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Rated: E · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2233527
Holiday Short Story Contest Entry September 2020 - 3rd Place
For over a thousand years children have been entering the Caverns on their twentieth birthday, some return with a magical item - stones, gems, seeds, and such - others don't return at all.

Today is Wilcox's birthday.

Charity Marie had hoped the curse would be lifted long before her son’s sojourn into that accursed place. Over a thousand years of young people making the journey into the vast caverns that run through the highest mountain, of anguish suffered by family and friends when loved ones didn’t return, was quite enough.

On the day of their twentieth birthday the child will start to hear the call. As the day progresses the call becomes stronger, insistent. Calling them to the Caverns, to their destiny, whatever that might be.

No one knows why some don’t return, they have never been found, no satisfactory explanation ever given. It is just a fact, some don’t return.

Some parents throughout the years have prevented their children from entering the caverns. The curse drove the children mad and at the first opportunity those children committed suicide. All of them.

The birthday celebrations always took place near one of the three entrances to the caverns.

Charity Marie tried to put on a happy face as the festivities started. She had a difficult time keeping her eyes off of her son. He seemed to be enjoying himself, but every so often he would stop and look at the mountains with his head cocked, his eyes closed.

A few hours into the party, Wilcox vanished, Charity Marie searched in vain. She refused to believe he had gone without a goodbye, a word for his mother. She found her husband, Keaton, standing near the entrance with a few of his friends. “No one saw him leave,” his voice cracking when he saw her.

Charity Marie took Keaton’s hand, they will wait together.

The party continued behind them. Hours went by. They waited.

Footsteps echoed through the opening, the sound bouncing off the surrounding rock.

Charity Marie released the breath she hadn’t realized she'd been holding.

A young man walked out of the Caverns, it wasn't Wilcox. He looked around, bewildered, until the emergence of another propelled him forward and out of the way. Boys and girls poured from the caves. Some were recognized, all looked confused.

Charity Marie and Keaton could only stand and gape at the strange appearances before them. Behind them the party had abruptly ground to a halt when the partiers saw what was happening. Then there were shouts, cheers, even screams as some of the returnees were recognized.
Still no Wilcox.

Charity Marie's cousin, Cubby, emerged from the dark entrance. Twenty-eight years gone and she hasn't aged a day. “Cubby,” she yelled in total disbelief. “Where have you been?! What's happening? Have you seen Wilcox?”

“Charity Marie?! What happened to you?! Where are my Mom and Dad? Who’s Wilcox? I’m not sure what just happened. I went into the cave and I got lost. Then I saw all these people walking like they knew where they were going so I followed them, but I think I’m at the wrong entrance, I don’t see any of my friends here.”

“Cubby, you went into the Caverns twenty-eight years ago!”

“But that’s impossible…”

“Wilcox!” Charity Marie’s scream drowned out Cubby’s response. Her son! He smiled when he saw his parents.

A young woman appeared next to him, her dress a buff colored hide adorned with colorful beads and feathers, black hair hung in a braid to her waist, piercing dark eyes searched the crowd as she stepped into the light.

The woman moved over to a table and stepped up on it. “My people,” her voice carried softly through the crowd, silence followed. “My people, first I must apologize for creating the magic that has filled the Caverns for these many years.

I was practicing my craft, I was young, and, apparently, foolish in my disregard for the consequences. As I infused a bit of magic into a tiger eye making the wearer immune to ill will I was wandering through the caves, tossing the stone aside when I finished. I was young and easily bored. I then found a leaf the winds had carried into the caverns, so I picked it up and gave it the gift of flight and set it on a ledge as I passed by. And so it went.

Carelessly I tossed aside one magical item after another, bestowing gifts that were never given. Until one day, a pearl, now bestowed with great wisdom, was tossed into the air. I had meant to catch it on its way down, but that was not to be. The moment the pearl hit its highest point it froze. For you see, the pearl finished the trap I had inadvertently made for myself. A trap that spanned many tunnels, twists, turns, and dead ends throughout the caverns.

A large pentagram made entirely of magical whatnots. Everything inside that pentagram was suspended in time, frozen for all eternity. I still had some mental powers available to me. After realizing what I had done the only way out I could find involved communications with others. Unfortunately, the only ones that could hear me were those that were on the cusp of adulthood. By having them enter the caves and remove an item I had hoped to reduce the strength of the trap. For some the search took them inside the pentagram and they too became trapped. I am sorry for that.

For all its faults, my plan did eventually work.

You see, as the people started using the magical items, their lives, their bodies, their descendants, also became infused with magic. Constant bombardment of magic created the person that was able to walk through the trap without becoming trapped himself. When he got to where I was he picked up a stick and knocked the pearl out of the air, thereby opening the trap and freeing us all.

Thank you, Wilcox.”

Word count = 998
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