31 Days of Blogging – Day 8
Today I am going to share with you an excerpt from the novel I am very slowly writing.
A few posts ago, I did a Writer’s Challenge – Characters that Haunt You – In that post I wrote a scene for a character that I have been holding to for a long time, Maggie. Today I decided to write another scene for Maggie. Technically this scene comes before the other one, but it doesn’t really matter what order they are read in.
Another of my Bucket List items for 2014 is to write 50,000 words towards my novel…here is 2,975 of them…
In the beginning there was light. She remembered that much. A single flame and seven candles. The only light now was in her dreams. She dreamed of the soft green grass between her toes and the azure blue sky that stretched infinitely above her. She dreamt of the whisper of the tall grass as the breeze danced playfully across the rolling hills. She yearned to feel the caress of the wind on her skin and the kiss of the sun on her face. But that world only existed in her dreams now and she wondered whether it really existed at all. All she had now was darkness and the smell of rot and refuse.
She tried to hold on to the dream for as long as she could, but it slipped through her fingers like water. She lay still, her eyes closed and tried to remember. It was her ritual every time she woke from the dream; to force herself to remember. It was getting harder and harder, the memories were faded and unclear and sometimes she didn’t know what was a real memory and what was just wishful thinking. It had been so long.
She opened her eyes and in some ways it was darker than with her eyes closed. Slowly vague shapes came into focus as her eyes adjusted. There was no light, only an all pervading darkness, but she had been in the dark so long that her eyes had some how evolved and she could make out the shapes that made up her world, not that there was much to see.
The room, if you could call it that, was square. Each of the four walls were ten paces exactly. There was no door, there were no windows. The walls were made of stone, as was the floor. The ceiling was too high for her to reach, but she assumed that it too was made of the same cold, unforgiving stone as the rest of her prison.
She knew there was a shelf on one wall. It had held the seven candles that she remembered and she could vaguely make out its shape in the darkness. The candles were gone now, so was the flame. They had been used up a long time ago and no one had come to replace them. The shelf was also made of stone, built into the wall and only three fingers wide. She had tried to climb up on it once, in the early days; those first few months when she still had hope that she could escape. It had been no use, it was too narrow and there was nothing for her to hold on to so that she could keep her balance. The falling had hurt, the cold stone floor unforgiving.
She sighed as she continued her habitual remembering. There was the flame and the candles. She remembered the pain, it was important for her to remember the pain. The pain helped her remember that she had given birth, but that memory also brought with it the grief of her loss. The baby had not survived. Was that why she had been locked away and forgotten? She didn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl, she just remembered the pain and the voices telling her that her baby was dead. She couldn’t remember anything before that, her mind was completely devoid of anything before the pain and the death of her child. She didn’t even know her own name. She tried not to dwell on it. She had long ago decided that it was more important to hold on to the memories she had than torture herself with those she had lost.
She remembered the pain and the baby and she remembered being brought into this room. There had been a door then, well actually it had been a wall of bars and a door. At the time she had not really registered what was going on, she was sick with grief and the pain was all consuming. She remembered the silent sisters that tended her; dressing her wounds, feeding her bitter, hot soup. They never spoke to her, they barely looked at her. They wore their habits like armour. None of her pleading, her crying or her hysterics got through to them and then they stopped coming. The next thing she remembered was the bars gone, the cold stone wall in its place, and the two remaining candles.
She remembered exploring the cell, while the light remained. There were three square holes in one of the walls, too high up for her to reach and a hole in the floor covered with a metal grate. There was also a metal bucket and a cup. She had wondered about those holes, but it hadn’t taken too long for her to work out what they were for. The first time she had been still too sick to move and had missed it. She had wept after that first time, not knowing when the next one would be. Fortunately, when the next one came she was ready.
She heard it first, a rumbling from above. When she heard it she had jumped off the pallet that served as her bed and grabbed the bucket. The scraps of food tumbled from the hole and she caught what she could in the bucket. She had looked down at her bounty; half eaten bread, bones with scraps of meat attached, vegetable peelings. Kitchen refuse, but she wasn’t disappointed, she was too hungry to care.
