Cave Dwellers

The Prompt for this story comes from storyaday.org, by Julie Duffy.

“Once there was a young girl who lived in a cave with her dad.”

Gretta groaned. “Not this one again.”

But Dad ignored her– as he always did when telling his story. “They lived in a cave, and the cave provided them with everything they needed: water from a trickling spring; insects which they caught and roasted for their food; and most importantly, shelter from the cruel world outside.”

Despite her annoyance, Gretta always shuddered at this part. 

“Wars and disasters had ravaged the earth, and the girl and her dad knew they were lucky to be alive– and to have each other.”

“But it got lonely sometimes,” Gretta supplied her own narrative, falling into the familiarity of the tale.

“Yes, it did. And to pass the time, they told each other stories.”

“But you tell way better stories than I do,” said Gretta. “I don’t have much to base my stories on.”

“I hope and pray someday you will. That someday you’ll–” Dad stopped, choking a little. “Back to the story,” he said, straightening his bony body against the cave wall and staring into the darkness where the natural light from above failed to penetrate. “One day, the girl’s dad announced that he had to leave the cave and didn’t know when he would return.”

This was the imaginary part of the story, of course, since Gretta knew her dad would never actually leave her alone in the cave.

“Before he left, however,” Dad continued, “he gave the girl specific instructions. ‘If you feel the ground shaking, or loud noises coming from outside the cave, you must–”

“–take off your shoes,” Gretta interjected with a grin. It was a game they played– she purposely calling out the wrong directions and forcing Dad to correct her.

“Get out as quick as you can. But before you leave, make sure you grab–”

“–a spider.”

“–a pack of special supplies I’ve left for you right inside the cave’s entrance. You’ll need everything in that pack, and there are special instructions on a piece of yellow paper inside the topmost pocket.”

Gretta knew what a pack was, and paper, and pockets. Dad had a large supply of paper and pens inside the cave, which he had used to teach Gretta how to read and write. Somehow, when they’d first fled here (Gretta nearly too young to remember), he’d decided that bringing the writing supplies with them had been more important than food and water. Gretta had asked him about it once. “Well,” he’d explained. “If we were going to survive down here for a long time, I knew we’d have to rely on whatever the cave provided for us for food and water; if we’d had only what we brought, it wouldn’t have kept us alive for long anyway. But if we did survive, I knew I wanted you to be educated, in case there ever came a time when you could use what you learned in the outside world.”

The outside world… It scared her so. 

Three days later, her dad left for real, slipping away before she woke. And then, she knew that everything in his stories had been true after all– presented to her as fiction, to make it easier for her to listen and learn. 

And when the time came for her to follow, she knew exactly what to do.

And when she finally found other people like her– lost on the earth’s surface, seeking to rebuild a thriving community in the aftermath of global war– she knew what to do then, too.

She never found her dad. But his spirit– his stories– would remain with her for the rest of her life.

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