I wouldn’t really call this a short story. I guess it technically is one, but it’s only like 1200 words, and that’s extremely short. This was written before I started having severe problems with brevity, though, an issue that culminated in The Anvil, which is a novel I’ve written that is longer than the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy combined. Still, I guess it counts as a short story, but not publishing material. I found it earlier while looking through the thousands and thousands of Word documents on my old hard drive. Absolutely no editing has been done.
She slid backwards in the tub slowly, allowing the warm embrace of the water to crawl up her flesh until stopping just short of her face. She’d sealed the doorway with towels and switched off the lights, and her environment now was nothing but darkness and silence. It was a weight that she had never experienced, and, for a moment, she was afraid and wanted to turn the lights on, but it didn’t take long to banish her fears back to the part of her heart from which they came.
She released a sigh that was far more similar to the release of an orgasm than to breathing. It was the sigh of exhaustion—the sigh of intense effort and expended energies that all led to a single and short euphoric moment.
This was her moment. This was her release. And while she couldn’t actually see her release, she knew it was happening. She could feel her energy seeping from her body, as though it had been trying to escape all along, and she was finally allowing it to run free. It rushed out with the haste of criminals fleeing a prison during a riot.
And then she saw in the darkness That Place. That Place that she never wanted to see again. She didn’t know where it was, she didn’t know how she’d end up there, and she didn’t know anything about it all. All she knew was it was That Place. And in That Place was the cold. There was no warmth, no fire, and no light; there were only the cold and the darkness. There were walls. Uneven walls, like you’d expect from someone digging a deep hole. The walls certainly felt like dirt, but it was too dark to see. On some days, she could look up and see—far in the distance, at the top—a sliver of light, a tiny beacon of hope, but it was rare, and on most days: only darkness and cold.
One minute in That Place is a million years anywhere else. That Place is nothing, and it is, ultimately, everything, she learned. That Place held nothing for her to do but weep, and so she did. She wept and clawed at the walls with the fury of a caged animal, but it was to no avail. Then, some time in the future, she had no way of knowing how long, the light suddenly grew and came toward her. Everything was encapsulated by the light; she was taken in by the light. Her unadjusted eyes squeezed shut in pain, and when at last she opened them, she stood in The Field.
The Field was hardly different from That Place. It was only bigger, and instead of dark coldness, she was embraced by lighted coldness, which was no help at all, because there was still nothing to see. All around her, there was an endless expanse of the same terrain, repeating infinitely and stretching like forever in every direction. There was nothing in The Field but the opportunity to look Despair in her face, and catch for a moment the reflection in the mirror that bonded the two together.
And That Place, which she had prayed to never see again, was gone again, and she could feel the loving embrace of the water. A black veil gripped her consciousness, demanding her to sleep, but she couldn’t yet. She wanted to—it was, after all, her release—but the moment was not right.
That Place returned, as she thought it might. She didn’t want to fall asleep in That Place—she couldn’t fall asleep in That Place. It would be a sentence of forever standing at the bottom of an immeasurably deep hole, clawing at the walls, screaming with the primordial rage that fury and injustice alone sustain, and crying out to the Heavens for mercy, while knowing there would be none.
Yet there she stood—clawing at the walls while her consciousness slid from her like sand in an hourglass.
It never mattered. One minute, one day, one million years—it was all the same. There was no Time here. There was only Now, and Now could not be measured, because there was no Next or Before with which one could use to compare it.
There was only This when you were in That Place, and This is too horrible a thing for words to describe. Words are but imitations. The most elegant and descriptive of prose is nothing but an imitation, a mockery, that attempts to capture the essence of something and portray it so that another can understand or relate to what the words express. There is no word for This. There is no phrase for This.
How does one explain being trapped in a dark and narrow space, surrounding by nothing but cold, and not knowing when—if ever—you will be released? There was no hunger, no thirst, no sleep, for That Place existed in the Heart—and the Heart does not need such things. The Heart is immortal, and therefore, all experiences in That Place are immortal. Each trip to That Place could be the one that never ends, could be the one that saps away the remaining desire of a conscious spirit to continue its miserable existence, and could be the one that stands true while the energies of the blood flee from the prison of the flesh, forming a symbiotic eternity of something that tastes like forever in That Place.
Tell me—how does one convey that with such a mundane medium as words?
The word “despair” tells you nothing if you’ve never experienced true despair. And if you have experienced true despair, then you know that the word is a woefully inadequate description. The same is true of every conceivable emotion. Hopelessness is another great example. If you’ve never been truly hopeless, the word itself can tell you nothing about how it feels to be hopeless, and if you have had the misfortune of experiencing hopelessness, then you know the word is a hollow, arbitrary, and meaningless thing trying to capture and convey a depth that is simply too enormous for something so ordinary to encompass.
Nonetheless, there she was—once more in That Place, still with no idea how she got there, how she stumbled upon That Place, or what she did to deserve This. And even if she left That Place, it would mean nothing, because she would just be in The Field, then, which was just as horrifying and traumatizing as That Place…
But she couldn’t claw at the wall any longer. Something was hurting her. There was a burning. An intense burning on her wrists.
She breathed in deeply in the tub and ran a few fingers over the open wounds on her wrists, and she barely had the strength to do so. The release was coming. The inmates were free. That Place would cease to exist.
For it was Her Place, after all, wasn’t it? It belonged to no one but her. And when she was no more, Her Place would be no more. She would find release, after all, she realized, leaning back again. She was destroying That Place. That Place—that integral part of herself that she’d become lost in—that part of her that isolated and destroyed—could not exist without her. And soon, she would be released, and she would no longer exist.
All she knew was that she did not ever want to go to That Place again. There were probably other ways to ensure that, but none of which could she do alone, and she had no choice but to banish That Place alone, because it was, after all, Her Place, and no one else’s.