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I hate the dark.
I can't help myself, I just hate it. I can't stand to be in it, around it or even anywhere near it. It panics me, it terrifies me. I sweat, I shake, I scream. I'm a grown man, I have my own apartment, my own job, my own car, but being in the dark still makes me violently frightened.
Things had been this way my entire life. Ever since infancy. Few would argue that it's abnormal for a child to be afraid of the dark, certainly. But the intense and dramatic reactions I'd have to being in a lightless room were anything but normal. I was petrified of darkness before I learned to read, walk or even speak. Some of the earliest memories of my life are of me as a baby, laying in my crib, crying frantically and screaming my lungs out, kicking at the bars of my bed. At that age I was barely sapient. I didn't have the words or the cognitive ability to describe it at the time, but I felt like I wasn't alone. I felt like someone was there, watching me. Invading my personal space.
My parents would rush in, try and figure out what was wrong. It didn't take them long to figure out what was causing my tantrums. They bought me a nightlight to try and placate me, and for a few years it worked. There would be blackouts and power failures and I would go berserk, but they were always quick to rush in with a candle.
As I got older, my fear didn't begin to fade away. It only grew worse and worse. It's common for an infant to cry and scream when they're left alone in the dark, but a nine year old? My parents tried their best to "fix" me. They tried coddling me, they tried tough love. Nothing worked. I would only scream louder. Become even more belligerent. I'd shout and I'd kick and I'd shake and eventually they just couldn't take it anymore. By the time I was eleven, I had two flashlights by my bed, a candle on my desk and two lamps hooked up to one of those clapping devices so I could light up the whole room without getting out of my bed.
By the time I was twelve, my parents realized the problem wasn't going away on its own. Therapy didn't help me very much. I was introduced to a long line of psychologists and experts who ultimately couldn't help me. I was never given a definitive diagnosis, though the different therapists I saw suspected I suffered from any number of illnesses ranging from schizophrenia to post-traumatic stress.
The older I became, the more vivid and real my fears felt. As early as I was five, my mind would play tricks on me. In the dark, I would think I saw some kind of strange pair of glowing red lights. Almost like eyes. Piercing through me, starring in no particular direction. They weren't wide and round, they were squinted and glaring. When I saw them, I could feel them on me. It was a burning, painful sensation. I felt like I was feeling hate itself. I would blink, and they would fade away.
Eventually, I began to imagine that these eyes were a part of a great figure. Some kind of shapeless, formless creature. One that did not dwell within the darkness, but was a living part of it. Like some kind of mold or growth, it festered inside of it. Never breathing, never feeding, but alive.
Every culture and society has their own myths and urban legends. And nearly all of them have some form of Boogeyman. Some kind of horrible, demonic monster that hides under beds and in closets and eats bad children who don't listen to their parents. In our neighborhood, we had something called "The Shadow Man."
Kids, teenagers and even some adults would all talk about him, spread his legend. The story and description changes from person to person, but a few key elements always stayed the same. The Shadow Man was a tall figure with no discernible features. The shape of his head and body made it seem like he was wearing a hat and coat, similar to what a child's generic idea of a "stranger" might be. In some versions of the story, he would have tendrils growing out of his back, or tendrils for arms. In other versions, he would have giant hands with long, sharp, claw-like fingers.
People said they've seen him, before they go to sleep, in their dreams, or even just walking around at night. He might be standing over them as they're lying in bed, or walking around in the hallways of their house and touching their things. If you tried too hard to focus on him, he'd disappear. But if you couldn't concentrate or stay awake long enough, he would begin to come closer.
Nobody ever said exactly what he does when he gets to you.
Whenever I heard a new story about the Shadow Man, I would feel like I'd heard it before, even if it was brand new. It was almost like a repressed memory. It felt subconscious and surreal. Every new thing I learned, every new word I'd hear, it all felt like it was already a part of me.
Because of these stories, my supposed hallucinations became much more lucid and clear. I saw the red eyes on that once shapeless figure. He now looked vaguely human, but it wasn't right. His features were too long, too oddly molded, too otherworldly. It wasn't natural.
Even now, at the age of twenty-nine, my situation hasn't improved. Before I could function normally during the day, but now any form of darkness, no matter how small and innocuous, would fill me with anxiety. Whenever I looked at shadows, I saw movement. I see small figures moving around and shaking. I saw pulsating and shifting. It was as if the shadows themselves were alive. Like they were organs, part of some greater, sapient creature.
Although I had difficulty dealing with my own reality, my dreams were far, far worse. I had always had nightmares as a child, but as my mind grew and my imagination became more lucid and vivid, my nightmares were more graphic and terrible.
My dreams are quite difficult to describe. Things happen not as events and situations, but as abstract images and movement. Information is ambiguous and unclear, like an independent art film almost. I was apart of a shapeless, infinite mass of total darkness. I was like the Shadow Man, totally featureless and purely black. The darkness that surrounded felt like a living organism. Not like light or shadow, but like entrails and muscles pulsing inside the carcass of some greater being whose existence could neither be explained nor understood.
It made sense to me when I thought about it. Darkness is not a condition of lighting, it is the natural state of the universe. Light is temporary and fades away. Light bulbs burn out, fire fades away, the sun sets and eventually will fade away itself. But darkness is permanent. Darkness never fades, never runs away, never smears or burns. It cloaks our universe, it IS our universe.
I barely slept at all anymore. I would lay awake at night for hours on end, swearing I've seen movement and shapes in the shadows. I had seen the red eyes glaring at me for fractions of a second before they disappeared. And for brief periods, I believed I saw the Shadow Man himself, walking around and slipping through the cracks and seams of my wall before disappearing entirely.
