How did I get here? The question sounds new to my swirling fractured mind, yet I know I've asked it before. I must have. But how many times? Like memory, time has little to no stability in this place of shifting darkness, it flows as freely as the warm liquid that binds me.
I can hear my captors through the constant, unending drumming. Is its purpose to torture me? Perhaps, but for what? What could I have done or know that I could possibly deserve this?
They laugh, no doubt mocking my cramped confinement, the sound crashes over my head like rolling thunder. Startling. Deafening. Godly. Through the writhing walls of my ever shrinking cell I have never seen their faces. Noise and foreboding are my only companions in this unknowable strangeness.
Pulsating nutrients rush via a feeding tube telling me I am not imagining my jailers, they are out there somewhere. And for some reason, keeping me healthy. But for what? To what end?
The fleshy pipe crawling with pustules and snaking veins begins to throb. It surges. Feeding time.
If not for the rancid texture of visceral fluids filling every corner of my being it would almost be welcome, for it brings with it a glimpse of the before.
I look up from a green checkered tablecloth, a man in a white shirt is placing a bowl of food before me. Pale worms splattered with crimson chunks. Something wells up from deep inside telling me it is my favourite. Or was. I eat hungrily, slurping, chewing, and smiling at the woman opposite. A sister? Mother? Wife? All I can be sure of is her green eyes, so familiar they say they have always loved me, and will do so forever more. Who are you?
A chanting erupts, sizzling the edges of my vision into clarity. The table is long, impossibly so it disappears beyond the horizon. Flames flicker from atop wax covered bottles, and shapes of varying sizes wrapped in striped and spotted paper call out for me to open them. Most worrying however are the leering faces of all ages, they stare unblinking. I am transfixed as the rhythm of their song grows into a raucous applause.
White shirt returns, proffering a huge cylinder of gloop festooned with burning, crackling sticks. They tell me to blow, urge me to make a wish. I do.
What was that? Was that me?
My cage rattles as if in answer, or anger. The void squeezes, my eyes widen. I twist, the tube wraps about my neck. I struggle, fight, kick, but I cannot scream. The walls of my moist dungeon close in around me. I was not meant to see that, not meant to remember and now my unseeable god's punish me. My body is racked with pain, crushing pressure tries its best to force me down deeper into this pool of night.
She is back, the woman with green eyes, she is holding me, squeezing me. A hug. Mother? I am a small boy, my arms filled with boxes wrapped in crinkling metallic paper. Gifts. We are outside the restaurant. I am happy. We are happy. We say goodbye to everyone and leave. I drop a parcel when crossing the road and stop to pick it up, lights, blinding lights….
The thunder booms louder and more quickly, galloping like a great steed across the inky heavens. It brings the wrath of my distant deities. Everything constricts. Suddenly the fluid that held me prisoner for an immeasurable time streams away. Gummy jaws wrap around my skull, envelope my head and press down. I am doomed to be squashed to death. Doomed to leave this strange place with no knowledge of who or what I have become. Why am I here! What is this place!
Mother's gaze widens in shock, light illuminating every crevice of her blanched expression. She tries to push me away but she is too late. For both of us. Tyres shriek. Brakes hiss. Our bodies crumple, snap and dash the grill of the speeding lorry.
It all comes back in horrific flashes. I was just a boy. My tenth birthday. Father had...father had died overseas wearing a green uniform. Mother said he died with honour, for peace, for us. All of us. It was my first birthday since we had lost him so all that remained of our small family had come to his favourite restaurant - Mario's Pizzeria. We stayed late, too late. It was dark…we…
The toothless mouth gnaws me further, chewing over my head, then shoulders in slow laborious movements. A scream curdles in my tiny throat. My captors are near, I can sense them, hear them. But it's different. They are scared.
The world shudders and breaks. Light explodes and I am spat into the world. I roar, and scream, and flail. For the grief of my memory, for the pain as huge wheels crushed my spine, for the family I'll never see again.
Trembling and cold I am scooped up by a giant, wrapped in something soft and handed to a woman. Her face is red and drenched in sweat and tears.
I am pressed to her chest and hear that constant thundering once more. No longer torturous, but a constant. That beating kept me alive, kept me safe from this cruel world. Her laughter shakes our bodies as one and I know, she is mother. A different mother.
I have been here before, many times. All of us have. There is a reason we forget the trauma of birth, to remember would be to remember your death. And the countless lives lost. Countless hearts broken.
My crying stops and a man presses close, kisses us both. Father. I have a father again. It is all so strange, so familiar and yet I can feel who I was before fading away.
Time flows once more and carries memories off with it.
I am hungry and tired. I look around at this strange world of bright lights and brighter smiles and wonder…
How did I get here?