The Tithe

The flame flashed, light exploding into the air around the torch. This lasted but a second, as the light flushed back to the timid flame that remained. Finding its courage, the flame grew in boldness, and soon I was able to take in my surroundings.

My gaze started low. My throat clogged when I was not greeted with the view of my feet that I had obviously taken for granted. A circle of grey surrounded my ankles, taunting me in the absence of five toes. It almost seemed to bubble with laughter at my obvious dismay, but that wasn’t quite it. The obstruction in my throat became a grunt of air when I realized the grey was but a fog, one that rose from the ground that my, now confirmed, feet stood upon.

Brown. Brown was all I was able to make of the actual ground. It was too obscured by the lazy fog that sat thick, clinging to the floor like a child would his mother on the first day of school. As I lifted my eyes from below, only fog was eager to greet me.

I did not know where I was.

I began to walk. Slowly, at first, head anxiously bent forward, kicking away the fog to ensure that my next step would not be my last. After several minutes of this, I grew bold. Or was it frantic? Either way, I assumed my foot placement, and quickened my pace. I allowed my attention to stretch, trying to reach the edge of the fog with my imagination.

Was I dreaming?

Perhaps I am on a beach. Recovering from a normal Friday night of overly ambitious drinking. This fog seemed familiar in that aspect, but the lack of a headache would make this scenario seem unlikely.

So what was this? I craned my neck around. The faint yellow glow cast from my torch and reached out several feet in every direction, yet succumbed to the thickness and persistence of the fog and ultimately faded out. I continued on.

Thoughts danced along the edge of my consciousness, but I was too groggy to bring them to the forefront. I felt like I had been submerged in a vat of glue, and every movement and conscious moment was sluggish. Exaggerated, even.

The light grew stronger as I grew more confused. Or the fog was growing tired of its uninterrupted reign. Whichever way, I was ripped out of my thoughts as I became aware that I stood in a ravine.

I could now see the cracked ground I stood upon. Dusty, brown, and dead. If I had to guess, this dirt was older than life itself. It panned out in all directions, coming to an end at both to my right and to my left. Ahead and behind me, however, this dirt path continued on into the fog, an expanse currently unknown to me. To my left and right, this dirt found its end when it became a wall.

The walls (cliffs?) went straight up. And up. Above me (a direction I had not yet taken the liberty to explore in my current state), the air was still tinted brown, yet I could make out the top of the walls. Their tops jutted out into familiar shapes. Wait. Faces?

I stretched my right arm as far above me as I could, stretching my neck and trying to take in the view above me, hoping the torch could bring some answers if it were closer. I was given no comfort with the results.

The walls weren’t walls, they were figures. People. Things? They stood above me, at least 50 feet tall. Hunched over, draped in what I could only call robes, I saw the outline of a face. Skull, to be accurate, but yet…I could see past the faded white bone and identify a face. As if there was a person behind the skull. Was that it? No, I think it was the person before it was only a skull.

They sat and they watched me. These figures. I whirled in circles, and I could see them all. Dozens, if not hundreds. Shoulder to shoulder, towering above me, hunched over and watching my every move. This realization brought fear, but that would not compare to the feeling I was forced into next. What I saw now, as I brought my torch high above my head, was a figure removing its hood. How, I could not say, as I saw no hands. No method of removal, yet the skull came fully into view as the hood fell back.

Dozens of shapes jettisoned from the back of the skull as it became fully exposed to the light. I kept looking up, and these shapes swirled about, unrecognizable in form, but floating away from view. The skull stood naked, but I saw its face. In midst of my terror, I could only think one thought.

I know that face. I remember.

But.

What could I last remember?

This thought was what brought on the headache – one so piercing that I instantly lurched to my knees, my right arm twitched and inadvertently threw the torch beyond my grasp. I cried out in surprise, a quick stream of pain pouring over my eyes before they went utterly black, and once again, I was gone.

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