I lie there, flat on my back, sore and disoriented. Blinking against the darkness, I begin to comprehend my surroundings but make no attempts to move yet, growing accustomed to the dull ache in my muscles. I've fallen into some sort of chasm, a deep and narrow gorge of essentially nothing but gravel and an inexplicable cold draft. Sheer rock faces rise up on either side of me, impressive yet unthreatening.
Though I struggle for a while, my memory fails me and I am unsuccessful in recalling how I got here; I only remember the fall. Even that seems so long ago, like the vague memory of a dream after waking. The rush of wind as I plummeted into the unknown, emotionlessly accepting the situation as inevitable, is the only tangible part of the experience my mind can cling on to. Not even my collision with the bottom, which logically should have killed me, remains fresh in my consciousness.
Still, I do not move, unable to battle my apathy and seeming sense of defeat. I may as well just lie there and wait. What ought I to be waiting for though? To be saved? To die? I dismiss this as trivial and carry on waiting. The pain remains with me, an unwelcome but tolerable companion, neither ebbing nor worsening. It is the kind of pain you could have your whole life and never have anyone realise unless you told them. Perhaps it will be with me my whole life, however long that may be.
I stare upwards into nothing. Where did I fall from? Why don't I care? Am I really just going to lie there and not make any attempt to escape this wretched place? It's not even all that wretched; just lonely and dark, and cold. Even if I can get out, I don't even know that where I end up will be any better. If only I could remember what it was like before; if only I cared enough to try.
Days pass, or maybe minutes. Life is constant - I don't grow tired or hungry, I don't move; I barely think. I should be confused by that but all emotion seems to have left me, somehow. The breeze is constant, like a low-powered fan, the coldness not quite harsh enough to evoke a reaction. Such was everything in my life now - irritating to just short of the point of wanting to do anything about it. Why won't I even try to remember?
There's no one else there, as far as I can make out. In fact, there are probably hundreds of people down there just like me, still and noiseless in the dark, painful from their fall. Maybe they remember where they fell from. I should ask them but I won’t; it won’t help. I am resolved, it seems, to wait. I may as well be waiting on a bus that doesn’t exist and that, even if it did, wouldn’t take me anywhere. In a way, I know that, but still I wait.
A rare fleeting thought occurs to me, taking me by surprise. Have I died already? Is what I’m waiting on not death but life? That would make sense and explain why I don’t remember anything - people rarely remember their former lives. The likelihood is that I won’t remember this place once I leave it either. That must be it, I tell myself, and I wait, sure that that is the only right thing to do. Content in my temporary misery, death goes on; nothing continues and I stare, aching all over.
It’s different now. My mind is gaining momentum since that chance thought and the stillness is growing uncomfortable. I start to doubt my waiting strategy; I start to worry that my next life isn’t necessarily a given but something I need to find, or earn. The cogs of my mind work away in this manner, driving me to unease and frustration, the strongest emotion I’ve yet felt. The pain intensifies, surging through my body, gathering in my head until it’s feels as though it may burst. A groan, the first noise I’ve yet heard, escapes me, my despair echoing tauntingly around me. I don’t want to be there, lying on the floor; I don’t want to merely be. I need to leave but where can I go?
Wincing, I slowly begin to move, dragging myself into a sitting position. My head pulsates uncontrollably, blurring my already strained vision in an attempt to resist my self-correction. No, I won’t let it defeat me; I will get out of this place no matter how painful it is. In spite of this determination, however, the pain intensifies with every movement, my head now near bursting and my limbs throbbing aggressively, themselves determined to stunt my progress.
What was a groan become a short, anguished scream as I pull myself to my feet and stand shakily in the darkness, leaning heavily against the rock wall lest I fall once again. My body is burning with the strain of simply standing and I feel as though I may pass out at any moment, but I can’t. I have to find the way out of here and get back to where I used to be because, somehow, I know that it’s better.
A flash of a memory crosses my mind, too briefly to discern details. There was light, and air, and laughter. Even as I think the word “laughter”, I cannot now recall what it sounds like, hard as my enfeebled brain tries. The memory is gone, leaving only its shadow to simultaneously taunt and motivate me. If I can remember where I came from, I can get back. This flawed logic is enough to push me to take those first steps, to begin my foray deeper into the unknown in search of something I’m not even sure exists.
Each agonising step drains more of my life from me; my body feels heavy, as though gravity itself is determined to impede me. Still I go on, mentally battling persistent doubts and physically battling some intangible resistance to my advance. Several hours, one might guess, of sluggish progress along the floor of this seemingly infinite crevasse afford me no further hope that I might yet escape this hell. I decide to rest after twenty more steps despite my fear of being unable to continue thereafter.
Counting proves much more of a challenge than I had anticipated; some number seem to have departed from my brain altogether. On what I have judged as best I can is my nineteenth step, my left foot catches on something and I stumble, only just saving myself from a fall. Looking down, I see the body of young woman, flat on her back and completely still, staring unblinkingly upwards. She does not acknowledge that I have just kicked her shoulder or, indeed, my presence. My head throbs violently but the pain brings with it an image, a memory, of people smiling, enjoying the freedom of the “other” place. This image remains much longer than the previous but the energy I expend in retaining it is exhausting; it vanishes eventually but takes with it much of the pain in my extremities, as though lifting a weight, and leaves a warm feeling in its wake.
A thought, my clearest since I arose, comes to me and I experience a sensation for which there is no name is this forsaken place but which affirms that I do not belong here. In that instant, I am not only hopeful of escape, I am absolutely certain of it. Directly above where the woman lay, a seam of light was apparent. She had fallen from there which meant it was very likely that other people were up there, perhaps near the edge and close to falling themselves. These people will help me, if only I ask.
“Help!” I call out, my disused voice unnervingly clear, “I want to get out of here!” The waves bounce from wall to wall, growing higher and higher until they break out into the open. I remember the grass of the wide open expanse, and how the people would run and sing and laugh - I hear the laughter and I smile. A silhouette appears above me; I’m going to get out.
The woman on the ground must see the figure but she still does not respond. The mysterious figure, as though reading my mind, yells down, “She cannot come; she does not want to. Only you can be rescued at this time.” His voice is almost mechanical and his words sound scripted. A rope appears before me which I eagerly grab and tie around my waist. Tears of joy flow down my face from nothing more than the knowledge that my time in this horrible place is nearly at an end.
Slowly I start the ascent. It’s going to take a very long time and it’s going to be unfathomably difficult, but I’m on my way and I will return the place which now becomes more vivid in my mind each moment. With pity I gaze back at the poor woman I have to leave behind. “She does not want to.” These words replay in my mind. I do want to and that’s why I can. I know her pain so, when she’s ready, I’ll be “up top”, with a rope.