Skip navigation

In 1991 I was a medic in the U.S. Air Force assigned to a refueling squadron in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  Mostly, this entailed performing sick call a couple of times a day and issuing medicine to stop attacks of diarrhea rather than any real attacks by Iraqis.  The Saudi Arabian government had allowed us to inhabit a fairly nice community they had originally built for the Bedouin nomads who roamed the desert and periodically migrated into Riyadh.  But, the Bedouins, being fond of their nomadic lifestyle, had refused to occupy the permanent buildings.  This village was called Eskan Village and it lay on the eastern border of Riyadh.

I first met Michael Shaler at the clinic we had established at Eskan Village when we were scheduled to work “sick call” together. We immediately hit it off.  Shaler was a very outspoken guy and his looks were stereotypical of his California origins.  He was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and spoke with the slang of a surfer at times. He was constantly bubbling with energy and was always looking for some type of adventure; and when there was no adventure to be found, he would settle for mischief.  What was not to like about Shaler?  His cheerfulness and playfulness were infectious and no matter what you were doing with him, you would be guaranteed an entertaining time.

All of the medical personnel were billeted in the same area of Eskan Village and Shaler and I managed to be placed in the same villa.  We were, in turn, billeted adjacent to the troops who worked in Life Support.  This job refers to the men and women who maintain and equip the planes with life saving devices such as parachutes, oxygen masks, flares, life rafts, survival rations, and such equipment.  We had made friends with some of these enlisted men and would routinely hang out with them along with a couple of other medics from our unit.

The roofs of the villas were designed as a type of deck and had a four-foot high wall completely enclosing it.  We frequently would go over to the villa occupied by the Life Support guys and hang out on their rooftop while off duty. I remember one day when Shaler got the idea of talking the Life Support guys into bringing home a life raft from work and inflating it on the rooftop so we could fill it with water in order to have a small pool for cooling off in.

Another time Shaler talked us all into filling surgical gloves with water to make water balloons.  We then would throw them at people passing by the villa and duck behind the wall of the roof laughing and giggling while the unsuspecting victim would be left soaking wet wondering where the projectile had come from.

[A view of Eskan Village. Notice the walls around the roofs.]

[A different flag our neighbors flew. The view is from behind the roof wall.]

I mention these specific examples for two reasons.  The first is that they illustrate Shaler’s attempts to liven up our drab existence in the desert – his sense of adventure and mischief in an otherwise dull situation. The second, and in retrospect, more disturbing, is that they stick out in my mind as involving water.  This may sound rather trivial, but you must hear the entire story to see that maybe these ominous portents were signs of the horrible fate that eventually befell Shaler.  But signs like these are easily overlooked when they occur and only stand out in stark relief when viewed in retrospect.

I’m not really sure how Shaler heard about the cave, but he came to our group with the plan to visit it already formulated. The others in our group were Billy Jubinski, Jose Juarez, and Timothy Clay.  These last three were all Life Support guys.  We were all on our way to dinner at the compound’s chow tent when Shaler joined us smiling from ear to ear like the Cheshire Cat.

“I found out about a cave that isn’t more than 25 klicks from here.  This weekend we’re gonna check out a truck from the motor pool and go do a little exploring.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Shaler?” Jubinski asked.

“It’s supposed to be a really big cave with a pool in it,” Shaler said excitedly.  “The pool is huge and we can go swimming in it.”

“Who did you hear this from?” Clay said.

“I have my sources,” Shaler replied obtusely.

“Your sources, huh?” I said echoing Clay’s skepticism.

“Yeah, listen, the pool is deep in the cave so it’ll be pitch black in there.  We’ll need flashlights, but I was wondering if you guys have any really big light sources?”

Jubinski gave Shaler a reproving look for a moment, but Shaler just stared at him with that big, shit-eating grin locked on his face. Finally, Jubinski shook his head and said, “We have beacons for signaling which are pretty bright.”  With those words it was decided that we were going on Shaler’s little spelunking expedition.

It was later in the week that Juarez announced his idea for taking a handful of chemical glow-sticks that we could use to float in the pool of water in order to light the pool while we swam.  Our excitement grew as the weekend approached and Shaler was nearly beside himself with anticipation.  On Friday our excitement was interrupted by an event that drove the exhilaration of the weekend’s expedition from our thoughts.

