“Grotto” — C.Birde, 2/17
Thick grass soughs and whispers about the hole’s rim. Time and erosion have peeled back its rough edges, and, set within this misshapen maw, is a spiral staircase that descends down and down, corkscrewing into the earth.
Fingers clutching, toes seeking purchase, I scale the stair’s exterior and lower myself by careful degrees into the hollow. Slowly, light fades to shadowy dark, only to soon bloom once more in vague luminescence.
The staircase accesses a small grotto. Moisture slicks sloped earthen walls, drips from the vaulted ceiling. A body of dark water sings and ripples with falling droplets, and, protruding from that subterranean pool, are small hump-backed mounds of earth. Fuscia and teal-blue vegetation tangle over those scattered islets.
Humid air abounds here; thick, warm, and still. Stepping off the landing, I sink into spongy undergrowth. Leaves and moss wriggle and curl between my toes. My shoes rest on the landing where I have stepped out of them. Sitting amidst the foliage, I pull my shoes back onto my damp feet. A simple task; absurdly difficult — right shoe on left foot; left shoe on right; laces knot, come undone, pull entirely free of their eyelets.
While struggling with this mundane task, I catch furtive movement from the corner of my eye. There, pressed within the shadows of the grotto’s walls, a man steels toward me. Opposite him, approaching through twining vines and fuscia leaves, creeps a young woman with a long, dark ponytail. They circle from opposite directions in a predatory manner. With a cell phone, the woman snaps random photos of my failed attempts at shoe-lacing.
Hurriedly, I stuff my feet into my shoes, tangle the laces together. Turning, feet pounding, I dash up the stairs, spiral up and out. Emerging above ground, the air is cool against my skin, fresh and sweet to taste. The green world spreads endlessly in all directions. Blue skies spill overhead. Stepping off the spiral stair’s landing, I trod upon a pair of socks — bright yellow, patterned with black and white, blue and red. My step sends the socks off the landing. Slowly, gently, they drift through the air, twist in unseen breeze. Down and down, like twin rays of sunlight, they fall. Down through the hole in the earth, swallowed from sight in the damp grotto below.