Familiar Strangers

Familiar Strangers

Darkness consumes me, and the only thought that distracts me from the expanse of hollow nothingness is that I am in pain, and I think I am going to die. Racking my brain for the answer to how I got here divulges nothing. There is no memory before now, nothing to comfort me in the dark.

My body aches and shakes, tremors only hurting my bones more, scraping my skin against the cold rocky ground. I attempt to lift my legs, only to hiss out in pain. I’m immobilized. The next move I make forces me to lift an arm while I try to push myself up against the ground. It hurts. By the end of the trial I am panting, sweating, and cursing loudly, but I am up. I am sitting in an upright position that seems to defy gravity, and an intense weight tries to make my back reconnect with the rough ground.

For an endless amount of time I sit there, my head light and fuzzy, breathing shallow, and mind confused. Why am I here? Does it even matter? Any hope of escape flickers out like the flame being pinched from a candle. I cannot walk, how am I meant to find an exit? The thought occurs to me as I try to push myself on my knees and crawl. I am not. I’m not supposed to escape this place. Whatever shallows or cave of the earth I am in, I’m supposed to stay. My legs are paralyzed and my visibility is zero.

I cannot say how long I stay in this enclosure, going from a sitting position to a flat one. It could have been minutes, hours, days, perhaps even weeks. It’s hard to count time when there’s nothing to measure by. All I know is that my body aches, I am exhausted, and I have no recollection of a time before this.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, I am aware of the sound of repeated claps against the floor. Were they always there? It’s hard to say. The noise has a steady rhythm, and grows louder with every moment. From the corner of my eye I see a small light making its way towards me from the distance. The light is blinding.

More lights emerge, illuminating the cavern around. I can no longer see, but the footsteps go from one set to multiple, and I realize that these people are not alone. The closer they get, the less space between the noises. They’re running, galloping, trying to reach me.

What feels like a year later, I can sense the presence of someone in front of me, kneeling and crouching, examining my face. Slowly my eyes adjust, and the vision in front of me clears. A girl with dirty skin and tangled hair, hallowed eyes and sunken skin stares back at me, a relieved expression crossing her face. “Thank God I found you. The limit would have been up.” Her words are rushed.

“Limit?” My voice is a dry croak. Who is she? Why does she looks so familiar.

“You can only be separated from yourself for so long before you die. The exhaustion of maintaining two bodies is too much for the soul.” She pauses, studying my condition. “I suppose by your state that the mission was a failure.” Mission? “I should have trained better.”

I blink, now more confused than I was before the girl appeared. Two halves can only be separate for so long? This girl isn’t a stranger…she’s me. And the moment she touches my forehead, everything goes blank, except for the creeping words in the back of my head.

Welcome back, Aimee. Welcome back.