end with a ?, bonus for !
It wasn’t fair. Out of the entire world, fates chose to pick me. Well, it didn’t seem fair at the time. I suppose as the days followed the event, I did come to the realization that fairness was an extremely abstract concept in the greater spheres of life.
Still, I struggled with accepting this. I’ve always been stubborn. Once, I even prided myself in how obstinate I could be. Now, I lament it.
If I am to be the representative, then who do I have to be? What do they expect from me?
I thought I would be more frightened to leave my home and the world I’d come to grow, know, and love – but I wasn’t. There was a tinge of apprehension in the back of my throat, but when the gatekeeper asked if I was prepared and willing to accept my role (“finally”, he added wearily), I nodded.
He conjured the swirling light. The vertical disc resembled a vanity mirror. I could almost see my reflection in the sparkling liquid-rays. As I stared, a sinking sensation tugged at me. Coating my body in the light, I slipped through the gate.
There was another gatekeeper, on the other side. She looked at me and smiled knowingly. Without a word, she handed me a carved oak staff and placed a thin crown of ivy upon my head. With the accessories in my possession, she pointed into the distance. I didn’t need to converse to know that was where I had to go.
I began to walk.
Time passed by, so slowly.
I thought it curious that my feet did not hurt. As soon as I had thought it, my soles ached horrendously.
But I kept walking. I didn’t bother to look back. I knew the gate had to be miles and miles away.
After a span of time with aching feet, I eventually came upon a signpost in the desolate and mundane landscape. Scrawled in charcoal on ash planks, symbols I didn’t understand pointed in different directions. Staring at the foreign symbolism, I sighed. Now, my legs hurt. I sit.
Surely, there is no time limit for me to get to where I need to be. I may take my time. My feet and legs demand a rest anyways.
Rubbing the soles in circular formation, thunder claps across the darkening sky. Looking above, thick clouds roll rapidly over. With them, they bring rain. I hear it first, a static washing that makes me look around myself. Then, I see it in the distance. A curtain of water, quickly approaching.
I stand in time for the droplets to start to land upon me. Raising an arm, my staff is no cover for this and I am instantly soaked to the bone as the rain showers down upon me.
When faced with sitting in the rain or walking in the rain, I chose walking and so I started out again. The direction I picked had no bearing on the signpost, but instead, there was only one way that seemed to lead away from the storm clouds. That was the way I was to go.
Lightening flashed, saturating the atmosphere with an electric blue light. The flat ground is muddy, but not too slippery. I am able to walk clearly and it is only now that I realize that my feet had stopped hurting. For this, I am grateful, if not perplexed. Using my staff to balance, I am determined to keep walking until I return to dry sky.
But time passes, so slowly. My hips are sore. By this time, I must be thirsty. Yes, my mouth is dry and I open it a few times to catch the rain. The water does not taste like any rain I have ever had before. I stop walking. Tilting my head back, I open my mouth wider. The droplets seem to join to create a stream of moisture that saturates my throat. It is so refreshing. I am calmed.
Stripping out of my soaked clothing, I decide there is no shame in going forth nude. The wet fabric makes it hard to move and other than the gatekeepers, I have been the only one around. The relief combines with my refreshed throat and all pain dissolves from me. Striding forward, I use the staff to lead me as I continue on my path.
Eventually, the clouds roll away and the rain disappears. The slate-grey sky is clear once more.
I find myself on a cliff, though. There is nowhere else to go. No bridge leads across. Tracing my path along the side of the cliff, I look down. Beneath me, I see infinite length dissolving into a pitch darkness. Across from me, I see the blue haze of the horizon. No other cliff is on the other side. What is this place?
Turning around, I look behind me.
Shock ripples through my bones, exciting my blood and awakening my senses. The landscape that I look at is no longer the landscape that I had walked upon. No longer is the land flat and empty. Instead, it is filled with steep mountains. Each mountain has a narrow point lifting up into the sky where clouds casually drift between them. Looking down, the imprints of my feet are disappearing from the ground.
Staring at the disappearing prints, I realize they are gone and I am staring at nothing. Silence permeates my surroundings.
There seems little else to do, but start walking. As I step forward, my chest beats roughly with anticipation. There is a mountain in my path. Am I meat to climb it? No one ever said I’d have to climb. Why couldn’t they have escorted me to wherever I was supposed to be? That would have been much easier!
Instantly guilty over my resentment, I lower my head. Lowering my eyelids drowsily, for the first time, I feel sleepy. Perhaps, it would be better if I took a quick nap and then continued on. Slowing my steps, I find that despite my drowsiness, I don’t want to stop moving. Something about the cliff behind me still unnerves me and I’d rather get as far away as possible.
Hobbling up the steepening incline, I am thankful for my stave. It digs into the rocky dirt, stabilizing my steps. How long is this mountain path? I look up, to foresee, and survey the vast height of the grey stone. The path curves around the side. I’d have to walk it to find where it led on. Still moving, albeit slowly, I realize that there is no longer silence. A faint whistling wind surrounds me. Underneath the hissing sound, are those harps? I can’t decide, trying to listen closer, but the sound remaining at the same volume regardless.
It remains this way as I approach the curve. The elevation has made me light-headed. Dizzy, at the edge of the mountain pass, I sit down with a groan. I can’t go any further. This is it. The end. Placing my forehead on the palm of my hand, I cry out about the futility of my attempt to get to wherever I’m meant to be. It’s too difficult. I’m naked, alone, and now that I think about it, extremely cold. It’s a wonder that I’m not dead.