[Bill, David, and Doc Mitchell.]

[An excursion to Diriyah. For some reason I thought a fanny pack was worth the loss of cool points.]

[The ruins were along the river where palm trees were a rare sight in the Arabian Desert.]

Shaler and I were on duty when a call came in from the guard on duty at the entry control gate of the compound.  He said there had been a bad wreck just outside of the compound on the freeway and he didn’t know if any American soldiers were involved or not.  Shaler, Dr. Fleming, who was the Flight Surgeon on duty, and I got in the ambulance and responded to the accident scene.

Apparently, a bus full of Arabic workers had driven off of the overpass and nose-dived onto the freeway below.  There was no Saudi Arabian transit system, or any real traffic laws for that matter, to speak of.  The workers pushed the carrying capacity of the busses to the limit and they rode the busses to and from work like sardines packed into a can.

The quickest way for us to get to the accident was to drive down the exit ramp on the wrong side of the road.  As we turned onto the exit ramp a truck stopped us and the Arab driver jumped out yelling in Arabic.  We got out and I immediately saw he and his passenger had thrown whatever survivors they could grab into the bed of the truck.  There were at least eight bloody and moaning people in the back. We couldn’t understand a word the driver was saying and Dr. Fleming finally convinced the man to take the poor, wounded passengers to the nearest hospital.  They were badly injured but alive.  Our services would be needed for all of the victims still entangled in the wreckage.

When we arrived at the wreckage it was a chaotic mess.  There were numerous injured and dead strewn across the freeway.  People who were driving but not involved in the accident were crowded around and trying to assist in whatever way they could.  We began to go through the task of triaging the patients and looking for the ones who needed the most immediate medical treatment.  Just after we arrived the Saudi Arabian emergency medical services arrived and began to take control of the scene.  It was a blur of activity, but eventually we were able to remove ourselves from the scene. Just before we left I caught Shaler staring at the dead bodies.  One particular body was lying with his head at an unnaturally sick angle and his eyes wide and glassy.  He appeared to be looking right at Shaler and Shaler just stood and stared back at the dead man.  I clapped Shaler on the back and caused him to stir from his dazed look.  “C’mon, Man,” I said.  “We can go now.”

[Islamic medical symbol.]

The rest of the day Shaler wasn’t his usual, jovial self.  The carnage of the accident really affected him and I too felt sobered by the event. That night, back at our villa, he awoke in the middle of the night with a yell.  I didn’t say anything to him, but I somehow knew he had had a nightmare about the wreck and the dead bodies.  The next morning, however, Shaler was back to normal and the excitement of the day’s trip had shoved the bus wreck from our minds.

[Another excursion was to the camel market where I drank fresh camel’s milk – and still wore a fanny pack.]

We procured a desert-camouflaged, four-wheel drive Bronco from the motor pool, loaded our gear, and headed out into the ancient Arabian Desert.  The excitement was high and we had the feeling that we were embarking on an exploration of uncharted territory.  Jubinski drove and Shaler rode shotgun as the navigator.  He had a map spread across his lap and he and Jubinski debated routes and locations while the other three of us joked and talked as we bumped along ever more rugged terrain.

We turned onto a sandy road and in the distance could be seen a long chain of cliffs.  The cliffs seemed utterly out of place lying in the midst of endless miles of flat desert.  As we approached, the cliffs continued to recede and it soon grew apparent that these cliffs were quite large.  The road finally turned to run parallel to the cliffs and we could see they were approximately three-hundred feet high and held flat plateaus across their tops. These flat tops grew to be several hundred feet across at some points.

We drove along this road, occasionally turning toward the cliffs as other roads appeared, as Shaler and Jubinski tried to find the location of the cave mouth.  It was slow going and nearly an hour elapsed before we found what we were looking for – and there was no mistaking that this was the cave mouth we sought.

My only experience at cave exploration was when I went as a child on a school fieldtrip to Rickwood Caverns in Warrior, Alabama.  Those caves were an extensive network of stalactite and stalagmite-ridden, limestone caverns.  They were irregular and filled with mineral formations and the omnipresent dripping of water.  The cave we were approaching was a gigantic mouth yawning from the depths of the desert.

