The silence was what woke me.
It was the heavy sort of silence that presses onto your ears, unnatural, uncomfortable. That kind of silence which makes you feel that something’s not quite right before you even open your eyes… And now, awake yet still not entirely alert, several other curious things came to my attention. First, it made no difference whether I held my eyes open or closed. It was entirely black either way. Second, the pressure that I originally sensed in my ears seemed to be crushing my entire body. Third, I wasn’t breathing.
In a panic I bolted upright, opening and closing my mouth with my eyes bulging in a way that probably made me look like an extraordinarily surprised fish attempting to swallow a beach ball. For a few agonising minutes (or they could have been seconds, my sense of time was thrown) my lungs refused to work. Breathe, breathe, breathe! The mantra rang in my head, urging the unwilling organ to take in life-sustaining air despite my increasing doubt that there was any available. Underwater? No, I was sitting on something solid and I sure as hell wouldn’t be alive if I were. Buried? This seemed more likely, maybe someone had locked me in some underground room and cut off the air supply. Just as I rolled onto my hands and knees, prepared to search for an exit from the airless prison, a voice cut me off.
“Peace, little Waker.”
All at once my chest expanded and took in air that might have been there the whole time, the surprise of the sensation knocking me back to the ground coughing and gasping. My eyes were hungrily searching for the source of the saving voice, but all they saw was emptiness.
“Calm yourself and you will find what you seek more easily.”
It took me a moment to decide whether or not this voice was to be trusted—the entire situation seemed wrong, strange. Whoever the voice belonged to might have been the one who had brought me here into this stifling blackness… but whoever it was seemed to be talking sense. Putting my suspicions aside and taking the advice of the voice I took several deep breaths, my eyes closed tight. After a few moments the beating of my heart slowed to a regular “du-dum du-dum”, at which point I opened my eyes back up only to be greeted by an eerily beautiful image reminiscent of moonlit snow—before me was a young woman with astonishing silver-white hair that seemed completely weightless, as if it were being swept by a gentle current under water, and skin as soft and pale as clouds on a summer’s day. She donned a simple white dress with a silk capelet draped over her shoulders, her slender feet bare and gently pointed to the invisible ground as she sat… On whatever it was she was sat on. It seemed like she was floating rather than sitting though, as there didn’t seem to be anything to sit on other than darkness.
The lady tilted her head and chuckled quietly. It was a curious sound, with an unexplainable echo-y quality to it that made it sound like she was speaking in a cavernous stone room.
“It is rare to see someone wake before their time,” She mused, her voice soft yet reaching me easily. “Very rare indeed. You are special, little Waker. What is it that brought you from your sleep, I wonder. Who are you?” She raised an eyebrow slightly, indicating that she expected me to know… Yet all I knew was that I didn’t know anything; I had no idea where I was, why I was there, or even who I was. A confused scowl on my face, I looked down while raising my hand to scratch the back of my neck—it wasn’t possible that I was no-one, for I existed didn’t I? Or maybe simply existing didn’t give someone an identity, or perhaps I didn’t really exist at all? ‘Perplexed’ doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings at being asked the simple question of “who are you”, and I think that this is what flustered me more than anything else at that point. How was it possible that I didn’t know who I was?
“The question I have asked is an incredibly difficult one, little Waker, so do not worry about the answer being a difficult one” the lady said, her strange voice penetrating my entire skull. Looking at her once more, I realised that she seemed to be glowing. Not in a way that made it look like light was shining onto her, nor was she glowing from the inside… More like she had been doused in some sort of luminous material. I found myself wondering about what rather than who she was. “Many men spend their entire lives searching for their true identity, some never find them and their lives end unfulfilled. It seems, however, that you have been granted a head start in finding your identity. You should be pleased, little one.” She smiled and looked to the side, touching something to her right with gently outstretched fingers. Where she touched, a small light shone and then grew out into a small lantern harbouring a brightly flickering blue flame. Thanks to the soft gleam of that lantern, I finally found out what it was I was sitting on. It was a boat, narrow enough for only one person to lie comfortably in and just long enough too. The silver lady sat lightly on the edge of the boat, her weight not affecting the tilt in any way. Maybe she was a ghost, a strange apparition?
“Look around little Waker,” she said, indicating the darkness around us. Only now I could see that it wasn’t entirely darkness; there were small pinpricks of glittering light scattered everywhere in the black space. Stars? “Each of those is a possible path, a world that you can choose to live in. Each is different, none are perfect… One is destined for you. Choose your life, little Waker, and be born…”