At first he thinks he’s been rafting an ancient pipeline — possibly a stream in a very narrow cave – maybe even the sewers of Paris. Crazy thought, but he has no actual memory of having gotten here. Darkness. Ancient aqueducts underground that have a history long forgotten? He knows it couldn’t simply be an internal water slide in some exotic theme park. But he’s comfortable, and the darkness doesn’t concern him. For a moment he allows himself to believe he might be in process of actually being born to something.
The stench first alerts him to a possible new dimension. Animal. Not entirely unpleasant, although he’s aware that most would consider it so and would think unfavorably of him for contending the contrary.
And then the rate of descent increasing. No longer meandering, with quiet ripple of water beneath — that has come to be so hypnotic, so reassuring, so comforting.
The flow of water now becoming a roar, growing louder. Fear now comes not from the darkness, but from the sound. He can hear it behind him. That is all right, because he’s come from there and has survived. But ahead. That is where the real fear is now. He can hear the roar ahead, and it is suddenly louder than be¬hind. He cannot be certain anymore that he’ll survive, assuming there’s ever been a time he could be certain of that.
He’s rushing along now, without control or even the assumption anymore that he can control anything, even if he decides to — by grabbing something or dragging his feet, to put a stop to the whole progression.
The walls begin to buffet him as he careens along. They’re wet — and slimy with a kind of moss that sticks to his skin if he comes into contact with it. A black moss he’s unable to see, but he’s somehow certain in the darkness that it must indeed be devoid, that its texture would tolerate no lighter color than the black he actively imagines.
And then! And then, the first, truly terrifying awareness. That the walls have moved! And moved again! There! Does he feel it? There, where the way had been so straight, now it is turning. Turning even as he reaches it, so that he can touch its muscled vibrance. Or so that it can touch him.
He’s turning more frequently, swooping ‘round bends, first left, then right, then left again, that make the water roar and rush even louder and to higher levels, to double back upon itself, building up so that he’s pressed against the top of the passage, whatever it is, to the point that the air is forced out of his lungs, and he fears suffocation, or even drowning when he allows himself to imagine the water rising from the turbulence of the bends in the course, to fill the entire passageway for great distances.
This is not the great and benevolent sewer of Paris! There are not the orderly stone settings of a conscious human origin. Nowhere, nowhere to be found. Moss has not covered them. This assuredly black stuff is not moss at all, indeed not the vegetation that his mind, fearing fear, has willed it to be when he first encountered it. No not at all. But flesh! Yes, flesh! The stinking underside/insides of some dragon, some great serpent, raging now. Slashing with its body. Back, forth, up, down. And suddenly beginning to wretch, fearful of the process of its own regurgitation, and not in the least mindful of his welfare.
Suddenly everything is clear to him. He must have been devoured by some giant beast, some mystic dragon. But how? And why?
As the wretching intensifies, the course suddenly reverses. There is no choice. He lacks all control. And as he begins to course back toward the source of whatever it is consumed him, and as the rage of the beast builds, he comes for the first time to experience — peace. Peace, of all things! Not the temporary tranquility of gently flowing water he thought at first he’d be able to control. But the peace that comes from first awareness he can do nothing at all to avert his fate. Tranquility amidst the rage, a kind of beauty he’s never seen.
He is for the first time sure of his direction, beyond the certainty any compass can give. Flowing to the serpent’s head and not to its tail. This honors him. To be treated to the source of thought. To be part of the natural flow when it reverses.
Of course there is still the fear. Nothing can remove the sense of terror when he realizes he must sometime reach the serpent’s neck, and the strong muscles that instinct shall call upon, without consideration of his welfare, to constrict and pulverize his bones — to prevent the serpent’s choking. No hope that the serpent’s impulse can be overcome by a plea for sympathy. If he survives the constriction, he shall then need to pass the backs of the serpent’s eyes with their dangling labyrinth of nerves that will certainly notice him, even beyond reality, or behind it. This shall report his presence to the serpent, after which he shall then pass into the serpent’s mouth and collide with the serpent’s gnashing teeth, and the serpent’s venomous fangs.
He knows this is as things must be, and at long last it is being confirmed he is a part of it all, in spite of the peril. He shall face the cavern of the great serpent’s head, when it comes, and its efforts to wreak vengeance for the intrusion. He shall face the teeth and the fangs, and the incredible deafening rush of the serpent’s anguished hiss, because this is the way things are to be, and he has become part of them, even without choosing.
Harry Youtt has long been fascinated with the mind in all of its aspects: which only incidentally includes the actual brain. He speaks internationally on aspects of neurology and creativity, primarily in England, Wales and Ireland. Most recently he presented a workshop on creativity and consciousness at the 2014 Tucson Consciousness Conference. He is the author of several poetry collections. His poems and short stories are also published in numerous venues, where he has garnered a couple of Pushcart nominations. He’s also a long-time instructor in the UCLA Ext. Writers’ Program.