Another one of those idea that popped in my head while I was writing and then I just ran with it.
It feels like it could be a fun thing to continue and develop into something a little longer, like many other things I’ve posted here. I’m sure I’ll come back to this idea sometime.
It was hot as hell outside, but inside the cave it was nice and cool. She took another swig from her water bottle before she crawled further inside the dark mouth of the cave.
Her boots scraped against the rocky surface as she crawled deeper and deeper into the darkness. A couple of times she stopped to adjust the straps on her backpack, and to ensure it wasn’t being squished or torn by some rocky outcropping she couldn’t see in the progressively darker tunnel.
Soon enough the tunnel widened and she could start to crawl on her hands and knees and then finally get up and walk with her back slightly bent. It was then that she had to remove her backpack and dig around inside it to locate the torch inside.
It lit up cave walls slick with moisture and far off in the darkness she heard the dripping of water. She knew she’d be able to refill her water bottle, so she took a few more swallows from it. She’d have to conserve the torch as much as possible though. It had been “borrowed” from her mother’s new boyfriend who always carried a load of junk and vaguely useful stuff in the trunk of his car. She felt certain that it wouldn’t be missed until she got back.
And judging by her mother’s attention span, she wouldn’t realize she was missing either.
There was no way she was going to spend the entire summer in that house, while her mother doted on her dogs and her boyfriend. She always had to beg and plead before her mother would let her borrow the car keys so she could actually go off and meet her friends, who never liked to go out of the way to the lonely house off in the middle of nowhere.
It was a suspicion of hers that her mother was happy school was out for the summer so she’d not have to go anywhere, other than the occasional shopping trip in town. Driving her daughter to and from school always seemed to be the worst part of her day and her mother always seemed happy when she got a ride back home from one of her friends. But after school was out, her house was deemed too far off with the current gas prices and she’d have to meet her friends someplace more convenient for them. And honestly, she didn’t blame them. Even she didn’t want to spend too much time in her house, especially not during the sweltering summer months.
When the time had come to apply for college she’d picked schools to the north on purpose. Maybe if she found a job she could stay there over the summer too.
She was sure her mother wouldn’t mind.
For now she pushed her problematic family life to the back of her mind and enjoyed the feel of rock and stone under her feet again. The caves were her safe haven, her place to explore freely and in her own time. The only thing she’d really miss when she left for college.
Her hands found old familiar markings and outcroppings and soon she found the headquarters she’d set up when she’d first found the place and decided she’d come back as often as possible.
In one corner, an old sleeping bag, protected from the damp by the garbage bag she stored it in and there was the box containing matches for the portable stove and a first aid kid.
She set herself up quickly, unloading the supplies she’d brought, like plenty of cans of food and snacks snatched from the kitchen pantry. She arranged them in a tidy pile before she headed back out into the caves with the torch and some rope slung across her back. Cave-ins and rock falls always happened here as the water eroded the rock, so she could never be certain that the caves would look the same when she came back after some time away.
Carefully she made her way through tunnels both narrow and wide, places where she had to crawl and places where she could stretch her arms wide and still not touch the cave walls. She marked her way just in case she’d find herself in a new tunnel or passage completely unfamiliar to her.
Every time she came here she found something new and exciting. Once there had been the underground lake, with water crystal clear but with too much of a metallic taste to be good to drink. Another time she’d found a cache of old bones, she’d thought them fairly recent, but when she’d brought one back to her biology professor he’d been ecstatic and asked her where she’d found them. Turned out they were the leavings of some really old humans who’d lived in the caves thousands of years ago.
Now she always kept a sharp look out for other interesting objects. Maybe if she found some other ancient leavings she’d be able to sell them to someone online for some extra spending money. She could go to the movies with her friends or go on a crazy shopping spree in the mall the next town over, assuming she could either drive herself there or beg a ride from a friend.
Accustomed as she was to the sounds of the cave she immediately reacted when she heard a sound that did not seem to fit with the normal audial background. There was a strange but weak scraping sound that was not coming from her and when she stopped and held her breath, she thought she could even hear the sound of something snuffling around, like the sound of an animal.
She tensed up, clutching the torch tightly in her fist and tried to estimate where the sound was coming from. Shutting off the torch she let her hands guide her along the passage, feeling the slick rock under her fingers. Suddenly there was a passage she had not noticed before and turning on the torch revealed the crumbling rocky remains that indicated that this way had been blocked before, but not anymore.
The strange sounds were louder here, but still not approaching her in any way, so she let her curiosity take control and she carefully stepped around the rocks and inside the passage itself.
Her heart beat harder and faster in her chest. There was a sound almost like…Was that the sound of breathing?
With her hair standing on end she let the beam of the torch probe the passage, which was more like a cul-de-sac than any proper tunnel that appeared to lead anywhere.
There, at the back she saw something pale, moving in the gloom.
“Hello?” she said, immediately regretting it.
There was no response.
She remained where she was for a few minutes, willing herself to calm down. Maybe this was some old burial chamber and what she was looking at was just some more bones. Maybe some really valuable and old bones too.
She took one more step, then another. The torch light hovered uncertainly around the white mass at the back.
Almost there, just one more step, just one more step and she might have something valuable to sell.
The white shape moved and she heard a low moan emanating from it.
She did the only thing any sensible person would do in her situation: Scream.
