She stepped forward a little bit and frowned. Her eyes hadn’t quite gotten used to the darkness yet, so the surroundings still eluded all but her sense of hearing. At first the acoustics had amplified every minute sound to the point where she could barely distinguish one from the other, and trying had hurt her ears. But as she had moved deeper into the cave the echoes had tapered off until even the sound of her own footsteps and breathing seemed to cease existing as soon as they sprung to life.
They had come this way. She was certain of it. Even without the proof of visual recognition she could sense the familiarity. At the back of her mind a voice told that it was ludicrous…. That she couldn’t possibly know that at this point. But nonetheless she did and weren’t prepared to debate it with herself any further. The voice died down compliantly and left her alone in the black void again. And unlike the first time when she had simply rushed ahead, believing she could feel her way forward along the wall only to bump into unseen outcroppings and all but stumble when the floor dropped away beneath her feet, she stood still this time. Waiting for her eyes to adjust.
When they had she slowly began being able to make out crude features and outlines. The wall she stood by continued on as far as she could see, or sense as it were, but she had a feeling that the space was opening up further up ahead. It seemed roomier somehow when she turned that way. For a brief moment she closed her eyes, without knowing why… perhaps to focus all her attention into listening. She shook her head. Nothing. No sound at all. Even the dull pulse of her heart beating that had been throbbing in her ears not long before was gone. It was an odd feeling. How could there be no sound here at all? What could possibly swallow it up like this? She tried to imagine and came up with nothing, save mental images of big sponges absorbing water. That brought another frown to her face. It wasn’t helpful. There were no sponges or anything else even remotely soft in here. Just cold unyielding surfaces of coarse rock.
Little by little she started inching forward again, only cautiously trusting the regained ability of her eyes to guide her path when a sudden movement in the dark drew a shrill scream from her lips. It was gone as quickly as it had appeared. She scowled and frantically peered around to reconnect with whatever it was. One hand sought its way back onto the wall, half to ensure she wouldn’t get lost from the only sense of direction she had, and half to steady herself. The touch was an unfriendly one and she was well aware that she was stepping into a realm where she wasn’t welcome.
Still, she pressed forward in the darkness and found that the cave did indeed open up, as she had expected. What she hadn’t anticipated was the sudden appearance of at least a handful of tall twisted figures. Wherever she looked there they were, seemingly creeping out of the shadows to form solid shapes before her. No, that wasn’t right… they weren’t moving at all. It was just her eyes playing tricks on her. It was getting brighter, somehow. Not a lot… not like a light being turned on. More like someone turning a dimmer switch up a notch. Slowly, very slowly. Almost so slowly she wasn’t even sure if it were happening at all.
She stared at them in disbelief, all but expecting them to turn like faceless ghosts and pounce on her. But they remained in their twisted poses, unmoving and completely indifferent to her presence. There was no question though that they were alive. Their presence was like hands clutching and groping madly for her in the dark. With every fibre in her being she wanted to turn and run. Her lips fell apart and she tried to scream but no sound released. Did the cave swallow her shriek or had it simply not been able to tear free from within her. She didn’t know, and when she found herself starting to walk towards the figures, she realized she really didn’t care either. Screaming was pointless. She had come here to see this… and so she would. Whatever that meant.
As she closed the distance between herself and the eerie shapes pedestals appeared beneath their feet. “That at least explains why they seem taller than me”, she mused wryly to herself, and wondered why that somehow made her feel better. Each of them had their own dais to stand on but they weren’t all the same size. One by one she looked them over more closely, feeling oddly self-conscious… like she was walking around staring at people in the night while they were sleeping in their beds.
There were seven all told, and a few of them were bleeding. Another accusingly held out a dismembered arm towards her, as if charging her with chopping it off. She stumbled backwards and yelped when something pointed dug into her back. Spinning on her heels to face what was behind her, she knew before catching sight of it that whatever it was… it held a knife. A bloody one at that. But it wasn’t her blood… she was certain of that. It wasn’t hers. Whose then?
The light rose another notch and revealed a little more of this world she was rapidly coming to regret having stepped into. The seven figures stood in a big circle, facing each other and she was now standing in their midst. As her eyes trailed from one to the next she felt how the tug that had initially drawn her close was now almost a physical force, clenching her guts and twisting them as horribly as the shapes before her. And their faces… their faces made her feel sick. She could see their eyes. Eyes full of such compassion and acceptance. And she could feel their humid nauseating breath when she got close enough, but there was no face. Just a mirror. A mirror reflecting back to her the image of her own face. Distorted. Imbued with that same revolting force that made her stomach turn.
Again the light rose a bit as if to spite her reeling mind. She was going to see whether she wanted to or not. That’s why she came here, after all, wasn’t it?
Suddenly, as if triggered by some unseen power all seven figures slowly started revolving on their pedestals, turning what should have been their backs on her. But instead they seemed to turn themselves inside out to stand, facing her completely transformed. These shapes were not twisted. They weren’t even dark. In fact they appeared to shimmer slightly, but she wasn’t entirely sure she dared trust her own eyes on that account. Stepping closer she found an irresistible urge to reach out and touch and emulate them in their stance as they stood there observing her with eyes so full of disdain and derision she almost burst into tears. Why did they hate her so much? What had she done to deserve this?
She fell to her knees, weeping quietly, wanting this whole world to go away. Wishing she had never gone inside the cave at all. The light suddenly fell away around her, casting everything into complete impenetrable darkness. All except for seven words that stood out like glowing embers. She stared at them gathering that they must have been engraved on the pedestals. One on each. The writing was that of a small child… or perhaps a careless unskilled mason…. and they were all the same. They were all hers. Her own name. She bowed her head and wept again. Perhaps it was regret. Perhaps it was relief. Who knows… time will tell.