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Am I blind or is it that dark?
He wonders whether he is inside or outside.
Inside or outside where?
He is confused. All mixed up. He starts wondering if he is in a room or somewhere else.
AM I DEAD?
He feels a quick jump in his heart. Then he feels fear start to rise inside his chest like water threatening to overflow a river. He struggles to catch his breath. He feels as if the wrapped steel is especially heavy around his chest. They say that when a person wakes up gasping for air that a witch was riding their back while they were asleep. Nevertheless, Eric is on his back and he is not asleep. His struggle for air definitely comes from sheer fear, or maybe even terror.
He is terrified because he does not know where he is. He does not even know how he ended up in this place.
Is this a place or am I just floating in black space?
He, frantically, wonders if this is how it is when you die.
I have to calm down. I have to think. He begins to take deep breathes, inhaling as much air as he can and then letting it out slow and steady. He tries to synchronize his mind speed with his breathing. As his thoughts slow, he begins to realize that he can hear himself breathing.
If I'm dead, why would I need to breathe?
He does not know much about heaven and hell, but he figures if he entered either place, he would be in his spirit form and would not need to breathe. Although he finds these thoughts slightly comforting, a quick jump in his heart reminds him of the fear that is still, swollen inside his chest. He starts to think about this fear, as he struggles to gain control. This fear, that makes his heart jump as if it just received a jolt of electricity, is something that he physically feels. He figures, if he is dead he will not be able to feel anything physical.
He begins to physically, focus on his hands and starts moving his fingers, rubbing the surface on which he is laying. Now, he knows that he is not dead because he can actually feel the texture of the floor on which he lay. It feels like fur; like nappy fur. It feels like fake, nappy fur.
CARPET! I'm lying on carpet inside somewhere!
With this revelation, his breathing starts to go completely out on control. He fights, with every ounce of strength he has, to regain a little control over his fear, but he knows he is losing this battle. His eyes start darting around in every direction. He does not realize it, but he is also turning his head all over the place. No matter how hard he tries to see, he only sees darkness; complete and total darkness.
Eric's fear has taken control of him. It has him paralyzed and too afraid to move. If he can just get a grip on his fear, he might realize that he is lying on the floor of his own basement.
A basement that he practically grew up in, spending countless hours playing as a child and entertaining company as a teen and young adult. If he could, he would remember that it is an old basement inside an old row house in West Philadelphia. Eric was five years old when they first moved into the house. The basement was completely unfinished in those days.
The walls were no more than rock; coated over with cement and painted white. The surfaces of the walls were so rough that one could literally sharpen a pencil on them. This he did several times as a child. The floor was simply a slab of concrete that ran from the front all the way to the rear of the basement. The swirls from the contractor's trowels were evident throughout the entire basement floor.
If Eric could remember, he would remember how scared he was to go into the basement alone, when he was a child. As a child, his sister used to trick him into watching horror movies, so Eric thought the basement looked like the place Dr. Frankenstein keeps his evil monster, or where Dracula sleeps in the daytime. There was only one window in the entire basement. A piece of plywood replaced the broken glass in the window, so even on bright sunny days; it remained dark and grim down there. There was always an old pipe leaking, causing the basement to have an unpleasant, musky odor with a hint of mildew attached to it. Combine that odor, the physical characteristics of the basement, and the odor of many rats that died from poisoning, and you have what Eric considered, a place for the dead or evil spirits. He would also remember one of the most horrifying moments in his life took place in this very same basement.
When he was a child, Eric was terrified of the darkness. He would not go to bed unless his mother left the light on in his room. She would have to wait until he fell asleep then come in his room to turn the light off. She would pray that he would not wake up in the middle of the night. To make matters worse, Eric's older sister Sheree, was merciless. Sheree was five years older than Eric was and she really loved him. However, she would use his fear against him whenever he crossed her, or whenever she wanted to have a little fun.
One day, when he was six years old, Eric definitely crossed his sister. His mom was holding a full-scale investigation into the very slow disappearance of her vodka, which she kept in the cabinet above the refrigerator. Sheree had been regularly taking sips from the bottle and putting it back. Eric wondered why it took his mom so long to notice, especially since his sister would sit at the dinner table, practically cross-eyed; giggling at anything anyone said or did. Nonetheless, Eric knew once his mom found out, it was going to be hell to pay for anyone involved, or anyone who knew something and did not tell.
