He stood in front of the cave leaning with his hand on its damp, rough edge.. he looked towards the city in the horizon, moved his sight towards the blue sky, the stars glittered. He walked out of his cave heading towards the horizon, towards the city that he left yesterday or before hundreds of years. At its walls he saw sorrow a black rose clinging its thorns into his heart, he tried to smile and opened his arms to receive her. He remembered his rotten dreams. Sadness from no where stroke him, and his arms started to shake, he felt coldness hitting him. He fell on the ground, a still corpse which disappeared at sunset in the bellies of hyenas. But the smile stayed engraved on the cave’s walls.
He woke up.. looked around him with a one lazy eye. The sun throwing its rays violently on his face. He tried to get up and know was time to continue life. He focused his gaze to the world through a small slit in his eye lids, it lost its radiance it had hundreds of years ago. He felt sick, and a severe headache stroke him as if thousands of crows croaking in his skull. He muttered to himself “nothing changed”. He laid on his back looking to the walls. He saw a bat hanging. He felt sickness and disgust hitting him again. He spat on the ground and cursed the world. Said in a faint voice “it is still early to wake up” he covered himself with the cave, closed his eyes to continue sleeping. Maybe after three thousand years he might decide to wake up to continue life. And he turned into a rotten tree trunk.
He woke up horrified. Staring to what’s around him as if a snake bit him or as if he saw a horrible nightmare for three hundred years. He threw himself out of the cave trying to catch his breath spreading his arms to inhale clean air that might give him peace. Despite that he stayed horrified, each cell inside him shaking with fear. Questions collided in his small head, the buzzing increased in his ears. He cried hysterically and ran to nowhere, heading towards the top of the mountain. His strength weakening and at the sharp summit he fell, his face rolled in the stones and dry dirt, he raised his head towards the horizon, and saw the city that he fled, his horror intensified. A hot wind blew from behind the mountain. He stood staggering. And without thinking twice or even once, threw what remained of his body from the top of the mountain to the bottom. The body crumbled and its ashes carried by the hot winds.
Before the end of the third century, the fourth died. This wasn’t an important thing, as without him the story continues its way. Without him life moves on. The fourth finished before he began.
A dappled skinny hand reached out of the cave. He slipped out. Cold weather, a cold night close to dawn. He climbed a sandy hill, stood on its top, saw the moon rising, stared at it, his eyes shining with madness. His sight circling the scattered stars like glittering rain drops. His eyes shining with madness. He looked at the desert stretched before him, he carried what remained of years and went meandering, fighting the sands, trying to escape yesterday’s memory or hundreds of years that passed without him knowing, when he lost the battle. The pain was sharp volcanic stones carried with wind, brutally hitting him, destructing what is left of the destroyed soul. He continued walking towards the setting sun licking his agonies trying to find a grape tree to shade in this wilderness. Living in his cave that remains inside him.
The sixth and seventh…
Question marks hanging upon their heads and many answers searching for its questions that are circling inside. They examined the cave. The rough random angles. The surfaces scattered in chaos. Searched for their companions, not finding anyone of them. The spider fled from their skull, shaking off sticky dust precipitated on their lips.
‘do you know how long we slept?’ Said the first
the other examined the place searching for the answer. He became tired from thinking, played with sand letting it slip between his fingers forming a tiny heap.
‘I don’t know but it seems that we spent a day or part of a day.. Isn’t it?’
‘may be. Although, after the events of yesterday a feeling haunt me that we slept hundreds of years?’
the word “yesterday” roared and they searched for this insomniac forgotten yesterday. The images mixed together. Lots of heads filling the place. Cries of pain, dangling ropes from gallows and the smell of death rising. Horses whinnying and hoofs hitting the pebbles. Dust scattered forming a storm. The laughter of fear nestling in the sun’s eye, forming an alliance with the past that can’t be killed. The hand of the first trembled, staring to the eyes of his friend who stood before the cave’s entrance. His eyes shining of determination and zeal. He hated his recklessness.
