Fiction: The Hermit of Wilson Cave

Cave Hermit

Read More: A Short Interview with Matthew Kabik

This Part is Easy

Eric said the knife we use should be old. Ancient. The oldest I found belongs to my father–he’s had it since he was a kid, and none of us think that’s old enough to do much of anything. Still, the plastic handle is cracked and the main blade is hard to fold out, so maybe it’s old enough. It looks the part, at least. Eric says just so long as we didn’t buy it the day before, it should work. He’s here because he wants to see if it works.

I’m looking at Tim, who is here because he just wants to do something he shouldn’t. As far as doing illegal things, like breaking into the caverns when they are closed is pretty standard in our school, but it’s still illegal and just exciting enough to make a weekend worth talking about on Monday. He always shares the cigarettes his older brother gets for him, so we didn’t think twice about inviting him. He is taking pictures of the fire and telling us that he won’t post any to Instagram until after we leave.

I’m here because I want to see if it all works–but not the same way. I’m here because if this works for one it should work for another, and because the church and the speaking in his room and the swearing didn’t work at all.

Eric saved all of the instructions on his phone in case the reception inside the cavern wasn’t strong enough. The screen paints his face white in the dark, even against the orange-red of the fire.  I take a long drag off of a cigarette and check the time.

He doesn’t hear how much I want to joke around, and I know it’s because he’s taking this seriously. I look at Tim who smiles at me but doesn’t say anything. His face is only lit by the small fire and his cigarette whenever he takes a drag from it. His hair makes him look like he could live in the cavern, like he uses bear fat to keep it from curling away from his head.

Eric says okay and we know he’s going to start. I put my phone in my pocket and think about throwing my cigarette butt into the fire, though it seems disrespectful so I don’t. Eric holds up his phone and says the first part:

We are here to honor William Wilson, who fled to these caves after his sister was wrongfully accused and tragically put to death for the murder of her babies. We are here as friends and to honor your name, William Wilson. We share our blood to show our love.

Eric asks me for the pocket knife and I give it to him. He tells me to put out my hand and I do. I tell him not to mess it up, and he smiles though the smoke from the fire makes it look pained. He says I need to say two names that could be the names of the children Wilson’s sister was charged and hung for killing. We don’t know the names and Eric couldn’t find them online, so we’re just supposed to make them up.

I hold out my hand and he runs the knife along my palm, just under the thumb. It’s too light the first time, so he does it again and my skin opens and he sucks in his breath. I want to draw my hand back instinctively. I can feel the skin separate but not the blood well up from underneath it. Instead of bringing it to my mouth or against my body, I hold my hand above the fire and let my blood drip into the flames.

I say the two names I chose: Isaiah and Daniel. I don’t look away from where my blood is boiling up to see whether Eric or Tim noticed. At this point it doesn’t matter.

He gives the knife back to me, and I wipe off the blade with my pants and cut Tim’s hand. He says Oliver and Robert. Eric says Virginia and Thaddeus.

When we are done, we hold our fingers or palms in our mouths and laugh. We laugh because it should be scary, it should be a sin because blood sacrifice is something you’re not supposed to do. Eric wakes up his phone and reads the next section.

This Part is a Lie

Eric says the next step is to repeat Wilson’s name nineteen times aloud for the nineteen years he spent in the cave, all the while thinking of him and trying to imagine him. Imagining him running his horse dead to deliver the stay of execution. Him arriving at the gallows where his sister already hung, lifeless. His despair and his escape to the cave.

Eric says it’s important that we picture him walking up to the fire and sitting down next to us. He moves closer to Tim to make room. It’s eerie to have the space at the fire. It makes everything feel weird and possible.

William Wilson, William Wilson, William Wilson. I pictured him in a rotting shirt and with wild hair, laying flat on a rock and weeping for his sister.

William Wilson, William Wilson, William Wilson. I imagined him startling awake at the noise of a wolf sniffing him out and running away when he yells at it.

William Wilson, William Wilson, William Wilson. I remembered how quiet it was at the funeral. How my mother couldn’t look at my face for weeks.

William Wilson, William Wilson, William Wilson. I imagined his sweater and his dirty shoes and his laugh. I repeat the last conversation we had before it happened.

William Wilson, William Wilson, William Wilson. The bruises we gave each other as kids, the broken arm I was ashamed of in school––such a tiny bit of pain compared to everything else. The way my teachers let me get away with anything, because why not.

William Wilson, William Wilson, William Wilson, William Wilson.

When we finish I hear the echo of Wilson’s name around us, and the ceremony seems completely real, then. I want to leave the cavern because it’s not a joke, really, even though I didn’t want it to be a joke anyway. Eric waits for the echo to stop before saying the next part: […]


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Matthew Kabik is the editor in chief of Third Point Press. He earned his MFA from Arcadia University and lives in Lancaster PA. His work appears in Structo Lit Mag, Duende, Pithead Chapel, and Luna Luna Mag, among others. Follow him on Twitter @mlkabik or visit his website for a complete pub listing: www.matchstickcircus.com.