"Through Many a Listening Chamber"
[Sunday, May 3, 2015]
After the raid, Turq spent
plenty of time at Conrad's farm,
and Nebuly sometimes joined him.
They did whatever they could to help
the centaurs adjust to freedom.
Sometimes it was about acceptance,
understanding that after terrible things
happened, people just wouldn't
be okay for quite a while.
Nebuly was good at that --
both in providing a quiet presence
and showing people that depression
didn't have to stop you from doing
everything you wanted to do.
Sometimes it was as simple
as guiding them around the farm
to show them places that were
useful or just beautiful.
Turq looked for ways
to give each of them a grip
on what was happening.
Kim Van was shy and
struggling to adapt to
America in addition
to escaping the lab.
Conrad had arranged
for some army buddies
who spoke Vietnamese
to help her learn English, but
sometimes it overwhelmed her.
Turq found her huddled behind
her barn, shivering in silence.
"Hey there," he said quietly.
"What's bothering you?"
"Indoors is ... hard, today,"
said Kim Van. "They were nice.
I just couldn't. I felt like room
would swallow me whole."
"Yeah, I know that one,"
Turq said. "So if rooms
are bad today, then let's
go somewhere else."
"Where?" she whispered.
"This farm has a lot of
pretty places you haven't
seen yet," Turq said.
"Let's take a walk."
As they came around
the corner, they almost
ran into Dodge and Nebuly.
"Whoa up there!" Dodge yelped,
sidling out of their way. Then
she got a closer look at Kim Van.
"You look rode hard and put away wet."
"What does that mean?" Kim Van said.
She didn't know a lot of slang yet.
"It means you look tired and sad, like
you've had a long day, and nobody has
taken care of you," Turq explained.
"They tried," Kim Van said. "I just ...
today is bad. Tomorrow no better."
"Tomorrow is the most important thing
in life," Dodge said. "Comes into us
at midnight very clean. It’s perfect
when it arrives and it puts itself
in our hands. It hopes that we’ve
learned something from yesterday."
Dodge was rough and ready
most of the time, but then
she would say something
completely profound when
you least expected it
and most needed it.
"Thank you," Kim Van said.
"Maybe tomorrow better after all.
Today ..." She heaved a sigh.
"Sometimes if I can get my mind
moving, then it shifts my feelings
too," Nebuly said. "Otherwise it's
easy for me to get stuck in a rut.
"Walking outside helps, at least it does
for me," Turq said. "The sun reminds
me that I'm not back there anymore."
"Hell yes," said Dodge. "I need to feel
the wind in my face so's I don't smother.
You folks mind if I join you, then?"
Turq looked at Kim Van. He had
suggested the outing for her sake.
As shy as Kim Van was, Dodge could
be a bit much to handle sometimes.
Kim Van simply held out a hand.
"Walk with us," she invited.
"Think you can keep up with us,
two-legs?" Dodge said, looking
over her shoulder at Turq.
He laughed, and then
turned into the teal deer.
A moment later, Nebuly
became the myrstag too.
The two centaurs
followed Turq as he
through the farm.
He couldn't speak
in this form, but he
figured that Kim Van
had had enough talking.
Nebuly fell in behind them
to make sure that nobody
got lost along the way.
Some of the trails were
better marked than others.
Turq led them through
rolling meadows where
someone had mowed a path
through the short spring grass.
In places, it followed a creek lined
with blue flags, their cheerful flowers
waving in the warm breeze.
Turq and the centaurs
splashed through the creek,
fording it instead of trying
to use the stepping stones.
Nebuly paused for a drink,
his black-and-white coat
blending into the light and
shadows around the water.
Where the meadow ran into
the edge of the forest, the grass
held nodding heads of columbine
and tall golden Alexanders.
Hardy pecan, buckeye,
willow, and river birch
Turq and Nebuly browsed
the tender buds as they traveled.
Sunlight fell green-gold on
the dry leaves of the trail.
The centaurs twisted and turned,
craning their necks to see trees
that rose taller than anything they'd
seen underground in the compound,
enchanted by the blue vault of the sky
peeking through the swaying leaves.
Closer to the bluff, the trees turned
to oak and hickory and sugarberry.
Turq picked up the bluff trail
where the rocks began to rise
gray and white above the ground.
Nebuly's coat blended so perfectly
with the stone that he could have
disappeared against it if he stood still.
Dodge's brown-and-white pinto pattern
was a closer match for the forest.
Here moss clung to the rock in
emerald carpets dotted with
different colors of lichen.
In places where water
trickled down the cliff,
ferns and liverworts
festooned the stone.
When Turq spotted
the telltale shadow on
the side of the bluff,
he took human form.
"Welcome to Hidden Cave,"
he said, waving at the entrance.
It was a ragged triangle, tall enough
that the centaurs could fit inside
if they ducked their heads a little.
The myrstag shook his head,
ears flopping, and then Nebuly
also returned to human form.
"This is new," he said.
"New to you, but old in
the earth," Turq said as
he stepped inside the cave.
