My eyes shoot open as the tapping echoes throughout the room, scanning every inch of my dark bedroom for something that should not be there.
Shit. No. No, no. Not now.
Every shadow, every dark corner stands out in my mind as my imagination screams horrifying possibilities what could be lurking in the blackness. My entire body tenses. Closing my eyes, I try to force myself to calm down.
Just ignore it, I internally whisper to myself. Just ignore it and it will go away.
But it doesn’t. Not a minute later, three slow knocks against wood reach my ears. My heart begins to pound as I realize that it was louder this time. It’s getting closer.
Now, instead of opening my eyes, I squeeze them tighter, resisting the urge to once again scan the shadows for the thing I know is coming for me. God, I wish Isaac was here. This never happens when he’s with me. But he had to take a night shift at work, so he won’t be home for hours. But, despite the extreme urge to beckon for his help, I refuse to let myself call him, to tell him to come home. He doesn’t deserve to have to face this horror. This is my burden.
As the tapping echoes throughout the house again, I force myself to think of other things. I try thinking about my classes, going over every single tidbit of information I can remember from earlier today. I think about the plans for the date Isaac and I expect to go on this Saturday, about how we’re going to the new movie everyone’s talking about and probably out for ice cream afterwards, the way we always did when we were younger. I imagine his lips on mine, my hand in his, the way he would hold me on a cold night like this…
I have to stop myself from thinking about my boyfriend when the lack of his presence hits me once again, sending a spike of fear through me. I force my mind wander elsewhere, and before I know it, I’m thinking back to how this all began…
Up until two weeks ago, my life had been normal. I didn’t constantly feel the cold phalanges of fear run down my spine as I looked over my shoulder after feeling eyes on the back of my neck. I didn’t constantly see things that shouldn’t be there. I didn’t hear strange noises on nights like this when my boyfriend had work and I was all alone in the darkness of my bedroom. I didn’t live in constant terror.
I remember how it was a relatively nice night when these instances first started occurring; when this thing started following me. Isaac and I had been watching a horror movie at home when we both came to the consensus that we could use some popcorn. Volunteering to make some, I had gone to the kitchen, gotten out a bag, and put it in the microwave to cook. However, as I did this, something felt…off. In those few minutes, I had the unshakable sense that I was not alone. At first I thought Isaac had silently sneaked into the kitchen with me, but when I turned around my eyes met with only an empty room. Before I knew it, my heart rate had doubled as I gazed around the room, confused. I thought it was ridiculous, and I have no idea why, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt there had been someone in there with me.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when the timer for the popcorn went off. I felt shaky as I poured the popcorn into a bowl and sprinkled on some salt the way Isaac likes. I poured us a couple of drinks before taking our snack back to the living room. On the way there, I passed the door that opens into the hallway leading to our bedroom. Something about it unnerved me greatly, but I shook off my nerves once again as I walked back into the living room, telling myself that it was just the movie which accounted for my nerves. As I sat back on the couch with my boyfriend, I tried my best to ignore the fact that horror movies haven’t bothered me since I was thirteen. I ignored the fact that the door to the hallway had been completely ajar, even though I remember closing it before I came in the living room to start the movie with Isaac. And I ignored the fact that I was almost completely sure I saw a dark form lurking at the end of the hallway, right next to my bedroom door.
Things got worse after that night. Over the next few days, I started to become more and more convinced that I was never truly alone. I began experiencing the same things I’d felt that night in the kitchen, only now it was constant. Everywhere I went, I would feel eyes watching me when there was no one around, see menacing shadows out of the corners of my eyes, hear the faintest whispers of voices that I knew I shouldn’t be hearing.
I knew deep down in my gut that something wasn’t right. I felt a constant sense of anxiety completely unfamiliar to me. I had no idea what could be happening or what could be doing this, but I forced myself not to care. I made sure to keep my emotions hidden, to hold onto my grasp of reality the way one would hold onto a rope dangling over a vast chasm.
None of this is real, I would tell myself. These things you’re hearing and seeing, they don’t really exist. Just ignore it, and it will all go away.
These words became my only foothold to sanity as time passed. Every time I saw something that shouldn’t be there, every time I heard a strange voice whispering my name, I would repeat these phrases in my mind. I managed to keep a grasp on what I perceived as reality for longer than a mind any weaker than would be able to fathom. Somehow, I managed to push off each terrifying experience I went through as a trick of the mind and go on my way.