She heard the telltale trickle of water and got her cup ready, the dirty water splashing through the second hole and into the cup, filling it to overflowing. The excess drained away through the grate in the floor. She wanted to gulp the fetid water, but she made herself sip slowly, the awful taste souring her stomach. She knew that she had to hoard whatever food and water she could, it was her only chance of survival. The third hole had remained a mystery a little longer.
Those first few days she had been in a state of denial. She couldn’t really believe that she was here and she did not think she would be here as long as she had been. When the last candle had finally spluttered and died she thought for sure that someone would come, but no one did. The time had stretched indeterminately; without light she had no way to measure the time. Her “days” were only broken up by the food drops and the rest of the time she slept. Every five food drops or so the third hole would come into play. Warm soapy water would pour down, it was dirty, she could feel the grit in it, but at least she got to wash to some degree.
The time stretched and stretched, the darkness closed in on her. The temperature never changed, the atmosphere was steady, there was no breeze only darkness, dampness and a pervading chill. She remembered the panic, the breathlessness the feeling of suffocating and the debilitating fear. No one was coming for her, no one cared. There were other moments when she thought that she must be dead, that she was in hell, that she would spend the rest of eternity in this subsistence. Then she would wonder why, if she were dead, did she still feel hunger and thirst?
As she laid on her bed, she let those emotions wash over her. She needed to feel the fear and the panic, she needed to keep remembering.
Time dragged, she went through the motions, enough to keep her alive and then she started to feel angry. The anger rose up in her as she remembered the feelings of betrayal and abandonment. Ultimately it was the anger that had helped her survive. She had refused to give in to the despair, refused to curl up and die. She remembered the day she made the decision to live; things changed after that.
She couldn’t remember her name, so she chose a new one for herself. Maggie. She didn’t know where the name came from, but she felt right about it. Next she determined to get strong physically. She paced her cell, stretched her cramped muscles, and devised ways to strengthen her weak arms and legs. She worked out a routine that she did every time she woke.
She knew that strengthening her body was only part of it, she needed to keep her mind strong as well. That is when she started remembering. It helped to keep her from going insane, it gave her focus and it kept her anger burning.
As her body and her mind strengthened, she had began to hear noises. At first she worried that she was losing her mind and she tried to ignore them, but they continued. Being blinded by the dark had heightened her other senses and she could here the scurrying of rodents and insects and could smell when something foreign was in her cell, but these other noises were different; they seemed to be in her head. It was a chattering at first, and as she accepted what she was hearing the chattering resolved itself into a voice. It wasn’t talking to her, it was like someone having a conversation that she could overhear. It took a while for her to realise that she could hear the small animals talking to one another.
She tried to communicate with them. Maggie figured that if she was going mad, it didn’t really matter if she indulged it and if she wasn’t, and this was something that was really happening, then maybe they could help her. They ignored her at first, no one like her had ever spoken to such lowly creatures before and they thought she was talking to herself, her mind breaking after being isolated for so long. Eventually she convinced them.
It wasn’t like talking to another human, the small creatures she communicated with had short attention spans and didn’t view the world as humans did. They were mainly concerned with where their next meal was coming from. They had no concept of time and it took a while for her to understand a lot of their chatter. Nothing they told her was very helpful, but it gave her something to hang on to.
Maggie closed her eyes and breathed slowly, centring her self. She counted her breaths, controlling her inhalation, holding it and then exhaling, expelling the air from her lungs and letting her muscles go slack. She did this a few times before standing with her feet shoulder width apart and her arms hanging by her side. She breathed in deeply and with the inhalation, she began her kata. She moved with grace, her movements fluid and controlled. Her strength, agility and balance were honed by the routine that Maggie had worked on day after day during her captivity. She moved from one form to the next smoothly, speeding up as she progressed. By the time she was finished, she was breathing hard and sweating. She brought her hands together above her head and slowly lowered them to a prayer position before bowing and exhaling to finish. Now that her body was warm and flexible, she began to stretch, gently lengthening each muscle group methodically. With her stretching finished she stood and waited.
The norm, if there was one, was that the kitchen scraps would arrive about now, but that hadn’t been the case for the last few “days”. She was beginning to worry. Maybe they had forgotten about her, maybe they thought she was dead. Maggie had been in this dark hole for a very long time, maybe whoever had put her here was dead and now there was no living person left who knew that there was a prisoner down here. She shuddered at the thought. During her entire incarceration she had held on to the belief that someone would eventual find her, now that belief was being challenged.
