Monday 27 September 2010

The Moonshaft by Antonin T. Horak - Part one

The Moonshaft by Antonin T. Horak

(This article was published in March 1965 in NSS News)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an article by the author from his own journal. Antonin T. Horak was a captain in the Slovak Uprising during World War II, and he tells of his discovery of a strange „moonshaft“ in a cave in Czechoslovakia. Dr. Horak is a linguist who is now a U. S. Citizen living in Pueblo, Colorado and he hopes to persuade speleologists to study his moonshaft further and learn its true nature. The illustrations were traced from sketches that he made 20 years ago in the cave, which is located near the villages of Plavnica and Lubocna, at about 49,2o N, 20,7o E. The journal was written on the spot and starts when Dr. Horak and two of his wounded soldiers were found by peasant and rescued from capture.

October 23, 1944.

Early yesterday, Sunday, October 22nd, Slavek found us in a trench and hid us in this grotto. Today at nightfall he and his daughter Hanka came with food and medicine. We had no eaten since Friday, and all we had had before, during last two battles, was maize bread and not enough of that. Our commissary had been on its last legs anyway; the supply carriers had been dispersed by confusion and the enemy.

Saturday afternoon the remnants of our battalion (184 men and officers, a quarter wounded, 16 stretcher cases) were retreating through the snow of the north slope. My company was the rear guard. At dawn Sunday, the two 70 mm guns opened up at us from close range - about 300 m. Having held our position for 12 hours, I ordered a gradual breakup of the skirmish and slip-off. But in our left trench someone became careless, and that drew 2 direct hits - shells, two wounded. Arriving there I bumped into the enemy, caught a bayonet and bullet with my left palm and blow on my head, which put me out. Without my fur cap it might be fractured.

I came to when someone was pulling me from the trench, a tall peasant. He packed snow on my hand, and grinned. Then this rough and ready Samaritan grabbed Jurek, stripped off his pants, yanked the long sliver of steel from his thigh, and planted him bare-bottomed and gasping into a heap of snow. Martin, with a slash across and into his belly was tenderly bandaged. Building a stretcher the peasant introduced himself as Slavek, a sheepman, owner of the pastures hereabouts. With Slavek hauling and guiding, it took us four hours to reach this cranny.

Slavek moved rocks in the cranny and opened a cleft, the entrance to this roomy grotto. Placing Martin in the niche, we were astonished to see Slavek become ceremonious: he crossed himself, each of us, the grotto, and, with a deep bow, its back wall, where a hole came to my attention.

About to leave us, Slavek went through the same holy rites, and begged me not to go further into his cave. I accompanied him to fetch pine boughs, and he told me that only once, with his father and grandfather, had he been in this cave; that it is a huge maze, full of pits which they never wanted to fathom, pockets of poisonous air, and "certainly haunted". I was back in the grotto with my men at about midnight, exhausted, head very painful, soothed it with snow. Martin was unconscious, Jurek feverish. For breakfast-lunch-dinner he and I had hot water, and, thank God, I had my pipe. I placed warm stones around Martin, and Jurek got the first watch.

Miserable night. Martin at time conscious; I gave him 3 aspirins and hot water to sip with drops of Slivovitz. Jurek hobbled hungrily around the two German helmets in which he boiled water to which I added 10 drops of Slivovitz, our breakfast. With this deluge of snow, avalanches imminent, and enemy skiers roaming, Slavek may not be able to get through to us with food for days to come. And neither should I try hunting and track up the landscape while I have two immobilized men on my hands. But here we have this cave which Slavek knows only partially; it may have more than this known entrance, and it may contain hibernating animals. These possibilities I mulled over while Jurek was chewing pine bark, and, as expected, he implored me to go poaching into Slavek's cave and promised to keep mum. And I was not only starved but equally eager to find out what makes self assured Slavek scared enough to invoke the Deities. I started my cave tour with rifle, lantern, torches, pick. After a not too devious nor dangerous walk and some squeezings, always taking the easiest and marking side passages, I came, after about 1 1/2 hours, into a long, level passage, and its end upon a barrel-sized hole.

