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A Measure of You

C. Richard Patton writes stories, poetry and software in northern Alabama. His creative works have recently appeared in The Valley Planet, Dew On The Kudzu, and Fiction365.

You are there again. Near the rock. In the blackness; in the void. I know that it is you, even though I cannot see that it is you.
I know it is not me. I am not there. Not there, where you are. You slump against the rock. It is a small, unnaturally round, boulder. It supports your back as you recline against it, uncomfortably. You roll to your left, twisting, and push off the rock, into a standing position. You lift one foot, place it on the rock, for reference as much as for support. Your faded trousers, cut off below the knees, show a gap of hairy calves above sandaled feet--or they would if it were less dark. You still wear your glasses, useless though they are in this continual night. You have no shirt; you are comfortable enough and you are easier for me to monitor without it. You step up, onto the rock. With this exertion I can sense that you are in good shape, your muscles are lean and your joints smooth even though you have begun the second half of your natural lifespan. You step carefully off the rock and amble forward into the dark.
You haven't quit--not just yet. Finding the rock again was a blow to your spirit; that was obvious. Not a blow at first--it was a shape in an otherwise utter and empty blackness. It was a relief to you--you'd found something in the void; that the something was an object that you had already explored was eventually a disappointment; but first came the hope of discovery, then a suspicion of familiarity and, impressively, a thorough exploration and determination that it was, in fact, the very same rock in the middle of your "nowhere." Your nowhere consists of this artificial rock and a bottom: a floor that is as smooth as polished steel and as hard and unmarkable as titanium, with no perceptible texture. And there is air in your nowhere. No wind, no smell, but a heavy, humid, and very normal (tasting, feeling) air in this non-place. Everything here has a uniform temperature: just right.
So you came back to the rock. You found it for the second time after the equivalent of four of your days. But you don't know that it has been four days. You are certain it is longer than four hours. You are less certain that it has not yet been four weeks.
You were relieved to find the rock this second time. It is surrounded by the faintest of ambient light. Light with no discernible origin, light that does not illuminate anything for you, not even your hand, no matter how close to the rock you hold it. And from only a body length away the rock is lost in the darkness. You found that out four days ago, the hard way. You walked three steps away and then right back--to a different place. The spiral search you conducted was clever but fruitless. You almost despaired then, but it was too soon.
You are uncertain how you arrived at the rock again; uncertain whether you were better off lost in emptiness. You wonder how you are not hungry, not thirsty. You don't know that the air you breathe in this no place is imperceptibly enriched with nutrients and catalytically condensing water vapor--enough to sustain you, barely; but you do recognize that you miss the act of eating, of drinking.
Now, for the second time, you are leaving the comfort of the rock. You've been back at it for only a hundredth of a day, but it is already enough to have rebuilt your resolve. I find that interesting. I wonder: is this typical? For my own part, I clung to the rock upon rediscovery; when it was me who was there. There, where you are. In my own blankness. Mine was a void that you would sense as white noise. Darkness and silence are not visible to me. So your immersion is different materially, but it offends you similarly. Your pain brings back my pain; your frustration rekindles my frustration; though I knew my observers, and trusted them. Trusted them to the extent, at least, that trust persists across such a void. Still, that fading trust was a luxury that you do not enjoy. It allows me to empathize, my having been there; to gain better insight, to "hear" your actions and perceive your motivations. It helps me; it helps us--the "us", that is, that does not include you. I am glad it is you this time, glad that it is not me, now.
I held fast to the rock, that second same rock, for a long time. The records show I held many times as long as you just did; and my memory tells me it was many times longer than that (or was it shorter?). I held, but you have started out again, willing yourself to challenge the void, to find an escape via one route or another. Perhaps you can break or dig through the floor? Glasses, you will find out quite soon, do not make a good drill, nor shovel, nor axe. In a day or so you will try to jump up to find a ceiling, or crossbeams, or something (there will only be more nothing). You will grope for a door, for a handle, for anything; but even the artificial rock will have then been removed. And you will search (crawling, stumbling, running, and crawling again) for an edge, even if it is only to fall off of. You will seek for an edge, but you will not reach one. Yes, you have set your mind to try, or to go mad in the attempt.
I am afraid that the latter is inevitable. In fact, it is what I am waiting for. It is your way out; and when you reach it, you will be here, with me, where I am; and I will have taken a measure of you.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Author Comments

This story began as a pure exploration of the second person point of view: I would have an "other" that could direct our protagonist from outside the story. I quickly found this director being dragged into the story; it seemed there could not be a "you" without a "me." The director's motivation then drove the rest of the tale, particularly its tone and ultimate conclusion.

- C. Richard Patton
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