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I could feel it coursing through my body, mixing with the blood in my veins. I could feel it causing my temperature to rise - my blood boiled, my skin burned, and my tongue was as dry as paper. I could feel it in my mind, my thoughts started to muddle and my head and limbs moved sluggishly.
I could feel it slowly but surely making its way towards my heart as I walked in a painful, lonely daze through the damp and dark Endless Tunnel.
When I had first felt the dart jabbed into the left side of my neck, I knew it was all over. Yet my reflexes were quick as I gripped the needle between my two left middle fingers – immediately taking notice of the bulbous body of the dart – and yanked hard, causing a trickle of blood to run down my neck.
But, as soon as the dart was out of my neck, the large, spherical end-piece of the dart seemed to have sprouted needles - all of them varying in length and width. I tried to drop the dart too late, as the needles were already jabbed into the flesh of my palm and fingers. Attempting to pull the needles out with my opposite hand, I only ended up making things worse as the needles on the other side of the enormous dart poked their way into the skin of my right hand, leaving my hands stuck together in front of me. Chained to a spiky ball of death.
Like I hadn’t been chained enough already.
I could feel the rest of the poison in the body of the dart – which I had seen was a deep purple liquid through the clear, glass dart – being sucked dry into the veins of my hands.
Despite the fact that a looming sense of ultimate death seemed to hover over me, my first complete thought after the poison had swiftly emptied out of the dart and into my veins was, Venus toxin…I should’ve guessed.
This happened to be my last complete thought for a long, long while as I walked forward, almost dragging my feet against the damp pavement of the Tunnel.
I could feel my muscles seizing up, as if they refused to obey the jumbled-up commands my brain was sending them. My breaths came out in slow huffs of warm air and my nose began to fill up with scents of mold, bleach and…blood. The unmistakable, metallic scent of blood. Somehow, somewhere, someone was being tortured. I just knew it. Not because I heard anyone’s bloodcurdling screams – as I inevitably became familiar with the screams of almost everyone in this place over the years – but because of the scent of blood and the sense of death around me as I walked and walked and walked.
After all, it was called the Endless Tunnel for a reason.
The Tunnel was built for the purpose of torturing whoever walked down its single, continuous hall. It somewhat resembled the inside of a massive drainage pipe, as it was damp, cylindrical in shape and dark. Oh-so-dark. The atmosphere combined with the miles and miles of walking gave the place its name and caused whoever walked its path to go utterly mad, either walking themselves to the point of exhaustion or killing themselves in the process.
The Tunnel was infamous amongst the inmates for this very reason.
But what the people imprisoned here didn’t know was that the Tunnel was also used as an exit.
A way out.
The words were whispered in the deep, dark dungeon cells where I had spent the better part of my life. Escape. An exit. A way out. Most were rumors – mere wishful thinking. Nobody would’ve suspected the Tunnel of all places to be a way out – the only exit in this place being the passage of Death.
I knew the truth, however, and I was determined to find the way out.
Now I was going to die.
And by the hands of Venus toxin, of all things. My own creation. The thing I had worked towards for so long.
The thing that began my sentence in this Hell-on-Earth.
Because I had developed Venus toxin, I knew all the symptoms. Rising body temperature. Paralyzed muscles, starting in the infected areas. Muddled thoughts, slow movements. Those made up the first Stage. I let my heavy head fall, so that I could look down at my hands: I could already see the inflamed, purplish-blue rash spreading outward from the palm of my hands to the tips of my fingernails, traveling up the blood vessels in my wrists. The swelling purple-blue rash alluded to the second Stage and I could only imagine my neck was covered in the same heat-filled blemish, as the strength in my arms was already diminishing and I could not lift my hands to my neck to feel the hot blood pump through the carotid artery in my neck.
I couldn’t recall any of the other symptoms that occurred throughout the second Stage of Venus poisoning due to my ever-so-slow train of thought, but I didn’t need quick thinking to remember what the third Stage entailed.
The word reverberated inside of my head. I was going to die. I remembered my time in that cell, that Hell. The complete darkness, how I sometimes went days without seeing any light. And, when a bright spot did enter my line-of-sight, it was only the quick flicker of a Guard’s flashlight, checking on the inmates. The prisoners. I could still here their screams. They rang and rang in my ears; some shrieks coming out in a long, high-pitch and some coming out in a series of deep, agonizing growls.
I played a little game in my head as I lay, chained, on that cold, damp stone floor. I tried to guess the gender of the person screaming. Then I would guess the age. The name. Pretty soon I would be constructing entire stories, entire lives, for these people who were being so unfairly treated. They probably had friends and families. They probably had homes and favorite foods and a favorite color and favorite TV shows. They probably had blissful memories that they could no longer recall – memories of hugging a loved one, dancing on a beach or laughing with a friend. I always wondered how their laughter would sound. I didn’t know how long it had been since I’d heard someone, anyone, laugh. Let alone smile. Or touch. I couldn’t even recall the feeling of anyone’s skin on mine. What it felt like. How it made me feel.
It would have been nice to have someone’s hand to hold as I walked to my Death.
Though, at this point, I wasn’t even walking anymore. It was somewhere between a shuffle and a crawl. I was still on my feet, but just barely. I could feel my legs slipping out from under me. I could feel the muscles in my calves tightening. Pretty soon, I could feel the sharp pieces of dirt and gravel dig into the paper-thin fabric of my uniform, into the skin of my weak knees. One would think that, because I had been barefoot my entire trek through this Tunnel, I would’ve been prepared to endure the pain of numerous tiny, jagged pieces of grit digging into the soft, pale skin of my legs. But, somehow, it felt so much worse.
