He blinked his eyes several times, that’s when the feeling of dread first washed over him like the first sheet of rain in a particularly nasty storm. From eyes closed to eyes opened, there was no difference. He was surrounded by pure darkness, unable to even see his hand when it was nearly touching his nose. Am I blind? His mind’s voice was as rushed and panicked as his throat’s might have been.
He moved his hand to find the wall next to his bed, but that wall had moved. At that same moment, he noticed the absence of comfort that he normally found in his mattress and pillows and blankets, and felt nothing but concrete underneath his body. Where am I? He sat up and felt around him, his hands landing on pebbles here and there. The air was dry and cold; though he couldn’t see them, he could feel the goosebumps up and down his arms.
He planted his hands on the ground and pushed himself up, his legs unsteady from fear and unfamiliarity. His hands switching from out in front of him and spread out to his sides, he took a few uncertain steps forward, but there was only nothing, endless nothing. He took note of his other senses. What is that smell? Do I know that smell? The aroma of wherever he was was stale, a sort of odor that told him perhaps where this place had once been wet, was now dry. Why can’t I hear anything?
“Hel…hello?” he said to no one in particular. At least now he knew he wasn’t deaf as well as blind. His feet moved a few inches forward, one after the other, and he was suddenly thankful that however he’d gotten in his predicament, he’d been afforded his shoes; the small rocks he could feel through their soles would have surely ravaged the bottoms of his bare feet. He continued stuttering forward, slowly moving his arms around, feeling for something, anything, but it was his right foot that found something first.
The toes of his shoe hit something as he took a tiny step forward, and that something made a metallic sound as it ostensibly rolled a short distance away. He dropped to his knees and began hurriedly feeling around the ground for whatever he’d nudged away with his foot. As his palms repeatedly slapped the concrete, he finally felt something resting upon it. Cold and cylindrical…a flashlight! His thumbs scoured the chilled metal in search of a means of turning it on. Finally, a soft rubber protuberance depressed, and his dark world was cast alight.
The bulb in the flashlight was struggling to stay alive, its once bright beam reduced to a dim, pale yellow glow that crept only a few feet in front of him. Better than nothing. He shined the light around him and was disheartened that for as far as its faint illumination reached, still only darkness followed. With the light his steps began to cover a bit more distance, though he was still disoriented by not having any sense of direction. His head stirred as he watched the ground in front of him, flashlight in his left hand, still feeling around him with his right.
Weak, small rocks rolled under his shoes as he stepped, small clumps of dirt became dense piles. There’s no wind. He determined that he must be indoors. He followed his familiar tactic of taking small steps whilst feeling around for a wall, a door, anything, and flashing the light around him with that same goal. His fear was palpable, his skin damp with sweat, his breaths sharp and shallow. With the aid of the feeble light, he was able to see that indeed, the faintest sight of his breath escaped his mouth when he exhaled. He wandered for what seemed like an eternity, until the fingertips on his right hand brushed against something, something upright.
He shined the weak flashlight to his right and found a chain-link fence to be separating him from more endless darkness, though opposite the fence the ground was no longer dirty concrete, but ankle-high grass tipped in drops of dew. He pointed the light upwards, hoping to see a point over which he could climb, but to his dismay, the fence stood taller than his weakening flashlight could illuminate. He continued on his way, towards nowhere in particular, using the fence as his guide.
He sporadically shined his light about the area, attempting to get an idea of even the size of the location he was in, but to no avail. He picked up a small pebble and threw it as hard as he could in front of him, but he heard it land and skip across the concrete, a quieting patter of tt tt tt, which told him it hadn’t hit a vertical surface. Beyond the fence, the field of low grass stretched past where eye and light reached, and above him was void of anything but harrowing darkness. The goosebumps on his arms came and went, though his environment got no less frigid as time wore on.
Fence to his right, an abyss of pure darkness to his left, front and rear, he took his small steps, hoping to soon meet a wall, but that wall never came. What was that? He shined his light all around him, uncertain if he’d heard something or if his mind was playing tricks on him. tt…ch ch…ch tt…ch tt tt… In the distance, in some indistinguishable direction, he heard the sounds of something. What is that? He stood as still as a statue in an attempt to discern where the sounds were coming from.
