Chapter 01 – Caved In

“Would you stop eating the ants?”

“Was that an offer to start eating you?”

“Doubt you’d like my flesh any better than you like my personality.”

“So why does it bother you that I eat them?”

“You distract me.”

“Yeah, because you’d have found a way to get out of here hours ago if I wasn’t hungry.”

“As a matter of fact… Wait, are you telling me you’re eating them because you’re hungry?”

“I can dream,” she shrugged. “Besides, I have several good reasons for this, and you don’t have any good reason for me to stop.”

“How about threatening you I’ll throw up if you don’t?”

“That just sounds more worthy of consideration.”

“Which is what you wanted, wasn’t it? Why don’t you give me your ingenious reasons?”

“A) I’m hungry, b) they’re healthy, and c) they’re having a placebo effect on me. They’re making me believe I’m actually eating, thus taking my mind of impending starvation.”

“Would it make your starvation any better if you also had to smell vomit?”

“You’re such a baby for someone in his fifties,” she complained. “You’re just acting up ‘cause your effort to gain my gratitude came wasted.”

“I did save your life, though,” he pointed out.

“You won’t mind if I thank you when we’re on the outer side of the cave, will you?”

“Shame the acid produced in this conversation is just metaphoric, we could’ve just dissolved the limestone.”

She paused, and then sighed. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, don’t apologise. I’d say we need some vigour right now to survive. I mean for our psyches to survive. Intact.”

“Maybe we could just sleep it through. You’re so positive they’re gonna rescue us, aren’t you?”

“That’s more like it,” he nodded victoriously.

She rolled her eyes, but her previous belligerence was already gone.

“How long till the lights go out?” she asked wearily.

“No idea,” he shrugged.

“Are you sure we can’t help them from here?”

“Pretty sure we’d only make things worse for ourselves.”

“But you were thinking of something, weren’t you? Earlier?” she ventured.

“Came to nothing,” he shook his head dismissively.

“We’re not going to die here, though, are we?”

“Not if they save us sooner than one of us eats the other,” he shrugged. “Wanna bet who wins?”

“No way. I’m not taking any chances. Got to immaculate myself,” she said and caught a few more ants in quick succession, licking them off her index finger. “There. You won’t touch me now.”

“What are you, anaemic or something?”

“Oh, I’d say a malicious bitch would be more accurate.”

“Great to know I’m in such good company. Imagine what it would be like to be stuck underground with a kind angel. Would completely ruin my style.”

“Thanks, I like you too.”

“Never said I liked you.”

“But you saved my life,” she pointed out with an evil grin.

“Was a reflex,” he murmured.

“Right,” she smiled again, the I-know-better expression still on her face.

 

They fell silent. There was rumble outside, clearly someone was doing their best to dig them out of the cave. The girl craved sunlight, it felt as if it was all she needed in her life before she could die peacefully. Just the light, and the world bathed, soaked in it. And yet, being here, buried alive inside the darkness, was the only way she had been able to survive the cave-in. If this man, who was now standing some distance away, leaned against the opposite wall of the cave, hadn’t pulled her back when he did, she would have been lying somewhere under the rubble with her skull (and many other bones) smashed. But it was difficult to feel gratitude when everyone else had managed to run out, avoiding this prison. The cave had been a tourist site for a long time, it had lights built in, but the electric circuit must have been broken when the slope decided to cover the sole exit to the cave. At least that was what they figured must have been the cause of them being in darkness. Not that it mattered; there was nothing they could do about it anyway. They were stuck with the torchlight – either until the batteries ran out or the two of them were rescued.

“What happened?” she asked out of any apparent context, yet he seemed to understand.

“I have no idea,” he confessed. “Weathering, perhaps… didn’t feel like an earthquake…”

“But why so sudden? And why just the entrance?”

He stared at her for a while before saying: “Must’ve been terrorists then. Do you know anyone who’d want to take away your life?” There was sparkling, much enjoyed irony in his voice.

She hit him with a venomous arrow shot from her eyes.

“Honestly, would you feel better if you knew what happened? What does it matter? We’re stuck here until they dig us out, end of story.”

