“You are almost there, Love! Come to me.”
The veins in my eyes burned, leaking red. I turned my head, adjusting to the sudden brightness.
A freaking hot, boiling mass of fire.
I looked at the hot mass as it slowly inched towards me, slowing growing larger. My clothes were in tatters barely shielding my prone form from the scorching heat below. Blisters covered every part of my body, popping and oozing blood and puss. Every movement hurt. Neither did I have the will nor the inclination to move on.
It was over! At least for me.
“Just one more leap, my love.” The voice crooned grating even at my numbed senses.
I closed my eyes as his voice and his memories rattled my mind. The lustrous, raven curls that framed his angelic face, the crooked smile and the smoldering eyes sparkling with mirth. He was all that I ever needed.
Tears escaped, their salty trails making a burning path through my scalded skin. I strained my jaw, emitting a guttural cry that sounded pitiful even to my ears.
When would this end?
I was tired – of trying, of failing, of hoping, of living.
In the end, it was not worth it. The prize came at a high price.
The swinging circle of fire drew near. It sensed my inertia. Just one more leap…the last one.
“I QUIT! I bloody quit! I should’ve long back. There never is a closure to any of this right?” I screamed at whoever would listen.
I looked up at the hazy sky, dark clouds looming closer than before.
I welcomed their familiarity. This was the end, wasn’t it? One touch of the nebulous smoke and it would be over…for me atleast.
“Marilyn, my love. Don’t quit. Don’t give up on us yet.” His voice beseeched with a force that curled my toes and threatened to crack through my thread-bare resolve.
One last look at him through the ring of fire, and I rolled myself over the edge into the dark, bottomless abyss, praying it would not take me back to the start.
Absence. Of anything and everything. Like being mummified.
I jerked awaked and gasped, as a gallon full of water surged up my throat racking my body. I heaved and expelled it out leaving a moldy after-taste in my mouth. My heart hammered in my chest as I tried to open my eyes.
Wait! My eyes were open. I touched them to confirm. I could feel the faint flutter of my eyelashes against my palm.
I couldn’t see! Anything. I rubbed my eyes vigorously trying to blink in every direction. But not even a speck of light caught my sight.
‘Uuuurrrghhh! No No NO!’ I hit my hand against the ground. It was craggy and uneven. I hit it again repeatedly pushing all my pent-up frustration into the motion. I was nowhere close to my goal. Stuck in a loop, leaping through one world into another. Each one was setup for my failure.
Will I never see him again?
No, the very thought sent a shudder through my spine and I set my teeth together to keep myself from screaming aloud. I breathed in through my mouth steadying myself. Shaking the tingling sensation in my legs, I stood up.
It was too low. Was it a tunnel? A cave? The pitch darkness smothered me, and I thanked the heavens I wasn’t claustrophobic. I crawled on all fours trying to discern a direction. The futility of these actions hit me hard after a few minutes. The floor sloped upwards only to be followed by a sharp drop. Hitting my head had become a norm.
‘What am I supposed to do here?’ I whispered aloud. There was no echo confirming my fear of it being a long, low tunnel.
There has to be an exit somewhere. I felt the wall, the floor, the low ceiling as I slithered ahead. Tears of frustration bubbled over unabashedly.
But I knew by experience, screaming would just drain you of your sanity.
My head throbbed and my hands felt raw with the constant abrasions.
I sat back on my haunches to catch a breath.
“I would move heaven and earth for you, my Princess. There is nothing that would keep us apart.” He pushed a silken strand behind my ear and peppered my face with tender kisses. I blushed profusely. No one had ever called me that before or shown any remote sign of affection. Before him, I just existed, unnoticed, uncared for. He was the first one to hold my gaze and refuse to let go. The intense emotion in his eyes evoked an inferno within my heart and my senses.
“Would you do the same for me, my love?” He gently turned my face up towards him.
“Yes.” My voice was full of sincere devotion.
I barked out a laugh, an uproarious laugh.
‘Naïve, first love.’ I covered my face in shame and anger.
Serves me right!
I did not bother to wipe my tears. I just needed to get out of this god-forsaken place without losing my head, literally and figuratively, in the process.
