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When Al came upon his daughter Nadine hard at work on a sign that looked like it would say “Make Love Not War” he steeled himself for another debate. He hated arguing about Vietnam and politics with Nadine. Instead, before he could say anything, pressure caused by what felt like one of the tanks his daughter protested against landed on his chest. The next thing he saw was the ceiling, and as he gasped for breath Nadine’s green eyes blocked that view—so unique, so special—inherited from her biological parents, not dull brown like his.
He heard screaming, but it seemed so far away. Was it Cathy? His whole time knowing her—for over 30 years—she’d never raised her voice. She’d been his calm anchor as he’d painted picture after picture but never sold any. Through it all she’d given him strength and encouragement. He didn’t understand how she was even able to make the awful sound he was hearing—was it all of her frustration with him and fears for their family erupting out?
All at once, silence surrounded him like it was its own entity. Even though he hadn’t moved, he knew he was somewhere different. He fought to get back, not wanting Cathy’s scream to be the last sound he heard, the last thing he remembered about her. This couldn’t be how it ended.
He didn’t go anywhere, though, and when he stopped struggling he became aware that this silent, dark place he seemed to be floating in wasn’t empty. Something was pressuring him. It seemed to be trying to take him to a place that was far from his family and his old life.
He resisted. He was 50 years old and not nearly as strong as he used to be, but he wasn’t finished yet—he would get back to his family. Al fought as hard as he could. Going the opposite of where it wanted to take him had to be a step in the right direction. As he struggled he felt a stuffy, almost suffocating heat filling him, and just as it was all starting to be too much and he realized he might have to give in, he felt a snap.
The next thing he knew he was on solid ground, still in absolute darkness, but he was in control of his body again.
“Cathy!” he called as loud as he could.
The sound of his voice seemed to drop as soon as it came out of his mouth.
“Cathy,” he tried again, and this time he detected a faint echo.
He bent down and touched the ground. It was damp and gritty and seemed to be made of stone—like the floor of a cave, maybe.
“Where am I?” he whispered, seeking comfort in the sound of his own voice.
He felt alive, but he had no clue how he’d ended up in a cave. If he was dead it was certainly a funny sort of heaven. He wanted to see his family again; it was all he could think about. When he got back things would change. He’d become more supportive—he’d give up his useless paintings and find a way to support his family. He’d always known Cathy had never understood his art. She’d always liked the colors—and he’d made sure to use lots of colors just to get that praise from her, but beyond that they held no meaning for her. Nadine was never very impressed with them, either. They weren’t controversial enough. She always said, “They’re pretty, but what do they mean? Art is supposed to affect people—make a statement.”
In his opinion they did make a statement—just not the kind of political one she always looked for. He wanted people to be drawn in by the images and absorbed into his little world—for their imaginations to be inspired.
He’d been foolish. No one was interested in that sort of thing, and Nadine would be going to college in a few years, and Cathy deserved a secure retirement. They needed money and he had to step up and support them. He’d been weak, but now he had to get strong.
Al took a step forward, ready to set out and find a way back to his family so he could prove he was capable of looking out for their future. He walked right into a wall and almost fell down. He put a hand on the wall, which felt just like the floor: cold, hard, and dirty. He’d have to be a little more cautious—until he got out of this cave, at least.