The darkness was part of him. Akhilleus could barely remember a time before the darkness. He knew in his bones, now all that remained of him, that there was something before the darkness, but now that life was but a pebble in the river of time that designated his existence. So now, as the darkness began slowly to lift, he was forced to wonder if he faced the end of that river. Some unknown end to existence itself. But he did not fear. The darkness had erased any ability to fear from him. While he might not fear he did feel a certain…apprehension. He did not know if this new event would be positive so he waited, accepting that it may be dreadful, but hoping it would not. He longed for something other than darkness. After so many years, though, it would be painful to lose that familiarity.
Light began to pierce his solitude. It shone into his resting place like needles punching holes into cloth. It didn’t hurt, Akhilleus was fairly certain he could no longer feel pain, but it was startlingly different from his peaceful, if suffocating, darkness. When enough light had come through, he realized he could see the sky. The sky! He had forgotten about that blue expanse. The darkness now momentarily forgotten, he reveled in this new, yet familiar sight. A cloud drifted by and he was left agog. He had vague memories of such things and knew them to be simple, everyday occurrences, but after so long of nothing, only black, he couldn’t help be awed.
Suddenly the light was blocked again. He panicked, thinking that after such a brief glimpse of the life before, he was to lose it again. But he realized the light was still there, just obscured. And it was obscured by…a face. A woman returned his gaze. Her gray hair was pulled back with wisps falling down around her and reaching toward him like tendrils of smoke. He had to reorient himself. Being so used to the void of blackness, concepts like up and down had lost their meaning. She was definitely above him though. The sweat beaded on her forehead was preparing to drip onto him. Another drop heading down her nose.
Akhilleus worked over her face, wanting to remember it for always in case he was plunged back into the dark. He took in her tough, weathered skin and the smirk on her lips. He ended on her eyes. The blue eyes sparkled with an emotion he couldn’t quite remember. More than happiness…perhaps triumph?
“Well, hello there, handsome,” she said. Her voice was rough like the dirt that still imprisoned him but it seemed the most glorious sound he had ever heard.
He longed to respond but knew somehow, she would not be able to hear him in return, so he did not attempt it.
She brought a brush down and gently wiped at his face. He imagined he could feel the bristles against his skin. The tickle of grass as he laid in a field. The lashes of a lover as he laid in a warm embrace. As he could feel no pain however, neither could he feel these things.
Slowly, Akhilleus reacquainted himself with Time. The cycle of day and night reasserted itself over him and he began to remember other aspects of existence before the darkness. Over the next several weeks his new companion freed him from his resting place. The dirt and dust were removed, extricated with care as though it was the precious thing hidden here. He saw many items he had once known and prized. Gold rings, his ivory comb, his boar-tusk helmet, and his weapons. He began remembering more than just existence. He remembered his life. Each object lovingly lifted from the ground brought back memories.
The rings had been gifts he received when he was made leader of his people. He had sat in his seat at the front of the room, a great fire blazing before him, and the other great men of the land had brought him beautiful things, expensive things, to show him they accepted him as their king. One in particular his wife had admired so he gave it to her. In return she flashed him that smile that made him feel warm and loved, her dark brown eyes reflecting his own emotions.
The sword carried the most memories. He had been a great warrior. That blade had seen much blood, had earned him his rule. He had cared for it, making sure it was polished and sharp. His son had given it to him. The boy hadn’t known what it was for at the time, not really. As he grew and saw what great deeds his father accomplished with the sword, it had always made the boy proud to know it was his gift. Arkhilleus loved having that token of his son with him in battle. It brought him focus and reminded him why he had to survive the fight. It had always worked.
He missed his family. But the mourning was a distant thing, the long darkness between knowing his family and remembering them now was so great that it dulled the pain.
Besides, he had a new family. This woman and her team were taking care of him now. The more of his bones they removed from the earth, the more he could see. Once his vision was limited to what was directly in front of him, that first glimpse of the sky through the dirt. Now he could even move around slightly, visit each of his bones and see the surrounding area. They talked animatedly. They were excited to share their discovery, to share him, with the world. His discoverer, he knew now her name was Helen, was his greatest admirer. She liked to visit him even when she had other duties. She would check and make sure he was alright and brush dust from his bones for the thousandth time.
“Good morning handsome,” she would say, “We found your comb today. You must have had long hair. I’m sure it was very lovely. The comb is beautiful. Did your wife pick it out for you? She must have had very good taste, it’s beautiful.”
She would go on like this. Handling the objects that had laid with him in his grave for countless years with exquisite care. He imagined sometimes that she was caressing him, instead of his long tarnished armor.
He had been a many things in his former life, he had earned the respect of his people and the love of those he loved in return, but this was different. His anticipation grew as the day for them to leave this hole in the ground grew near. Finally, on another sunny afternoon, Helen brought him the news he longed for.
“Okay, handsome,” she said, “today is the day. I’m taking you home. We are going to bring you and all of your treasures to a place you’ll be safe. I’m sure you’ll like it there. It’s much better than this dirt and heat.”
Arkhilleus wished she could see his smile. Or that he could thank her. Thank her for taking him into her life and making him feel special again.
She gently lifted his bones into a box. The walls of the box were white and they let the light in. He was grateful for this. He had grown to love the light again. The darkness was with him so long that he had thought it was part of him. Helen reminded him that it was not. People were meant to be in the light.
Arkhilleus lost track of time a bit on the journey. The light would come and go at strange times. He could not tell where they were; being sealed in the box seemed to limit his vision again. There were loud noises which he had never heard before. They were like great beasts waiting to devour him. At one point he was certain one had.
Finally, though, Helen opened the box and removed his bones, laying them out on a table.
“Welcome to your new home, handsome.”
Her smile was genuine and inviting. Then she looked up and her face brightened further. More people were entering the room. New people. She greeted them fondly with embraces and clasped hands.
They gathered around and turned on more lights. These new lights were not pleasant. They irritated Arkhilleus, made it hard for him to see what was going on. The people around the table reminded him of vultures circling. Arkhilleus suddenly felt exposed and scrutinized.
He focused his attention outside the light and felt himself edging away. Apparently, he had a new ability. He was discovering he could do more and more each day. Now that he was on the outside of the light he looked around the room. His possessions were here too. They were laid out on other white tables, neatly arranged in grids. Lights shone on them too. Other people were around these tables, placing the objects in tiny clear bags. It felt odd. Something he couldn’t quite identify was pulling at him. The bags of his things were being placed in boxes and then on shelves. Every time a box was sealed, he felt a piece of himself slip away. It was like his life was a bag of grain being emptied into that river of time. It was floating away and dissolving.
Newly panicked, Arkhilleus turned back to his bones. They were also being placed into bags and into a large box. This was where the pull was coming from. Every bone that went into the box drew him closer. He was back under that harsh light and the even harsher gaze of the strangers. Helen was holding his skull, still smiling and talking to him.
“Okay, handsome, it’s time to rest now. You have been very helpful. We have samples and measurements that will tell us all about you. We will know what you ate and how old you were. What you did and where you lived. You will be remembered. I’m grateful for everything you’ve done for me.”
She placed his skull in the box like a mother laying her baby down for a peaceful slumber. Arkhilleus found himself in the box. The sides of this one were not white and no light got through. He watched, helpless, as Helen slowly lowered the lid down over him.
He was in the darkness once again.
Photo on Visual hunt