Written by Lori May
Illustration by Madison Otten
Sarah woke with her cheek pressed against the cold, damp floor. Sitting up with a start, she opened her eyes to peer into impenetrable darkness; not a single flicker or wisp of light disturbed the sanctity of the blackness around her. She sniffled and brushed the back of her hand across her face only to wince at the sting of flesh meeting the tender, swollen edge of her lip. She narrowed her eyes, desperate to recognize any shape or movement within her ebony prison. Her hands shook, and she realized when she rubbed them together that a remnant of twine still dangled from her left wrist. I was bound, she thought, an aching fear driving a spike into the pit of her stomach.
The darkness was not the only thing that frightened her, though it enclosed around her like an unwelcome embrace from a stranger. No, the bleakness was only the first side of the coin; the reverse was the utter, bewildering stillness that quickly made her question if she was indeed awake. She held her breath, the tightening of her chest was making her painfully aware of tenderness in her ribs from an injury she didn’t recall. She heard only the steady drip of water somewhere within the darkness. The sound trickled, tapping in the quiet, mocking her.
Sarah’s voice sounded like a shout in her mind in comparison to the soft rhythm: Where am I?
She was suddenly keenly aware that her head throbbed, pounding with every pulse of her heart. A rhythmic pain as steady and maddening as those drops of water, which she would have sworn grew louder with every passing moment. Fingers cautiously explored her forehead, and when she drew them away from her flesh, they were sticky and coated with what could only be blood. Again, the whoosh of sickness within the pit of her stomach threatened to overpower her control, and her hands sought the solid, unrelenting stone floor in support.
She struggled to remember what had happened, what might have led her to this unknown place filled with cruel shadow; nothing would come, her mind as blank and as without reason as the place enclosing her, for she was confident she could not be outside. The spreading chill of awareness crept over her like a clawed hand, nails inching up her spine and alerting her that someone – or something – was watching her. She drew her knees to her chest and gingerly reached out with a single hand to pierce through the veil of mystery surrounding her, and her fingers bore purchase on nothing, save for the thick, coating blackness.
Suddenly, a rush of panic overtook her, and she scrambled from her place on the ground to slash hands through the nothingness in search of something – anything – that could serve as a landmark, a clue of her location. She abandoned rational thought, believing wholeheartedly that something had to be in this chilled, isolated room. Finally, she reached a wall, forged of the same impenetrable substance as the floor she woke up upon. She screamed, the sound deafeningly loud as her fingernails raking across the damp, uneven surface of the stone. She shrieked and drew back her hand, something thick and textured lodged under her nails; the roll of her thumb across her fingertips brought the image of moss to her mind, and she inhaled the earthy scent of the hidden plant.
Even moss needs light to grow, she thought bitterly, and she realized then that whatever this place was, she was being kept from the sun by someone’s choice.
The sound she heard next froze her as still as the stone: behind her, somewhere in the vague unknown and shrouded in darkness, a man sighed. Not the impatient, disappointed sigh of a fellow captive – no, this was the deliberate, cruel sound of someone announcing his presence. Her heart stopped as her body flooded with a fear she had never known before. She screamed, though her throat could offer no comforting cry in panic, only a choked gasp as she threw herself against the stone slab she had been exploring only moments before. She held a hand over her mouth to muffle her sounds as though he would not be aware of her, though now she could feel his eyes on her despite the terrifying, cloying cloud of black.
She thought her ears would burst for the strain of struggling to hear anything beyond that incessant drip of water nearby. She had no idea how close the source was, but if she could detect such a subtle sound, she knew it must be close. A groan from her as she realized that a sigh would likewise have been so hushed; the thought that a stranger could be mere inches from her, undetected, made her draw her arms around her body as she shrank into the barrier of stone at her back.
Time stood still for Sarah then, draped in the black shroud of fear more tightly than the isolating darkness of the room. She froze, unable to move, listening in vain for even the slightest indicator of movement so that she might lash-out against the unknown lurking nearby when it came for her.
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