Inky Flash Fiction Spring Competition 2018: Runner Up: The Drip by A.K.Hepburn

The girl Moth had never been outside of the cave. Born amongst the steady drip-drip of the rocky pinnacles that hung from the ceiling. Playing on stone, dimly lit by the precious blubber flames. Her mother pointed out constellations of glowing bugs on the ceiling: the Tiger, the Big Walrus, the Bear. She didn’t understand the names. Outside the Great Cold raged, as it always had.

Men went out to hunt. Moth’s father wrapped thick, woolly skins around himself until she could see only his eyes. He’d take up the flinty spear and disappear into the Light. She’d begged to go with him, but he’d never let her; said her toes would all turn black like Old Gulp. Gulp didn’t go out to hunt anymore. Sometimes they came back hauling some big hunk of furry flesh to cook over the blubber flame; sometimes with nothing at all and their stomachs would gnaw. Sometimes they’d come back missing one or two of their number.

Wondering what was out there, Moth imagined the rocky ceiling to be much higher and the walls to be further apart. Her mother said that, out there, the woolly beasts they ate ran ferociously around on their four legs. Someone daubed an image on the cave wall in wet red clay, and Moth tried to animate it with her imagination. Then there was the Cold White, which followed the hunters back as a dusting on their furs, then soon disappeared into wetness. Once, she’d peeked a little further than permitted, and the Cold White was all she could see. It filled her vision and flurried around too quickly. It bit at her face, and she hurried back inside.

The Drip began gradually. They hardly noticed it at first. Then it became more persistent. Dampness permeated the floor and walls as water leeched through the cracks. Puddles formed. Somewhere deeper in the rock, a rushing sound grew into a roar. Too wet to stay, they wrapped up and edged cautiously toward the Light, flinty spears raised.

The further Moth stepped, the more her eyes stung. At first she thought it was the Cold White, like before, but then she realised that although it was White, it was not actually Cold, but rather more warm, like the blubber flame. Gradually opening her squinting eyes, she realised, too, that it was hardly even white, but more golden. The Golden Warm, she thought. This was new. The White coated the ground, but it was peppered with green – with life. She looked up; the ceiling was impossibly, dizzyingly far away. She didn’t have a name for the colour.

They wrapped themselves in furs; huddled around a blubber flame. The orb of Golden Warm sank and disappeared, but it wasn’t unbearably cold. (Moth wondered if it would return; she hoped it would.) The far-away ceiling grew dim. Distantly, above, the glow worms lit up one by one, just like home. In her mind, she traced them into pictures; gave them new names.

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