We are pushed into a small tunnel which opens out into a dimly-lit chamber. The rough granite walls loom and flicker in the rushlight from the sconces; several pairs of eyes watch from huddled corners in the dark. Then a large stone boulder is rolled across the entranceway with a scraping thud, and we’re closed in.
Silence reverberates in the echo of enclosed space. And then we hear them. The others. Trapped here like us in the cave of the Sorcerer. A muffled whimper, cut short by a scuffle and a sharp intake of breath. As our eyes adjust, we make out the shapes of several groups; one small group crouched low and trembling; someone standing to their left like a guard – but whether to protect or to punish isn’t clear. A larger group stands to our right, faces hidden in shadow, revealing only a menacing stance and a low threatening growl.
‘There’s no way out.’ A snivelling whisper from the crouching group.
‘But – ’ Our response is cut short by a bark from our right: ‘We don’t want out!’ spat through slathering jaws.
We’re forced into the centre space, sat back to back and tied at the wrists. Even the Sorcerer didn’t treat us so roughly. Perhaps he always leaves his dirty work to his dogs. But if they are working for him, why are they in this prison cave like us? They stand above us snarling words of contempt at each other and the rest.
We must find a way out, despite what they say. We’ve got just two days left until the third sunset of the solstice, the day of our Waking. Not to Wake would be, would be, we can’t find words to embody the thought.
Down here, in the dark between Sleeping and Waking, the Sorcerer reigns. His dreams have infected our Sleeping since birth and we have just these three days to Wake from his nightmare. Our sixteenth solstice. Wake by the third sunset and we Wake forever.
‘Mi,’ a barely audible whisper beneath the cacophony of grating voices above our head. ‘Mi. It’s Fox, remember us?’
‘Fox! We haven’t seen you since you went into your Waking Pit last year. You never Woke… Have you been trapped here all this time?’
‘Yeah. The Sorcerer caught us.’ Fox’s voice is heavy with sadness. To never Wake –
‘We have to get out Fox. There must be a way.’
‘I don’t know. It’s an endless nightmare down here, and it’s affecting me more and more each day.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Living like this: not living. Not Waking. His dreams take on flesh here, they consume our mind with their flickering tongues. And every day we get a little wilder, more savage. Until – ’
‘ – you end up like them – ’ We shudder, lifting our eyes briefly to take in those standing above us, wondering how long they’ve been down here.
‘Yeah. They’ve been here so long they don’t even want to escape. They’re wild with the shadows that infest them. Up there they’d be old: too old and dying.’
In this cave, time suspends itself at the sixteenth solstice, nobody ages and nothing grows. The newest prisoners, still children in their hearts, are easy prey for the beasts that bully in this pit. Here you are either the bullied or the bully, with only time separating the two. In this cave, all become the bullies in the end: the fear of Waking too great for those with so much to lose.
In this cave we will never Wake, never live, love, grow old or die. We must get out.
This week’s Experimental Writing task was in response to Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). I’ll have more to say on the novel later, but for now, we were asked to explore an imagined other world through a scenario of imprisonment, which would demonstrate the characteristics of the people living in that world. We were responding to the passage in which Genly Ai is travelling in a prison truck with the Orgota, and gives an account of their characteristics based on their behaviour in the truck.
I drew on the world I’ve been creating for The Singing Bones and I found the exercise fruitful for exploring a darker side of that world. It’s a rough draft and I think some bits work better than others, so I’d welcome feedback.