When I would sleep, I'd wake up after only four or five hours and feel terrible the rest of the day. I'd wake up feeling exhausted and disoriented and stay that way for the rest of the night. My employer was sympathetic to my issues, but his patience was running out. If I couldn't do my job properly, he'd have to fire me eventually. There was just no question.
My therapist recommended something called "Lucid Dreaming" to me. It was simple. By practicing a few different therapeutic methods, I could eventually take control of my dreams and stop my night terrors completely. The idea of finally sleeping comfortably at night was too tempting (not to mention necessary) to resist.
The process was absolute hell. To begin lucid dreaming, you need to lie perfectly still for forty minutes straight and allow certain functions of your mind to shut down. The entire time, your body sabotages you. You get random muscle spasms, you become uncomfortable in your position and have to move around, you itch in strange places. You have to ignore all of this, resist the temptation to move even a little bit, all for the *possible* chance you may lucid dream.
This combined with my severe anxiety and panic attacks, not to mention my constant hallucinations, was downright impossible to achieve. Nights were absolutely painful to get through on their own, and my new therapy had only made them worse. Every time I laid down, my world became a battlefield.
Finally, I decided that if I couldn't start lucid dreaming on my own, I'd use drugs to do it. This was doubtlessly the worst decision of my life. I had abused many different kinds of prescription medications and narcotics. They had any number of strange and confusing effects on me. Sometimes I would pass out, sometimes I'd be too wired to stay still, sometimes I would go into a fit of psychotic rage and start breaking things.
All this as my hallucinations became worse and worse by the day. The movement I once saw in the darkness had begun to form shapes and beings. Rat-like creatures and insects that weren't really there, claws and tendrils dancing around, faces and organs appearing in my walls.
But the worst, of course, was the Shadow Man. I began to see him more and more, and my visions of him became bold and intelligible. Although his appearance was humanoid, he clearly wasn't human. He was a monster. Some kind of demon. A living silhouette.
I had believed things would get better after I found the right combination of drugs. I wasn't angry, I wasn't wired, I didn't pass out unconscious. I was sober, aware. The muscle spasms and random urges that had kept me awake were gone now. I could finally stay still.
But now I couldn't move.
It was something called "Sleep Paralysis". It was something I once feared, but as I spent more and more miserable days in a sleepless state of confusion, I forgot all about it until it happened to me. The functions of my mind that allowed my muscles and limbs to move was deactivated now. My entire body was completely frozen.
I always left the television on with the sound muted to light up my room, but right at that worst moment, the power went out. The room was shrouded in total blackness.
The terrifying visions that had plagued me since early childhood were now worse than ever before. A horrible crescendo of my worst fears. Everything around me was alive and moving. Horrible creatures that only vaguely resembled vermin and insects fluttered and crawled all around. Pulsating organs and gooey viscera pulsed and shifted around me, nightmarish tendrils and limbs connected to nothing at all waved back and forth and vibrated senselessly.
Large shapes formed all over the walls that appeared to be some kind of organic boils or growths, spitting out living things that walked on long legs not unlike spiders or beetles, with bodies that looked to be stitched together from raw meat and exoskeleton pieces. The room itself lost all shape, sense or reason. It was now almost a vortex, spanning infinitely with no borders or barriers of any kind.
Strange spirals that resembled vortexes would appear briefly, spinning needlessly and warping and shifting anything that came near them into even more unnatural and disgusting shapes and forms like nothing I had ever seen before. My surroundings appeared to be almost rotting, decaying away and becoming more and more amorphous and incoherent.
In the molten center of the empty nothingness that engulfed me were the glowing red eyes that had haunted me as long as I had existed. Slowly the shape of the Shadow Man formed into a warped humanoid figure that towered over me. His body shifted and motioned in inhuman and unnatural ways.
He appeared to me as I knew him; a tall, featureless man in a trenchcoat and hat. His hands were stretched out into a pair of long, hideous claws with abhorrent fingers that appeared almost like twigs or talons. Four long, flowing tendrils swayed carelessly out of his back.
He slowly began to approach me. Although I was no longer sure if I even had a psychical form anymore or if I had become one with the surrounding greater mass of organic and pulsating gloom that formed my world now, The Shadow Man knew what parts of me had not yet been taken by the endless void that was consuming me.
I wanted to scream, I wanted to struggle, I wanted to jump up and run. But I couldn't move. There was nothing left of me now. The Shadow Man pierced his long tendrils into the seamless vacuums that were once my limbs to straighten my formless anatomy into a still husk.
He climbed up on my chest, his garish crimson eyes burning my indefinite shell as he curled his disgusting long fingers around what could only be what my neck had become. They wrapped around me not like hands, but more akin to twine or ribbons.
As if a syringe had been dug into my veins, I felt the life being drained from the broken and disheveled blob I had become, what little physical parts remained of my body began to shrivel and dissolve. I felt my very being, my very existence, was slowly being eroded. I felt as though I was becoming part of the darkness itself.
Right at that moment, the door to my apartment swung open. The power had returned to the building, and the light from the hallway filled the room. Everything had vanished in the blink of an eye. The shapeless mass, hideous creatures and terrible figure that I was so sure had become my entire universe had vanished completely. My apartment, now illuminated, returned to its original state of existence. My body had returned to its normal form, all of my limbs intact, as if nothing had happened.
My landlord stood in the doorway, calling my name. When he saw me, he was quite shocked. My skin was pale and white, my eyes were bloodshot and wide open, sweat was pouring down my face. I looked like a zombie or a drug addict. He shook me, he asked me if I was alright. I could barely move, but I could speak. I made only one plea to him:
"Don't let the lights go out."
Written by DoctorBleed