by Dave Early
Shouts from beyond the window die as deafeningly as they arose. All aggression waved away with surprising ease. I had been tossing and turning and itching and sweating but now I have my back pressed against the jagged obsidian face of a monolithic mountain. Midway up, a sheer drop, my neck taut, holding my head back as though the world rotating would tip me off into the darkness of the unseen ravine. I inch my hand across the knobbly rock, almost like coral to the touch, and lace my fingers with the woman’s. I have never seen her before. With her long thin chestnut hair and her soft Mediterranean features she is a delicate beauty. But I know her and she knows me. I love her. I need her. There is not another sole in this world able to connect me to it. Her fingernails dig into my palm, a sign of courage, determination. She will not let me down. It is I who am having doubts, experiencing nascent cowardice. I find it hard to lever myself from the rock-face. She turns to me with uncertain eyes and from nowhere I lead the jump.
We fall for what seems an eternity; the sky above dimming the deeper we descend. In total silence we plummet; I do not look to my side. I think only of the realistic horrors waiting in the narrowing blackness below. Awaiting the sudden impact of a protruding ledge or as we near the bottom, the spearing of a stalagmite either through the shoulder or through the groin. A long lingering death. An ugly disfiguring death. As the mountains broaden at the base and outcrops chip away the back of the skull; or an actual landing driving the ankle into the shin, and the pelvis into the ribcage; everything occurring in pain-time. I pull her toward me, still unable to turn my head. My fears must be expelled vertically. I need to observe the extinguishing of all light, to remain focused on the gradually closing sky, distracting myself with thoughts until the agonising impact. I push myself a little under her as we fall; perhaps to ensure I take the brunt of the stray slashes and sharp pierces, but mostly to ensure my own demise, even at the expanse of her broken-bodied survival. This is what the fear does. And my heart is racing; my head swims with a monotonous hum, as if my ears are filled with water. Any moment; surely any moment now my limbs, my back, the back of my head will collide with something hard. I hope she does not cry out. I could not bear it for her to feel…
I am… it is not quite a moonscape, not quite a desert. The sky is vast. It is twilight; lashings of pale-chartreuse interrupt the purple-black. I get to my feet. White sand lies underfoot in a garden of black boulders, the largest no higher than my waist. I am alone. Terror washes over me. My vision loses focus for a second and the rock strewn landscape begins to pitch and toss. A golden glow sits low in the sky ahead. So low. It hangs above a circle of roofs. My stomach lurches again. This is a reality. Heaven, Hell, a distant planet, inside my own mind… whatever it is, I am feeling it. I am conscious of it. I am living it. And I am alone. The golden glow… there, there may lie answers; instructions on what to do next; maybe I will find her waiting. I scamper across the sand; over and round the obsidian stones. The light is not far, a few hundred metres at most. I leap a set of wooden steps and land heavily on a veranda. At the centre of the huts stands a white plinth surmounted by a bright golden idol; a large cross-legged figure of familiar features. Behind me a group of people amble across the wooden slats. A family, the teenage daughter, leading the way, more interested in her dance-steps than her surroundings. I hear them talking idly. They glance up at the golden idol, hesitate then continue on their way, discussing personal matters and where to dine that evening. I watch them depart. More voices hit me, this time coming from the other direction; and there is the sound of running water. Again I throw my gaze to the figure on the plinth. The glow has subsided. There sits a lacklustre image, chipped and worn. A great sickness rumbles though my guts, and I fall to my knees, tears bleeding down my face. I am still alive. She is gone. She died. And I survived. The huts begin to spin. I release an almighty scream.
And I am awake again.
I am alone.
Dave Early cannot be summed up in one sentence; one word perhaps, but not one sentence.
The Pygmy Giant is celebrating National Short Story Week – more tomorrow!