“Look there’s a light in the cave.”

cave mouth

So you want to hear an explanation? Okay. Sit by me and I’ll whisper a story.

It is told and retold how the little spider tries to complete her web. She weaves and weaves, but without success. She keeps falling and having to climb back up. Yet she is hopeful. She perseveres.

And eventually triumphs. As of course did Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. You’re not English are you? Not that it’s important.

The spider’s web is an old story. My stories are old, some very old indeed by human standards. Older than nations or history. They are tattooed on my skin far from the sun.

For thousands of years neither man nor woman had slept in my deep inner cell. Until this morning when a new story-maker arrived out of the forest. So there’s no need to dig up ancient times, let’s just go back a few hours to the beginning.

He pushes aside my rubble and cobwebs, and crawls down the long hidden tunnel.

As the daylight fades he makes his way with some care, a bright lamp shining from his forehead. The ancients never had one of those. They would not have liked the shadows it casts.

But in other ways he is less well-equipped. Every harmless beetle, earwig and silverfish that crosses his path distracts him and provokes a flurry of swipes from his archaeologist’s trowel.

It’s a long cold tunnel down. My limestone skin is slippery. And it is clammy and sticky. He shudders.

Both scientist and fool I think – seeking the mysterious yet fearing the easily understood.

Helpless gnats, blind white worms and globules of lime twist round on threads as if alive. He cuts them away from his face with his trowel’s thin metal edge.

There’s a tickle on his forehead by the lamp strap – just where he can’t reach it. In the tight sloping tunnel with its damp, sliding down floor, he tries to swat the little tickler. A mistake! He loses his balance, falls forward and drops his trowel.

It clatters briefly and comes to rest not far from his grasp but beyond his arc of light. He leaves it for now and slithers down steeply to my cell.

He examines the tattoos on my skin – of galloping bison and charging auroch, of a great mammoth pinned with arrows and of hand prints. They are old and fresh. And I sweat from the warmth of his breath upon me.

Cool stillness is all around him. He pushes aside my long swallowed stones and bones and, curling up tight, switches off his lamp.

What can he feel in the silence? Dreams? Does he want to be one with me?

Asleep or awake, through my skin he listens. What for? The laughter of ghosts? Lost stories? I cannot tell you.

He is inverted, tightly wound and must rouse himself upwards. There is no room to turn any other way.

And so he starts up the slide. For a moment he believes he has glimpsed his trowel. He reaches out for it when he shouldn’t and slips back down to my cell.

But he tries again. Tiny trussed invertebrates stuck to floor, wall and ceiling now stick to him. He carries on up.

He soon learns to keep his mouth shut. But they also slip into his nostrils. His snorts echo through my chambers.

Up and up he hauls himself. With every heave there is an answering downward tug. But he splays his feet to put a brake on anymore sliding returns to my deep.

He fights my slippery, sticky limestone. He fights my gravity. Other creatures don’t fight. They are already dead and their corpses continue to greet him as he ascends.

There is light above and ahead. His pace quickens. Each fast step by hand and foot takes him up, up, up. But he slips back too.

One foot goes, then the other foot. His fingers struggle to grip. His nails scratch at my smooth wet-skinned throat. They make me want to wretch and cough him up. He does not slide down far.

Now his face is covered in the sticky threads of victims. His loud heartbeat quickens faster-faster.

He can see beyond me to the sun in the sky. He tries to reach out and touch it – so bright, dazzling and illuminating through the great web across my mouth. Like a giant diamond he sparkles as he twists around and around slowly, helplessly.

The author of the web reels in her triumphant threads.

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