A Cave of Ghosts by Dustin Engstrom

I sank into a dream. Like drowning. An unavoidable deepening of my mind. Lower and lower. Until I was dead.

In this place, this cave of ghosts, this blackness so empty and silent, I slumbered. I moved without sound. How did I move? If I slept? If I was dead.

And then I stopped. I came upon a woman. Her eyes like glassy pearls. Her heart wide and open, like arms reaching out to embrace and to hold. I felt lighter in her presence. Almost alive.

“Do I still live?” I asked.

“Let go,” she said. “Come.” Her voice calmed me. I pictured in my mind’s eye a light snow fall. Flakes trickling down soft and hushed.

I was pulled from the vision. She pulled me. Like the tug of a child at their parent’s elbow.

And then we moved. We swam deeper into the cave until we came into a light. I stood on firm ground. I had arms and legs and hands and a face. A body. I couldn’t reconcile how it happened.

“Where are we?” I asked, looking about. All around us stretched tall and looming hills, a blueish tint to them from a hazy sun hanging above us in a vast and open sky. We seemed to be at a precipice.

She looked at me. I could truly see her now. Youthful. Hair like flowing sand. Those immense eyes. About her swirled a gossamer swan-white gown.

“We are here,” she giggled and twirled. “And isn’t it grand?”

“I suppose,” I said. “But I don’t know where here is. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know if I live or if I’m dead.”

“You know more than you see. Look with new eyes,” she said. “See those trees off in the distance?”

She pointed beyond my face and I turned to face it. As I did, she pushed me from the cliff, and I tumbled off the edge. Down and down, a sharp wind slapping at my face. Until I stood on the ground again. Straight up. I hadn’t crashed onto the earth. I was steady.

I spun around to face my surroundings, on the lookout for the young woman. All was quiet. No sound. No birds, no insects, no wild animals. The earth below me was full of sand. It felt hot, like a desert. I spotted another cave and figured it would at least be cooler.

I crept inside, still on the lookout for the woman or anything else to jump out at me. But all I found was a chair. Alone. Against a shadow strewn wall. A handcrafted walnut-colored chair. I sat down on it. I felt weary now. Tired. I tried to focus, but my eyes drooped and soon, I sank into another dream.

A dream within a dream.

In the dream, I saw my lover. His face wretched and twisted in pain. Tears cascaded down his delicate face. “I miss you so much,” he cried. “I miss you so much…”

“I’m here!” I called from the darkness. “I’m here, my love. Don’t cry…please…”

But he did. Sank his face into his hands and wailed. It hurt my soul to hear it.

“I’m lost,” I whispered. “But I see you. I know you. I love you. I will be all right. I have to face it. You have to face it too. Live. Love again. Be well. I will come again…”

He looked up, his eyes suspicious. He looked about him. “Hello?”

“I love you!” I sang. I was pulled from the dream, watching him from a distance, growing smaller and smaller. And then black. My eyes flung open. I was in the cave again, sitting up in the chair.

The young woman stood before me, a smile at play upon her lips. She nodded and turned to leave.

“Wait!” I said, springing to my feet. “What do I do now?”

Her head twisted to one side and she whispered, “You do what everyone does. You go on.”

And she slipped from the cave and out of sight. As I pondered her words, I felt suddenly struck with an immense feeling of relief. I would go on. What would I find out there in the strange and lonely wilderness? Were there others like me?

I put a foot forward. And then another.

Dustin Engstrom lives in northern Washington state with his husband and their two cats. He writes mostly crime and speculative fiction. His work has appeared in The Colored Lens, The Dark Sire, and Rock and a Hard Place Magazine.