I’m passing time writing by candlelight in the depths of my cave. The tiny flame casts constantly moving shadows on the walls around me. They catch my attention and distract from the work I am trying to do.
I’d write in the daylight, but I have limited time in this place. I must achieve my goals and move on. Each time I reach this point I feel like I’ve done this before, but I must emerge eventually back into the light of day and rejoin the world. Until then, I sit in the darkness and write, pen scratching as it threads its way across the pages.
It is a long and slow wait. In the distance I hear water dripping. I can count my heartbeats between drips. I can count the drips. I can hear that tangible evidence of time passing. And yet, I am stuck in this pool of flickering light and the perception that all time is stopped outside its reach.
I hear the occasional noise that reminds me that my primary defense here is the difficulty of finding this cave. Surely it has served other creatures as a refuge, but when I entered it aeons ago or just recently there was no recent sign.
The reach of the light remains limited to just more than an armspan. Aside from the pen and a penkife I have little defense other than my fingernails. Those won’t serve me. Next time I find myself in this cage, I should plan to be better prepared.
But there aren’t that many that can find this cave in the first place, and fewer who can enter it. Those, such as I, are rare birds indeed. Spending some time in a gilded cage would seem fitting.
So I return to my notes on the study of the human condition, and wait for the time to be right to emerge and conduct another round of observation and interaction. Only time will tell where and when that will be. Time and the cave, but neither is speaking to me at the moment.
My cave is a warm and welcoming space, but not a bright place. The darkness is nearly complete in many areas. The comfortable darkness enfolds you as you progress deeper into my cave, with occasional punctuation from ever-burning candles in sconces here and there, and an occasional chamber lit for a purpose.
The library is one such chamber, with low, shadowless ambient lighting in most of the room, and reading lights near a selection of comfortable chairs as well as work tables. The associated stacks, however, are reasonably well lit near the door and get darker as you wander afield into the obscure topics.
That lighting serves a purpose. A visitor (welcome or not) who is afraid of the dark will not get very far before they must face their fears. A welcome visitor may be accommodated. The other kind may find that their fears have some basis in reality.
Why do I live this way?
Contrary to rumor, I am not afraid of the light, or of open spaces. After all, there are a few rooms in my cavern which are large enough to house several houses.
I am simply selfish of my privacy.
I enjoy being not fully understood by the town.
It keeps my days undisturbed by solicitors. It keeps me out of the public eye. It allows my age to not usually be a matter of speculation.
As the purple cone descended, the ambient noise subsided. It was a perfect cone of silence.
Once in place, the real work could begin.
It has long been thought that even fish had language, but it had been missed in all the noise that surrounds us, and which is especially hard to eliminate in such an efficient transmitter of sound as water.
But the new cone of silence would change all that, and I would finally take my place among the great scientists of yore. An honor long expected and long overdue, of course.
And so, I listened.
I heard the fish fins pushing against the side of the tank. I heard a distant rumble, likely from the circulation of the water so that my subjects don’t die.
I heard some of the fish chewing.
I’m pretty sure I heard a fish fart.
Which could be a good sign, in fact. There is some indication that herring intentionally swallow air and pass it to create sounds. There isn’t any clear indication, however, that this is part of a language.
Then the cone of silence lifted and the sounds of my real world lab intruded.