I got some really positive feedback on my first response, but there was a feeling that it could be restructured to build on the dramatic tension. So this was my second draft. It still needs a lot of work on characterisation and voice. Appx. 1000 words.
‘You cannot go. It’s not time for you to leave.’ The Sorcerer stands between me and the narrow passageway, his wide-antlered head blocking my escape.
‘I need to get out of here. I can’t breathe.’ I cough out the words, crumpling to the ground.
‘Your Waking is not complete. You must stay.’ He looms over me at full height, the bison’s strength in his eyes and limbs. I knew I could never defeat him.
I lay on the cold dark earth of the cave floor, shivering and huddled. Memories of the past two days gnaw and rattle round my mind – I can’t push them away. Two days? It feels like I’ve never known anything different: anything other than the snakes and pools and flames and ashes, the heaviness of my broken body, the lightning flashes through my brain. It’s all I know and all I remember. There’s nothing else only dark nothingness. Yet I don’t even know how much of what I remember is really real.
‘I know the words. I can go whenever I want, and you can’t stop me.’ I speak quietly and fearfully, wondering whether my words really will help me to escape, or whether I’d be better just to see it through. What will he do to me if I don’t get out now that I’ve threatened to?
‘Your words are still weak. They will not carry you home.’ He fixes me with those sharp eyes.
‘I am not weak,’ I say, more firmly now. And I know that I can do it. It’s difficult to picture my home, everything outside the cave is just a swirling darkness in the fog of my mind, but I say the words anyway. A whisper at first. And then almost loud enough for The Sorcerer to hear. The third time, I say them with clarity and push myself up, forcing my way past him and out. Scrambling back into the world.
I stare at my own distorted reflection on the lake’s surface. From my little island in the centre, I peer past the tumbling banks and swaying reeds. Everything’s hazy. The ripples and swirls on the colourless water are reflected in the ashen sky. Nothing quite contains itself: there’s a pallid fluidity to it all that makes one thing bleed into all the others, so that there isn’t really one thing and another anymore, there’s just One Thing. And the Thing is no thing. No thing that I can yet make out, at least. The real Thing, whatever it is, seems to pull and tug at me from somewhere outside of this tangled mass of island-lake-reflection that inhabits me.
Or do I inhabit it? This hallucinatory world between worlds where I am stuck. Even to say I’m stuck here seems too fixed, too permanent, for such a place as this – this NoPlace. I believe I am here, although there’s nothing solid to pin that down to certainty.
I bolted too soon. Instead of taking the deep draughts of fresh sunlit air I was expecting, I slithered into this twilit world of formless phantoms.
In the lake’s broken mirror, I see them crowd around me – clutching, grasping, snatching at the spectral shadow I’ve become – the timeless dead. Like grey smoke. Silent ghosts adrift on this island far from land.
“Miriam. Miriam!” I think I hear someone calling my name and I look towards the strange, unfathomable sound, so distant and disembodied in this mist.
“Mi! Mi!” There it is again, urgent and insistent.
Through the miasma, I strain my eyes to search out the life belonging to the words. Gradually, across the waters, I begin to see the amber glow of sunrise. The light is dawning over the Daylight World. An indistinguishable silhouette stands on its shore and calls my name across the void.
“Mi! Tell me what you can see. Say it. Speak the words that will bring you closer to this world.”
What words? I think. There’s nothing in my mouth but air: empty, cloying, choking air. But the figure seems to hear the thought as it leaks out of me.
“Describe what you can see. Use your words to get you here.”
I can’t describe it, I’m thinking, there aren’t any words in my mouth, or in my head, or in my whole world that could describe what I can see. It’s too beautiful. Too bright. Too real, and solid, and true to fit inside any of the frail and flimsy words I know.
When the reply comes, I’m no longer sure if the sound is in my ears or in my head.
“Your words will take you more than half way. But you must try. Now. Before the Daylight World is lost to you completely.”
So I begin. The words just a halting drip, drip inside my mind at first.
Daylight. Daylight World. Sun. Rising. Sea. Shore. People. Yes, people. I can see…
And the more I see, the more I find the words, until they’re filling my mouth and overflowing into the gloom, and I can hear them breaking out of me, clanging against one another and crashing with waves of meaning.
‘This is my home. The world where I belong. I see the hills and the trees, the stream and the sea. I see the temple on the hill and the birds in the sky. I know the hunters and the herders. The women around the fire are my mothers. I hear their stories and listen as they colour the air with meaning. Those are my stories. This is who I am.’
The words pour through me: fat and fertile, leaping upstream. My incantations dragging the Daylight World ever more near to me. I reach out my hand to it and feel the firm reality of its existence.
Then the words stop – like a spring choked by a rock. The shadow of The Sorcerer darkens my view and swallows up the Daylight World.
As it slides from my grasp in an instant, I cry out in mute distress.