Bewildering Stories

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chapter 8: The Valley part III, installment 1

by Tala Bar

Gaia began in issue 88.
Chapter 8, part II concluded in issue 116.

It was the actual living in a cave that had finally disrupted that idyl. All inhabitants of it were to some extent disturbed by strange dreams, which they had never experienced in any other place. Zik and Dar were unable to define their uneasiness in words, having seen vague shapes and movement rather than any coherent forms or tales. Lilit, though admitting to having such dreams, had accepted their existence with no ill effect on her mental well-being. Nune, as usual, was reluctant to speak about such occurrences, barely admitting their existence. Nim, on the other hand, talked about them incessantly with a mixed passion of fascination and fear.

The main problem was that instead of the phenomenon dying out as they stayed on, it seemed to be strengthening, making the cave dwellers more and more upset and subconsciously irritable. At the end of the first week, as they sat for supper around the fire, Dar said, looking around at her companions, “We’ll have to do something about it.”

No one asked about what. Nune said, “I suggest we investigate the inside of the cave. At first, we thought it was enough it was clear of animals, but there may be something else in it that is affecting us.”

Dar was surprised it was Nune who had advocated action for a problem he did not even admit existed, but she agreed to the idea of exploring. Turning words into action, Nune took a thick branch and lit it from the fire. He first walked along the walls, searching for any anomaly; Dar thought it was strange they had not thought of doing it before. Nim rose and joined Nune, and soon they heard her cry, "Look!"

One by one they rose and approached the spot where, instead of the solid, blank wall with its sparkling dots of smooth rock, they saw a black hole. The only reason, Dar thought, they had never noticed it before, was that they had not been looking for it.

“It looks like an extension of the cave,” Nune said quietly, seemingly unexcited, in contrast to Nim’s passionate reaction. “We must go in there, at once!”

“Shouldn’t we wait for morning?” Asked Zik, his voice quivering.

“I don’t see that it would make any difference,” Nune answered; Dar thought his eagerness was more apparent in his attitude than in his words or tone of voice.

“No,” she agreed, curious enough too not to feel too apprehensive, “it would be just as dark then.”

In echo to her words, Nune advanced toward the hole in the wall. The flair of his torch, swallowed in the black opening, created a misty halo around his silhouette. The others held their breaths in expectation. After a moment, which seemed to last for ever, they heard a muffled cry, which was supposedly Nim’s voice but not much like it. Dar and Zik were immediately drawn in that direction, while Lilit stayed sitting calmly by the fire.

“What is it?” “What’s happened?” “What’s there?” "What’ve you found?” An outburst of questions bombarded the vanguard, as Zik and Dar quickly approached the opening in the cave wall. They crossed into the extension and stopped short, staring at the place which was flooded by the light from the torch.

A hall, its ceiling so high they could not see it but its walls much closer together than in the cave in front, opened before them. Between these walls Nim and Nune were standing, amidst wonderful scenes Dar had recognized from video programs she had seen in her youth. In the light of the torch these scenes shone in bright colors of red and yellow, accompanied by dark shades of brown and black, depicting various actions of people and animals in mixed company. As the flare flashed over the walls, moving up, down and sideways, she watched in silence scenes of hunting, dancing, and what looked like a procession of coronation. From those programs Dar had seen, she knew they must have been drawn thousands of years before any human civilization had been established.

Nim was uttering one exclamation after the other, having never seen anything like it before, not even on video programs. Zik, standing by Dar’s side, made comments and asked questions to which Dar was unable to answer. Nune said nothing, and Dar could not guess what he was thinking or feeling. After a while, he said, “Well, that’s that. Let’s go back, there’s nothing we can do here.”

They left the little room and came back to the main hall of the cave. “Lilit!” Nim cried, approaching the enigmatic woman still sitting by the fire, “didn’t you want to see? Or,” she hesitated a little, adding suspiciously, “have you seen it before? Did you know all about it?”

“Not exactly, not about this cave,” the old woman replied quietly after a short pause. “But I’ve seen these scenes before, and I suspected they were the cause of our dreams and disturbed sleep.” Her voice reverberated from the cave walls as she added, “I thought it would be good for you to experience it for yourselves, and I didn’t think there would be enough room for all of us inside that tight place...”

“You never said anything...” Dar murmured.

“No. Some things must be discovered independently...” Dar was not sure she had understood the point, but said nothing more.

“What do you think about all that, Dar?” The girl turned to the physician, as if hoping for a more sympathetic reply.

“The place must have been inhabited thousands of years ago; the style is very ancient.”

“In all my geological exploration trips I’ve never seen anything like that,” Zik said.

“I have an idea they are quite rare,” the physician agreed.

“But I don’t understand their connection with our dreams! Why do you say they are the cause of them, Lilit?”

The old woman shook her head, and Nune said, “Come, Zik, let’s make a hot drink before we go back to sleep.”

Dar never knew what made the dreams that night worse than anything they had experienced before. The scenes in her sleep had become much more vivid that at any time before, having practically come to life. The figures, descending off the wall, danced around the travellers in a style she had assumed had sprung out of what used to be called Dark Africa. They used threatening motions she had barely expected of them, brandishing crooked sticks, virtually looking vicious. She felt paralysed in her sleep, unable to move, to wake up, to get away. At last, having made an enormous, conscious effort, she managed to open her eyes on to the deep darkness of the cave. The fire had died out, leaving behind it only a pile of glowing embers. Looking at her companions, she was unable to see them clearly, but their agitated silhouettes indicated none of them was having a peaceful night’s sleep. All of a sudden, Nune rose; she recognized him by his tall stature. He moved as if unconscious, seemingly walking in his sleep, turning and going outside the cave.

