There is only one thing more terrifying than waking up in the darkest place in the world: not knowing how you got there. Waking to utter darkness, the complete absence of light, I was experiencing just such a dearth of information. I took stock of myself and attempted to inventory the things I did know. I seemed to have all of my limbs in place. The usual number for me. The usual number for any human being.
I still had no idea where I was or how I'd gotten there, and attempting to focus on the last thing I remember only made the memory more fuzzy. One thing I could be sure of was that I ached. All over. Even my teeth hurt. My limbs were in the most pain, particularly at the joints.
I could not see anything, but I could hear a faint dripping noise, which seemed to be coming from somewhere ahead of me. Carefully extending my arms, I waved them gently around me. Nothing ahead of or around me, even as far as the tips of my outstretched fingers. Although I could not see, my eyes were getting dry from my holding them wide open in the hopes that I would take in some light from any surrounding source. I blinked. As I did so I could feel the weight of the air on my eyelashes, as though the darkness were an oppressive thing, pressing in on me.
I breathed the darkness in deeply through my nose, hoping to detect a familiar scent. This was the most helpful thing I could have done; the air was dank and smelled of minerals. It reminded me of the time I had taken a cavern tour with my family. They had turned off the guide lights along the path to plunge us into total darkness. It was explained to the terrified children that this would perhaps be the only time in their lives when they would experience a complete lack of light. Instinct had taken over for me in that moment and I had attempted to take stock of my surroundings using my other senses. Without thinking my hand slid into my mother's hand, for comfort, and I was reassured by the small squeeze she gave it. I breathed deeply through my nose in that cavern, smelling what seemed to be the same scents.
Returning my thoughts to the present I added knowledge of my surroundings to my mental inventory. As I grew more confident, my fear lessened. I hardly had time to register relief and decide whether to stay put or try to explore before it became clear that I was not alone in the dark. Something warm, furry and solid brushed past my arm. Its presence was large; straining my ears I could hear its heavy footfalls skittering past.
If I had considered exploring before, the presence of this creature put all such thoughts out of my mind. I was rooted to the spot in terror. Not daring to move, I felt a rush of wind as the thing circled back and turned to face me. I knew this only by the heat emanating from the beast; that, and the impossibly foul odor of its breath on my face. What was most terrifying was that I still could not see it. I had a sense of its large size, but little else about it. The beast moved its mouth even closer to my face. So close that its row of sharp teeth pricked my nose. I could not help the whimper that escaped my lips. However, it seemed that my vocal cords were paralyzed with fear: what I thought would come out as a loud squeal amounted to no more than a breezy squeak. We stayed in our positions, the beast and I, for what seemed an eternity. I fervently hoped things would not get any worse, even though I knew they could and probably would. I frantically tried to recall my last memory, hoping the reason for my being trapped here would help me out of my predicament.
Focusing desperately, an image sprang to mind of a busy intersection, a corner not far from the apartment I share with two messy roommates. In my mind's eye, late afternoon sunlight fell indirectly around tall buildings in beatific shafts. Small motes could be glimpsed moving gracefully through the light. Their frenetic energy mirrored the hustle and bustle of the city block. I can remember being in a hurry for some reason, but I am struggling to recall why. I reach the corner to cross the intersection just as the light box changes to inform me out is no longer safe to walk. The cars have not yet begun to move forward and I know if I hurry I can make it across without fear of anything more dangerous than an angry honk or several.
Unhesitatingly, I move quickly into the crosswalk. It is then that I hear one of my roommate's voices calling me from the sidewalk. "Evan," my roommate calls, waving an object I cannot make out in the air, "you forgot your project!" Ah, my college project. I am late to present it! I turn to step back onto the curb, and that's when I see it: a huge city bus, bearing down on me. My last thought before the pain and the darkness closes in is that the driver must not have given himself enough time to stop.
So, a run-in with a bus. That explains my aches and pains. But how did I end up in this black cavern? As if to draw my attention back to my present situation the beast facing me snorts gently, spreading the fetid odor of decay in a fine mist of saliva across my cheeks. I manage the smallest shudder, not daring to move too much, lest my motion make me an even more attractive meal. The beast extends a gruff, appalling smelling tongue and licks my face from one side to another. I am too paralyzed with fear to even scream.
Suddenly, I hear the voice of my mother echoing around in the darkness, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere. She sounds frantic. "How could this happen?!" Her disembodied voice demands as much as asks. I can smell her scent very near to me now, the smell of tea rose and glycerin soap she is so fond of, and the faint smell of her breath, redolent with her favorite butterscotch hard candies.
A booming, disembodied voice--that of my roommate--replies. “Well, I followed him to the corner to give him his project. He was already in the crosswalk by the time I managed to get his attention. The bus came out of nowhere and didn't stop..." my roommate trailed off, sounding very distraught. I could hear soft sounds in the background now: beeps made by what I assumed were hospital equipment and the soft swish of what may have been hospital scrubs as employees bustled about.
A door creaked slowly open and a set of soft footsteps approached. I was still blinded by the darkness, still sharing it with the beast, but I could hear all of these things, somehow. I was startled by a new, unfamiliar voice that spoke. Male, gentle and clinical, I guessed him to be the doctor as he said: "Mrs. Frank, we've done all we can. As far as we can tell, the best case scenario is that his vegetative state persists." "You mean he'll forever be in a coma?" My mother asked, sounding worried, her words strangled. No, I wanted to shout, I'm not in a coma! I'm right here! With the beast so close, I didn't dare. “I'm sorry," the doctor said, sounding truly sincere. "That is the best case scenario. I'm afraid we could lose him at any moment."
As if on cue, a machine switched from its steady beeping to blare one long beep. It sounded like a machine on a t.v. show hospital scene announcing that a character had gone into emergency mode. At the same time I could hear the frantic shuffle of feet and quickly barked orders. "It's no use!" I heard the doctor bark in a panic. "We're losing him!" Reminding me of its presence, the beast opened its mouth wide and swallowed me whole. I heard no more and felt the absence of pain as true darkness finally enveloped me.