II.

            Several hours passed and the boy slept at the bottom of the hill.  Outside, the sun had begun its own descent across the sky, and the yellow-white star at the end of the rocky corridor grew dimmer.  The powerful gusts subsided and were replaced by a steady stream of cooler air flowing into the mouth of the cave and down into the stone cathedral where the boy lay.

            Around him, the darkness shimmered and quaked as if pierced by the fall of the young boy.  There was continuous movement in the black, an unexpected uprooting of sediments long since forgotten and left dormant on the cathedral floor.  A fine dust filled the air, some flying high towards the ceiling only to float back down to the same floor.  Others swept up by the cycling wind and blown across the corridor to the gaping maw where they would be deposited at the cave entrance as a fresh layer of soft powder – the end product of decay. 

            The boy awoke to complete darkness.  Very slowly, he sat up and propped himself against the incline and sat for a while just looking at the blackness around him. 

            It was not the same.  The darkness seemed blacker—heavier—than before.  Though the boy could feel his neck tilt from right to left, there was no change.  What was there, was the same here; what was up, down; only the feeling of weight upon chilled stone and the endless swirling of dust through the air kept him from floating away.

            The boy rubbed his fingers onto the ground and called out into the darkness again. 

            "Hello?" asked the boy, his voice dry and broken.  It seemed to dissolve before his eyes and return to him in the form of a hundred empty whispers—from here; from there; raining down from the ceiling.

            Then silence.  The constant rushing of air from above seemed to melt into the blackness until the boy could no longer distinguish it from the noise ringing within his own head. 

            And the child's throat tightened as he realized that the only sounds that he would hear from now on would be his own…

            The boy coughed in pain as his leg quivered beneath him.  He dug the tip of his shoe into the dirt and let the trembling limb slide down the hill.  His fingers clung futilely to the brittle soil, the flesh beneath their nails bruised and bleeding.  He lowered his chin to his chest and breathed deep, painful breathes as his leg began to cramp below him.  He would rest before climbing again.

            The muscles in his calves balled and tightened as if caught in the grip of some unknown entity.  As the pain grew in intensity, thick tears began running down the boy's cheeks and soon the cathedral below was filled with the sound of his suffering. 

            And so the boy clung desperately between freedom and darkness and was reminded of the time when his father had collapsed in the park.  It was the first time he had heard him in pain.

            "You okay, daddy?" asked the boy as his father rolled up his pant leg and began rubbing the lower part of his leg.

            He managed a thin smile and said, "Ah, don't worry.  It's just a cramp."

            "A cramp?  What's that?"

            "It's when your muscles tie themselves in a knot."

            "Does it hurt?"

            "Yep…"

            "Are you gonna die?"

            There was silence as his father seemingly forgot about the pain.  "Why do you ask that?"

            "It looks like it hurts a lot."

            It was then that the boy knew that everything was going to be all right  because his father began to laugh the way he did when there was nothing to worry about—loud and deep, until he coughed.  "God, son!  A little pain never killed nobody!"

            The boy felt his grip release.  If his father said that it would be all right, then it would be all right.  The sensation of motion through the darkness was like nothing the boy had felt before.  It was not like falling—he was floating, like a leaf through the breeze.

            When he finally came to a stop, the boy wiped the tears from his eyes and sat up.  Then he extended his leg and began rubbing it back and forth like his father had showed him. 

            The boy sat by the hill and time passed again. 

            There was no change in the cave.  The darkness was as black and unrelenting with its secrets as before.  Perhaps more so now that the boy had begun to lose track of his blinking.  The darkness was the same no matter what.  What was the point?

            As a result, there would be times when the boy would jolt violently with the realization that time had passed without him knowing.  During those times he would wonder where his mind had gone to or if he had fallen asleep.  Both ideas filled him with dread.  If it were sleep, then he could have easily been in the cave for days and not even know it.  And if his mind had left him, where did it go?  Where did minds go when there was nothing to see?

            Every so often he would lower his hands and place them on his kneecaps to check the swelling in his left leg.  At first there was only a slight difference, but with the passage of time, the feeling of bone beneath his palm gave way to the sensation of tight flesh and burning heat.  It was not as painful as the cramp had been earlier, though the boy was convinced that they were both caused by the fall.  He knew that he was lucky he hadn't broken it, and that thought brought him comfort.   

            After a while, the aching in his leg, like the coursing of the wind before it, began to melt away into the darkness and the boy was once again alone.  When boredom set in, the boy would recite songs in his head—never out loud—for fear of falling asleep.  He sang "Old McDonald" until he ran out of barnyard animals and then proceeded to make up sounds for the more exotic ones.  '…and on that farm he had a… giraffe!  Ee-ay, ee-ay, oh!  With a… uh… brorf- brorf here and a brorf-brorf there…'

            He stopped when his head began to hurt and turned, instead, to creating mental pictures of objects he knew well.   At first he wasn't sure what to think of except for the fact that he wanted something bright and colorful.  In the beginning, there were only colors; large blobs of red, green and blue floating before him like the invisible dust he could feel falling on his arms and nose.  The boy felt himself smile through dry, cracked lips and he would have laughed if not for the silence surrounding him.

            With practice, the boy began forming more concrete shapes in the darkness.  Colors became paint; paint became crayons; on and on until he imagined that the darkness surrounding him was like a never-ending canvas stretching off into infinity. 

            When colors became too easy, the boy thought of trees and grass; a plane of blue and masses of soft whiteness soaring above.  He even imagined the dust floating around him, pictured every particle's slow descent to the floor below, like faraway snow or stars in space.

                                                                                                                        Cont. on Pg. 3 à