Crawling through and still kneeling, I froze in amazement - there stands something like a large, black silo, framed in white. Regaining breath I thought that this is a bizarre, natural wall or curtain of black salt, or ice, or lava. But I became perplexed, then awestruck when I saw it is a glass-smooth flank of seemingly man-made structure which reaches into the rocks on all sides. Beautifully, cylindrically curved it indicates a huge body with a diameter of about 25 meters. Where this structure and the rocks meet, large stalagmites and stalactites form that glittering white frame. The wall is uniformly blue-blackish, its material seems to combine properties of steel, flint, rubber - the pick made no marks and bounced off vigorously. Even the thought of a tower-sized artifact; embedded in rock in the middle of an obscure mountain, in a wild region where not even legend knows about ruins, mining, industry; overgrown with age-old cave deposits, is bewildering - the fact is appalling.

Fig. 1

Not immediately discernible, a crack in the wall appears from below, about 20 to 25 cm wide, tapers off and disappears into the cave's ceiling, 2 to 5 cm wide. Its insides, right and left are pitch black and have fist sized, sharp valleys and crests. The crack's bottom is rather smooth trough (Mulde) of yellow limestone, and drops very steeply (about 60o) into the wall. I threw a lighted torch through; it fell and extinguished with loud cracklings and hissings as if a white hot plougshare were dropped into a bucket.

Driven to explore, and believing me thin enough to get through this upside down keyhole, I went in. Wriggling sideways, injured hand and head below and steeply downward, nearly standing on my head, cramped, though my right arm with the lamp could move in the extended crack above me, the crush got the better of me and I had to get out, back, quickly. And that became a struggle. When out and breath regained, I was too fascinated by the whole riddle and determined to get at it. For the day I had enough and had to think about tactics.

I was in camp at about 4 p.m. Jurek had washed Martin, kept him between warm stones, and I gave him three aspirins and hot water with Slivovitz to sip. I explained to Jurek that the hunt in the cave requires much smoke, poles, and rope. Thank god, Slavek and Hanka did come with provisions. When they left I accompanied them to fetch torch boughs, was back in camp at about 2 a.m., dead tired, but finally we had eaten - Jurek too much - and I got the 2nd watch.

October 24, 1944.

Peaceful night; Martin sipped fever-tea with honey; hope we can pull him through. Jurek`s posterior is not even swollen, but my head still is. I cut our belts, braided 8 meters of solid rope. At 10 p.m. was at the wall; anchored the rope over a stick across the crack, and keeping it slung over my shoulder, forced myself again into the grim maw. Like yesterday, the lamp, this time carbide, was on a stick ahead within the jaw above. When it came through and down it swung freely over some void into which I could not see, and there was again rushing as if from agaited waters. And, unable to turn, I feared a water-filled pit ahead and to end in it - literally - in a headstand.

I wriggled upward, back again; my clothes caught on the protrusions, descended on my shoulders and head, and formed a plug. The resulting struggle nearly caused me to burned alive. When out and on my feet, I was shaking from exhaustion, and had lurid visions.

There are no loose stones about the wall and so I hacked stalagmites into short rolls and bowled them through the crack. They rolled on, causing enormous echoes, and knocked to a standstill, indicating a solid floor and room to turn. I launched the unlit torches after the stones, undressed, keeping the shirt only, and went after the stones and torches. Already acquainted with the meanst fangs in the crack, I came through with only few cuts, dropped a little, rolled down an incline and was stopped by a wall which felt familiar, satiny smooth like the front wall.

My lamp was still burning next to me, but here were confusing sounds. Lighting like torches, I saw that I was in spacious, curved, black shaft formed by cliff-like walls which intersect and form a crescent-shaped, nearly vertical tunnel, rather shaft. I cannot describe the sombernessand the endless whisperings, rustlings and roaring sounds, abnormal echoes from my breathing and movements. The floor is the incline over which I rolled in, a solid lime "pavement".

Fig. 2

All the lights together did not reach the ceiling or where these walls end or meet. The horizontal distance between the apexes of the concave backside of the front wall and the convex back wall is about 25 meters. To explore further I needed more light and my pick, which does not fit through the crack and must be taken apart.

I left jubilant, in a sort of enchantment mixed with determination to explore this large structure, which I believe is unique, singular.

This time with my head up, with no clothes to ensnare and burn me, I was through the crack fairly unscathed, dressed, smoked a pipe, and was underway to my men. I tried to catch some bats, but caught none. Jurek was boiling potatoes and mutton and therefore inclined to excuse my bad huntsmanship; he even appreciated its hardships when he had to grease the scratches on my back, and my shirt.

Martin had a crumb of bread with honeyed fevertea. After 6 p.m. I went for a new load of torches, was back at about 10 p.m. Jurek got both watches.

Continued in Part Two

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