“It’s cold outside, put on something warm!” Dar called after him, unconscious of her sleeping companions. But he paid her no attention to her.

Lilit rose then as well. “I am going after him,” she told Dar, surprising her at knowing she was awake. “You’d better see about the others.”

The two young persons had already woken up and were looking at her with wide-opened eyes, full of apprehension. “Let’s go out,” she said to them, helping them to rise, put on some warm clothes and fetch the blankets, as they came out of the cave. It was very cold outside at this predawn hour. The moon was inclining in the west, the sky was clear and the stars shone freezingly. The three of them saw Lilit and Nune standing together and came up to them. All five family members got together, lay on the ground among the shrubs and slept till daylight, as calmly as they had not known for some time.

* * *

“What was it about Nune last night, Lilit?” Dar asked the next day. The two of them had stayed behind when the others went out foraging, Lilit having asked Dar to help her sort out some plants she had collected, to be used in different kinds of healing.

Dar had an idea Lilit wanted to use them for the purpose of boosting up her memories from the jungle; she herself was very doubtful about recalling much of what had been used by the Ancient One.

“I think it’s the effect some of the paintings have had on him,” Lilit replied, not lifting her eyes from the stack of herbs and leaves. “I had an idea something about them disturbed him.”

Nune disturbed? Dar found it hard to imagine, but a great part of Nune’s personality was still a mystery to her; she did not make any comment, as if waiting for the other one to enlarge.

“I think it’s the coronation procession,” the old woman said at last.

“What about the coronation procession?” Dar asked this time.

There was a pause, and Dar had an idea Lilit was not sure how much she could or should say to her. There was definitely much mystery not only about Nune, but also about Lilit herself.

“Have you noticed the man that was being crowned? He looked tall and handsome, didn’t he? Didn’t he remind you of any one?”

Dar reflected for a moment. “Do you mean Nune? I never thought of him as handsome, but he might have been as a young man, I suppose...” she said at last, hesitating. “But I would never think Nune himself would notice.”

“No, you’re right. He is completely unaware of his own appearance. No, I don’t think it was the man he was looking at that he was affected by, but the great lady who was presiding over the coronation. Do you remember the way she looked?”

“Yes, very impressive. But I didn’t recognize her face as anyone’s I’d ever known. You think she’s reminded Nune of someone?”

“I think she has reminded him of his dead wife..." Lilit said, softly. “But I am not yet sure whether it’s a good thing or bad.”

“Oh!” Dar uttered, and paused. After a while, she continued, “How would you know anything about it? Did he tell you?” She could not think the reticent Nune would impart such personal information to the old woman.

“No,” Lilit answered, “he didn’t have to.”

“He didn’t have to...” Dar repeated, then sent the woman a long, searching look. “Do you mean, then,” she said in a rather harsher voice than she would normally use, “that you could read his mind?”

“It was necessary,” Lilit replied, calmly, “for his own good.”

That expression grated on Dar’s ears, until she remembered the many times she had had to use it, at least to herself, in her profession. Lilit was not a healer in the strict meaning of the word, but in her way her approach had had a lot to do with the well-being of the group of settlers.

She remained quiet for a very long time. There had been lately so many new ideas she had to get used to, notions so irrational she had some difficulty in coping with. Instead of talking further, she concentrated on the plants in front of her, doubting the possibility of finding in this mild-climate valley anything she had seen in the tropical jungle. Nevertheless, some of the plants did look familiar. And perhaps it was time she relinquished her old-fashioned (that is to say, ultramodern) ideas in favor of what had been known for thousands of years before her time.

At last, she said, without looking at Lilit, “So, that’s why he was the first to get out of the cave! He was unable to bear the memory of her.”

“Yes,” Lilit said again. “And he would never talk about it.”

Dar was dumbfounded. ‘But I saw nothing... nothing about my dead ones...’ She could not tell whether she was happy about it or not. It seemed that her own dead, three such dear men she had never thought too much about when alive, taking them so much for granted, being so used to their existence... Tears flooded her eyes, and she let them flow down her cheeks. That was the final sign, the sign they had really gone forever, even from her memory... Perhaps it was better, because here she had a brand new family, with two other women who could be her dear friends, and two different men who could be her lovers... and a brand new life inside her, something she never thought she would have again... She felt herself smiling.

From behind the mist of tears she thought Lilit was smiling back at her.

“Aren’t you going to tell the rest of them?” She asked.

“I will, now,” Dar promised.

* * *

The next night they did not even bother to stay inside. As soon as preparations for the night started, it was obvious to everyone that they were going to sleep outside. A three-quarter moon rode high in the sky, pouring her pale, misty light over the valley. The range’s peaks, and the valley’s treetops, shone silver. The five refugees lay for a while awestruck, enchanted by that lovely sight. After a while the stillness was disturbed, as if by a light breeze. But no wind was blowing. Instead, moving like a light breeze and hardly touching the glittering grass, transparent figures appeared, performing a strange, bewitched dance.

“Don’t they look like the figures in the pictures on the wall?” Nim whispered, the others looking on, transfixed.

“They’re following us outside,” Nune whispered back. Dar thought she was hearing a very unusual, held back, tinge of hysteria in his voice.

To be concluded...

Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar

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