A jagged diamond of bright white light, fuzzy like he was looking through an unfocused camera, appeared directly above him. At the same time the pain awoke, a searing fire in his lower back and legs, and then he noticed the cold. He didn’t want to move in case he’d broken something when he fell, assuming he could move, and assuming he did fall, so he just laid there, blinking up at the jagged white diamond.
The sides of the enclosure gleamed softly beneath the opening, a faint silvery luminescence gracing the edges and faces of the gray-black rock unlike any of the rocks he’d seen in the hills around his home. “Home,” he thought. Where was home? Suddenly a bolt of lightning struck his back, convulsed his whole body, a cloud of steam burst up toward the diamond light, then another, smaller cloud, and another, each one frying his nerves like a blast of fire. “Note to self,” he thought when the pain had settled. “Try not to cough.”
How he had landed at the bottom of the pit may have been a useful question to try to answer, but his memories vanished like fleeing shadows; his own name wrestled free from his grasp. A fall like this practically guaranteed severe brain trauma. Staring up at the diamond some seventy feet above he felt a rush of gratitude for being preserved alive. Drawing open his jaw, he whispered a word of thanks, one word, “God.”
Soon after that he slept, he must have, because the next thing he knew the diamond had disappeared and the pit was covered in darkness. Fixing his eyes on the place where the light had shone down he searched for stars, clouds, the slightest hint of moonlight, yet found nothing, and shutting his eyes again, resolved to sleep until daylight. Before the numbness could swallow him, a crawling sensation on his right calf alerted him to the presence of some creature lurking there, a small animal with strength, insect or lizard. With a simultaneous kick of his right foot and flail of his left arm, he managed to smack it off, then laid as still as possible till the fire in his bones subsided. Sleep overtook him, smiling in the dark. He could move.
The next day proved somewhat productive, though advancement was slow. By the hour at which the diamond began to grow dim he’d completed a turn onto his stomach, and had inched forward two or three feet in the direction of what he judged to be the closest wall of the enclosure. The floor of the pit, mostly sand and gravel with a few large rocks the size of car batteries, felt soaked by collected rain water or maybe thin puddles seeping up from an underground stream. Whatever its source the liquid was nearly frozen, numbing his flesh on contact. Sinking into sleep that night, his thoughts narrowed upon the goal of crawling to the wall by the end of the following day. He remembered a line his brother used to say, a quote from the Bible. “All things,” he whispered. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Voices, sounds, groaning… Spirits churning in the deep… Dull chanting like the songs of a demon choir woke him, drove him up past the surface of oblivion. He gasped, a quick succession of panting breaths, the gritty taste of sand in his cheek. He turned his head upright and spat, resting his chin on a smooth flat stone, and blinking his eyes, detected the faint sheen on the nearest wall, twelve, thirteen feet away. “This is possible,” he assured himself. Drawing three more deep breaths, he hoisted the weight of his torso onto his right elbow, unleashing a tortured wail, and threw all the power he could summon from his right shoulder and lat into propelling his upper body forward, in the hope that his legs would advance behind him. The maneuver planted him flat on his face in the rocks, with a succession of gnawing aches pulsing out from the base of his spine. Ten long minutes elapsed before the agony receded enough for him to open his eyes and gauge the progress he’d made. The gently luminous wall still shone twelve feet away.
The day he’d set for reaching it became one week, and the week became two. Every attempt to move forward tormented him worse than the last, however this impression faded with the agony itself. When the sober working of his faculties returned at the end of the day, he believed the pain to be lessening with each new attempt. Whether or not this was wishful thinking, or the projected longing of sheer faithful desperation, was impossible to say. He hoped the pain was receding, that his body was healing, but these concerns fell into periphery on the morning he reached the wall.
The full utility of his right arm and most of the use of his left would help him grip the holds and hang there, for a few minutes at least, to catch his breath, before pulling up to the next resting place. To even begin the climb required a minimum of leg strength to support his body while resting, letting him search out the next viable hold with his free hand. His legs had proven useless during his journey across the floor of the pit, since any endeavor to bend his knees or push with his feet spiked a debilitating shock into his back, blinding him and nearly rendering him unconscious. But he felt better now, stronger, like God had empowered him for the second phase of his escape.
Turning so he sat with his back against the wall, he felt behind him for leverage to stand up without bending his legs. Securing his palms to the edges of two uneven holds about a foot off the ground, he strained up and back, shifting more and more weight onto his outstretched legs, lifting higher, to the highest position his grip would allow, the pain smoldering in his back, until his left palm slipped off the wall and he fell, catching himself with a backwards slide of his right foot, able somehow to support him now.
He stood up for what felt like the first time ever. He turned around, rocked from heels to toes, heels to toes, leaned his head back and shouted for joy. The bright diamond beamed down at him from a height that looked insurmountable. His joy ceased instantly, destroyed by the cruel hammer of reality, and he dropped, hollow, to the ground.
For days he stayed there, curled up by the wall. The sun would rise, somewhere, illumine the mouth of his pitiful den, grace the cold rock in front of him with a soft blue sheen, and set again, immersing his life in empty darkness. One day, two, three, he stopped counting, buried his mind in the chambers of his soul where a soft dim warmth still glowed. Waves of grief passed through, turned him over in riptides of hungriest despair, roaring death pounded nightly at his door, and then, hearing no answer, tore away again, letting warm comfort envelop him and soothe his damaged heart.
One morning as the diamond light waxed brighter up above, he extended his arm, pressed his hand against the cool angular surface, when instantly the stone awoke, enlivened by his touch and animated inside by golden flowing particles of light. The light poured through the rock, entered his fingers and traveled up his arm, collecting at his core and radiating outward in slowly widening rings. This occurrence jolted him awake, though he failed to move from his place by the wall. No physical sensation had accompanied the influx of this new light, but rather an awareness, the sudden activation of knowledge so familiar, so native to his soul, as if a vital circuit were now restored, engaging the harmony and totality of his being. Silently rolling onto his back, and standing up, he started to climb.
Carefully at first, making certain not to slip, testing the holds with his hands and feet before committing his weight to them, then more quickly, each safe elevation adding new courage, strength, boldness. Toward the light he struggled with increasing confidence and ease, joints and muscles working smoothly, painlessly, like he’d been built to scale this wall, intentionally designed to conquer this surface. The stone gleamed brighter and brighter—in an instant he felt it, his right hand breached the diamond entrance of the enclosure and grabbed hold of the jagged shelf.
A combined lift and pull of his arms let him swing his foot over the ledge, and at last he was free, on his back in the light. Shielding his eyes, cautiously, he looked around. At first all he saw was mini-blinds. Light filtered through the horizontal bars outlining a female body standing beside him, speaking quickly and squeezing his arm. The words grew clearer as his vision sharpened, and he saw her, a young dark-haired woman wearing a stethoscope and black scrubs.
“Don’t try to move,” she told him. “Can you understand what I’m saying? Blink once for yes and two for no.”
“I can hear you fine,” he said.
“You can talk.”
“I can talk.”
“Stay still, please, sir. We’re going to have to run some tests.”
~ *~ ~*~ ~*~
Robert Lampros is an author of Christian poetry, essays, and fiction who lives in St. Louis. He earned a Bachelor's degree in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. His books include Fits of Tranquility, Afternoon, and Last Year's Resolution.