The Space and The Outside
I was born into this space. I like it. The dim light on the dark walls provides amusement. I can see shapes and characters around me as I grow. The drip, drip, drip of fresh mineral water trickles past me and I lick it off the soft ground. I know that there are minerals in it. It’s healthy. It’s good.
Occasionally, there’s a puzzling breeze through my space. It smells different to what I’m used to. The smell is dry and fresh and……interesting. I sniff it eagerly. But when it goes away, I prefer my space. I was born into it. I like it. I like the dark comfort and the soft, dark shapes that keep me company.
I find one day that I can’t stand up in my space. I’ve grown. I have to bend my head sideways to get around. The breeze whispers past me that day, enticing me. I put my head down and slurp greedily at the soft trench that wends through my space, savouring the deep minerally taste. Sated, I lie down and enjoy watching the shapes dance on the walls in the murk.
That’s when the thought first hits me.
What if there is more than my space? What if there is more than I can see?
I roll over and stretch my hands out as far as they go. The moss is soft and wet on my hands. I stretch further and yank my hands back, sickened. Beyond the moss is slippery, wet muck. It is yuck.
Taking a deep breath, I push myself with my feet this time. Arms stretched out, I slide fast and smash head-first into the slick wall. I lie there, dazed. Some minerally water trickles past my throbbing cheek. I turn my head and savour it. It’s healthy. It’s good.
The slippery, wet muck is all over me. I crawl back to the drier moss - slipping all the way - and curl up. Now I feel sad. That’s what I get for stretching out and seeking more. I’m filthy and dirty. I’m a mess. I can’t do anything now.
I sleep deeply.
When I awake, my space feels smaller again.
I’ve grown. Has using my body for stretching caused me to grow? I press my thirsty head down against the same trench that has supplied my needs for so long. It’s so strange. It’s dry!
My mouth burns with need. I rock back and forth, wishing I had never tried. Wishing I had never sought. Wishing I had never thought a thought. My head brushes back and forth on the roof of my space and after a while, it hurts. I have to stop.
I curl up and watch the shapes and characters talk to each other, whispering about me. They’ve never done this before.
If only she’d stayed. If only she’d obeyed.
I grow angry.
I shout, “I WAS JUST CURIOUS!”
There’s no reply. Why do they think so ill of me? I was just trying.
But the breeze. The fresh, dry breeze that smells like nothing else I have ever known. There is something more out there.
Something twinges in my ears. It’s messy but melodical. A sound? Others can make sounds? They sound so happy! Here in my cramped, dank space, I just groan. I shout when I’m mad because I can't even stretch out without making a mess.
I cry bitterly. Suddenly my little space doesn’t feel pleasant. My feet are wet. My nose drips. It’s slippery. Maybe…….maybe…….I don’t like it? Maybe?
Sleep overtakes me. The warmth and wetness comforts me while I still hate it yet. I can’t leave. It’s comfort, it’s home. It’s all I’ve known and my place to be.
The breeze visits me every day now. It’s torture.
I love my space. My sweet, damp and murky home. It’s all I’ve known and I must stay here. It’s my responsibility to stay here and be here. Why does this mysterious and enticing breeze work itself into my nostrils, sharing tales of brightness? Why are my ears hearing melodic and happy voices? How is it that I’ve come to be born here, yet I know that others are out there?
I realise that the sweet torture of the breeze is causing me to grow and swell. My heart beats stronger within my chest. My muscles can move for longer now without growing tired. My head desperately wants to lift up, but it can’t. The roof is too low.
Desperation claws at me as I grow and I can’t reach the trench of my water that sustains me. I’m now too big to turn around even in my space. My feet touch the walls. I’m pressed in. I weep most of the time. What am I going to do? I love it here, but I can’t stay?
I wake up one morning and realise I can’t move. My feet and legs are pressing up against the walls and it hurts. Oh, how it hurts! The furrows and sharp points that once provided me amusement and pleasure as I lay down in the dim light are pressing into my flesh. I think I’m actually bleeding now. My tongue is swollen and dry. It sticks to the roof of my mouth. I ache. I hurt.
My agony grows as I smell the breeze and lie in my space, skewered and stuck.
One day, something lands on my head. I jerk awkwardly.
It’s the end of a rope. It has a knot in it.
I stare at it with untrusting and narrow eyes. I know what it means and I want it. But I am scared. The rope jiggles. I jerk again. My heart is beating furiously in my chest, threatening to burst out of my rib cage.
I want out. It will hurt. I know it will hurt. But the pain has grown so deep, so dark and terrible that I’m willing to pay the price. I want to move. I want out!
Gingerly, I touch my fingertips to the knot at the end of the rope. It feels rough. It feels real. It feels wonderful!
