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An Unexpected Find
by M. E. Neiberg




My love affair with caves began one autumn afternoon when I was young enough to be foolish and foolish enough to think myself brave. I explored the cave within the rock formation, which was located a few yards from my school, while my ponytailed friends waited for me outside, in the protective light of the sun.

That enormous cavity was a magnet. Every weekend, I bounced out of bed, put on my caving attire; jeans, sweatshirt, oversized overalls, and rose-red, water repellent boots. I grabbed the sandwich Mom had made for me, took hold of my flashlights and ran off. Special, earth-lined passageways awaited me. Their darkness was no match for my heavy duty flashlights. All things came out of hiding whenever I aimed my intrepid beam at them. I saw still pools that looked endless but were mere puddles.

It's been decades since my first cave-bound escapades. I never missed an opportunity to journey into my beloved limestone underworld.

One cool spring afternoon, a curly haired, young man with blue eyes that looked straight at me, never losing their delight at seeing me, joined my expeditions. Later, when we shopped together for his caving apparel, I saw a straight forwardness I had never seen before in anyone else.

Aneurin took my hobby seriously too. It was easy to fall in love with him. I wondered how I had ever thought myself happy before meeting him.

We married in a small ceremony, in a cave we had discovered on an adventure. I had successfully exchanged my ponytail gang for a husband.

A few months after our wedding, the dreams began. They seemed random. Sometimes, I was a young, beautiful woman, who was busy talking to the people around her. In other dreams, I was a tall, muscular man screaming at the people in front of me. My fantasies frustrated me because I failed to grasp their meaning.

One exhausting night, while in the body of the man, I surprised myself with the intensity of my anger.  I exploded volcanically, shouting "I am King. I will not stand for such insults. My queen will not be seen with another man. Your punishment will be severe as my displeasure!"

I awoke soaked in sweat.

Memory of that hysterical man refused to leave me. I wanted to tell Aneurin about it, but didn't. How does one go about explaining waking up confused and terrified from losing a battle I had fought all night, in a dream. I wouldn't tell Aneurin because I couldn't explain the foreboding feeling I felt to myself.

My disquiet wouldn't leave me. So, Aneurin booked us a trip to South America, where exploring caves used by ancient cultures would distract me.

One outing brought us, along with a horde of iPhone-laden tourists, to an almost prehistoric set of caves. That place had been sanctified by a people whose only relics seemed to be a few weathered stones. The real thrill of that location, however, was the Queen's Grave, a sacred spot within one of those caverns. According to legend, when robbers removed the circular stone guarding the tomb's entrance, the queen herself had risen, weapon in hand, to defend her burial site. For centuries, no one again dared to approach her tomb.

A decade ago, though, when a group of teenagers had camped near her tomb and had begun singing, they had heard a low scraping sound coming from her cave. Initially, those youngsters, who were inebriated at the time, ignored the noise as being a side effect of their partying. However, when the noise became louder, they saw that the rock guarding the queen's cave had moved. They promptly ran away.

News of that bizarre incident did not leak for some years. Once people heard about the event, however, inquisitive persons made pilgrimages to that site. Crowds of people came with instruments to try to make the stone move.

For some performers, the rock moved a little. Most of the time, though, it sat unresponsively in its protective position.

Scientists got involved. The best of their theories was that certain pitches' energy caused the rock to shift. Regardless, even on those rare occasions when the rock was responsive, once the music stopped, the rock rolled back to its original spot.

That legend intrigued Aneurin. He took me to the queen's burial site.  "C'mon' Gorgeous, just one song for the queen and me."

It had been one thing to smile at his aspirations on the plane.  It was another to accede to a live performance at the tomb. I felt foolish.

I regarded the other tourists. I then regarded the love of my life. I'd make a go of it. If it made him happy for me to conjure up the ghost queen, I would be happy, too.

I stood a few feet in front of the tomb and sang my favorite song. Nothing happened except for a few flashes from iPhones all around me.

I tried again, feeling my vocal chords vibrate when I hit high notes. The other tourists quieted. I opened my eyes and lowered my voice; the rock was moving slightly from its position in front of the cave. The stone's scraping of the earth made a soft, almost inaudible sound.

In moving, the rock had left a little opening, about half a foot in size. In that opening, I saw her.

She looked at me; I looked at her. We were staring at ourselves.