Knowing this, Eric offered very little resistance during the interrogation. In fact, one could say that he was very helpful. He sang like a free-style wrapper, trying his best to win a record deal. He told about the vodka and things that had nothing to do with the vodka. His mother left the session very well informed and during her whipping, Sheree produced a siren like sound that could have only been detectable to dogs. However, Eric had no idea that the vengeance his sister had in mind would scar him forever.
If he could remember correctly, Eric would recall looking for one of his favorite toy racecars. Sheree told him that it was in the basement, and that she accidentally picked it up with the dirty clothes. She also told him that she would stand watch at the top of the stairs while he went down to get his car. What she did not tell him was that as soon as he got all the way down the stairs to where the dirty clothes were, she was going to turn off the lights and close the door. To get to the dirty clothes, Eric had to make a right turn at the bottom of the stairs to go into the middle part of the basement. They kept all the dirty clothes there because there was not much room in the area with the washer and dryer.
Eric went down the steps, turned right and when his sister turned off the lights, he jumped. He had been drinking a glass of milk and had it with him when he went into basement. When he jumped he spilled most of the milk on the front of his shirt. The sudden complete darkness, instantly, stole his voice from him. He could not make a sound. He just slammed his back against the wall and froze. In his mind, he was screaming for Sheree to turn on the lights and open the door, but not one sound came from his mouth. Sheree expected him to scream, and when he did not, she decided to let him find his way out on his own. However, she had underestimated his fear.
While he stood there shaking, it did not take long for his mental manifestations to become reality. He felt something pulling on his pants, but he was too terrified to move. The pulling soon became climbing and before he knew what was going on, the climbing seemed to be all over his legs.
Rats love milk. He had milk all over his shirt and rats climbing up his body. He felt them all over him. He felt a tickling sensation on his chin, but it happened to come from the whiskers of a rat that managed to reach the middle of is chest. The rat's nose touched Eric's lips as it sniffed the milk on his breath, which caused his mind to spin. However, before he passed out, he saw the lights come on and then he heard a scream.
This basement, in which Eric lay, is the same place where he experienced that traumatic moment in his life, and the reason he is laying there now is probably just as traumatic. It took him years to remember the rats. It took years for him to remember his sister screaming when she turned on the lights, but he never quite remembered everything. He never remembered the rats actually climbing all over him. He just remembered his sister's scream and then seeing his best friend, Jamil, who had just come over to see if Eric could come outside, stomping on a rat with all the weight his two feet could carry.
However, the complete memory of that day is like dropping the back of an earring in the grass; it is not visible, but it is still there. Now, he does not know where he is. All he knows is that he is lying on a carpet somewhere and that he had better get a grip or he is going to pass out.
The thought of passing out in a strange place terrifies him. He closes his eyes and starts to take deep breaths again. He can feel beads of sweat as they roll off his forehead, down the sides of his face and around his ears. Once again, the slow breathing does offer him some relief. He decides that the best thing to do is to think. When he re-opens his eyes, it is still too dark to see anything. He starts listening, trying to hear anything that will give him a clue to his whereabouts.
He can hear a whooshing sound; the sound of air being pushed through a vent or something. The sound starts with a click and stops with the same click, but the sounds are familiar to him. He reasons that it sounds like a heater or air conditioning unit. Then he notices the sound of water dripping whenever the heater or air conditioner stops blowing. He also notices the faint smell of mildew. The smell seems mixed with a sweet aroma that smells like cherries or strawberries. He does not know that the sweet smell comes from the plug-in air fresheners that he placed throughout the basement. However, the sounds and the aromas give him a feeling of familiarity.
Have I been here before?
This feeling of familiarity seems to slightly, energize him and he does not realize that he is holding his head up, looking around into the darkness. He reasons that if he is inside, there must be a light somewhere. Maybe there is a switch or a lamp somewhere.
I have to get up!
He knows that if he is going to figure out what is going on, he cannot just lay there. He then realizes that he is already holding his head up. He slowly slides his hands back in a position that will allow him to push himself up into a seated position. However, he sits up too quickly and has to deal with a head spinning feeling the equivalent of a merry-go-round, spinning backwards, out of control. He slides his feet back so that his knees lift up enough for him to cross his forearms over them and rest his head on top of his arms. His breathing, once again, begins to get out of control. In addition, Eric experiences a wave of nausea that is now rolling around in his stomach.
