by Julia O’Neill
Any noise made at this moment – from my own body, or a mysterious unknown that hides in the void – gets repeated and heard throughout the cavernous space. The water up to my knees was drowning me without ever depriving me of oxygen, and my thoughts filled the space in the room that was not already full of water, only adding to the suffocation. Panic consumed my body, and the screams that erupted from inside me were returned just like everything else in this hole.
It had been days – no, weeks, I thought, since I had found my way down here and lost the key that would unlock me from its prison. There weren’t any actual doors or walls, and sometimes I even thought there were no floors beneath me. The key I lost was not physical as some would imagine; it was the one in my head, the map out of here.
The first day I had gotten stuck down here, it hadn’t been too hard to live because I thought I would find my way out. But as more days seemed to pass and I found myself eating things I would never have dared to touch before, I got more worried. I tried to calm myself down. I convinced myself once that I was dying – because the act of dying was easier than staying alive by myself. Then, I discovered that the red I had labeled as a fatal injury was just the vibrant red coloring of my own hair.
Now, after I do not know how long, I found myself facing the wall in front of me with extreme interest and speaking to the only other person I could. They were my only friend, even if I didn’t know who they were, or why they sounded like me and only ever mocked me, frequently repeating the words I had just said to them.
“Hi,” I screamed, straining my voice so that they could hear me from wherever in this hellish grotto they were hiding.
“Hi,” they replied immediately with less intensity than my own voice, the noise sounding off the walls.
“How are you today?”
“How are you today?”
“I’m good.” A smile forced its way across my face when I thought of not being alone. The notion was too inviting to fight off, so I allowed it to take control. I couldn’t imagine what I would turn into if I were all by myself; I’d lose control of my head and fall into insanity just as effortlessly and unplanned as I fell into this cavern. Time passes with me in my thoughts before I talk again, so my friend stays silent as well, giving me the space I need to think.
“I caught a fish today, finally had a decent meal.”
I began to hear the response once I was halfway through my sentence, overlapping the ending part of my own speech. “I caught a fish today, finally had a decent meal.”
I don’t talk for a moment. I take a deep breath and allow the oxygen to calm me.
“It’s rude to talk over people,” I scold.
“It’s rude to talk over people.” Even though they were only doing what they always did, it irritated me more today.
“Stop repeating me! Say something different for once!” I screamed, my agitated attitude taking over entirely so that no part of me was happy with my hidden friend anymore. The smile that consumed my face earlier was only a brief and forgotten image of the past now.
“Stop repeating me! Say something different for once!” They yelled back, talking over me again. The end of the sentence was barely more than a whisper once it reached me; the wind, I imagine, had carried it away.
“Please,” I say, more defeated, desperate to hear something different.
Again, “Please!” I’m back to yelling, frustrated by the only other voice that could fill my ears.
“Please!” she yells back. Suddenly I don’t wish to have a friend anymore; I wish to be alone or to die. I wish for the voices of my old friends to travel into this cave and stay with me. I wish for their well-being to not matter because I need new, better company.
“LEAVE ME ALONE!”
“LEAVE ME ALONE!”
I’m growing more impatient with every word that leaves my mouth.
I know the only way to get her to stop is for me to plunge myself into silence, so I do. But the silence doesn’t last long before it feels deafening to me and weighs me down like the foundation of an entire building. I hate how the silence sings to my ears as if it knows exactly what I want and could give it to me but doesn’t. I dream of punching the silence, but it too is hidden somewhere I can’t see. Eventually, with a cry, I give up and scream. She screams back, and I pick up the stick next to me and begin trying to locate the scream.
“I’m sorry,” I claim in an attempt to have them repeat it back.
“I’m sorry,” they say back, easily falling for my trick; I continue talking and follow her voice to an open sphere-like part of the cavern. I look around for her, pulling up everything off the ground that she could possibly hide under.
“You can’t hide.”
“You can’t hide.” I’m near, I can feel it, she’s right here, I know it, right under me.
“I’M DONE PLAYING!” I yell.
“I’M DONE PLAYING!” The repeated sentence that I hear is loud now and that’s all I need; I’ve found them, I pull the rock up from the damp ground – nothing.
I drop to the ground and am immediately greeted by the rock inhabitants that start biting into my skin.
“Where are you?!” I cry.
“Where are you?!” They repeat with less care.
“I’m right here,” I answer.
“I’m right here.”
I walk to the nearby water to quench my thirst and soothe my sore throat, which was now hurting from all the yelling, but then I see her – looking right at me. In the water, almost like a mirror, I see her staring back at me, copying my movements. I place the whittled stick to my chest and watch as the point of it hits hers; I take a deep breath and speak, “I found you.”
“I found you.”
As I prepare to end the beating of her heart, I hear something over my voice and the response. Sobbing. The noise bounces off the walls, but when I reach my hands to my eyes – they are dry.
Julia O’Neill is a sophomore who is double majoring in Political Science and English Literature with minors in Legal Studies and Honors. During her time at Wesleyan, she has excelled in a multitude of groups, including Zeta Tau Alpha, where she sits as the Academic Chairman and Director of Social Events. She is also the secretary of the College Democrats, a WVWC Student Ambassador, Writing Center Tutor, and a member of the following honorary societies: Alpha Lambda Delta, Omicron Delta Kappa, Pi Sigma Alpha, and Sigma Tau Delta. Though writing is her passion, she hopes to pursue a career in politics after completing law school.