Long time no see, everyone. I’m really sorry about that. After I post this story, I will make a blog post about why I haven’t posted in a while.
But here is a 2300-word short story about a boy in a cave.
Please let me know what you think of it.
“I find it hard to believe this cave hasn’t been discovered already,” Miraeth said, tossing her golden hair over her shoulder. “It’s probably full of bandits.”
She didn’t sound scared. She just didn’t want to go with me.
“You don’t have to come, coward,” I retorted, shouldering my bag. “Bastion can come with me. I don’t need you.” I patted my dog on the head, and he whined, leaning into the palm of my hand.
She had the nerve to look offended. Her peridot eyes widened, eyes that could be soft and inviting if not for the nerve of the woman who possessed them, a simpering rage infiltrating her aloofness and turning it into an insult. An insult I fully intended, as much as I have loved her since I wore nappies.
“You’ll probably die in there, ” she said, and as her words tumbled out of her mouth, they dripped caustic venom on the forest floor. I smiled when I practically smelled the burning of leaves.
“Perhaps I will. Or perhaps I’ll discover hidden treasure and become the wealthiest man in town. And then I’ll make sure to forget all about you, Miraeth Samperson.” My tone is deceptively casual as I say it. I don’t mean it. I couldn’t mean it.
Sometimes before we went in at night after our work was done, she’d kiss me. “Never tell anyone,” she’d say before pressing her lips to me, her hands roving over my body. A small body for an eighteen-year-old boy. Noah Relard was a bigger man, and he’d had an eye on Miraeth almost as long as I had.
But for some reason, she chose to kiss me. To touch me. But she never let it go to my head, treating me so poorly whenever she wasn’t pressing her lips to mine.
Poison lips. So sweet.
Rewarding my boyish insolence would not do, so she gave me a rude gesture with the fingers of one hand and then stormed off. I tried calling after her. After all, I’d much prefer it if she came with me into the cave than storming through the woods alone.
Ah well. It was only noon anyway. There would be as little danger at this hour than there would ever be.
“Come on Bash,” I said, adjusting the weight of the strap of my bag on my shoulder yet again. It was a nervous tick I had.
The cave was dark almost immediately upon entering. Dark, damp. Typical of caves, really. I rolled my eyes at myself as I fumbled in the light from outside for a match to light the lantern I brought with me, the lantern that was clipped to my belt. Should have done this outside before entering the cave, you vacuous moron, I told myself.
But the lantern was lit, and the golden light that illuminated the black stone walls around me revealed no enemies.
The walls were made of black stone, some sort of obsidian.
Hidden treasure indeed. If the stone was soft enough, I could mine it and sell it. The gleaming ebony rock would make me rich enough to move out of my small town.
Even as I reached for the stone to test its hardness, I hesitated. Moving out of the small town would mean leaving Miraeth. Sassy, sweet, venomous Miraeth.
Unless she agreed to come with me.
I don’t know why she would, but I couldn’t think why she wouldn’t either. She kissed me; she must love me too. Yes, I thought to myself, she would come with me.
Joy resonated through my blood, making it heat and simmer within my veins as I felt the rock. I dug in with my nails, yes, yes, it was soft enough to easily mine.
I was as rich man. And I knew, deep down, that my mum’s troubles were over. No longer would she have to sell the most sacred parts of her to men who mistreated her. She could choose her clients more particularly now.
Other healers used their magic to heal the body. Mum used her body to heal the mind.
But it would take time to hire people to work the mine and to get the equipment sorted. I needed something to bring home to assert my claim on the mine, to validate my authority.
So deeper into the cave, I went. Along the way, I’d pick up small pieces of the black rock and shove them into my bag, still unsure what kind of stone it was. Bastion, loyal Bastion, followed me faithfully, braver even than I.
Deeper and deeper I went, enveloped in the cold embrace of the earth. The blackness was like a living entity of its own, pulsing. Breathing. Breathing like a living god, mightier than the mountain which made up its home, more than a sum of its parts.
It weighed upon me. Heavier than anything I’d ever known. But my life was on the line, and I had much to lose, but more to gain, so in I pressed. Even as my steps became strenuous, even as my shoulders slumped, I pressed in.
Never before had I been so determined to see a task done. Even if I had to crawl, I would reach the back of the cave.
I never noticed it when it began, but after three hours in the cave, the noise in my head was a cacophony of swarming bees. Buzzing and furious. Somehow I had the presence of mind to wonder about Miraeth. Surely she’d be home by now.
I could not worry about her for long. The weight was so heavy upon my shoulders, I fell to my knees, and I would swear the stone floor faltered under the combined weight of my small frame and the entity perched upon my shoulders. Sweat poured over my face, despite the cold dampness. I wondered where the water was that was causing such a dank environment. I had not come across any.
But that was my last thought before preternatural sleepiness overcame me and I almost succumbed to the sweetest slumber I would have ever known.
The buzzing of the bees inside my head quieted just a little, and in that blissful relief, my eyes snapped open.
And then I began to crawl. If I’d had any sense, I’d have crawled out, away from the inky darkness, back to the light of early spring that waited for me outside of the cave. Bastion’s whines begged me to do just that, urgent and high, overcoming even the chaos of the bees.
But I had never been an overly intelligent boy, even less so as a man, so I plunged deeper.
