Sistema Purificacion

A short story by Sue Thomas

Sue Thomas
12 min readMar 26, 2018


First published 2004

Pixabay free image

The sun is already hot on Esperanta’s back as she steps into the courtyard to water the geraniums. She bends to feel their loosening buds and smiles — only another week and they will be in glorious flower.

Just then the phone starts to ring and immediately her heart freezes. Why would anyone call so early unless to bring bad news? Carefully and slowly she makes her way into the house and picks up the receiver.

The message has been conveyed hand-over-hand by radio and telephone until it is distilled down to a terrifying single essence — ‘Senora Munez — yo sento — Juan es perdido.’

Finally, after all these years of wondering when it would happen, and which one of them it would happen to, it turns out that Juan is the one to be lost.

And she does not need to ask where.

La Sistema Purificacion is the deepest cave in the Western Hemisphere. Located just north of Mexico in the Sierra Madre Oriental, it is not yet fully explored, but is already known to be over 87 kilometres long.

Esperanta de la Cordoba and Juan Munez had met there in the late nineteen-seventies, when the caves were fast becoming the focus for every explorer in the area. They were both new to caving, both freshmen geologists at the University of Texas, and madly enthusiastic about their subject. When the rays of their helmets met 200 meters below the skin of Mexico, in the darkness of a cavern called The World Beyond, it was love at first sight. Esperanta was the only woman on that particular trip and their meeting provoked much friendly jealousy from Juan’s fellow students, although in practice most of them would never have dreamed of marrying a girl who shared their interest in the unlady-like pursuit of speliology.

That first summer the young couple met together as often as they could in an igneous conjunction of fire and passion, celebrating their betrothal underground by making love urgently and noisily on rocky ledges to the tune of flood-swollen subterranean rivers, or muffled and hidden in crannies just out of reach of their fellow-explorers.

Juan remembers those days as he wades through yet another water-filled passage. He…



Sue Thomas

I write about life, nature and technology. Most recent: 'Nature & Wellbeing in the Digital Age'. Writing a novel 'The Fault in Reality'. UK