Friday, September 9, 2011

The Scariest Things There Are - Part 1

"You are not consumed by the darkness because you are full of light."
- Robin McKinley

I wake up covered in sweat that burns like ice, and everything is dark.
   Dark? No, that doesn't quite cover it. This is beyond the dark you'd get at midnight on the winter solstice, during a thunderstorm with no lightning, or in the middle of an abandoned cemetery on a starless night. This is more than a simple matter of lights and shadows and rods and corneas. This is a dark you can feel.
   You can even taste it.
   Naturally, my first reaction to something so strange and so foreboding is to get out of bed and go for a run.
   So that's what I do.

There's a certain something about running at night that I can't really describe, but it's nothing short of magical. Sure, it's just as exhausting as it is during the day, but . . . I don't know. The night air is colder, crisper, and I can breathe it in and out easier. I am faster and I am stronger than ever when I can't see where I'm going.
   It makes no sense, but who ever heard of magic making sense?

After running and running and running through the forest for who knows how long (this is surely much farther than any of my usual paths, but the thought of stopping hasn't even begun to occur to me), I trip over nothing and skin both knees.
   My glasses go flying as I fall, because of course my glasses go flying. On a night like this, it's a wonder that they haven't already gone flying (not to put too fine a point on it, but I am sweating an awful lot). For a few moments, I madly scramble about, trying to find them by feel . . .
   . . . until it hits me: What's the point? I can't see a thing anyway, not a blessed thing. Besides, I keep a spare pair at home for precisely this purpose. If I can even find my way home tonight.
   Well, golly.
   Isn't that a pleasant thought?

Seriously, though, where in the world am I?

I crawl over to a sturdy tree and lean into it and just breathe.
   Since I left home (running, in retrospect, was a spectacularly stupid idea -- you'd think, at the very least, I might have had the sense to bring my phone), the palpable dark has increased. Tenfold.
   I begin to worry.
   In. Out. In, out, in again, out again.
   Shut up and breathe.
   Don't panic.

A minute passes, or maybe it's an hour.

Alright, enough of this.
   Calm down.
   I do have four other senses, after all. Taste is fairly useless at this juncture (all I can taste is the dark -- yes, I know how crazy that sounds), but surely the other three can at least point me in the direction of----
   Hey! Direction! I can just turn around and go home!
   . . . No, I can't. I have no idea where I am and no idea how I got here and no idea where home is. I don't even know how much time has passed since I fell. Plus, I'm tired. I'm so very tired.
   (You know, it's weird. Before I fell, I was perfectly content with having no idea where I was or where I was going. I knew I couldn't see anything even when it was right in front of me, but that didn't seem like such a big deal.)
   Okay, focus. Touch, smell, listen. You can figure this out.

   I don't hear anything other than my own anxious heartbeat.
   Or, rather, I don't hear anything other than my own anxious heartbeat until I think, I don't hear anything other than my own anxious heartbeat. The realization inexplicably perks up my ears, and I hear . . .
   . . . a spooky owl,
   . . . wind rushing through the trees,
   . . . something chuckling in the distance, which is surely just my imagination, and
   . . .
     . . .
       . . . somebody somewhere (everywhere? nowhere?) trying to get my attention.
   Who the hell was that?

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