In the beginning, he knew the darkness. It was a darkness so complete that breath was impossible. He could not hear his own breath. He could not feel his own breath. Neither did he know if his eyes were open or closed.
He could not tell how long he lay in this state. It might have been seconds. It might have been centuries. The darkness pressed around him, at once infinite and claustrophobic, a vast emptiness, a humid black fabric that seemed to wrap him from head to toe, leaving no space between him and itself. It was complete.
After passing some time in this way, he became aware of a prickling that reminded him that he had form. This was not welcome to him. It was as if hundreds, then thousands of tiny electric explosions were detonating at random distances from where he felt himself to be. Attentive, he observed them. He had not yet connected them with himself. He only knew that they were there, and that he was there, too. It was a start.
He settled back into himself. It was utter silence, a perfect circle. Comforting. But then the prickling came again, distracting him, and without willing himself to do it, he began to assemble a pattern in the small explosions. He began to perceive them in the perfect darkness, though not seeing them at all, as if they were random events, rod-shaped and impending, emerging from nothingness and multiplying, evidence of a volcanic event, bearing down upon him and shattering the otherwise perfect darkness.
From somewhere, he mustered will. He brought immense will to bear on the rods of light, commanding them to retreat. For the darkness was simple, and the scattered sensations, formless but present, brought something to his chest that felt like panic. He did not wish to be among them. He did not wish to fall again.
Again and again, he focused his will on the scattered explosions that prickled him all over, for he was beginning to grasp that they were happening inside of him as well as outside of him. And though he commanded them to subside over and over again, first one rod of light would appear in the vastness of the darkness, and then another, glowing and menacing. And he knew, feeling the impending dread of it, that no matter how many times he drove it back, another rod of light would soon be born of the darkness. First one, then another, and then countless more, in an infinite and unstoppable crescendo, as if a terrible and complex architecture were being raised above him, whose only purpose was to crash down and obliterate him.
He fought it back again, and he longed for the simplicity of the darkness. He was tired.
At last he knew he was beaten. He knew that this could not go on, and that he would have to let the relentless light take him. He determined to surrender. So the next time a rod of golden light appeared in the perfect infinity of the blackness like an undeniable command, he spoke and said, "So be it". And he waited to fall.
The light overwhelmed him. He let it.
And he felt in that moment a painful tugging and an unbearable velocity, as if he were free-falling through all of space without limit, but also leaving a small part of himself far, far behind in the dark and silent place where he had been resting. It was this loss, the loss of that infinitely small part of himself, that made him remember who he was.
He cried out.
And the great rock rolled slowly from the mouth of the cave.
Photo: Back Mouth Cave, © Sam West