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He sits against the cold, brick surface of a wall that confines him. Four of these walls form a cage of darkness with not a single door or window. The boy does not know how he has come to be in this place, only that it has been an immeasurable amount of time since he has seen anything outside his imprisonment. No aging or sickness falls upon the boy nor does hunger touch him.
Darkness and loneliness are among the only things that are constant occupants other than the boy. His only way to the outside world was a rusted, metal vent in the wall he often sat against. The boy had tried endless times to escape the cold stone room through the tiny space, but the bars that blocked the way were invincible and would not wane under the child’s non-existent strength.
However, sounds enter the small room from the other side of the hole. Voices; some sounding familiar like from a faint memory, and others that were unrecognizable. The most common voice was that of a woman. Longingly, the small boy would sit for many hours listening to her soft, gentle voice. He knew that this woman cared about him very much and she was important to him. It troubled the boy at times to listen to her because he knew she was sad. He could hear the strain in her voice and sometimes the hushed sobs that echoed in the empty air. The boy longed to reached her, take her hand and let her hold him in order to comfort her. Confusion sometimes happened by in the child’s mind because, although he could not see the woman – and he did not understand how she knew – she knew he was trapped in this room. And, it seemed that no matter how loud or how long the boy screamed toward her voice, she could not hear him.
But this was not the only reason for the boy’s screams. On the opposite side of the room from the voices, shadows swarmed in packs – and they were not alone. Anything possibly imaginable would wander out from the shadows, some just a faint shimmer like a mirage. But others were so real and terrifying that the boy would be surrounded by his own screams echoing off the walls. Creatures would lurk forward, arms and untold tortures stretched forward. Just when they seemed a breath away, so that the boy could already feel the expected touch of an enemy, they would vanish without a trace, leaving the boy sobbing uncontrollably, cold and alone.
Rarely did anything good come from the shadows. However, if the boy was lucky, for a couple seconds, he would see the faint figure of a woman, arms outstretched, beckoning him to her. He knew it was her – the woman whose voice he listens to so often. Running toward her, he couldn’t get there quick enough. She would smile warmly, but she would disappear in wisps of smoke when the boy came before her. More tears would spill down his cheeks, yearning for the warm comfort of her arms.
But not even she could comfort him from the thing that frightens him the most. Every time the boy would withstand his fear of the shadows and travel toward the other wall, searching for an escape, he would always see the same frightening thing – himself. The shadows would slope down into the walls, forming smoky, dark wooden stairs. A light switch near the boy seemed to glow with urgency, calling him to it. Light filled the small space from a dingy bulb at the bottom of the stairway. Fear erupted through the boy’s tiny body when he turned and ran to the vent, lacing his fingers around the bars, trying to get as far away as possible.
At the bottom of the stairs lay the same small boy, but he was different. The body was broken and his arms were twisted in disturbing ways. He was dead. No matter how badly the small boy wanted freedom from his cage, he knew that venturing down the stairs would end his life.
Now he sat, away from the shadows, listening to the woman’s voice through the grate. “The white snow finally went away, Danny. I saw a robin bird the other day. The sky is a beautiful blue with soft white clouds that float in its sea. Every morning when I wake up, I hear the birds singing to me. Pretty soon, everything will turn green and colorful. You should see it, Danny.” The boy sat imagining a world that had faded from his memory.
“Sarah.” A new voice of a man lingered through the grate. It was unfamiliar to the boy. The woman did not answer. “Sarah,” the man repeated softly, “Maybe…maybe you should get out of the hospital for a while.”
A few silent moments later, the women answered in a whisper, “What if he wakes up when I’m gone?”
The man replied with a sigh. “Sarah – it’s been two years now. The doctors don’t think he’s going to wake up. His brain was seriously damaged when he fell down the stairs. I’m sorry.”
The woman’s voice changed. It was no longer lost and afraid, it was defiant and stubborn. “But what if they’re wrong? Doctors make mistakes all the time, the same could be the case with Danny’s coma.”
“That might be possible…but what if it isn’t? Ken wouldn’t want you to waste away in that chair.”
“If Ken were still alive he would be sitting right next to me, making sure our son was still alive. You have no idea what it is like to lose a person you truly care about and I’m about to lose two.”
“Sarah –,” but the man was cut off.
“Go away, Markus. And take your pity with you.” Her voice had turned soft again and the man’s voice was not heard again.
Coma was an unfamiliar word for to the boy. Why did the coma have him stuck in this unforgiving room with shadows and nightmares to haunt him?
Time passes slowly when sleep cannot find you and fear of death is a constant companion. Danny went about his days in the same fashion he had been trapped in for over two years. Sitting by the grate and listening to Sarah’s voice was the only comfort that ever found him. Nightmares came and went out of the shadows, along with the vision of the woman, arms spread wide. No more voices of visitors were heard besides the man and an occasional man who said only the same words ever – “Excuse me, I have to check on him.” He would say it kindly and have a tone of understanding in his voice. Moments of silence would pass by to the point that the boy was once again overwhelmed by loneliness. However, the silence would then be broken by the woman’s voice, and the man was gone. But more was to be voiced by the man in the not too distant future.