The cave-mouth kept growing and growing until our Bronco was a mere period following a vast oval zero laid on its side.  I estimated the mouth of the cave to be larger than a football field and it continued at that size to descend at a 45-degree angle into the base of the cliff wall and down into the bowels of the desert.

We piled out of the truck and stood staring in awe at the vast behemoth that confronted our eyes.  The only other time I felt so insignificant before the size of Mother Nature’s handiwork was when I stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon stunned and silent.

[Ain Heet – A stunning view of the cave mouth.]

Several minutes elapsed before the spell was broken and we donned our gear to begin the trek down into the cave.  We whooped and talked in excitement as we set off.  The path was a boulder-littered and sandy rock field that we scrambled over and around with the thrill of adventure coursing through our blood.

We hiked like this for several minutes until we finally entered the vast shadow of the cave’s ceiling and the temperature immediately dropped to a more tolerable level as the baking desert sun was blocked; however, the air was still as dry as the caress of a mummy’s hand.  The cave ceiling loomed high above us and I felt as though we had entered the mouth of a giant, fossilized behemoth.

We picked our way slowly down the rock field for another 45-minutes as the light slowly dimmed and the cave mouth began to close.  Every so often I looked back at the cave-mouth and noted its size – first, as wide as my arm span; next, the size of a football (at which point we turned on our flashlights); and finally, no bigger than an egg.  And then we came upon a wall of boulders and our progress was abruptly halted.

[Abdul was a local man who told us the cave was avoided by the locals because it was associated with desert djin, or evil sprits. He warned us not to go in.]

[Mike Shaler is on the far right.]

“Well, Shaler?” Jubinski said.  “I thought there was supposed to be a pool down here.”

“There is,” Shaler said, scanning the boulders with his flashlight beam.  “There is supposed to be a crack in the rocks that we can climb through to get on the other side.”

“How do you know this, Shaler?” I exclaimed.

“I told you.  I have my sources.”

“Seriously, man,” Juarez began, but his comment was cut short by Clay.

“Hey, guys, over here!  I think I found it!”

Sure enough, Clay had found a slim crack between the boulders through which we all managed to worm our way through to the other side.  When I emerged on the other side the first thing I noticed was we had entered a totally new kind of darkness.  A darkness so profound it was palpable.  At one point someone made the suggestion to turn out all flashlights and I couldn’t even see my hand right before my eyes.

The wall of boulders ended as abruptly as it had emerged and the cave continued on in its previous manner.  I suspected the blockage was the result of a cave-in but kept this observation to myself.  We went on for another ten or fifteen minutes and then the humidity assaulted us.  It was like walking into a sauna and there was little doubt we were approaching some type of water source.

It wasn’t long before we reached the pool. Shaler, whatever his source of knowledge, had been right.  The pool was magnificent.  Shaler broke into an animated dance while yelling and laughing in triumph.

“I told you, boys!  Didn’t I tell you there was pool?  It’s gorgeous!”

The water was so clear it looked only a few feet deep.  Someone announced they were throwing a rock in and there followed a loud “bloosh” and my flashlight caught the location.  The water rippled and the rock was seen descending to the bottom.  It was apparent that the water was very deep.

[The only rock out of water is the large one in the foreground.]

The three guys from Life Support removed the lights they had brought and soon we had illumination well enough to see most of the pool.  It was the size of a small swimming pool and got deeper as the cave continued to descend. At the far side, the roof of the cave eventually met the water’s surface and it looked to me that this was the very bottom of the cave; however, there very well could have been more to the cave system.

We quickly stripped down to our swimming shorts and raced to enter the water.  Of course, Shaler was the first to plunge into the pool, but we all followed immediately after.  The water was exquisite.  It was cool, clear, deep, and big enough for us all to enjoy.  We soon discovered a boulder that jutted out of the water enough to provide a platform for jumping from and we all took turns climbing it and leaping in funny gyrations into the water.