‘we ended up in a damp cave my friend…’ he stopped talking for a while then continued:
‘Is this the life that we wanted?. Is this the life that we struggled to make and for it we suffered losses?!!’.
he bit his lower lip while the shining of determination increasing in his eyes. The other stood beside him looking to the endless horizon, behind it lies the city that they fled, seeking salvation. He was trying to suppress the laughter of fear inside with difficulty. He swallowed his saliva and said:
‘but we were going to be killed if we didn’t escape. And you know that everything has finished and…’
‘shut up please.!! To die is better for us than to live with spiders and bats..!!’
he picked a big stone and threw it with all his strength towards the city. He stood still for moments as if trying to gather his strength again… then said:
‘do you know what I’m thinking of ?’
He dreaded his friend’s violent ideas, but he gathered what remained of courage and said:
‘what are you thinking of?’
‘I am thinking, that we should go back to the city and see how it became after yesterday had passed with its grave events and explore the situation there..’
‘But what !, look at me, it seems that our friends went out to somewhere near by, we’ll go together and return with news and we might find a way to start everything again..’
‘but I’m afraid that it might be nearly impossible.’
‘listen well, we’ll go together and let’s stop this useless talk and get going now..!’
The stretching sun sent flames of fire, scorching the skinny bodies in desperate effort to stop them from continuing their journey towards the mirage. They completed the path of pains till they reached the city’s gat
e. They were amazed how different it looked since they left it yesterday. It seemed more bigger, its buildings became more uglier and ruined except for some larger beautiful buildings. The people’s faces looked familiar but their clothes were very strange. What happened?
‘are we in our city, or did we lose the way?’
‘I don’t know. It is it but it isn’t in the same time. A weird thing. But I am sure it is our city. It seems that some kind of change had occurred in an unexplained way.’
their strange looks drew the people’s attention. They felt afraid, and rant into one of the alleys, stood for a while trying to understand the change that happened between yesterday and today. They leaned with their back on the wall and their sight reaching the opposite one. There they saw something hanging… a paper… came closer… read the paper, looked to each other with confusion, the paper contained pictures of seven people, looking like them but this wasn’t weird, the weird thing was the date, today’s date, they shouted together..
A crowed of heads dashed from all directions, grabbing them from their limbs, they couldn’t resist, no one spoke to them as if they were waiting for this moment and knew that inevitably it will come and knew what they will do then. They tied and dragged them, and taken to the public square, while the heads multiplied like mushrooms. The air filled with cries and the smell of death spread. Drums were beating, and immediately one of them was tied on a pole upon a pile of wood, while the other, each of his limbs were tied to four strong horses. He cried:
‘let me go you basterds, you’ll regret this. damn you… damn…!!’
the horses dashed suddenly and in a moment nothing remained of him except torn remains thrown to dogs.
the crowds came close to the stake
‘please don’t do this to me, I’ll tell you everything, do you want to know where are the rest of us, I’ll guide to them but let me go, but please let me go…’
he swallowed what is left of his words as in front of him and on the steps of the stake, six heads belonging to his friends were thrown. Flames of fire blazed and the smell of roasted meat filled the air. The city slept that night dreaming of rain, sun, and jasmine. But in the horizon, in the cave, bats were preparing to begin their long night.
* * *
From the city’s gate he walked confidently, with slow fearless steps. He got out after they thanked him for his services he, after tens and tens of years that passed, they at last got what they wanted and got rid of them forever. Their eighth got out carrying his reward, clinching on it with his pointed teeth. He got out till he reached the far hill, threw his load on the ground, started to howl towards the red sad moon, then he walked on his four limbs carrying his reward, the bones of the cave people.
* This Story was published in my first collection of short stories in Arabic (original title in Arabic Ahil Al Kahif أهل الكهف).
** Inspired by the Quranic story (the people of the cave) (Surat Al-Kahif verses 9-22); the same story can be found in Christian traditional tales named as (The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus).