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Since childhood, I’d always had a crippling fear of the dark.
It was the kind of fear that made my heart jump out of my throat. This fear followed me all the way through middle and high school. Friends of mine would have sleepovers and I would have to leave the door ajar. Sure, I got picked on here and there, but the occasional remarks and inquiries were well worth the fright I saved myself from. The dark instilled a sense of paranoia and insanity inside of me; a sensation so intense that I would need therapy had I slept one night in complete darkness.
This phobia continued into my college years. My friends were all mature and understanding enough to sympathize. I hung out with Chloe, Don, and Jonathon. Chloe was ostensibly your typical college girl: blonde hair, blue eyes, outgoing and fairly open-minded. Despite her appearance, she whooped my friends and I at any video game we’d play. Don was a bit of a tool. He would use his looks and charm to swoon girls into one-night stands. No one in our group appreciated this. We just turned a blind eye whenever he would get an angry phone call from whomever he had his way with last.
Jonathon was probably the closest to me. He and I had much in common: we were both creative writers, listened to the same types of music, and were avid readers. He was quiet most of the time. When he spoke, everyone else listened. Jonathon and I were the archetypal problem-solvers and mediators of our fairly small circle of friends.
We were all hanging out at Jonathon’s place a few nights ago. The night started off like any other: we played Mario Kart, had a few drinks, and played some board games. None of us were drunk, but I wouldn’t have trusted any of us to drive. Jonathon and I were talking. Even with her inhibitions slightly lowered, Chloe still did not acquiesce to Don’s sexual advances. He only did this when she was drinking. Jonathon or I would usually tell her the morning after under the premise that she would be merciful and not mention it. For the most part, this worked.
It was three in the morning before most of us fell asleep. Chloe went around the house to turn off all of the lights. She was about to hit the switch for the last remaining light in the bathroom when I called out to her.
“Leave that light on,” I pleaded wearily.
“Hey,” she replied softly. She walked over to where I was lying and sat down.
“I know about your fear. We all do. I know that all of us met here to have fun, but my intention was to help you overcome something that could potentially hold you back in life.” She stroked my face with her soft palm as she whispered into my ear. “I’m doing this because I care.”
I was much too tired to object. The apartment grew almost pitch black as she found a couch to rest on.
Every dark and mysterious entity and nocturnal vision from my childhood came flowing back with a vengeance. I sat upright in fear. Piercing, alien eyes peered at me from behind furniture pieces while malevolent shadows darted across the room. I turned on my phone in a vain attempt to escape the horrors that plagued the apartment.
My efforts to diminish frightful specters’ activities only exacerbated the problem at hand. I began to hear voices. To my recollection, I had a spotless mental record. There was no history of schizophrenia in my family. That did not stop these voices. Their quality was so clear, they were clearer than talking to someone in the same room. These voices all had a supernatural quality to them. Some sounded like children, others like hell spawn.
The messages the ethereal voices sent, however, were rather similar. They all taunted me. They told me facts about my childhood that no one else could have known. The more I tried to ignore them, the louder they got. It was a self-perpetuating cycle that I had to break in order to maintain a stable frame of mind. I looked over to my friends. They all looked so peaceful. If they could have seen what I had seen, heard what I heard, and experienced what I experienced, they would never have been a part of Chloe’s little plan.
Running out of options, I grabbed my ear buds, plugged them in, and faded out the evil that sought to break me. Blaring music in my ears was the only way to alleviate the mental stirring I had went through. I sat upright, listening to music until the first rays of morning light poured in through the dusty blinds of the messy room.
Chloe was the first to awaken. She wiped the crust out of her eyes as she walked over to me. Despite her state, she still looked quite pretty. Noticing the redness of my eyes, she began to inquire.
“What happened to you?”
I fumbled for an excuse. “I-I’m just a little hung-over.”
She wasn’t buying it. “But your hair hasn’t been displaced one bit,” she pointed out. "Tell me the truth.”
Before I had time to respond, she figured it out. Her features softened as she came closer to me. “Did you stay up all night?”
“I tried going to sleep. I couldn’t. Everything came back. Everything from before.”
“Oh my God... I’m so sorry.”
I embraced her. Tilting her head, Chloe looked into my eyes. “I never should have pressed the issue,” she confessed. “I’ll never mention it again.”
She smiled and walked over to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. Jonathon, then Don woke up. Don didn’t say all that much due to the amount he’d had to drink the night proceeding. Jonathon was his usual, friendly self. Once everyone was ready, we all ate and said our good-byes.
The light outside was blinding. I had gotten no sleep that night, which didn’t help driving home. By the time I reached the steps to my apartment building, I was stumbling. I shuffled to my door and fell asleep almost at the very second I hit my bed. Daylight filtering through the curtains provided a nice, warm nap.
An invisible force bound me to the walls of a mysterious room when I awoke. The walls were painted an off white. Two sets of fluorescent lights made every corner glow. There were no doors, vents, or any other conceivable means of escape.
I looked around in horror to find my friends from the night before; Chloe was nervously looking around the room, Jonathon was just stirring, and Don was vigorously trying to escape the invisible restraints. As soon as everyone was fully awake, we were set free.
A closer look around the room revealed nothing to our advantage. There wasn’t a one-way mirror, floor, or ceiling. No cameras were present to monitor us. Don tried banging on the walls to gain a possible outsider’s attention to no avail. After some time, Chloe spotted something the rest of us had missed.
“Look,” she said with wonderment. Everyone came over to see her discovery. A sheet of college-ruled notebook paper bore a cryptic message:
Afraid of the dark? This room’s lights will never fade. Enjoy!
At that moment, everyone in the room turned their attention to me. Chloe and Jonathon had expressions of confusion. Don, however, was very angry. He took one deep breath before pinning me against the nearest wall.
“Listen here! I know about your little fear. Is this some sort of sick joke you pulled on us?
“No,” I stammered. “I didn’t do any-”
“Do you think this is funny?” He pressed harder against my chest.
“Don, you don’t under-”
My vision began to grow black around the edges. Jonathon pulled him off of me at the last second. Don snatched the paper from Chloe. He tore it to shreds, scattering little pieces all over the polished linoleum floor. As he walked across the floor, I noticed something.
The shreds had disappeared.
The paper with the message from before was plastered alongside a new notice. It read:
We won’t be leaving you anytime soon. Enjoy your stay!
We knew at that moment that no one in the group set this up. Who—or what—ever was keeping us here had known about my fear before they took us to this room. This person also knew who my friends and I were and where we all lived. With the amount of preliminary information we had, one huge question still remained:
This was a question that none of us were in a position to answer. It didn’t matter to any of us why we were there, we just wanted out. Jonathon was the first to speak up.
“Ok. Before we try anything too drastic, let’s evaluate our options. We could try to get someone’s attention again. There has to be someone out there that can help us.”
“I’m not so sure,” Chloe objected. “We don’t even know if there’s anyone that can hear us, much less help us. Besides, let’s hypothetically say there is someone. Do we really want their help? We don’t know what types of people reside outside of these walls.”
“How about we just try to break through these walls?” Don suggested. “This place may be designed to contain us, but that doesn’t make it inescapable.”
Jonathon chuckled. “That’s right, break it. Is that how you get out of everything, Don?”
“He has a point,” Chloe added. “Your attempts to alert an outsider proved fruitless. The next best thing would be to try and knock the walls down.”
“Let’s try it,” I suggested. “We have nothing to lose.”
Don was the first in front of his wall. We all assumed our positions and waited for Chloe’s go. At her signal, we slammed our body weight against the walls. Though they felt like glass, they had the impact reverberation force of cement. Exhausted, we all slumped to the floor. Don was profusely bleeding from his left knee. I asked him if he was going to be alright.
“I’m fine,” He curtly responded. When he sunk his knee into the floor to get up, it stuck.
“What the-” He tried to escape. His knee would not budge from the floor. He pulled with all his might but didn’t move. Jonathon and I cautiously walked over towards him. He grabbed our hands and we pulled. Don used his right knee to add to the pressure. Eventually, we gave up. Whatever bound him to the floor had no foreseeable intention of setting him free. Not then, at least.
Don grew desperate. “We have to find a way out of here,” he said. His voice wavered. “We can’t stay in here much longer. If we do, our captor is going to make us pay.”
Chloe and I walked over to comfort him. “Shh,” she whispered. “It’s going to be fine. We’ll find a way out of here and you’ll be just fine.” She gently stroked his hair. Whilst doing this, she gave me a concerned look. I could see it in her eyes; she didn't know what to do, and she was scared. Her normally steady composure was beginning to experience the tremors of peril and true danger.
I noticed Don’s legs were beginning to grow a sickly blue. They were both motionlessly slumped on the shiny floor. I silently pointed this out to Chloe. She then got the attention of Jonathon, who in turn was as horrified as she. Don became very worried.
“Guys… I can’t feel my legs. Is there something wrong?”
He twisted his body around to look at his motionless legs. He screamed in terror at the sight. Suddenly, his whole body dropped to the floor. Every part of his body became motionless. His face seemed to lose muscular control as well. We shook him, but nothing happened. Chloe cried out in horror. When Jonathon and I looked at her for an explanation, she wordlessly pointed to his leg that was fused to the floor. It was pulsating violently. It looked as if the room was literally sucking the life out of him. After a few minutes, the movement stopped. I checked his wrist for a pulse. There was none.
Right on that cold linoleum floor, someone close to us had died of reasons none of us knew. Jonathon pointed to a wall. The two sheets of paper from before were there, alongside a new third. He took it off of the wall. It said the most frightening and enigmatic thing yet:
Everyone jumped back. The room we were trapped in had just consumed one of our friends. We were all numbed with shock. None of us knew who would be the next to go. As we stood there, the lights grew brighter. I came to a horrible realization.
There wasn’t any way we could all escape the room alive.
Our very presence fed its energy. Chloe began to cry. Jonathon hugged her as I absorbed myself in possible strategies of escape. I soon came to the grim conclusion that we couldn’t attempt to leave immediately. Given the circumstances, I figured that these lights couldn’t have power forever. I went to Jonathon to discuss the plan. Chloe was too traumatized to talk to anyone.
“I think we’ve all seen too much tonight,” I admitted. “You and I should get some rest and let Chloe have her space.”
“Tonight? How long have we been in here? “
I checked my watch. According to it, only five minutes had passed. The date had not even moved.
“There’s no way.”
He saw the time and date on my stainless steel analog watch. Jonathon was just as bewildered as I.
“Let’s just get some sleep, man.” I quickly agreed. He and I slept in separate corners of the room. The room was completely silent, save Chloe’s soft weeping. Her weeping soon became soft, choked sobs as she found her way to sleep.
Loud humming noises soon raised me from slumber. I looked around. Chloe and Jonathon were deeply asleep. I looked up at the lights. They faded in and out, almost as if they were breathing. The lights grew blinding. Three minutes seemed to pass before my two friends were harshly awakened. They looked up at the light. It seemed to grow even brighter. They all turned their heads away, as I did mine, but that only made the luminosity increase. No secular apparatuses could produce this much light. My very shadow began to grow dim. Footsteps walked across the floor. I turned around to see the source.
It was Jonathon. He had both hands over his eyes. Chloe implored for him to continue hiding in the corner to no avail. As he stood directly under the lights, the humming grew louder. It increased to such a volume that it almost made me go deaf. I couldn’t hear myself think.
Blood started to pour out of Jonathon’s ears. It ran fast and thick. He seemed surprised by it rather than horrified. By this time, Chloe and I both started screaming his name under the impression that he was aware or that he cared about our presence. He spoke these words with numbed wonderment:
“Everything is so… clear.”
His body hit the floor with a loud crash. His skull came into contact with the floor first, causing his skull to profusely bleed. The same sound of absorption from Don’s leg came back again. The fluorescent lights returned to their normal level of brightness. Chloe looked at me with determination.
“You and I are the two survivors. We are making it out of here alive.”
“How?” I asked.
“Boost me on your shoulders. I’m breaking those damn things.”
I was uncertain. She and I had witnessed these lights kill two people. I didn’t think that taking them head-on was the best solution.
“Chloe, I’m not so sure-“
“Do you want to escape with your life?”
“Our time is running out.”
I hoisted her on top of my shoulders. Her soft legs felt warm against my rugged arms. Even though we had been cooped up in there for what felt like days, the scent of her posh perfume still clung to her. She removed her t-shirt, revealing a white tank top. She took the shirt and wrapped it around her right hand.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.”
Shards of glass traveled everywhere as she hit the light. It broke in half above us. I wasn’t harmed at all. Chloe, however, sounded hurt. I delicately set her outside of the mess to see if she was injured.
“I think I’m ok,” she said with a strong hint of uncertainty in her voice. I carefully removed her shirt from her hand. A large gash ran across the top of her palm. I ran her fingers through mine and asked once again to check her status.
“I’m fine. Trust me.”
She walked over to a corner. Taking a spare pencil she had in her pocket, she used her t-shirt to make a makeshift tourniquet. I smiled. She was always so resourceful. If there was a necessity, she’d always be at the ready to take care of it. Her intentions usually preceded her actions, but that didn’t make her any less a friend of mine.
Noticing the pile of glass around Jonathon’s corpse, I snapped back to reality. Two friends dead and one injured. This is where my fear had managed to get me. I felt responsible for their deaths. I felt that my presence that night at Jonathon’s house was the underlying cause of all of this. If I hadn’t have gone, would any of this have happened? Would I be there? I sat trying to find answers to these unanswerable questions. Chloe didn’t utter a word. We both sat there dead quiet, the persistent humming of the lights keeping us away from sleep.
My eyes burned. Chloe’s eyes were a deep red, and mine probably were as well. She and I both sat against the wall. I checked my watch. Two more minutes passed over the space of what felt like two nights. The low sound of the fluorescents was starting to drive me insane. It struck a nerve that was very thin. I hadn’t slept, eaten or drank in what felt like days. Reality itself was beginning to blur. Inside that room, the bounds of time and space merged into one giant conglomeration of terror. To say I was sick of the room would be an understatement so ineffably grand that I would not acknowledge someone who purported to use such a word to describe our situation.
Chloe began to meticulously unwrap her bandage. My legs popped in protest as I shuffled over to her.
“How is it?” I asked weakly.
“Not so good,” she replied. She sounded just as strung out as I was. “I think it’s infected.”
Upon closer inspection, she was right. Her wound had festered. It was a puffy pink. Puss oozed out at its sides. Some of it was crusted with age. I looked at her face. She didn’t seem shocked or taken aback in the slightest. In fact, she seemed quite intrigued. I do not know the force that made her do what she did next.
Chloe heartily licked the seeping wound.
Before I could object, she did it again. I groaned in disgust. Glass crunched under her shoes as she bolted toward the rubble of the lights. Picking up a shard, she looked at me. I was gravely nervous. I spoke my next words with the utmost uncertainty and discomfort.
“Chloe… what are you d–doing?”
Her teeth hit the piece of glass with a sharp crunching sound. Her gums began to bleed, staining her teeth, lips, and chin red. She began to pick up more pieces and eat them. I was thoroughly mortified. She stuffed multiple pieces in her mouth at the same time. Her digestive system was reluctant to this, but she managed to keep everything down. Mercury dusted the insides of the lights, which she ate as well. The only sight I could possibly parallel this to would be a feral beast consuming its dead prey. Blood ran down from her mouth down her shirt, but she didn’t seem to care. As she ate more, the remaining light grew louder and brighter.
At long last, she stopped. Walking over to the corner where she had sat previously, she uttered these last words with a sense of grisly glee:
“So clear… so bright.”