The stone rolled back, but I had seen her face. At that instance, everything else had disappeared. The universe had consisted only of us two.

The first night back home, I dreamed I was outside of her cave. I was watching an event from long ago. The mercurial King from my dreams stood outside the tomb, machete in hand. A man knelt on the ground in front of him. Lifting his arm in the air, the leader struck, decapitating the man.

The king's guards then grabbed the queen, and threw her disdainfully, as if handling a common drunkard, into the dark crevice in the solid limestone. They then rolled a huge stone over that opening, completely trapping her alive, in the cave.

I woke up with a migraine headache and couldn't stop vomiting all of the next day. The feeling of seeing my twin, the queen, trapped in the airless cave was too much for me.

Aneurin decided we needed a quick weekend getaway far from caves. We were to rest,relax and drink cocktails from glasses decked with paper umbrellas.

The next morning, I woke up smiling. My life was again filled with light. I nudged my husband. He didn't move.

I called his name and nudged him once more. Thereafter, I screamed in octaves that I had never used.

I called an ambulance. As I waited next to my beloved's still body, I stared at his serene, unmoving face. I wasn't ready to be separated from him. I hadn't said "I love you" enough times. I never said "goodbye."

After the funeral, I retreated to my bed. There, I daily conversed with my newly found twin, the queen.

"Does your man visit you?" I asked.

"He visits me every day." She said.

"When will my husband visit me?"

"I don't know." She whispered sadly.

The queen and I continued our conversations. I told her of my love of caves. How Aneurin's love supported me. How he would book trips on a whim.

She told of her unexpected love for an easy-going, quick witted engineer who had worked for the king. "I didn’t think we would get caught."

At times, she and I laughed so hard that we scared away the visitors who had come to pay me their respects. My brother and his wife were beside themselves as they chaperoned friends and family out the door. "Poor thing's talking to her husband," they mumbled to my bewildered guests.

No one understood. No one tried. After a while, they stopped visiting.

Finally, I didn't bother getting out of bed. My day was divided into time spent communicating with the queen and time spent without her.

When the numbness began to wear off, I returned to work. Coworkers gifted me with stammering condolences. Often, I'd hear then whisper to each other sentiments such as "it was so sudden."

I cried every night. I was living on coffee and chocolate ice dream. Nonetheless, the queen kept visiting my home. She'd look at me and shake her head. I wasn't sure if her gesture was understanding or frustration.

I began organizing my new life. I had to call banks and insurance companies and ask that they remove my husband's name from our joint accounts. I dealt with death certificates and documents testifying that I hadn't killed my husband. I was sent Date of Death Value letters constantly reminding me of my loss, as if I might have forgotten that point.

Aneurin was being erased from my life. He was slowly being eradicated from this world but this time, I was the cause. It was more than anyone should have to bear.

At night I watched TV and choked when I saw couples smiling lovingly at one another. I saw older couples look into each other's eyes and share that sacred bond that is formed from years of sharing hardship, joy and life experiences. Aneurin and I had always wanted a family and had planned on starting one after we had returned from the last trip. We were in a comfortable place in our lives, financially, physically and mentally. I always had faith that we would be wonderful parents. I had always taken it for granted that life would follow my plan. Why would things be different?

These thoughts never left me. I woke up with them and would go to sleep thinking them; what little sleep I got was restless, full of dreams of regret for what could not be. I lost my edge at work. Mistakes and missed deadlines crept into my daily routine. I just couldn't get myself to function correctly. My boss heartbreakingly asked me to leave.

I didn't have the strength to face the barrage of interviews needed to find a new job. Talking to uncaring strangers, smiling through inane conversations seemed meaningless and unproductive to me. Life itself began to seem meaningless.

Truth told, I had a difficult time getting up to take a shower, let alone getting dressed and worse, getting dressed up for a meeting that would lead to a job I knew I wasn't able to cope with.

So I retreated to my bed where I found my solace in my only friend, the queen. I was lost. I had no ties to anything or anyone anymore. One evening I realized brushing my teeth was too much effort to spend on an empty life. I couldn't carry on this way. I had to do something.

One morning, I booked a flight to the country where Aneurin and I had last laughed together. Soon I was standing in front of the queen's tomb. No one was there. There was no singing.

I pushed the rock. It rolled away easily. I walked into the cave.

The queen greeted me.




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