She also hadn’t spent this whole time waiting for someone to rescue her. She had been working on a way to free herself and her little rodent friends had been helping her. She was trapped, but the rats could come and go. They had confirmed for her that she was underground and with their help she had been trying to dig her way out. With no tools it had been rough going. Her hands were sore and calloused from digging through compacted earth and rock. She had taken it slowly at first, but now with the food no longer falling from the chute, she had redoubled her efforts. If she dwelled on it too much she began to panic, so she kept a tight rein on her feelings and approached her work with controlled diligence.
The tunnel was barely big enough for her to fit, but she felt that it was more important to keep the tunnel small in the hopes that it would remain stable. She had had a few false starts; her first attempt had ended at another stone wall, another had caved in.
She had finally been able to get a decent size tunnel. Removing the first stone block was always the hardest and the bit she most used the rats for. The mortar between the stones was strong, but by working at it daily, she was able to wear it down. The rats helped by finding small holes and worrying at them until she could get her fingers in. It took time and patience and since Maggie had an eternity of one, the other came naturally.
There were times when she felt it was hopeless and tears of frustration coursed down her cheeks. But she really didn’t have any other choices apart from giving up and she was determined not to do that. Now that the food had run out, it was even more important to her to get out.
Maggie crawled into the tunnel and began her painstakingly slow digging. She felt the now familiar infusion of energy that she got from contact with the soil. It spurred her on. It felt good to have the earth beneath her bare skin instead of the cold, dead stone. The tunnel was now more than twice her body length. It was slowly inclining, she was angling it up in the hopes of reaching the surface. She worked steadily, as she dug dirt out, she pushed it down beside her letting gravity slowly pull it down to the bottom of the tunnel. Her cell had slowly been filling up with soil, covering over the cold stone floor.
As she dug, she made her mind think about the dream. She had been in the pit for so long that she didn’t even know if the dream was a real representation of the outside world, but it was all she had. The last few days without food had ignited a deep longing in her. She desperately wanted to get out, to be free, to feel the sun on her face.
Small clods of dirts began to gently fall on her back. She continued digging, desperately wanting this to be the day that she finally reached the surface. The rain of dirt became heavier and then the tunnel was caving in. She scrambled up the slope, hoping that she could stop the destruction, but then she realised that it was the tunnel opening that was caving in. By the time she shimmied back down, the entrance to the tunnel was gone.
She coughed as the dust settled and let the realisation of what had just happened sink in. She was effectively trapped. She threw herself down in frustration and cried out, her voice hoarse from disuse. She could not believe that this was happening to her. She could not believe that her already bad situation had now become much worse.
All the years of pent up frustration started to rise in her throat like bile and she felt her self control slipping out of her grasp. Like a taught string finally snapping, Maggie let go and screamed with everything that she had. She felt the emotions inside her bubble and churn, erupting out of her mouth in a strangled, desperate howl that sounded inhuman to her own ears. The dirt around her started to churn and roil and she felt a heat entering her body, entwining her muscles and sparking something in her.
All her hurt and sadness and grief and fear coalesced into a ball in her gut and she willed it out. The darkness around her started to glow and she closed her eyes against the unexpected brightness. There was a sudden, unnatural stillness and then the dirt around her erupted. She was pushed along by the dirt as it tumbled and surged around her. She gasped for breath, her heart beating in panic. The dirt behind her was pushing and she felt like she was being crushed against the dirt in front of her. She fought against it, frantically trying to dig her way forward when the solid dirt in front of her began to part. She was forced along through the ever opening tunnel on a current of dirt before she was inexplicably flying through empty space. She hung in the air for a moment before plummeting to the ground.
Maggie landed heavily on soft grass. She moaned groggily and opened her eyes. There was a vast expanse of darkness above her with pinpricks of light like so many scattered diamonds across velvet. Maggie stared in wonder, her eyes hurting from the small amount of light, but she didn’t want to close them. She was outside. She breathed deeply, the fresh, untainted air filling her lungs. She was outside; she was free. She cried with relief.