The Children of the Cave

The children rowed in wooden boats up and down the river that flowed through the centre of the cold dark cave.

There was one child to each boat.

The wooden were boats spread across the river, six to a row.

There were ten rows, making sixty wooden boats in total.

And as they rowed, the children, half of them boys and half of them girls, trailed a big net through the water at the side of their boat.

This net was for the catching of the fish that that swam beneath the surface of the water.

It took the children twenty minutes to row from one side of the cold dark cave to another. When they got to one side, the children in the front row wooden boats would unload the fish from their nets into a giant wooden crate hung on large metal hooks on the ancient cave wall.

After the six children in the front row had unloaded their fish into the crate, the children in the row of boats behind them would pass forward their nets to be unloaded into the crate. Then the children in the third row would pass forward their nets, and so on until all the fish caught by the children in all six rows and all sixty boats had been unloaded into the crate.

When all of the fish had been unloaded, each child would put down their wooden oars and stand up in their boats. Then they would turn around until they were facing in the opposite direction. After that, on a shouted signal from one of the children in the front row, they would all sit down and pick up their wooden oars again.

After all of the children were seated, they would begin to row to the other side of the cave, back the way they had come, all sixty boats trailing their nets in the water again in order to gather more fish, this time to be uploaded into the giant crate that were hung on the ancient wall at the other end of the cave.

They did this, rowing upstream, unloading their fish, rowing downstream, unloading their fish, up and down, down and up, up and down, all day, from the beginning of the morning into the beginning of the night time.

Except that the children of the cave didn’t really know what was morning and what was night, because, day and night, it was always dark in the cold dark cave.

Because the children didn’t really know what was day time and what was night time, the beginning and ending of each working day was signalled by the sound of a huge echoing bell being rung loudly from somewhere unseen beyond the walls of the cave. The sound of this huge echoing bell would die slowly away to silent nothingness as the children set off on their first catch of the day, or prepared to complete their final catch of the day.

When the children had unloaded this final catch of the day, an opening that only was slightly larger than the crates that needed to pass through it would appear at both ends of the cave and dozens of big scary looking men dressed all in black would emerge through the openings. Only the pale white skin only their pale skin and the whites of the eyes of the big scary men dressed only in black could be seen by the children in the darkness of the cold dark cave.

This dim light at the beginning and the end of the working day was the only time that the children ever had an inkling of the light beyond the walls of the cold dark cave.

 The children had been told long, long ago, many, many times, by the big scary men that they must never, ever try to reach the light. If they were ever to succeed in reaching the light they would immediately begin to shrivel away to nothingness, until they came to rest forever in the empty no-place where the sound of the huge echoing bell would disappear to twice daily.

When the big scary men in black arrived after the last catch of the working day had been unloaded, one of them would attach a big, thick rope to one of the crates at one end of the cave. Then, the rope would be pulled and stretched until it could be tied right around the waists of the rest of the big scary men, so that they were all joined together like a big, living pulling machine.

After this had been done, with a great cry of ‘heave-oh’, the big scary men would drag the crate away through the opening in the wall of the cave to somewhere unknown outside in the dimming light.

About twenty minutes after they had disappeared with the first crate, the big scary men dressed only in black would return to attach their big, thick rope to the second crate at the other end of the cold, dark cave, before this crate was in turn dragged away somewhere unseen in the dimming light beyond the walls of the cave.

After both crates had been dragged away with a great ‘heave-oh’, one of the big scary men dressed only in black would return alone and hand the child in the wooden boat in the front row nearest to the riverbank a large parcel.

This large parcel contained sixty small parcels.

Inside of each of these small parcels was a simple meal made out of fish from the previous days catch, plus a little rice and a few vegetables.

These small meals were just big enough to fill the bellies of the children and see them through the night and the next working day.

 Enough but no more.

At night, after they had eaten, the children slept in their boats until they were awoken by the sound of the huge echoing bell.

One morning, when all of the children were slowly awakening, one of the little girls, still half-dreaming, said to the little boy in the wooden boat next to her, ‘what happens when the river runs out of fish?’

The little boy in the wooden boat next to her laughed. “The river can’t run out of fish,” he said. “The river makes the fish!”

Another morning, another sleepy child, this time a little boy, said to the little girl in the wooden boat next to him, ‘what is outside of the cave, besides the light, in the place where the river goes?’

All of the children had noticed that the river seemed to flow under the wall of the cave before disappearing.

The little girl in the little wooden boat next to the sleepy little boy spoke thoughtfully. ‘There is nothing outside of the cave except the light. The water stops once it reaches the light, stops and becomes nothing, like the sound of the huge echoing bell,’ she said.

‘And what about the big scary men and the crates of fish,’ said the little boy. ‘Do they become nothing too?’

‘I suppose they must,’ said the little girl. ‘I suppose that things only become things once they are inside of the cave and can be seen and heard and touched and tasted and smelt by us. And that goes for people to. Outside there is only the light where we must not go.’

But she was wrong about there being nothing but the light outside of the cave.

And the little boy who said the river could never run out of fish was wrong too.

It didn’t happen all at once.

