I'm not really sure how I wound up in the water. The rush of currents and crunch of impact after impact as I was dragged along the rocks by the merciless current drove everything else from my mind. Thinking back, I don't remember how I wound up in that particular section of rapids at all, much less how I was separated from my kayak.
The thing no one really tells you about whitewater currents is how loud they are. Even as I was dragged along, bouncing from rock to rock like some strange sad cross between a pinball and a pinata, I managed to marvel at the rush and roar of the water all around me. For some reason, I'd always expected drowning to be silent.
Forgive the cliche, but what must have been seconds felt like an eternity. I distinctly remember having time to regret having worn my nice watch as it shattered against the stones, and to wonder how I was going to replace it. I spent what felt like hours careening down the rapids, until a particularly hard boulder impacted my head and time stopped entirely.
When I woke up, I was lying in a few inches of water in absolute darkness.
I sat up, rubbing my bleeding head, and fumbled in my pocket for the box of waterproof matches I always carried on my outdoorsy excursions. Incredibly, the current hadn't managed to tear them away from me. Hands shaking, I managed to open the box and extract a match. I struck it.
Before my eyes could adjust to the glare, it was extinguished.
The voice was hoarse and soft, like a tenor with a terrible cold.
"Fire uses oxygen. We've got a limited supply of that. Welcome to hell."
Later, I learned that my companion in the darkness was a fellow lost kayaker who'd been washed down into the same underwater cave some time before. He wouldn't tell me what he'd had to eat beyond "I ran out.", and something in his voice told me I didn't want to know. Navigating the cave by feel, I'd come across the remains of a two man canoe.
He'd been digging for a while. With a grunt, I joined him. The tunnel was narrow but long, stretching mostly upward except for where it had to curve below a particularly tenacious boulder or seam. "Three more days, I think." he told me, in one of the rare moments we spoke. "Think you can hold out that long?" And he laughed, then, for a long time.
So we dug. Without a watch, I had no way to tell how much time was passing, but his guess was more or less correct. Eventually, he paused. "I'm going to go, er… yeah. I'll be back."
He dragged himself back down the tunnel without another word. A few seconds later, I burst through topsoil into light.
Blinded by the glare, I lay there for a few minutes, soaking up the warmth and light, before realizing I could hear no sound of my companion. I called out, but heard no answer. So I widened the hole, letting light down into the tunnel, and farther into the cave. Silence was the only answer.
I clambered down the tunnel, surprisingly short in the daylight, and looked around the cave. There, in the corner, next to the crushed canoe and a pile of gnawed human bones, lay a dessicated corpse, months dead, with a shovel in its hand.
I ran. When rescuers found me, lost and gibbering in the woods, it had been four days since I went missing.