by Jay Wilburn
He lost his fingernails several days earlier, so the digging was going slower.
He wasn’t breathing, although his lungs kept fighting to draw in dust as he struggled. His mouth and throat packed with earth. Mud pressed between his teeth. His eyes and nostrils caked with the clay he dragged ground away above and around him.
He might as well have been clawing against stone.
He pumped his legs, but the ground pressed around him and he had no traction below him.
He continued to struggle toward the surface.
In his blindness, he panicked. He moved his head from side to side in the half inch of clearance he had made for himself around his mired skull. He thought for a moment that he had lost his sense of gravity in his long struggle. He thought he might have been turned around as he broke free from the pine that had long collapsed on top of him.
Maybe he was actually digging down and he would eventually be scratching against bedrock as he tore the numb flesh away from the bones of his fingers.
He continued to dig.
He had torn loose the broken pieces of wood so long ago that he had no clear memory of the process. The splintered box lay under the dirt that he had been pushing down around his body and shoving below him.
He could not remember a time before the box and the earth. He could not picture the world before the darkness and suffocation.
The world was above the ground. He knew that in some part of his brain below the confusion and the anger.
There was someone above the ground that needed to pay the debt for this struggle. A person owed him blood for putting him in the prison of dirt. He did not have a name, but he sensed he could grasp it once he fed on oxygen again.
He felt a thin cord above him. He pulled his swollen finger through it until it snapped. He rolled it between the shredded skin.
The first whole word entered his strained mind since the struggle began, Root.
He drove both arms upward, covering his ears with his dirty shoulders. His hands came back with loose, black soil. He felt thinner roots and then grass. He could not conjure the word for it, but he sensed it was alive and he felt it had touched the oxygen like an electric crackle against his fingers.
The tips of his fingers broke out into the sunlight. Sensation racked through his battered body as fiery pain which erupted with contact to the light.
He pulled his charred fingers back into the dark earth.
He took his first real breath around the clogs of dirt in his throat as he pressed his smoking fingers into the topsoil.
His mind awoke.
Wait for it to finish setting and then I get started.