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It has been twelve years and still no one believes me, I begin to wonder if I can believe myself. I have decided that I must write this down so that the memory of it does not leave me completely, that if only someone remembers……even now I have forgotten what my cousin looked like. Within days I had forgotten his name, why can’t I remember his name!
Just moments before, the storm had shown its full fury, unleashing vivid slashes of blinding light towards the ground. Thunder boomed as the clouds raged war against one another and the rain had fallen as if a giant hand had poured it from a bucket. Just as quickly as it had come, the storm passed leaving just a few sprinkles dropping proudly from the sky remembering the glory held short minutes ago. The sun quickly pushed through the receding clouds and began turning the moist air into a sticky, suffocating steam.
This is typical August weather for Timsdale, Virginia. Storms blowing up quickly in the afternoon heat and humidity, and being replaced by a renewed source of humidity that awaits anyone who enters with a stifling embrace. The unpleasantness of the air is increased by mid-eighty to mid-ninety degree temperatures. The end result is an air thick enough to cut with a knife and a lack of evaporation of sweat due to the amount of water already in the air. It can be quite uncomfortable and if one is not careful down right deadly.
Maybe because the living things around us seem so much more alive it still seems a joy to brave the sticky air, mosquitoes, and sunburn to pass the day outside during the summer. When inside we look to windows and wish we were out in the wonderful sunshine and horrid air. That’s where my cousin and I were waiting, at the window, wondering when we would be released from our wonderfully air-conditioned prison to the great outdoors. My cousin was staying at my parents’ house for three days while his parents were on vacation for their anniversary. The moment of release came none too soon and as quickly as my mother announced it was safe to return outdoors, we were off and running.
Once we passed the threshold of the side-door we paused to discuss what adventurous and brave attempt we should try next. It was impossible not to notice the slowly rising steam that seemed to spiral around the trees that encircled the house. The house sat in the middle of an acre yard surrounded by thirty-five acres of mature deciduous trees. While the house was two stories, only one was visible from the front of the house due to the rolling hills of the area. The trees consisted of a mixture of oaks, maples, beech, and a few dogwood trees that for the most part made a carpet of rolling green sixty to seventy feet off the ground. Though at the time the steam was too thick to distinguish between the different trees it was decided that exploring the forest would be the afternoon adventure. The adventure that never started……nor did it ever end.
My cousin and I raced behind the house and towards the wood. An old blue swing set, still working but showing a little rust, stood at the edge of the yard just before the wild took back over. It was silently decided that the swing set would be the finish line of our race so that we could plot our entry into the woods that would require the least stepping around green briars. We stopped, panting through the thick air and looked back at the house. The hill into which the foundation of my home was built descended towards the backside of the house allowing both stories to be visible and the second story windows reflected the steaming surroundings. It was in these windows that we first glanced at the cave, I can no longer remember who saw it first but we both saw it.
The trees and their towering height allowed one to see great distances into the forest so long as the hills would allow. Imagine hills running parallel to one another with our line of sight being across the tops of the hills and under the canopy of the trees. However, looking into those windows, something looked strangely out of place. In the space between two hill tops, where nothing was supposed to be but air and the beginning of the tops of trees growing on the slopes, was an opening. Not necessarily a sinister looking opening, but an opening that resembled the beginning of a cave with a rock doorway complete with fuzzy green-gray moss. We turned around only to be shocked that we could see this cave dimly through the rising steam. The cave seemed to entrance us, we sat on the swings staring at the cave wondering what it could be, discussing it in whispers. Even when my father came home and told us there was no cave we couldn’t be deterred from our seats until it was too dark to make out the cave in the distance.
We awoke early the next morning, though not very refreshed having stayed up the greater part of the night discussing our wonderful cave. After breakfast, insisted upon by mother despite our pleas of not being hungry, we were back at the swing set admiring our cave; admiring that is after we had gotten over the anxiety that it might not be there and our shock when it still was. We sat, mainly in silence, exploring with our eyes the details that we could not make out through the mist. The once blurry cave now stuck out with great clarity. The rock opening was now obviously perfectly circular with a dirt path leading to its opening. The rock itself seemed natural, like it had weathered eternity in that very spot. The moss was a brighter green than of any tree around it, but no other plant grew on the cave or path.
Time seemed to move in fast forward while we watched our cave and in what seemed like minutes we were being called in for lunch. Grilled cheese sandwiches with barbeque potato chips are hard to pass up but it did seem like we had just eaten breakfast and as with breakfast we ate despite not being hungry to please my mother. Getting back outside quicker was also a great motivator. It seemed to take hours to inhale our lunches but as soon as we did we were back at the swing set.