However, I started to doubt my beloved sense of reason as things began to get more intense. In fact, two days ago, when I walked into my bedroom and came face to face with a dark humanoid figure, I almost lost it. But I managed to push off the terror. I purposes in my mind that I am too strong to fall for the deception my eyes placed before me that day. However, I could never manage to get the image out of my mind. In fact, I find myself almost clinging to it now, the image manifesting itself an ever-constant presence in the back of my mind.
The creature was completely black, with hardly any discernible physical features. The only things I noticed were its eyes.
In my bed, I shudder at the thought of that wretched thing’s eyes. Their deep, soulless black will forever be engrained in my psyche. When I first saw them, I thought they had to be real. They had to. No mortal being could ever imagine that deep of a shade, no mind could comprehend it. As I stared into the eyes of what I thought could very well have been the manifestation of death itself, the only thing that kept my from screaming and sobbing and clawing my eyes out was the logic and reasoning to which I had clung so tightly since the beginning.
This can’t be real. Things like this aren’t real. It’s all in your head.
I repeated these phrases in my mind over and over. As I looked into those deep, cold, endless eyes, I managed to convince myself that they were a figment of my imagination. Even as I slowly turned and left the room, I went over the words in my mind.
This isn’t real. Just ignore it, and it will go away.
I felt the creature’s eyes follow me as I walked through the doorway, but in an incredible feat of bravery, I managed to leave the room and close the door in its face without even glimpsing back. I numbly and slowly made my way to my living room, where Isaac was waiting for me on the couch. As I approached, he gave me a strange look of confusion and concern. This look didn’t falter as I sat down next to him and nestled up against his side. I took his hand in mine.
“Val, are you okay?” he said to me, his eyes full of worry. “You’ve been acting. . .strange.”
I think we both felt my body tense as he said this. I’ve been acting weird? How? I thought I was doing a good job of hiding my fear. The last thing I wanted was Isaac worrying about me. I couldn’t tell him. He wouldn’t understand. He’d think I was crazy. My own boyfriend would be scared of me and leave. He’d leave me me alone with my psyche and this God-forsaken demon taking it over. God, he can’t leave me behind with this thing. If he does, I’ll start being consumed. I’ll lose pieces of my self to this thing until there’s nothing left of Valerie Henson but a scarred, broken shell of a human being. He can’t fucking do that to me. That asshole can’t…
“Shit, Valerie. You’re hurting me.”
I blinked, realizing that I’d been gazing intensely at the floor. Weird. It was almost as if I’d blacked out for a fraction of a second. I looked up at Isaac.
“What’s the matter, babe?” I asked.
“My hand, Valerie. You’re squeezing the fuck out of it.”
I looked down and realized that he was right. My hands were wrapped around his, squeezing like a python attempting to crush the life out if its prey. The weird thing was, I wasn’t telling them to do it. It was as if my body was acting of its own accord, my muscles turning against me to perform their own will. I gazed in fascination at my hands as they tried their damnedest to crush my boyfriend’s. Strange…
I blinked again and looked up at his face, now contorting in pain. The realization dawned upon me that I was causing this, and, horrified, I instantly recoiled, my fingers releasing their violent grip around his. I laid them in my lap and gazed down at them, mortified.
“What the hell, Val?” Isaac snapped. “When did you get so strong?”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’m sorry.”
Isaac sighed. “It’s fine, babe. But there’s something going on with you lately and it’s got me worried. What’s wrong?”
I looked up into his eyes. Their deep blue contained the completely recognizable of look of genuine concern I’d come to love over my years of time with him. The mental image of this look distorting into one of fear and disgust of my dilemma is what drove me to force a smile, faking a look of confused innocence.
“I’m fine,” I cooed. “Just tired, that’s all.”
My boyfriend looked doubtful, but he turned his focus to the TV and didn’t say anything more regarding the matter, for which I was grateful.
As we watched TV, I constantly had to prevent myself from looking over my shoulder and into the hallway where my follower so frequently lingered. Visions lingered in my psyche of its shadowy form darting into the room and dragging me in its cold, black grasp back to whatever world it came from. Though I knew in the back of my head that this or anything worse could happen at any second, I pushed the fearful thoughts aside and did my best to focus on the show. It’s not real, I repeated to myself. Besides, not much seems to happen when Isaac’s around. As seconds and minutes and hours dragged on, I continued to whisper to myself mentally in an attempt to become convinced that there was nothing to worry about.
