The Cave (Emily Marshall)

The rats squirmed their way around the fetid piles of bodies that lay piled on the ground. The bodies were the bodies of Them, understand. The bodies of Us were never just left to rot like that. Anna stepped carefully, softly, around the rats and the bodies. It wouldn’t do to touch Them, not with the diseases They carried.
“I don’t see why we can’t just burn Them,” she hissed. “They wouldn’t be lying here, freaking us out and getting in our way.”
“Quiet!” Damien warned her. “You know why we can’t burn the bodies. There’s no use in complaining about it when it won’t do us any good.”
One of the corpses appeared to move.
Damien yelped. “I wish They wouldn’t do that. I’m on edge enough as it is.”
“You know why They do that,” mocked Anna. “Do you even know what it is we’re looking for?”
Damien shook his head. “I’ll know when I see it, though.”
The piles of bodies continued for a while, stretching on into the forest.
That’s where we lost so much ground, Anna thought.
That’s where we lost all those people, Damien remembered.
Soon enough, the bodies would stop, once they reached the mouth of the Cave.
The Cave.
Anna’s memories of it were both terrifying and exciting. So much Power in such a small enclosure! She wished she could catch on to the Power and hold it somehow. Maybe the journey they took could make that happen. Maybe the Power in the Cave could take away the death she had experienced in the past. Maybe the Power in the Cave could make her happy again. She had great expectations for that Power. Maybe it could change everything.
Damien’s memories of the Cave were very different. He feared visiting again, but William had said that the trip was necessary to their survival. He didn’t understand, but it wasn’t his to question. William made the decisions for the group. Damien merely followed direction. The last trip to the Cave was one Damien didn’t care much to remember. Besides, the memories in the place had a way of catching hold and not letting go—as if they became something more than memories but something less than reality.
The Cave itself had memories. Many memories. If you’ve been around for that long, you start to collect thoughts. Anna, the Cave remembered, had been younger then. More afraid. She did not seem to be afraid now. She had hardened into something untouchable, something unreachably cynical and apathetic. Damien had changed much as well, but his change was different. He was not harder and more closed off, as Anna was. He was more tired and more gray. His eyes, that had been a thick black color on the first trip to the Cave, were gray now, as if tired of seeing. His hair, once brown, was changing to gray. Even his skin collected pits and ditches and turned a sickly gray. The Cave remembered all this, as it always did. Memories kept it alive!
“Hurry up, idiot,” called Anna, as loudly as she dared. “I don’t want to wait for you, and I don’t want to go in there alone.”
She peered around the lip of the Cave, into its earthy depths. Nothing frightened and yet electrified her more. Her very hair seemed on edge. The inside of the Cave smelled like dirt and wet dust and sometimes like Death. Anna knew what the smell of Death was. She lived near it every day. The smell of the Cave did not trouble her like it did Damien.
When he reached her, he was panting. She managed to walk faster and more precariously than he did every time they journeyed together. Almost as if by instinct, she avoided the bodies swiftly, while he was still deciding which foot to place and where to place it. He, too, contemplated the entrance to the Cave. To him, the Cave smelled only of Fear and Death, and the two were scents he did not comprehend or welcome. He only knew of the feelings they raised within his breast. If it were not for William, if it were not for the good of the group, Damien would turn tail and run. Run, far away from the Cave, far away from Anna, far away from the smell of Death and Fear.
But Damien straightened his back. “I’m here. I thought you weren’t waiting.”
The first corridor of the Cave was not quite so dark. It was still dark, mind, but not as dark as the later corridors. The Deep corridors. The dark of the first corridor was a night sky dark. Dark, but still blueish and a little comforting. If Damien concentrated enough on the night sky dark of the first corridor, he could imagine smelling the freshly cut grass of his lawn at home and hearing the katydids and crickets chirping and singing in the summer nights before the Incident.
Memories! The Cave lives on memories.
The deeper passages of the Cave were darker, less imaginative. Anna gritted her teeth against the chill of the Deep and steeled her backbone against the breeze. What breeze? There were no openings to the outside here. Her fists balled up tightly and flung their fingers out again. She was here for the Power. She was not afraid of the Cave and its trickery.
Maybe if they had stayed closer together, the worst wouldn’t have happened. Maybe if the dark of the Deep passages were more like the comforting night sky and less like a blankness or an absence of color, the event would not have occurred.
In the Deep dark of the last corridor, inches away from the Power and the center of the Cave, Something touched Damien. “Anna, now isn’t the time for games,” he said, frustration showing in his tone.
“You’re absolutely right,” she growled. “What are you complaining about now?”
“You touched me,” Damien whispered. Even as he said the words, a part of him knew. A heavy, cold consciousness invaded on his speech. “You touched me,” he said. “I felt it.”
Anna tensed, but her experience-trained senses kept her walking toward the center and the Power. “I didn’t touch anything.”
Damien was breathing a little harder than before. He opened his mouth to reply, but found the words just didn’t come. Why speak, when you know what is about to happen? Why argue, when you know you are wrong?
In her mind, Anna plotted routes and escapes. Maybe, if they were quick, they could get out alive. Maybe, said a Voice in her head, there is a way that They would go after Damien and take him first. No! Anna thought ferociously back at the Voice. I do not kill ones of Us just to survive. If we can’t both make it out, then we both will die. A more appropriate Death Anna could not imagine than dying at the mouth of the Power itself. If only she could just touch it before she was killed!
Damien’s mind was a chaos of fears and darkness. On the outskirts were those thoughts of his family, long since dead. Of course there were the thoughts of his purpose for being there. What would William do when they did not come back? Would he send a rescue mission? Damien knew the answer to that question. Why send a rescue team of people who were needed at the camp just to confirm what they would already know to be truth? There was no way out, Damien was certain. The months and years of experience solidified the knowledge in his mind. Once They touched you, They would have you. And They had touched him. But there was another way! Damien shoved the idea down until it was just a faint glimmer in his sea of terror and madness. But perhaps…perhaps it could work.
They continued to inch along in the darkness of the Deep, both knowing acutely what terror was about to become them. If only, if only Anna could make it to the Power before They struck.
In the last few moments, the Cave was ablaze with emotion and with movement. The Deep of the darkness turned into red spots in visions and flashes of yellow and sudden memories of oceans and lakes and rivers and streams…water everywhere. Or was the wet in fact blood?
The time elapsed was perhaps a minute, maybe two. So much had occurred in that minute, and the Cave remembered it all perfectly. The Cave lived off memories!
Her body lay reaching still for the Power. Even in Death, one’s body testifies against you.
But his body—Damien’s body—did not lie within the Cave. Would not lie within the Cave. For when he reached the mouth of the Cave for the second time that day, the second time that hour (had all the madness that transpired really taken place within the limits of an hour?), he stepped swiftly outside and did not look back. The memories left inside could stay with the Cave; he had no need for them out here in the bright sunlight. How good it was to be living! Even in daylight he did not regret a thing. Instead, he thanked Anna, thanked his family for saving him. How sacrificial they were, even as they did not intend to be! The sunlight tasted warm on his cheek and on his lips. How good it was to be alive! He was grateful indeed.
They did not take Anna back to Their den, as usually They did. She was not a fresh kill, nor was she even Their kill. The idea of bringing back a Found Us instead of a Killed Us was inconceivable. So They left her, reaching for the Power, presumably for others of Us to find her later, when our Williams decide that, for the good of our groups, the Power must be acquired.
For, of course, the Cave will still be there, even years from now, as it has always Been. And assuredly, They will be there, too, though there isn’t need to fear Them as much as Us.
But how good it is to be alive!

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