#45 – Virginia Visits the Cave – 1987

Written by Virginia Hourigan:

Finally, Russell said the owner had agreed, and if I came to Olney on my way back to New York he would take me to the cave. I could hardly wait. Most of the summer was gone by the time I got there and checked into a motel, and then Russell was tied up for a couple of days, but at last everything was organized.

He called for me in his elderly pickup around eleven o’clock, and we drove west for more than an hour. Meanwhile he warned me about the lawlessness of the “Little Egypt” area we were going to, where people shoot first and ask questions later, and I noticed he wore a camouflage suit and had two pistols with him. We were riding behind a truck when it straddled a turtle crossing the road and before he could swerve to avoid it, Russell ran over the turtle. He made a face and seemed quite upset.

“If I see a turtle I usually stop and get out and move it off the road,” he said.

A likely story. I thought. This character out of West Virginia Hatfield-McCoy country who’s so handy with a gun – I’m supposed to think he cares about a turtle to the point of getting out of his car to help it? I knew gun-happy people from my childhood in backwoods Minnesota, but they would aim for the turtle deliberately. So why was he telling me this? I didn’t know what to think. It was still a long time before I found out it was true, and just one more of Russell’s contradictions.

We turned off on back roads, went through a couple of hamlets, passed an isolated farmhouse or two, then Russell parked by the road and we got out. He strapped on his pistols and stuck a knife in his boot. Oh boy, I hope he’s not a secret rapist or something, I thought. But where were we? Nothing to see but cornfields and patches of trees, and I followed as he struck off across the field.

Pretty soon we were in the woods, and I said to myself “I’d be in some fix if he got out of sight.”

He pushed some branches out of the way, and snap! – they hit me in the face. I’m too close, I thought, and dropped back a little. He plowed right on, pushing branches aside just long enough to get through and letting them snap back where they would have hit me. He’d forgotten I was there.

We came to ravines, one after another, and crossed them, down one side and up the other. I was sticking pretty close when an old barbed-wire fence appeared. Russell stepped on it and held it down with his boot till he got over, and I foolishly thought he’d hold it till I got my foot on it, as I would have in his place, but no such luck. Boing! – it caught me in the knee. Why won’t I learn? I asked myself, and dropped back. When we came to another fence he did the same, but it didn’t catch me this time.

We’d been walking a long time, and I noticed the woods weren’t very thick. In fact, they were rather sparse. There weren’t any birds, either. I thought the area had been logged or plowed at some time in the past, but I’ve since learned the trees just don’t grow large there for some reason. I began to wonder just how far Russell would go in his little world before he noticed I wasn’t behind him. We weren’t going straight across the ravines but heading partly along them, so when we came to the next one I made sure I was just starting down as he was going up the other side. He reached the top and disappeared into the woods. I decided that if he was out of sight when I got over the top and I couldn’t tell which way he’d gone, I’d just stop and hope he’d eventually catch on and retrace his steps to find me. But what if he didn’t…?

When I got to the top he was a good ways on but he’d stopped. As soon as he could see me, he motioned me to stop and be quiet, and he looked and listened for a while. He motioned me on, and when I got close he whispered, “There’s somebody here besides us.”

I listened. Nothing but heat and silence. “I don’t hear anything.”

“I don’t either, but I can tell.”


“I just know.”

He led off again, and a little later stopped again and listened, so I did too. Nothing. He shook his head and moved on, so quietly that if you couldn’t see him you wouldn’t know he was there. I let him get out of sight but made sure I knew where he was.

When I saw him next he had a pistol in his hand and had dropped down behind a bush. I got down too. Suddenly he laughed and got up. “Goddamn deer!” he exclaimed. I never even saw or heard the deer.

We must have been walking for two hours when Russell said he didn’t know where we were. He said he’d been going a different way towards the cave but it was so unfamiliar, he was lost. I didn’t believe him. He’d been to the cave hundreds of times. I thought he was deliberately leading me by a long route so I wouldn’t be able to find the cave again, because I knew he’d done that when he took Warren Dexter there. But just then we came to a field that wasn’t a corn or bean field.

“Holy Jesus!” he muttered, grabbing his pistol again and jumping behind a bush. “Don’t you know what that is?”

“No, what?”

“It’s marijuana! Get down!”

I jumped too. Russell watched and listened for a while, then heaved a sigh and got up.

“Damn lucky the owners aren’t here,” he said. “We’d have been dead before we even got to the field if they were. They’ve got some balls. It’s John Black’s land, and he won’t have anything to do with any kind of drugs. If he knew about it they’d be in big trouble.”

“Are you going to tell him?”

“You bet.”

I never found out what happened, but later the field of marijuana wasn’t there anymore.

I guess the field got Russell oriented because he angled off and soon recognized the valley of the cave. Just a little further and we were there.

Even though I’d heard Russell describe the valley and the silt and the sinkhole and all more than once, I didn’t have the right mental picture of it. I would have passed by that little valley just as I did the others, in spite of the differences in this one that weren’t noticeable at first. I hadn’t realized there was silt outside the cave as well as inside, or that an old water-course went by it, or that you only found the sinkhole if you followed the cliff face. I got out my camera and began snapping pictures, most of which turned out too dark in spite of my light meter.

There was just room for one person to crawl into the dark little overhang full of silt. Russell crawled in and poked around while I was shooting pictures outside. “Here, see if there’s anything on these,” he said, handing
a couple of stones out to me. They were carved too, with some of the familiar motifs of the cave stones. One was broken off in the middle of the carving and the broken edge bore a thick patina.

“Good grief, this stuff must be all over the countryside around here,” I remarked.

“It is.”

“But why is it outside the cave, not inside?”

“Who knows? Maybe people still came here after the cave was closed for the last time.”

We sat and talked and speculated for a little while, but it was getting late and we faced a long hike back to the truck and a long drive after that. Russell showed me where the pivot stone over the hole he fell into had been, but that stone had been taken away and another stone placed over the hole. You’d never guess there was another entrance to the cave there if you didn’t know.

Fortunately for me, the route back was much shorter, through more fields and fewer ravines, because I was tired and hot. Nothing ever tasted better then the milk shake from a little crossroads store we passed. I suddenly remembered I had to pick up my bike from the Olney service center before six, so Russell drove like a maniac all the way. I just made it.