With no one watching, Juarez slipped from the pool and shut off our lights.  We were thrown into pitch blackness and everyone began to yell with a tinge of fear in their voices until Juarez laughed at us and told us to hold on. Then, little green lights began to appear from where he sat as he broke the chemical sticks.  Each time he broke one he tossed it into the pool.  We tread water and watched each green stick glide through the air and plop in the pool.  Soon, they were floating all around us and the pool began to emanate an eerie, green glow – it is that same fluorescent green glow that haunts my dreams now and, when I see it in my waking state, I cringe from it like an arachnophobe from a spider.

Jubinski was the one who came up with the idea to tie the glow-sticks to rocks and submerge them.  This was done and soon the entire pool glowed a sickly, luminous green even more profound than when they were floating on the pool’s surface. I can’t remember how long we swam this way before Shaler announced he was going to try and dive as deep as he could in the back of the pool to see if it continued into another chamber.

Several times he disappeared and we waited for his return with news of his discoveries.  Shaler was a good swimmer, having grown up on the west coast beaches of California, and we were a little worried at how long he was gone beneath the dark waters each time he went under.  He went three times and returned with nothing to report but the fact that there was just rock as far as he could determine.  The fourth time he went down he returned quickly in a mad haste to get out of the pool spluttering and splashing all the while yelling, “I saw something!  Get out! I saw something down there!”

We all rushed to get out of the pool before questioning Shaler.

“What was it?”

“What did you see?”

“Was it a fish?”

“Are you sure you saw something?”

Shaler was visibly shaken and he tried to explain, but it came in fragments and I was sure he was trying to hide something.

“I don’t know…it was moving…but it wasn’t a fish. No, it definitely wasn’t a fish. It was moving…  C’mon, guys, let’s get the hell out of here!”  Shaler found the rescue beacons and turned on the lights so that the bright, white light drove the green glow away and our visibility was drastically improved.  We all retrieved our flashlights and searched the pool, but there was no sign of anything in the water moving.

We were all suddenly aware of the alien remoteness of our location and even though we all thought Shaler had just imagined seeing something, no one wanted to be the first to venture back into the pool.

Jubinski said, “I think you were seeing things, Shaler.”

Shaler commenced to drying off and merely said, “I saw something.  Don’t get back in.”

“You’re freaking me out, man,” Clay replied.

Jubinski broke the tension by saying, “Let’s go, guys. I want to explore the cliffs anyway.”

We all hastily dried off and dressed while keeping a wary eye on the pool.  We returned up the slope and hurried to squeeze through the crack in the boulders without saying very much.  At one point, before crawling through, I looked back one more time at the pool and a chill slithered down my spine as I beheld the glowing, green pool far below in the remote depths of the cave.

Once we emerged on the other side of the boulder obstruction, the darkness returned to a normal darkness and our moods were immediately altered for the better – all, that is, except for Shaler.  He remained silent and consumed in his own thoughts.  As we began the arduous trek back up the long tunnel Juarez came up to me and whispered, “Hey, man.  I bet Shaler is just messing with us.  I bet it’s just another one of his pranks.”

“Yeah, I bet you’re right.”  But I still didn’t believe it.  Something about the look in Shaler’s eyes when he came out of the water told me he was genuinely terrified.  He kept looking over his shoulder as if he were afraid that something was pursuing him.

By the time we struggled up the rugged path out of the cave we were so exhausted we didn’t have the energy to do any further exploring.  We all, except for Shaler who was unusually quiet, agreed that we could return to do further exploring at a later time.  And so, fatigued and hungry, we climbed inside the Bronco and headed back to Eskan Village.

Shaler never recovered from that trip into the cave. On the contrary, his condition spiraled into madness at an alarming rate.  In the days immediately following our excursion he seemed withdrawn and said very little.  I tried to engage him in conversations and frequently asked him if he was feeling all right. He made vague comments and refused to elaborate on anything.

Several nights later, I heard him thrashing and mumbling in his sleep.  I went to check on him and he awoke with a violent start.  Whatever nightmare had haunted him it must have been a very vivid one because he was very shaken.

[We supported aerial refuelers (KC-135’s) and had many opportunities to ride along with missions over Iraq.]

About a week later, I awoke in the middle of the night after hearing a noise.  When I rose to investigate what had caused the noise I found Shaler’s bed empty. Assuming he had risen because he couldn’t sleep and had probably gone for a walk, I returned to bed.  He was back the next morning and I didn’t think much more about the episode.