The floor was sand and gravel,
the walls nearly smooth.
Inside, the cave opened
into a low, wide room.
"While yet a boy I sought
for ghosts, and sped through
many a listening chamber,
cave and ruin," Nebuly recited,
"and starlight wood, with
fearful steps pursuing
hopes of high talks with
the departed dead."
"It's so peaceful,"
Kim Van said, staring.
"Holy shit," said Dodge.
"This place is amazing!
I never would have found it
if you hadn't shown me."
"Well, some people know
it's here, but it's not open
to the tourists," Turq said.
Behind them the mouth
of the cave let in a spear of
greenish light, but inside
the shadows thickened.
Turq flicked on his flashlight
and led them a little deeper.
"What's that?" Kim Van said,
pointing at an old ladder.
"Come and see," Turq said.
"Even though you can't climb
the ladder, you can look up.
This is the Dome of Heaven."
Ansel had showed him the cave
and told him the names too.
The Dome of Heaven was
a tall hole in the rock with
dark mineral patches and
a few bats clinging overhead.
On the floor of the cave,
sprickets hopped like springs,
making the girls squeal.
Turq guided them around
a cluster of daddy long-legs
clinging to the ceiling in
a dark, quivering cloud.
"How dark does it get?"
"Let's find out,"
Turq said, and
turned off the light.
This far back, it was
almost completely dark.
They whispered and giggled,
pushing a little against each other
to feel something warm and alive
in the cool dimness of the cave.
In the dark, almost out of sight, they
could see the tiniest flicker of light.
"What is it?" Dodge asked.
"You'll have to climb a bit
to see it," Turq said. "The slope
is gentle, though, so I think
both of you can make it."
They used that barest hint
of light to go deeper and
higher up into the rocks.
Over the hump, the cave
petered out into a small grotto
with smooth slabs of rock on
the floor and jumbled stones
to serve as natural seats.
All along the slopes and walls,
the whole thing was filled with
the melted wax of myriad candles,
brought in and lit over the course of
god only knew how many years ...
... and the tiny light was coming from
the very last guttering flicker of a candle,
which by that point was just a pool of
melted wax with a few millimeters of wick.
"Oh," said Kim Van, "it's beautiful."
Nebuly heaved a gusty sigh.
"This is a great place to relax.
"It's called Lovers' Peek," Turq said
as he found the splinter of a match
and used it to carry a spark from
the candle to others nearby.
There was a cluster of
pillar candles as thick as
his wrist, and stubs of
tapers scattered around.
The air hung heavy with
the scent of beeswax, and
the flickering yellow light
turned the stones to gold.
It danced over Dodge's
brown-and-white sides and
made Kim Van's stripes
sway like savanna grass.
"You gotta wonder how many of
the local kids were conceived
in here," Dodge drawled.
"Probably more than anyone will
ever admit," Turq said with a chuckle.
"Thank you for bringing us here,"
Kim Van said. "So nice and quiet."
"Yeah, that's the thing about caves,"
Turq said. "They make you feel
like time is just an illusion. Nothing
can really affect them. You can
tell your deepest, darkest secrets
in a cave -- or sit for hours in the dark
or the candlelight, in perfect silence.
It's all the same to the cave."
"Through many a listening chamber,"
Dodge said, echoing what Turq
had quoted in the main room.
"I could stay here all day,"
Nebuly said softly.
Stone shushed and scraped
underfoot as Dodge lowered
herself to the ground.
"No reason we can't,"
A moment later,
Kim Van followed suit.
The cool dim air raised
goosebumps on Turq's skin,
so he switched to caney shape.
Nebuly shifted to his collie form,
a shaggy blue tricolor called Merle.
Both of them curled up between
the softly breathing centaurs.
They had all the time in the world.
* * *
While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
Hopes of high talks with the departed dead.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley
"Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday."
– John Wayne
See Turq as the teal deer.
Here is Nebuly as the blue tricolor border collie Merle.
Conrad's farm has some paths mowed through the meadows. This one heads toward Hidden Cave, and you can see blue flags on the left.
Flag iris means wild iris. Various species come in shades of blue, purple, and yellow hence names like "blue flag."
This wildflower trail leads through the woods. The red flowers in the foreground are columbines, and the tall yellow ones are golden Alexanders.
This forest has fairly young trees. In places you can see wild grape vines hanging from the trees. Missouri native trees include hardy pecan, buckeye, willow, and river birch near water with oak, hickory, and sugarberry higher up the slopes.
The bluff trail to Hidden Cave hugs the rocks.
In places, ferns and liverworts cover the stone.
This triangular entrance leads into Hidden Cave.
The ladder provides a view into the Dome of Heaven.
Lovers' Peek has a lower ceiling and jumbled rocks on the floor. A single candle burns down in Lovers' Peek. Here a cluster of pillar candles burn together. More candles dot the slopes.
Dry caves host a variety of wildlife including daddy long-legs spiders and cave crickets known as sprickets.
Daddy long-legs sometimes gather into seething balls in caves. O_O This is not something most people want to see overhead.