They wait. Gathered, assembled like parishioners, translucent orbs tethered to rock. How can something so solid be so ethereal?

They watch, eyeless, as we pass. The guide remarks that a small earthquake would pass unnoticed in these depths but a large one would shift the rock around us. They wait as we descend, two-legged insects into the belly of the snake. Shut our headlamps off and stare wide-eyed unseeing into total darkness. They do not fear this kind of dark.

They flow, imperceptibly. Drip gently. They are many shapes and sizes, a few contorted, one fetal. Some embrace. Most stand upright, stoic. Hooded figures join the naked smooth. Do they remain as they died? A last kiss entwined eternal, a parental embrace, a desperate pull that couldn’t save them from the depths?

Do they wait to melt? To flow deeper into the earth’s crevices, to join the tides a waterfall away? Or to evaporate, sublimate, like the mist sparkling in our headlights? To float?

One shudder and the snake’s jaws would close upon us all. Would they welcome me? I feel no hostility in this chill. A plaintiveness, perhaps. A few squid-like souls have wrapped themselves around our dripping wooden railing, begging for a ride. The rest just watch, eyeless, mouthless, waiting.

A professional lifelong learner.