SAM MARTONE

THE CAVE BEHIND THE WATERFALL

Return to the ship and sail north. The girl with the yellow ribbon in her hair, your childhood friend, will unlock a passageway through the levee. You think this might be it, you’re finally in open water, but no, you are in a huge lake, the rest of the world still inaccessible. Follow a river inland, where a cave is tucked behind a waterfall. Anchor the ship and enter the cave. The air is heavy and damp. Goosebumps rise up on your skin, though you’re not sure if it’s the coolness of the cave or her standing next to you. She talks about how pretty it is in here, the light from openings in the ceiling rainbowing as it refracts through waterfalls falling all around you. She hasn’t had much time to explore the world since her mother died. Descend deeper into the cave. Drop through holes in the ground, remembering floors you fell through when you went ghost hunting with her. Find the robe that will protect its wearer if she falls asleep or becomes paralyzed. Think of the stoned circles you made on lazy rivers. Think of when you learned to waterski, all that water rushing by beneath you, standing up for small wet seconds on wobbly legs. At the bottommost cavern, there is only a treasure chest with an elixir in it. No magic ring. There must be something you missed. Backtrack, retrace your steps. Walk through a waterfall into another cavern. There, the ring of water, perched on a pedestal, glowing blue. You expect water monsters to splash up from puddles, but there is nothing that stops you from taking this ring. She says she is so happy for you, that now you will be able to marry the wealthy man’s daughter, acquire the legendary shield, but she doesn’t meet your eyes. This ring, unlike the ring of fire, you cannot equip. Some unseen force prevents you sliding it onto your finger. But transfer it to her inventory, see that she can. Slip it onto her finger, like you would an engagement ring. This ring is meant for something else, but you want her to have it, you never want her to take it off. You can hear the tide turning. Soon the cavern will flood. ‘I feel like I can breathe underwater,’ she says, ‘My lungs feel like lochs.’ Think of a river winding like a liquid tongue through the desert, a sun that burned your ankles. You wanted her, wherever she was, to be with you, to take your hand as you both drifted ashore, back to solid ground.

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