I can’t breathe.
I’m in a basement, a subterranean room. It’s cold, and I see weak light coming through the cracks in the floorboards above as if it’s almost dawn. It smells musty, old, abandoned. I have cuts on my hands that have scabbed over, and a throbbing headache blossoming behind my right eye.
You’re not in a basement. But you can’t understand that yet. Your mind is grappling with new terms, new definitions. You can’t linger here. Get moving.
Did that just come from inside of my head? Did I hear that voice?
I stand up and the room tilts to one side.
“Who’s there?” I ask.
A voice. Not from within, not from without. A voice from the edge of consciousness, from the threshold of perception.
There’s no one else here, just you… and me. The room isn’t tilting. It’s your equilibrium, a bit off. Vertigo. But you need to get moving.
I shake my head, my vision blurry, and I stumble toward a set of stairs that seem to disintegrate into the floorboards above it. Cobwebs brush against my face like a stolen whisper.
When I get to the bottom step, I look up to see a black square overhead. The stairs go up and into another room, one without light.
“Should I go up there?”
You know what you’re supposed to do. Staying down here, with the dead soil and earthworms, you’ll just join them. I’ve been your guide before, haven’t I? Your compass in the darkness. You may not remember, but I’m there, deep down. What does your gut tell you?
“It tells me this is bullshit. That I’m asking myself questions.”
I trudge up the stairs, my hand sliding upon a filthy, dusty handrail. I get to the top step and look around to see I’m standing in a kitchen. But it’s not my kitchen, and not one I recognize. What looks like an antique ice box sits in one corner, the door with a single dent at the bottom. A cluttered table sits in the middle of the room, and a screen door blown by an unseen wind lightly slaps the frame. A window screen dangles on a single hinge, dead flies trapped in an ancient web.
Oh, you’re quick to doubt, quick to question. That’s good. In this place, nothing should be taken at face value. This kitchen… it’s seen better days, hasn’t it? Forgotten, like the memories locked away in your mind. Maybe you don’t recognize it, but it has a story to tell, just like you. Listen to the whispers of the past here, the silent echoes.
I slap myself in the face. “Shut up.”
Keep moving. You must always keep moving.
I walk to the door and step outside. There’s a path leading through an overgrown yard of dead weeds, at least waist high. A sickly orange glow pulses from beneath the horizon, the sky’s zenith turning purple like a black eye.
As I stumble down the path, I hear nothing. Not an airplane, a car, not even a cricket. But I still smell the basement—the musty odor of death.
Where am I?
Now, that’s a question. Where, indeed? You’re not where you were, and you’re not where you’re going. You’re here, in the now. The past is a ghost, the future a dream. This is your reality. It’s not a friendly one, but it’s yours.
Can you feel it? The isolation, the despair. It’s daunting, isn’t it? But there’s something else. A spark. A spark of… hope? Or maybe… curiosity?
“Hope for what?” I ask aloud.
Hope, perhaps, for understanding? For answers? Or maybe something simpler. Hope for a way out of this desolation. Hope that this isn’t all there is. Sometimes, hope is the only thing that keeps us moving forward.
And you, you need to keep moving. You could have stayed in the basement, but you stepped out into this world. You walked this path. That’s hope, even if you don’t recognize it yet.
I walk down the path, my feet shuffling through the dirt. I see a sign ahead, an old-fashioned hand-painted wooden placard with an arrow sticking out from each side.
To the left it says, “Grain Gulch.” To the right, the sign says, “Industrial Way.”
I’ve never heard of either of these places. I brush the dust away from the sign, decade’s worth. We never really know where we’re going.
“Well? Which way?” I ask the voice.
Ah, another crossroads, another choice. Grain Gulch or Industrial Way? Each name carries its own weight, its own implications. Grain Gulch might suggest nature, farming, a quieter path. Industrial Way sounds more… mechanical, perhaps more challenging. But remember, names can be deceptive. The true nature of a path is often revealed only when we walk it. And that is what you need to do. Which path do you feel drawn to?
I don’t know. I really don’t.