The Firebird XXIX

Asleep in the Cave 001


I had expected, even hoped, to be dashed upon craggy rocks and instantly killed at the bottom of this narrow ravine.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself falling slowly and ever more slowly until I seemed to be floating like a feather down into the darkness.  The blackness grew thicker as I descended, so that at last I was able to see nothing of myself or of my surroundings.  And yet the air itself became curiously lighter, warmer, and more pleasantly fragrant as I drifted deeper into the chasm.

Down, down I floated for a long, long time, until at last I came to rest upon something.  What this something was, I could not tell.  It was neither soft nor hard, though it felt quite solid and firm.  I lay on my back in utter darkness thinking, This must be how it feels to be a body at the bottom of a grave or a lifeless stone on the ocean floor.  Not an inch did I stir.  Looking back I cannot say for certain whether I was or was not able to move; I only know that I never did.  So intense was the quiet inside me that it was almost frightening.  No longer could I feel the pain of the wound in my heart.

Gradually I entered into a state I can hardly describe, absolutely motionless and unmoved.  I did not know whether I was alive or dead, awake or asleep.  Indeed, I did not know whether I would be able to discern the difference between waking and sleeping, since I could see nothing with my eyes.  I could, however, feel the soft movements of the fragrant air, and they led me to suppose that I was lying in a large, open chamber of some kind.  If my sense of the passage of time had been confused while I floated on the ocean, it now failed me altogether.

Eventually a small point of light appeared within my field of vision, so small and faint at first that I could not be sure that I was actually seeing anything at all.  It grew until it became a small glowing orb, but still I could not make up my mind whether the sensation were real or imaginary.  Perhaps it is a dream, I vaguely thought.  Perhaps I am dead after all.

The orb of light continued to grow, yet curiously it did not illumine anything around it.  Except for the bright globe itself, all was complete blackness.  But as it swelled in size I began to notice changes in its appearance.  No longer did it seem to be of a single hue but variegated, and the colors within its sphere were constantly moving, shifting, and forming new patterns, like a kaleidoscope.  In time these patches of color, blurred at first, began to grow sharper.  At length they focused themselves into shapes that remained constant, though as yet I could not tell what they were.

At last the circle of light grew so large and clear that I could no longer doubt what I was seeing.  I seemed to be looking down, as if through a big round picture window, upon a huge underground cavern.  The whole scene was softly lit.  Sparkling stalagmites and stalactites stretched from ceiling to floor, some creating massive ribbed and fluted columns of many colors, others taking the form of pearly curtains and screens of the most delicate and lacy design, so that the place resembled nothing so much as a grand cathedral.  In the very center of my field of view and, as it were, directly below me, was a large rectangular slab of stone.  Upon the slab lay a body.

As I looked, I became convinced that the body was mine.

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