Lionel Upton Xion grew up like most children; as a child he had a healthy fear of the dark. The peculiar thing about Lionel was that his fear of the dark didn’t evaporate, or at least get relegated to the dark corners of his mind as he aged. Instead, it intensified. His neurosis multiplied and insidiously entered itself into his life. He wasn’t able to sleep with the lights off and whenever he found himself in darkness, he was reduced to a shrieking, sobbing mess. His parents hoped that this irrational fear would pass with time, but it only seemed to dig in deeper and grow roots in the young boy’s mind.
His parents became increasingly distraught over their son’s plight. They tried to cure him of his fears, but their attempts were met with resistance. They brought the boy to doctors who referred them to psychiatrists. Psychiatrists diagnosed the now teenage Lionel with nyctophobia. Pills were prescribed liberally to no effect and talk therapy uncovered no secret traumas. (One therapist was insistent that Lionel had been raped, but social services managed to dispel that theory.)
After that incident and subsequent interview with child protective services, Lionel’s parents decided against pursuing the issue any further. Thus Lionel’s fear of the dark was left alone by his parents. He did his best to avoid making his fears known and his parents did their best to not force situations. With time this problem became something that was in the background and easily overlooked. It was a closely guarded family secret.
Time passed and Lionel led a reasonably fulfilling life. He completed college when he was twenty-two years old and landed a well-paying job that he neither enjoyed nor hated. He found his mental state smothered in ennui which he combated with new things and new experiences. He blamed it on his growing up and becoming an adult, but he could never puzzle out the nervousness he felt. When he was twenty-five, his grandfather died and being an only child of an only child, he inherited his house. It was in that house, living by himself that he started to lose his mind.
Lionel’s madness started small like all psychosis. He had the feeling that someone was watching him whenever he was in his house. He chalked it up to living in a small house in a relatively elderly neighborhood. His octogenarian neighbors treated him as if he would suddenly start throwing raves and doing that drug that killed a lot of revelers. (They watched a lot of news programs dealing with this almost non-existent issue.) Lionel did not make a lot of friends among his neighbors and instead chose solitude. When he wasn’t working, he was alone. He ate by himself, he slept by himself, and even when people tried to intrude on this solitude, Lionel felt like he was alone.
A few weeks into living in his new residence, Lionel started to notice that he could never find anything in his house. He would buy and leave light bulbs on the counter after coming home and he would find them on top of the television. He brought home a pack of steaks to cook, only to find one rotting in a closet a week later. He began to research his family lineage for Alzheimer’s, but found no real influence of it in his immediate family. Lionel eventually decided the stress of his job was toying with his mind. He continued on with his life.
When the lights were next to become mischievous, Lionel began to feel tinges of panic rising up from the pit of his stomach. He brushed it away as childish fancies that he hadn’t been able to bury, but had been able to ignore. He would go to sleep in his bedroom with the lights on and would wake up in the morning with them turned off. He figured that there was some sort of timer function used as an energy saver, but found nothing in his investigations.
As part of Lionel’s ritual, he would turn on every light in his house as soon as he got home. He would start in the kitchen, moving on to the bedroom, then the bathroom. Every room he was going to use was lit up. Upon returning to the kitchen, the lights would be out. This didn’t happen everyday, but occurred with enough frequency to be noted by him. He explained it away as a slipping mind, but knew that something had begun to gnaw away inside him.
Lionel’s anxiousness finally reached a pinnacle when he was reading a magazine in his kitchen when the room was bathed in a fast flash of light and then darkness swallowed him whole. He went to the switch, thinking it needed to be flipped, but found it could not be resuscitated. The longer he spent in that darkened room, the greater his unease grew. His hairs stood on the back on his neck, his bowels tightened, and he felt his testicles retract. He threw himself into the light of the living room and took fifteen minutes to slow his breathing. Upon examination the next day, Lionel would find the wires severed to the switch.
