Randall P. Roussell
I woke up on the hard, wet, ground surrounded by darkness. Where was I? Who was I? Knowledge of my life eluded me with the exception of a few sporadic images and pieces of memory. I was a mystery to myself.
It was dark, so I got up and deliberately shuffled as I walked, exploring the floor with my bare feet. The stone and dirt floor was slippery with shallow pools of what seemed to be water.
I labored to breathe. It was extremely hot. Thankfully, I was clothed only in gym shorts and a T-shirt. The heat was bad enough, but the humid air felt thick and oppressive. I kept thinking, I’m breathing boiling molasses. Compounding matters was the stench of decomposing meat or whatever that was assaulting my nose. Every inhalation gave me a mental image that some dead, rotting creature’s corpse was infecting my body through my nasal passages. I covered my nose with my hands in an ineffective effort to filter the air.
My eyes finally adjusted to the darkness. I saw two sources of light.
One light was to my right and by subterranean reflection; it lit a downward-sloping walkway or path. It made me think of the downward exit spiral in a downtown parking building, only this was not wide enough for a car.
The other light source was to my left at the top end of a long, steep flight of rock-hewn stairs that ended near the ceiling. The bottom of the stairs was about twenty feet away from me. The stairs ascended at a steep angle, maybe sixty degrees with a length that had to be over two hundred feet. My fear of heights, acrophobia, dictated that the stairs would not be my first option of escape from my prison, this dungeon. Like a cold knife, a feeling of desperation cut me to the bone. I needed to get out of here.
Moving away from the stairway, I decided to explore the downward path to wherever. That looked like my best option, because it seemed easier and the alternative of climbing hundreds of stairs was a challenge that I did not want to undertake.
My feet were slippery with grime as
I walked toward the downward path.
Curving down at a gentle angle, the walkway was about three feet
wide. I followed the descending
spiral. The sweat poured out of me as
the temperature rose for some unknown reason.
The walkway continued arcing to my right in a gradual downward spiral. I could see the diffused glow of light reflected up the path by the moisture on the walls and floor. The humid air condensed on everything. That apparently was why the floors, walls, and other surfaces here were so moist and at times slippery with filth. Eager to get out of the darkness, I quickened my pace, taking care not to slip and fall.
Round and round I went into Earth’s bowels. I had no idea how far I had traveled. Nor did I know how much time passed.
My body shook. I felt edgy as anxiety built in my gut. Dread was like a cancer inside me. The radiance that came from the depths of the walkway disturbed me. The farther down I went, the more the light seemed to be receding from me. Was it drawing me downward?
I heard unintelligible voices of an unknown language inside my head. The farther down I went, the louder the head-voices got. Their tone also changed to an animalistic, savage quality. At one point, I held my head in my hands and concentrated on trying to block the intensity of the voices.
Controlling my body became difficult. Despite the fear-instilling strangeness of the head-voices, the sounds were hypnotic. I was a moth drawn to a flame. I wanted to back track and return from where I came. My traitorous feet were sluggish and difficult to control. I sensed that if I stopped moving or continued on my present course, something terrible would happen to me. I did not want to become prey to something that would come up from below and get me.
My body became a burden. Something was weighing me down. It felt as though my weight had tripled, causing my leg and back muscles to strain at keeping me upright and moving. Mustering every bit of will power, I slowly, painfully turned my body around. I’m wading through quicksand on Jupiter.
I moved back in the direction that I came from. The strain was incredible. Some force, like an invisible hand, tried to keep me from moving away.
My thirst was dire. I wanted to drink up the perspiration that oozed out of my pores.
* * *
I must have blacked out. I found myself on the floor of my dungeon in the exact spot where I originally started out. With my darkness-adapted vision, I saw the stairs that I had seen before and the downward right-spiraling walkway. Seeing the walkway gave me a nervous chill. What was going on? How did I get back here? Did someone carry me back here?
I felt nauseated. The rotting-meat smell was still in the air. I bent over and puked my guts out on top of something. That is when I noticed piles of dead stuff near me. The piles were composed, or rather decomposed, of human body parts mixed with hundreds of rats. Feeding on the mass were hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of maggots, bugs, and worms. Some of the worms were almost microscopic in size while others were inches-long, fat and oozing pus-like juices. My vomit covered the decomposing pile like fetid gravy.
