I should say this, before I continue with my tale- I have never had many friends. I have never been one to attract the attention of others, quite the opposite in fact, I seem to repel them. Jane was my closest friend, and even that relationship was cursed, because I wanted more than she wanted from me. In the end it led me to distance myself from her, ultimately I distanced myself from everyone I knew, including my family.
I do not say this for sympathy, but merely to provide context. By the time I was eighteen I had moved out of my parents’ house and was living in an apartment at the centre of town. I was alone, and as a result, I was lonely.
I rarely went out, save for food shopping, I rarely saw anyone either. It was a pitiful existence, one I'm glad to have escaped from.
The only real connection I had with the outside world was my blog. After the events of Galloway Hall I had become more interested in the supernatural, not so much in the sense of mystery, but disproving the facade of phantoms and other nonsense. I would post my theories online for others to gawk at and criticise or agree with depending on their own viewpoint.
With every believer commenting I grew more cynical and as a consequence only became a more assertive sceptic.
Looking back at my eighteen year old self is not something I enjoy, the person I was becoming was not a good character, not in any sense. I was in a rut that only seems natural at that age. It was a time when I had no idea what I was to do with my life, there was no obvious direction, not was there anyone I could turn to.
My only escape from that rut was the supernatural, disproving ridiculous theories was how I channelled my frustration, but it was only a temporary measure.
It is worth saying that while the apartment I resided in was more than adequate, spacious and generously furnished, the location was dismal. My view from the window was a dirty, squalid back alley where groups of teenagers, not much younger than myself at the time, would loiter and smoke illegal substances. I could also see into the apartments of others just beyond the alley. None of the tenants were particularly interesting. Still, the view was far better than peering into a darkened forest.
It was on a dark winter night that I first noticed something unusual going on with the tenants of the other apartments.
The lights of the apartment on the far right did not come on. Nothing unusual about that, maybe they were staying with family, with friends? Then I noticed the apartment directly beneath it was also absent of any lighting. The same could be said for the apartment below that and the one below that- the apartment on the ground floor. That was odd, but nothing to cause alarm, I just noted it. I had become extremely observant of any behaviour that was out of the ordinary over the years, coupling that with paranoia of growing intensity, and I was nearly a nervous wreck.
Still, I was able to dismiss this abnormality relatively easily as a simple anomaly.
The next night was a different story.
The four apartments remained in darkness, but now, the four apartments neighbouring them were also devoid of light. I tried my best to look into the darkened windows, but they were too far for me to see clearly inside.
I had to dismiss it as nothing, I had to make myself belief that nothing was wrong, that there was nothing out of the ordinary, that I was simply being paranoid and was deluding myself as I had done so many times before. I reminded myself of how active my imagination was, how I had more than once made myself belief things were there that were not. This was another one of those times, nothing was wrong. I kept telling myself over and over.
Nothing is wrong.
I sat down, watched some TV, updated my blog, everything was normal. Sleep, however, didn’t come easy that night.
The next day slipped away far too fast. I could feel night approaching, its black tendrils encroaching upon my sanctuary. I needed an excuse to get out; but I had none. I didn’t have any friends to go out with, I could have visited my family, but such an unexpected visit would not be easy to explain. So I was forced to sit in my abode and wait for night to come knocking. Inevitably; it did.
I wasn’t going to look out of the window. That’s what I told myself. Of course, it was nonsense, just a front, although who it was for I have no idea. I was going to look out of the window eventually; it was just a case of how long I would delay before it happened. I lasted until midnight, which was when my curiosity got the better of me. I crept to the window, as if I could surprise the scene, and therefore reveal its falsehoods. What I saw alarmed me.
Not only were the eight flats from before in darkness, but the next eight across were also completely black. Now the entire side of the apartment building, visible from my window, was experiencing a blackout. I could see into the nearest window.
