Hard Life in a Hole
|Until this moment, the darkness had been a blessing, an avenue to solace. It allowed him to gather himself, to gather his strength and his wits, and it prompted him simply to consider … everything … in peace. What he should do. What he could do. Where he might go. Who he actually was. How he had come to be. All questions for which, no matter how hard he wracked his brain, he could find no specific answer, no honest satisfaction.
This darkness left him uneasy. It was overwhelming, both thick and heavy, a manifestation of featureless shade in every direction. There was no sound. Nothing moved. Previously the darkness brought with it a sense of direction and of balance, but this was blackness, a nothingness ripe with desperation. Panic and confusion welled within him. This darkness was an unseen, all encompassing, maze from which he feared he might never emerge.
He pulled his rags tightly around himself and curled into a ball against the cold, unforgiving floor. He was lost. He lay still and remembered.
He’d lumbered along for hours, his prize upon his shoulder, plodding deeper and deeper into the forest.
Until he’d come upon the fallen tree at the base of the ridge. Massive. The substantial size of the thing, both its height and its length, forced him abruptly to pull up and to stare, silently slack-jawed.
Some deeply rooted recognition, a dormant presence within him, sat up in his mind and mumbled in a low voice the tree had no business being there.
On it’s side it lay, as high as a house, with red tinted bark with great chunks sloughing off here and there, in sections wide as his hands. He paced its length for minutes before rounding its end and encountering a wall of dislodged roots upturned toward the sky. The bowl it’d left when it’d toppled was a great gouge ripped out of the earth, wide enough and deep enough for him to walk into until its edge was over his head, at its deepest point.
As he’d stood there staring up at its roots, a calmness overtook him. He’d listened for the stirring fauna as dusk descended around him. He’d gazed at the brightening stars between the forest’s canopy high overhead.
He traced a circle with his toe in the soft earth beneath his feet and took in the scents of soil and rotting wood all around.
He relaxed and let down his guard. Gingerly, he shrugged the dead deer off his shoulder and placed the carcass upon the ground. He squatted over it in the oncoming, lengthening gloam.
Unfortunate creature true to grace even after its passing. So beautiful, so simple, so soft. Nonthreatening.
A twinge of anger gave way to sadness.
He stroked its fur, patted it, and considered what he should do.
At once, the sadness parted like a veil, and his a gaze locked upon the creature’s large, black eye. Its milky whiteness not so prevalent in the gathering night. Kindness radiated from its blank stare. Almost soothing.
He’d known another sort of … wait …
“Known” another … “known” …
A mental image flashed across his mind, seemed to hang in the air before him.
Not one eye … but two eyes. Those two huge eyes, gleaming emeralds searching, locking on and penetrating him to his essence. They scoured, analyzed, assessed, and scrutinized … him. They wanted … something. They needed … Needed him to do something. Needed something from him. He … he … he …
He shook his head, willing the eyes away, but they remained. They would not be denied.
… he … he … owed …
His felt his knees buckle, clapped his hands over his face.
His weight cracked down hard onto the ground with a snarl. He held his head tight, felt a pressure rising … and pain. His temples began to throb.
Last thing he remembered before the darkness claimed him, he’d balled a free hand into a fist and brought it down against the ground. The force of the blow caused loose detritus in the hole to jump. The overhanging roots twitched and rustled.
The earth beneath him cracked. And he was falling.
He fell for what seemed an eternity through a whistling blackness. He let out a wail, a fretful noise and pitiful.
Until his body slammed into something hard with a smack, and he lay still.
Darkness all around. Too dark.
It was quiet. Too quiet. The air was stale, slightly oily. There seemed almost a weight to it.
And it was cold. He felt cold. Felt a cold wash across his lips.
He felt it. Across his lips.
Rags rustled within the blackness as he raised fingers to his mouth. He could feel his lips. He could feel pressure in his hand as his fingers met his face, which was odd all on its own, but his lips could feel fingertips, recognized as fingertips. They were blunt, dull. They were cold, with the chill in the air, but they were cold on their own as well.
Seemed wrong. Something was off.
He rolled onto his side, propped himself upon an elbow and reached upward. No contact. Nothing there. Just emptiness.
He raised himself onto one knee, extended his hand, straining into the black. Still nothing.
Gathering the rags around his waist, he pushed himself to his feet, fighting vertigo racing along the length of his spine. He stood hunched, let loose material fall, and stretched his arms for balance. Pitched forward, took a step, recoiled. He flailed, his hands turning quick circles against the surrounding void.
His feet shuffled in dirt. He tasted dust.
Tasted it. That was new.
Once he’d gained his balance, he stood hunched and still for many moments. He listened to the darkness but received nothing in return.
Slowly, he stood upright and, extending his arms, turned a gradual circle. Still nothing. He could sense nothing, feel nothing, hear nothing. Internal sensations welled. Frantic sensations. He seemed so desperately alone. Lost. As if he were the last sentient being, the ONLY sentient being, left anywhere. A distinct hopelessness overcame him. He started to panic, felt his eyes widening. Straining against the black.
Nothing there. Nothing anywhere. No way out. Can’t …
He would gather. Needed to gather himself. Couldn’t let the … emptiness …
… the forever …. emptiness … nothingness … take hold … again …
Slowly, he bent and lowered himself to the floor. He was nearing his wits end.
A slight gust. A mere nothing of a breath blown. A breeze. A steady murmur of current amidst stagnation. A barest, gentle draft … passed across his lips as he turned, rags rustling, and reached out before himself on all fours.
And then it was gone. He froze, took a moment to consider and pivoted back slightly until he felt the telltale kiss once again upon his lips.
The unforgiving blackness hung heavy like an impenetrable curtain. But this minute sensation. While next to nothing, within nothing. And all alone. But certainly, enshrouded in nothing, this small something was the way.
This barest, slightest, passing kiss.
Was his salvation.
He began to crawl.