I ignored the numb feeling on my back. The pounding in my head had all my attention and I feared it would worsen if I moved. All of a sudden, I heard a squeak. I instantly realized what was crawling up towards the nape of my neck. Startled, I turned and sat up, throwing the rat as far off into the distance as possible. The intense throbbing increased rapidly as I began to catch my breath. I sat back against the wall and shut my eyes, only to open them wide within moments. I was surrounded by complete and utter darkness. I raised my hand to my face, and wouldn’t have known it was there until I touched my nose with it.
The squeaks in the distance began to multiply, and I could hear tiny paws splashing through the water as the rats stampeded in my direction. At a time like this I couldn’t help but wish I was a smoker armed with a trusty Zippo. As I brushed the moist dirt off my face, I stood up and looked around for a sliver of light, only to have my rise abruptly halted by the sharp ceiling above. The impact dropped me to the ground, clutching the back of my head and wincing in agony. The squeaking grew louder, and I could sense the army of rats close by. Instinctively, I began to crawl away from them while keeping myself close to the wall on my right. They continued to inch closer every second. I hastily got to my feet cautiously, reaching out for the treacherous ceiling, when one of the blasted rodents pulled at my shoe lace.
“GET AWAY YOU BASTARDS!” I screamed, as I kicked furiously.
I swiftly turned and began to make my way away from the rats, and deeper into the darkness with the wet wall and ceiling as my only guide.
My rapid breathing was now in sync with the throbbing within my head. Hunched over, I hurried down the black corridor, distancing myself from the legion of vermin that salivated for a taste of my flesh. Perspiration continued to seep down my forehead stinging my eyes.
Once the rats were nothing more than a distant muffle, I slowed down and wiped my brow. Countless questions streamed through my mind as I stared all around me, hoping to find something to guide me. But nothing infiltrated the blackness. Where am I? Where? Where? I leaned back against the wall while shutting my eyes, even though it made no difference, and attempted to recollect the recent past through the agonizing pounding. Visions came staggered: a bonfire, girls, music, a guitar, singing, vodka, lots of vodka, smoking, a fight, dancing, running, marijuana, wrestling, screaming, vomiting, the desert. My eyes popped open;
“The desert, we were in the desert” I whispered.
It was Sheila’s birthday, and we had left the campus early in the afternoon to celebrate. The two cars reached the desert a couple of hours later with the passengers completely wasted. The celebration continued throughout the night, while we persisted in our drunken debauchery without caution. Copious amounts of drugs and alcohol were consumed, and we abused both our senses and bodies like there was no tomorrow. The further I replayed the events of the night, the more blurred it got, until finally, I could no longer penetrate through my mind’s fog.
Something crawled over my foot, breaking me out of my trance. I kicked it up in the air hoping that whatever it was would die in the darkness. I began to focus at the problem at hand, and since I couldn’t remember how I got here but I had to figure out a way to get out. I must have fallen in somewhere, and logic would suggest that I needed to make my way upwards. The only problem was: how would I know which way is up?
I shut my eyes and exhaled as I sat on the damp floor. I smelled the alcohol on my breath as it mixed in with the pungent air around me. Water trickled down the walls on to my back, and somewhere on my left lay a puddle into which I could hear the drops of water splashing at regular intervals. Tears began to stream down my cheeks. I was lost, I was alone, I was trapped, I was doomed.
I stopped breathing for a second only to spring up immediately. I removed my shoes and slowly walked over the slippery rocks towards the sound of the dripping. I gingerly got down on both knees and reached out for the water. After dipping both shoes and filling them to the brim, I carefully stood up holding both vessels with one hand and the wall with the other. I walked forward and counted each step until I reached a hundred at which point I took three steps away from the wall and got down on all fours. I then poured some water from my shoe in a straight line and cupped either end with my palm to feel the direction in which most of it flowed. The opposite direction of the flow was the way up. I was aware that it wasn’t the most foolproof method but it was all that I had. I continued the procedure every hundred steps and even though the experiment didn’t consistently breed the same result, I knew I was headed in the right direction.
I almost dropped the remaining water-filled shoe when I came upon a fork in my path. I couldn’t hear any more water dripping from the roof. Both the walls and ground were increasingly dry with each step. I gambled and continued towards my left hoping I would come across a guiding light. As the quantity of liquid decreased, partly because the dried ground soaked up more of the water, I increased the distance of intervals to two hundred steps. My pace quickened as did my heart. Hunched over, I paced forward, expecting a crack of light to cross my path. I began picturing meeting my friends, hugging them, screaming at them and crying tears of joy. I’d describe my ordeal and they wouldn’t believe me until they saw the mouth of this God-forsaken place.
The rock tore the skin off my knee and as I toppled over, throwing my shoe into the shadows. I lay on my back starting up into the darkness as blood poured profusely from my leg onto the thirsty soil. Doubt began to creep in. What if I had taken the wrong turn at the fork? What if I had been going in the wrong direction the whole time? What if I was supposed to go in the direction of the rats? What sort of dense method was I using to find my freedom from this abyss? What if it was night? There I lay without a shoe or drop of water while I continued to lose my blood in a black hole far away from the world. The tears came once again.
I first felt it on my naked foot. It was subtle but I sensed it, and my suspicion was confirmed when I smelled the arid air. I sat up and wiggled my toes as the gentle waft of air passed through. Once again I pulled myself up with the help of the wall and hobbled toward the direction of the gentle gust. With each hop, the ground became increasingly drier and the breeze got stronger. As the climb began to get steep, I felt the desert sand under my feet. The pressure on my knee increased, as did the pain but I ignored it and kept going. I started to feel the heat exude from the rocks and that could only mean that the sun was shining up above. My pace quickened and the sand grew denser.
He screamed out in pain as my outstretched hand crashed on to the sandy ground;
“SON OF A BITCH! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?”
The voice of another seemed so alien at first and through the confusion relief poured down on me. I wasn’t alone. Another person was trapped in this wretched hole.
“Who are you?” I asked quickly
“Arun. Who the hell are you?” The anger in his voice didn’t bother me, “You stepped on my chest you ass!”
I scurried towards him and grabbed him.
“What the hell are you doing? Get your hands off me!” he said pushing me away.
“I’m so glad I found you! I’ve been here for hours all alone. I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it is to find you”
“Jesus! I think you broke a rib.”
“How long have you been here?” I asked
“I don’t know, maybe an hour. I have no idea, I’m still trashed.”
“What were you doing lying on the floor?”
“What are you talking about?” he responded “I was sleeping till you kicked me and woke me up”
“Oh yeah, sorry about that. My name is Ram by the way.”
“Whatever…” he exhaled.
“Any idea of how we can get out of here? I think if we continue in the direction of this path we can get out”
“I need to get to a hospital” he let out in a painful yelp.
“I am terribly sorry” I pleaded, “It’s this blasted darkness.”
He remained silent as I waited for a response. His breathing slowed down and he had turned towards me as his warm breath fell upon my tear stained face.
“You said your name was Ram right?”
“Ram” his voice now softer as he hesitated, “Its broad daylight…”