I sit here, crying for some time until my eyes burn and my sobs have distorted into a terrifying laughter. I can’t stop the noise. It tears its way out of me with no mercy. Each laugh rips at my insides, scorching them with a dry heat. It hurts so much that it turns to nausea. Moving onto all fours, I lurch forward to cough. The attempt to rid myself of laughter doesn’t work. Instead, I fall to my side in defeat, giggling and chuckling.
It isn’t until I’m out of breath when I finally stop. Gasping for air, I kneel and look out at the landscape of mountains. They are no longer grey. Instead, they gleam a silver-white as if snow has coated them during the time that I was sitting. Despite the snow-like substance, I am warm. Hot, in fact, though not sweating.
Standing, I hold tightly onto my stave and continue on.
The next moment, the curving path leads into a grand cave. Inside the cavern, there are stones of all sorts glistening along the walls, ceiling and floor. Painted symbols glow in certain spots, highlighting the area with a fluorescent violet light. Here, I feel respect or admiration. I can’t decide which. Maybe it’s both.
Walking deeper into the cave, the floor gradually descends downward and the outside disappears from my view. Shadows play along the jagged rocks, created from the glowing symbols. I watch the dance. It strikes me as celebratory.
It feels as if I walk a very long time, but I think very little of it, thus soon enough I come across a lake. Scanning the cave in front of me, there is a narrow land bridge that leads to an island. It is surrounded by the black waters. There are no symbols past the bridge’s entrance.
The first step I take upon the bridge results in a rumble. Rubble descends like rain, landing in the waters and causing a multitude of ripples. Am I not supposed to be here? Fear strikes me through the core. Is this not the path I am meant to take? But it is the only path I see!
I take a hesitant step forward again. The rumbling reoccurs. This time, a giant stalactite stabbed the lake with such ferocity that I spun to see it disappear. It did not create a ripple, like the pebbles before it. Instead, a whirlpool twisted through the shadowy water. It kept widening until I fear that it might swallow the bridge in its brutal attraction. Waves crash against the bridge’s thin siding, spraying me with a warm moisture. The lake is not made of water, this liquid is something else. I can hear it sizzle and hiss as it evaporates off my skin.
About to run the rest of the way, I pause only because I am awed by what I see next. From the whirlpool, a gigantic serpent appears. It has only one eye, though it resembles the eye of a fly, centered on its spade-shaped scalp. Swerving to and fro, it hisses and the water instantly calms around it. Lowering itself down, so that the eye stares right at me, I hear a lilting masculine voice.
“You’ve come for the 3:30 appointment?” The lake serpent asks.
“I, uh,” I stammer, not knowing how to respond to this, “Yes?” I fear what might happen if I say no. I can barely see what color the serpent is, the pink symbols don’t offer enough light to know. Maybe if I knew the color, I’d know whether this creature was dangerous or not. Though, how could it not be?
“They’ll be with you in just a second.” The serpent explains, bobbing its head as it raised itself back up.
“Oh, thank you.” I offer, simply glad to not be eaten. Looking forward, impatience tingles at my fingertips. I look backwards, and feel a sudden, violent pull on my core. I’m starting to move. My feet are floating above the ground. What is going on? Why is this happening? I hurriedly look back to the serpent watching as I head back up the cave, “No, no, no, no…” I panic, “Help me!” I call out in desperation.
Just like that, I stop.
Viscous scales surround me. The serpent has coiled around my body, blocking the way that I had come. For the moment, it seems as if it has stopped. My feet return to the ground. I gasp, “Thank you.”
Guiding me back to the bridge, the serpent says, “It happens.”
“Can I go to the island now?” I ask.
“You can, but they’re in a meeting so you’ll be alone.” He informs me.
“That’s alright,” I assure him, “I’ve been alone plenty anyways.”
With a shrug, the serpent descends back into the waters. I continue along the narrow bridge. Eventually, light disappears and I am in complete darkness. Using my stave to find my way (and not accidentally walk into the lake), I hope that there is some kind of light on the island.
As I continue to walk, I realize… how will I know when I am off the bridge if I cannot see? I stop when I think of this. After a pause, I decisively stab the end of my stave into the sides until I hear the faint sound of water rippling. I am still on the bridge.
I start walking again. After a few more steps, I repeat the motions. Hearing water, I know I am still on the bridge. I continue this process until I no longer hear water and instead, I repeatedly stab dirt.
There are no lights on the island. Moving further in, I feel around with my staff until I find a squat rock and sit on it. It is nearly silent, except for the soft sound of lapping waves.
How much longer are they going to take? I wonder what time it is… then, I realize how silly of a concept that is. What was that serpent talking about?
Feeling foolish, I hug my knees to my chest and let go of my staff. It falls to the ground next to me. Holding onto my elbows, I sigh wearily and rest my head. I am tired. I don’t know how long it’s been.
Part of me wonders if I’m dreaming. Why am I here in the first place? I barely remember anymore. Sliding down the rock, I lay in warm clay-like sand. I stretch my legs and arms, resting on my back and staring into the darkness.
This darkness is not like the others. It is not the same darkness that clung to the cliff. It is not the same as the shadowed clouds, nor the blackened lake.
As I stare at this darkness, I lose my body. No longer can I feel my skin. The quiet noise of the lake has gone.
Where am I?
Who am I?
Why am I here?