Everything felt so much worse now.
I was shaking. And I don’t mean a mere trembling of the hands. I mean a series of shudders running through my body, down my spine, my arms and my legs. I could feel my quivering lips and my shaky, uneven breaths. Even the ringing in my ears started to fade in and out. In and out. In and out.
Ah, so this was one of the symptoms I had forgotten about, I thought bleakly, the complete thought bubbling up to the surface of incomplete sentences, familiar faces and bits and pieces of information. My mind was failing me and soon my body would go with it. It was a shame I wasn’t lasting very long in terms of being poisoned. Fatality via Venus intoxication was normally reached in a matter of two hours. One hour for the rash to spread almost-completely throughout the body and for the second Stage of symptoms to be reached. For me, however, it had only been twenty minutes at most before almost all coherent movement had ceased.
Or, at least, what had felt like twenty minutes. I suddenly recalled that confusion in the body’s internal clock was yet another one of the symptoms that had slipped my disintegrating mind. An hour might have already passed since I had been injected. Possibly almost two. Contrastingly, I felt as if I had been walking through this Tunnel for months, years even. It seemed like a lifetime ago when I had gathered and used every ounce of my strength and wits to escape from my prison. My Hell.
The poisoned dart had unattached itself from my right hand when I had ungracefully collapsed to my knees, the jolt un-lodging the needles from my skin. I fought the urge to wrap my arms around my chest as a wave of overwhelming nausea overtook me – a pain suddenly blossoming outwards from the pit of my stomach.
Nausea. Stomach pains. More forgotten symptoms.
We were at the beginning of the end.
I heaved – my groans coming out in barely-audible rasps due to my unused voice – but I had nothing in my body to emit. I was having trouble controlling my breathing and my only desire at this point was to lie down in the cold, damp gravel and wait for Death to take me.
But I fought the urge to give up.
I had to find my way out of this Hell.
Somehow, I managed to push myself up to my shaking legs. A wave of dizziness overtook me, almost causing me to topple over, but I managed to stay upright and drag my paralyzed leg muscles, slowly but surely, through the Tunnel. I didn’t expect to stay stumbling for much longer, however. My mind had gifted me one final recollection from the numerous experiments I had done to perfect the Venus toxin and I knew I was in the final phases of the third and final Stage.
But, oddly, this didn’t discourage me. This didn’t make me want to crawl up into a miserable ball and wait for the inevitable to happen. If anything, this made me stumble faster, drag harder, and push farther. I had to find the exit. I had to hear a laugh. I had to see the Sun once more, the Sun! God, I missed the Sun. How its rays used to make me feel as it slowly warmed my body, tanned my arms and legs. It made me feel at peace in my mess-of-a-life. It made me feel at home in my own body, a luxury I had little experience with. I didn’t know when I had last been blessed by the warmth of the sunlight. All I knew was that I had to feel it again. To feel something again. Anything.
Grit in my mouth. Body impossibly heavy. Sharp glass in the corners of my eyes. I couldn’t see – it hurt to even lift my head. This was it. I was dying. But the Sun. The Sun…
I lifted my head, fighting back another wave of dizziness and nausea. I opened my eyes, almost certain that blood was trickling out of my tear-ducts and down my face.
Light. I saw light. I could’ve sworn I saw light. There it was again! It was getting bigger. Bigger…
My heart plummeted in my chest as I thought for a moment that this might be the Light. The Final Light.
But no, I could feel my heart thumping in my chest, albeit startlingly slowly. I could still feel the pain in my stomach, in my eyes. Somehow I was on my knees and my hands were in front of my face – the dart must’ve finally unattached itself from my left hand on the way down – and I could see the deep purple, swollen flesh of my hands and wrist and arms. This wasn’t encouraging in the least, but it proved something.
I was still alive.
All of a sudden, I heard something. A sound. A strange sound. A familiar one. It wasn’t screaming, that I was certain of.
No, it was laughter.
But something was wrong. It sounded off. Not how I remember laughter sounding like – carefree and beautiful. No, it sounded dark, like this place. This Hell. Maniacal.
Miraculously, my sight began to focus. I could see the door in front of me. The exit. A large iron door with a brass, lever handle – the three bars at the top of the door letting light filter through.
I couldn’t tell if it was sunlight or not but God did it feel good as I sat on the cold, damp ground, bleeding and shivering.
The manic laughter continued in the background, the pitch of it making my ears ring insistently. I suddenly felt like I had heard that specific laughter before… Why did it sound so familiar all of a sudden?
You really don’t remember do you? A Voice penetrated my disorderly thoughts. Suddenly, I remembered. Who it was. What It was.
If I could’ve screamed, I would have at that moment. But, instead, I fell over, the sharp grit digging into my body once more. I gasped loudly - not only from the pain of hearing that Voice again, but from the sudden, burning agony blooming out of my chest.
I was out of time.
And It kept laughing.
It was the reason this was happening. It used my own poison against me. It imprisoned me, imprisoned all of us. It tortured us. Made us see wonderful things that weren’t there and snatched them away in a blink. Made us pick up a knife or a rope or a gun. Made us either hurt ourselves or end ourselves with them.
And now I was finally dying, slowly and painfully. Two feet away from the exit. The way out. The escape. By the hands of my own creation.
I could feel the cardiac arrest coming. My heart felt like it was being pinched, squeezed. My muscles felt constricted. My shoulders and back ached piercingly.
My face was pointed up towards the domed ceiling of the Tunnel.
My eyes were closing.
I tasted blood.
And, as Death stole my final breath, one last thought filtered through my withering mind:
At least someone was laughing.