As I peered into the darkness, an unwelcome feeling crept up on me, a feeling I was being watched. I stared into the window and began to imagine it looking back at me, the emptiness simply watching me; reflecting me. My hands began to tremble, my knees grew weak. Something was definitely staring at me from across the alleyway. In one of those apartments, there was someone, something, peering through the darkness, specifically at me. I began to breathe deeply, and in doing so, became uncomfortable aware of my breathing. It was the only thing I could hear aside from my thumping heart as the blackness began to fill me up slowly. There was nothing over there, and nothing was staring back at me with a malevolent grin upon its face.
I don’t know how long I was stood there. It must have been at least an hour, time become so meaningless in times of fear. In the end I did see something. Something I didn’t want to see.
A single, pale hand pressed against the glass of the window I was staring into. I didn’t wait to see what would follow. I abandoned the window, shutting the blinds and returning to my bedroom where I would lie awake until the next morning.
I don’t recall getting out of bed the next day. I did at some point, but I do not remember at what time. I only remember the fear I felt of going outside. Ironic, I was more afraid of going outside, to what could only be the road to safety and comfort, than I was of remaining inside and facing whatever I knew was coming for me. I found out an old torch and filled it with new batteries, light was the only way to combat darkness after all.
I found myself glaring out of the window once again that night, anticipating the worst. No lights flicked on across the alley as I so hoped they would; there was no glimmer of glorious reality to save me from the nightmare that was lurking in my mind. I had every source of light in the apartment switched on, no expense spared. I wasn’t going to let this thing devour me.
It was almost midnight, and the darkness was more imposing than ever. There was no life in the alley, no teenagers getting high, or some drunken idiot urinating in the corner- nothing. The silence reminded me of my time in Galloway Hall, that deep, powerful and impenetrable quiet. The apartment across from me was vacant, no signs of any hands pressing against the window, just emptiness.
Then I felt it.
Something behind me. I could feel its breath on my neck, I could feel its claws closing in around my throat, I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t hear it, but it was there, and it was going to swallow me whole. All I could do was continue to gaze into the darkness across from me, and know that whatever this creature was, it was a product of that same darkness. The hairs on my neck stood on end, my flesh tingling with the anticipation of my demise. I was going to be sick, the bile was rising in my throat and the foul breath of blackness was penetrating my nostrils as it breezed down my spine. The moment was almost upon me. It was going to happen now. This was it.
That was when all the lights went out.
My apartment was swallowed by darkness, everything failing simultaneously. The lights died.
It was here- whatever darkness had claimed the residents over there- it had come for me. I knew, somehow, that I had brought this upon myself, that this was my fault. I had exiled myself- I had marooned myself on my own island with no others and waited for the tide to claim me. It was all me, no-one else, I had done this.
I had to undo this.
In that moment, when I was certain the darkness would claim me, I forced myself to turn around and stare into the face of my own failure. I did; and there was nothing there. My eyes were greeted with emptiness, no creature, no phantom, no monster. The place was in darkness, but there was nothing in the darkness. Or was there? I couldn’t be sure. I turned the torch on and allowed the beam to cut through everything.
I made my way to the front door, only to discover it lay open. I was wrong. There was something in there with me.
The place that was my sanctuary from the world had been disturbed, and never again would it be a safe haven. I knew now that something lay in wait for me in the darkness. I let the torch light the way, first the bedroom, which was empty, although I was convinced there was something under my bed. I was wrong. Then I checked the closet, again, I was wrong. The kitchen was empty, so was the study. The bathroom was the only room that remained unchecked.
I slid the door open and peered inside. The usual scene appeared before me. Nothing out of the ordinary- but my face. I looked into the mirror. Was that me? It scared me more than the darkness, more than all of the things I had ever encountered. I looked at myself, and I hated what I saw. I was wearing away. I was fading away. My eyes were bloodshot, my skin was pale and covered with acne, my hair was greasy and lifeless, I looked decades older than I was, and I felt it too.
I turned on the tap to rub some water on my face, as if that would somehow reveal that I was in fact wearing a mask, and my true, youthful face was underneath.
The substance that came out of the tap was not water.
