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Living in the Dark, Staring at the Sun

Take the final step

By Kristen SladePublished 2 years ago 12 min read

I’d never been more afraid. No sounds of pursuit, and a light at the end of the tunnel. Yet I was terrified, nearly petrified. Nearly scared enough to turn around and run back the way I’d come, back to that awful place of filth and delayed, slow death. At least I knew what was back there. I’d been surviving it for years.

But I couldn’t go back. I’d been surviving, yes, but I couldn’t fool myself into believing it would last. Every breath of toxic air sucked a little more life out of me. The only way was forward. But every step was dread, my feet catching on invisible, frightening obstacles. Bones? Traps? Spikes? Rats? And the light never grew any closer. It was still just a pinprick in the distance. Could I make it before I gave out from the pain, fear, and exhaustion? Was it even worth trying?

I took another agonizing step forward. Too tired to run. Barely enough strength to drag one foot forward and then the other. That light was my only hope, but I didn’t think I could make it.

Step…drag…pause…step…step…leaned against the wall. Scraped my hand on something that tore the skin. Tears sprung to my eyes. I would’ve thought those were all dried out, but somehow I always found more.

I slid to the floor, despair closing like a cold, steel fist over my heart, squeezing the life out of my muscles and making me gasp for breath. I couldn’t bring myself to consider what I might be sitting on. Things jabbed at me, and something slick and wet coated my back and legs. I barely had the energy to care.

I didn’t know how long I sat that way, eyes squeezed shut, before the ringing in my ears cleared and my breathing normalized. I blinked several times, suddenly terrified that the light had disappeared. But no, there it was, that tiny pinprick in the distance. I thought I was imagining it for a moment. It was so small, so easy to discount. But it was also the only thing that looked different from the blackness. Miniscule as it was, in the pitch dark of the endless tunnel, it still stood out like a flower in the desert. I was betting everything on that pinprick. That frail hope that maybe-maybe-I could escape.

I used the wall to stand, pulling myself shakily to my feet. My hands brushed something slimy and writhing and I instinctively gagged and ripped my hand away. I stumbled backwards, nearly tripping as my heel clipped something. I closed my eyes again and forced myself to take a few deep breaths. Opening my eyes, I slid one foot forward slowly across the floor towards the light. I continued using this shuffling method, trying to avoid tripping over unseeable objects. Progress was painfully slow. No, it seemed non-existent. I wasn’t going anywhere. My feet were moving, but the ground just extended forward with every step, keeping me ever separate from the light.

Eventually, I had to stop after what seemed like hours of sliding across wet, rough, obstacle laden ground. I stared blankly out towards a tiny dot. Why was I staring at that? What was I doing here? I couldn’t remember. I looked over my shoulder. There was something back there, something safe. No…maybe not. Something familiar. Why was I going away from it? I should go back.

I leaned heavily against the wall, exhausted.

Except there was no wall.

I stumbled to the side to catch myself as my shoulder met no resistance against the expected side of the tunnel. With vague curiosity, I felt out into the empty, dark air. A little alcove was set into the tunnel. It felt like it was sucking me in, beckoning me to come and take respite. And I was so tired.

I walked in like a sleep-walker, forgetting my cautious gait and floating through the black, invisible entrance. The darkness wrapped around me like a blanket, embracing me in its tendrils like a lost lover. Or a master? A spider’s web. My brain slid inside my head, thoughts blurring into an unravelable tangle. I stood, swaying slightly.

The voices appeared. Just whispers, rasps. Words that twisted into my head until I couldn’t separate them from my own thoughts. They dug into me like claws, no, like needles, tipped with drugs meant to numb and sedate. Where was my body? Who was I? Everything hurt, but I couldn’t feel a thing.

I didn’t know when I sat down. I didn't notice until I felt the slick, slimy tentacles slipping over my legs, around my waist. I shuddered, but couldn’t move. It was a painfully blissful paralysis. I thought that maybe I should escape, but that meant leaving the voices. And I was so painfully, hopelessly alone. The voices were all that was left. They were me…

I was fading. Just another piece of the darkness. No body. No self. I would be a whisper, like the ones inside my head.

Something poked at me, trying to pierce the whispers and pry into my already saturated brain. It slid off like oil on water, ejected like an electron from a full system. But the something didn’t stop. It kept pushing, painful and buzzing and irritating. I felt a dull anger rising. Why couldn’t it just let me be?

