Inside the Cave

            The boy stopped as he reached where the light met the darkness.  He had never ventured farther than that spot; it was like a black wall rushing towards him. 

            He rubbed his fingers against one another and like a swimmer testing the water he dipped the tip of his shoe into the darkness and back out again.  Though the boy knew it wasn't an actual wall, the darkness seemed to push against his foot like a gust of wind or even gelatin, but it wasn't like those things either.  The darkness would seep into his skin to attack his muscles, tugging at them like an archer drawing his bow.  It would use the boy's own body against him, and he knew that the only way to overcome it would be to go willingly.  If there were a shred of doubt within him, the darkness would exploit it and make him run home. 

            A light wind passed through the mouth of the cave and behind the boy there was the scraping of leaves on the dusty floor like cat's claws on kitchen tile.  His mother's cat, Tiger, would always make that sound when he was hungry, skittering across the shiny surface, then silence, then a final click as he reached his perch on the kitchen counter where the boy's mother was opening a green can of Chicken & Veggies

            Before him, the darkness seemed to vibrate with the wind— an invisible swirling of black cycling through the cave and chilling the boy's ankles through his socks.  The cave seemed to sigh with each passing gust cold air that smelled of staleness, surging from unknown chambers and through its crumbling lips to the outside.

            "Hello," called out the boy, but as usual no one replied.  The darkness just swirled again and sighed, the boy's voice coursing through the hollow echo like a child drowning in a whirlpool.

            The boy did not know whether to trust the silence within the cave or not.  What hushed demons crouching, waiting, within were well within the boy's grasp.  It was the solitude he could not fathom.

            He stepped across the border leading into unknown, inner realms.  First his toes, pressing onto the unlit surface little by little, then his heels and the realization that to step away would be to become a coward.

            The boy looked back to where he had come.  The outside world glowed yellow-white beneath the morning sky, framed by the graying rock of the cave like a picture of fire or the last image of brilliant death. 

            All around him, the darkness felt cool on his skin, a sensation far detached from the heat seeping in from the outside.  They collided around him creating an invisible mist that collected on his faded overalls, hair and arms in slick sheets that slid down like cool perspiration onto the black floor.  The mixture soothed his body and his fear seemed to fade away into space.

            The boy turned back to the darkness enveloping.  He did not walk forward, though he was no longer afraid, but stood still as he had done when he had been in the light.   

            He kneeled down slowly and sat, Indian-style, on the invisible ground and began drawing pictures in the loose dirt.  He wrote his name, capitalizing each letter and spending extra time on the A's so they would loom above the other letters like the Eiffel Tower or Father Hammond, his mother's preacher.  Above that, he drew a happy face.  When he was finished he laid down on the dirt and peered into his work, fascinated by the fact that he could not see it literally inches away from his face.  When his nose hit the dust he sat up coughing and giggling to himself and his hidden art.

            Each step sent waves of sound expanding through the blackness like ripples in water, making the boy feel like he had tapped into some hidden power kept away from the world outside.  The sand-like dirt coating the entrance of the cave and the crunch it would create beneath the child's feet had long since given way to a smooth, uneven stone whose sound reminded the boy of arching ceilings and flowing steps.  It seemed to vibrate in the boy's foot before shooting up and out his head like a radio wave coloring the void.

            The boy walked slowly and with arms outstretched, alternately combing the darkness directly in front of him and to either side.  He lifted each foot in an exaggerated fashion, plodding through the cave like a confused bicyclist, anticipating any large stone or rocky outcropping that could trip him along the way.  Whenever he felt disoriented or lost, he would stand completely still and look over his shoulder and out the corner of his eye to the yellow-white window glowing behind him.  However, as time passed, its light grew smaller and smaller until all that was left was a fiery speck in the distance.

            The boy walked like this for several minutes before reaching the top of the slope.  The underground decline, carved years ago by torrential rains and countless small aftershocks born from far-away quakes, was only seven or eight feet high but the angle at which it descended was steep enough to make it nearly to impossible to hold one's footing there.

            For all his caution and planning, the boy overstepped the boundary of the edge and fell into the abyss.  Above him, his guiding star disappeared over the crest of the slope and was extinguished. 

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