Cracks in the Dark
The longer we are here, the more our memory slips further into darkness, into cold and wet and damp. Into roots and earthworms. Our memory of warmth and light, the touch of another human's fingertips on our skin, we begin to wonder if they ever were. They fade like a flashlight into the ocean. These flickers of ancient joy mock our very existence in this place, this dark, dark place. This endless cavern of horror. We shuffle around night after night, we look for the cracks and listen, flick our tongues, taste the air for the flavor we increasingly hunger for. It is that flavor, that delicious flavor, that gives us our strength.
Sitting up in bed against a pile of pillows, I sip earthy herbal tea from a chipped mug. It’s the only thing that soothes the tense muscles in my chest. A weathered book sits in my lap, musty and brittle. The small lamp on my bed stand throws light onto the pages of the book. Its tiny bulb struggles to illuminate the rest of the room. Dark shadows gash the sharp corners of the floor and ceiling and blanket my open, doorless closet. My fingers flip through the first ten pages of the book, when suddenly I feel as though I am being watched. This paranoid affliction has plagued me since childhood. My eyes flutter over the words on the pages, but they absorb nothing. They do not see. Consumed by the dark corners of the room and the blackness of my closet, fear rises up in my belly, increasing my pulse, shortening my breath, seeping, stinking, out of my pores.
We are shuffling along as always. Sniffing the air, touching our hands to the cold stone, scraping our broken nails. Looking for new cracks, lingering around old ones. We are constantly moving. We never sleep. As we approach one of our favorite spots, we catch a waft of that delicious scent. It makes our skin prickle and our teeth itch. Our bodies swell with it. As we slowly pass the crack in the darkness, our hand reaches out, but we are not strong enough yet. We know that. We will be back.
My wide, unblinking eyes are glued to the closet. My body glistens with sweat, though I shiver uncontrollably. It feels as if I have been thrown in a lake of ice. For a split second, I saw long fingers flash from the darkest point in my closet, and then they were gone. I would swear the room has fallen darker. Not taking my eyes off the closet, I slowly reach for my mug and take a small sip. The tea has grown cool and bitter. I convince myself it was just my imagination. What else could it be? I close the book and throw the covers over myself, leaving the lamp on. Despite the fear, my constant companion, sleep closes in quickly.
The constant motion wears us down, drives us mad. We gnash our teeth and our useless eyes roll around in their sockets. We crave rest as much as we crave fear, but we are not allowed any. We try to make noise, to moan, to cry, but no sound escapes our lips. We are voiceless, always.
Today I visited the doctor for a routine checkup. He said I was healthy as a horse, but paused, looking at the bags under my eyes before asking if I'm sleeping alright. Usually I don't share my problems with other people, but before I could stop myself I was babbling on about my fears, how intense they can get, how it feels like I'm going crazy sometimes, how I know it's not rational but I cannot bury it. It poured out of me, almost frantic, impulsive like a wretching. He just smiled and listened and when I stopped he told me that he'd love to help, that fears and anxieties are common, and that he had an appointment in a few minutes, but would like for me to come back and discuss ways to manage my fear. It is like a weight has been lifted off my chest, knowing that I've made a move in the right direction. The fear hasn't gone away, but now I've got something I haven't had in as long as I can remember—hope. Tonight as I lay in bed sipping my warm milk, it is that hope that I cling to as my eyes fall upon the closet and a pang of fear flashes in my mind.
We are slipping, falling, striking our limbs on hard rock, cracking our bones. We get on our hands and knees and crawl, the dirt and rock jagged against our skin. We would cry out if we could. As we approach our favorite crack in the darkness and sniff the air, we catch the familiar scent, but only barely. And we also smell something else, something repugnant. We feel what little strength we have leaking out and we crawl ever more slowly, ever more slowly, but we continue. On and on into the darkness, seeking, sniffing.
I haven't felt this rested in a long time. My appointment is in a few days, and just the thought of the doctor's smiling face, assuring me that my fear is common, that he can help, keeps me going. I'm walking taller, saying hello to people I pass on the street, smiling at strangers. Tonight after I brush my teeth I look in the mirror, look into my eyes, and search. I'm searching for the person that might be in there. The person without fear, the person that pushes through their struggle and is stronger for it. My reflection stares back at me, and I begin to realize that my pupils are black, black as night, like tiny windows into shadow. I want to look away but feel myself falling, falling into the reflection as I swear I can see dark hands, starting as small as a pinpoint, reaching toward me from the black. I feel a scream bubble up in my throat as I slam my eyes shut and stumble out of the bathroom.
We found a new crack today, a crack that was rich with the scent of our power. We were off our raw, scabbed, and bleeding knees and on our feet, almost instantly, feeling strong, sharp. We had to keep moving, as always, but it was enough. Our pace is quick, our hands virile as our fingertips drag along the wet rock. We sniff the air with renewed vigor. We know where we are going. We are not looking for new cracks. We are paying a visit to an old one. We can almost hear it calling. We can feel its pull, like strings of fishing wire tied to our bones. We don't know what will happen, but we know that something will.
The mattress groans as I sit down on the edge of the bed. Every light in the house is on. Wind whips tree branches against my window. Lightning flickers, illuminating the land outside as if it were noon for the briefest instant. All the lights in the house flicker with it. My heart skips a beat. The fear is making my chest squeeze tight and I am wheezing. The low rumble of thunder follows. The storm is getting closer. I walk around my room with a flashlight, pointing the beam at the corners, under my bed, and finally, into the closet. My stomach drops as I recall the dark fingers I saw. The dusty beam reveals little more than hanging shirts and pants. My fear suddenly feels silly, and I laugh out loud at myself, the sound muffling eerily against the walls that are being ravaged by the wind and rain outside. Suddenly, every light in the house switches off, and I jump, startled, my flashlight flying out of my hand and clattering out of my room and down the wooden stairs. Frozen in place, I stand in pitch dark, the sound of rain drowned out by the beating of my heart pounding in my ears. I can feel my pupils dilate, my mouth go dry, the hair on my arms stand on end. A ball of fear grows in my stomach, and I can feel eyes upon me. Filled with dread, adrenaline speeding up my heart, I slowly turn towards towards the closet, just in time to see a figure, darker than the darkness, dragging itself towards me.
The scent is heavy in the air, so thick we stick out our tongues and lap it up like dogs at a water bowl. Where there was a crack there is a rift. We have found a way.
Fear paralyzes every muscle in my body. Time has nearly come to a stop. My senses sharpen. I can hear the air whistle through my lungs, the blood course through my veins, the scrape of the dark shape in front of me. I can feel the electricity in the air, my clothes against my skin, and the dark shape's hot, putrid breath on my face. I can smell the rain, my own fear, and something foul and earthy. I taste bile. Lightning flashes in time for me to see a clawed hand made of shadow reaching towards me. Darkness falls deeper than ever. Suddenly I am on my back, being dragged by my feet. The world closes in and squeezes my mind into a tiny point, finally popping into black.
We shuffle along, together, scraping our fingernails on the jagged rock. We sniff the air, searching for cracks. The longer we are here, the more our memory slips further into the darkness, into the cold and wet and damp. Into roots and earthworms.