We Never Heard Them Coming

Deep inside the twisting wood, there is a house, in a gully.  And beneath the house, spreading into the earth like the ancient roots of the wood above, there are tunnels that end in caves and rockfalls and inky blackness that leads nowhere.  Papa told us to stay away from the blackness and the rockfalls, but let us play in the caves, where we clambered from ledge to ledge for hours at a time.

Each cave was a different world to us.  There was the King’s Cave, where I ruled my siblings from the stone seat high on the wall, and they plotted to overthrow me.  The Sea Cave, its floor covered in shallow water, was the site of many naval battles.  My favorite was the Scorched Cavern with its burned walls and cracked floors.  It was the battlefield on which we fought the creatures from the blackness.

One day, tired of defending our home, little brother suggested we take the fight to the creatures.  I was unsure at first—father had forbidden it—but he and little sister painted such vivid scenes of glory and adventure that I caved.  We pocketed stones, tucked sticks into our underarms, and began our quest.

The blackness was well named, and it swallowed us whole.  I could feel little sister’s sweaty palm in mine as we marched forward, feeling blindly for the walls with our wooden weapons.

We never saw a light at the end of the tunnel, growing stronger and brighter as we neared it.  One minute we were in the darkness, and the next we weren’t.  We were standing beneath long skies the color of little brother’s eyes.  Beneath our feet sifted ash the color of little sister’s hair.  It was better than the caves; this ashen meadow was truly another world.

We never heard them coming.  Dark beasts the color of night that moved without form or focus.  We could not see them truly, we saw only patches of darkness, as if Papa had spilled ink across the dining room table.  They matched the birthmarks that marred his chest and arms.

They didn’t hurt us.  They consumed us, swallowing us into a dark limbo where everything floated and nothing was known.  Our quest had failed, now I knew it could never had succeeded.  How can you fight darkness itself?

I didn’t weep for our failure, though I could hear from somewhere in the darkness that little brother did.  I didn’t feel like crying, I felt like sleeping.

Outside, three specks of ash fell gently to the ground.  Silence blanketed the meadow.

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