A painful popping, a sudden shift in equilibrium. A single tendril of darkness snapped free, letting the intrusive something piece my skin. I gasped, a sliver of icy clarity worming through my veins. This wasn’t where I needed to be. I was forgetting something. Something was wrong.

The light. I couldn’t see the light.

Panic gripped me, my chest tightened. I COULDN’T SEE THE LIGHT.

The something seemed to tug at me. I could feel it more clearly now. I knew it from somewhere. It was a memory I could barely grasp, barely comprehend. A brush of a hand, the whisper of a cool breeze, a ray of sunlight. It beckoned me to follow, and I did, with staggering, broken steps. All the while, hissing whispers begged me back, warning of pain, fear, and uncertainty ahead. It promised a return to numbness. I cried as I walked away, wishing I could turn back and be wrapped in a dark embrace, the only embrace I could find anymore.

The pinpoint of light appeared, and I let out a long breath. My heart leapt with the briefest flicker of hope. Light. Go to the light.

Days passed. Years. Decades. Eons. I couldn’t tell. My eyes were dry and blurry, my lips cracked and bleeding. I often found myself turned around, staring into the darkness with something akin to longing. The further I walked, the more I grew to hate that darkness. Yet part of me still wanted to go back. Back to where I didn’t have to fight. To where I knew what to expect. Where I could at least pretend I was fine.

There was no pretending now. I was falling apart. If I didn’t reach that light, it was all over. If the light didn’t really exist…

Then this was all for nothing. And I was just a fool.

Space in the tunnel was warped. Time meant nothing. I had but to turn around to find the dark place I was trying to escape. A few steps back, and it was as if I had stepped back through ages and miles of travel. When I turned back to the light, it was a pinprick again. But each time, I managed to get a little closer. Sometimes I could only stand still and stare at the light. It took all the willpower I had just to not turn around. I would stare at that light, trying to focus only on the hope, the possibility, it represented.

The voices began. Not raspy whispers, but real voices. Saying words. Saying my name. MY NAME. I had a name.

The light grew bigger. And then I realized it. I could see the floor. Dimly. Rocks, glints of trash and refuse, glittering as gloriously as gold. And I laughed. It was a foreign, alien sound. The tunnel grew wider, showing signs of use by other people. People. Real humans, not just hissing in my mind.

And then I saw them. Wandering around me, some towards the light, some into the dark. I could one woman’s arm as she walked past. She turned to me with cold, empty eyes.

“Don’t go,” I whispered. She didn’t seem to hear me. She slipped her arm free and kept walking. I felt the tears start to burn my eyes, and a sob broke from my throat. But I let her go and move towards the light, finally able to see my own feet touching the ground.

Hope flooded my veins, making my whole body feel like I’d been infused with pure sunlight. I felt as though I could run straight out of the cave, out into the sun, out into the embrace of whoever was calling my name…

I pressed onwards, enthralled with the increasing visibility around me. The tugging from behind grew ever weaker as I moved forward. Why had I ever wanted to return? What appeal was there in the darkness?

And then…it was there. The mouth of the cave. Light, beauty, color. And people. People I knew, as if from another life. They squinted into the darkness, calling my name, still unable to see them. Seeing them, hearing their voices, I knew that they were the mysterious something that had led me back to the light so many times when I’d nearly given up. I took a step forward, ready to rush into their arms.

But I’d left them. So long ago, I’d chosen to enter this cave. They’d begged me not to. I’d broken their hearts. I didn’t deserve them. They didn’t deserve to have to take care of me, covered with the stains and scars from my time spent in the endless tunnels.

I stayed in the mouth of the cave, watching them. Painful emotions swelled, warring with the hope and joy I’d been feeling moments before. It was sharp and harsh, like a blow to the gut that knocked my breath away. For so long, I’d experienced nothing more than numbness interrupted by a sense of dull ache for something more. This inundation of emotion nearly sent me to my knees.

I sat down slowly, staring out the mouth of the cave. This wasn’t a bad place, really. I could stay right here and be perfectly fine. I had light. I had people around me. I could see beauty, even feel residual warmth from the sun. It was safe here.

I let myself lay back on the cool, smooth ground. Nothing sharp stabbed me, nothing slimy tried to worm its way into my clothing. Safe.

Days passed. Days of living in the dark, staring at the sun. Watching people I loved play and laugh and dance and talk, often turning towards the cave, as if they could sense me there. I smiled at them, even though they couldn’t see it. Sometimes they seemed to smile back.

