Troglobite (noun) — an animal that lives entirely in the dark parts of caves

By Daniel LaGuardia, Class of 2024
Silent Noise, Kyle Nungester, Class of 2025
Silent Noise, Kyle Nungester, Class of 2025

What happened to him was no fault of mine, and I know that I did nothing wrong. Nothing. Caves are just dangerous places, that’s all. A cave has no regard for human life and a cave is not created with the human body in mind. Think of the random flow of groundwater, the shifting of the earth, the slow wear of a stream — none of these forces have ever or could ever concern themselves with the accommodation of strange, curious animals with recording machines and glowing hats. Animals who are dead-set on pushing themselves into the darkness — because in a cave, you’re an animal, and absolutely nothing more. In a cave, you don’t matter. You don’t matter at all

Maybe that’s why he always went. Maybe he wanted to feel small. But he had to have known that it was stupid, right? There are plenty of ways to feel small; people do that sort of thing all of the time. Classic existential pondering. Go to a national park or something, stand on a particularly interesting mountain, sit on the ground and look at the stars. God, he’s never going to see the stars — that’s terrible. He’s lost forever. I know now more than ever that being lost is a terrible, terrible thing, and that forever is a terribly, terribly long time. 

And in that stupid cave, too. We had never been to that one before, and it was beautiful, but … I don’t know. I used to be an emergency physician, and the phrase “not compatible with life” comes to mind. Ha. Knowing that, you’d think I’d be able to help him. But how do you help someone you can’t find? He’s just gone now, like a word spoken alone in the dark — like a word spoken to the dead. That’s what happens there. The cave, I suppose, is where people go to un-exist. 

Thinking back on it, it really does seem like that was the case. That place was utter darkness. It was absence incarnate: the absence of light, the absence of direction, often the absence of sound. Except, of course, your own footsteps, reflected back to you in whispering echoes as the cave rejected the anomaly that was your own human noise-making. Absence. I hesitate to use the word emptiness, as something empty was once full, or maybe has the capacity to be full one day. Empty has a point of comparison. Empty is not a natural state. Yet whenever my brother would inhale and turn off his flashlight for a moment after entering a new cave — he was “appreciating the darkness,” supposedly — I knew that the natural state of a cave, of that cave, was nothingness. 

I’m sorry, and I hope he still appreciates it. 


He was an adventurous kind of guy, but I never have been. In all honesty, I’m a bit of a wreck, and far from the strongest brother he could have had. I’m nervous. Not just because of — because of what happened to us. No, I’ve always been like this. I get scared sometimes and I don’t know what to do. That’s all. I remember that there was this one day when we were exploring one of our first caves, and I panicked and I messed up. I still regret it. 

We were kids, really — I couldn’t have been much older than fourteen, so he was probably around sixteen or so. High school. Naturally, it wasn’t so much of a real caving expedition as it was screwing around in an alluringly creepy and dangerous new place. That was the first time he had ever done the flashlight routine, and in that death-dark absence-cave, I finally experienced true nothingness, and I began to scream. I flailed my arms around wildly and thrashed against the cave walls and stumbled towards what I assumed was the exit. It was. I woke up with bruises on both arms the next day. 

I’ve had plenty of panic attacks like that, though. I’ve found many incredibly weird ways to inadvertently hurt myself. And the dark was bad, but I would get used to it after a dozen or so trips into the depths. 

No. What bothers me is that I left him there. He was adventurous, but it was his first expedition, and back then even he didn’t want to be in a cave alone. When I started screaming, there was this thud and a rattling, and I knew that he had dropped the powered-off flashlight on the ground. I remember hearing him scrambling to pick it up. There was a sort of waver in his voice, but he never raised it, and I just remember him saying one thing over and over in this weak, breaking voice. “Please don’t leave me here.”

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