I sit with my back to the wall and stare at the last spot of dying light on the floor. I follow its path as it creeps like the spiders, moving with the sun as it hides for another day. The shadows in the room finally chase out the last rays, and I am once again shrouded in darkness, seeking something else to kill the endless time.
I stretch out my stiff legs from their curled position and wince from the pain of moving unused joints. My dress drags behind me, a lifeless gown that now comes peppered with moth-eaten holes and dark stains and tears. I sometimes feel like it’s moulded to me now, a body that has been absorbed into royal blue silk.
Slowly, like a curious prey, I skulk across the dim room to the window and peer out into the darkness. Long in height, the rectangular hole in the stone is only as wide as the length of two splayed out hands side by side. I stretch mine up to the gap, thumbs touching, my end fingers just skimming rock. Between my skeletal fingers the moon peers through, its white glow turning my sickly pale skin into an almost transparent blue. For a moment, I think I can glance right through to the bone, seeing all their indentations. I snatch my hands away.
From the time the moon takes ownership of the sky are my most despised hours. The darkness makes the room feel even smaller. The shadows that surround me are devious, they slowly push in the walls, bit by bit, when they think I’m not looking. There have been days where I believed them to be closing in before my eyes, and I passed out from the panic and fear that had smothered my face before they could reach me. Now I’m suspicious of their lurking.
I step away from the window to let in more light and begin to pace the length of the room. In a short time, I know she will be here. She always appears not long after the arrival of the moon. The minutes often unnerve me, and as I wait I scratch and pick at the ends of my sleeves. My feet are now familiar with the uneven ground, the skin on my soles is now painfully accustomed to my endless pacing. My satin shoes did not survive long, they fell away without my noticing. One day I turned to find they were three steps behind me. I continue walking, occasionally sneaking a peek of outside.
Time presses on, and a cold apprehension grows to wrap around my nervous mind. I pace and pace and pace, wondering when the woman will return. My hands find my hair and grip at the strands, winding it round and round in fists as I mumble out my worries. The third time I peer down to the shadows of the ground I see movement and I clench all over. A dark figure is walking my way, the moon giving light like a path. I watch her march over, her movements so sure, and I track her steps until she leaves my sight.
It’s quiet for a moment, and I wait for her to search for the ladder she keeps hidden close by. There’s silence from the ground, and then a steel object suddenly appears from the dark, glinting in the moonlight as it swings up to meet me. It crashes hard with the wall. I scuttle back into the shadows of the room and wait, head down and eyes peering through the knotted fall of my matted hair. It’s painful to endure the crackling sound of each step on the ladder as it groans under her heavy weight. I watch the metal shift with her steps, grating the rock of the ledge. A silhouette appears, but I am unable to make out their features. An arm is revealed as it throws in a single bag that makes a quiet thud as it drops to the floor. The contents spill out and scatter into the dark. The ghost of her arm is projected across the room, and as she retracts it, the long thick line slides out of the light like a snake retreating. After a pause, the groans begin once more as she descends back down, each one getting quieter until they are nothing but muffled protests in the distance. The steel object passes the light one final time, and noise once again becomes imagined.
Wrenching my body from the confines of the wall, I stand up and slowly approach the battered food. I pick each piece up in my arms as I go, a citrus smell pervading my senses. My mouth begins to salivate as my stomach pains return to their destructive work. I ignore the temptation and instead walk over to the tiny bed, one of the only objects in the enclosed room. I lift the thin mattress, and my arm immediately begins to shake from the weight. I quickly roll the objects out of sight before my strength gives way and I drop the bed down behind them.
I am very pleased with the plan I have developed during my time here. Sometimes I think of its deceptive plot and laugh to myself, surrounded by the shadows that never believed I could do it. Often they would laugh at me, and in my fury, I would forget my fear and attack at their edges. They will not win. For tonight was the night that my plan will commence.
I laugh once again as I nimbly dance across the floor, twirling as the giggles fall out one by one. Soon I’ll be free and away from this place. I repeat the words in my head as I stand beneath the small span of window, once again holding my stretched-out hands to the moon. My fingers just skim at the uneven frame and I take a moment to assess the size of its width once more, and wait for her to be well out of sight.
I take a deep breath before I step up to the window, my feet feeling for the ledge under my skirt as I keep my eyes towards the gap. Then after one more calming breath, I move further into the light. Turning my body at a grotesque angle, I begin to push myself out through that tiny rectangular hole. My skin is immediately in agony as it grates against the outer walls of the stone and I lose my breath as I let out a cry. My back begins to burn and my eyes fill with tears. Then I feel the fresh night air start to tickle at my face and it spurs me on. I breathe in past the stone, scraping further against its uneven edges, and continue through the tiny gap. The wall drags across my wounds but I adjust to the pain, and as I slide further out I become elated that the withering months were not all for nothing.
I gasp when the last of my body falls through, and I’m standing on the ledge above the ground. I yank at my dress that became caught on a jagged edge, leaving me free to look further. If it weren’t for the glow of the moon brushing the tips of the trees, I would believe the forest floor no longer exists. The height holds me in place, but my desperation is too great, and my body turns of its own accord and starts to lower my legs over the edge. I grit my teeth when my skin scrapes stone again. I feel that hot, prickling burn as it wears away at my hands and feet. Most of my weight is resting on my arms that still hold the ledge and they scorch from the strain, my fingers gripping into any crevice I can find. I’m feeling for any ledges with my feet, small indentations that may be of use in my slow decent. The task is testing, but I soon find my grip and move down to the next. I’m starting to make it and my excitement pushes me on. I’m giddy as I look up and smile evilly at the room that hid me in darkness and tortured me with its relentless toying. I think of the woman, appearing with tomorrow’s moon, and climbing up to the window up to an empty prison. That room is a lifeless space that absorbed my own. No longer will I be concealed by its crushing walls.
I stare into the space a minute longer, still clutching at the stone. I hold myself steady. I feel elevated in the air, high above the ground I float in the passing minute as I continue to stare at the room.
Then slowly the smile starts to fall from my face, melting until it finally slides off to land on the unseen ground. My cheek twitches as I continue to stare at the now empty room. Its silent darkness surrounds it like a heavy cloak, and I twitch again. Its walls hold the room like cupped hands. My breathing becomes laboured. Something is gripping my throat, tighter and tighter. It’s burning my chest and I can’t breathe. With a sudden cry, I scramble back up, feral gasps escaping with each breath. My nails claw at the stone on the ledge, feet gripping the wall as I put all my strength into pulling myself up. I’m desperate to get up. My arms flail out and blindly grab at the window. With one last heave, I swing my body up and curl my limbs away from the edge. I’m still panting as I scramble back through, not slowly like before, and my arms and face are pulled across the rough sides once again. They are now raw, and the pain is only absorbed by my panic as I struggle through the last of the narrow gap. It is not until I finally pass through to the other side and fall to the floor that I feel like I can breathe again.
Instantly I crawl to the dark space of the room and curl in on myself, my back pressed against the wall. I frantically gather up my dress, moving it further away from the light. I take in a great lungful of air, the noise cutting the silence, and I can feel my panic slowly begin to dissolve. I remember the pain in my hands and I feel them, stretching them out in front of me to assess the damage. My fingers are wet and throbbing, the stickiness coating the previous wounds, and I curl them into fists at my chest. It is here that I lay in this spot, enveloped in the comfort of the dark I both fear and need. Watching the moon sink slowly from the sky and morning light once again start to creep across the floor. The weak rays reveal to me the passing of another day. Another chance.
I close my eyes to hide its glare.