Hours passed and every single sense abandoned me. My sight was impaired the moment I landed in the darkness, but the deafening silence cotton-wooled my hearing. Without a drop of water, my throat dried up like a sandpaper. My palms had lost a layer of skin, I was sure of. My nose had recoiled internally at the combined smell of the dank, confined space and the musky malodor emanating from my body. Sleep eluded me and my mind played games. I could hear faint voices somewhere in a distance.
‘…needs to move…almost there…there is no wrong turn.’
Was it real? Or just some hallucination created by my exhausted mind.
‘There is no wrong turn. Does that mean…? This tunnel goes in one direction!’
Almost there, the voices had said. I sent a silent thanks to whatever it is that guided me. Crawling faster now, pulling up from my reserve of energy I scurried ahead.
‘Almost there. Almost there. Almost there.’ I repeated the mantra under my breath keeping my body and mind on the edge. My gut kicked me hard, but my mind was too slow to reach. I was helpless when the tunnel suddenly ended, and the ground gave in to a sudden drop. Too late, I squeaked a pitiful noise as the familiar smoky haze curled up and engulfed my fall.
Please let this be the last trial, I muttered before the world went dark.
Warm, soothing, lulling warmth.
My body rocked gently, pulling me into a deeper sleep. The white noise of the little waves that unhurriedly swayed towards a distant shore calmed my senses. If this was a dream, let me dream a little longer.
Cicadas crooned and leaves rustled. After floating for a while, I grudgingly opened my eyes. The sun was overhead, and the air was tinged with humidity. I breathed in deeply, thankful for the little joys of life. After the previous ordeal, I would be happy to just float here for eternity. I straightened in the water and looked around. There was no land in sight, but I wasn’t at sea. This was a marshland, a bayou. Low trees and bog cornered the swamp that I was floating in. I swam a little further to see any faint sign of life or land. But even after a few long minutes, the scene remained the same. I pulled up my drenched body against a tree, catching a well-earned breath. My stomach grumbled and I realized I hadn’t eaten in a while – was it hours or days? It was difficult to discern time. It felt like days. I day-dreamed of being back at home in my humble bed under the warm sheets. I wouldn’t mind even eating the leftovers of my last meal.
“Wake up sleepy-head. It is going to be a long day if we don’t get out of bed now. Go shower, while I fix some breakfast for us.” He winked and moved his almost bare body towards the tiny kitchenette in my apartment. I ogled at his derriere for a while before launching myself towards the bath.
I rubbed myself clean absent-mindedly. All my thoughts were full of the man making me breakfast right now. How did I get so lucky? It was like hitting a jackpot. He had turned my life on its head just within two weeks of knowing him. A chance encounter at a café was all it had taken for us to connect. I felt a giddy emotion and giggled like a teenager. If this was what love felt like, sign me up.
“Marilyn? What’s taking you so long, honey?”
His voice reverberated in my ears. I looked around to see if I really did hear him.
Was he supposed to be here? There was no map, no instructions. How was I supposed to find him?
My skin wrinkled and pruned after being submerged in water for so long. ‘Hah! Better than frostbites though.’ I muttered. I was bone-tired, body and mind with no respite in sight. I gulped a few mouthfuls of water, praying it was not contaminated. The water reflected my ragged appearance. Hair greasy and plastered to my head, eyes bloodshot with dark circles the size of plums, pale and exhausted. Two tiny spots appeared underwater staring right back at me and disappeared before I could get a closer look.
Was it a fish? A reptile? I felt goosebumps all over as I realized there could be life around me, just not human. It’s a swamp after all. My eyes widened as a sudden realization hit me like a freight train.
I need to get out of the water!
I swung my gaze around trying to find something that could hold my weight – a log, a stronger tree. But the trees around were reed thin. Praying fervently, I swam around the edges.
I screamed, thrashing in the water. A sharp pain shot up my toe – which now missed a chunk.
What was it down there? I had no time to think. I swam harder but hit myself mentally not knowing if it was even the right direction.
Whatever bit me was not a big reptile, it was tiny and slow, almost the size of a turtle. But with really sharp teeth. Were turtles carnivorous?
I wouldn’t be surprised if they were here. This place seemed to be born of someone’s sick imagination. I swam harder almost missing another one as it leaped from a tree that hung low.
‘Freaking monster’ I swore as its teeth grazed my shoulder scraping my skin and drawing blood. I doubled up my efforts, panting hard with the strain and fear. Not a good way to go – being chomped at by man-eating turtle-zombies.
