This story is by Aaida Nawaar Arpa and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The metal was cold beneath me, the rusty floor of which I tried to lay down on. The only softness I could find was at the palm of my hand, tucked underneath my head. While the space between the metal bars that enclosed my cage seemed to get smaller and smaller as time passed by, it did not bother me. Not as much as…
I can’t think of that right. Focus. FOCUS. Look at the floor, or maybe at my toes. No matter what you do, don’t you dare look outside again. Do not look outside the cage, I tell you!
You? Who am I talking to? Certainly, not myself. There has to be someone here. There HAS to be someone with me. I can’t be here all alone. I can’t be the only one.
You? YOU! I know you’re there. I know you can hear me. So, why aren’t you doing anything about it? WHY AREN’T YOU HELPING ME?!
No, wait. Don’t provoke them. They might come back. Shut up. Shut up. SHUT UP!
I opened my clenched, wet eyes slowly, maintaining the focus on my toes. It was dark inside the cage, but I had already adjusted to it. I had no idea how long I had been there, but I knew my chances of survival were even less if I lost my mind. I dropped my arms down from the sides of my head and two hands came into the frame of my vision. I could not recognize that those hands belonged to me, with how bloody and dirty they were. A couple of thin brown hair tendrils were stuck in between my fingers, and I finally felt the pain in my scalp. Surprisingly, my throat felt fine, like I had not been screaming at the top of my lungs, a minute ago. Was it really a minute ago… or was it all in my head? Then, came the more pressing question. Was I going crazy?
I wondered how long it had been since I first woke up in the cage, not knowing where I was nor how I ended up there. I could not even remember who I was. All I knew was that whenever I moved, the cage moved with me, rocking back and forth titling to reveal what lay beneath me. It was like the cage was being held aloft by a string that was just waiting to break and send me down below. And what lay below, you ask?
There was no time to finish that thought. The others were coming back. My heart, drenched with fear, started beating furiously. They would come here every so often, torturing me for a life I knew nothing of, reminding me of a person I had no recollection of being. My cage started to rattle and rumble as they approached, and I braced myself for their attack.
It came with a deafening blow of silence, followed by their thunderous voices. Each one jabbed at my head, not taking turns nor letting the others finish. Their screams filled my brain, inflicting lightning-like pain with every curse.
I hate you!
…wish you had never been born!
Amid the chaos, I tried to keep myself sane, tucking my legs into my arms as the voices flew around me, surrounding me like vulturous entities. It was never-ending. How much longer would I have to endure this?
It felt like their attacks were getting longer every time they visited. It did not matter if I knew who I was before or not, the voices made it very clear. I must have done something terrible to deserve this. I must have hurt so many people in the past. It was enough to make me wonder if I should… just drop down below.
It seemed like forever after which the voices left me shivering on the cold platform to recover until their next blow. It seemed at times that I was all alone in the dark abyss, but I could feel their presence lurking in the shadows, waiting to lunge as soon as I obtained a false sense of security. I knew there were others too, that I could not see past the foggy, dark chasm. I could hear their faint screams just as well I know they could hear mine. I wondered how many were out there, stuck like me without knowing what they did wrong.
With a burning need to break the cycle of madness, I slowly stood up from the floor. The cage creaked and swayed slightly in response. My heartbeat drummed with the thought of what I was about to do next. I slowly walked to one end of the cage which tilted slightly at the shifting of my weight, presenting me once again the bottom of the abyss.
There it lay, a small red dot in the middle of the chasm. I inhaled sharply when I realized how deep the chasm was, and I wondered how long it would take to reach the bottom, and if the bottom would welcome me. However, the red dot glared at me, and I made sure not to look directly into it like last time. I remembered the image of the roaring fires engulfing me in their heat, my flesh peeling and boiling off my arms and legs with excruciating pain. The fires had imprinted a fear in my heart that I had never known of, and somehow, I still felt like it was the only way out.
I slowly gripped the rusty bars of the cage. Before I knew it, the bars melted away at my touch, offering me an exit. The red dot below pulsed, ushering me into it. My heart beat furiously. And I wondered if I had a fear of heights in my past life. A mad laugh escaped my lips at the thought. Maybe I had gone crazy after all. With a smile, I stood at the very edge of the cage, which tilted at a dangerous angle. There was no way but downwards.
I closed my eyes and braced myself for the drop.
A soft breeze brushed past me, sending a chill down my spine. My ears pricked at a faint whisper. I opened my eyes to scan my environment, waiting to hear it again. A moment later, a definite voice called out, an echo that sounded urgent. I stood very still to listen to the voice. When no sound passed, I began to think it was my own indecision asking me not to jump. I turned back to the gaping hole in my cage. Without warning a loud shriek ripped through the darkness and finally reached my ears.
For the first time, the voice was not in my head. Someone was out there with me in the abyss, who knew what I was about to do. I could not see her, but her voice went through, urgently snapping me out of my misery. Before I could hear more, my cage started to shake again. The voices…
I looked down below again. The red glared at me even now, more insistent. The voices grew louder now with every second, threatening an attack at any moment.
I felt an urge to drop down and end the cycle once and for all, but what if the voice I heard was right? What if there was a way up that I could not see?
The voices grew louder and louder in my head.
Without contemplating it any longer I jumped up and grasped the roof of the cage, pulling myself to the top. The cage was suspended by a chain-link, that led upwards leading directly into a tiny white light. This seemed inviting as well, however a lot less sinister than the red light down below. As soon as I stood on the cage, the metal started to melt away. In seconds, I had no floor beneath me, and I felt myself losing ground. In my panic, I grabbed onto the chain that had held my cage aloft while the cage underneath me dissolved into thin air.
I grabbed onto the chain with all my strength. My hands were sweaty and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to hold on for long. I glanced down below one last time at my hovering feet before I fixated my gaze upwards. I could not afford to stop. Slowly, but resiliently, I started to climb…
I opened my eyes, slowly raising my head to see my wife’s head on my lap, fast asleep. Her eyes were puffy like she had been crying, but I still smiled knowing that she had been there all along. I lightly squeezed her hand that tightly held mine. She jerked awake and her eyes lit up as she saw me staring back, before rushing to call the nurses to my room. I slowly sank back into the bed as a wave of peace flowed through me.