It is only a matter of seconds before he begins to gag and retch so hard, it feels as if his entire stomach is threatening to come out of his mouth. What makes it so much worse is they are dry heaves and not one drop of vomit enters his mouth. The heaves are so violent; he thinks that he feels a blood vessel pop in his eye.
If I keep this up, I will die for sure!
He cannot catch his breath and he feels that one or two more heaves like this and it is all over for him. Desperate for some form of relief, he does not even realize he has scrambled to his feet. Bent over with his hands on his knees, he thinks, I am on my feet. Good. I have to stand up straight and breathe! With this in mind, he slowly starts to straighten up.
Deep breathing once again seems to be effective. The gagging and the retching seem to be subsiding, but he is sweating like a boxer that just finished taking a twelve round whipping. He is unsteady on his feet and he still feels very weak. His balance is way off, and he is rocking back and forth, so when he lifts his head, it is no wonder that he starts falling backwards. Completely out of control, he frantically backpedals, trying to regain his balance and stop what definitely was going to be a very hard crash. What terrifies him the most is that he has no idea what he is going to hit. As soon as that thought is complete, he slams, back first, into what has to be a wall. He is surprised, but he is not surprised that he hit a wall. He is surprised that it does not hurt as much as he thought it would. He had braced himself for the corner of a table or a brick wall. Instead, the wall seemed to give almost as easy as cardboard before it stopped his backward momentum. In fact, the collision was almost painless. However, he does feel a sharp pain in the middle of his upper back. It feels as if he had landed on something that is protruding from the wall. He turns to face the wall and starts rubbing his hands up and down its surface.
He is trying to find what poked him in his back. The wall is full of little grooves, as one might find in a piece of wood. The sound of his hand rubbing against the surface produces a hollow sound as if the wall is very thin. In fact, he feels the wall give whenever he pushes in, or rests any of his weight against it. As he ponders his findings, he continues to rub the wall with both hands. He does not notice how calm he is because, in fact, he is concentrating, determined to find out what is going on. His breathing has returned to normal and the nausea is completely gone. However, his head still hurts like hell. He feels as if air is rushing into to his forehead at a rate that would blow out a truck tire. He does not realize that he is frowning so hard that his eyebrows are almost touching. Despite his pain, he realizes that his right hand has come across what feels like a light switch.
This must be what stuck me in the back when I fell.
Instead of just flicking the switch, he stands there with his hand on it. His fear starts to surface again.
What if someone put me here? They might see the light! DAMN! They might be here with me!
His heart jumps into his throat with the thought that he may not be alone in this darkness. Someone may be sitting or standing here watching him, waiting for him to go too far, to see too much, or to come too close to THEM! Eric cannot move and he stands frozen in place. His breathing has not gone out of control this time because he is not breathing at all. His breath is completely gone and he feels as if someone is standing behind him with their index finger so close to the back of his neck that he can feel it touching the ends of the hairs that are standing straight up.
Shhhhh! Don't move! Don't even breathe!
Eric realizes that he needs to think. He knows that he cannot just stand here and not breathe. That will lead to certain unconsciousness, so he began breathing as quietly as he can.
However, he soon reasons, with all the noise his fall made, if someone is here he would have known it by now. More importantly, he knows that if he is going to figure out where he is and how he got here, he is going to have to flick that switch. The first thing he does, once he gets his nerves together, is to turn around and press his back against the wall. This way, he knows that nothing can get him from behind. He feels that he might have some kind of chance if he can see what comes.
Once he is sure that he is as flat against the wall as he can possibly be, he takes his left hand and slides it up the wall until he finds the switch. Then he takes a deep breath and with one quick, uncontrollable blink, he flicks the switch up, to the on position.
When Jamil woke up, he kept his eyes closed. He just laid there, in his room, listening to all the sounds that were in the air. He could here people conversing as they walked pass his house. He could hear the tires of cars as they rolled over the small cracks and bumps that were in the middle of the street.
Excerpted from III Wishes by Edward Harrison Copyright © 2011 by Edward Harrison. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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