To her surprise the white shape shrunk away, huddling against the cold surface of the rock at the very back of the passage.
A bit taken aback at how she seemed to have scared…whatever this thing was about as much as it had scared her she managed to steady her hand and let the light of the torch fall fully upon the white shape.
It was a man.
Or it was the shape of a man. Its skin was as pale as milk with fair hair that was absolutely filthy. It was also very naked.
That was not the strangest thing about it though. No, the thing that almost made her drop the torch was the wings.
Sprouting from the pale, but filthy shoulders was a pair of wings with feathers a greyish brown with darker wingtips. It was entirely possible that most of the color was just old dirt and grime though.
The thing let out a strange sound, somewhere between a moan and a squeak and it curled up upon itself in a fetal position, its ragged wings folding out behind it like a shield.
It took her a while to realize what it was reacting to.
“Oh, the light! It’s too bright for you!”
She shut off the torch and the man thing with the wings stopped making that strange sound.
For a while she stood indecisive, shuffling her feet and running her thumb along the rough surface of the rope she still carried. She chewed her lip as she thought about what she should do.
The thing didn’t seem dangerous. Maybe it had come down here to hide, just like her. Maybe it was hungry.
“Hey”, she said. “If you come with me, I have some food.”
It still made her a little nervous. Pale man things with wings made her think of something sinister, like the weeping angels from Who, so she wasn’t going to make any direct contact with it unless she had to. If it understood her well enough to follow, then it was probably okay. Probably.
She turned on the torch again and let it guide her back through the passages, past stalagmites and rock formations, back towards her headquarters.
She stopped after a while to listen. There was a shuffling sound from behind her. Quickly she turned the torch around and she heard that squeaky-moan and saw the white figure huddle up with its wings around it like a cocoon.
Maybe it really was a weeping angel. Well…then it was a really bad one, since it hadn’t attacked her yet.
She continued, stopping now and then to confirm that the thing was following her. The shuffling sound followed her as faithfully as one of her mother’s dogs.
When she reached her headquarters she lit up her portable stove and some chunky candles, leaving those as the only source of light before she turned off the torch.
If it came, it came. The torch was solid and heavy enough that it could be used as a weapon. The pale man thing had looked pretty frail.
She opened up a can of pasta in tomato sauce and just as she was taking it off the stove she saw the thing in the opening to the cave.
From the way it filled it up it must be at least 6 feet tall and with the wings stretched out it would probably look pretty formidable. As it was, it was a pretty sad sight. The wings drooped and a feather fell off while it stood there. The thing was skinny and so pale it almost shone in the dim light from the candles. The filthy hair was all a mad tangle and its cheeks had deep hollows in them.
It remained in the opening looking a bit bewildered and uncertain, making some strange hand gestures.
“It’s okay, you can come in”, she finally said and immediately wondered if this was some kind of vampire that she’d just invited in.
It crouched down near the stove, looking even larger up close. Seven feet seemed more accurate right now and the wings were long enough that the ends of them dragged on the floor.
The thing gestured for the pot of hot pasta and tilted its head to the side like a puppy.
“This is the food I told you about”, she said and poured some of it in a bowl, pushing it towards the man thing.
It smiled benevolently and began to elegantly sip at the pasta in its sea of tomato sauce.
“I think…You need a name”, she said after some internal deliberation. “I can’t call you man-thing with wings.”
The thing looked up at her, smiling gently and offering her the empty bowl.
“Name”, it said with a voice that was clear as a bell.
“Yes, do you have one?” she asked, dumping the rest of the pasta in another bowl for herself.
“Gabriel”, it said. “Name…Gabriel.”
Suddenly it seemed like the man’s skin really was gleaming in the dim light and the ragged wings spread out behind him creating a halo effect.
She had to swallow a couple of times to collect herself, pinching her arm a few times for good measure.
“Well, Gabriel”, she finally said. “Maybe we can be friends.”
“Friends”, Gabriel said and stretched out its arms, rocking slightly on the balls of his bare feet. (If “he” was even the right pronoun. His groin seemed bulge free, but that could just be due to the angle and bad lighting.)
“Are you an angel?” she heard herself ask, her voice echoing in the darkness.
“Angel”, Gabriel parroted and suddenly looked like all the sorrows of the world had crashed down upon him all at once.
He frowned and huddled up on the ground, clutching his own knees.
“Gabriel…Is Gabriel”, he said and that was that.
She let him have the rest of the pasta and opened up a can of beans for herself. Those she ate cold, while Gabriel made short work of an apple and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.
“Crunchy”, he said of the chips and held them out towards her.
It took her a while before she realized that he was offering them to her.
“No, you can have the whole bag”, she said and the man-not-angel gave her a pleased look.
“Crunchy is good”, he offered.
“I can show you a whole lot of other crunchy foods”, she said with a smile.
Gabriel smiled even wider, even showing a bit of sparkling white teeth.
“Crunchy is good!”
When it was time to go to sleep and she curled up in her sleeping back, Gabriel huddled up in the opposite corner of the cave with his wings wrapped about him as a blanket-
“Tomorrow…I’m giving you a bath”, she said sleepily.
As her eyelids dropped shut she heard Gabriel shuffling about in his corner, mumbling to himself.
“Bath is…Bath…What is bath?”