My body wore the wet filth of my surroundings. I was tired and wanted to escape, but there was no way that I was going to descend that walkway again. Just thinking about the walkway induced an overpowering feeling of dread in me. Yet, I wanted out of here so badly that committing suicide was a solution my mind entertained.
In despair, I started to cry. My situation was hopeless. Anxiety controlled my mind. My skin crawled and, despite the oppressive heat, I felt cold.
A war raged within me. I fought against something external and possibly evil. No, not possibly -- whatever it was, it was definitely evil. Of that, I was certain. I had to survive until I could get help.
I contemplated climbing the flight of stairs to the only other source of light in the dungeon. There was no other place to go. Down to the scary light, or up to the unknown light.
Working to maintain balance, I walked the twenty feet over the slippery floor to the bottom of the stairs. Looking up, I could barely see the light at the stair top through the darkness around me. As tiny as the light was, I noticed that it had a powerful and distinct brightness. It reminded me of a lighthouse overlooking the ocean, saving sailors from the perils of the storm.
The stairs were imposing. I could not tell how many hundreds of individual steps were in front of me, but their rise was precipitous. Adding to the challenge was the narrowness of the stairs, maybe two feet, if that much, and coated with the same slick wetness and grime that was everywhere. An added bonus, no handrail.
I started the climb.
One foot after another I went. At first, the climb wasn’t bad, but after a couple dozen steps, I felt weird. Dizziness came over me with an apprehension and terror that caused my feet to root, halting my progress. My fear of heights was an obstacle that I was going to have to conquer.
I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to look down or over the side of the stairs. I rested my back against the wetness of the wall. I shivered, feeling chilled. My mind snapped back to the immediate task.
Gritting my teeth, I climbed upward again. This time using my hands, knees, and feet like a human spider, I progressed gradually. I kept my view focused on the stairs a few feet in front of me. Tunnel vision would have been a good thing. Occasionally, feeling gutsy, I afforded myself a brief glance upward to gauge my progress. I hoped that the light would be the key to my salvation.
During a rest period, a look upward showed that I had sixty to seventy feet of stairs left to climb. I wished I had some help. Looking up again, I could have sworn that for a moment there was a figure in the light’s rectangular window looking at me.
“Hey! Hey!” I yelled. “I need help getting out of here!”
Repeatedly, I cried out, but there was no answer. Fatigue captured me, and I fell asleep.
* * *
I woke up with my body feeling refreshed, but then mentally crashed in frustration. I screamed. What kind of joke is this? I was back on the floor of the dungeon, sitting in a puddle of mud ten feet away from the base of the stairs. Looking upward, I could see the tiny light at the top of the stairs.
My irritation led to fury over my situation. I cursed under my breath. Being pissed motivated me. I would make every step that I ascended a symbol of conquest over the stairway. My goal, to reach the light, would not be denied. I was energized. Ascension was mine to take.
Again, I climbed. One foot. One step. Another foot. Another step. Over and over. I will become a machine, an engine, unrelenting. Upward I went. After about fifty or so steps, acrophobia set in again.
This time, my fear of heights was less, but I did have to stop to maintain self-control. My eyes were tearing up, and I fought back the urge to cry. My guts turned to jelly, and I lost the courage to climb any more.
I had to go down. Shaking with fear, feet-first and on my butt, I crab-walked and descended toward the dungeon floor.
I stopped and took a rest. In my reverse climb, looking downward made the acrophobia worse. I did not know what to do. I was stuck. My brain wouldn’t give the commands to my arms and legs to make me move. Some tough guy.
Wallowing in self-pity was something that I did not need, but I did it anyway. I lay an arm on one of the stairs. On top of that arm, I rested my head. With my eyes closed, I did something that was unusual for me. I prayed to God for help.
* * *
I don’t know how long I had been out this time, but tortured screams from the depths of the spiral walkway woke me. Something sounded as though it was coming up. I wondered, is the walkway a path to Hell? Shaking, I was scared to my core.
I got up, ran to the stairs, and started my climb in earnest. Doing the four-legged spider, belly down this time, I scrambled. Huffing and puffing, I forced myself upward. Screw the acrophobia. I fought back the fear of the stairs and height with the fear of whatever was down the spiral walkway. I surpassed my previous best climb. Up. Up. I focused my vision on the door’s illuminated window.
