I’m sitting cross-legged, hands cupped on my lap, trying to control my breath as I push away my fears of what waits in the darkness around me. I am shocked out of my meditation as light from the open door floods over me. My eyes adjust and I focus on the silhouette of my father, leaning against the door frame with his arms folded across his chest. A few brief moments pass and then he speaks to me in a calm voice.
“Are you ready?”
“I don’t know. What if I’m not strong enough?”
“If you’re not strong, then you have to be smart.”
With that he turns away and closes the door. I am once again left in absolute darkness. The only sound is my heart, pounding as if it is trying to break through my ribs and escape my chest.
All time seems to stop as I hear the groan of rusty gates drawing open somewhere behind me. The smell hits me then, foul and unsettling. Soon there is the sound of something making cautious movements in to the room, claws clicking softly on the rough concrete floor. I hear sharp breathing as the creatures check the air for my scent. They pace the perimeter of the room, learning the space, before they begin to close in.
A short, guttural growl sounds out. I know they’re testing me. Panic fights its way into my mind, but I do my best to suppress it. My eyes are shut tight although I know that I wouldn’t see anything if they were open. I do not move, instead I focus on my breath as I’ve been taught.
My body tenses as I feel hot, putrid breath on my arm for the first time. I ball my right hand into a fist and form a mental image of my opponent as I time my attack. I inhale, and then strike out with all of my might. Immediately after I drop and tumble to my right in one swift movement. There is a harsh growl and a rush of air as one of the creatures lunges to retaliate, only to find its partner instead of the small, weak boy it had anticipated.