Several nights later, I heard Shaler leaving again and this time I watched him through the window and saw he was carrying a flashlight and a large water bottle.  Evidently, he wasn’t going out just to get fresh air, but was headed somewhere in particular.  It crossed my mind that it might be the cave, but I just couldn’t bring myself to accept this because of how much the episode in the cave had scared him.  I was confused and decided to try and follow him.

He kept to the shadows as he wound his way through Eskan Village.  I stayed back and made sure I wasn’t seen.  We finally arrived at the tent that was used as the motor pool.  But Shaler didn’t enter the tent.  Instead, he pulled a set of keys from his pocket and got into one of the Broncos.  I remained hidden as I watched him drive off.  I couldn’t believe that he would go back to the cave.  That’s where he had to be going, but why?  And especially by himself!  The thought of it made me shudder.

I returned to my villa and tried to sleep, but it was useless.  I lay awake wondering just what Shaler was up to.  It just didn’t make any sense.  Why would a person who was so scared return alone to such a dark and desolate place? Maybe he wasn’t even going to the cave. Or maybe he was meeting someone else at the cave and going in with them.  Maybe Juarez was right in his assessment that Shaler was just playing a joke on us.  Perhaps Shaler was returning there to build on his joke.  It just didn’t fit, though.  Shaler’s nightmares and the way his behavior had changed were all wrong. Unless his practical joke was far more elaborate than I expected.

I decided to attempt to follow Shaler all the way into the cave if he made another trip.  I remained awake until Shaler returned several hours later.  I couldn’t stand not knowing what he was up to and I confronted him when he entered our villa.

“Where have you been, Shaler?”

“Garrett, My God!  You scared the crap out of me.  I couldn’t sleep and -”

“Don’t lie, Shaler.  I know you’ve been to the cave.”

“What are you talking about?” He said trying to feign that my insinuation was hurtful.

“I followed you to the motor pool.  I know you went to the cave,” I lied trying to make him confess.

Suddenly, he grabbed my shirt and pulled me close saying, “What did you see?  Did you go into the cave?  Did you see them?”

His eyes were wild and his behavior was scaring me, but I pushed him back and said, “See who?  No, I didn’t go in the cave.”

Then, Shaler’s face changed.  I know no other way to describe it other than to say that a transformation spread across his face.  “I saw them in the pool, Garrett.  They were calling me to join them.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I said horrified.

“I know you think I’m mad.  What else would you think?  But, I tell you it’s true.  That day we all went to the cave, I saw them in the dark depths of the pool. I don’t know who or what they are but they came to me in my nightmares.  They showed me what eternity looks like, Garrett.  I’ve been down there for hours just gazing into the pool; watching them.”

I was stunned.  I tried to make some sort of reply to his gibberish, but could think of absolutely nothing to say.  He watched me with that same wild look on his face and then it completely drained out of his face and he began to chuckle.

“I’m just kidding, Garrett,” he said trying to play it off.  “I was just messing with you, dude.  I did go down there to the cave, but I took some other guys down there to swim.  You know, like a tour guide.”

“What?” I said bewildered.  In my sleep-starved state I didn’t know whether he was kidding or serious or just plain lying.

“Yeah, there were these Army guys who wanted to go down there and the only time they could go was at nighttime.  I mean, it is a pitch-black cave after all, right?”

I was so tired that I didn’t bother to try and make any sense out of what Shaler had said nor his erratic behavior.  I went to bed and fell into a deep sleep. The next day I didn’t see Shaler at all. I went to work at the clinic and he went with one of our Flight Surgeons on a flight.  The flight they went on lasted well into the night and I was so exhausted after work, I went to bed early.

I awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of Shaler’s nightmare fits.  I went to his doorway and listened to him.  He was mumbling and thrashing about in the bed and I stood and listened for several moments.  I could only make out a word here and there but I gathered he was dreaming of the pool and was telling someone that he was coming to meet them.  I stood there horrified as chills spread through my body. What madness was afflicting him? I gathered my nerves and decided to wake him.

I entered his room and beheld him in the throws of his nightmare ranting and writhing.  I cautiously touched his leg and called his name, “Shaler!”

