I have always been lost in a fantasy, because for as long as I can recall, I have suffered under the anxious and awful power of twin pathologies: wanderlust and cowardice. I crave the new, the novel, the noble path of the explorer, but I abhor risk, tremble before change, and am forever reluctant to assume any more responsibility than is foisted upon me.
It is a terrible and ironic affliction.
I tell you this in advance, dear reader, because I fear the tale I have to tell may shine a far different light upon myself and my disposition, and I wish it known that these events were not of my willful doing. Though, in my many hours tucked away in the corner of some dimly lit room, my nose set deep betwixt the yellowed pages of some mildewed book, I may have ventured to far off and exotic locales, may have seen the grand, the wild, the nearly indescribable, but never have I, before these last few days, ever experienced much of anything beyond my own mind’s eye. I cannot even say with the remotest modicum of certainty that the events of which I now embark to impart are, in fact, any more than the wistful fancies of a faltering mind. What assurances I can offer are only to myself, and the evidence of the enormity of my transformation I offer you to judge.
It began rather abrubtly, or rather, I became aware of my startling new circumstance in the most sudden of manners. Last I could recall, I had been nestled beneath my feather downs, my head resting squarely on my pillow, deep in the quiet slumber that comes upon a man after a hard days work. When I awoke, however, I found myself in a place that in no way resembled the peaceful comfort of my humble cabin.
I came to consciousness slowly and with no less than a great deal of discomfort. My head throbbed and my bowels ached as if I had imbibed quite a bit more whiskey than was my habit. I opened my eyes with reluctance, and, at first, came to the assumption that I remained asleep. A dense and ominous fog loomed all about me obscuring any intimation as to my whereabouts. I thought to myself, this is only a dream. But, shortly thereafter I came to an awareness that filled me with a dread that stole such certainties and replaced them with an absolute terror.
Laying prone upon a hard, earthy floor, something held my arms captive, my hands pulled taut beyond my head. There was a burning sensation at my wrists like the pain young boys afflict upon each other with sadistic glee by twist and rub. With tremendous effort, as I was quite ill and my legs suprisingly weak, I shimmied like an earthworm, digging into the soil with my heels, raising my buttocks meagerly from the ground and drove myself inch by inch toward the thing that stretched me so. My movements were rewarded by the release of tension upon my shoulders, but my satisfaction was short lived. Rolling to my stomach and scrabbling to my knees, I found myself bound in hempen twine, trammelled and tethered to a staked post.
Presently, I screamed and wailed, emptying my lungs into the thick, grey void. I plead for help, begged my unseen tormentors for mercy, but to no avail. Quickly exhausting what little reserves of energy I held in my possession, I collapsed upon the earth in a crumpled heap. I curled myself into a compact little ball and sobbed myself to sleep.
I dreamed that I was again within the comforting confines of my simple abode. Sitting upright in my small bed, my head rested against the sturdy, reassuring oak of my headboard. I held a book open upon my upturned lap, and I could feel the weight of the thing, could carress its tattered pages. I turned them gently and listened with pleasure to the all too familiar sound, crisp and calming like the rustling of leaves or the lapping of the ocean’s waves at the sandy shore. At first I felt relief, assumed my prior experience had been nothing more than some horrifying fantasy of the kind that often plague me during bouts of extreme anxiety, but something niggled deep in the recessess of my conscious awareness. I realized shortly that I hadn’t the slightest notion as to the title of this tome, nor did I know my previous place among its many pages. Looking closer at those unfamiliar pages, I discovered that what I had accepted at first glance to be the simple lines of Roman characters, the basic and orderly formations of my beloved English language, were in fact a grotesque jumble of shifting and pulsing characters more resembling the bizarre constructions of some Slavic or Oriental tongue.
It was my notice of this startling fact that brought forth the revelation that it was the world in which I lay helpless and bound that I would inevitably return. The fear and overwhelming panic of this awareness brought sudden, abrupt consciousness. It was with an even greater solace that my eyes opened upon a new scene, for I had not awoke amidst the terror of the darkened mists, nor was I bonded to some infernal pole. I was, in fact, exactly where I had hoped against hope to be.
I was not wrapped with bindings, nor blanketed by cold, damp air. Instead I lay swaddled within the soft cocoon of silken sheets and down-filled cotton pulled tight by apparent nocturnal thrashing. Though thoroughly soaked by the musty sweat of the purest fear, I was otherwise perfectly free of any danger, known or unknown. I breathed a heavy sigh as my racing heart and fevered lungs began to seek more subtle rhythms.
I remained motionless for many a moment, collecting myself and gathering my resolve. My throat was parched, my tongue dry to the point of sticking roughly to the roof of my mouth, and I craved nothing more at that moment than the soothing refreshment of a cool glass of water. The darkness of a moonless night made sight nigh impossible. I reached instinctively toward the glass it is my habit to leave beside the bed upon my night table.
