Chapter 55: Shadows on a Cave Wall

The weight of Ellen’s hair flowed across the boy’s chest. The dream of her evaporated in the morning air, as he became aware of the reality of her. He gently removed his arm from underneath her head, still heavy with sleep.

The boy swung his legs over the edge of the bed until he felt the cold floor of the cave. He turned back and watched Ellen as she slept, in awe of her unconscious beauty. He could have watched her forever but he got up and dressed himself quickly. He slipped out of their room without waking her.

 

Yani walked into the kitchen and saw Ellen sitting at the table. “Good morning,” she said.

“Morning,” Ellen answered back somewhat preoccupied.

Yani walked over to the cabinets and pulled out a large glass jar. She scooped out some powder and put it in two cups. She put the cups on the counter rings, waved her hand, and put the cups of piping hot coffee on the table. Both Yani and Ellen held their cups close to their faces, inhaling the strong aroma.

“I’m curious about something,” Yani said over her coffee cup. “Why don’t you call him Father like the rest of us do?”

Ellen didn’t answer for a few moments. Finally she said, “I know I am as much his creation as you are, as all of us are. It’s just that it would feel strange for me to call him that, in light of, how shall I put it, the sexual nature of our relationship. We’re lovers, after all, not father and daughter.”

Yani sipped her coffee. “You’ll experience other kinds of relationships before the story ends,” she said.

“What do you mean?” Ellen rested her cup on the table and looked at Yani’s eyes.

“Well,” Yani spoke softly, “Father won’t be at his full mental capacity as he nears his beginning. The white matter in his brain will steadily decrease while the grey matter increases, until he reaches the age of ten. His wisdom will appear to increase but his ability to make associations, to connect his thoughts will decrease. Then he will lose the ability to think abstractly. By the age of five he will have lost ten percent of his brain mass. By the age of three, twenty percent. Your final years together will not be easy on you.”

“I will love him backwards and forwards in time,” Ellen said, remembering once when he had said that to her.

 

Once again there was a quiet murmur in the cave as the representatives from all the Rational families found places to sit in the vast cavern. As soon as Lem sat down, traces of red lights appeared to slice the air in front of them and stayed there suspended. Traces from every possible direction seemed to be converging into a single point. Two thin traces seemingly from out of nowhere also converged on that point.

Lem spoke. “What you are looking at is a map of all our various timelines. This single trace coming from the other side is Father’s timeline. See how it runs counter to our timelines. That is because he is moving backward through time relative to us.

One of the Rationals spoke up from the back. “What’s that other line converging on the single point?”

“I don’t know,” Lem said.

Silently they watched the diaphanous walls of their common space-time.

“No lifeline goes forward from that point,” the Rational said softly.

“I know,” Lem said.

“That convergence point occurs earlier than we calculated,” someone else said.

“Yes,” Lem said, “that other line.”

 

The boy’s body made a dark shadow against the daylight outside the common cave. He tried to adjust his eyes to the vast darkness but he could not see a thing inside the cavern.

“Lem,” he called out loud, “are you in there?”

He waited for a response. Some moments later he heard a voice from deep inside the cavern. “Father,” Lem called out, “I’m in here.”

“I’m coming in,” the boy shouted back. “Just keep talking until I get to you.”

“No, Father,” Lem shouted. “I’ll come out and get you.”

But the boy did not hear Lem and started sliding his feet forward slowly on the cavern floor with his arms stretched out in front of him like a blind man. The scuffling noise of his feet made a soft carpet of noise that comforted him. For a moment the cavern reminded him of when he was an old man in the insane asylum. In some respects he longed for those days, the safety of his notebooks and of Ellen’s clandestine visits. There were fewer elements to contend with. His right foot slid off the edge of the cavern floor or was it the floor that slid orthogonally out from under his foot? He fell forward with his arms helplessly flailing in space.

The boy landed with a hard thump into Lem’s sinuous arms. “Father, I told you to wait for me.”

After he caught his breath the boy said, “I’m sorry Lem. I didn’t hear you say that. I only heard you say you were in here.”

“It’s alright,” Lem said. “I was getting ready to leave for home anyway.”

“What were you doing in there?” the boy asked.

“Just having a chat with some neighbors,” Lem answered, trying to cover up the end of the world with a banality.

The boy knew what Lem was doing in the cavern and he knew about Lem’s attempted cover-up because this was his story.

But sometimes the story was not his.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under Prose, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stories and Novels

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