Tara poured over all of the details of the map, one inch at a time. The light from the flashlight gripped in her teeth gave off a focused cone of light, shedding very little extraneous light. The sound of moving water was echoing through the chamber around her. Tara grabbed the flashlight out of her teeth, swallowed, and looked up at the ceiling above.
The glowworms brought the stars indoors with their shimmer. After traveling from the Isle of Man to Machu Picchu, she had stopped briefly at Cape Horn before realizing she was at the wrong location and catching the next flight to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Even after all of that traveling, she hadn’t bother to look up at the night sky in the last few weeks. Now she was in the heart of New Zealand’s north island, at the Waitomo Caves looking at the larvae’s version of the night sky.
She flipped up her flashlight, pointing it towards the ceiling. The light was strong enough to counteract the bioluminescence of the larvae and illuminate the long silk strands of mucus dangling in the dark below the insect. Tara stared at the strands, baffled that she managed to miss it beforehand. She would have never noticed them if she didn’t bother to take a look with her own light source.
Tara’s eyes got wide, “That’s it!” She flipped the light back over, flattening the creases in the map against the wall of the cave before holding it up in front of her own face with one hand and moving the flashlight behind the map, shining the light into her eyes. She could see small spots of light coming through in a specific pattern, glinting with each swipe of the flashlight. She put her map hand over the lens and twisted it, moving the lens closer to the light source and refracting the light in a wider spread. She held up the map again and began to see the pattern start to emerge.
Tara shifted her feet carefully, leaning against the rocks and putting the light at her chest, holding the map out as far as she could, the writing facing the opposite wall. As soon as the map reached two feet away, the light was covering the entire surface of the paper. Tara looked over the edge of the paper on the rock wall on the opposite side. “X marks the spot!” The light escaping through the one-way light holes in the map were shining a dot matrix map of the underground water system, with a double-dotted X marked in the passage just behind her present location.
Tara put the light back between her teeth and tucked the map into the water-tight pouch on her hip. She used her hands to brace herself against the walls from the uneven terrain as she moved through the caves, squeezing through a two foot high gap between the ceiling and the water and rocks below. The passage opened into a quiet cavern which lacked any glowworms, bats, or signs of previous spelunkers. She scanned the walls quickly, and in a few seconds she discovered the small carving of a stick figure man next to a crack in the wall stuffed with small pebbles.
Tara pulled out her Leatherman knife and forced out the rocks, revealing the small tube buried behind it. Pulling out the tube, Tara carefully unrolled it to find another map, with the Roman numerals XIII in the top-right corner. This was the last piece of the puzzle, and wherever in the world it would take her, she would find it. She smiled and headed out on the final part of her adventure.
This is part of a 30 day series of 2-3 minute short stories written for the 30 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 2011. You can view all the stories in the Short Story A Day category.