“Hello?” he posed his question more quietly than he’d intended to, his voice getting caught in his throat. The noises stopped for a few moments before returning. ch ch ch…tt tt..ch tt tt… This time he was able to determine that the noise was coming from ahead of him and to the right. As he took more small steps towards the noise he pondered its origin. It sounds like a rodent…it could be distant footsteps… He began questioning whether or not he truly wanted to identify the noise’s source. Cold air enveloped him once again and his body shuddered.
With the light illuminating the few feet in front of him, he pressed on forward with his fingers lightly grazing the linked metal chains of the fence, and before long the noise began getting louder. ch ch ch tt tt ch tt tt tt… The sound soon was decidedly more to his right than in front of him, and he began shining his light towards the sound’s origin. Still nothing but darkness.
He continued forward, shining the light from front to right periodically. He was absentmindedly looking slightly to his left when his hand suddenly slipped from the fence. It stopped! The fence ended! The fence broke off to the right, with a roughly three-foot path of concrete between two more chain-link fences on either side, both with grass beyond. He shined the light in front of him before turning. Just more darkness…at least this is something different. He took a deep breath and turned down the fenced-in pathway.
ch ch ch…tt tt tt…ch tt tt…ch ch tt tt cc… The sound was now coming from directly in front of him, though he still couldn’t tell just how far away it was. He walked in his stuttering, short steps for what seemed like another lifetime, still shining his ever-diminishing flashlight in front of him, sporadically checking beyond the fence for any sign of something besides what he’d seemed to grow used to over however long he’d been wherever he was. He moved his light from its most regular position of directly in front of his feet to directly out in front of his body and stopped in his tracks. When…when did it change?
The fence was now visible only up to his thighs, with the rest of it rudimentarily covered with sheets of ½” plywood. The wooden walls were marred by all manner of imperfections. Scratches, indiscernible graffiti, splinters, mud, dirt, and other grime covered most of every panel, which were fastened to the fence on either side higher than his light could reach, a light which seemed to be growing dimmer by the minute. He continued on his way down the path, which now somehow seemed even darker than before.
What was that?! He jumped forward, swearing he’d felt something touch the back of leg. He shined his light at the ground, on either side of the fence, nothing. He pressed on, making sure to walk a bit faster. Ah! Another short leap forward followed by another fruitless survey of the ground on either side of him. CH TT TT CH TT CH CH TT TT TT. The sound was close now; he’d been walking so long he’d begun to ignore it. His breath plumed out in front of him, his body in a constant shiver.
He came to a stop. His surroundings hadn’t changed, but he felt that he was coming upon whatever was making the sound. His light shining directly ahead of him, he once again slowed down, conscious of every step he was taking.
TT TT CH CH CH TT TT CH TT TT.
He first noticed that the pathway broke off to the left as he surveyed the area in front of him, then he noticed it and stopped in his tracks. A dog? Brown matted hair covered the canine, who appeared to be attempting to dig under the bit of fence that was visible below the defaced plywood wall that stood in front of him, closer to the path that lead to the right. When the dog noticed him, it looked him in the eyes. It…it looks…scared. Never once to be afraid of dogs, he didn’t immediately recoil. The dog was filthy, to be sure, but it had a kind look about it. Doesn’t look like it has rabies.
“Hey puppy…” he said in a light, calming tone, taking a few more steps forward, now nearly in line with the horizontal pathways, his back to the one leading left. The dog ignored his greeting, instead continuing to dig, his paws occasionally hitting the concrete with a tt tt ch tt ch ch ch tt tt. “Where are we, huh?”
As he reached came to point of the path he was on meeting the horizontal one before him, he shined his light to either side, still continuing forward. His dull, pale orange light began on the dog, who was paying him no mind, still digging under the fence, but not seeming to make any progress. He moved his light to the right, past the dog, just as it began to turn its head towards him, finding nothing but that same familiar darkness. He panned the light from right to left, but in his haste he didn’t notice that the dog was now staring at him, and was considerably larger, and of a lighter color. To the left laid nothing but more darkness, so he brought his light back to the dog, but the dog was no longer there.
