Shadows

In the soft light of my flame, the mirror-surfaces of water glisten out at me. It is cold, damp. I am afraid to close my eyes, for fear that my fire will be extinguished, and the darkness will fill my vision again like a flood once I reopen them.

A droplet falls from a stalactite somewhere deep in the cave, echoing loudly against the stones.

I blink.

I crouch down against the slick surface, hesitantly scooting toward the edge of the water. I peer down.

Deep, clear as day. The surface flickers with the light of my flame. I can see shapes, twisted, warped; like trees, like statues, like bodies. The water, I can feel, is cold. I don’t dare lower my hand to the still liquid, it radiates its own temperature. Though the view is altered to appear shallow by the water, I know the depth: six hundred feet, forty at the very shallowest, almost eight hundred at the deepest.

I shiver, the light casting shadows on the sculptures formed by millions of years of water passing and flowing and dripping over the stones.

The flame crackles, smoke hissing against the low temperatures. My breath plumes out across the mirror surface of the water. It remains undisturbed, as it has for all eternity.

Blood and falling droplets hiss in my ears, and water accumulates on my fingertips, eyelashes, nose. The humidity in here leaves me in an icy sweat. My head whirls and I stumble back over the uneven, slippery surface. My heart slams in my chest like a rockfall.

Tentatively, I grope the rocks protruding into my spine and make my way back into a standing position.

I look up at the ceiling, concealed in shadows, and wonder how long I will remain down here.

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