People warned her from entering the cave ever since she could remember.
¨There´s danger there.¨ They said. ¨Fire and death and loss. Stay away.¨
Yet each word of warning lit another ember of longing inside her chest for the cool, dark entrance. Something played beyond its opening she yearned to see, to touch. Her heart beat in anticipation and desire, her dreams filled with things she could never recall. As they should be, every other child was repelled. Dares and tricks to get each other close never resulting in them going anywhere near it, but usually further away.
All of six, the girl woke one night, mouth dry and stomach filled with butterflies. To sneak out was easy; the house was asleep, filled with the sounds of slumbering parents and siblings. The forest floor was silent beneath her feet, and she felt as if she was born to creep through the night, washed in moonlight. Cleansed and breathless, her heart thudded as the entrance of the cave loomed ahead of her. Ecstatic, she took eager steps towards it, bare feet not noticing sharp pebbles beneath them. Her mother´s words forgotten, her father´s stern look falling to nothing. No moment of hesitation, she stepped inside, light of the moon trailing in after her, and was swept away, a delighted laugh bursting from her throat.
For decades after, she was the warning people served. Tales of a child´s, then a teenager´s and, later, a young woman´s laugh echoing out and over the forest took a hold of the village. They spoke of malice, of danger, of things no man should see. Children had nightmares about being whisked away towards that dark, ominous cave and woke screaming, clutching at their mother´s breasts.
All but one.
In the fourth decade after the girl’s disappearance, another child was born. Another who listened to warnings and showed no fear, but delight. Questions fell from her mouth as obvious as the stench of fear that wafted from everyone else. Quickly, she learnt to be sly, to get her information in a roundabout way from people who were scared of a thing they could not name. There were times she´d stand from the garden and feel a pull to something she didn´t know but wanted; she wanted it more than she had ever wanted anything. Eye focused elsewhere, her feet would start to carry her towards the forest and the cave that held something, or nothing.
One day, before she could stop herself, she was at the forest´s edge, leaning over the boundary as if ready to fall off the edge. In a sharp intake of breath, her arm was wrenched back and her father held her to him, his heart racing against her chest. Sharp words and a harsh discussion were had. The next day she was to go far from the village, far from her home and her family and, disastrously, far from that forest with the cave that pulled at her.
That final night she woke as if she had fallen, but a smile pulled at her lips. The floor was cold beneath her toes and the door opened easily under her hands despite the key her father had turned to keep her safe from herself. Easily, lightly, she stepped over the bag her mother had packed. Creeping, sly like she had learned, she walked down silent stairs that used to creak. Never did she look back at the father who sat in the kitchen, asleep with the intention to guard her.
Orange light hit the forest as the sun started to make its way up. A laugh tickled at her ears, a laugh that she recognised as one she had heard every night forever and always. Since she knew what was what, she had wanted to pad her way through this very forest. Soft sunlight hit her face and mist rose as night recoiled from day. Carrying the rays with her, in her hair and her hands, in the cloth of her nightdress, the young woman, seventeen and choosing her own existence, stepped into the shadow of the cave. A hand tugged hers, callused in some parts and soft in others. The same laugh rang in her ears, and her own rose up-the world that pulled at her held things that mere mortals could never understand.
The name that barely reached her ears as she was finally whisked away, the desperation in the voice that birthed her, held no meaning. She would not have recognised the word even if she had heard it properly.
And then she, too, was gone. But not.