A BEL CRASHED THROUGH THE FIELD of corn, oxygen deprivation burning deep inside his lungs. His legs tensed with each lunge forward as he charged deeper and deeper into the thicket. By now he’d lost any sense of direction, his internal compass simply screaming at him to keep going in any direction but backwards. The sound of corn stalks crunching behind him propelled him in a new direction, his head dipped low to avoid the crops whipping past him from stinging his eyes. His hands had started shaking over a mile back and soft edges had begun creeping into the corners of his vision, his area of focus becoming more and more narrow with every step.
You’re going to pass out.
Abel came to a shuddering halt and blinked away the stream of sweat cresting his brow and stinging his eyes. He’d never heard those words before, pass out, but something deep inside his mind knew exactly what it meant. He also knew that stopping wasn’t an option for him either. The smell of kicked up dirt and broken stalks filled his lungs.
His eyes darted over his shoulder. The call had come from behind him and a little to the right. Maybe thirty yards back. Tanned arms trickled blood from micro cuts suffered while sprinting through the brush.
“Give it up!”
Abel whipped his head around in the direction of the second shout. His brother couldn’t have moved all the way over there so fast. The corn was reverbating the sound, projecting them at Abel from all directions. His chest heaved with each passing moment as he sucked in air, hoping that any moment his vision would clear; just enough to distinguish between the stalks closing in around him. His world was beginning to blur, his surroundings being reduced to nothing more than shapes and colors.
Anywhere but here.
The voice inside him stirred a surge of energy inside him and he took off sprinting into a sea of yellow and green. He plowed ahead until a new color dropped into his field of view: blue, sky blue. There was a clearing ahead. The crunching sound behind him had only grown closer. He figured his brother was only twenty yards back at this point. Head down, Abel crashed through the final wall of corn and found himself in a small clearing.
He didn’t want to stop running but his body had begun to revolt. A few steps into the clearing his right leg buckled, the first domino to fall. The rest of his body followed as he crumpled to his knees. His hands dug into the ground in front of him in an effort to stabilize himself. It was in that moment, when his mouth tasted of salt and metal, that his brother broke through the clearing behind him.
He was bigger than Abel, taller by a few inches and an extra twenty pounds of muscle wrapped his body. He was panting but his body wasn’t denying him like Abel’s was. Abel leaned back on his shins and stared up at his brother’s approach.
“Please,” Abel said, wincing at the sound of his own voice. Even talking hurt. Much to his surprise though, his brother stopped. For a moment he just looked down at him.
They were only five feet apart but Abel had nothing left in him to give. Too tired to try and run, to run down to close the gap and fight; and his brother knew it. He could see it in his eyes. Abel had seen that look a hundred times before. It was the way a predator looked at its prey when they knew the hunt was over. When all that was left to do was eat.
His brother knelt down in the dirt and began to dig with his hands. For a moment all that filled the silence between them was a soft breeze and the sound of fingernails clawing through packed soil. A jagged gray rock began to take form as his brother systematically excavated it.
“Why?” Abel asked.
If his brother planned on answering as him, he didn’t show it. A moment later he lifted a stone the size of a melon from the ground and rose back to his feet.
“Please Cain,” Abel pleaded with his brother. “I’m begging you.”
Cain raised the rock above his head. For a second they looked at one another; one of them savoring the moment, the other praying it wasn’t their last. Then, with little affair or fuss, Cain crashed the rock into his brother’s skull and Abel’s world went black.
IT WAS THE WEIGHTLESSNESS he noticed first. The peculiar sense of being in the midst of rushing water, his body surfing along an invisible jet stream surrounded by darkness. Nothing his eyes could hold onto in order to catch his bearings. He was simultaneously stationary and moving faster than he ever had in his entire life. The dichotomy of the two sensations wrapped his stomach in knots and Abel clutched his eyes shut hoping whatever was happening would pass.
The image of his brother, Cain, crashing the rock down on him, flashed in his mind and he instinctively reached up to touch his forehead. Smooth skin greeted him. No tenderness or dried blood to the touch. Abel opened his eyes again, brought his hand in front of his face but saw nothing. He brought his hand closer until the cool sensation of his own fingers on his cheek greeted him; black, invisible, but there was no doubt his hand was out there.
This must be death, Abel thought to himself.
He felt the tears well up deep inside him before they ever made it to the brim. A deep ache in his throat; the tightening of his jaw, and finally the salty sting that trailed down his cheeks, crested his lips and dripped onto his tongue. He fought the fiery anguish that stoked deep in the pit of his belly until he couldn’t any longer. And then he wailed. A silent scream swallowed by the cold vacuum of space. The fact that he couldn’t hear his own cries only brought on more. Tears rushed from him like a warming stream in the thrusts of spring.
