Opening his eyes, he barely squints, as into the sun. He tries to brush the dirt away from them but it only sinks in deeper into his sockets. He groans with the pain, and wriggles and wiggles his way loose from the branches. They no longer invade his body, no longer probe. But they hadn’t probed, had they? No, they gave life into him. He feels more alert, more aware, and mentally…clear.
He lays on his side and struggles against the strangling tangle of thin, long, but strong wooden fingers—live fingers that hold him there. It is almost womb-like, the hold of the tree’s appendages. They release, and recede up and out of the ceiling above him, ascending to the living world of sky, grass, and rain (some of the rain dripped down from the ceiling like they syrup on a Saturday morning bottle). With a grunt, Seth pushes himself up off his side and stands up on both his feet. Bloody holes oozed small, coagulating bubbles of red from his body. There are more than fifty of these, all over his chest and back, in his neck, and reaching to the top of his buttocks. Nothing on the legs though. Odd, he thought.
But there was pain. Sharp, searing pain that stings with every movement. He hisses, but moves forward. There is a tunnel before him. The tunnel is a chopped tube meandering under ground for maybe twenty yards before it disappears behind rocks and a bend. The ceiling is high above him, almost fifteen feet. He can climb up, he thinks, and dig his way back into the…the…the world. The walls are not entirely smooth, but are made of hardened brown, golden and orange dirt that has the appearance of hard rock, but alas, it breaks away when he reaches with his hands and puts weight on his foot. Besides, the pain is unbearable. Behind him is a crumbled wall of loose dirt that narrows down into a small corner. He steps toward it, just to make sure. It’s too dark, and he can barely make out a small hole, but it’s on the floor, against the wall—if indeed it is a wall. Who knows whither the hole leads, if it even is a hole?
Not content in submitting himself to moving forward in the obvious direction, he crouches down and puts his face right into the small hole. The position of his body is so tight, and the myriad of puncture wounds in him so painful, that he holds his breath, trying in deepest earnest to catch a glimpse of immediate escape by some other route. Straining his lungs, body and ears, he looks and listens into the tiny black hole for a smidgen of hope. A void answers back to him. It is a void—probably nothing but more earth, more wall behind this. Probably just an anomaly. Probably just nothing. He breathed into the small hole. Though faint, it sounds like when you listen to a shell’s echo. “It’s the ocean,” Kim used to say. Seth drifts for a moment, thinking of her. She moved away—just as they had become good friends. “There’s nothing down there,” he mutters to himself. He pushes himself up with a leap, determined to go the other way. He looks down the tunnel and remembers that he forgot one thing: to be afraid.