The Cave of El Castillo – Short Story

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“The Cave of El Castillo
” is my imagining of a prehistoric man creating the first known piece of cave art. 

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A thick carpet of rain falls from darkened clouds that loom ominously overhead. Hidden in the undergrowth, a blurred silhouette weaves through an intricate maze of shrub and oak with gazelle like grace. It breathes heavily and rhythmically, placing each step with a perfected precision.

Suddenly the mysterious creature comes to an abrupt halt, stopping at a small clearing in the undergrowth. A faint slither of moonlight seeps through swelling clouds, revealing the unmistakable shape of a man. He wipes the pouring rain off his disheveled beard and protruding brow. The lines and contours of his muscled body are prominent through the drenched rags he wears, along with scars and abrasions that cover his back and arms. Looking up he scans a cliff face further afield, squinting his eyes thoughtfully, using his large hardened hands to block the heavy rainfall.

He postulates for a moment, then runs back into the thick canopy towards a crumbling mountain of muddied limestone. In the forest once again he moves with relative ease like a shark through water. Upon reaching the cliff face, he stops, and looks upwards at the great wall that now faces him. Slowly he starts to climb the porous white stone, placing each tentative step with caution. His thick muscular arms strain with the weight of his body, and his bare feet struggle to find grip on the slippery slopes.

With one last effort he desperately reaches the top of the cliff edge. His calloused and dirt ridden hands frantically search the floor as he struggles to find anchorage. He chances upon a sturdy ivy vine – pulling hard he lets out a deep groan, lifting his heavy body over the cliff edge. The veins on his arms throb from exhaustion, and he pants vigorously to catch his breath.

He rolls on his back and wearily pushes himself up off the ground. Walking back to the edge of the cliff, he gazes intently at the now wide open view of the forest below. Here he stood on his own secluded paradise, amongst a vast expanse of boundless green ocean. He turns back around and heads to the desolate cave he’d eyed from far down below in the clearing.

A flash of light momentarily distracts him, and a deep roar of thunder follows seconds afterwards. He moves cautiously towards the mouth of the cave. More ivy vines cover the entrance, which he cautiously brushes aside whilst avoiding its stinging nettles. Upon entering, he in confronted by an eery silence and darkness. He hesitates – doubt takes its debilitating hold.

He takes a few steps into the mouth of the cave, using the weak silver moonlight to guide him. The cavern is dry at least, and so he removes the cold and wet tattered rags that cling to his body. Naked now, he begins to clumsily search around the floor of the cavern. After a few moments he stumbles upon a few pieces of dry cider wood. Venturing further inwards he is soon swallowed whole by the darkness of the cave. Now only nothingness remains. Very calmly and patiently he begins to draw forth that miracle of flame. A small spark grows into a beacon of light. In a few moments, it has consumed the darkness that had surrounded him.

Now the fire burns a warm orange hue, and he wearily takes a seat by the crackling flames. It emanates it glorious warmth through his cold and fatigued body. His vision fixates upon the fire, which dances in the reflection of his dark black eyes, twisting and curling with the howling winds pouring in through the caverns entrance. There is little sound apart from the gentle pitter-patter of droplets falling from the vast emptiness above, the distant murmuring of the storm still brewing outside. The walls seemed to almost ebb and flow like great lakes in the dancing glow of the burning torchlight.

He throws another piece of wood on the fire which causes it to swell further. Its enchanting hue’s and elegant ballet seem to ignite something deep within the traveller’s mind. His breathing slows and takes on a rhythmic fashion. In that moment, one that is quite unlike any other before it, a strange excitement begins to rise within him, brimming to the surface, inciting him to do something never quite done before. His breath quickens and his eyes widen. No longer wet and trembling, he takes a piece of glowing cider wood off the fire, and uses it to thoroughly search between the dusty stones that lay hidden on the darkened floor. He finds a crumbling piece of limestone from the litter that surrounds him. With the aid of his luminous flame, he begins to scratch upon the undulating walls.

Within their folds and furrows he draws like a child in play. As the lines begin to take shape, a clear image emerges from between the cracks and crevasses of the caverns wall. The wild beasts that roam sweeping green fields as far as the eye can see. The graceful birds that perch in the tall birch trees, and saunter along on the summer breeze. Below the creatures of the deep, that shimmer like distant stars beneath the rolling waves. Stroke by stroke he paints onto once bare lifeless stone these shadows and reflections of the day. The tundra and the ocean, the forest and the heavens above all come to life by his hand and thought alone.

He stands back in awe. There now stood in front of him a truly wondrous sight to behold – it was the story of life. As a final act of creation, he takes the limestone chalk and chews ir in into a thick paste. Putting his hand upon the wall, he spits to create a silhouette – the artists signature now completes his great work. And so he returns to the fire to revel in his skill. However, unbeknownst to him as the storm swelled and unfurled on the young tender earth outside, a hidden danger lurked deep in the shadows. There came a thundering bellow that tore above the howls of wind and crackling of thunder. The sound was unlike any other he’d heard before, and so a burning curiosity compels him to investigate.

He approaches the cliff edge from whence he’d came. As he peers through the mouth of the cave, something grabs him by the throat from behind. He clamours for air, and he struggles to loosen its deathly hold. In but a moment, it seems as if time itself stops. Exhausted from his efforts, he cannot break free and collapses in fatigue. A deafening silence surrounds him. There is a faint murmur – and then he hears the gentle and unmistakable voice of another – the words he cannot understand however. He desperately tries to move once again but he is seemingly frozen solid. He gasps for air once more, but each breath he feels takes him closer to death. Despite his panic and unrest, the quiet stillness of the moment begins to melt into itself, unfurling and submerging into nothingness.

Darkness begins to consume the room once again as the flame starts to dwindle. The sounds of the storm, the dripping of raindrops is all that remains. In the shadows of the flame, the limestone chalk lies on the ground and on the walls now dance and play those dreams once dreamt in the darkness of night. Now here is where rests his soul, on this once bare lifeless stone, where for many moons he shall lay waiting, until he will rise once again…

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