Blood ran out of her stomach as the glass crushed inside of her. Chloe Brighton, the last of these friends of mine, died. I felt abandoned and destroyed. By what? My petty fright. I allowed it to escalate to a point where it consumed me—where it consumed my friends. I felt the worst for Chloe. In her attempt to eliminate my fear and help me, she ended up dead. I will never forget the stark level of poignancy that plagued me during those dark hours. I could only sit on the floor, a former and defeated shell of a man who was afraid. Afraid of something so menial that it was worth no amount of human life. I could do nothing but weep. If this was supposed to be my light at the end of the tunnel, I would have rather stayed in the dark. The amount of death and wreckage that surrounded me made the entire picture a pathetic one.
At that moment, all of the light in the room ceased. I was thrust into pitch black. The difference was so startling, I screamed. The humming had also completely diminished into cold silence. The contrast was almost a relief. I didn’t see or hear anything that I normally would have in the dark. The darkness felt like a blanket, encapsulating and protecting me from the horrors of the dreaded light.
A subtle buzzing sound emitted from the opposite side of the room. I grew frightened. It sounded identical to the sound of the lights, except muffled. I turned on my phone’s flashlight to navigate my way around the room and discover the source of the ruckus. I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Sparks began to form. From where, I knew not. All I knew is that it was coming from a distinguishable source. My phone’s light went out. I unsteadily approached the sparks, shaking in fear of the possible source. A light came on. Broken, the fluorescent light managed to come on.
It was glowing from Chloe’s stomach.
Lines going down her tank top were distinct. The light grew half-red as a result of the blood running down and out of her stomach earlier. It gave the room an eerie pink glow. I saw the light slowly rise and come toward me. She wordlessly staggered towards me, her movements shifting the light’s direction. I desperately felt the walls for a possible method of escape. If I didn’t, this would be it.
I would die in that room. With those pestilential lights.
Refusing to decease in such a way, I fervently searched for a mean of deliverance from this hellish entrapment. She persistently followed me around the room as I did this. After what seemed like minutes, I felt something that contrasted the glossy surface of the walls. An exit.
I was going to escape from this place. Alive, but not well.
It was a door. It was white and glossy, much like the rest of the room. Not a flaw adorned it. I fumbled for the doorknob and finally opened it. A sheet of paper lay taped on the side of the door facing the room. I quickly grabbed it and turned around to shut out this twisted world. As I was about to close it, I noticed that Chloe was still coming towards me. She looked with her completely red eyes into mine. She didn’t look mad or intimidating in the slightest. She simply looked… helpless. Her eyes said it all. They told me that she only wanted help. That she wanted to escape.
Her eyes also told me something else. They informed me that this was a girl who was truly forgotten by sanity and well-being. That she was prepared to go into a world that would make life almost worse than the hell she was in. I couldn’t save her. I knew it. As much as it hurt me to do it, I had to leave her behind. I don’t believe the girl I faced leaving the room was my friend at that point. I looked wistfully into her eyes and bid her a morose goodbye.
“I’m so sorry… I love you.”
Burning sunlight filled my eyes as I closed the white door. I looked down at the sheet of perfectly edged notebook paper. It departed me like this:
Darkness has abandoned you. Have a bright future!
I looked at the paper in disgust. I shredded it to pieces, knowing that whatever had brought me into that room was no longer going to torment me. I turned around. The sunlight literally burned me. I collapsed to the ground out of fatigue. Taking a quick look around, I noticed that I was on a piece of farmland on the outskirts of town. I looked behind me. A large, red side of a barn stood in the place of the white door.
My phone turned on. I called a local cab and headed home. The driver looked at me and said:
“Where have you been? You look kind of roughed up.”
And I responded with the utmost sincerity:
“A place where no man should ever have to go.”
He did not speak to me for the duration of the ride. I paid my fare and walked into my apartment building. When I saw my bed, I literally cried in joy. I was ready to sleep for a year. My curtains were drawn closed. As I went to turn off the lights, I spotted a bloody insignia right above the switch.
I flicked the switch. Nothing happened. From that day on, I learned something that I now know to be fact.
I will never fear the dark again.
Written by Dubiousdugong