It seemed that we’d been chin-deep in thick mud for weeks. Each step pushed against a wall of turgid dirt, wet with wherever all the rain came from every day, every minute. Each step we took pulled against the torpid slurp of brown gruel restraining us like clutching claws, dragging us backwards as we marched along. Slow didn’t even begin to describe our progress. It was tough to know when we would arrive at our station but it wasn’t going to be soon. Just the creep of each step, standing on whatever crackling bottom lay beneath, brittle and sharp, broken and solid, making a sound, somehow, through this muck like knuckles cracking against skulls, teeth grinding against a rat-tail file, clothes (were they even there anymore?) hanging like shackles, limb-long and confining around each bit of our bodies.
And then there was the heat. Not like beach heat, not heat baking us from the warmth of a distant sun. Heat from a soaked and filthy sheet dipped in oil, steam, whipped around our heads when we weren’t looking. A choke-close, strangling heat that didn’t let up and wasn’t relieved by the constant mist and steady downpour of new water, filthy before it fell, going who knew where, adding to the mud as the mud remained swirling around us, not sucking us down.
If our march was creeping along through this cruel soup and stinking stew, like a bouillabaisse of the bits no one every ate, it was nothing until the insects came in swarms and stung our bald heads and knitted brows, infecting our eyelids already red, exploding from lack of sleep, blistering up boils like volcanos on every inch of our faces, inflaming our nostrils and lips with bilious injections, their eggs, their poisonous goo.
In a way, it was okay that our noses swelled shut. We could no longer smell the air, wet though it was, that bubbled with the stench of ripened fruit and curdled milk, the air turbulent with a stink that if we ever left, we would never forget for the rest of time.
And then we saw a faint light ahead. A glimmer that looked like a candle in a frame, flickering through the torrents that fell and deepened our swamp of half-taken strides and lost hopes. Once. Twice. It blinked. Was gone. Then back but closer to us all as we walked, toes to heels, bellies to backs, arms twisting to get free of each other and take a step without impediment. It blinked above us and was gone. A wisp of light that was not of this world. A bit of gas lit by whatever remained of our dream that this should end soon. Now. End the despair that soaked us through to our bones and waterlogged what remained of our hearts.
And the steps went on, endless, in a dark that never saw a star, in a rain that never saw a pause, in the mud that cradled our necks and chins in its chilling clutch and never let us drown.