I descended into an alien world. It was 800 feet down the elevator, so of course my ears popped. And just outside the doors was this unremarkable lunch area sitting in the very remarkable central cavern. For some strange reason, I didn’t believe that what I was looking at was natural, that this was some very convincing tourist art installment. But the cave went on. And on, and on. I toured the King’s Palace for an extra fee, and it was entirely worth it.
At times, silently milling my way through the miles of eerily lit caverns, I found myself picturing the faces in the rocks coming to life. The swirling, transmogrified rocks appeared to be just waiting to come to life at any moment. Not to do harm, but simply to go about their business, cresting and then descending into the drafty, chilling dark once again. It was entirely another world. The pillars looked as if they had been built by burrowing insects, the stalactites littered like a popcorn ceiling but razor-sharp, the fragments of curtains melting down from above to rest frozen forever. And then I began to climb out of the cavern.
I pressed upward on the cavern’s switchbacks, determined to see the sky that I was already beginning to miss. I rounded to the top of the last stretch, and took in the sight in front of me. A long, long path, straight through the dark, dotted with small lights as it spooled onward. I followed it on a gentle incline. Then I paused, confused.
I heard birds, the sound of an entire rainforest echoing out to me. Another strange thought, I assumed maybe someone needed the nose to lessen their anxiety about the cave. But I kept going, and saw the faint glow of clear, clean daylight from a hole in the ceiling. I thought they were bats, but as I stopped and watched an listened, they were most assuredly birds (and I smelled them too. Ick.) I stood looking up at the bright halo of light from the surface for a long time, at the swirling tornado of swallows that careened and zipped around the pale gypsum walls. They dove into their stone hollows of nests, looking for insects to eat. But there were so many swallows, singing to life and light at the brilliantly lit end to the abyss that I’d just scaled.
I said goodbye to the swallows, and returned to the blinding portal the overworld, leaving the alien dark for someone else to find.