After that, things seemed to die down. For the rest of that day, yesterday, and up until tonight, I’d been able to actually relax. Though I have still been a bit on edge, I found myself the most calm of states I have experienced in weeks. I actually started to think that everything was okay.
In fact, I was so relieved that I barely cared when Isaac told me this morning that he had to work the night shift. Though, upon receiving this news, I felt a little worried, I was still so overjoyed about not having to constantly watch my back that I was able to push my concerns away without a care. Once again, I told myself that none of it had actually happened, that it was just my tired, imaginative mind getting the best of me.
However, I think I knew I was lying to myself from the beginning. Down in the darkest depths of my psyche, I knew it wasn’t my imagination. It never was. There’s something after me, and right now I can hear it tapping on my bedroom door.
That’s when the reality hits me.
There’s something here.
My heart drops to my stomach when I hear the doorknob turn. Oh my God. Without thinking, I launch myself out of the bed, sprinting as fast as I possibly can to the master bathroom. I get there in a matter of seconds, slamming the door behind me. As I shut the door, I can’t help but notice the two dead, soulless eyes peering at me from the opening in my bedroom doorway. Their blackness seems to outweigh that of the darkness around them, making them perfectly visible through the night.
Shaking, I lock the bathroom door, not knowing how much good it will do. I then scurry to the back corner of the room next to the shower, sinking to the floor as my quaking legs fail to support me. I am now in complete darkness. I attempt to scan the bathroom for any sort of recognizable form, but I’m not able to make out any images at all in the windowless space. I try my best to make myself not care. I know there’s nothing to worry about in here. It is what’s on the other side of that door that I need to be afraid of.
Just as my eyes are adjusting to the darkness, I begin to hear more sounds. They’re more clear this time. I am able to discern the sound of more tapping on my bedroom door, followed by slow, impossibly light footsteps headed towards my bed. I start to shiver, the cool bite of the chilly air surrounding the last cause of my quaking. I’m filled with unfathomable dread as the footsteps make their way toward the bathroom.
I’m not sure if the creature is walking tantalizingly slow, or if my terror makes its trek to my hiding spot seem to take an eternity, but something about listening to the footfalls getting closer and closer rips every ounce of my remaining bravery and reason to shreds. There’s nowhere I can run now. This realization is what slices through my sanity like a knife. This thing is going to get me. I know I can’t stop it, and I can’t do anything but sit and await whatever god-awful fate it has in store for me.
No, I tell myself. I can’t allow this thing to win. Not without fighting. I’ve cowered and wrapped myself in a blanket of ignorance for too damn long. I will not let this creature hurt me. Not without putting up one hell of a fight.
An overwhelming burst of bravery and adrenaline surges through my veins, driving me to stand up and walk to the door. I gaze around the room, searching for something I can use to defend myself, but I can’t seem to find anything. God, why couldn’t I have been trapped in the kitchen or something? I need a knife. I look around for something sharp, but once again my search is met with nothing.
The creature is at my door now. I can hear it tapping on the wooden surface. I have no doubt that it is able to hear me as I frantically search the small room for something I can use against it. I turn around in circles, desperately searching the bathroom for a weapon.
Inspiration hits me when I catch sight of my reflection. The mirror. Without thinking, I snatch a heavy decorative candle of the counter, back up, and throw it with all my might against my reflection.
The sound of shattering glass rips through the air as the mirror breaks into a thousand pieces of varying sizes. I pounce on the floor and begin to search for the largest shard I can find. The monster is banging on the door now, and I know the few mere inches of wood can’t hold it back for much longer.
At last, find a large, pointed piece of glass about the size of my hand. I snatch it up, feeling its sharp edges cutting into my palms. I ignore the pain, focusing only on what is on the other side of the door. The banging is louder and harder now. It causes the door to rattle on its hinges, and I know I only have a matter of seconds before I come face to face with my tormentor, and I am so, so ready. I find the corners of my mouth twitching themselves to an upward angle as a grin breaks out across my face. I poise myself, crouching into an attack position, breathing heavily as a piercing laugh rips its way from my throat.
