159) The Salvation of Eden: Chapter 4 — Wax Cave

         She started down the path, paying close attention to her feet; they were cut up enough already.  Her ears opened to the small sounds of the night, and her breathing deepened as she settled into a stealthy but reasonably ground-eating pace.

         Through the lightly wooded forest, the friendly white birch and slender grey poplar trunks with their leaves singing like waterfalls, into the denser, hushed maple and oak copses, and up the rocky hill they used to slide down in the winter, she walked silently, as careful as she could be to leave no trail.

         The “cave” she was heading for wasn’t a cave at all, merely an outcropping of rock, about 30 feet high, along a particular ridge in the forest. She and Dom had discovered it when they were kids. In the dead of winter, after a few thaws and re-freezes, meltwater from the snowpack above would flow down over the edge, freezing into icicles, and eventually into an entire wall of ice, streaked with colors from the minerals in the rocks above.

         The space under the overhang of rock then became, in effect, a cave, their own magical fairy-cave. When the daylight was bright, sparkles danced around the inside and it did look like magic. And when the clouds were thicker, the cave would be almost dark, and they would light candles, which everybody knows are their own kind of magic. They spent hours, so many hours, dripping wax onto their hands, trying to make a wax glove. Dom did finally get one to work. It was amazing. Until it melted in the summer. But, then they just made a candle out of it, right from the wax melted over the rocks themselves. Hence the name, “wax cave.”

         On very rare days, when the daylight was at its strongest, it was like sitting behind a curtain of colours, like that story of the “rainbow” she remembered her Gramma telling her when she was really young. Apparently, they used to see them, right across the whole sky. Not in her Gramma’s life, of course.  Never even in recorded history. But it was one of the stories that had persisted from Before, one of those strands and snippets that never quite fit together with much else, but like ancient bones found deep in the soil, had been preserved as clues, perhaps, of what used to be.

         The only other story she knew of the “rainbow” was about some religious order, who had believed their God had promised peoplekind to never destroy their home. This “rainbow” was said to have been left for all time as a symbol of that promise. 

         Kohra always thought that was such a sad story – the God who broke their promise, removing a wondrous beauty from the entire sky as a result.

         She wondered if there was any truth to it. 

         It was a nice thought though, rainbows…..

         She smiled, thinking back to their cave.  How long ago that all seemed now. She used to walk these woods almost every day, following animal trails, peering under overhung branches or inside stumps, hoping one day to actually see a Pixie.  But of course she never did.

         Now, these were just “the woods” and she didn’t come here anymore.

         Is that how childhood ends? You just look back one day and realize it’s already over, and you didn’t even notice?

         Why don’t I do those things anymore? Why doesn’t anyone? Actually, Dom probably still does. But, what happened to me?

         That period of life she thought of as childhood still felt so close, just a wee bit before yesterday. But it also seemed like forever ago, like that person she’d been as a kid was merely a story she’d once heard. A story about someone with So Much Potential.

         Shivering in the cold of the night, she cursed herself for leaving so unprepared that morning. It was just like her, to dreamily think about everything, but prepare for nothing, to live in the abstractions of “possibility” and ignore the practical requirements of daily life. Like shoes.

         Some heroic story they’re going to tell about me someday. “Once upon a time there was this nice girl who believed she had Great Potential. Then she became a criminal, ran away, and starved to death by a cliff. The end.

* * * * *

         The sky was a deep, pulsing red by the time she got to the ridge, no soft pinks tonight; it looked angry. It was well after midnight, the air cold, but windless. Shivering, sweaty from the walk, she sat on a rock, stretching her tired legs, especially her calves, massaging them a bit with her hands even though they still smarted from her fall.

         She poked at the cuts on her feet, her legs, her hands. It felt perversely good. Pain at least reminds you that you’re still alive.

         Her mind wandered dreamily back over the times she and Col and Dom had played on this ridge, always wizards or warriors, always fighting evil Emperors or criminal masterminds wanting to destroy all of Eden (for whatever reason it was that Bad Guys so often seemed intent on destroying Eden; it always seemed rather counterproductive, strategically speaking).

         What a weird thought if I travelled only a few years back in time, in this very spot, I would be a Great Hero, having the time of my life while legions of undead fell under my magic sword. And now, it’s real. Except I’m no Hero, and there’s no magic sword….  Hopefully there’s no undead either.        

         She couldn’t make sense of any of this. Was she really a criminal now? Were they going to arrest her? She hadn’t even done anything wrong!

         Well now she had. It came like a flash, that sickening “crack” when Dominic kicked that man’s head.

         She imagined what it would be like inside a jail cell, what it would feel like, that moment when the door shuts, and you hear the locks click and you know, you’re going to be in there for a very, very long time.

         Her eyes scanned the silent forest below the ridge, alert for any sign of movement. The night seemed to be all hers.

         Along the rocky edge of the ridge, bathed in a faint reddish-pink glow from the skyflows, ancient cedars had gnarled and twined their snake-like roots through the rocks in patterns that had always struck her as beautiful. She found a comfortable place to perch amongst the roots, well-shaped to the curve of her body, and settled in. Aside from a few clouds flitting across the whorls of the flows, nothing moved. She was alone.

* * * * *

         She woke abruptly to a flashback — her mother screaming, face contorted with fear. She didn’t want that to be the last time she saw her mom’s face, the last memory she had of her. She tried to remember other times, her mom laughing, making funny animal noises, teaching her to cook, digging potatoes in the garden. But the screaming face always returned.

         She doesn’t even know if I’m alive. 

         She tried to think about other things, her mind a kaleidoscope, everything fractured and tumbling. Her father! Where was he? Did he even know what had happened?

         Knowing him, he’ll join the resistance, or the rebel army or whatever there is. He probably has already. Please be okay, Dad. I’ll come back as soon as I can. Please, just be okay.

         Time went by; she had no idea how much, but she was pretty sure she had been staring at the same spot in the sky for hours without sleeping. She didn’t want to sleep. What if Dominic came and couldn’t find her?

         What if Dominic isn’t coming?

         She couldn’t think about that. She had to assume he got away. Dominic was skilled and fast, and there weren’t many of the Guard. He’d get away.

         She pictured Dominic running towards the trees, the Guard behind him, closing in, their horses bearing down. She squeezed her eyes as tight as she could. She needed to keep her wits about her.  She needed to stay alert.

         She opened her eyes scanned the ridge again. She couldn’t let anything escape her awareness tonight. Her life could depend on it.

* * * * *

         She blinked heavily. It felt like time had passed. Had she just slept?!! She HAD to stay awake! She smacked her own cheek, hard. The sting felt good. She did it again, shaking her head vigorously afterward.

         “No way you’re falling asleep tonight, Kohra.” She said it out loud. It felt good to hear a voice, even if it was just her own.

         I am alert. I see everything; I hear everything. I am like a wolf. Nothing can surprise me. Not tonight….

* * * * *

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