Sorry I’m late posting; I turned off my alarm and overslept.
I bought this painting at a student art show at Eastern Kentucky University sometime between 1968 and 1972. If anybody knows the artist, please let me know. I love this painting! I have it on the wall of my office.
I’ve been wanting to write a story about it for a long time, so thank you, Story A Day May, for making that happen. 🙂
by Marian Allen
Dr. K did something she would have dismissed one of her archeology students for doing: She left the dig without a buddy and without telling anybody she was going. She had her cell phone with her and she left a note on her camp table with her general direction marked on a reusable map overlay, but that was it.
She had a hunch, and she didn’t want to share it until she had something besides archaeologist’s intuition to back it up.
Spain was hotter and more humid that usual this year. She was grateful for the clouds that blocked the fierce summer sun, even though the air became so damp she felt she could tear off a chunk and wring it out like a sponge.
Dr. K sighted her goal, a recess in the rock halfway up a cliff face, and plotted an ascent. Her hunch had begun when she, stretching her legs with some of her students a few days earlier, had noted traces of what might have been a path from the ground to the recess.
She pulled out her camera and took pictures as she climbed, annotated them with text and voice.
“The path may have been much wider at some time, but erosion of the path itself and scree from erosion from above have erased some of it.”
The heart-stopping crack of thunder, simultaneous with the nova of lightning that produced it, nearly sent her to the canyon floor. She retained her balance and reached the slightly wider ledge of her goal two steps ahead, but she did it in more of a blind lunge than a deliberate process; she turned an ankle and landed on a knee more heavily than was good for it.
That was when the clouds opened and dumped bucket after bucket of water, heavy with warmth.
Dr. K used language only a dock worker or an archaeologist would use.
Even as the curses rolled from her lips, she noted triumphantly that, seen from this angle, the recess was clearly a narrow doorway, shielded from view from below by a natural curtain of rock. A doorway means something beyond it. In the current situation, it meant somewhere dry.
She wasn’t about to try to put weight on the leg that throbbed in two places already. But one limb out of commission just meant three perfectly good limbs, so Dr. K used them to ease herself through the shielded door. Just inside, she pulled out her phone and used the flashlight app to survey what she was getting into. Entering a wild animal’s lair would be A Bad Idea. Scorpions would be worse.
Nothing on the floor of the small chamber. Nothing on the walls. On the ceiling – Oh, only bats. Bats were all right.
She turned off the light.
Outside, the deluge continued.
All right, then.
It was disappointing that her phone didn’t transform into a telescoping cane. It did damn near everything else, so why not that?
She turned the flashlight back on and played the light over the walls again. And she saw it.
In the back of the chamber was a flat section. Now that her eyes were adjusted to the cave’s gloom, the small electronic light was bright enough to show what she had missed before: intentional charcoal strokes forming pictures of animals.
She turned off the light, crawled closer, and turned it on again.
Yes! Cave art, never reported here before.
She took picture after picture, her mind only gradually registering what she was recording.
Horses. Horses fighting. Horses with poky things on their heads.
Cave art of unicorns fighting.
She switched from camera to light and gaped.
There could be no mistake. It was a cave painting of two unicorns locked in battle.
She accessed her picture gallery, selected all the pictures she’d taken of the ledge and the cave, and clicked on the Share icon. She needed to email these to herself, in case her phone broke before she got back to camp. She hadn’t gotten her doctorate by being careless. Well, today had been foolish, but look what had come of it!
She checked her settings and made sure her GPS was on. She rebooted the phone. No signal. Some combination of factors seemed to have put her into a Faraday cage, with no signals going out or coming in. Oh, well. She’d just have to be careful, going back down….
And how was she getting back down, without being able to walk? She couldn’t crawl down a path that was six inches wide in some places.
Maybe she could get reception on the ledge outside the cave. When the rain stopped, she’d try.
The cave was chilly and she was soaked to the skin. She must be a little shocky from the tumble she’d taken and the pain from her ankle and knee.
Not that she doubted what she was seeing.
Okay, now she doubted, because what she saw now was movement.
The unicorns turned their heads to look at her. As the heads turned, they blended. They came toward her, out of the drawing, moving together, bodies blending and rounding out.
Apparently, in dimensions, two plus two equals three.
The unicorn came off the wall and onto the floor in front of her. It looked as big as a Jeep. Its black eyes glowed green in the light of the camera’s beam.
Without knowing how it happened, she found herself on the unicorn’s back. They melted through the rock curtain. Dr. K didn’t feel the passage, just the transition from cool shelter to the pummeling of warm water.
The unicorn picked its way down the cliff’s face.
When they reached the canyon floor, Dr. K felt herself sliding off the creature’s back. She tried to hold on, but she had no traction and she couldn’t tightened her grip. Helplessly, she dropped to the ground.
The unicorn aimed its horn at her. She couldn’t move away. It touched her forehead with the tip of its horn.
It was gone.
The students were all around her before the downpour let her hear them coming.
“Did you see it?” she asked them.
See what? She couldn’t remember. “That lightning.” She remembered a stunner of a flash. That must be what she meant.
“Yeah. And we couldn’t find you and we didn’t know where you went,” her dig assistant scolded. “If one of us did that, you’d send us home so fast our head would spin.”
Dr. K apologized, and accepted their help back to camp and their subsequent teasing with good grace.
She had had a good reason for going off alone but, unable to remember what it was, she couldn’t insist on it. Whatever the reason had been, it must not have panned out, because there were no pictures, notes, or recordings of the three hours she was unaccounted for.
She never went off alone and in secret again.