WITHIN
by
Charles M. Saplak

 
 
 The humans who dwell within the cavern, like most creatures who have never been exposed to light, are blind, and pale to the point of being almost colorless.

 They've never known clothing.  Because they are deaf, none of them have developed speech, so within the cave the human sounds which echo off the flowstone walls are nothing more than grunts and moans.

 The cavern is expansive, and is really a system ofinterconnected chambers.  There is no known way in or out.  Anything which is within the cavern has been there since the beginning.  The humans existing there, who are immortal, wander from stony chamber to stony chamber.  There are cracks and flues through which air flows, and when one of these is encountered by one of the blind dwellers, that dweller will sometimes spend hours with his or her face pressed near the rock orifice.

There is also a system of underground springs which, by their watery smell, attract the humans.  At these places they are able to slake their thirst, and are also able to place their hands into the cool flow, gaining a contrast to the omnipresent textures of rock.  The water has curious chemical qualities -- as the dwellers partake of it they experience mild hallucinations.  The exact nature of these illusory insights is unclear, for what can these sightless people of such limited life experience use as the raw material to construct dreams?

 The humans have no apparent social structure.  Each moves through the cavern in a solitary fashion.  All of the humans have the ability to both touch and be touched, and therefore would be expected to be able to huddle together or to offer pleasurable or painful sensations in a reciprocal fashion, but evidently no.  When two of these dwellers encounter each other they often completely ignore each other, or even mildly repel each other, heading in opposite directions in reponse to the unexpected event of fleshy touch.

 The humans are not alone within the cavern.  Each of them recognizes the presence of a dominant figure.  Although each is aware of the presence of this thing, no one is certain of its exact nature.  It is a reptile of enormous bulk, perhaps a giant snake.

 Occassionally one of the cavern dwellers blunders against its dry, interlocking scales, and so feels something not greatly different from the stone walls in texture, but vastly different in the way it gives when touched, and moves and slides as the reptile moves.

 The fleshy smell of the reptile permeates the cavern.

 It is unclear exactly what concepts of reality the dwellers have.  It could be that some think of the cave as a vast skull, themselves as rational thoughts, and the reptilian presence as a manifestation of innate evil.  It may also be that many of the dwellers are completely unable to construct a coherent world-view, and thus only think of themselves, if at all, as each being a complete but flawed universe, an all-encompassing mechanism for thought, emotion, and sensation.
 

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