Keep moving. Look down. Don’t let them see you.
They cackle. They screech. They haunt.
I cannot see them, shrouded in shadows and mystery. They lurk in the corners of my path, taunting and whispering. They think they will keep me here.
I have to keep moving.
I am blind in here. I dare not reach for the walls for fear of touching these whispering things. They could be miles away or inches, but their voices echo around endlessly to elude me. I know only that I can move forwards, that this tunnel will lead somewhere eventually.
I catch words. With my sight diminished, my other senses heighten. I feel my hair resting on my cheeks, taste the damp of the air and hear their snide remarks.
One foot, one swing, one step. Grounded once again, I repeat. Eyes down.
The ground is uneven, scattered with gravel or sticks or stones. Pieces crunch and grind beneath my feet. I try not to think of what may lie down there.
The cool atmosphere fills my lungs. It instils a dread in my bones, an overwhelming chill. Over and over I breathe it in, step by step, little by little, hoping the rhythm will take me to the end of this dreadful place.
My step falters. I reach out on instinct and my palm meets the wall – it’s cold and slick and sticky.
I fall further.
My knees crash onto the ground, scraped and scratched and screaming their agony. I stumble up to a stand, crunching across the unknown shells with the cold air closing in around me, tugging tight my throat. My hair has fallen into disarray, my clothes are torn beyond repair, my breathing is desperate.
The end seems deeper in darkness than ever before.
“Poor little girl.”
My eyes shoot up. My body follows, driven by a fire inside that expels the suffocating cold.
I will no longer look down.
My feet find a footing wherever they fall. My faith propels me as I run, run, cutting through the dark which holds no fear for me now. The voices grow thicker, rising to detain me but only spurring me further. At last, I hear their anger turn to panic, swarming around me.
I am reaching the end.
Arms outstretched, I slow. With eyes closed, I step on. Breath calmed, I push.
My palms press into the door before me. The wood bows but does not give, so I do not give up. I lean, at such an angle that I am almost at the floor.
I feel a rush surround me, half-formed memories joining the fight. Their hands surround mine, adding a weight that pushes through generations.
The rusted hinges groan, the stiff, swollen wood budges, the light burns through. We keep pushing, keep straining, until the light floods all the way back down the tunnel and the path is clear for all.
I finally see and walk free.
This short story was inspired by ’80th Day of Black Autumn’ by Natalia Drepina