Though desperate to satiate my thirst, though driven by the most basic instinct and the most resolute of wills, I could not summon the strength to draw my arm from the downy shell of my coverings. To my most egregious consternation, it dawned upon me that it were not my bedding that held me captive, but the paralysis of sleep that remained my prison. I screamed in frustration, but the imprecations and invectives that I deigned to foist upon the heavens caught thick in my dry throat, choking me with the silence of my aborted cries.
It was within this fit of motionless seizure, this terribly silent bit of tantrum, that a lurking presence made itself known. An indefinable form, somehow darker than the pitch black in which it moved, crept closer and closer to my bedside. I ceased my struggle and witheld my breath. With an absolute desperation, I sought a new level of motionlessness to the wishful point of appearing non-existant to this frightful harbinger of new and hateful torment. As the thing closed in upon me, the room grew colder, bone-chillingly so. I stared in its general direction, eyes locked upon its ever-shifting formlessness, until I could bear to see no more. Overcome with horror, I shuttered my eyes, squeezed them tight and awaited with dread some inevitable pain.
It was then that I came to, once again cloaked in heavy fog. I felt the dry, cracked earth upon my cheek, the jagged pebbles digging at my ribs, the tingly numb of swelling in my hands from a long period without proper circulation, and I laughed. It was the manic, hysterical laugh of a man devoid of hope, a hyenna-like howling cackle that brought tears to my eyes and newer, more intense, cramping to my aching torso.
I suffered this absurd state for quite a long while before my senses returned. Finally accepting that my current circumstance was undoubtedly and unfortunately indeed very real. I set my mind to fully assessing the nature of my ordeal with a reluctant but renewed calm.
Sight remained a near useless faculty as the eerie mists continued to occlude. Due to the nature of my fetters, it was all I could do to raise myself up onto my haunches. Like a crab, I scuttled about the small circle of my range, yielding as much of my weight to the tether and pole as my inflamed wrists would bear. My brief and clumsy reconnoiter found nothing I thought to value, so I settled back onto the soil and searched my other senses for clues.
I sniffed the air with the ferver of a tracking hound, but the scents that I surmised amounted to little more than moisture and my own foul stench. I closed my eyes and tuned my attention to my ear but heard nothing. The air was still, stiflingly stagnant. There was no hint of breeze, no tinkling rustle of leafy flora, no crackling or snapping of twigs that might bear witness of moving fauna. I was, to the best of my attempt to sense, completely alone in a place devoid of life.
Resting my back against the bulky wooden stake that played my gaoler, my mind began to reel, as it is wont to do when I am idle. I wondered not so much how I came to be in such predicament, for I felt it safely ascertained by simple reason that, given the insalubrious state of my anatomy and the seemingly remote place of my person, assumedly far removed from whence I could recall beginning, I had, no doubt, been drugged and abducted whilst I slept. The inquiry that turned and twisted through my mind then regarded the nature of my abductors. By whom had I been taken and to what end?
As I have stated, I am a coward, adverse to risk in all its many forms. To that end I have never taken to games of chance, nor incurred any debt by honest means or otherwise. I live a mostly solitary existence, having little need for the company of others, and thus could not imagine this the outcome of some personal grievance. I had heard no tales of local savages performing such home invasions, nor was I even aware of any native populations with which to cast such disparaging tales. In short, I could bring to mind not a single cause that might spurn another to punish me in such brutal and deliberate fashion.
Perhaps I was thinking too rationally. Perhaps I was captive to some deranged madman, some lunatic lacking in reason and compassion. Assuming the responsible party were, in fact, insane, perhaps this was the end of their plans for me. If they were of murderous inclination, why leave me here tied to a pole? I felt it safe to assume there was no sadistic pleasure in watching from afar, no sick joy in witnessing me struggle, whither, and die, because, given the density and seeming permanence of the godawful fog, the role of voyeur appeared an impossibility.
Having riddled all this for quite some time, and having settled upon a narrative that I felt best suited the facts at hand, I chose to operate under the assumption that the only present dangers were dehydration and starvation. I did not have any concept of time nor how many hours had passed, but I knew by its cacophonous rumbling and violent spasms that my stomach had been a great while without food or drink.
It occurred to me then that, since waking in this place, I had experienced no bodily urges of the expulsive type, though by merit of my stench I could imagine such functions had done their wretched work before I found consciousness. Regardless, none of these marked auspicious signs of my survival.
Again I felt panic rise up within me. Bringing my teeth to bear on knotted hemp, I champed and tugged and grinded and pulled. I employed every technique I could devise with little or no success. If anything at all, I had actually tightened the grip of the rope bindings. My hands pulsated, their reddish hue now a darker crimson, approaching violet.
I assumed a frog-like posture. With little fear my wrists were capable of further harm, I dug my feet into the dirt and threw my weight against the tether. Then, with the quickest, most violent force I could muster, I reversed direction, striking the post fully with my shoulder. These maneuvers, though somewhat cathartic in their aggression, did nothing to loosen the stake from its place in the ground. My only consolation, should one deign to call it such, was that the new and acute pain at my clavicle stole focus from my other ailments. I shuddered and heaved at the onset of this excruciating new infirmity, howling and moaning and cursing my stupidity. I am by no means a large man, nor gifted with anything approaching impressive strength. What business had I thinking brute force were an effective solution to my dilemma?
