Eyes snap open to darkness. They look and look but see nothing. Nothing but a thick curtain of black air. I am in a chair. A cold hand pushes against my face and forces my eyes shut. A putrid smell invades to my senses. Hot vomit rises with nowhere to go.
Something kicks inside. Tiny things claw at my stomach. Things that shouldn’t be there. They push and push and move, suddenly they’re travelling fast. Spreading and spreading. I feel them stinging in my arms and in my heart. Something grabs my throat. I choke without sound before the gag around my mouth pushes it back.
I open my eyes again but cold darkness clamps them shut once more. Something is breathing. Hot, close, and heavy. All around. I turn and turn but the breathing is everywhere. Waiting for me to hear it. I breathe but I can’t.
I move my hands but I can’t. They are chained together behind the chair. The chains are heavy and rub against my wrist. Rust picks at old wounds. The tiny things scurry and choke. I scream but nothing happens. Darkness tightens. I cry but no tears fall.
It’s difficult to tell if I blacked out. Everything was dark anyway. I don’t know how much time passed. I don’t know how long I struggled and squirmed against my paralysis. But the next thing I knew the terrifying breathing had stopped, the tiny things had vacated my body, and darkness removed its hand from my eyes. I tried to move my hands and shout but my wrists and mouth were still bound and gagged.
And then in the emerging half-light I see a small open window. And from the window, tiny firefly-like specks drift in from the cold, cloudless sky. Beautiful flecks of golden light that swirl before me. Calm washes over as I watch them. But then I remember. I remember and the room darkens.
I remember why the putrid, choking air, and the heavy-handed darkness are so familiar; I realise that the ghastly heavy breathing is mine; that the tiny things choking and paralysing me is my fear; my fear as it rises and falls, crashing in waves in the pit of my stomach. Everything is familiar because I have been here before. I am here every day. Every day this is how I wake up.
And every day, once the panic fades, light returns along with a sense of realisation, but then is quickly replaced by shame.
I haven’t always been here. At one time my hands were free and my voice was heard. But something happened. Something I don’t remember anymore that made me crawl through tunnels of broken glass to get away — I have scars on my hands and knees to prove it.
Then I came here and built this fortress over many years. The door to the room has no handle or lock on the inside because I designed it that way, the gag was bound tightly with my own hands, I chained my own wrists and padlocked them without a key. This was the only place I could be safe. But I don’t want safety anymore. Not like this. If safety means waking to darkness paralysed by fear and confusion, I want danger.
The fireflies continue to dance. I want to touch them but I can’t. They are called Glimmers. Tiny specks of hope born out of other people’s dreams and released into the night while they sleep. Glimmers are delicate. If you grab at them too roughly they will crumble. I was given one once but it died in my hands. But if you can catch a Glimmer it will set you free.
So today, I make myself this promise: tomorrow, when I wake, I will break these chains and catch a Glimmer and the Glimmer will set me free from this darkness.