Occasionally, I will post short stories to my blog. I hope you enjoy!
The Dream of Crossed Paths
Although we are a people who have never seen the sun, we dream of it. In our dreams, the sun is bright yellow, sometimes red. From it falls an orange light, a soft warmth like a gentle fire on its last coals. We bask under it naked, with no fear of attack from the darkness. The light is everywhere. We are swimming in it. Immersed. But our dreams are fantasies of the light. We only have the image of the sun from ancient stories. We tell and re-tell our heritage. We speak of the sun and we dream of the sun and we ache for the light.
Perhaps many generations ago, there were people who could tell us when we crept down into these cold Halls and why. But that was lost to us long ago. There is no one who can tell us how long we have been in this place. Now there is only a darkness above. A darkness below. A darkness that surrounds us.
We live in the Halls in six Tribes. We learned many generations ago that staying together makes us vulnerable to attack. If one Tribe is killed, the other five will survive. We have named ourselves for creatures that we have never seen. Creatures from our stories. They exist somewhere above us, if they exist at all: The Bear, The Hawk, The Horse, The Whale, The Fox, and The Rabbit. None of us have seen these things. We do not know what they were, except for what the stories say. We know the Rabbit is fast and the Fox is cunning. We know the Horse is strong and swift and the Whale lives under water. We know the Bear sleeps most of its life and that the Hawk has giant eyes that see very far. We know there is a word called fur and that the Rabbit has this thing, but we do not know what it is. Our names remind us of our ignorance. They push us onwards. It gives us something to dream, something to hope, that one day we will know the meaning of fur.
The Halls are neverending. Stone passageways through the darkness. One route through the darkness may turn and twist and come back many days later to the same spot. Another route may lead us for a hundred days before coming to a puzzling dead end. Some routes through the darkness are obstructed by falls of rock. Others by creatures so foul I will not name them.
Sometimes, maybe once in a generation, we find a way up. A staircase. A ladder. A winding upward passage through a broken cave. We climb, not knowing if this time it will be the end. That this time, at last, we will climb into light. We reach an ancient door. Sometimes stone. Sometimes rotten metal. We hold a gathering of the Tribes. And then the 5 leaders gather in front of the door and opens it.
But there has never been light. Never the end. Only more passageways. The endless Halls.
Some of us doubt the concept of surface. How do we know such a thing is true? Perhaps our world has no sun, no surface, and the ancient tales are only the imaginations of people driven mad by the dark. Some of us argue we should find a place to live and cease searching.
In times in our past, this is what we have done. We have stayed in caves lit by glowing mushrooms. We have learned which mushrooms to eat and how to prepare them in a hundred ways. We have raised children and buried our dead. We have dug wells and unearthed coal. In the larger rooms, we have woven our beds from mats of dried mushrooms and the skins of the creatures of darkness. So we have survived, but survival is not enough.
It is impossible to stop the yearning. There are always the dreams of light. And the need to climb. The Tribes have never stayed in one level of the Halls for more than three generations, no matter how rich the cave is with mushrooms. Eventually we must leave, explore, search for the passage upwards. To a light we have never seen.
There are heroes too. Brave ones among us. They leave the Tribes to search. Sometimes they never come back. They fall prey to the creatures in the dark. Other times they return and lead us to a way upwards. More often, they return quietly insane from darkness and solitude and horror. They live a short time and then die trembling in the night.
Not everyone loves the heroes. Some think of them as bringers of disaster. Whenever we climb a level in the Halls, we find the place populated by beasts and other creatures that haunt our dreams for generations afterward. The first generation to make the climb is ordained to fight. Many of us die in the battles. Many of us wonder why we move. They blame it on the heroes. They tell us to make the Halls our own. Our home. Forget the sun. Find a love of darkness and exist within it. Stop dreaming. But it is hard to love the darkness. Hard to love the cold stone.
We are surrounded by the Halls, but we do not love them. We ask ourselves who built the Halls and why. Some think the Halls were built by our ancestors. If it was our ancestors, we do not know why these vast Halls were made. Were they made to hide from something? Were they made to imprison something? Others believe that there is an angry god and this is our punishment, and that the Halls were built for this purpose. We do not believe in good gods. No one has ever been able to explain why a benevolent god would keep us here in the darkness.
We do not know how deep the Halls are or how far it is to the surface, if there is such a thing. Some believe they are infinite, both up and down. Some say the Halls are circular, and that if we were to continue, we would eventually retrace our steps, though it would be so many generations in the future, we would never remember it. Some say this has already happened, and that even now, we are walking in the footsteps of our ancestors who were also searching in vain for the thing we call a sun. Some say there is nothing but eternal Search and that our Fate is life is darkness.
Worse yet is the dream many of us have of a terrible possibility. Lately we have dreamt this more often. We awake trembling in fear. We live in terror of this dream’s truth. The passageways up are full of foreboding and the doors to the next level are full of dread, no longer because of the cruel creatures who may lurk beyond, but something more horrible, more recognizable. We do not talk about it unless the light of the fire is bright and warm and there is no fear in the shadows. We call it the Dream of Crossing Paths.
The Dream has done something to us. The fear of it. We quake and tremble, fearing its truth. This morning a child was born. It marked the fourth generation of our life in the same place. We have been here now longer than anyone alive can remember. Long ago, in the times of our grandmothers, a hero returned. She showed us the way to the next door.
We have not ventured near it. We do not speak of it. But the door to the next level is there, in the margins of our minds all the time. Behind it, there may be light. Warm, fresh air. Or there may be more darkness. But the fear that keeps us here is that the Dream of Crossing Paths may be true.
In the Dream, we come to a new level, a new door, a way upward. There is noise on the other side. The Tribes open it, prepared for battle, but what we find stops our blades. Behind the door are more people. They too divide themselves into Tribes. They too have named themselves for creatures they have never seen. They do not know the meaning of fur. They have the same questions we have, the same anxieties. They even have their own heroes.
But these Tribes are going down while we are going up. They flee an unknown evil from above while we seek hope by constantly climbing. Their fear of the surface is equally as unfounded as our hope of light. Their dreams are of the safety of night, the cool security in the heart of the darkness. Some of us join them, the ones who believe that the light is a myth. Some of them join us, the ones who believe there is no hope in darkness. Then we pass in the darkness and continue on our paths through the Halls, leaving them behind.
In the Dream, we have no way of knowing what is true, who is right. If the sun is our salvation or our imagination. If the surface is a land of fur or abominable beasts who will slay us. In the dream, we leave the other Tribes behind. Some think they are our ancestors. Some of them believe the same of us. The parting is painful. There are tears and sobbing children. We give each other gifts. We embrace. And then we must go.
Dreaming, we do not look back as we climb, yet again, higher and higher into our uncertainty.