It was thick, too thick to be blood, but it had the appearance of it. Dark, dirty and red sludge spluttered out of the tap into the sink. I imagined it to be similar to a person coughing up blood when they are fatally ill, at least that was the conclusion I came to at the time. I turned the tap off, but the substance forced its way out still. Then the showerhead began to splutter too, choking on the same ooze as the tap.
I got out of there, only to find that my apartment was now drastically different. Whereas before I had imagined things to be in certain places, they now were. There were creatures under my bed, their deformed, bloodied fingers clawing at the carpets, their screeching echoing through the hall. My closets were also full of skeletons, moaning to be set free. My kitchen taps coughed up the same bloodied substance as the ones in the bathroom. But most importantly, the darkness grew. My little torch became obsolete as the darkness swallowed it.
Now there was something there. Something in the blackness that I couldn’t see, it was feeding off my fear, it was crawling closer and closer, ready to strike, but now it wasn’t a fantasy, it was real, it was frighteningly real. I ran, relying on my knowledge of the apartment’s layout to find my way to the front door. It was closed. Not only that, something wanted to come in. It was knocking so heavily that the door threatened to break free of its hinges.
Now I had to choose, I had to decide whether I faced the creature within, or allow the demon outside to enter. There was next to no light left in the apartment, it would soon swallow everything, it my mind there was no choice. I had to open the door.
There was one flicker of doubt before I allowed myself to push down on the handle and let the demon inside. For a second I contemplated allowing the darkness to swallow me. Just give in. Just let go. It was almost a comforting thought, knowing that there would be nothing left, but that feeling only lasted a moment; and then it was gone. I opened the door.
And there stood Jane.
The room was suddenly illuminated once again. There was nothing in there with me; there were no creatures, no demons, and no darkness. There was only her- and her alone.
“Timothy?” She asked, her tone obviously conveying a sense of concern alongside doubt.
“Jane,” was the only word I could muster. I practically fell into her arms, which were clearly not expecting me, and therefore she struggled to hold me up. Somehow she dragged me to the sofa, straining as she did.
It took me some time to come around, and even when I did, I was slightly delirious.
“What happened to you, Tim?”
“Nothing,” I replied, self-pity taking over, “and that’s exactly it- nothing happened.”
Jane fetched me some water, and with time I regained myself, though still shaken from what I had experienced.
“Why are you here, Jane?” I eventually asked.
“A couple of reasons- but mostly because of your messages.”
“Yeah- you don’t remember? You sent me some pretty disturbing messages, I had no idea what was going on, but you seemed frightened, terrified even-“
“Can I hear them?”
“No- I’ve deleted them, because you asked me to- you honestly don’t remember sending me any messages?”
“No, No I don’t, I-“ I stopped at this point. I looked out of the window to see that the apartment building opposite was fully lit; I could even see the woman in the resident across from me making herself something to drink.
“I think I may be losing my mind, Jane.”
“It was bound to happen sooner or later- cooped up in this place- it’s kinda why I’m here-“
“I’ve been offered a job, and I would like you to come with me.”
The job in question was something that would turn my life around, it couldn’t have come at a better time either, I was clearly teetering on the brink of insanity. After reading all of this you may start to believe that I am making this entire tale up, I can assure you, that whilst everything I saw may not be true, it is what I saw, heard and felt with certainty.
I have gone over that night many times in my head. My only conclusion is that my isolation and solitude were killing me, and my cynicism and fear of the world are what kept me from removing myself from it. If it wasn’t for Jane, I may well have died that night. Either way, I was driving myself to the brink of insanity, whether it was boredom, or loneliness or something else entirely that forced my brain to create such vivid and horrendous hallucinations, I will never know. All I can say with certainty is that there was no trace of anything out of the ordinary following Jane’s visit, there was no sign that any of the things I had witnessed had come to pass, and ultimately the entire scenario had been created in my own head. It is because of that experience that I live in constant fear of what my imagination might do, because if it can concoct something so vicious as the darkness that threatened to devour and dismember me, what else is it capable of, and what will the consequences be should it be allowed to take over completely?