~ a short story
When I awoke, the darkness overwhelmed.
Laying down on a hardened surface etching itself into the back of my skull, my memory was a void. An uncanny sense that I was more out of place than I’d ever been was fast displaced by a heart-gripping burden of dread. A fetid and unswerving smell, unique in my experience, flooded into my nose. I could not place it, and its presence sent my unconscious into overdrive. Adrenaline flowed through me, my blood pulsed with flight and fight simultaneously. I was nowhere I’d ever been before, of that I was certain. My breath restarted in a panic. My eyes were open, and had been for more than a few moments, but they saw nothing. Nothing but abyssal, soul-penetrating darkness weighed around me. I slapped my hands onto my chest, which was barren, in order to confirm its existence. My body was here, naked, neither warm nor cold, it was here. My hands and feet extended in their places, to the edges of where they could go. They slammed against more hard walls. Wooden. I could hear the creaking, but there was little give. I raised myself from my laying position fast and hard, wanting to arise from out of this darkness as quickly as possible. My forehead banged against another surface above me. Then my hands were there, searching for an end to it. I rolled from side to side, all of my limbs searching for an break to the endless walls on all sides of me. At every turn, more wood, more walls, no escape. Completely enclosed. Just like in a coffin. I wanted to scream but nothing released. I knew it wouldn’t help me. I knew I was alone.
Why am I here? Where am I? This must be a dream, a nightmare. It’s not real. It cannot be real. Buried alive, naked, going to die.
“Heygh! Cahn you heargh me?!”
A voice? Muffled, distant but also powerful, it came at me from beyond the enclosed space of my strange coffin. My ears perked and I stopped my lurching, panicked search for an escape. I listened. It was a voice.
“Yes,” I croaked weakly. “YES! I can hear you!” I reiterated with an anxious renewal, my heart lifted into an even more elevated state at the prospect of an ally within this darkness. I had no way of knowing if he could hear me. “YES! I CAN HEAR YOU!” I screamed once more, frantic to communicate with this voice.
The voice returned and my heart swelled.
“We hafta get oughta heyre! C’mon! Stahrt diggin’ yo wahy ought! Go! Go!! GO NOW!”
I recognized the voice. I knew who this was. My god… But I was following his commands before I could register such impossible things. The voice sourced from aside me, to my left, echoing through the earth that I knew we were buried under. He was also trapped. Despite the immense strength within that voice, I detected the desperation. He was not only screaming these things to help me, to ensure the sound cut through the layers of earth between us and above… He was screaming to help himself, because he was also scared.
Determined and empowered by my newfound companion, both my fists slammed into the wood above me with a crunch. The wood did not give at first but I felt its weakness under my bleeding knuckles. Numb to the pain, decisive with the motion, I slammed my fists again into the wood above me. With the crashing break of the box’s surface there, an avalanche of cold soil poured onto my face. Instinctively, I took a breath just before its impact forced my eyes and mouth shut. Undeterred by the threat of being crushed or suffocated, driven by primordial fears beyond my control, I began to dig, just as the strange, heavily accented voice had instructed. My arms wedged into the heaps of ground, soft and still falling. Cupping my hands and using them as a dividing force into the earthy maw above me, I began to wade. With all of the dark mass above me, blind to any visual progress, I felt myself just slightly begin to rise. More layers came on, however. My lungs thrummed with coming and final pains, wishing for a breath. The immense weight of the flowing dirt forced me down. Losing to the pressure it pounded upon me, it was at that point I almost descended back to my lay upon the coffin’s wood, and to certain death… Beyond my volition, my eyes opened back to the darkness, tearing up and searching for some way out, or through.
The voice returned.
“Keep gohing! GOH! Do not stohp for anything! We must stay fohcused! You are mahking good pragress! The suhrfahce is NEARah! Keep gohing, my friend! GIVE ME EVARYTHENG YA GOHT!”
Just when I needed it, the voice restored me. At his behest, I redoubled my efforts. Gauging by his voice, he was near, also rising from our original positions below. Using my hands as spears, fingers together and straightened, I slashed through the dirt above, after each progression, rearing my elbow back through the displaced earth to arise again and keep cutting through. Then, as more of it fell atop me and past me, I began to raise my knees and lower them, further propelling me. Like an upward swim, through bulky dross instead of water, I advanced. I kept going. The dirt became warmer. Though my eyes kept closed throughout my floundering reverse dig through the depths of this roiling hell, I could feel the surface nearing. Nearly out of breath, struggling to keep myself halting out of exhaustion and a constant dreadful fear of falling back down into the void below, I screamed out with a final lunge.
A radiant beam plunged from above. The small cry of a bird from out of that ascended, celestial plane struck me like the song of an angel, and I rejoiced as I leapt with gusto toward the light. Beside me, I heard him yell too. Fresh air enveloped me as I emerged from the topsoil, breathing hard, my whole body shaking from exertion, cold and hot from the flood of neurochemicals roiling within me, my form felt as though it was shimmering with an inner resolve borne of an indestructible and nameless life-driving essence. It was akin to triumph.
He was there too, kneeling in a silent repose, similarly freed from his earthen tomb. I looked to him, then past him. We were in a barren field of tall grass and wildflowering exhuberance. A clear and azure sky lay above us, the midday sun pleasantly gliding across the land, energizing us with passive grace. Two shredded mounds of earth surrounded our two bodies as evidence of our final efforts to dig ourselves from those graves.
“Arnold…” I said, unable to believe my eyes. He turned to me with a wry smile and cocked brow.
He shook his graying head and stood, a smile beaming through his scruff. I stood with him. Though aged, and ragged from his experience just previous, his impeccable physique emanated an unworldly strength. Smoke emanated from his form. Initially thinking it some after-effect of vigorous exercise from out of the legendary man, I was shocked to see a lit cigar in his mouth. Eyes closed in peace, he smoked it affably, his chin raised to the skies above as if to drink them in. Then, he looked at me with a recognition that I could not fathom.
“DYLAN!” he shouted to me with jovial camaraderie, naming me.
He reared back his god-like bicep and thrust an open palm forward. I found myself unconsciously reciprocating the action with my own arm, a warm and unstoppable grinning beckoning upon my face.
“Youuuu sunniva BITCH!” I said to him, my friend.
Our palms slammed together into a powerful grip that held. Hands clasped in solidarity and gratitude, two survivors standing tall, Arnie and I reared our heads back and began to roar with vivacious, transcendent laughter into the blue sky above. ~
~ adapted from a dream