Slowly, over time, the children noticed that it seemed to take longer and longer before the crates at either end of the cold, dark cave became full.

That was because the fish caught in the children’s nets was becoming less and less.

All of which meant that the time between the sound of the huge echoing bell being struck to signal the start of the working day and the sound of the huge echoing bell struck to mark the end of the working day grew longer and longer.

And this meant that the time between the sound of the huge echoing bell struck to mark the end of the working day and the sound of the huge echoing bell struck to mark the beginning of the next working day became shorter and shorter. 

And what also happened was that the amount of fish left for the children to eat at the end of the working day by the huge scary men in black grew less and less with each passing day.

So,, day by day and night by night, the children grew hungrier and hungrier and more and more tired.

Soon though something changed and the huge echoing bell to mark the end of the working day struck when the crates were only three-quarters full.

And then, shortly after that, when they were only half-full.

And soon after that when they were only one-third full.

And not long after that when they were only one-quarter full.

And the amount of fish left for them to eat became less and less and less.

Finally, the huge echoing bell that marked the beginning and the end of the working day stopped being struck altogether.

This meant that there no longer was a working day.

And because there no longer was a working day, the large scary men dressed all in black stopped coming.

And because the large scary men in black stopped coming, the large parcels which contained sixty small parcels containing fish and rice and vegetables stopped coming too.

For a time, the children continued to try to catch fish, just for themselves.

But there was so little fish left to catch that it really did seem that the river was running out.

Besides that, the children had no idea how to clean or cook the fish, and so eating the little that they were able to catch only made them sick.

And so, every day and every night, the children got hungrier and hungrier and more and more tired, hungrier and more tired than any of them had even known was possible.

Soon the children, all sixty of them, were so hungry and so tired that they could do no more than to fall into a deep, deep sleep in the little wooden boats that now floated aimlessly, this way and that, on the river.

Once they had all fallen into that deep, deep sleep, they all had the very same beautiful dream, all at the same time.

And in that beautiful dream, a beautiful Angel appeared out of the blackness of the cold dark cave.

None of the children had ever seen an Angel before.

Nor had any of them even heard of one, but somehow they all knew what it was.

‘You are an Angel,’ said one little boy, in the dream.

“Yes I am,” said the Angel, who was neither boy nor girl, ‘and I’m here to show you the world that lies beyond the walls of the cold dark cave.’

‘Is there a world that lies beyond the walls of the cold dark cave?’ asked one little girl. ‘All we ever used see was a little bit of light at the beginning and the end of the working day, when we used to have a beginning and an end to the working day. You shine much brighter than that light ever did. Yours is the brightest light any of us has ever seen.’

Indeed, the Angel seemed to be made of nothing but light.

‘Thank you,’ said the Angel smiling the kindest smile the children had ever seen or even imagined, ‘and yes there most definitely is a world beyond the walls of the cold dark cave.’

The Angels voice was soft and sweet, softer and sweeter than any of them had ever heard or could even imagine. They all listened closely as the beautiful being of light continued speaking.

‘If you all close your eyes lightly I will show to you the world that lies beyond the walls of the cold dark cave.’

Of course, as they were all sleeping, the children’s eyes were already closed. But in the dream they were open. Now they all closed them in the dream too, just as the Angel had asked.

And just as it had promised, the Angel showed them the world that lay beyond the walls of the cold dark cave.

The Angel showed them sunlight

And sky

And clouds

And trees

And birds

And animals of every description

And flowers and plants of every description

And sand

And children playing in the sand

And snow

And children playing in the snow

And ice

And snow and ice melting slowly in bright sunlight.

After the Angel had showed the children the daytime, she showed them the night time.

The Angel showed them stars

And the moon

And all the planets of the Solar System and beyond

It showed them meteorites shooting to earth in a ball of fire

And the source from which all of the light and beauty of the world and beyond came.

And after the Angel had shown the children night time it showed them daytime again.

The Angel showed them mountains

And valleys

And many caves just like the one in which they had lived their entire lives, from the outside as well as the inside.

And it showed them rivers

And oceans, the water glinting brilliantly in the sunlight.

And beneath the surface of the rivers and the oceans the Angel showed them fish, billions and billions and billions of fish, so many fish that the children could not even imagine there ever coming a time when there would be no more fish left to catch and eat.

Some of these fish were tiny and some of them were so gigantic that the children couldn’t even be sure that they were really fish at all.

‘It’s beautiful,’ said one of the children when the Angel had finished showing them the wonders of the world beyond the walls of the cold dark cave. ‘Is this Heaven that you have shown us?’

None of the children knew how they had come to know of Heaven, but they all had.

‘If you want it to be,’ said the Angel. ‘If you want it to be Heaven, then it is Heaven.’

‘And can we leave the cold dark cave and go and live there, forever and ever,’ asked another child, the same little girl who had once asked if the river in the cold dark cave would ever run out of fish.

‘Of course you can live there,’ said the Angel smiling sweetly and kindly one last time before it disappeared, back into the source from which all of the light and beauty of the world and beyond came, ‘because it is your home, your True Home, the place where you have always lived.’