I stood alone in the dark, shaking like a leaf. Last night, and the night before, and the one before… as well as all the nights prior to that for the past month, I had left all the lights on. It was the only way I could sleep. Tonight, though, I had decided it was time. The only way to conquer your fears is to face them. I had read this helpful tidbit on numerous occasions, and didn’t believe a word of it. Facing the dark I had tried. To no avail. The terror it held for me was unrelenting. The goal in this moment was not to have some epic showdown with my fear of darkness, it was something much more basic. I had to make it down the hallway to my room, my bed, which represented safety. The goal was survival, not bravery. The longer I stood there, the longer the darkness conspired against me. I had to move. One step, another. I was making progress but I could feel the darkness slithering around my feet. I could feel it hiding behind my back – it would only move if I turned around to look, of course. I knew too well the games it played. There was one huge obstacle in this hallway – or six, depending on how you looked at it. The house was one of the older generation where bedrooms were plentiful and organized neatly, one after the other, branching off a main hallway. This hallway. This hallway, with six gaping doorways to pass before I reached my own room. I neared the first, clenching my hands into fists so tight they were sweaty. I felt a thousand eyes watch me pass and bit back a scream. Towering sentinels, perfectly still, guarded the doorposts. Stone statues until there weren’t, until they were faster than blinking and silent as a breath, until they lunged and fathomless eyes stared into mine. I passed the second doorway. It was getting harder not to run. I so very much wanted to run. But you cannot run from the dark. Running makes the dark into a thing that chases. It admits to the dark that you are afraid and darkness feeds off of fear. Then I heard it. Nearly bolted. Channeled it instead into the willpower to stand absolutely still. Shuffling footsteps. In the room I had just passed. I wanted to close my eyes, but couldn’t find the courage. I knew they were laughing at me – I hated them, I hated myself more. Rubbing my hands on my shirt to dry them, I took another step, trying to peer into the indefinite abyss to approximate how many more steps it would take me to arrive at the gaping maw of my own bedroom. At least then I’d be in the home stretch. This train of thought temporarily distracted me long enough to arrive at the third doorway. I slowed, thought I heard a whisper, and turned, on instinct. Worse. This was much worse. I had turned my back on the what lay ahead. I had turned my back on the majority of doorways. I felt frozen, glued to the wooden floor. I couldn’t bring myself to turn my back on it again but in that direction lay my only safety. Overwhelmed with the need to cry, I pivoted again and walked two more steps. I felt that I had been lost in the darkness for an eternity. This was all there was, all there ever would be. I had no body any longer… I had become part of the darkness. I dare not look at my own hand or try to touch my own face. There was no knowing what I would discover. Two more steps. And then a noise, a thump. I had to have imagined it. This isn’t real. None of it is real. I have an overactive imagination. But I heard something moving… right behind me. And then, when I listened, breathing. It had come. It was waiting for me. The wall – I had to find it. Desperately I needed something solid, reassuring, behind my back. I needed one thing that was certain, that was real and undeniable. Slowly, I reached a hand out, searching. Knowing that I could touch anything – blood, an unblinking eye, another cold hand – but forcing myself to take the risk. The wall was too far away – or perhaps the walls have melted into dust, receded into the blackness, perhaps were never there at all – so I take a step, slightly sideways, searching still. My outstretched fingers collide with something, briefly, and I shriek, leaping back. At the same moment, a mumbled expletive. I hadn’t expected the darkness to feel like a sweater. My fingertips were surprised by its momentary softness and my brain – which had been expecting it to speak, always – had expected words a little more polished. Then I heard a click. Feeling disoriented, I turned. Light. Soft, yellow. On my face. I couldn’t see past it. It lowered, my eyes adjusted. I saw him. A man. Laughing in pure relief, I stumbled into his arms. Unwilling arms. He grunted, awkwardly placing his hands on my shoulders, not quite pushing me away.
He cleared his throat. “Um… what are you doing?”
I moved back, slightly, keeping my arms loosely around him so that I didn’t lose him. “Thank you,” I said earnestly, my voice wobbling just a little.
“Ma’am,” he said, and I noticed that his eyes were blue, “I was robbing your house a minute ago.”
“And I’m eternally grateful.”
Blond hair peeks from under a black snowcap. “You aren’t gonna call the cops?”
“Why would I? You’re here,” I pointed out.
He shook his head. “I don’t—”
A low chuckle cuts off whatever he didn’t understand and I slowly release a shaky breath. I feel the darkness taking shape, gathering itself. I turn, staying close so that his chest is at my back. The flashlight flickers, goes out. My hand finds his.
“It’s coming.” My voice sounds like a thin knife in the thick inky black.
The whispers begin, all around me, and he squeezes my hand.