The man squatted by the cave mouth, half shadowed. He hadn’t eaten in days, but the hunger in his belly stilled in wonder of the strange rite echoing from within. His arms still ached from the long climb through the woods that cleaved to the mountainside. But that seemed like nothing now as he stared and wondered.
Who were these creatures that moved through the shadows with such grace? They were not his people, they were different. Slightly taller maybe. Eyes perhaps more open, behind their shallower brows. They traveled, he knew, unlike his people; who died where they lived. But these others moved through the darkness and the light without settling, restless, following something the man and his people could not see. They were different, in some indefinable way, able to see what was not there, able to know the unknown.
Here at this high cave they met together, in one of their strange gatherings. They came here whenever they passed this way, and the man had seen the scratches and lines they had left on the walls before, some of them old beyond memory. He came here at times, to sit and puzzle at their mystery, the cave touching him in a way he struggled and failed to describe.
Now the man squatted, wide-eyed at the figures in the half-light, inching his way further into the depths of the cave. Then he gasped in fear as a beast rose up before him in the firelight, dancing and stamping at those figures that crooned, and chanted, and banged rocks and blew strange, discordant notes from thin, hollow bones. Horses, in all their whinnying, neighing, prancing life, here, on the walls! How were they here, how had these others conjured them, with what strange knowledge did they make the horses stamp their feet and throw back their long necks and chase each other with joy across the flowing, dripping rock.
A spring of water in a crevice was a watering hole where rhinos fought for the attentions of a mate, their horns clashing, thick necks straining against the other and the stone, so real the man gripped his spear, and shifted his stance ready to throw. And two lions watched, rubbing up one against the other, growling gently, eyes like coals, and the man shrank back from them.
What were the voices saying, what were these dancing figures doing here, what did it all mean? There was no way of telling, but the man watched, all night long, the dancing, and the singing, and the words that echoed through his skull without sense, but, he knew, with something that meant more than he could ever know.
And he saw the animals, and the animal-men, and the beasts of the earth and the woods, and all the greatness of his dying world outside, captured forever in this shadowed cave.
And the man stayed awake as the dancing stopped, and the lights went out, and in the morning the strange figures moved on, with their hollow bones, and their open eyes, and their mystery, and their truths.
And the man hugged himself in the dark and tried to remember what he had seen, tried to capture something to bring back to his people, something that would save them from the ice and the dark that were taking them back to the earth one by one. But he had forgotten, if he had ever known. And the dreams were lost, if ever dreamt.