This picture is of the Neversink Pit in Alabama. It's fascinated me since the first time I saw it, although I don't think I'd like to try descending into it. You can click on it for a larger view.
It was beautiful.
She stood on the edge, looking downwards, and her breath caught at its splendour. The sunlight only penetrated a short way of course, but it was enough to make out the moss covered rock, the ferns and flowers clinging tenaciously to the sides.
There was a face in the rock. She could see it quite clearly – it looked like a man’s face, a man with shaggy hair and a drooping moustache. The Wise Man of the Depths. The god who could grant dreams . . . or take them away.
A cool breeze, fragrant with the smell of moss and violets, wafted up from below. The god’s breath. She’d heard of this, but never thought to feel it herself. She shivered as she stood there in her thin white robe, unadorned save for the waterfall of long, blond hair.
The breeze circled the mouth of the god, but gently, softly. If she focused her attention, she could almost see the others who had come before her. They stood in a circle around the rim of the mouth of the god, watching and waiting. Were they waiting for her to succeed, or fail?
Such fancies. She shook her head as though to dislodge the worthy thoughts.
Further down in the mouth she could see the mist. It was said the swirling mist below was made up of the souls of former priests and priestesses, that the god swallowed their spirits, mingling them with his own essence before exhaling them again.
Inside the mouth of the god all was green and damp, while just a few yards behind where she stood the land was ravaged by a drought. This is why she was here. To ask the god to save their land.
Taking a deep breath she moved closer to the edge, peering downwards. A tendril of mist rose up, wreathing her in white, and she shivered again.
Only the purest, the truest of believers could hope to see the images in the mist, to determine what must be done to save what was left of the village. It was no small thing to be able to interpret the words of the god.
To be a Voice was a solitary thing. She had been sequestered for days and now stood alone on the rim. It had been a long time since a Voice had been required; she was too young to remember who had been the last to be honoured or what had happened to them.
Best not to think of such things, she told herself firmly. There was nothing to fear, the god was both kind and wise. The village had been turning to him for answers in times of trouble for generations.
She inched forward again, concentrating on the swirls and eddies below. There was a pattern, she was sure of it. There, just below the surface – was that another face she saw?
Stepping forward just another inch her foot slipped and she fell headlong into the god’s mouth. It happened so fast she didn’t even have time to cry out.
The god had spoken.