I could see the water change course. After swimming for what felt like hours, I suddenly stopped and backpaddled a bit. Right there, in front of me was a massive drop, like a roaring waterfall.
I looked back at the darkening skies and the possibility of more horrors that lurked in the swamps. In a split second of indecision, I decided to take the leap. I had no time to scream as my heart dropped to my toes and I plummeted through the foam that rose up the fall. The frothy white turned hoary and a murky dark smoke swirled its tendrils to brace my fall.
I just prayed that I hadn’t flung myself to my death. That was the last thought before I plunged through the dark waters and hit something hard.
Cold, freezing effing cold.
I curled my toes and pulled my body closer to preserve some heat. I felt around me to pull the sheets closer. It was getting unbearably cold.
‘Honey? Did you turn off the heater?’ I felt for his warm body beside me but touched nothing but a cold, crusty surface. My eyes opened of their own accord and closed shut just as fast.
I opened them a slit and they bulged out with shock.
Frost! I was sitting atop a frozen mound of snow. I sat up all groggy and disoriented. There was nothing but frost around for miles and I sat amidst it like an effing-Elsa. I chuckled at the thought.
‘Well, I ain’t no Princess and this isn’t a shitty-snowy-winterland. It was summer when I entered his office this noon. This is a crazy dream, a nightmare for sure. I was in balmy downtown Manhattan just a few minutes ago. I rubbed my forehead, trying to get my bearing. Thoughts and memories tumbled around like loose change in an empty pocket.
He wasn’t there!
His colleagues had calmed me down and let me know that he was stuck in a limbo – a quantum stasis of sorts while testing his new invention. As if I knew what that meant.
They had ushered me to an empty room to wait for him. But I distinctly felt nauseous – a prick when they tried to calm my meltdown. And then, waking up to this joke-of-a-dream.
‘Hey, get me out of here! Are y’all listening? I need to speak to Mario De Luca. He is one of the partners of your goddamn firm.’ I would have knocked but there was nothing around to knock at.
“GET ME OUT OF HERE!” I screamed till my lungs gave out. The cold was inching up my peep-toes. Well, you couldn’t blame me, it was summer from where I came. My silk shorts stuck to my skin and my tank top felt miserably under-dressed to the party.
This is crazy! Being stuck here like a frozen chicken in a freezer.
I scrambled up and moved around to see if I could find a door, a window, a hatch to sneak through. I felt my chest shudder and wheeze after a few minutes of breathing the frigid air. Rubbing my hands, my arms I tried to tamp down the cold that slithered up my body and nerves.
Hope dwindled as the sky above turned a shade of gray. This wasn’t a cavernous room, was it? I somehow was really standing on a frozen mountain.
Denial turned to anger. Whoever played this sick joke on me would pay. I would wring his or her neck happily, cackling like a deranged hen. Hours passed as slowly my body turned blue. I shivered like a dry leaf in a storm, knowing this to be my end. My nose, ears, toes and fingers turned to stone, threatening to fall off any moment. I lay against a flat rock waiting for the end. But even after a few painfully long hours, I was still alive and breathing. Surprisingly so.
‘Get me out of here, Mario.’ I sent a soft whisper upwards and hope he heard.
Where was he? Was I supposed to find him in the ‘quantum stasis’ he was stuck in? Or was I to be rescued – a Princess in peril? I smiled, remembering the nickname he used for me – Princess.
A few hours earlier
Mario traced his fingers over the controls. She will be here any minute.
“Are you sure, she will do it for you?” His brother lounged against the plush sofa sipping a Pinacolada.
“She will. She is crazy about me. And thinks I am too. She will cross a mountain, swim a sea, walk through fire and ice for me.” He guffawed looking at her arriving at the front desk in a harried state.
He instructed his staff to set up the game, amped up the difficulty levels and sat back in his penthouse office of ‘Mario & Luigiano Augmented Reality Inc.’ to see the game unfold.
‘Save me, Princess…’
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One thought on “The Quantum Leap”
The description of the various worlds she slipped into was nicely done! I was really confused in the beginning, but it all made sense as the story progressed. The way the tone of her voice, the nature of her thoughts changed over the course of the story reflected her changing state of mind well. Thank you for sharing this.