“You want to get to me so bad? Well here I am, motherfucker! What the hell are you waiting for?”
It is then that the door’s hinges give and dark figure surges into the room, its dark limbs swinging wildly as it makes its way towards me. I waste no time in my defensive onslaught. Without thinking, I blindly stab at my attacker, feeling the glass shard digging raggedly into flesh. But I savor the pain as it fuels my malice. Even as the creature stops and begins to drop to the floor, I follow it down, driving the jagged point into its shadowy body. I feel warm liquid spurting out on my face, my arms, my clothes. Laughing, I continue to stab at its cold, dark body until my arms ache from the motion. When my splurge of violence reaches its end, I allow my arms to collapse. I release the glass shard, wincing as it vacates the deep slices it has left in my hand. I ignore the pain as the glass clatters across the floor and into the darkness. I could care less about the stinging. The monster is dead. I’m finally free.
Suddenly, exhaustion rains over me at the realization that I am safe. I’m finally free from my own personal hell. It’s all over. It is this thought that brings me comfort as I feel myself falling on my side and blacking out from exhaustion and relief.
This is my last thought as I drift into a deep, comforted sleep.
When I wake up, the room is filled with light. I see it on the back of my eyelids even before I open them. However, something doesn’t feel right. The surface I’m lying on is too cold, too hard to be my bed, and there’s some strange, sticky, flaky substance covering my body and plastering my face to whatever I’m laying on. There is pain in my hand unlike any other I have felt before, and there seems to be something underneath my lower body.
Suddenly, all the events of last night come flooding back to me. I’m on the bathroom floor. I killed the monster. I’m covered in its blood, and I’m half-laying on top of it right now.
I’m frightened to open my eyes. I don’t even want to see this creature one more time, especially in the mangled mess I’m sure I left it in. However, I know that I have to get up sometime, and this wreck of a bathroom isn’t going to clean up itself.
I slowly crack open my eyes, expecting the worst.
It is far worse than I ever could have imagined.
I am lying in a half-dried puddle of dark red blood. I expected it to be much darker, considering the blackness of the creature. Its deep cherry color surprises me, but I brush it off. I feel a smile blossoming on my face. I did it. I killed the thing that’s been making my life hell for these past couple of weeks. I’ll be okay now.
However, as I turn to look at the face of the creature, I’m met with something I didn’t expect. It does not have the dark black color I remember. Its lifeless eyes have changed to a lovely chocolate brown, no longer the void of blackness they once were. In fact, it is no longer a creature at all.
It’s my boyfriend.
As I stare into my lover’s glassy, unblinking eyes, I can’t take the smile off my face. What’s wrong with me? I should be screaming and wailing and crying over my lost love, but all I can do is look into his bloody, cold, lifeless face and grin.
I know what the monster is.
Out of nowhere, laughter rips through the dead silence. It’s not the friendly laughter you would expect to hear on a daily basis. No, it’s the kind of laughter you hear in madhouses and horror movies. The laughter of a psychopath.
Laughter coming from me.
I can’t keep it from escaping from the deepest, darkest part of me, because I know what the monster is. I know. I knew all along, I just couldn’t see it clearly. Now I know. I know what the monster is.
I know what the monster is.
I look at the blood covering my left hand, the one that isn’t injured–the one covered in Isaac’s blood–and bring it to my face, inhaling deeply. Its bitter, metallic aroma fills my nostrils. It smells. . .beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I can’t keep myself from licking the warm, sticky liquid from my fingers. I close my eyes and moan in ecstasy at the sweet, iron-like savor.
Isaac always did taste amazing. His lips were always perfectly soft and sweet and delicious, but his blood. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s fucking amazing.
My moment of bliss is brought to a halt when I feel a cold hand on my shoulder. I know what it is attached to before I even look up. Before I even look up into its black, clutching, unforgiving eyes; its dark, beautiful eyes. I gaze up into the creature’s black face and grin like a child.
“I know what you are,” I say to the monster, barely recognizing my own voice. Something about it has changed, but I can’t quite discern what. Oh well. It doesn’t matter, because I know what the monster is. As it looks down at me with eyes that bury themselves in my soul, I finally understand.
I know what the monster is. I finally know.
It is madness.
It always was.