He'd had that dream again. As he threw the sheets off and shivered from the cold sweat dripping off him, the images swam up to his conscious mind.
He was running, not running from something, but running toward something. What it was, he didn't exactly know, but he was drawn to it none-the-less.
Running. Running. Running through a rain forest. In his waking life he had never been in a rain forests, so in his dreaming life he was running through a Hollywood version - a jungle with vines and huge leafy plants that he had to smack out of his way as he ran. Ahead of him he could see a patch of sky through the leaves. As he ran it grew larger as the foliage cleared. Whatever was ahead, it would bring him out of the leaves and vines.
Running. Running. Suddenly, he couldn't run anymore. The soft green underfoot had turned to rock. A bolder, long and thin, was perched like a diving board on the rim of an empty swimming pool. When he realized that he was about to run off the end, he stopped.
Stopped. And stared. In his waking life he had seen cave jumpers on TV. They would find a deep underground cave with it's opening level with the ground and jump from the edge and parachute to the bottom. In his dream, his rock diving board was on the edge of such a cave. But unlike any cave he had seen on the Discovery channel, he was on the edge of something huge, immense, deep, and very very dark.
The far edge was barely visible. He could just make out the green of trees and ferns on that side. Looking left and right, the rim in either direction seemed just as far away. Looking down, even though the hole was very large, the sunlight didn't seem to pierce the darkness below. It was a darkness that people can only truly see in their dreams, a blackness that seemed to seethe and boil and almost reach out to try to touch you.
As he stood there, in the dream, looking down in to this abyss, he understood that this was what he was running toward, this was what was calling him. Running, not with desire, not with joy as a child runs to the tree on Christmas morning, but with compulsion. Compulsion, because he had no choice. As he looked around, he was not surprised to find that his outcropping had drifted from the edge and was floating weightlessly in the center of this huge lake of darkness.
As he looked down he could see the darkness surrounding him from below. No, not just see it, FEEL it. It was like... there was really no way to describe it. The darkness below was also inside him; and it HURT. It was a pain that was like a pulling, a wrenching that wanted to drag him down. As he looked, tendrils like smoke licked at his feet and legs.
Floating. Floating. As he stood there on his flying carpet of stone, it seemed to shrink. No. It WAS shrinking. Slowly, at first, then more rapidly, like a piece of ice dropped into boiling water.
Soon, very quickly in fact, he found that only a sliver of stone beneath his feet held him aloft. Then, in a heartbeat, it was gone.
As he fell, the darkness embraced him. In horror he realized that it was almost caressing him, like a lover, but all the while pulling him down, down. He fought at first, but his strength failed him. The pain inside him reached out and he embraced the darkness in return.
In his dream he felt his mind reeling and fading. More terrifying than the fall was the feeling of death. The death of his soul.
That's when he had awakened. Bolting upright in the bed, a scream caught in his throat, choked only by the power of it. Sweat was running from his hair, his arms, everywhere. The sheets were soaked in it.
As he sat on the edge of the bed, shivering in the dark, he realized that he knew that feeling of floating above the abyss. He knew that call that had irresistibly drawn him to it. Those feelings were very real in his waking life.
He rose, keeping the light off so he didn't awaken his wife. She would be up soon, taking the kids in the minivan to work their paper route. Normally he didn't get up this early, but lately the dreams, the feelings of falling and fading, had been keeping him from sleep. He laid out his clothes for the day - it would be another long shift - blue jeans and a black T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the fast food empire that ruled his waking hours. In a daze, as if out of reflex he drifted to the shower.
Standing there as the hot water rained on his neck and back, he remembered the first time he tried to tell someone about these feelings. A doctor, when he was a teenager, a counselor - at a free clinic - when he was a student at the university. Depression. That was the label they laid on him. Back then there was no Prozac or other things to help, there was only talking. If the medical community understood the physical side of the disease, his doctors and counselors never discussed it. Instead it was all about talking.
"Talk about it." "What's bothering you?" "Imagine something that makes you happy and just focus on that feeling." "Smile and the muscles in your face will make the rest of you feel better." He'd been with groups, he'd learned breathing exercises, he talked about his childhood and his marriage. In the end, he just gave up because nothing was making a difference. There was still this feeling of hanging over the abyss, the call of the darkness. No one seemed to understand that he couldn't just MAKE himself feel better. No matter what he did or thought there was always the abyss and the call to fall and embrace it. Finally it came to the point where there seemed only one way out, only one way to end the pain inside.
When he returned to the bedroom, his wife was gone. How long had be been in the shower? He couldn't remember. It was like pieces of his mind were already fading, like in the dream. He dressed in the semi-darkness, as the light from the pale winter sunrise shone hazily through the curtains. It was still an hour or so before he had to make the 30 mile commute into the city, about 3 hours or more before his wife was home, and nearly 15 hours before he would be home again, dragging himself through the house to return to this bed.
He sat on the edge of the bed, turning his thoughts to his work. He hadn't chosen this career path as much as he had backed into it. He didn't regret his marriage or his children, not for an instant, but the responsibilities of a husband and father had brought him to the point of trading one dream of the future for another. Where he had ended up was his own fault. Rather than taking the harder, more responsible road that would have given them a stronger financial future, he had taken the easier, lazier route. As such he found himself swept along until he ended up here: manager at a mom and pop's cafe. Dead end. A salary that, if divided by the hours he was required to work, was less than minimum wage. His wife had to take in daycare kids to make some extra money, his kids had to work a paper route to make ends meet.
He turned in his haze to look at the clock. Three hours had gone by, he was very late. What had happened in that time? He couldn't remember. He hadn't moved from his seat on the edge of the bed. Fading, fading. He knew the feeling. Like in the dream, he was falling. Falling and embracing the abyss. Had he chosen to do this? He didn't know. He honestly didn't feel much right now, other than the yawning darkness he found himself sinking into.
Half consciously, he picked up his journal. A notebook he wrote random thoughts in now and then. There was a time he thought he could be a writer, but instead of taking that path, because it seemed too hard, he let that dream die. Instead he kept his thoughts to himself, spewing them onto the pages of this worn ten-cent wire-bound book, never to be shared with anyone.
He pulled the pen our of the spiral where he kept it and opened it to a blank page. What was he doing? He didn't really know. It seemed he no longer had choices. The dream had become real. He was falling, sinking, fading. The darkness had reached in and he embraced it. He started writing, automatically, not choosing his words:
"Please let me die. Please let me die. Please let me die." Over and over again. He filled a page. Then the back. Then another, front and back. And another. 5 pages, 10, more.
He stood, looking, searching. He didn't know what for. Then his hand found it, the belt from his robe.
As he wrapped it around his neck and began tightening the knot, he could feel his breath being choked off, the blood flow shut off. The darkness consumed him.
He had heeded the call of the abyss.