Something inside is gasping for air. Standing at the top of the dungeon stairs, peering out at the distant light. Grasping a bar in each grimy hand, shaking the door and succeeding solely in rattling the thick lock with a metallic clang, clang, clang-clang, clang-clang…clank. Heavy panic fills her mind. Fearful sobs flood her lungs. Now more than ever she believes there is something wonderful−just beyond−but “beyond” might as well be a million miles away.
She struggles with the door, barely bothering to break her gaze off of the metallic enemy, not even for an instant. She battles. Sometimes, in the wind, a tiny voice, almost inaudible, whispers−”Stop and look. Stop and look.”−but she drowns out the sound with her self-will. “I can’t! I won’t! I don’t have time! Mindless, senseless, blind, idiotic wind, can’t you understand? I’m trapped! I’ll stop and look,” she always screams, “AFTER I break free!“ And so she spends each day, fights each day, diligently beating at the bars of the exit door, clanging the solid lock and sinking deeper and deeper into despair.
Days pass. Years do too, disguised as days, weeks and months meshing together in a senseless, spinning blur. One morning, a strand of hair−pure white− slips across the girl’s face as she struggles with the bars. She starts suddenly, shocked to have company. But when she jumps back, no one is there.
She is alone. Then whose hair had she seen? It wasn’t her own. It couldn’t be. But then again… She reaches a hand behind her head, wraps a strand around her fingers and pulls the tress to her face. Falling on her knees she sobs as deeply and bitterly as ever she’s cried before. The hair is hers. Turning from the light she slides, back again the bars, into a crumbled, crying ball. Softly cutting through the sound of her sobs comes the whispering wind.”Stop and look! Stop and look!” The words are still spoken softly, but without the metallic rattling and clanging they are clearly audible. Mocked, the old woman-girl, wryly laughs.
“Stop? Stop!?! Why not? There’s no point anymore. My hair is white and my will is broken. I’ll never escape,” she mutters wearily in self-defeat. “I’m too frail to fight, too weak to make a break. Stop. It’s all I have left. All I can do anymore.” And so she stops.
On the cold floor, she sits for some time, letting the silence flood her soul and pour over her mind. She doesn’t move or fight or think or care. From somewhere distant comes the dawning day carrying on its rays a crazy flash of thought: What if…? She lifts her head and looks around the shadowed room. All she sees at first is darkness, but a twinkle of light appears alongside the rising sun. Brighter, brighter grows the glow. She hobbles over, step after tired step, and sees, to her disbelief, an escape route, small, but surely large enough to wiggle her way through.
Forward she runs, awkwardly fighting through, stumbling, gasping the clear air as she collapses on the ground. Washed in the warm glow of a yellow-pink sunrise sky, the garden is glorious. A glittering fountain fills its center. Exquisite beds of roses−coral, ochre, crimson, honey-hued, and gold−perfume the sweet air. And, oh, that voice! Here the wind’s words sing out loud and clear, “Stop and look! Stop and look!”
Even in her joy, the statements stop her in her tracks and again she weeps. Wasted years wash through her mind as she faces the fact: She’d had the answer all along. The dungeon wasn’t the trap—it was herself.
© Angela M. Adams
(Written in 2007, reworked in 2014)