Maybe it feels like being born.
I’m hanging, listless, with only the sound of my heart in my ears, beating with an arrythmia that offers little comfort in this complete absence.
My eyes open and the void remains. Impenetrable darkness. I fancy I see my hands as I bring them in front of my face, but as my hands become still the illusion of movement remains. I see a noise, like the shimmering artifacts of compressed video as my mind grasps for stimulus.
In this sensorial chasm I sense a falling. Inanimate, my arms drift above my head of their own accord, and my chest draws tight as my lower half sinks lazily – but to where? And from where have I come?
A lock of hair brushes my shoulder. Another slides across my forehead. I feel for my scalp, and find the hair dancing. I rub my arms and feel the pert follicles waving. I become aware of the bitter cold pressing in. I’m underwater.
As if prompted by the relevation, I feel a vibration, and then hear, for the want of a better word, a groan.
In this darkness the groan is deafening and prolonged, like the resigned cry of some dying animal stretched to quarter-speed. At once urgent and vacant. The sound vibrates behind my eyes, seems to issue from within. In turn, I cry out of my own accord. My effort sends a scattershot jet of bubbles and in the next breath I pull in the cold, metallic water around me, choking, vomiting dioxide.
Panic, as the immediacy of the danger sets in. The groan continues to emit from somewhere far below and I kick out, trying to make for some exit. In this darkness I can only determine ‘up’ by the forces working counter to drag me down and in a frenzy I work against them. I thrash both legs and the weight on my chest lifts, but is replaced by the ache of starved lungs.
A jolt. I let out an involuntary cry that jettisons any remaining air. Something kills my ascent. There is a pressure on my left foot tethering me to that yawning dark. I try to hoist my knee up with the aid of both hands. the knee creaks, the joints work slowly in the icy water. I strain for an icy hand that binds my foot but find myself unable to reach.
The groan dies away and is replaced with a louder furore – like a horn sounding into the din, calling the unseen to battle. Then moments later…
From what I perceive to be ‘above’, a shaft of rectangular light shimmers in the distance. The light doesn’t penetrate the darkness around or give any context to my location, but its luminescence tears a rift in the pitch black theatre – a hole which continues to widen until I perceive the indefinable shape of something beyond.
The tension in my left leg gives, and with my newfound freedom I drag myself through the pitch black towards the white window. My hands grasp at the water, pushing it behind me with the fervour of a coward fighting for the last remaining space on a lifeboat, casting mother and child overboard in his stead. Through clenched teeth I struggle to put the gaping darkness behind me. My chest burns fiercely as organs scream for air.
As I draw towards the widening gap a second sound, more mechanical, accompanies the infernal chorus from below. The sound of gears turning in large, chunking increments. Each rotation has an immense gravity; a doomsday clock turning through its final seconds.
My wide eyes sting, focused they are on the target ahead. I find myself squinting against reddish flecks in the water that both collide with and race past me, shimmering in the new light. Rust, or flesh, or both.
The ethereal rectangle draws nearer. I feel my resolve waning and my eyes grow heavy. I cast my right arm forward, overextending in the my final desperate attempt, then feel my body come to rest and once again begin to drift down.
My foot makes contact with a surface, flat and smooth. I kick off from it, hurling myself into the light.
An arm clasps my wrist and draws me through to the other side.
Light bleeds through my squinting eyelids, relentless, pure. For a moment this new reality is less tolerable than the last, but then the bellowing of the darkness begins anew. I emit a throaty cough – a moan – as I am pulled up one giant step, then another, through the cold membrane of water and into an even colder chamber.
Through stinging eyes I make out the grime-stained, chipped tiles that adorn the steps and walls as I am hoisted. They call to mind an old subway station, abandoned and fallen into filth and ruin. I strain round, casting my gaze back beneath the water, watching the ruined tile steps that I had just surmounted as they drop precipitously into the murky depths.
I kick away from the edge and collapse shivering and naked, into a shallow pool of tepid dirt water. Through convulsions I breath hoarse cries and cover my head, waiting the nightmare to pass.