I wake up in the dark.
It happened again.
My body aches against the cold floor; a thousand little craggly pinpoints grind into my shoulders, the base of my skull - Concrete? Pavement?
My head is thumping, a dull slow percussion that won’t go away on its own, but that aspirin can’t touch. I roll over; my hand comes down on the craggy ground. I feel grit and pebbles scraping my palm. The air is musty, thick, a smell like damp sawdust, like a dehumidifier not up to the task. A basement this time, maybe?
My head swims a little from the movement; I bring my hand up and rub my eyes, and some of the grit stuck to my fingers grinds into my eyes, stinging badly. I swear quietly, blinking until the pain goes away.
I sit in the darkness for a moment, listening to my own breathing. There’s an odd distant creaking, like boards settling. Dust tickles my nose. But otherwise… there’s nothing.
Despite my throbbing head, I haul my aching body upright, rising slowly so I don’t accidentally crack my head on anything. It’s happened before.
It’s happened seven time before. I know. I’ve kept track. When you wake up in the pitch blackness, no knowledge of where you are or how you got there, it tends to leave an impression. The darkness is always… total. But there are signs.
There was the time I woke up on the beach. I think it was the beach; I had been at work, being screamed at by my boss, and a moment later I was face down with a mouthful of sand. The roar of the surf crashing behind me. A swell of coldness, wetness, lapping at my ankles. Or the time I got the notice of foreclosure - suddenly I’m on my back, a knot of lumps jammed into my back. I think they were tree roots. There was the smell of mushrooms and dirt after the rain that time, a crackly crunch underfoot. Leaves.
It’s always different, except for the utter blackness. But I know what’s coming next. And I need to get out of here. Before it comes.
“Most people have never experienced the dark.”
The voice. Again. Raspy yet forceful. Indistinct, like it’s far off yet near. Like someone’s talking into a box behind me. I put my hands out, swinging them in a slow arc. They don’t hit anything. I start taking tentative steps, a half stride at a time, feeling my way forward. Or, at least, away from where I was.
“They don’t know what it’s truly like to be in the dark. The sense of claustrophobia and agoraphobia at the same time. The realization that no, your eyes won’t adjust. The loneliness.”
“Why are you doing this to me?” I shout, knowing better. Despite myself, my breath quickens, gets louder in my own ears. I start moving faster, more reckless.
“Most people would be terrified of the pure darkness. But not you. You want to be here.”
“No I don’t! You did this to me!”
“I don’t do anything to you. You do this to yourself.”
My foot comes down on nothing - a step down! I pitch forward, my back foot catching on something. My knees crack on the concrete, jarring pain shooting up into my hips. I put my hands out and feel the impact with the floor, white hot pain settling into dull wet stinging. I smell copper; my hands are sticky and stinging.
I roll over, my moaning turning into whimpers. “Why!?”
A moment passes that way. And then another. And another. Once I stop whimpering, it’s completely silent. It’s uncomfortably silent.
“Are… are you there?”
Why did I just ask that? I hate myself for asking that. But the silence, it got to me.
I stay on the ground, inching my way forward on hands and knees. The grit makes a distinct whooshing sound as I crawl over it.
My hand comes down on something round, smooth but soft. Leather.
It twitches. A toe in a boot.
I gasp, fling myself backwards and to the side. My back cracks something, lots of somethings. They come crashing down on me, poles and stiff bristles and flimsy metal fingers - garden tools? They make an awful clatter as they fall around me.
“Where were you just now?” that goddamn voice asks. “The doctor’s office, yes?”
“Shut up!” I scream, my throat hoarse. I’m rushing now, running away from the foot, away from that voice. I know it’s no use, but I can’t help it. My shins are banging on things, edges slicing and scraping my knuckles and my shoulders. Sticky, wispy strands wrap around my face - a spider’s web? Still I run.
“About to get the diagnosis, weren’t you?”
“Just let me out! I want to go back!”
That stops me. God dammit. Standing there, panting, eyes wide open and flicking about in the dark like an idiot. I should still be running.
“Yes!” I say. But even I don’t believe it.
“If you don’t want to be here, why do you come?”
“I don’t come,” I say.
“But you do. After the broken engagement. Right before the funeral. After that last rejection letter came in. You always find yourself here.”
“What… what are you saying?”
“I’m not saying anything. The question is, what are you saying to yourself.”
I think about it for a moment. But can’t accept it.
I run again, only to crash into something, tumbling down. My knees, elbows, chin all bash into different things, different heights. I feel splinters wedge their way into the wounds in my palm.
Wood. Wooden stairs. Leading upwards.
I scramble up them on hands and knees. Don’t even care where they go - I just know they go away from here.
“Where are you going?” that voice asks. Still right behind me. Still so far away.
“Away! Away from you! Anywhere!”
“Why? It’s not like you want to.”
My head cracks against a wall. I can’t even feel the pain anymore. But it sounds hollow. I slap at it - wood, flat, there’s warmth coming from it, from behind it.
I scrabble at it, trying to find the edges. My hand passes over a seam. I can feel the heat running from it. Where there’s heat, there’s light. I claw at it, trying to jam my fingernails into it and pry it open. I feel another wet, hot pain, a tear - I think a fingernail just came off.
“What do you think that doctor is going to say? Anything good? That the lump is nothing?”
I reach up and find a different lump - this one hard, metal, attached to the door. The knob. It’s hot, almost burning hot - the heat from beyond just… beckoning me to go through. I rattle the knob, enough to know it’s not locked.
“Let’s be honest,” the voice says. “you’re not strong enough for the world. That’s why you created these ones.”
My hand’s still on the knob. But it’s not turning.
“The first hint of pain breaks you. Sends you running into yourself. And now you’re about to get the worst pain imaginable. The betrayal of your own body. The beginning of the end.”
“You don’t- I don’t know that.”
“You knew the second the doctor walked into the room. You saw the look on her face. You didn’t even wait for the pain this time around before coming here.”
“But I… I have to.”
“No you don’t. Out there, there’s betrayal and judgment and heartbreak. Out there, there’s pain. There’s no pain here.”
And that voice is right. The pain in my knees, my hands is gone. It was never there. There’s no grit beneath my feet, no mustiness in the air, no dust making me want to sneeze. There’s just me and the voice and the beautiful darkness.
And the door.
“But the choice is yours,” the voice says.
And then it’s gone; I don’t know how I know, I just know. It was probably never here, either.
I keep my hand on that doorknob for a long time before I make my decision.
Created: Oct 19, 2015demartino Document Media