THE SUN IS JUST A MEMORY from another lifetime, it seems. You haven't felt the warmth of its rays for an eternity. You have no idea how long you've been digging, how long you've been stuck in this… this hole, or wherever it is that you are stuck. Panic has set in and then dissipated and set in again and then dissipated again so many times that your nervous system has no idea which mode is in fact the norm. There is no norm other than darkness. The only light you occasionally see is internal - from the brief flashing of memories which seem to occur in random and insentient singularities - but even this does not happen often enough. You lie sometimes on your belly, but mostly on your side, scooping handfuls of dirt and gravel and small roots and worms from directly in front of your face and pushing it all just low enough to eventually slither over or through it. Taking anything more than half a breath at a time is impossible, which provokes constant estimation of how much time you have before suffocation occurs. There can not be more than a few minutes of oxygen left, you surmise. But you've been surmising this same conclusion for longer than you can remember now, and still you are here. No matter where you are, you reason, and how deep you were buried - and you do realize you have been buried, that much seems obvious - you surely should have surfaced by now. You wonder if up is actually up. You wonder if the given laws of nature still apply where you are. The weight of your torso remains on your belly, with the heaviest force of gravity pushing downward towards your legs. This assures you, with common logic and elementary physical science, that you are in fact digging upwards at a strong incline and that eventually you will reach the surface. You know this. You know this just as surely as one would know that morning follows night - and yet dawn as well as gravity seems somehow to defy reason.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to fully regain failing composure with only half-breaths. Your most loyal companion is frustration; aggravation is your Siamese twin.

With an internal flash, a grouping of people without faces invades your limited space. Some cry, some point at you and laugh in a lunatic sort of way, others just squat pathetically in the dirt on their haunches and remain silent. You hear the thump-thump-thumping of helicopter rotors somewhere nearby, but only as an oblique audio attachment.

Currently, the space around you is restricted so that your arms must remain at an acute angle, which of course is entirely necessary for digging but nearly impossible to sustain without excruciating cramps in the ligaments and muscles attached to the elbow. Your hands are numb and always have been, from what you remember. As you dig you are cognizant of a distinct scraping sound, similar to that of … there is actually nothing that sounds like bone scraping on hard-packed earth. The warmth of the blood which oozes from your fingertips and seeps into the dirt, forming wet clods around your collar bone, is a reminder of your vitality, or so it would seem. Ironically you are sometimes not sure if you were ever really alive, or for that matter, what life actually is. Has this always been your life? Were the memories that periodically flash into your brain in the semblance of some previous life just products of a vivid imagination? You have even wondered more than once if you have in fact been reincarnated as an earthworm.

You remember a large house with windows everywhere. Blinding sunlight. You remember a carpeted staircase, with wooden banisters and shiny railings, the stairs hugging the perimeter of a cavernous foyer with gold-leafed trim. You have no recollection of where that staircase led, but you know that it was yours.

A tiny pebble lodges beneath your eyelid and gauges the eyeball, which only reminds you of its relative uselessness.

You fantasize about the smell of expansive lawns and lush gardens consisting of roses and gardenias and irises and rhododendrons and salvias, but are not positive of the existence of any of the above outside of your own fantasy. You remember joy, but you let it pass with minimal consideration, for in your current predicament its triviality is somewhat of an annoyance. You knew love at least once. There was heartache involved, but you are not sure if the pain was given or received; the difference seems insignificant.

A tiny critter of some sort crawls onto your forehead and travels down the bridge of your nose. You blow at it through the side of your mouth and it wanders into the tangled nest of your hair. It would be wise to eat the insect - you know this - but strangely you feel no hunger whatsoever. While continuing to pull dirt, you scrape the back of your head on the damp earth until you hear the crunch of the insect's body and feel its innards mashed against your scalp.

There is a recurrent feeling that at sometime in the past you were wronged and cheated. You feel the overwhelming need to chastise the enemy, to vindicate yourself of any false accusations, though you have no idea what the topic of the argument and accusation is or was. Perturbed, you focus on slowing your breathing as you turn the dig sharply upwards again, or what you think is up. You don't remember any specific enemies and you don't remember any specific friends; it's unclear whether you ever had either.