Lionel’s anxiousness turned into panic. He had the wires repaired, but a week later they would be split again. Electricians were dumbfounded as to the cause. They thought rats were chewing up the wires (The house had its fair share of rats.), but the pattern was more similar to a cut and not gnawing. Then the lights in the living room would go out of operation. He had been able to deal with small moments in the darkness, but something about this darkness in particular was extremely upsetting. It was suffocating. He felt eyes on him when he was in the darkness, he imagined breath on the back of his neck.
It didn’t take long for Lionel’s panic to turn into pants-shitting terror. That terror fulminated while he was taking a day off of work. (He noticed that he had been doing that more and more, but could not help it with everything that had been happening.) He watched a rat scurrying across the floor. He was not good at cleaning house and wasn’t phased by creatures crawling around. It passed under the shadow of his chair. A large squeak drew his attention to it. The rat had made it five bounds beyond the shadow when it reached the limit of its body. Lionel stared at the corpse in horror. Two of its legs had been torn off and it was missing half an ear and one of its eyes.
Lionel spent the rest of the day avoiding shadows. Whatever was in there was the cause of Lionel’s terror and it was the presence in the darkness. It had been watching him for a long time. He knew that it had started by toying with him. It moved his things around to play with his mind and its pranks on the lights was it escalating the situation. Lionel dry-heaved when he realized that it had probably cut the lights while he was sleeping. It was alone with him while he slept. What did this thing want? He shuddered because a part of him knew exactly what it wanted, whatever creature did that to the rat had a new target. It wanted Lionel.
He sought to escape the house, but knew before he had even reached the door that it would be a fruitless struggle. The door was bathed in shadows. Lionel could feel it there. It was waiting for him. Waiting for him to stick out his hand and grope for the knob of the door so he could pull back a ragged and bloody stump. He knew that it wouldn’t kill him. It would maim him. Whatever was in the shadows wanted to take its time with him. It had been playing with him for weeks and now the game had reached its crescendo.
He wouldn’t be taken so easily. Something told him that if he could make it to sunrise that he would be able to escape. The creature hid in the shadows and if Lionel was right, when the sun rose it would be left with nowhere to hide except where it hid during the day. He prayed to God it couldn’t walk in the light. He just had to make it until five A.M. He had to avoid the dark for just a few hours. The sun was beginning to set and before that could happen, he would have to make sure he would be ready to deal with this threat.
Lionel ran all over the house, trying to collect everything he could use to make it through the night. He knew the lights would not hold out for long. They would eventually be cut. He grabbed a lighter, match boxes, candles, and batteries. He looked out the window as the sun slowly sank beneath the horizon. He had just one last thing he needed before he was ready to confront the darkness. The only problem was that it was in the closet in his bedroom.
The door swung open and the light that streamed into the closet was almost instantly consumed by the hungry darkness. There was no light bulb in this place. He had wanted to install a light in switch in every single room of this house when he moved in, but then the trouble had all started and he was side-tracked. The closet was about six feet long and the coincidence of that did not escape Lionel. The item he wanted sat on the shelf in the back corner. In the murky darkness, he could just make out the flashlight.
Lionel knew he would have to enter the darkness if he wanted to retrieve the flashlight. He stepped forward and felt the oppressive darkness begin to circle around him. He pulled out his lighter and struck it. The flame illuminated a radius of around a foot. He walked slowly in that space, afraid that whatever was in the shadows would lunge out at him any second. His eyes wandered all around him as he edged closer to the flashlight. He grabbed it off the shelf and when he turned around, he saw the thing in the darkness.
It was on the border between the darkness and light, but Lionel saw it clearly enough. Its entire body was jet black like it had been made of obsidian ink. Its eyes were a dark red that resembled a blood red ruby, dropped into clouded water. Its body was emaciated. The sight was quick, but burned itself onto his mind. Its sudden appearance caused his finger to slip off the button that was depressing the lighter and the closet was quickly swallowed in darkness as the flame died.