We worried needlessly once again as our cave stayed faithful and did not disappear. Its seemingly magical hold on us did not waver and I can’t help but wonder what my mother thought watching us from her second story window stare at the woods, at a cave she could also not see. We did not stay seated long this time however, a wonderful sound, as wonderful as the cave itself floated down to us. It was music! But like music that no one has ever heard, music that made one want to dance with glee, cry with sadness, and shout with joy all at once. The beautiful sounds came from what we thought was just one instrument, a flute probably, but a flute like no other. With a glance at each other we were off running, running like it was the first time we had ever run, faster than we would ever run towards the cave, our cave.
We were halfway across the dirt path before we realized what we were doing and looked down. Nothingness was below us, behind us the short distance of wood and my home, in front the cave, but below nothing. It was more terrifying than anything else that happened, nothingness. There was no darkness, no light, to fall off the path meant to have never existed. I don’t know how we knew this but somehow we did.
At that point on the brink of the terrible nothingness we would have turned back, ran back home and never wished to see the awful cave again but for the music. The music pulled us as strong as gravity towards the opening of the cave. We had already forgotten the fate that awaited us if we fell and came upon the mouth of the cave. Though we could tell the music was coming from within the cave we could not see one inch inside its opening. The music persisted, so with a deep breath and a nervous glance we stepped inside.
The sight that awaited us surpassed our wildest dreams. It was so wonderful that if only for a moment we forgot the music to drink in what our eyes beheld. A land covered with large flowers and flat as far as the eye could see was only ten meters in front of us. The flowers were of every shape and color. It was so beautiful that we nearly began to run across the stone floor and jump into the flowery fields. Before we could however, something changed. The air seemed less lively and we realized that the music had stopped. Moments later, it is hard to tell time when in the cave, a wizened old man stood up from beside a rock.
The man must have been there the whole time but was simply overlooked by us. It is odd that we felt no fear at all of the old man, who was smiling at us with a crooked grin. “Don’t want to go to that land lads, those pretty flowers are carnivorous.” After having him explain to us what carnivorous meant we introduced our selves all around. A large bird helped demonstrate the carnivorous nature of the plants as it landed in the field. The poor creature’s feet seeming to disappear instantly into the center of the flower while it flapped its wings struggling in vain to escape. A moment later all that could be seen was the bird’s beak sticking out of the center of a deep blue flower into a blue sky. The old man’s name was Gimble, though he couldn’t tell us how old he was, time is so hard to keep track of in the cave. We told him, well I told him I was seven and named Anthony, I believe my cousin was nine or ten. Gimble seemed to enjoy his company, telling us not to worry that only one window was stuck and the other would be changing soon. We were thoroughly confused and after explaining to him how we reached the cave he began to understand.
Gimble could no longer remember how he got into the cave and that the cave was all he could remember. The windows or better yet doors usually changed every so often and that one could never be bored. The one window that was stuck had remained so longer than he could remember and he would have regretted it being so if two such wonderful lads hadn’t came through it. As if on cue, the window showing the beautiful flowers changed to a land on fire. Great cliffs shown red in the distance from rivers of lava flowing through them, volcanoes seemed to erupt constantly throwing steady streams of lava and rock into the air.
We watched the window opposite our own and listened to Gimble speak or play his wonderful flute. Gimble told of lands riddled with what sounded like gold and gems and of cruel lands where it seemed natural to be at war. He complained that our window was slightly dull, having only one moon, a normal blue sky, and no strange extremes. It seemed that though there were many lands more similar to my cousin and mines than not, they stuck out less brightly in Gimble’s mind than did an ice world or a world of carnivorous plants. Yet in what seemed a few moments, we’d only gotten to see two lands, Gimble noticed a voice calling our names through the window we’d came through.
Knowing we had to leave we asked Gimble to accompany us for dinner. Gimble refused saying only, this is the longest one window has ever stayed stuck. Being turned down, we promised to return the following day and said goodbye. We retraced our steps home, not looking over the edge of the path, and reached the house just before time for dinner. Yet the longer we were away from the cave the slower time seemed to go, by the time we went to bed years seemed to have passed since we left the cave. To make matters stranger we awoke twenty minutes after falling asleep feeling totally refreshed and irritated at having to pass what seemed like several lifetimes waiting for morning.