I grip with both hands and pull myself up with my strong arms with muscles that don’t get tired. The sharp edges of my space retract gradually from my flesh and I can feel blood from them winding down my legs. I don’t care. I am on an adventure and I am out!
Ahead of me is nothing but murk. The floor is wet. Slippery and slimy tentacles drip from the roof and slop over my head. Ashamed, I lift my mouth and savour the wetness in my broken mouth. I put my head back down, trusting the strong and wonderful rope to lead me away from the space and my pain. I squeeze my eyes shut, knowing that what I will see will be not good for me.
Metre by metre, I pull myself up the rope, enjoying being able to move. I don’t have much space and my elbows keep bumping the sides as I scrape myself along. But I can feel myself going up. I’m excited and exhilarated.
After a while, I realise that the tentacles that draped themselves along me are gone.
The breeze smells stronger up here.
It motivates me to try harder.
When I reach out my arm to pull myself a little further up the tunnel, my hand brushes something foreign. It’s sharp at first, but when I put my hand on it, it bends. It’s smooth. It feels cool and small in my fingertips. I feel along it and it gets very narrow, then is attached to a small, stiff round bit that attaches to the wall. I decide to like it.
As I struggle on, there are more of the little tear-drop shaped shapes that stroke my head, arms and legs as I pass by. They grow quite thick, like a brush against me. After a while, I realise that I don’t feel as slippery…….I touch my ears and they are soft and cool, but not wet. My hair is drying.
I finally dare to open my eyes.
And am stunned.
I recoil at the light - it’s so bright!
After a few minutes, I can see the little brushes that have helped clear my body. They’re small trees, growing inwards towards the middle of the tunnel!
I roll over onto my back and look up. I can see the roof of the tunnel. If I wanted to, if I dared – I might try to stand up!
I do it. I can DO IT! I get on my hands and knees, then push myself up.
I sit down again and begin sliding along against the rope as I have been. I pull forwards and stop. Those sounds again. Merry and sweet and melodical. Swinging in my ears, clearer.
Then it hits me.
The most magnificent sweep of that breeze rolls over my face, my hair, my back and legs. My nostrils crackle with the dryness and freshness. My eyes water with the brilliance of it.
I whisper to myself affirming words. I knew there was something out here! I knew there was more! I am going to get it!
With renewed vigour, I rush forward with a burst of energy. Pulling myself along the rope almost viciously. I am getting out.
I realise that there are voices calling out to me.
I crawl into the side of the tunnel and put my hands to my mouth. Tears stream over my hands as I draw my knees up to my chin. I can’t breathe.
They know my name! They’re calling to me!
“Julie!” a voice calls. It is a warm voice, with an edge. The edge snatches at the corners of my brain. I love to hear that voice and I like the edge. It’s steely and mature. “The tunnel is big! You can stand up and walk!”
I sob and hug myself.
Someone knows me. They want me to get out, too! There is something out there. It's more. It's warmth!
I decide that if I’m going to get out, I need to do what they ask. I wipe my face and stand up. It’s a heady feeling. The adventure has taken me higher than I thought I could go. I like where I stand. It’s leafy and pleasant. The light streaming down the tunnel is amazing! I bend over, hands on knees, indecisive.
Fatigue pounds at my body, demanding. I fall over. The blackness is welcome. It’s relief.
When I wake up, I feel a bit better. My brain is thick and heavy with the light, leaves and height of my space.
The rope jiggles underneath my arms as I lie sprawled in the tunnel. It smells dusty and has tints of murk to the air. My stomach clenches in fear suddenly and I stand up. I take a few steps and realise that the top of the tunnel is laced with stretchy and sticky strands that I can’t get off when I touch it.
I realise that there is still a long way to go. But the friendly, warm breeze that sought me out down below places his smooth, sweepy tendrils under my chin and lifts my head. I smell salt. Somehow the word drops into my head. It’s a salty, dry and fresh smell.
“Julie!” my help calls. “Just keep walking! It’s spider web and it can only trap you if you let it! Now run!”
I have no idea what running is, but I hear the urgency in the voice and pick my feet up. I pound them forward and out. I swing my arms along the side of my body. It’s the most fantastic feeling! I like running! I like it!
The walls grow lighter and lighter as I run past. The spider web is growing thick and is now threaded across the floor of the tunnel, too. I stumble and sprawl on the spider web. It sticks to my forehead, arms and legs. I peel myself off it and strings of it wave in the breeze from my body.
I’m scared. It’s so treacherous! I look back and wonder about heading down, briefly.
I can hear a mix of voices now calling my name. I want to see them. I want to be in the breeze with them. I can hear a dull echoing roar in the background.
Waves, my mind whispers.
I have no idea what waves are, but it sounds wonderful. I want to see them!
Slowly, I start walking forward. Ahead, there’s twisting strings of spider web across the tunnel. I have no alternative. Through them is where I must go.