Lionel quickly moved his thumb to the striated wheel and spun it while depressing the button that aerosolized the lighter fluid. The spark caught and sent out a flame. He expected the closet to be empty when the light returned, but he was horribly mistaken. The light brought the image of the monster’s visage just inches away from his own.
The monster skittered back into the shadows with a noise that sounded in between the cry of a child and the shriek of rusty hinges. Its mouth was horrifying in itself. It looked like it had been fused shut, but it had chewed through its own sealed lips to form a new mouth. It was a ragged, wet hole that exposed two rows of horrendously sharp teeth. Its breath reeked of the sickly sweet smell of decay. He silently prayed to a god he never truly believed in (But would start if he made it through the night alive.) that the light would ward off the monster. Lionel threw himself out of the closet into the light and threw up by his bed. That thing had been by his bedside while he slept.
Lionel wiped his mouth and became away of the sound of wood being sawed. He realized what was happening a second too late as the wires that were supplying light to his room were severed by that thing’s serrated claws. The room sank into darkness and the creature slid out into the blackness to join him in the room. He struck the lighter and made his way towards the door with everything he could think of to create light. He opened the door to the hallway and looked back into the darkness one last time just as the pitch black hand lunged out of the darkness and batted at his hand.
Lionel shrieked as the lighter flew out of his hands and into a corner of his bedroom. The door slammed shut and left him in the hallway and sealed the light in the bedroom with the creature. Lionel heard a noisy crunching that he recognized as the monster’s teeth chewing into the plastic and spraying the bitter lighter fluid into its mouth. The lighter was gone, but he still had matches to light up the night. The lighter was destroyed and he now realized that the sun had completely sunk beneath the horizon. He would soon be completely surrounded in the darkness that the creature made its home.
The kitchen was his best bet for surviving the night. The light bulb in the living room had been flickering and Lionel needed that light for just a few minutes while he set up his defenses. Without it, he imagined himself being rent apart by obsidian-esque claws. He threw himself into the corner by the refrigerator. He swung open the door and pressed his back against it. The light bathed him while he set down candles and began to light them. He heard the door upstairs swing open and knew that the shadow was coming for him.
Lionel heard the sound of something coming down the stairs. It paused in the living room and heard the sound of plaster being torn and a furious scratching in the wall. It was attacking the wires. It had been in the walls, severing the wires, but now it was able to forgo subtlety. The lights shorted out in the living room. The creature was a room away and he hadn’t even lit any of the candles! He had to hurry or he would meet a horrible fate.
The man shakily struck a match and lit two of the three candles with the single stick of phosphorus. The match burned down and a brief flash of pain licked through his fingers before lighting the third and final candle using the other candle. The room was bathed in darkness with only four sources of light to protect Lionel from an extremely gruesome end. The three candles and the light of the fridge kept the monster at bay. He looked up and could see the creature watching him from the shadows.
He almost wasn’t able to make it out were it not for the eyes. The dark red rubies poked out from the shadows. The eyes were so intently watching him and a shiver shook through his body when he realized that those were the very eyes he felt on him when he was in the shadows. They had been on him ever since he came to this house and he was only just now becoming acquainted with their owner. The longer those eyes watched him, the more unhinged he became. His fear quickly turned into anger. Fear is a paralytic and anger is a motivator. It motivated Lionel’s next decision.
Lionel decided to needle the beast the way it had been taunting him. He set the head of the phosphorous tip on the strike band of the match and with his free hand, he flicked the match. The match spun through the air and landed lit at the feet of the shadow creature. The creature skittered away with a surprising speed that he wished he hadn’t seen. Lionel growled, "How does it feel asshole?! Who’s spooking who now?” The creature had scurried behind the dividing wall between the living room and kitchen.
Not seeing the creature’s self-made bloody maw was worse than seeing it. Images of what it could be doing in the darkness out of his sight were terrifying. It was probably behind the adjoining wall to the fridge and it deeply unsettled Lionel to think that it was only feet away from him. What flustered him more was the sound emanating through the wall. A low scratching sound could be heard like iron nails scratching into plaster. It was very slow and deliberate. The sound continued for a few minutes before Lionel was able to realize what was happening. It was tunneling through the wall!