He awoke with a start and stared wide-eyed into empty space before his eyes focused on me.  Then he startled me by grabbing my wrists.

“Garrett, my God!  I’ve seen them again.  I must go back to the cave.”

“It was only a nightmare, Shaler.  You were just dreaming.”  He merely brushed off what I said and rose from the bed and began searching around for his clothes.

“They’ve shown me eternity.  You can’t imagine the mysteries they’ve revealed to me.”

“Snap out of it!  You’re talking crazy.”

“Am I?  Have youseen them, Garrett?”  He continued to dress and I grabbed his arm. He jerked violently away and then shoved me.  Then a horrible look leapt into his eyes and he growled, “Get your filthy hands off of me.”

I was stunned.  This wasn’t the Shaler I knew.  He was mad.  “What the hell is your problem?” I countered.

I tried to reason with him but we just argued. He dressed and I followed him out of the villa.  It was in the street out front that I tried to grab him again.  This time, however, he wheeled on me and landed a hard punch right on my chin that knocked me out cold.

I awoke still lying on the pavement of the street.  Shaler was nowhere to be seen.  I pushed myself up and rubbed my chin trying to gather my wits.  The cave; Shaler had gone to the cave.  I had to go after him.

I rose to my feet and thought through how I should proceed.  I didn’t have a vehicle and I really couldn’t remember the route to the cave even if I did have one.  The day we went Jubinski had driven.  I decided to go to the Life Support villa and wake Jubinski.

I checked my watch and it was after 1 o’clock in the morning.  Eskan Village was dead silent.  When I arrived at Jubinski’s villa, I could tell that no one was awake.  I didn’t care, though.  I pounded on the door until Clay finally opened the door rubbing his eyes.  I explained to him I needed to talk to Jubinski and he let me in then went back to bed.  I woke Jubinski and pleaded my case to him.  He groggily listened to my story and saw I was obviously distressed by Shaler’s bizarre behavior.  Finally, he consented to go with me to the cave.

Once he was committed to the journey we had to acquire a vehicle.  We discussed sneaking a truck from the motor pool but this seemed a bit risky.

“What about an ambulance?” He said.

“What do you mean?”

“The clinic is on 24-hour shifts so let’s get an ambulance.”

“I can’t just go get one.”

“No, but you know the people working there. Talk them into letting you take one.”

It was worth a shot.  We headed over to the clinic and I talked to the two technicians on duty.  After about ten minutes of haggling and bribing they let us take the spare ambulance and agreed that if anything came up they would cover for us.

As we drove through the hot Arabian night I told him the entire tale of what had been going on with Shaler.  He agreed that it sounded like Shaler had lost his mind. We discussed several possibilities and I finally told him about the episode with the bus wreck.  When I told Jubinski about the ambulance run we had made the day before we went on our cave expedition he agreed that was probably the catalyst for Shaler’s mental malady.

When we finally arrived at the cave, it was disconcerting to see the desert-camouflaged Bronco sitting there empty, dwarfed by the ominous cave-mouth.  As we made the long journey into the depths of the cave, I experienced a growing sense of dread.  It was comforting to have Jubinski as a companion and I tried to drive out of my mind the hideous thought of making the descent alone.

We made it to the wall of boulders and located the crack.  I volunteered to go through first.  My heart was thundering in my chest as I squirmed through the narrow opening.  I didn’t know what to expect or why I had such a profound sense of dread.  I felt as if I were entering a vast, ancient sepulcher.  I emerged on the other side and played my flashlight beam over the immediate area.  Nothing but rock and silent space met my eyes.  I waited nervously while Jubinski wormed his way through the crack.  When he emerged beside me I felt a bit better, but there was still an oppressive aura of unnatural remoteness that pervaded the cave.  I felt as if we were aliens intruding into a forbidden crypt.

I wondered what Shaler was doing.  Was he completely out of his mind?  Would we find him swimming?  What if we found him raving mad?  Or even worse, what if we found him dead?

We trudged on and suddenly Jubinski grabbed my shoulder pulling me to a halt.

“Turn off your light,” he whispered.

“Are you crazy?” I retorted.