But then I started to see it again. I’d forgotten about it, stuck in the pitch black of the tunnels. I’d forgotten what had driven me into the cave in the first place.

It crept in around the edges of my vision, pressing down on the light like a blanket of solid fog. The darkness cast an eerie glow over the beautiful scene outside the cave. It left me feeling petrified in fear, all sane thoughts fleeing. That fog, that strange, oppressive force, was pain, fear, confusion, and uncertainty. It was despair incarnate.

I tried to ignore it. I tried to deny it. I wouldn’t let that darkness dispel the light I had found. Maybe eventually I would forget it was there. I would get used to it, and it would just seem normal.

But it didn’t. The longer I stared at it, the more it pushed down on my soul.

I took my first step of retreat. Back towards the darkness, where I wouldn’t be able to see the hazy fog ruining the beauty of the world outside the cave. It was like a cool breath of relief.

But it didn’t last. I had to take more steps back, each step another brief reprieve, each step taking me deeper into the darkness. It was frightening, but I couldn’t stand to face that fog. I fled like an animal in the face of a hurricane.

Before I knew it, the light was nothing but a distant speck. And I could hear the voices again. Pulling at me, caressing me with their intoxicating numbness. I fell into them, letting them soothe away the despair and pain in my mind.

And once again, I disappeared. Time passed in a haze of moments blurred together into one, an extended millisecond of frozen infinity. My mind drifted along sluggishly, like the water deep below the frozen top of a lake. All the while, I disintegrated. I shed pieces of myself like snake skin, losing memories, physical substance, knowledge. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. Nothing but remaining away from the pain that would come if I tried to fight the voices.

It was a sudden, surreal moment when I realized I was crying. I had been crying the whole time. And my body-what was left-hurt with a dull, throbbing ache. I had become so accustomed to it that it was odd I noticed it at all.

A small voice inside of me, perhaps the last piece of me that was still separate from the voices, asked, “Why am I here, if I still hurt? Didn’t I come to escape pain?”

But I was too weak to move now. There was no way for me to escape. No way for me to break out of the tendrils. No, they had become chains.

A sob broke free from my throat. Using my last, final breath of strength, I whispered a single word, “Help.”

Distantly, I felt more than heard the response. Hold on. Help is coming.

It felt like another eternity passed. I simply lay in place, not even enough strength to pull myself a single inch to the right or left. I couldn’t even lift my head to see which direction the light was in.

It was like a flash of lightning, painful but brilliant and illuminating, when they came. They wore suits and masks, protecting their bodies and minds from the voices and the chains. They carried flashlights to dispel the darkness. They picked me up, supporting me on each side, and began pulling me forward towards the speck of light. I let them drag me, a piece of me wishing I could lash out, wanting to say I could walk on my own. The rest of me was just too tired. And I knew that, in truth, I couldn’t walk on my own. My legs were too weak.

They took turns carrying me. Slowly, I regained strength. At first, all I could do was raise my head enough to see the light ahead. Then I could walk a few steps while leaning against someone. Then I could walk for longer. And longer. A few times I stopped, declaring I was simply too tired to go on. That’s when they would carry me again.

Once again, we were at the mouth of the cave. My body and mind were sharp and clear. I stared out, and I saw the fog of despair coating the world. But I also saw the light, the beauty. There was darkness behind me too, but no light. The only place there was light was outside the cave.

I stepped out of the cave. My rescuers came with me. I looked around, searching, suddenly desperate.

Where were they? They had been here, waiting for me, last time. But this time, I saw only strangers.

Someone placed a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see one of my rescuers, mask removed. The rest had removed their masks as well. Some were strangers, the ones who had patched up my scrapes and nourished me back to health in the cave. But the rest…the rest I knew. They were my loved ones.

“You found me,” I whispered. “Even though I abandoned you.”

“We would have come immediately,” they said. “You just had to let us. We couldn’t help you until you let us in.”

Sometimes I pass by that cave. Or some other cave. Even a dark alleyway. Sometimes, I can still hear those voices. But they have no appeal for me anymore. There is a dark haze around me, but I can dispel the despair. I don’t need to run from it. When I face the fog, it has no more power over me. And those I love are there for me when I am weak.

healing

About the Creator

Kristen Slade

Hey all! I am a graduate from BYU in Provo with a masters in PE. I have a passion for the outdoors, physical activity, sports, and health, but I also love writing! I love my parents and all eleven of my siblings!

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    Kristen SladeWritten by Kristen Slade

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