Darkness, void of consciousness.
Only the rabbit hole descended through, only the empty space itself.
Then, shimmering up from the depths arises the sense of touch: skin upon stone. The sensation is tremulous, though, and slinks with its back along the borderland between thought and suspended animation. It does not trust me. It skirts around the periphery of my mind, reveling in freedom, resistant to my ownership. I will have to sew myself back to this sense like Peter Pan to his shadow.
I call gently, coaxing it like a wayward kitten, extending friendship and assurance. Reluctantly, it creeps back to me, wraps me in its touch and becomes my skin once more.
I am cold and damp against the floor. Cold, damp and afraid to move lest I might scare myself away and become again an empty ghost.
Eyes still shut I observe the darkness around me. This is not a place of my choosing. My cheek is smashed flat against the limestone. The air smells like tomb. For a moment, I consider the hopeful notion that this may yet be a nightmare, something horrible and unreal that I can wake safely from, too hot beneath my mound of blankets with drops of sweat heavy like gazpacho across my scalp.
No such luck.
I am in this subterranean place. I walked into the mouth of the bear and felt death bubble up cauldron-like inside me. The distance between daylight and me weighs a a million pounds, and though I am now sure I am awake, I cannot rouse myself.
“It’s not like a cave,” he had assured me, “It’s like a basement, or a wine cellar, just with more bones.”
“So, like the wine cellar of a deranged serial killer. Hold on just a moment, I have a lovely ’77 you’ll just… die for.”
“Exactly. Now drink this.”
I frowned. “It’s green.”
“I was told to lay off the green stuff. It’s danger.”
Tap-tap, he insisted, bringing his glass down quickly in front of mine, a challenge to a game. I could not resist.
We drank the neon Absinthe and for a moment I was invincible. Or insane. Or in love. I fancied myself Dante, ready to brave all seven circles of my own personal inferno in pursuit of this man. Fill me full of liquid courage and I’ll jump right into the deep end of spelunking, never mind the panic I feel underground, never mind the twisting miles of neatly arranged bones. I will follow you into these catacombs, just let me bury my face against your shoulder and breath your scent into my soul.
Still prone, I test one finger. It seems to work.
I open only my left eye, the bad one, the one for whom I wear glasses. Before me a blurry grayness persists. I return to a moment from childhood: the one in which I have just started awake from a bad dream. Is it better to turn on the lights and see that there are no monsters there, or is it better to remain encased in darkness, just in case there are monsters there.
My flashlight is still on, though it rolled out of my hand when I hit the floor and now sits just beyond my reach. I trace the line of light still only using my bad eye. The light fans out in long lacey shards like the sharp edges of broken glass, alive with a shimmering spiral of dust.
I raise myself up onto my elbows and the glass gathers around my skull. Realizing that I may have hit the back of my head a bit harder than I generally like to, a new panic sets in, a real one. What if I am seriously injured; what if I am bleeding internally in the back of my head. My brain is swelling up subtly, dragging me unwilling into my final chapter.
Where is he? I try to call to him, but my voice does not make it past my teeth. I am dying.
Everything grows cold and a stillness descends upon me, painless to my body, though my mind cries softly for its own demise. Will I be noticed down here amongst the dead? Will there even be a need to carry my body back to the surface, or shall I remain forever locked in this tomb of history, stacked up with the other skeletons, unnamable and impossible to put back together with my skull-head stacked up over here and my femurs in another room entirely. Would I boogie down below the streets of Paris with the countless others, unnoticed by the living world above, or would I simply disintegrate into dust, to catch in the light of a flashlight, the particles of myself dancing utterly without self. Would—
“What are you doing?”
Dying. If you must ask.
“Crystal, are you okay.”
“Is so cold,” I shiver out imperceptibly between numbed lips.
“Well, you’re lying in a puddle.”
“It’s rain water.”
“It’s not blood?”
“No. Wait let me check for sure. No.”
He reaches down a hand and lifts me up. The world spins around me a few times and then settles still. Paranoid, I press two fingers against my wrist and count thirty heartbeats.
“I think I’m okay.”
“What happened? Did you slip?”
My mouth fills with a cotton feeling. I don’t want to tell him. There was nothing brave in how I wound up prone beneath Paris, there was nothing even comical. I wished to tell him the story of how I chased the demons back, brandishing my cutlass ostentatiously. I even wished I could report that I was so drunk a wall of pokey ribs blindsided me and I slipped back with a woozy boozy bump.
“Fntd,” I tell him without using any vowels.
He laughs, and I want to not join in, but I can’t help it.
“It’s like a cave,” I notify him, using his strength to pull myself back to standing.
He smiles and returns me to the light.