“Thanks, there’s nothing I like more than people making an idiot out of me.”

“But I’m not. I’m just saying we can’t have the answer right now. I’m sure we’ve both come here for different reasons, but none of them is likely to be that we’re active geologists. Hence the sarcasm.”

“Ok, but what if it matters? I mean if we knew what caused the cave-in, we could tell whether we could expect another one inside the cave… On the other hand, you’re just going to say there’d be nothing we could do about it anyway, so I guess I’ll just shut up, shall I?”

“You don’t have to.”

“Sorry, can’t think of anything more to say.”

“You can tell me your name,” he suggested.

“It’s Dorianna Evans.”

“Interesting name,” he said to that, though she couldn’t tell whether he sounded genuinely impressed, or he was just faking it.

“I’m Henry Ryan,” he went on to introducing himself and offered her his hand.

“Sure it’s not Gregory House?”

“Nah, was just the model.”

They both smiled.

“Can I call you Gray?”

“What about me is gray?” she wondered.

“Dorianna,” he hinted.

“Right.”

“Well, can I?”

“I had no idea you wanted to keep this conversation going.”

“Ok, let’s say if I ever want to call you something. Before they dig us out, that is.”

“Right,” she said again, this time more thoughtfully.

“What?”

“Nothing,” she dismissed whatever theory was planting itself in her brain. “Call me whatever you like. Until they dig us out.”

“You didn’t think I’d stay in your hair after we’re out, did you?”

“I didn’t think. Happens to me a lot.”

This time it was his turn to say “right”. But he also added: “I’d say you tend to think too much, though.”

“Yeah, that too.”

He sat down opposite her.

“What are you really doing here?”

“I don’t remember giving you a false reason.”

“No, you’re just avoiding giving me answers. I was only asking for the true motive, as opposed to some pathetic excuse like ‘because everyone comes here’. You don’t strike me as a crowd follower.”

“Actually, if this place wasn’t well-known, I’d have probably never heard about it. So I guess I follow the crowd in this sense.”

“And there’s the avoiding again.”

She took a breath. “I came here… because I’m addicted to beauty. That’s what I do. I’ve studied beauty, I go seek it out whenever and wherever I can, everything inside me screams for it.”

“You’ve studied it…?”

“Aesthetics. At the university. And in the other sense, too. Although that’s more sensual and hedonistic than rational. Told you I couldn’t think much. I just… feel.”

“Life’s been ugly?” he guessed.

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I try not to remember. But no, not all of it. Most of it was pretty good. But those ugly parts really did suck. Short sharp pain for eras of blunt happiness.”

“When nothing happens so you don’t remember it. You just remember the eventful bad parts,” he assumed.

“I guess,” she agreed.

“Ok, that sucks.”

“That’s why I look for eventful happiness. And that’s every time I look at something beautiful. Or hear it, or smell it… you get the picture.”

He nodded. “Are you happy?”

She stared at him for a few seconds, before she answered: “No.”

“Not a shrink, but it seems there’s something wrong with your therapy then.”

“I don’t know how to fix my life. No one I’ve ever met knew.”

“Well, theoretically…”

“Theoretically I’ve got everything covered. It’s practice I have trouble with. Can we please stop talking about me?”

“What do you want us to talk about?”

“Anything that would make me feel less naked.”

“You barely told me anything.”

“Told you enough.”

“You’ll never see me again, what’s the problem?”

“I don’t like to talk about myself, disclosing all the… bad things to other people. It makes me…” she searched for words, and then decided it would be better to start over. “I don’t like to remind myself, I don’t want to think of them.”

He nodded, with a surprising hint of understanding in his expression.

“Ok, let’s stop talking about you.”

“How about you, then?”

“Me? Nah, my life sucks about the same as yours. Only I don’t have the perfect getaway like you do. I mostly keep inside my shell.”

“Is it a nice shell? Pearl-lined walls, sound of the ocean coming from its walls?”

“No. But it’s safe.”

“You must have suffered too much in the real world to settle for so little.”

“You think I overrate safety?”

“No. But you could have so much more if you wanted to.”

He smiled humourlessly. “Tell me about the beautiful things.”

 

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