“Excuse me, I have to check on him.”
“Yes,” was Sarah’s distant reply. Those moments of silence happened upon Danny again; but they quickly vanished with the unexpected words from the man, that strayed from his usual statement.
“It’s good that you’re talking to him. They say that they can still hear you voice even when they are in a coma.”
“But I can’t be sure,” replied the woman after a brief moment, her voice full of anxiousness.
“Well,” the man said gently, “Sure or not, you still have hope.”
The woman’s voice turned cold and bitter. “How do you know if I even have hope? It’s been two and a half years.” Her voice broke.
“If you didn’t have hope, you wouldn’t waste your time talking to him.” Silent and still moments ticked by until the boy could hear the woman’s soft sobs. “Keep talking to him,” the man said in such a quiet voice, Danny strained to hear. “The more you talk, the more likely he is to come back to you.” Then the man was gone.
“Danny,” Sarah whispered, “Come back to me. Please, Danny. I love you and I want you to come back.”
Tears began to run down the boy’s face and he reached his small hands through the bars of the grate. “Mommy,” he cried. He looked all around him, looking without hope for an exit that he knew wasn’t there. How was he supposed to escape a room with no windows or doors?
Realization came to him and he slowly turned to face the shadows. The swirled with deadly intensions and nightmares that haunted the boy daily. However, he took a step forward, knowing what he had to do. He entered the dark shadows depths as it swirled around him, enveloping him in an endless, foggy night. In what seemed like hours, he finally saw the light switch that seemed to glow with the anticipation of his touch. Danny held his breath as dim light flooded the staircase before him and the disturbing image of his dead self appeared at the bottom of the stairs.
Every fiber of his being was restless, telling him not to go down those stairs. But when Danny closed his eyes, he pictured the face of his mother he longed to see. He stepped onto the first step. The air seemed to get colder by the second, making his skin prickle. By the third step, the boy began to feel an uncomfortable sensation. It felt like his insides were being pulled apart inside of him, the pain increasing with each step he took. Although this pain was making it hard for him to concentrate, Danny balanced his steps on the stairs carefully, for one wrong move could send him plummeting down the stairs and to his death. The pain inside him became so immensely painful that his teeth were sore from clenching them together to keep from screaming.
A little further than halfway down, the pain floated away and he was thankful. But the next feeling wasn’t much better. The air seemed as if it was being sucked away from him, making him lighter and lighter, smaller and smaller. Fear surrounded him and tears prickled behind his eyes with the contemplation that he might not make it. He was being sure not to look at the body that came closer with every step he took, but when he finally – after enduring pain and fear – reached the last step, it was inevitable. The boy’s vision blurred as he began to cry out of terror at the indescribable ugly that death was. He tried to calmly work his way around the body, feeling his way along the wall.
With his back to the body, a door stood in front of him. He pressed his cold fingers against the rusted doorknob and he slowly opened the door. At first, darkness was the only thing visible. The boy stood there for a while, afraid to venture into the unknown. However, after a while, the boy saw the faint mirage of his mother and he could hear her soft voice calling his name. He slowly walked through the door, the body behind him and his mother in front of him.
The floor fell out from underneath him so suddenly; no scream was able to erupt out of the boy’s mouth. And he found himself warm. Instead of the brick wall behind his back, there was soft cushion, and instead of cold air surrounding him, he was covered in warm sheets. Opening his eyes, everything was still dark at first, until faint, blurry figures began to manifest before him.
“Danny?” Sarah’s voice filled Danny’s heart with joy as his head turned toward the sound of her voice. They both embraced and cried.
The hospital was beautiful to Danny. All he had seen for the past two and a half years was cold brick and shadows. For the first time, he felt warm and he relished it. Most of all, he loved being with his mother. But, it wasn’t meant to last.
“It’s time to go to sleep, Danny. I’ll be here when you wake up in the morning.” Sarah once again had joy in her life and, for the first time in two and a half years, she was smiling.
“I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you more.”
But Danny wasn’t in the hospital when he awoke the next morning. Brick walls formed a cage in every direction and he was trapped once again. “No! Mommy!” He ran to the wall but stopped in shock when he saw that there was no grate, get solid brick. He cried uncontrollably as he pounded his tiny fists against the walls. “Mommy, come back!” He sank to the ground and had no intension of moving ever again.
When his crying came to a minimal, he noticed something different about the room, besides that the vent from which he had listened to his mother’s voice was gone. There was a window. It left a spotlight on the floor and Danny seemed to be mesmerized by it. He walked over and looked through the almost non-existent glass to see a world he never could have imagined.
“Danny! Danny come back!” He could hear his mother’s beautiful voice calling to him in the distance, but it seemed faint to the beyond beautiful world outside the window.
“I love you, Mommy,” he said. He lifted the latch on the window as if it was nothing and pushed open the smooth glass. Without looking back at the cage that had held him for so long, he entered a world better than any he had every known.