Your tongue is a solid mass of dead flesh entombed in the dryness of your soil-encrusted mouth.

There was an argument - you recall it vaguely, first as an observer and then as a participant. With another flash, you see the face of the man you are arguing with. You know him, or knew him once, but are now having difficulty placing his identity. He is sitting next to you on leather upholstery in the back of a large vehicle. It is dark outside the vehicle, or else the windows are very darkly tinted. The man is visibly angry or frustrated, perhaps at you but it is difficult to tell. You cannot clearly decipher the words he speaks. His language seems not foreign but mixed, garbled. It is as if his mouth is full of rocks and dirt - like yours is now - or perhaps the audio and video of your memory are not at this moment fully synchronized. He is accentuating the anger of his tone with a slapping motion of one hand into the palm of the other, and frequent pointing of his finger in your direction.

You hear laughter. You hear a gunshot.

Your bloody fingers stop digging and you focus on your memory, but now there is nothing more to see. That is where it ends; your visions will go no further. This is certain. What is uncertain is how much you will remember from the gaps, the interims - the holes, if you will.

You almost certainly, at some point, will recall that your given name is Rey Tessaly. You may somehow sense that you were once a very affluent businessman, though you will never again be fully convinced of the positive value of your accomplishments. What is uncertain is whether you will remember that your business made a considerable fortune sponsoring the outlaws who guided gullible immigrants illegally across the border. You may not ever recall your own personal feelings about the immigrants, whom you considered a lowly caste - naïve little peasants, you called them - and the blatant disrespect you held for their customs and beliefs. You considered them a primitive people. You may remember associating with law enforcement and other government officials, but most likely will never be able to tie together the complex ring of political relations which you nurtured and harvested and cherished for so many years. You once held great pride in knowing that out of the thousands of immigrants your men smuggled across, not many - far fewer than a hundred individuals - ever made it beyond the border agents. Your business plan was simple: you receive payment from prospective illegal immigrants, you guide the immigrants "secretly" across the border, you ensure that the smuggled immigrants subsequently get "caught" by border agents, you receive payment from officials on the receiving end for positive political publicity, and then you start the cycle all over again.

There was a very powerful figure - the angry man in the leathery car - whose young nephew was killed by a border agent while trying to cross with your corrupt guides. The powerful man was willing to give you a second chance, a chance to amend this horrible happenstance, by simply ceasing your lucrative business practices. You laughed. Laughed right into his face. At the time, sitting next to that man in his limousine, your imprudent response amazed even you. You knew his power; you knew his reputation for ruthlessness. It may well have been more of a nervous giggle, a reflexive discharge of bundled energy, but that minor detail was completely irrelevant to the circumstances. The laughter your ears heard didn't sound anything like your own, but, unfortunately, it was. Whether or not you will ever remember this fact is anybody's guess. Right now all you remember is dirt. Dirt, dirt, and more dirt. It's the single most certain thing in your world. Digging is the one constant in your existence.

Your bloody fingers will soon break through to an open space. Adrenaline will surge through your veins as you dig quickly in hopes of finally reaching the surface. You will believe for a moment that you can already taste the fresh air. But you will find that you are now in some sort of a box, in complete darkness, with no recollection of how or when you got there. You will not be able to push open the box. You will search frantically for an escape route. There will be screws on the end panel which you will loosen with great effort. The dig will begin. None of the previous dig will be remembered.

There was a beetle, or some other sort of small critter, that once ran across the bridge of your nose and ended up mashed into your hair - you remember that only because it just happened. But beyond that, beyond a moment ago, everything is hazy. The distant memories of your past life only come erratically. There is no light where you are now. The only light you occasionally see is internal, but even this does not happen often enough.

Terry Rogers


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This work copyrighted by Terry Rogers. All rights reserved.
(Originally published in MCR under a pseudonym.)