The night they found themselves at the entrance of a cave was the night that changed everything. Not her penchant for chocolate, not his need for glasses, but everything intangible that made them who they are. If they hadn’t gone, time would have proceeded with the kind of comfortable familiarity that made it easy to stay in one place, watch sunsets from the porch, and turn the seasons with apple cider and fireworks again and again and again until wrinkles replaced suntans and bifocals replaced aviator shades. Instead, that night, that wondrous, heart-aching night, uprooted them, rendering the world that once contented them small and simple, dull and unsatisfying. At the foot of the cave, they didn’t realize that they should have turned around, walked back home, helped with supper, and settled into a quiet evening followed by a quiet sleep. At the foot of the cave, they laughed and said, “What’s this?” and one looked at the other who looked back at the other, and soon enough they had convinced each other that the course of action was to step forward, into the cave, just to see what might be there.
The cave itself was behind the high-school football field, tucked among the briers, hidden by a thick woods that few people really cared exploring. Other woods, green and friendly, with paths and squirrels, berries and streams, were frequented by picnickers, hikers, and curious excavators. These woods, the ones behind the high school, were old, grey, and tired. A hollow echo followed the children as they crunched the dry leaves beneath their feet, tossing a purple ball back and forth.
“One-hundred teen!” he let out, catching the ball behind his back. The bubble of laughter burst rich from their little voices then died quickly as the woods swallowed it whole. “Let’s go over there.”
Without a word, she skipped after his running start, and soon they were in a tag-you’re-it game, zipping and flying in and off of the long-worn path that snaked through the woods.
When she tripped which made him stop, he saw it: “What’s that?” Within a moment, they were standing at the foot of a cave, a moss-covered, grey cave, that bent steeply, so they couldn’t see where it went. They went in. Then they went deeper. He took out his boy-scout flashlight, shook it twice, then lit the ground before them. When the cold took her feet and then took her cheeks and her neck, she grabbed his hand. Yet they kept walking. It was now pitch black, save for the streak of the flashlight. The darkness was so thick and heavy, it changed even the most familiar objects. When the light hit their feet, they looked strange and foreign, as though not belonging to them.
It was then that they saw a faint light in the distance. If it had just been the light, they may have been aware of the strangeness of such a find so deep within a cave, they may have turned and crept away, quietly, quickly. But a warmth eminated from the light source, a much welcomed respite from the chill that had taken over their limbs and their faces. They walked towards the warmth. They walked and walked, and the light became brighter, warmer. A humming noise, serene and holy, began to rise from the cavern walls. They walked and walked, and the cave walls narrowed and narrowed. They scrunched their bodies small and squeezed on, ducking and crouching.
At the turn of a corner, the walls fell away. A strange man, skinny in stature and with a long beard of gold stood in the center of a great cavern. The ceiling 100 feet tall, the walls glowing in orange and gold, a circle of mini horses running and running around him. The children fell back in awe and shock, unable to move and unable to look away. The strange man, in robes of deep velvet, looked up and said, “I’ve been waiting for you.” He said so kindly, but not without regret. He held out his hand and a wave of swirling bubbles and crystal sequins danced towards the children, wrapping their waists and warping quietly into silver chairs that they suddenly found themselves sitting in, floating, rising up and down and dancing their way towards the strange man. The strange man was now in a chair of his own, and they floated together and then were upside down, looking up, at the ground. The ground was now shiny glass, crystal clear, showing everything possible. He let them look, deeply. He watched them look at all that they could become. A small tear slide down his forehead as the children suddenly knew what many things they could not be. Each choice would haunt them, a loss, a possibility never to be realized. The knowing would be their undoing.