The morning did come however; it was the beginning of another beautiful and sticky August day. My cousin and I were force fed breakfast once again due to the fact neither of us were hungry. Yet despite our complaints of being kept indoors longer than necessary we were running off towards the cave with several hours of window watching waiting for us before lunch. The sound of Gimble’s music waited for us at the swing set and accompanied us all the way to the cave.
At incredible speed we rushed down the path into the opening of the cave. Anyone watching our passage would have thought us ghosts at the speed in which we ran when we were approaching the cave. Gimble greeted us warmly describing the windows that we missed seeing during the night. The most notable land in Gimble’s eyes was a vast desert in which life had to struggle terribly to survive. It seemed that fourteen lands similar to our stuck window had passed during the night (though most of which at least had two moons), and a frightening land of darkness in which everyone seemed hopelessly lost.
Gimble began to make his entrancing music as we stared into the changing window. When we first entered the cave, the changing window looked out into a land that seemed to be made of a million different colors. In a green field a mound of color rose up, the brightest blues, yellows, oranges, violets, and an unlimited mixture of those colors made up the mound. After our eyes adjusted to the sight we noticed that the mound seemed to be moving and shifting. Moments later the mound fluttered and lifted revealing a massive cloud of butterflies. The mound that the butterflies had perched upon was revealed to be a massive skeleton, perhaps of something similar to an elephant mixed with a rhinoceros but much larger. Gimble commented that the butterflies must take on the ecological role of scavengers in that land.
Our second land of the day appeared in the unstuck window, a land that never saw daylight or so it seemed. Trees rivaling those of the Pacific Northwest towered tall into the starlight. Yet the trees did not have green leaves, instead the leaves seemed to twinkle with the starlight that sprinkled down from the sky above on top and on bottom shine the gentle glow of the moon. The trunks and branches of the trees were as dark as the night sky with its shining silver leaves making it appear as if every branch had caught fire in a silver blaze.
Nothing seemed more natural than sitting in front of the changing window on the floor of the cave. It was a feeling like home; it was where we were supposed to be. Only two lands had appeared in the window, yet we could distantly hear my mother calling to us. It was impossible for it to be lunch already but it was difficult to tell time with your back to your own land and you facing another. Still, it was if only minutes had passed since we first arrived. It was agreed upon, after much argument that I would turn back to our own land to see what my mother needed.
With a quick goodbye to my cousin and Gimble I reluctantly left looking back hoping the window would change before I left. Stumbling back into my own land I heard my mother calling again and a more franticly at our lack of responses. I ran off the pathway and back into the woods, time seeming to slow down again as I left the cave and my running with it. I yelled back to her only to hear, “Y’all better hurry before you get wet!” from my mother. Turning back to yell for my cousin to follow I noticed the cave beginning to look hazy through the rain. Suddenly I heard a loud resounding POP as lightning creased the sky. The bolt of searing light seemed to strike the cave itself and as quickly as the flash the cave disappeared.
Time all at once seemed to stop. I found myself back at the swing set, the rain falling in full force now and the cave gone. I stared unable to believe my eyes, where was my cousin and Gimble? Did the window to my land become unstuck? If so, why didn’t my cousin run out? Did he even try or was he still sitting with his back to the now unstuck window watching never before seen lands unfold before his eyes unaware that he was lost? Tears began to flow as my mother called none too gently for me to get out of the rain.
When I crossed the threshold of my home in tears my mother immediately asked what had happened. I told her everything without omitting a single event up to the point of my cousin being left in the cave. Her response has been one that I will not forget, “Honey, no one has stayed here but us this week, and besides you can’t have a cousin because your father was a single child and I only have one brother who doesn’t have kids yet. Don’t worry you couldn’t have lost your cousin, you don’t have one.”
Three years later and after several awkward attempts of asking my uncle if he was sure he didn’t have any children my mother sat me down. She explained that thirteen years ago my uncle and his wife had a miscarriage and lost a child. Due to the miscarriage they couldn’t have anymore children. She told me that I mustn’t continue to talk about the cave or my cousin in it especially around my uncle and aunt.
So that’s what I did, I stopped talking about it but it has never completely left my mind. I struggle to hold on to the details that time seems to try to drag away, yet I seem to lose the battle more and I can no longer remember my cousin’s name or face. I write this to his memory and to help mine so that at least I will not forget.
micheledutcher - I enjoyed very much the descriptions of the cave and the countryside. Since it is a tale of fiction, it's good that no sort of rational explanation was given for the window into other realities. I felt a little sad when I read the ending and this was something that a mother really would tell a child. Nice!
Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
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