He stumbled along the dreary path in the dark, groping his way. His limbs ached. His flesh felt as if it would fall from his bones. The air reeked of something putrid. The decay of his own body.
He had been here so long. So very long in this murky hell.
He stopped. What was that? Something behind him. A voice? He spun around and peered into the thick, muddy air.
He couldn’t see anything.
Who are you? He didn’t dare ask aloud.
There was nothing.
He turned around and began to plod forward again. But now he felt a presence behind him. And after a moment, he heard the voice. This time clearly.
I’m disappointed in you.
“Who are you?” Now he said it aloud.
And he did. “What do you want with me? I’m dead.”
He spun back around, stared into the dark emptiness again and saw nothing. Disappointed. At that wretched word, his chest nearly collapsed in on itself. He fell to his knees, raised his hands over his head to shield himself from the blows. They didn’t come. They would later.
You know why.
His mind raced. He thought as hard as he could until stray bits of memory formed in his mind. The mission. He’d had a mission. But he’d done everything right. Everything as it should be. As instructed.
You failed me.
No, I did everything right. It was perfect.
You. Failed. Me.
And he knew that was right. “Give me another chance. I’ll do better. I promise.”
That’s why I’m here.
Another chance? His heart began to beat. Could he really have another chance? He would do it right this time. He would not fail again.
Can you do it?
“Yes. Yes, I can do it. I will do it. Will you help me?”
There was no answer. He reached out, trying to find the voice. But there was nothing. No, he wasn’t reaching out. He couldn’t move his arm. Couldn’t move his legs. Couldn’t move at all.
Where was he?
His eyes flickered open. He saw flashes of light. Tubes. He heard beeping. People were moving him, turning his paralyzed body over. Nurses? They were—washing him? Where was he?
Then his eyes closed again and he felt nothing.