I stopped briefly to wipe the sweat from my eyes and forehead with my grungy T-shirt.
“Come on. Come on,” I muttered.
My breathing was heavy and rhythmic. I used the sound as a cadence to work like a solder on the march. Arms and legs worked with deliberation. My heart pounded my chest as I pushed my body to its limits. I’m going to reach the top of the stairs this time. I had to. I want out now!
My grunting punctuated my exertion. As I ascended, the stairs got wetter and slicker. I kept my spider-walk low, head down, and carefully watched the placement of my hands and feet on the steps.
I noticed shadows cast from my limbs. I looked up. The door was about twenty steps away. Step after step. Step after step. Finally, I sat on the top stair, leaning against the coolness of the metal door with the window light on my face.
Sensing someone on the other side of the door, I stood up, felt excited with anticipation, then dizzy and immediately lost my footing. Down I went, sliding and tumbling all the way, banging on each slick, filthy stair. My slide was a slow motion nightmare within a nightmare. I couldn’t stop. It was strange that I didn’t go over the side of the stairs, considering their narrowness.
Even though I fell all the way down to the bottom of the stairs, it didn’t bother me. Something in me had changed. I wanted to leave my past failures behind and look forward to a new future. I knew that if I tried hard, with enough determination, I would be able to overcome most obstacles. With this self-realization of my own internal strength, I also acquired an awareness of an external power that I needed to complete me as a person. This force could not be gained by my doing. It required that I ask the Giver, in sincerity, for this gracious bestowal.
I went to sleep on my own.
* * *
My head rested on the bottom step when I awoke. Except for a few bruises and scrapes, my last tumble down the stairs produced little harm to my body.
How could that be?
It was strange; my body felt stronger and more energetic. An inward sense gave me the impression that someone or something at the top of the stairs was infusing me with strength. My mind was alert and resolute. I knew that getting back to the top of the stairs was the thing for me to do. The screams from the depths of the walkway did not bother me as much as they had before.
With a firm sense of purpose, up the stairs I went. Quickly. Spider-like. The work was hard, but I welcomed it. In an unmeasured span of time, I once again reached the top of the stairs. Standing this time, I noticed that the window on the door had bars like a jail. I hadn't noticed that before. The door was locked. Frustration built inside me. I was powerless to open the door. Holding onto the bars, I pulled my face near the window. A cool, dry breeze refreshed me.
Peering through the window to the other side of the door, I could see an extremely long, brightly lit hallway. The view was surreal and beautiful. What is this place? A world of mystery and wonderment, and yet, it whispered of home.
A figure silhouetted against the light was at the other end of the hallway looking at me.
“Who are you?” I shouted. “Can you help me get out of here?”
The figure strode toward me. I could tell that it was a man, but the face was indistinguishable because of the distance and shadow.
“Please, hurry! The stairs are slippery, and I don’t want to slide down again.”
Moments later, the figure stood in front of me, but on the other side of the locked door. This being was strength and power incarnate. Recognition registered within me. I was in the presence of Jesus Christ.
He looked at me with compassionate eyes that cut through layers of ego and smugness, seeing into the depths of my soul. Somehow, I knew that he had just lifted the veil that was clouding my memory. I remembered who I was in a flood of memories that revealed the good and bad things I had done in my life. Jesus said nothing, but gave me a look that was a question.
I ignored the look. “I need your help. Can you open the door?”
Jesus stood there without replying. He seemed to be waiting for something else.
“Let me out of here!” I screamed at him as I banged on the entrance. “Open the damn door!”
He turned to walk away.
“Wait,” I begged. “Don’t leave. Please. Please, don’t leave me.”
Walking back to the door, the Christ gave me a stern look. I felt that he was looking into the depths of my soul.
I was relieved that He had come back. My eyes could not hold back the tears of desperation. I cried out with every fiber of my being, “Jesus, please save me!”
His eyes bore into me, and a thought entered my mind: Excipio. The thought came from my Savior. I was unfamiliar with the word, but I understood what He meant. He was taking me out, saving me. Despite the self-created downfalls of my life, I was going to be rescued and saved from an eternity in Hell by my Lord.
Effortlessly, Jesus opened the metal door and beckoned me to enter Paradise. Happily, I walked through and followed him, leaving the dungeon behind forever.
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