My knees ached with a dozen bruises as I crawled, but I was motivated by an urging so primal and necessary that I did not heed them. My hands were scuffed and raw.
With the abruptness of a falling star illuminating the skies to the delight of the mortal children on the surface of the earth, between one painful shuffle and the next, the buzzing in my head ceased, cut off like the head of a criminal on judgment day.
The loss of it made me retch. I missed its clamor like I missed Miraeth’s venom. Contrary to my own well-being. But I did not vomit. I would never violate the black stone of the ground with my own filth.
Another shuffle forward and the weight was lifted. Every movement forward was rewarded by a lessening of my burden, more and more until once again I was able to stand like a man and face what lied ahead.
There was a light ahead. I could see it, filtering from around a corner. An orange light, like the light of sunset.
A heaving ecstasy filled my heart. I had made it through the womb of the earth. I knew not where I would emerge back into the world of light and air, but to know that I would emerge at all was freedom of its own. With every joy in the world making my steps lighter, I surged forward toward that orange light.
The world I found beyond that corner was not the world into which I’d been born, and lived, and loved.
Did I die in the cave? Was I crushed under the enormous weight of that interminable darkness?
It could not be so. The valley before me was small in size but vast in the sheer amount of life that resides within it. No people, no, and no animals either. Naught but birds. But so many of them.
And there, in the center of the valley, I could see from even at a significant distance, a white bird so colossal in size, it could have been a dragon if dragons were feathered and possessed a beak. That bird was the size of the hill on which I made my home with my mum.
Even from where I stood, at least two miles away, I could feel it watching me as if it were expecting me.
Retreat, my mind urged me, some sort of self-preservation freezing my blood. What lies within the cave would be more merciful that.
But my feet were already moving forward. Only forward. Only. Forward.
Bastion was not with me, but I could not look back to see where he had decided to stay. I would not look back.
The way to the dragon-bird was clear, made only of glimmering peridot-colored grass that looked more like an emerald in the dying light. My steps sounded hollow on the earth as I ruffled through the grass.
The closer I drew to the dragon-bird, the more I noticed about it. It was not seated on a nest or burrow of any sort. No, it was standing, its attention indeed focused on me. It was not white as I had thought, but instead a thousand shades of gray, each individual feather a different hue. Its hooded eyes were blue like the ice that covered the river in the winter.
Its beak. As if pulled from my own nightmares, the pale yellow beak was larger than the head of the dragon-bird, blunt but massive. It could eat my entire town in two bites.
It watched me approach but did not move. Retreat, my mind urged again, but again I took a step forward. Only forward.
And I met the bird’s fearsome gaze and felt the foundations of my character crumble away underneath me.
A thousand lifetimes I lived in that time I stared at it, even as the sun set and darkness overcame the valley. I could not tear away my gaze from that of the dragon-bird, but I did not want to do so anyway. The secrets of the universe were unveiled to me, revealed to me as if I were watching the origins of the universe unfold as if I were a part of its making. As if I could be a part of its unmaking.
No words were spoken, but the offer was blatantly presented. See and learn the patterns of creation, therein would I forge my destiny.
Only forward. I accepted the offer.
There are no words to describe in my mother tongue what I learned that night.
In the end, the bird blinked once, and I was dismissed. Silently I turned around and made my way back the way I came, my lantern long since gone out. But I did not need it. Back over the emerald grass and back into the darkness of the cave, where Bastion waited for me.
The way back after a long journey always seems shorter than one remembers it, and that was true for that night. Effortlessly I navigated the halls of the cave, the black walls, once so rich with possibility, not forgotten, but dismissed.
Back into the world I knew as my own.
I wanted to see Miraeth. I wanted to see Miraeth and offer her a place by my side. I was not burdened by my great destiny; I was gifted with it. I knew the way to her house like I knew the way to my own. Home is where I decided it would be.
I threw a stone at her window, unwilling to spend the time to explain to her parents why I was their house so late. The little pebble bounced off the glass. She did not come.
I threw another one.
She did not come.
The burden of knowing filled me. I knew, but I wanted to see. To allow this to be a lesson to learn to trust in the gift that had been bestowed upon me. If I did not allow myself this pain, the lesson wouldn’t take.
“Go home, Bash,” I directed my faithful friend. He gave me one peculiar look before running in the direction of my small cottage.
I moved to the Samperson barn.
I heard them before I slipped inside to see. Heard the slapping of bodies coming together and the whimpering Miraeth always made when she got what she wanted.
But still, I pushed inside.
The tangling of their limbs made me queasy, even as Miraeth’s startled shame gave her cheeks a rosy glow. “I thought you were dead,” she said to me.
“No, you didn’t,” I replied.
Noah Relard cursed at me. “Leave before I tear your weak arms off,” he threatened. I looked upon him with benign pity.
I turned to the love of my life one final time. “I found my treasure. I would not have forgotten Miraeth Samperson.”
By the time I made it home, the vestiges of a smile had graced my face. The twinges of young heartbreak still echoed within my chest like a bruise being pressed on by the memory of her lips on my skin, but I knew it would pass.
Soon this little town would be left behind as my mum and I made for greener pastures and richer pockets.
The world was mine for the taking.
©2019 Heather Stephens