A single ray of light shines in the sewer of my life.
The water around me is befouled beyond stench, and full of things that nip and suck and bite.
The chains chafe my wrists with their rust, now in my bloodstream, infecting as it goes. They’re heavy too, and to a starving man they weigh too much for my arms to move for too long.
I focus on the light.
I belong up there. I belong to the light.
The dark and silent cell I’m in mocks my feeble affirmation as I try to spit, but my captors have decided to keep me thirsty as well.
The light, dim as it is, hurts my eyes, and squinting doesn’t help much, but I see the hole is big enough to fit my fingers. Touch freedom. It is just within your grasp. I wanted to, more than anything, but the rational part of me that was still there tells me it’s a test, and I follow my instincts, and keep my hand inside.
I reach through, and someone breaks my fingers by stomping them, or worse, they cut them off,
The light brightened, or seemed to, as if to say I won’t let that happen. Do it. Don’t be afraid.
And so, against everything in me screaming in fear, I reach. The light finds them, warms them, and the ground is firm beneath them, and I close my eyes even as the tears fall.
There’s a breeze, and the warmth from the sun, and I close my eyes, imagining myself out there sunning like a lizard, grateful for everything. Even my solitude.
Already, my thin, shaking arms grow tired, and small clank from the shifting chains calls me back from the reverie like a parent whose child wandered too far past an unseen boundary.
Like the same willful child, I tune out the call to stay as long as I can, as long as I want. The darkness can wait.
I leave it now choice, but it is patient, indulgent even, as if the parent decided to let the consequences of that choice teach obedience.
The darkness doesn’t understand the human will.
I don’t know how long I stood there surrounded by the filth, but the ray of light faded, and gravity pulled at my manacles to break my infantile grip on the ground above me.
There were tears in my eyes still, but a smile on my face.
That smile made the darkness angry, and the things that crawled, nipped, bit, and sucked my blood came at me with a vengeance. These seemed larger, more fierce, and faster, and my screams of pain and prayers to relieve the anguish fell on deaf celestial ears that did not hear me, or chose to ignore my begging for mercy.
There will be no more tomorrows for you, the darkness said.
I was on my knees, bleeding and in agony from the poisons coursing through me.
By the time the vermin were burrowing into the gore of me, I was laughing.
I left the darkness, and went toward the last of the light.