Lionel almost threw himself into the darkness to escape being near the fridge, but managed to control himself. It was certain death to go into the oppressive darkness that now consumed his house. It was trying to surprise him. Two could play at that game! He stuffed the matches and flashlight in his pocket. He gathered the three candles in his hand and winced at the hot wax dripping down them onto his knuckles. He peeked in between the crevice just in time to see a blackened hand reach through the newly made hole in the wall and unplug the fridge. Lionel’s hiding place vanished in the darkness.
The thing lopped around the corner; intending to catch its prey unexpected, but instead moved right into the light radius of Lionel’s candles. It shrieked inhumanely and skittered off into the darkness by the stairs near the front door. It enveloped itself in the shadows and looked out at him from its safety. He felt an insane drive within himself to push for the door and try to escape while the creature was in retreat by the stairs. He started forward, but something caught his eye in the alcove by the dividing wall between the kitchen and the living room, a set of blood red ruby eyes.
The creature was lying in wait just feet away, hidden by the dividing wall, looking to slip in behind him and catch him unaware. He whirled on it and shoved the candles in its face. The monster shielded its eyes from the light and sank against the wall. Lionel triumphantly pushed forward and was horrified at the response. The creature pushed itself back into the shadows and faded into them. It was able to become one with the darkness. There was no way he would be able to escape that!
Lionel retreated into the kitchen and found the thing waiting for him. It was perched on the counter. It had traveled behind him with such speed that Lionel almost completely lost hope in that instant. It watched him from the counter, perched like a gargoyle on top of an ancient cathedral. He drove the monster off the counter only to watch it meld back into the shadows. He sunk against the cooking unit which was an oven and a stove top combined. He set the candles around him and took a second to calm himself. His heart jack-hammered in his chest and knew that if he survived this night, he had shaved a few years off of it with the trauma he had undergone.
Lionel rested his head against the oven door and tried to calm himself. He repeated the mantra to himself over and over. He would either have a complete mental breakdown or a heart attack if he didn’t do something. He smiled sardonically when he realized that maybe a relatively quick heart attack would spare him the horrors he would endure if the thing got to him. “I am going to survive, I am going to survive, I am going to survive.” He looped the words and repeated them ad nauseum like they would ward off the evil.
The mantra helped in slowing his heart down which had threatened to burst in his chest. His breathing slowed down and resumed its normal rate. He hadn’t realized how much sound he was making with his panicked breaths and repeated mantra until they stopped. As soon as the cacophony of his body had ceased was when he became aware of something that spiked his heart rate back up, a faint tapping, coming from inside the oven he was resting his head against.
Lionel turned his head and looked into the eyes of the creature. It was inside the goddamned oven! It had crammed its body inside it like a fucking jack-in-the-box and it looked out at him with its hungry, always exposed mouth that looked either like it was smiling or screaming. His bladder released itself and he wet himself. A small portion of himself recalled he hadn’t pissed myself since he was five years old. He slapped at the oven knob and turned it on while hysterically shrieking. The creature faded away from the inside of the oven and materialized off in the shadows, away from Lionel’s eyes.
It was then that Lionel knew the full extent of its powers and despair beset him. It could become one with the shadows and it could teleport wherever there was darkness. It was shadows. He was surrounded by the shadows. If he had a gun, he would have put it in his mouth. It didn’t even cross his mind to attempt to shoot at the creature, he was that forlorn. He could run anywhere he liked, but the creature would be waiting for him at the end of his journey with its torn open jaws waiting for him. Lionel wept then and knew that the tears would be spilling out onto his pants that were already urine stained.
