Thursday, 12 January 2017

Flicker

There's a flicker in the corner of my eye, it's there one minute and gone the next, then back again. I almost know what it is. It's like a half remembered dream, so close I can almost touch it but so far away it may as well be at the bottom of a lake. I feel my face form a grimace, and for a second I squeeze my eyes shut. When I open them again the flicker is gone and I let my body exhale a small sigh of relief. Maybe it was just my imagination after all. I turn to the left, ready to carry on, my right foot steps out into the empty space in front of my left and as it does I catch it again, that flicker. My head darts to the right, my eyes searching the darkness for... what exactly? But it's gone. My right foot comes down at an odd angle, on the side of my foot, and I feel my ankle buckle and my leg give way. My knee hits the rocky ground and I let out a small sharp yelp of pain. Somewhere ahead of me a voice shouts back.
"You alright back there?"
"Yes." I call in return, though in truth I don't feel alright. I feel confused and my knee is throbbing painfully.
I stagger back to my feet and reach up to adjust the headlight attached to my helmet, it slipped when I went down and now points up at the ceiling. My fingers are clumsy in the cold and one of them hits the off button, for a moment the world around me goes completely black. I blink stupidly into the darkness as my fingers fumble to find the button again. Then in the corner of my eye the flicker is back, and this time it's closer, and I almost know what it is but by the time I've turned to look it's gone again. My mind races, scanning through all the information I've stored in it over the years, searching it's databases for the one piece of information that will somehow make sense of this... this... My fingers find the button and to my relief the headlight comes on again, surrounding me in a small pool of yellow light. I look to my left, up ahead the rest of my team are fast becoming dark figures receding into the distance. I need to catch up or I'll get left behind so I gingerly start walking after them, wincing slightly at the pain that shoots through my knee when I put weight on it.

I'm not going fast enough. Up ahead I can still just about see the shadowy figures of my team, but they seem further away now. It makes sense, I'm probably only moving at about half their speed, but even so I should be catching up to them, not falling further behind. But I can still see them, and I don't want to worry them or slow them down so I keep my mouth shut. If they go out of sight, then I'll call for them to come back.
My knee really hurts, I can hardly put any weight on it and it's making walking really difficult. I'm using up a lot more energy and my hobbling walk is making my muscles feel tired. The flicker is still there, I feel like it's following me. I keep catching it in the corner of my eye and each time it seems slightly closer, like a predator stalking it's prey. I try to push that thought out of my head. It's probably nothing, or it's a hallucinatory symptom brought on by some rare kind of moss or fungus that grows down here. I probably got it on my fingers earlier and wiped my face without thinking. Whatever that flicker is I need to ignore it, I need to focus on catching up with my team. But they seem so far away now, miles away, distant figures surrounded by their own tiny pools of light. The tunnel ahead is so long, so very, very long. I don't know how I'm going to manage it.

I push myself further, but my shoulders are aching now, weighed down by the backpack that earlier I thought was so light. How long have we been down here now? Long enough to make my light backpack feel heavy? I try to remember if I put any rock samples in it earlier, that would explain it's apparent weight gain, but my mind won't focus and I can't tell if I'm remembering or imagining. I blink and the flicker is there again. It's following me, it's been following me for a while now, and even when I can't see it in the corner of my eye I can feel it's presence behind me, stalking me. It sends shivers up my spine now and all the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. My heart beats faster and a surge of adrenaline, generated by fear, pushes me to hobble forwards faster.
I am scared, I am scared of the dark and the flicker, I am scared of losing my team and being left behind, but mostly I am scared of dying down here in the darkness with no one to know or to witness. My muscles are seizing up. I feel as if I've been hobbling along for hours, maybe I have. My knee is excruciating and I come to the conclusion that I must have broken it, fractured the knee cap or something. I can barely move it at all now without crying out in pain. Which leaves me hopping along on my left leg, my hands against the damp tunnel walls either side of me for support. But the muscles in my left leg are screaming now, begging me to stop and sit and rest. Even the thought makes me want to stop, I feel as if my whole body is on the verge of collapse.

I look ahead to find my team, desperate for their reassuring presence, but blink into empty darkness. There is nothing, they are gone. Panic grips my chest and I feel a cold pressure wash over me. In the corner of my eye the flicker is back only this time it's much, much closer, almost as if it's standing right next to me. Fear constricts my throat but I try to call out anyway.
"Hey... hey... back here... help... "
It is nothing but a whisper, a hoarse and strangled cry that reaches no further than the wall of darkness in front of my face. It does not even echo. I fight my mind, reaching desperately for the names of my team mates, my colleagues, my friends... but they are gone, just as surely as their fleshy counterparts are. Who were they? I did know them, didn't I? I'm sure I... But their faces are fading too, blue eyes, brown hair, green eyes, blonde hair, a big nose, or a small one, I can't remember. I frown into the darkness in front of me. I've stopped moving now and am leaning against the damp tunnel wall, letting myself rest for a moment and staring down the dark tunnel. What was it I was looking for again? I'm sure I was following something, searching for something, there was a reason I was going this way, what was it?
The flicker dances in the corner of my eye and while something about it is terrifying, something about it is also calming, reassuring. I may have lost all else but I still have the flicker, my one piece of normality now. I watch it, not directly because then it disappears, but out of the corner of my eye. It moves steadily, slowly, as if it is dancing, or playing, or preparing. But I still cannot make out what it is. I'm sure I have seen it somewhere before, heard something about it, read about it, dreamed about it maybe. The knowledge is there, hovering just out of reach, just like the flicker.
It moves closer and I can feel it's presence, it brings goosebumps out across my flesh and makes my hair stand on end, it's somehow electric.
I blink into the darkness.

Then suddenly it is there in front of me and I remember, I remember.

I hear myself begin to scream as my world goes dark and I am gone.

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