After bushwhacking through an overgrown field, I saw an outcropping of sandstone on a nearby hill, and knew I was getting close.
From the top of the hill, the other side dipped into a deep valley. Blankets of moss covered the stone floor below. The black entrance of Moonshine Cave was cut into a wall of sandstone on the other side. It was perfectly round, as if a giant melon baller had scooped out the rock. I scrambled down to it, adrenaline driving me forward.
It was only when I reached the mouth of the cave that I realized I’d forgotten to bring a flashlight with me. Luckily, I still had my phone. While it was next to useless out in the woods, lacking both WiFi and data, the LED worked fine.
The interior of the cave was cool, and carried a faint scent of earth and crushed leaves. The walls of stone glistened with moisture, reflecting the light from my phone. Though the entrance had been wide, it soon tapered into a narrow passageway.
I followed the passage until I reached a fork, and on a whim, took the left path. The further I traveled, the more winding and circuitous the tunnel became. Each bend or corner I approached seemed to hold the promise of a spacious cavern on the other side, but there was never anything except more stone.
I reached another fork, and this time turned right. The walls in this tunnel constricted with every turn, tightening their grip until they brushed my shoulders. I squeezed around another a final bend, ready to turn back and explore the other path, and found myself in a small, elliptical chamber. Half a dozen other stone corridors branched off in every direction. Above each of them were strange markings etched into the stone. I traced a finger over one that looked like a tree branch. The rock was smooth, almost oily, and cold to the touch. The symbols all different. One was a star, another a crescent, the third a sphere, and the fourth nothing more than a cluster of dots. The path I’d come from was marked with three wavy, horizontal lines.
Under the light of my phone, the markings seemed to reflect an iridescent glow. I looked closer, and could see ripples of stone. The light from my shaking hand shimmered across it in waves. I ran a finger along the grooves, and could almost hear the sweet, susurration of the ocean kissing the shore. The soft shifting of sand. The echoes were intoxicating, and lingered in the air when I lifted my hand away. But as they faded, a deep chill crept into my muscles. The stone walls seemed to close in with a smothering silence, as if the entire cavern was holding its breath. I placed my finger back in the groove, and heard the distant, grinding sigh of settling stone.
I must have spent hours tracing the symbols, one by one. The circular route I took became steeped in ritual, and I learned the markings by name, greeting each of them in turn as an old friend. The Earth. The Sun. The Moon. The Sky. The Deep. The Dark.
I don’t remember when the bleeding began. Eventually I noticed the stains that dripped to the floor, but I didn’t mind. The blood didn’t sit long in the grooves, and by the time I came around again, the stone would be dry, hungry and waiting.
I would have kept like that forever if my phone didn’t ring. The digital chirping cut through the soothing song of the cave, and suddenly I remembered where I was. Before I could answer it, the light went out, the battery died, and darkness closed in once more.
Deep beneath my feet I could hear the stone grinding, groaning. Fear clenched my chest in an iron grip, and I fled, throwing myself down a random passage. The stone walls closed around me like a coiling boa, loath to let another meal escape. At one point I tripped, and thought I was lost for sure. The cave groaned hungrily. From the floor I glimpsed a tiny pinprick of light ahead and pushed myself towards it, scrambling over wet stone and rubble until I was free. My knees gave out, and I collapsed on the mossy ground outside. The afternoon sun bathed my face in a welcome warmth.
I never went back again, but I can still see the symbols clearly. I still trace their shapes in the air. And in my sleep, sometimes, I can hear the grinding of tectonic plates beneath the earth, calling me back to Moonshine Cave.