We are nothing; less than nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been, and must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have existence, and a name. – Charles Lamb, Essays of Elia, ‘Dream Children’
Creeping dawn light, or its crystalline-clear cousin, seems a thousand hours away, yet everything has a delicious sense of clarity about it that shocks as much as excites. Darkness, terrible and foreboding, threatening and menacing darkness lends an air of terror to the dank room the boy finds himself enclosed within.
Day one of his enforced journey begins here, within the confines of his own mind. The mind which is to reject and suppress, mull over and deny, fights against the darkness of the cavernous region in which his youthful body hides.
The boy, not yet on the thresh-hold of adolescence, is buried alive. There is no escape, and, perversely, he fears what awaits outside more than what presently confronts him, holds him in its awe and mothers him. Yes, provides the warmth and stability of homeliness. Darkness is the boy’s parent now and nothing tucks him in at night..
Orphaned no more, he is fascinated by the smells of the darkness, the steadily throbbing sounds which harass, the stultifying heat of the machine-room, the faintest black-on-black outline caught in his failing vision. Vision stretched by the attempt to see clearly, to decipher, make meaning of, and eventually come to understand. But there is no understanding and the darkness of the eyeless machine-room reinforces the fearful fact that there is nothing. That he is nothing.
The sights and sounds of the lit world enter his mind; blue water in an above ground pool awash with chlorine odour, bees (never wasps) carefully checking for pollen in the tall wild flowers that shoot forth to soak up the last rays of a dead summer long forgotten, football umpires’ shrill whistles reverberating from suburban playing fields, long drives home on recently rained upon roads that slice carefully between the quiet homes of the well-to-do that are derided for no apparent reason, spin the bottle in the school yard of his weekday or the brickyard of his week’s end. Right now, this other world, this plain of mortal men and uncharacteristically melancholy Gods is gone. It is no more, has become nothing.
He is back within his mind, back within the darkness of the machine-room. And his breathing quickens; something tightens in his throat, grabs hold from within. He’s choking. “Flee!”, yells the wind (but it can’t be as there is no breeze, no feelings beyond the tightening of his larynx). His legs fail to move, he exercises no control over his own body, only his mind belongs to him and he forces it to slow down the pictures that race before it like a B-grade flick that won’t end. Again, “Flee!, Escape!”, and the boy realises it’s his mind that is giving the order, instantaneously his limbs obey and paralysis wanes.
He reaches the hollow steel steps that lead to above and the contractions within his throat diminish with every rung climbed. The metallically echoed clang, clang, clang can be heard a mile or more away. His young heart races, pauses for a second or more, restarts, beats out a tune which is unrecognisable. He is up the steel ladder, through the unlatched small door which he flings open to reveal yet more darkness. Nothingness reigns over the landscape. To his mind’s eye what is above was below and he struggles to elicit a true direction.
He bolts, swift as a gazelle, though not nearly as carefree. Predators abound in the boy’s jungle and a quick death is never a surety. The citrus tree in the yard of the hotel opposite beckons with its sweet fragrance and its protective thorns which only boys know about, but alas, there’s a tall fence of cyclone mesh topped by three taut strands of barbed wire to contend with. And there’s also a busy road to transgress and he’s still young enough, though no longer innocent, to be cautious about crossing it. Look right, look left, just run and disregard the rules.
Short of the fence he leaps, takes majestic eagle-like flight and lands halfway up the fence with his weak fingers and toes poking through the wire diamonds of the fence. He can sense escape, quite literally he can feel its magnificent pull. But wait, a hand; strong, forceful, empowered, male, clutches at his waist. He lets forth a girlish, cowering, high-pitched scream; well, tries to anyway. There’s no sound. Nothing.
Not even the beat of his tender young heart maintains its steady rhythm. Darkness ensures he is cocooned as he is pulled from the fence. His weak toes and pathetic hands yield their grip, he feels like he’s drowning but no arms flail about. He awakens in a sweat but it’s still dark and there’s no one to whom he can tell of his fanciful visions. There’s nothing.
Though something, an animal, moves beside him in the bed, drawing him closer with the strong limb wrapped around his boyish waist.