I slipped in and out of consciousness for what felt to me like centuries. Each time I surfaced, it was to the realization that the pain was somewhat diminished. But it was still there, licking the flames that simmered in my veins from time to time, as if to remind me of its presence.
I was alone, the voice having left me for now. This made me feel desperately alone, for some reason. As if the torment was more bearable with the knowledge that I had a witness to it.
When I surfaced for the last time, I felt no pain at all. I felt strangely ... alive. But I was aware of a change. Something significant had taken place in me. But what?
I woke up in the darkness, like before. But the quality of this darkness was different. I realized I was lying on something hard, and there was the smell of earth all around me. I tried to sit up and discovered that I was locked inside a box of some type, very narrow and tight. It was padded on the inside walls with what felt like velvet.
"Breathe, just breathe," I told myself. But my lungs weren't paying attention, they kept greedily gulping in as much air as they could. I realized in some distant part of me that I wasn't hyperventilating like I should be, that I felt no pain, only panic, despite the fact that I was now punching the lid with my bare fists as hard as I could.
I broke through the wood on my first punch.
Dirt and splinters rained down on me as I clawed my way out from the earth, out of what felt like oceans and oceans of soil, and moments later I was kneeling on the grass staring down at my newly empty grave. The remains of my coffin lay scattered around me, jagged shards of wood. I looked down at my hands, expecting my knuckles to be bruised and battered. But I didn't have even one scratch.
I stood up, amazed at how easily the movement came to me, bemused that the burning pain from before was completely gone. I looked around and saw that I was in a small graveyard behind a church. Before me lay the dark expanse of a forest. It was nighttime, and I could hear all the noises of the forest nearby, the chirrup of cicadas and the whispering brush of leaves that rustled under the feet of small animals. There was no moon and little star-light by which to see, and yet my vision seemed somehow enhanced, as if I were seeing clearly for the first time.
The glint of something caught my eye, and I saw a piece of marble half-hidden in the grass near my feet. I picked it up and saw that it was a piece of gravestone which must have been knocked off somehow. It was engraved with only one name, no surname: ALICE. I searched near where I had found it to see if I could find the rest of the stone, and maybe more clues as to who this Alice was, but I found only the crumbling, pulverized remains. I held them in the palm of my hands, watching as the wind stole them and carried them away on the night air.
A million questions bubbled at my lips, but I had no one but myself to ask them to: Did I do this? Who put me in the coffin? Why did they put me in the coffin? Who am I?
... Am I Alice?