his weekends and summers up in the mountains following recent reports of sightings and looking for tracks. That was how he met Beth.
They hooked up by chance at an impromptu campfire party when several groups of campers had shown up at the same spot in Phantom Canyon. He had been searching for recent signs of things alive, and she was searching for ancient traces of things long gone. She surprised him with a follow up phone call a week later. He thought she was way out the league of a lanky, curly-haired, nerd like himself, but a confluence of events and mutual interests had given him a chance with her and he was determined to make good on it.
So here he was. In the Garden of the Gods. Getting ready to follow the most beautiful woman he had ever dated into the depths of the earth searching for GOG, the Garden of the Gods monster. Illegally. And she had hinted at sex in the cave.
His stomach knotted with nervous excitement. One way or another, this would be a day to remember, that was for sure.
Beth caught him staring at her and grinned. She shrugged her backpack onto her shoulders. “Ready?” she asked.
Randy nodded and put on his hat with the headlamp and helmet-cam strapped to it. “You want to go first?”
“So you can get close ups of my ass with that camera while I wiggle through that hole? No thank you. You first. I want to be the one with the view.” She winked at him salaciously.
“Okay. But explain to me about this cave one more time.” Randy put on his pack.
“Again?” she frowned.
“It’ll take my mind off doing something I know I shouldn’t be doing,” he explained. “Besides, I like the sound of your voice.”
“All right,” she shrugged. As she talked he climbed to the top of the cement rubble and peeked in. “I was researching Theiophytalia kerri, a dinosaur named after the Garden of the Gods because the only fossil of it, a skull, was found here in the Park.”
This wasn’t the part of the story Randy was interested in. He ignored her speech as he scraped his belly across a wicked piece of rebar and thrust his head into the damp darkness, grateful for being so skinny.
“I was talking to a grad student about places to look for fossils when he told me he knew someone who had been in Spaulding’s Cave recently.” Beth’s voice muffled as Randy snaked into the hole. “I knew about the names and dates carved into the walls by people who had visited here hundreds of years ago,” Beth grunted as she pulled herself up to follow Randy, “and that in the Sixties they hauled out seventy-five truckloads of dirt to dig down and expose the walls, where even more carvings had been buried as sediment fell over time.”
The air was damp and cool with a stale smell to it. Water dripped somewhere in the darkness. As he finished pulling himself in on his stomach, Randy’s headlamp illuminated stairs, carved out of the sandstone, leading downwards in front of his face. There were boot tracks in the sediment on the steps. And a hand print right where he was about to place his own hand. Whoever had been here hadn’t been a little kid.
“But this grad student said there was more than just names on the walls. He said there were cave paintings, too. And I want to make sure I get to see them before it gets sealed up again.” Beth struggled in the hole. Although she was considerably more petite than Randy, her chest and hips didn’t slide through as easily.
“I don’t know why no one mentions the cave paintings in the records of the cave.” She struggled for a moment to unhook a belt loop caught on the rebar that had scraped Randy. Then Randy caught her hands and helped her the rest of the way through, trying not to shine his headlamp into her eyes.
When Beth was able to stand, she brushed herself off and giggled. “Isn’t this exciting?” she whispered and gave Randy a quick kiss on the lips before moving past him, down the roughhewn stairs.
He mentally agreed as he smiled and followed, trying not to let the helmet-cam linger on her butt.
She forgot to finish her story, but he had already heard it. Some of the cave paintings supposedly showed large hairy men, and that was what interested him. Years ago, while researching GOG, Randy had found a reference to an Indian legend about the Garden of the Gods. Giants, taller than trees, with ground-shaking footsteps, had invaded the land along with fearsome creatures, but Manitou, the protector of the people, had turned them to stone. They still stood, as giant rocks, creating the place now called the Garden of the Gods.