“Shhhh,” he hissed snapping his light off.  I reluctantly complied and we were suddenly plunged into utter blackness.  After a couple of seconds the sickly green glow of the pool emerged from the darkness.

“Look, it’s the pool glowing,” I heard myself whispering.

“Impossible.  Those glow-sticks would’ve burnt out days ago.”

“Maybe Shaler brought more.”

“Maybe,” Jubinski said in disbelief.  Then Jubinski shouted, “Shaler!” and I jerked in a spasmodic wave of fear shot through my body.

“Jesus Christ, Jubinski!  You scared the shit out of me,” I said with a mix of anger and fear.

“Sorry,” he said and turned his flashlight back on. He called several more times as we continued picking our way down toward the pool but his cries just echoed through the cavern with no reply coming back in return.

Finally, we made it to the pool.  There was no sign of Shaler anywhere.  The pool’s weird, green glow was simply eerie.  We apprehensively scanned the water of the pool fearing what we might find there.  The water was as still as glass, though.

“If he were swimming, the water wouldn’t be this calm,” Jubinski offered.

“Do you think -”  But my question was cut off by a sudden, primal scream.  I fell backwards in stark terror and whipped my light in the direction of the scream.  There, framed by the light, stood Shaler with a flashlight in his hand and the inert form of Jubinski lying beside him.  Shaler had attacked Jubinski.  I couldn’t tell if Jubinski were alive or dead.  Shaler had a maniacal stare on his face and was breathing heavily.

“Garrett, thank God you came.  It’s all clear to me now.  I know what I must do.”

I was terrified.  I tried to speak, but the words stuck in my throat.  I began to stumble backwards.

“It’s not just me they want,” he said icily. “They want you too.”

He lunged at me then.  I recoiled and tried to put distance between us but the rocks were too cumbersome to navigate in the dark.  He swung at me with the flashlight and I was able to duck the blow.  I got a punch off at his stomach and felt my fist bury into his abdomen.  He let out a woosh of air but managed to wrap an arm around my neck.  I tried to pull free but his arm was locked around my head. I didn’t think; I just reacted.  I tried to push into him and drive him to the ground but instead, he fell backwards into the pool.  He still had me in a headlock as we splashed into the cool, green water.  I pried at his arm and struggled to break free but it was no use.  I was running out of air and panicking.  Just then I felt a strong sense of being pulled deeper into the water.  Then I felt my head pop free from his hold and I pushed away from Shaler.  I clawed at the water in an effort to find the surface; to find the air I so desperately needed.  I managed to open my eyes and I saw Shaler being pulled down by a throng of shapes.  Their hands were wrapped about his body and I could see Shaler’s face calm and serene as he smiled back at me.  Just before I broke the surface of the water I saw them disappear into the green-tinted darkness and one of the figures looked at me!  It was the most hideous thing I’ve ever beheld in my life.  I’ve tried to convince myself that it was just an illusion; just a trick of the mind caused by the lack of oxygen or my rattled nerves.  But sometimes, when I let my guard down, the realness of it overtakes me.  Deep inside I know the truth.  I know what I saw.  It was the face of the dead Arab from the bus wreck.

I clambered from the pool in an outrageous panic. Jubinski wasn’t dead, thank God. I don’t know what I would’ve done if he were.  I probably would have lost it.  I shook him until he came to and then I told him that Shaler was gone.  I told him that he had dove in the pool and never come up. I couldn’t tell him what I really saw. He wouldn’t have believed me anyway.

We made our way back out in a complete daze. When we got back to Eskan Village we sought out our commander and told him the entire story.  Of course, I left out the part about me seeing the things in the pool.

They sent a team back into the cave to try and find the body of Michael Shaler but he was never found.  After that it was forbidden for any serviceman to go to the cave.

Before I left Saudi Arabia I managed to talk to one of the men who went into the cave to search for Shaler.  I just wanted to know one thing.

“When you went into the cave did you see anything unusual in the pool?”

“There was nothing in the pool,” he said thinking about it.  “But the pool did give off this really creepy green glow.”


  1. I was at Eskan Village late 92 to early 93. I’ve been to that cave and have pictures similar to yours. Great story. Brings back memories.

  2. Amazing retelling of your encounter and experience. Made me get chills in my back and the feeling of being there in the moment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: