by Rhys Lee Hamilton
Soft flesh broke beneath my fingers, staining the tips a deep purple. Consumed with marveling at the berry, I didn't notice when the sun warming my back turned cold. Massive claws sank into my chest and back, grip unrelenting even as I wailed and thrashed. The blackberry bushes grew smaller and smaller as the ground fell away.
The wraiths took other children, many of them younger than me. I made eye contact with a sobbing boy hanging limp and defeated in a wraith's grip, and I felt sorry for him. He was going to be eaten, but I wouldn't. I'd take my chances with the ground.
I resumed my thrashing, biting and clawing at the wraith's scaly legs until it released me. "Make yourself too much trouble," my grandmother always said. She'd lived long enough to become a grandmother, so I trusted her advice.
Plummeting through clouds and cold mist, I wondered if this wasn't the best idea. Maybe I could have escaped later, once the wraiths took us to their nest, but in all the stories my grandmother had told me, they first dashed their prey against the tall cliffs where they made their home, scraping up the splattered viscera for their offspring. If you managed to survive, there was no way you could make it across the salt flats on foot. There, the sun was your enemy.
At least now my death was on my terms.
Once I finished turning my fate over and over in my mind, examining it like a puzzle box, I realized I'd been falling far too long. The ground should have embraced me moments ago, and yet I was still falling, wind whistling in my ears. Falling into the Pit.
Heavy mist obscured the Pit from above, but once I'd passed through the abyssal mouth the fine, opaque condensation slowly dissipated. Nothing to see, though. Nothing lived in the
Pit but yawning darkness and the sound of my own sharp breathing, existing now as something distinct from myself.
The Pit came and went, gobbling up ground and people alike. It moved unpredictably, like a rabid animal. We feared it, told cautionary tales of tipping off the edge, but it never seemed real to me. How could a hole in the ground move? How could a pit be bottomless? Now that I'd been falling for what seemed like hours, the Pit's bottomlessness was a certainty.
I wanted to jump, to leap away from the strange voice in my ear, but all I could do was flinch.
"Hello," I replied tentatively. The wind should have swallowed up my words, but I heard them clearly. I wondered if I was still falling, or if I'd slowed to a stop without noticing, now suspended in midair.
Slowly, like a scroll unfurling, I realized I wasn't a child anymore. I realized I couldn't remember my name. I realized that the voice I heard was my own, echoed back to me from the past and from the future.
Somewhere along the fall, I'd burst like a blackberry, until I was nothing more than a stain.
© 2022 Rhys Lee Hamilton
Rhys Lee Hamilton is a writer, editor, and instant coffee enjoyer halfway through a graduate degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
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