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A chair. I can feel the cold metal digging into my back and supporting my weight. There are chains, too, binding me roughly, tightly, etching scars into my flesh. I struggle weakly, if only to reassure myself of the solid presence of these shackles. It takes a few moments, but I quickly realize that I am completely naked; every defense, save for my skin, is gone. I try to breathe deeply, but my chest will not rise more than a few centimeters. I try again—the imperfections and irregularities of the metal links cut shallow, bloody, and painful grooves into my skin. My lungs fill more adequately, though, so I continue the process in spite of the sharp protests screamed by my nerve endings. My brain knows better. It knows I need the air, and the wounds will heal.
It occurs to me that I have not yet opened my eyes, so I do. I cannot see myself, the chair, or the chains, but my other senses do not lie. Some mysterious, acrid smell has reached my nose, one my brain can identify only as revolting and unnatural. I close my eyes, then open them again, and recognize no difference between the darkness surrounding me and the darkness inside me. At first, I want to submit, because the gloom is so complete and impenetrable that there seems to be no hope. Then, a small but sure voice, echoing through the stale air or my head—I cannot be sure which—says, “Don’t give up.”
Suddenly, the blackness is shattered. A light, gleaming gently, emanates from the sensitive place between my lungs, protected by my sternum: my heart.
The steady dimming and brightening matches the throbbing of my pulse. My breath quickens; the light grows stronger and stronger. My chains are beginning to feel lighter. The voice speaks again, and now I think it is a voice speaking out of my past: “You’re strong. You can escape this.”
I notice my bonds have loosened, and I’m much warmer now than I was only a few minutes ago. I know the voice is right, too, so I begin to struggle again. The chain links bend like rubber, but still refuse to snap. The mysterious voice I can now recognize as male, kind and understanding, supportive and gentle. Someone who truly cares. He coaxes from me a formerly dormant strength. I can’t remember how long I’ve been trapped here, but there must have been something before, because I know I’ve heard this voice somewhere other than my head.
Determination seizes me. With a roar that doesn’t sound like it could come from me, I break through the chains and jump out of the chair. My entire body shines like a star. The darkness is tangible, my every move sending black wisps of a smoky essence swirling into chaos, and my light then chases the shadowy tendrils away. I need to find him, the source of the voice. I will find him. I still don’t know where I am or how I came to be here, but my heart tells me that there is a way out.
Something tears at my back—no, through my back. I double over as flesh rips and blood spurts, I fall to my knees, and I scream. Tears fall in a violent downpour from my eyes to the ground as my body reacts to the pain, convulsing, my limbs shaking uncontrollably. I throw my head back and my scream grows louder, shriller, as my body, mind, and spirit cry out for the pain to stop…
And then it does. I collapse into puddles of my tears and blood, relief seeping into me. Where moments ago I experienced vicious pain, now I feel an odd weight making my skin tingle. Not just a weight, a protrusion. Although simply lying there is a tempting option, I, instead, push myself to my feet with trembling arms and nearly fall again because my legs aren’t entirely stable yet.
I do not fall because the new addition to my body holds me upright. The sound of gentle flapping fills the empty silence, and, for the first time in my prison, the air around me moves enough to tickle my skin. Could it be?
Holding my breath, I turn my head as slowly as I can, wanting so badly to see what my heart tells me is there, but so unwilling to be disappointed.
Sprouting from my back is a pair of wings. Brilliant white feathers, apparently impervious to blood, give off a light of their own as they wait to be used.
Barely thinking, I leap into the air, spreading my wings and flying straight up through the abyss. The still air is rushing past me. I crash through a ceiling of water, and fear grips me for a moment—what if I drown? The water’s peculiar, though. I can breathe in it, while its cool caress soothes all of my aches and pains and washes away the blood, sweat, and tears, cleansing me body and soul. My heart soars as I do, rising higher and higher to freedom.
I break through the other surface of the water to a world of dazzling sunlight and clarity, where my nose is met with sweet, fresh air, and all traces of the nauseating smell from my prison are gone. I’m hovering above the ocean—I could have sworn that water had been fresh, not salty—and I can see a white strip of beach beyond cresting waves. I fly toward land, skimming along the clear, blue-green water and reveling in the feel of the spray on my skin. I remember my nudity, but am far too happy to feel embarrassed. Let whomever may be waiting in the sand see all of me and understand.