Lionel didn’t know how long he wept or when he started to drift off. The last thing he could recall before drifting off was looking up at the clock and seeing that it was one o’clock. He dreamt of darkness and the sound of an old man endlessly muttering prayers that would do him no good. What woke him up was something he had never experienced before. He felt something moving slowly through his hair. It started at the forehead and moved to the back of his head. It took him a second to place the sensation. The creature was stroking his head like a parent soothing a sleeping child.
Lionel looked up into the creature’s darkened eyes and snarling maw hanging from the ceiling and screamed. He lowered himself to the kitchen floor just as its hand tightened around a lock of hair and tried to pull him up into the darkness. He drove his feet into the drawers and locked his hands on the oven handle. The monster jerked hard upward and he screamed in a sharp pain as the creature parted a hank of hair away from his head. The creature pulled the hair into its mouth and faded away into the darkness of the ceiling.
Lionel’s eyes shot around the room, frantically scanning for the fiend. It was now four o’clock. The sun was only a few hours away, but he knew that he would never make it. He wasn’t sure he would even last another minute. The candles had almost completely melted away which allowed the shadow to descend upon him. He clicked on the flashlight and waved it around the room. He continued scanning until he got the creature in his sights.
He kept the monster in the focus of the flashlight. It gave a shriek and tried to flee the light, but Lionel tracked it. Its cries doubled as it fled the room. A thought dawned on him as he watched it take flight with a perverse glee. Was it as scared of the light as he was of the darkness? Was this its attempt to eliminate a monster that sought to bathe its world in light? "Fuck it either way," he thought. Lionel shot across the room, praying he wouldn’t be dragged into the darkness and that it hadn’t got to it already. His hand reached the kitchen light switch and he flicked it on.
A bright flash encompassed the room and Lionel whirled around just in time to see the monster’s pained and shocked expression. It faded away into darkness and moved to sever the wires for the room. He only had a few seconds and he had to enact his plan before the dark swallowed him. Lionel stuck his head in the oven and blew out the pilot light and turned the gas up to full. He lit the fire on the stove eye just as the room sank into blackness.
Lionel swung his flashlight wildly around the kitchen as he sprinted for safety. He heard the guttural growl of the fiend as it made its way towards him. He came to the fridge and tore the shelves out. He threw himself inside just as a hand raked across his back and tore four rivulets into him. He screamed out as pain blossomed in his back. He spun the flashlight one last time and drove the emaciated creature back. He slammed the fridge door shut and waited for the wrath of the gods to descend upon them in a fiery explosion.
He sat huddled and cramped in that refrigerator for what felt like a century while the thing scratched and pulled at the door that he desperately tried to keep shut. Finally a deafening explosion rocked the fridge and almost tipped it over. An unearthly shriek pierced the aftershock. Lionel waited half an hour before mustering up the courage to step outside into the wreckage that was once his kitchen, goaded by the increasing heat inside the cramped box.
The kitchen looked exactly like a bomb had gone off in it. The wall joining with the oven was still burning and the curtains were smoldering. The room had transformed into a furnace, but he didn’t see any signs that the creature had survived the blast. The kitchen was so ravaged that he could barely tell what was anything. It was all charred black and smoking. The fire alarm was going off and he could hear the sound of sirens off in the distance. He would have a lot of explaining to do to the fire department.
Lionel looked out the window. His clock was currently melting on the wall like a Salvador Dali painting. He knew that it was morning. He could see the outlines of the sun rising out from behind the mountains. He had survived. Lionel felt his body wracked as laughter rolled through him like a wave. Tears welled up in his eyes as he battled the giddiness that swallowed him whole. He stopped laughing when he realized that he wasn’t the only one who was laughing.
Lionel felt something completely alien drag itself across the back of his teeth. He knew it was a tongue and he knew in that moment that this is what it wanted. It wanted all its options limited so it could take its only refuge left. A small part of Lionel knew that there had always been a darkness inside himself. He didn’t have time to reflect on that as a popping sound filled the entirety of his body. That popping sound was his lungs tearing apart and his head splitting open as the darkness that was inside Lionel consumed him from the inside-out.
Written by EmpyrealInvective