He squeezed his eyes shut and tried counting in his mind to calm himself down; a feeble attempt at distracting himself from the infinite despair around him. He made it to 1,340,286 before the tears stopped. Only then did he notice it. A glow. Where once there was total darkness, the inside of his eyelids were now placeable. A deep black penetrated by shades of red illuminated his mind like a dull fire beyond the farthest horizon. Abel peeled an eye open, crusted shut, and discovered the source of light. Stars dotted the distance between him and infinity, hanging motionless in the sky like a field of fireflies frozen in time. They felt so close he stretched out his hands in an attempt to touch one but they were further than they looked. A final tear fell from his chin and stood, suspended in time as Abel floated onward away from it. The droplet soon took its place amongst the other stars, pulsating and shining brighter than all the others.
The stars gave him a reference to work with, a point in space and time to measure his progress. He became acutely aware of his body as time passed. The feeling of his own hair follicles pushing through the surface of his skin; the long strands that now brushed against his ear when he turned his head just right; the glacial progress of his own fingernails extending first to the tips of his fingers, then far beyond; the blood flowing through his veins as he followed a single droplet from his heart down to his feet and back up again. He could feel everything. Even the subtle breeze that pressed upon his back and wound around him like a hug on a cold winter day.
Until that moment, Abel had only felt the internal. An infinity spent attuning to the senses of his own self, but a breeze was new. A breeze was not his.
The breeze grew into a rush of wind, and then into a screaming assault deafening his ears. Abel twisted his body, wrenching himself in an attempt to turn around in the direction he now knew he was falling.
Falling. Falling fast.
The wind whipped through his hair and slammed into his eyes. The world in front of him had taken shape, minimal as it was, but shape nonetheless. He was careening towards a flat black plain, discernible only due to its reflective quality. It reminded him of obsidian he had once dug from a creek bed as a boy; the blackest black that seemed to glow from within. A placid lake of ink, and he was approaching it fast.
The wind that once felt like a hug had turned warm — no, hot. The force ripped at him, his arms and legs pulling back behind him until they felt like they might pop out of their sockets. The hair of his beard sparked… fizzled, sparked again and in an instant he was on fire. A screaming fireball careening towards the ground at a speed that gave Abel the sensation he was slamming through a dozen stone walls every instant. Pressure building, his face pulled back until the corner of his lips kissed his ears. A giant BOOM shot out from him and the world went silent. The deafening roar was replaced by a high pitch ringing in his ears and the subtle sensation of liquid pouring from their canals.
The ground, if that’s indeed what it was, loomed ever larger in the distance. He could see himself in the reflection of it, a giant orange glow that covered the ground. The radius of the glow shrunk and shrunk and Abel knew he was going to make impact sooner than later. He could feel the sound of his descent bouncing off the ground back at him. Abel had looked death in the face once before, he had no want to do it again. His eyes pressed close, he felt the final thousand feet of his descent. The rush of space and time colliding. This was it. This was it…and yet, there was nothing. In fact, there it was again.
Abel took a deep breath, I can breathe again and allowed himself to open his eyes.
The world was a void around him; a mix of blacks that ranged from the inky ground he now stood on, to the matted sea of black speckled with stars. There was nothing else except for him as far as his eyes could see.
“God?” he called out.
He took a few steps before repeating himself, louder this time. The deafening silence that underlined his every word sent a shudder through his spine.
A glance in each direction reinforced the isolation he was feeling as the black sky met the black ground at a blacker horizon. With nothing to guide him, Abel did a few spins before picking a random direction, and began to walk. He maintained a steady course, guided by a sky of unmoving stars. For the first hundred days he named every one of them. He found patterns in them. A dog. A tree. An outstretched hand.
The hand pointed off into the distance, and Abel found himself course correcting to follow its gaze. It was on this course that he followed, unwavered, never looking back. When he finally stopped to take a breath, seven years had passed. His hair gathered at his hips and for the first time his feet had started to ache. It was in this moment that he finally turned and looked back at the path he had traveled. A trail had sprouted behind him, grass and multicolored flora in the shape of his own footsteps lying in his wake. The further back he looked, the taller the grass grew. In some areas the grass had browned and hardened into bark, spiraling up into thick trunks that stretched out towards the sky.
Somewhere beyond the shroud of vegetation came the soothing babbling of a brooke, winding its way through the forest that sprang from the darkness.
Even further, far beyond what his eyes could see, where the path finally ended, or was it where it first began, a great sinkhole had opened up.
Abel smiled at the sight before him, allowing himself to take it all in. He laughed a deep belly laugh, his eyes watering from the wonder before him. He laughed until it hurt and he had to stop for fear of cracking his own ribs. Then, as if he had forgotten why he stopped in the first place, Abel turned right back around and kept on walking.