Reflecting back on it now I haven’t the foggiest notion how a pusillanimous cur such as I should have marshaled the courage to go on, and I may forever be amazed that the simplest of solutions had rarely garnered much support among my many muddled and anxious thoughts. It wasn’t that I never pondered hastening my end, hadn’t imagined all manner of final solutions from lashing my throat with my tether to bashing my skull repeatedly upon the post, and perhaps, in the end, it was my cowardly nature that staved off such thoughts, but, truth be told, an odd faith seemed to be welling within me. Regardless of the mounting number of my failings and infirmities, every moment I still took breath, a sense that I would indeed survive grew stronger.
I sat for a long while with little more than this odd faith to assuage the wounds of both body and ego. I took long, belabored breaths, pleaded with my mind to quiet. Slowly at first, but increasing pace with each deep inhale, both pain and panic abated. In short order, my thoughts, which had been swirling about with an incomprehensible rapidity, subsided near completely, and, though I knew it not then, I returned to slumber.
Though to my eye I remained seated and slumped before the stake, my head hung in quiet exacerbation, I had, in retrospect, slipped again into the darkened landscape of my unconscious. A wild, cackling laugh, of a maniacal and feminine nature echoed about me. I raised my head in the direction of the sound’s origin, could see quite starkly a woman’s supple form within the fog. She stood perhaps ten paces away, the fog obscuring all color and detail, but from what I could gather of her appearance she was no doubt quite lovely despite what I imagined must be some twisted grin upon her countenance, a likely adjunct to such hearty yet morbid guffaws. Though the misty vail secreted her most intimate features, I was near certain she lingered before me with little more covering than nature provided. Her form was slender but shapely, her hair long and untamed. The only discernible feature upon her face were widened eyes that seemed to shimmer, almost glow without even the faintest light about.
By the nature of her wicked laugh, I assumed immediately that she was the originator of my troubles. Even still, I could not help but notice a certain arousal stirring within me. Should this mysterious woman have come within reach, I may never be certain whether the impetus of my likely aggression would have been vengeance or lust. I suppose, given the animal natures of man, there is every possibility that both drives might have found their place in my actions.
The woman never proffered such opportunity. Though I shouted all manner of vitriol and plea, she said but one phrase and departed. Her words drove me to silence, and her shadowy form faded into the fog.
You make these shackles.
I awoke with the woman’s words rattling about in my mind, felt as if I still heard her tormenting laugh. The bizarre nature of the experience proved quite a distraction for I was soaked to the bone and three inches sunk in mud before I realized that it had been raining. A torrent of water fell from the sky, a mad tempest that threatened to suffocate me beneath the quickly softening earth.
Finally the air was moving, and not with mild breeze but, instead, a whipping, swirling, violent wind that should have thrown me save the tether, post, and paste of fresh mud. The fog cleared almost instantly, and I held witness to an awesome and imposing sight.
Directly before me a great edifice of stone, great yellow crags and orange blackening crevaces, towered toward the angry, purple heavens. Behind, a similar mass of jagged rock imposed itself upon me. It seemed my prison were a massive gorge, my floor a once dry riverbed.
Thunder boomed and summoned the earth to tremble. The vast, regal firmament was incessantly alight with scattered lightning, luminous cracks in so many purple windows. Awash in the strobing light, I looked upon the majestic sight with quiet awe that quickly gave way to grim foreboding.
The waters had risen above my ankles and would soon overtake my knees. I imagined a great wave of white-capped water would soon rush down upon my head. If I remained imprisoned, it would not be long before I drowned. My only hope were that my sturdy gaoler might find leave to loosen itself from the softening soil.
With no thought of the increased damage I would cause to my beleaguered frame, I once again set to ramming myself against the post. Once, twice, thrice I drove my body’s mass into the thing, but it did not budge. Now both of my shoulders screamed in agony, begging me to remit in my abuse, but I would not, could not, accept my own demise.
The water was now above my knee, creeping over my waist as I crouched. Little footing remained with which I could push. I girded my loins, mustering all the strength and will I had remaining for one final foray against the post.
I struck the damnable thing with a might I’d not known. I knew nothing of my triumph or failure, for the inscrutable pain rendered me near immediately unconscious.
No dreamy visions or petrifying phantasms this time accompanied the blank sleep to which I had succumb. What time had passed before consciousness returned to me I could not say, but I can assure you it was under far more pleasurable circumstances.
It seems my final, desperate thrust had accomplished its task. I and my sturdy gaoler, mass and fates inexorably lashed, had floated safely out of that imposing gorge. By some great luck, ironically buoyed by that infernal piece of wood, I had been found on the banks of some foreign river.
A woman, fair of face and sweet as honey, now cares for me in her simple home of brick and yellow mud. I do not, as yet, know her name, nor understand her language, but I am, for once, happy not to be alone.