Out of the Dark

This prompt (in brackets) is taken from Complete the Story by Piccadilly Inc., which I got from the Scribbler box.

[The darkness was thick and suffocating, like a heavy blanket had been thrown on the world. He had to get over the wall, had to get across the border before] the dark seeped all the way into him. He could feel it in his lungs now, filling them so that every breath was a rasp. That was the sign that he had been in the dark for too long. But this time to find what he was looking for he had needed to go further, past the last post, only the tail of the rope strung along the posts to tell him how to get back. He had reached the end of that rope and let it go, stumbling into the dark several steps before he found the inkwort prickly against his fingertips. By that point he only had time to grab a few handfuls, and then he turned and hurried back, hand over hand along the rope.

When he had first entered the dark, his eyes had responded to it with color and glitter. But now the dark had seeped into his eyes and there was only blackness. He felt it on his tongue too, a heavy weight in his mouth, and he smelled it. People who had never gone into the dark laughed at that, that darkness would have a scent. But it did, and he knew it very well. There was no sound here, not even of his footsteps among a ground that yielded faintly like moss. He had only touch to guide him, so long as he found his way back in time.

He knew he wasn’t supposed to go beyond that last post, but there was no more inkwort between it and the wall. They had used every last leaf of it within searchable distance. What would they do now? Was this bundle stuffed in his bag the last inkwort they would bring out of the dark?

If he even got out.

He followed the rope and the posts. There were countless paths leading into and out of the dark, lined out by ropes and posts. But none of those paths and the spaces inbetween held anymore inkwort. So often now people ventured in and back out with nothing to show for it, and some didn’t venture back out at all. Maybe they had gone too far, like him.

He had to clutch the rope tighter now, so that it dug into his palm. He was starting to lose sensation, the rope fading. His shoes seemed to tread on nothing but air. If the dark seeped into his skin, he wouldn’t be able to feel anything at all. He would wander aimlessly in the dark. Some said it was for forever.

He didn’t worry about the inkwort anymore. He had to reach the wall. He had to get over the wall.

He ran as quickly as he dared. He couldn’t risk losing the rope. It was little more than a tingling on his fingers. It was the only thing tethering him to anything that wasn’t the dark. His breaths were heavy, and he had to forceably pump air in and out of his lungs.

Something stopped him. Something was pressing against him, and he got the impression that he had been running against it for some time now, with it pressed against his hands and forehead. He couldn’t tell, but he hoped it was the wall.

He reached up, and it seemed he grasped something. Perhaps it was the ladder. He reached up again and again, and moved his legs up, and only knew he had succeeded when light painfully struck his eyes and he was falling. He had the faintest sensation that he hit the ground.

He screwed his eyes shut and threw his arms over his face. It took a few minutes, but finally he could hear a voice speaking to him. Caleb. He answered with a grunt. His mouth felt like it was filled with something thick like cotton.

Caleb’s voice was solemn. “You didn’t find any, did you? You were gone too long you know.”

“I found some,” he said through the cotton, the darkness that was fading from him.

“No fucking way,” Caleb marveled. “That’s the first in weeks. You did go too far.”

He blinked at Caleb, and put his palms on the gravel to push himself up. He sat and looked at the wall, rising up beside him. You couldn’t tell from here that the wall held back darkness. From here it merely looked like the sky went beyond it, a regular wall. He watched a bird fly past it, scream, and turn to dart back into the light.

“What’s going to happen now?” Caleb asked.

“They’ll figure something out. Everyone’s working on it. We should have known a rope wouldn’t have worked forever.”

He looked at Caleb. There was deep worry on the boy’s face. He clapped a hand on his shoulder and stood, happy to feel that shoulder and the solidity of the ground.

“Come on,” he said. “People are waiting for this stuff.”

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