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Cavesong

Born in Nottingham, England, Jennifer R. Povey now lives in Northern Virginia, where she writes everything from heroic fantasy to stories for Analog. She has written a number of novels across multiple sub genres. Additionally, she is a writer, editor, and designer of tabletop RPG supplements for a number of companies. Her interests include horseback riding, Doctor Who, and attempting to out-weird her various friends and professional colleagues.
The sound echoed through the cavern. Lisa stood in the entrance, hearing it.
Entrance. Entranced. Not the same word, but in some ways they might as well be. Because she was going in and she wasn't. She couldn't.
But the music called to her, it called to her and even when she left it was still in her ears, in her mind.
She had to find out what was making it.
Was she the only one who could hear it? Was she the only one who knew it was there?
Surely not, because something so beautiful could only be real and could only not be real.
She walked into the cave. She walked into the darkness and it closed around her, but that didn't matter, because only the music mattered.
She didn't need to see anymore, only hear.
She didn't need to be anymore, only hear.
It was weeks before they found her body.
Gillian stood in the morgue. She never liked it here, the chill always seemed to go all the way through her.
She hadn't liked it when she'd been a cop, before she'd heard one too many racist jokes from her coworkers.
She didn't like it as a councilwoman either.
The cop turned to her. "This is the fourth we've had, and we have to seal up that cave."
She nodded. "I'll talk to the park service."
It was and wasn't her responsibility. Four people had walked into a cave where the gate had broken, and none of them had come out alive.
He was right.
A gate wasn't going to be enough, although it was legally required to leave space for bats.
She was pretty sure there were no bats in the cave.
Brick it up part of the way, she supposed. Leave a little bat hole in the top. It wasn't her problem exactly how they did it.
She looked at the woman on the table. "She doesn't look--"
"She fell. We're assuming that her phone flashlight went out. It's smashed."
"Ah, but was it in her hand or her pocket?"
This had happened before. When she had thought she could be a cop, when she had thought there could be such a thing as a good cop. Different cave. Same results.
People walking into the darkness.
Except that time one of them had lived. Well, lived long enough to be shot by the cops two years ago.
She'd handed in her badge the next day.
Now she was fighting to get control over the police, but this?
The one who had lived had told her.
Beautiful music from the caves.
Underground sirens.
No doubt it was some effect of the wind through the sandstone, but this might be the same thing.
The same underground sirens leading people to their deaths.
She could seal up the cave.
That was what she could do.
But she needed to know, first.
She needed to know what was going on.
The woman, only the bruising on her temple to show cause of death, lay there.
Gillian needed to know what was going on.
What was threatening her town, her people.
It was surely only the wind through the sandstone.
The wind.
She heard it as she walked down the trail. Ear plugs did not keep it out, and Gillian knew she was going into the cave.
She knew it, and she fought it for a moment. Then she stopped. She smiled. She had come prepared. She walked to the cave.
"I'm going to find out what you are," she told it. The gate hung where it was broken. There was no guano to indicate bats.
But she still didn't completely seal a cave. The bats might need it in the future.
She walked into the cave. There was a bit of litter in here, the debris that showed that kids had come here to smoke and drink and do other stuff kids should wait until adulthood for, but never did.
The music pulled and tugged at her.
She walked further into the cave. It was no wonder those before her had fallen, but she wasn't fighting the music.
She was letting it draw her in, letting it pull her. Knowing she might never hear it again and might never stop hearing it.
But she was still keeping enough control to walk carefully, the light from her headlamp illuminating the cave.
She felt something, then.
The music stopped.
It stopped abruptly, even as echoes of it remained in her mind, even as she knew she would hear it forever.
"Don't like the light, do you?" she said. With it gone, her mind had fully returned to her.
The cave was just sandstone, the floor so rough. But with light, she could keep walking. It was not smart.
She hadn't told anyone she was coming here.
She was going to deal with this, because it was in many ways her job, her reason for existing.
She had put on a badge to protect.
She had taken it off when she realized it didn't stand for protection anymore, if it ever did.
Into the cave, down a rough passage that almost formed natural steps.
Around the corner.
Into the cave in which something slept. It was not something she could see.
It was something she merely knew, a presence which would never leave her and was not there and was real and unreal at the same time.
The vaguest suggestion of a form in the darkness that set off only one word in her mind.
Dragon.
"Why?" she asked the shape.
And it finally responded, and its voice was an organ chord, brilliant and deep and beautiful and terrible. "Light."
She took off the headlamp, pointed it away from the shadow. She wasn't going to turn it off, but perhaps that would...
"Lonely," the beast said.
"You killed them." She paused. "Humans need light. We can't make it down here safely without it."
The shadow's head lifted, came towards her. "Stay."
"Humans need food and water," she said. She couldn't stay, she would die, and... "And they'd look for me. Your song is lovely, but it can't sustain me."
And she had a town to protect.
"I know you didn't... mean..." She believed it, or perhaps the beauty of its voice was wearing against her, was making her want to believe the creature, whatever it was. It wasn't made of flesh and blood but rather of stone and shadow.
It couldn't leave this place, she knew with some instinctive knowing, or perhaps merely guessed.
"Lonely." The shadowed head fell to the paws. "Stay."
"I can't stay."
But a pause.
"But I can come back."
She could recommend a gate, one which opened, one to which she could get a key. She could come back, could listen to this music that would never leave her again and again.
"Stay," it said again, reaching towards her.
Cold shadows, circled around her, pulling the heat from her body.
She believed it.
That didn't mean... "Stop, humans need heat."
"Stay!" It started to coil around her.
The chill, the life being drawn out of her. It didn't mean to kill her.
It was killing her and she couldn't pull away, for it was singing again.
With the last of her strength, she forced the headlamp around. Shone it into its eyes and into its substance.
It screamed.
It withdrew and she fell to the ground, unmoving.
It only took a day to find her body.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, July 9th, 2021


This story is about leadership, facing monsters, and maybe a little bit about privilege.

- Jennifer R. Povey
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