Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
A shiver of terror runs through me, and I’m awake, gasping. I lay still, fists clenched in my sweat soaked sheets, shaking from the nightmare. Forcing my eyes open, I confront the darkness. My breath hitches in my chest as my eyes desperately search for something to focus on, but there’s nothing. This is what they call “cave-darkness” my mind tells me. An absence of light so profound your brain goes a little haywire. I don’t know how long I’ve been down here, minutes, months or years. I sleep, I dream, I awaken, I relieve myself, I scrape moss from the floor for nourishment and water from the walls for hydration. Then it’s back to sleep. My bones are sharp, and my skin hangs from my wasted body, like an ill-fitting wet-suit.
Nightmares fill my every sleeping hour, and most of the waking ones as well. My hallucinations have reached the point where I can feel the demons hot breath on my cheek, smell the rotting of the flayed and tortured creatures that hunger for flesh in the dark corners of my cell. I don’t know how I got here. I just awoke one day, still in my bed, in utter black. Normally, I had my fear of the dark under control, but this darkness was different. Not just the absence of light, but the presence of something else, an inky black terror that seeped into my very bones. I wonder if this is Hell, if maybe I was a bad person, or if there had been some kind of twisted mistake. I hoped for so long it was a dream, but can a dream stretch for eternity?
Delirious, I stumble from the damp, reeking bed and crouch beside it, my hand still on it. I had gotten lost once, stumbling around my tiny prison, smashing into the jagged rock of the walls in panic. When I finally fell to the floor I could feel the pain, and the hot, sticky blood that came with each fresh wave of agony. I let unconsciousness take me, falling straight into the night terror’s claws, and when I awoke, I crawled across the floor, groping with my hands until I found the cold metal of the bed-frame. The dream. It’s always the same, and always different, composed of my deepest fears and the darkest of sins. Every situation is new, a fresh horror born of my imagination, but the feeling is the same. The same terror, unnatural, freezing me in place, an unwilling subject of the acts of horror and atrocity committed.
A wall of metal gears, ripping through a town in a spray of gore and rock, killing all before it, then coming for me. A spider, inflated, huge, wrapping me up, when she stops and explodes, showering down smaller spiders, with needle sharp fangs. A child, viciously torn from my body by a madman wielding modified surgical tools. Animals, abused and killed, then revived, eager to visit the sins of those who killed them upon me, not caring where their “pound of flesh” came from. My family, set ablaze, screams tearing through the crackle of fire. Dolls, come to life, with jagged porcelain hands, slicing and tearing, clowns with jagged red mouths and empty eye sockets armed with acid-filled water balloons and garrotes. A parade of fears, and always the helplessness. I wish for oblivion, for this torture to end.
I wonder how I’m not dead already, from starvation, or infection. Sometimes my hallucinations aren’t as bad as dreams, but I can’t shake the feeling that they’re only there to disorient me. To give me false hope, my mother’s voice, telling me to hang on. My father, weeping. My husband telling me to come back to him, and worst of all, my children, calling out for me. At first I tried to search for them, but I was surrounded by rock, a silent crushing tomb. I lay in the bed, fighting sleep, then succumb.
The dream is different, of course. I’m sitting on a hill, lazily flying a kite. My lucid mind is wary, searching for danger, and finding none. I turn me eyes back to the sky and assess the dark clouds. A drop of rain strikes my face, and I flinch, but it is only rain. No acid, no pain where the water struck. Thunder rumbles, and my mind clicks. I turn back to the sky, and try frantically to pull the kite in. The rain makes the kite string strangely slippery, and as I examine it more closely, I realize it is thin copper wire. As I’m staring in horror, the wind abruptly tears the wire I had managed to gather from my hands, and I attempt to let go of the kite completely. Nothing. My fist remains tightly clenched around the wire. A flash, and I tense, but there is no jolt. I stare upward, frozen in place, bracing for the pain. And it hits. A white-hot flare runs through my nerves, searing me from the inside out. Again, and I close my eyes, wishing for death. The last time, I suck in my breath as my body is flooded with the agony, and open my eyes.
A blinding light hovers over my head, and as I try to turn to the side, something stops me and triggers my gag reflex. I retch and spasm as voices around me bark concerned orders at me, and each other. “Stop moving Miss. You’re OK, but you have a tube in. There’s been an accident”. An accident? My mind reels, and I have so many questions, I try to talk around the tube, and gesture frantically with my hands. The heart monitor beeps erratically, and the nurse comes around to my side. “Here sweetie, this will help you sleep. You need rest now.” I struggle harder, my blind panic back. I don’t want to sleep. I can’t bear to dream. What if I open my eyes and I’m back in that cave? Darkness claims me, and for the first time in an eternity, I have a dreamless sleep.
When I open my eyes, the tube is gone. Light is streaming in the window, and despite my aches and pains, I feel great. My husband is sitting next to me, and jumps from his chair upon seeing my open eyes. “I knew you’d come back to us”, he says, wiping tears from his face. The door swings open, and in the doorway stand my parents, grandchildren in tow. I look at my kids, and begin to cry. I never thought I’d see them again. They rush into the room, and jump onto the bed. I feel no pain as I hold them, and my son tells me he loves me, and missed me. My daughter admonishes that if I ever go away again, she’ll run away from home. I laugh, and promise them I’ll always stay with them. My parents smother me with hugs and kisses, then shoo the children out of the room ahead of them, so my husband and I can speak.
I ask him how long I was out, and he tells me “two days”. My mouth opens in shock. I can’t believe that eternity was only 48 hours.He looks me dead in the eyes and tells me “You died. Your hear stopped for a full 3 minutes, and when you were brought back, you were comatose. Then, yesterday, your heart failed again, so the staff resuscitated you again. But this time you woke up!” The horror that fills me is profound. Was it hell? Was it an elaborate dream? I resolve to never tell anyone of that dark, rancid cave where my subconscious was held prisoner.
Life goes on, and I recover almost completely. Physically, it’s like nothing ever happened. The nightmares still occur, but less. It may be that this place exists only in my head, a hell perfectly suited to me, and now that the pathways have opened, I’ll always carry that darkness inside of me.
CREDIT: Danielle Elizabeth
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