He walked through the darkness. He could see nothing around him. What was this place? He had no idea if he was in a basement or surrounded by a moonless night. The ground beneath him felt solid, but he couldn’t tell what kind of surface it was. Just where was he? How did he get here?
He froze, feeling his stomach drop. He knew that voice. Soft. Low. Cold. It was a voice he’d heard so many times, that he had tried to push away. He had pushed it away.
“You’re absolutely worthless.”
The sound came from everywhere, the air itself speaking to him. He took a step back, feeling his heartbeat increase.
The space in front of him lightened, barely. A dark shadow stood silhouetted against the gray surroundings. He could not see its eyes, but he know they were watching him, full of loathing.
“Please,” he whispered. “I don’t want to do this. Not now.”
“You don’t want? You think that choice is yours?”
It emitted a laugh that carried no joy, that seemed to pierce the air and stab into his very bones.
“If you were capable of making such choices, would I even be here?”
Its voice oozed scorn, and though its face was hidden in shadow, he knew it was smiling at him. Not being able to see that smile was the only small relief he had.
“You never were very good at standing up for yourself, were you? But then, you were never really good at anything.”
He winced at the dismissive tone of its voice.
“No, not that’s not true.”
“Oh?” it inquired. “And what have you done with your life so far? What have you really accomplished? Your peers have made a name for themselves. They’ve pushed forward with their careers and their families. They’re surrounded by friends wherever they go. And you?” It chuckled and gestured with one formless arm. “You’re here. With me. It’s the only place you’ll ever belong.”
He could feel himself shaking. He wanted to say that it wasn’t true, that he deserved better. Instead, he stood staring at his feet.
“You had so much potential,” it continued. “And you never missed an opportunity to waste it. You failed to be a good son a good brother, a good friend. Your time was instead spent digging trenches of failure, each deeper than the last.”
It was enjoying this. It always did.
“You could have graduated at the top of your class, but you chose to stay comfortably in the middle. You could have blazed trails in the professional world, but you languished in unemployment when your family could have used your help.”
“That wasn’t my fault!” He yelled louder than he’d intended to, unable to tolerate that final barb. “You know it isn’t! I tried my best, but nobody was hiring!”
“People hire those who have something to give the world, those who have value,” it retorted without a second’s hesitation. “Why should anyone hire you? What value do you bring?”
He had no answer.
“None. You have no value at all. And that is why nobody will love you either. Are you really ‘single and loving it’, as you claim to the world, or are you just a lonely man unable to find love as time passes him by? Who would love you? And why?”
His eyes were burning from the futile attempt at holding back tears. It was right. He was unlovable. Worthless.
It bore down on him, enveloping him in darkness. “Why would anyone ever love you?”
The words echoed all around him. He shut his eyes and clamped his hands over his ears, but could still hear the hateful voice taunting him.
“What could anyone possibly see in a failure like you?!”
It stopped. “What?”
“He still has hope.”
As he opened his eyes, he saw a dazzling white light. No, that wasn’t it. It was a woman, wearing a dress that seemed to be made of light. She had long golden hair that flowed around her like liquid fire, adding to the brightness in the gloom. Most brilliant of all were her eyes, twin pools of rich amber on which emerald flecks danced.
“He’s made some poor choices and he’s seen troubled times, but that needn’t be his end. Everyone deserves another chance.”
“There have been enough chances already. He’s wasted them all.”
“Then maybe he needs a little help.”
“Why? What would be the point? History will just repeat itself again and he’ll end up back here. It’s better for him to stay.”
It reached out to him with long, smoke-like fingers.
“No.” Her voice was firm, determined. “I won’t let him slip into this abyss. There is goodness in him, in his heart. He just needs someone to guide him on the right path.”
“This is his path!”
She strode toward him and it shrank away, blending into the shadows. She put a hand on his face, immediately flooding him with a warmth that he had never before known. He looked into her eyes, transfixed.
“Let’s go,” she said, stroking his cheek. “You don’t have to stay here anymore. There is hope. There’s always hope.”
He nodded. She motioned to a doorway, made out of the same brilliant light emanating from her, and he followed her to it.
“NO!” it cried, struggling to escape its dark boundaries. “You can’t take him! He belongs here! This is the only place he’ll ever belong!”
She looked at it pityingly, then kept walking. It cried out again, its voice hoarse and ragged.
He turned back to look at it one last time. He saw nothing but darkness.
She took him by the hand and smiled at him, a smile filled with the radiance of a thousand suns. “It’s alright. I’ll make sure you never find yourself here again.”
He could feel himself tearing up once more. He nodded and followed her through the doorway, into the light.
He took a deep breath, looking around the house. It was a fine house, one that he shared with his loving wife. He was living a dream, and sometimes he thought that was all it was. He was afraid sometimes that he would open his eyes and find it all gone, replaced by the cave of despair that he had trapped himself in for so long.
“Honey, are you almost ready? We’ll be late.”
The sound of his wife’s voice brought him back into reality. He smiled. This was real.
“I’ll be down in just a second, babe.”
He took his keys from on top of the dresser and paused for a second to look at the picture sitting there. It was from his wedding. He and his bride both looked so happy, on the verge of starting a wonderful new life together. He was sharply dressed in an elegant black tuxedo and she stood next to him in a dress of dazzling white, her golden hair pulled back into a loose bun, her eyes twinkling with joy.
And such beautiful eyes they were, twin pools of rich amber in which emerald flecks danced.