The second morning that we dropped into the cave, we found that some poor rodent had fallen to his death the night before. We were surprized when a few days later, an even littler mouse had fallen in, and survived. Who would have thought an 80 foot drop was even survivable?
We’d limited our excavations to the center of the cave, not quite directly below the opening. The cave was big – overwhelmingly so – so we chose to limit the scope of our work for our sanity’s sake.
The the dark corners, and secret passages were tempting, but we knew better. Not one of us was really a caver, and for myself, I have a bit of claustrophobia. I wasn’t going anywhere that I couldn’t stand up.
At least that’s what I thought, until the tenth day of excavations.
I’d scurried off to a dark corner to, er, do my business, when I heard a scuffing sound from one of those side passages. This one was pretty big. I could just about walk through. I wondered how I’d never seen it before.
I shrugged and went on about my business when a stomp echoed up that strange passage. Well, that was weird. The stomp came again. And a snort.
I clicked on my light and shown it down the passage. I tiny glimmer shown back… And blinked.
I yelped, as any sensible person might, and dashed away, forgetting my previous urgent business. After explaining to the others what I saw, we decided in was necessary to investigate.
Now, you couldn’t have paid me to go in there, but I’ll be damned if folks didn’t come out of there with photos of a full-grown, very much alive, woolly rhinoceros.
Of course, I can’t show you those photos, ’cause then I’d have to kill you. I’ve probably said too much already.
We were all told to keep mum on this find as we worked to figure out how to get this rhino out. But people talk, and some unsavory folks listen.
Two nights later a man pulled into camp. He claimed he was here to help. That was a lie. This guy was a big game hunter, and he wanted himself a rhino head to put over his fireplace no doubt. He called himself Dapper Dan. I was not impressed.
The next day, a few of us went into the cave to see how Thag was doing. (We’d named the woolly rhino Thag, for whatever reason.) Thag was still in the chamber at the end of that side passage I’d found, too big to walk through on his own.
I was coming out of the passage, behind one of my colleagues when I noticed the ropes from the cave entrance shaking.
Our hunter, Dan, had rappelled in without permission. And he had a rifle.
After that, it all happened really quickly. Dan ran to the passage entrance, shoving scientists aside as he went, including me. I stumbled then chased after him, catching him as he took aim.
I’m not sure why it made sense to me, but I grabbed at the muzzle of the rifle, missing. It went off. Then everyone tackled Dan, pinning him to the ground.
Sadly, the damage was done. The only living woolly rhinoceros lay gasping its last breaths. It was about a minute later that I noticed that I was bleeding. When I swiped at the rifle, the bullet escaping the muzzle must have just grazed my finger. At such close range, the damage was pretty bad.
I got a ride to the hospital, while the authorities sorted everything else out. I don’t know what happened to Dapper Dan. No one’s talking. I was forced to delete all the photos I had of Thag, and by the time I got back to the cave, his remains were gone.
10,000 years too late.