This is from a work in progress. I feel like it’s a good time to air it out a bit.
The cave is always a place where worlds collided, a seam between This and Other. This cave was forged in collision — continents crashing together, volcanic spasms spewing molten rock, mountains thrust to the cold heavens. In its rush to the surface, one tongue of rising magma ripped a piece of the deep earth from the shaft walls, carrying the glittering black rock miles upward and then hardening around it, locking it near the cold surface where the abducted foreign body shivered and broke down. Through ages of collision and disintegration, the mountain cover crumbled into craggy knobs, bringing the black rock ever closer to the hated surface. Water, that ancient enemy of all solid things, wormed its way into the black rock and carried away fragments and elements. Always the darkest, densest bits because these were the least content to be exiled from their homeland in the earth’s interior. Water, grinding motion, time, all eating away at the alien body because it was not adapted to the cold. Until suddenly a void crashed open in the old mountain root, a void once inhabited by an unwilling interloper, the new cavern a memory of something ancient and other, something that did not belong at the earth’s surface. All that remained of the rock from the deep was a scree of tiny green and rusty black pebbles along the lower cavern walls and a residue of dark sand on the slaty cavern floor.
The cavern filled with water, becoming an icy underground lake. Sightless things found their slow way to the cold waters. Things of the light sometimes lost themselves in the dark and rotted away to shell and bone and chitinous dust. Ages more passed and the cavern rocks slept, dreaming of the glories of hot magma and grinding faults. Giant beasts roamed fathoms above where the solid earth met cold space, and the rocks shivered in their dreams, widening the cave. Salt and acid flowed with the waters, breaking down and building up fantastic founts of solid stone, depositing veins of ore and crystal that did not shine for want of light. In the world above great masses of ice ripped away the last of the mountain roots, sending meltwaters streaming into the cavern depths.
And one day one fragile wall of the cave crumbled, filling the void with light and cold airs and birdsong. The cave was again a place of collision — a place not dark, not light, a place not interior and not skin, a place where the sleeping rock confronts vigorous life and mumbles its ancient displeasure with frantic youth.
The waters gradually drained from the cave, leaving a bed of clay and bone and glittering stone. Life came and went as the years marched past the cavern mouth. A bear raised her cubs for a brief span of seasons. A pack of wolves made camp. Badgers claimed the rocks as their own, as badgers will. A tribe of humans brought their fires and tools to banish the other creatures from the rocky shelter and were in turn banished by time. And in time a lone boy found his way through the tumbled snow masking the cavern entrance and clambered into a womb of the world that he believed had been made solely for his secret delight.
And yet he was not alone.
Perhaps it was the memory of that ancient mantle rock. Perhaps it is endemic to caves that they are neither here nor there. Or it was perhaps a place that a surfeit of possibility had rendered the resulting matter somewhat thin. Whatever the cause, all the discarded threads of time were woven into tangible form in this place so that the air fairly shivered with might have been and not quite so, with This and That bound together, with Here and There entangled. A place where worlds collide.
The boy inhaled the air, taking in scents from beyond but believing them part of the stone. He felt the curves of probability intersecting around him but did not note the difference from the daily choices in his young life. (The young are ever bathed in potential.) Filled with wonder, perhaps falling under the enchantment of dreaming stone, he wandered deeper into the cavern. When he could go no further, he was seized with the impulse to touch the cavern wall, to feel its reassuring solidity. He was increasingly fearful that the rock was becoming insubstantial around him.
As the boy placed his small hand against the cold glittering cave-wall, a distant laugh burbled out of its depths. He shrank from the stone and looked wildly around for the source, but there was nobody. He called out. But there was no reply — only an echo of his tremulous voice. Backing away from the fay laughing stone, he suddenly turned and ran for the cave mouth. And as he scrambled into the dappled woodland light he heard again a bubbling voice, seemingly distant but yet all around him. A laughing voice, bright and merry. Yet to his frightened mind this merry sound became a mockery — a cruel fairy tittering at his retreating form, filled with amusement at his narrow escape from the Otherworld.
Years passed and nothing disturbed the darkness. But what is a century to sleeping stone? Still…
… a strange device suddenly appeared. Small and square, it glowed with colorful symbols, some clear, some obscure. It flew through the cave, landing with a clatter on the cold stone. It glowed briefly white, and then words appeared on its surface.
It is finished. I am coming. — Fintan
Elizabeth Anker 2021