In the moments before panic set in, through time and memory, Violet's entire life flashed before her eyes.
Mostly she recalled the forest beyond the wooded hillside behind her grandfather's house where she'd loved to play. There were natural springs galore and lots of brooks and streams. Curiosities abounded in those woods. That's where she'd found it.
After a long summer day of fishing and catching crawdads in that soggy old bottom, she'd been headed back toward home, back toward civilization. That day she'd noticed the cave that ran deep into the side of the hill, not for the first time; but that day it really sparked something in her imagination. She'd always wondered what was in that cave. Maybe she'd have a look for herself; what could it hurt?
Violet ran through the swampy canopy and up the hill, right up to the mouth of the cave. She leaned down, squinting, and peered inside, trying to get a better look. There was a light earthy smell filling the air around the entrance, as if the cave itself were eternally exhaling ever so slowly. She paused here, trying to decide whether to press on.
She didn't even really know what kind of cave it was. Was it a naturally occurring formation? Her grandfather had told some terrible tales about that cave. Almost every week after Sunday dinner, he would tell stories to her and all of her cousins of his childhood adventures. He told of how he and his brothers had explored the depths of the cave, searching for treasures and ancient legends. And how never again had they dared go in it, not since the day they'd found what they were looking for. "Wolves and spirits in that old cave," he'd said. "And always guarding it, they are."
She had never known whether he was genuine or if he was telling tall tales to dissuade the kids from getting into any real trouble playing in the cave. She'd played in these woods for years, explored every stream, every hollowed out log. But she had never gone inside the cave. Violet really knew no fear in these woods, except for that cave.
Before she realized it, she was inside.
"Hello?" she spoke feebly, knowing it was a stupid thing to say. If there was anybody or anything waiting for her in here, it probably wasn't going to ruin the surprise with a response.
Slowly, her eyes began to adjust to the low light. She stepped along an old craggy path, looking and listening for signs of life; signs of danger. She was feeling a little uneasy. As she walked, she peered around into the depths, but couldn't make out much. She listened intently to the whispers coming from deep within the earth. There was the faintest sound coming from below. Not so much a whistle, but a soft low howl. It sounded like –
Like a wolf.
It had to be the wind. Yes, the wind; lightly dancing through the cave and back out again with the faintest whisper. Violet's fears weren't eased much by her attempt to calm herself.
She continued on, holding her breath so that her ears would be alert to even the faintest sound. Every few minutes she would fancy she saw some quick hint of movement from the corner of her eye. She would turn violently and alertly to face the unknown thing, and then see nothing. Only shadows.
As Violet pressed on, she became aware of a thin sheen of sweat over her entire body, and then goosebumps that served only to exacerbate the feeling of dread. Dread was becoming a sickening knot in her gut.
She decided to turn back. Her vivid visualizations of her grandfather's stories flickered through her mind, like an old film strip. Her gut told her to get out of there. She turned around toward the cave entrance, now some hundred yards away. Had she really walked this far? Her nervousness had carried her deep into the cave. And now her panic jolted her. She needed to run. In an instant, flight mode took over her body, and she began to run swiftly toward the exit.
After only ten yards, Violet tripped on her own feet in her excitement. She fell to the cave floor and landed on her back, slamming her head against the limestone floor. She'd had the wind knocked out of her. She had to collect herself. She could feel her blood pounding in her temples. She took several slow, deep breaths and began to calm down. Her heart began to slow into a normal rhythm as she lay on the floor, staring at the cavernous roof above. Her night vision was with her now. She could make out a lot more than before. Her irrational fear and panic began to subside, as she sat up and started looking around.
There was enough light coming from the cave entrance to illuminate a vast area inside. This cave was massive! The limestone walls spread out before her, and in every direction, then trickled off into the darkness; into the farthest corners and depths where the light would not reach. It looked to Violet like some vast ancient, yet featureless, cathedral.
There sure wasn't much to see down here other than limestone stalactites. Except—
Down the steep incline off to her side, at what appeared to be the floor of a deeper section, and likely five-hundred yards away, there was the tiniest pinpoint of light. It appeared to emanate from the ground itself. Possibly a reflection? With her panic averted and her interest piqued, she decided to try and get a better look.
Violet began to climb down the rocky embankment, careful of the placement of each and every step. Not quite careful enough though, as about halfway down, she lost her footing and went sliding down the rock, and then literally took a tumble, rolling to a stop at the base of the incline.
After another moment regaining her breath, she stood up and dusted herself off; still a little disoriented from the fall. She hadn't been ready for that. But at least she was down here now. And it was nearly pitch black; she hadn't been ready for that either. The only light that she could make out was the faintest blue glow from the cave entrance, now far above; and this silvery pinpoint of light, fairly bright, which she guessed to be about another hundred yards away.
She approached it with caution. She fumbled through the darkness, the light becoming stronger and her steps becoming surer as she approached the source of silver light. At thirty yards the light flickered like some metallic object glinting in the distance. As she came upon it, she began to realize that that's exactly what it was.
It was lying there, half buried in the dust of the cave floor. It appeared to be a small, round, polished piece of pewter. She picked it up and examined it closely. About the size of a coin it was, but triply as thick. It perhaps once was engraved or stamped on one side, but if so the detail had worn and faded long ago. The other side was utterly smooth and polished without as much as a single flaw. Yes, it looked like a blending of pewter and alabaster, polished to a brilliant shine. But it cast the oddest reflections, tinged in blue.
"How did this get into a cave in the woods," Violet thought, still staring dumbfounded at the stone. After a few moments she managed to break her gaze, returning to the natural world. She was in a cave. It would be dark soon. She decided to head home, and placed the stone in her jeans pocket.
Instantly darkness fell on the cave. The light had been coming from the stone itself. She retrieved it and again the cave came alive with a silvery glow. Still a little taken aback, Violet decided to use the stone as a sort of lantern; she headed back toward the cave entrance. With great difficulty, she made the climb back up the rocky slope, and then up the path and into the overwhelming brightness of the forest.
Violet had bounded through the swamp, flitting between the old oak trees like the summer breeze, and up the hill into her grandfather's yard. So proud she was, wanting to show her grandfather what she'd found in his old cave.
When she reached the house, she ran straight back to the dining room where she knew he'd be. Only he wasn't. His body was there, slumped over in the chair lifeless, but he wasn't there at all.
A large, black wolf stood on the dining table, hovering over her grandfather's body, blood still dripping from its mouth. It turned instantly to face Violet, darting its menacing green eyes up and down her body, sizing her up. And then it spoke, in the voice of a man.
"Where is the stone? The silver stone; this man who lies dead before me, he is the one who stole it before, but it isn't with him now. Where is it? Do you have it? You do. I can see it in your eyes. You'll not have it for long."
In the moments before panic set in, Violet's reality melted away instantly as her mind went deep into its own cave, spiraling through time and memory. She wasn't even aware of it when the wolf tore out her throat.