In place of the dog was a woman of what must have been 70, dark hair greasy and tangled hanging on the sides of her face. On her hands and knees, her pale naked skin was splotchy with dirt. Irises of pure black bordered by milky white sclera looked up at him, rage deep within them. Yellow teeth were bared beneath dry, cracked lips, with frothy vapor escaping from her nose as she took quick, angry breaths. Her spine jutted from beneath the tight skin that wrapped her gaunt body, her arms and legs as thin as sticks.
The woman lunged at him, prompting him to turn around and run down the pathway to the left. The diminishing light bounced in every direction as he sprinted. He turned his head and flashed the light behind him for a moment as he ran, finding the woman close behind, galloping on all fours, her palms slapping the cold concrete beneath them as she reached for his heels. He ran as fast as his legs would take him, finally composing himself enough to shine the light at the ground in front of him. This brought him no reprieve from terror, however, as long, tendril-like fingers began to slip through the spaces between the silver chains of the fence, cracked pointed nails swiping at his shins and ankles.
He nearly ran head first into the next plywood wall, but was able to turn to the right just in time, and heard the feral woman slam into the it, letting out a sickening screech as she did. The plywood became fewer and farther between as he continued to run, still hearing the constant pat pat of the rabid old lady’s hands smacking the ground. Tendrils and fingers now reached through the fence at all heights, and without the plywood obstructing his view he could see what they belonged to.
As he ran, he saw animals of all kinds, dogs, bears, birds, deer, raccoons, buffalo, among countless others, that looked as animals as he approached, but morphed into more filthy human beings as he came in line with them. The bears shifted to obese men with hairy chests, drool running from their lips as they bared their fractured yellow teeth, deer turned to emaciated young women with dirt-ridden blonde hair, raccoons to slovenly infants. The one trait they shared were their fingers, long and bony with far too many joints, all reaching through the fence for him.
As he continued down the pathway with the old woman on his heels, the countless creatures on either side of him began howling and shrieking, constructing a symphony of unadulterated fright. He felt one of the woman’s long, dirt covered hands grasp at his ankle, just barely escaping her grip. He took a stride forward and took a chance by snapping his other leg back, as if to touch his heel to his backside, and felt the back of his foot connect with some part of his aggressor, resulting in another deafening shriek, one that was mimicked by the innumerable horrors that lied beyond the fence. Just then, his flashlight flickered, its frail orange tint sputtering its last bits of life.
NO! NO NO NO!
As he contemplated his impending demise whilst bolting down the treacherous, dread-flanked path, his light gave him only sporadic moments of reprieve from the engulfing darkness that at every moment threatened to swallow him whole.
PATPAT PATPAT PATPAT PATPAT PATPAT
A burst of pale light highlighted a decaying flamingo to his left one moment, a tall, sickly, thin pale man covered in dirt and sludge the next, a bison to his left one moment, an obese nude woman with a tongue that nearly reached the grass the next, all the while long, thin fingers with cracked, sharp, pointed nails building a wall in front of him. An endless void of black with reaching fingers ahead of him one moment…….
A door just ahead the next.
He forced himself through the restraining fingers with the old woman’s hands beginning to crawl up the backs of his legs and in an instant, he was pushing himself through a plain, windowless plastic swinging door the next.
He burst forward and landed on his stomach, and though dazed, he still felt the cold concrete that had been beneath him for what seemed like days. Then he opened his eyes. I can see! It was dark, to be sure, but it wasn’t the perfect dark that it had been for so long before that moment. He saw brick buildings reaching towards the sky on either side of him, stars in the sky. The smell of the city slithered through his nostrils, while the bellowing squawks of the monsters he’d been running from were undercut by the sounds of traffic.
The shock of the return of his senses in their entirety subsided and he scurried to his feet, turning around in search the rabid woman, but in front of him now stood nondescript brick building with a door that swung closed and latched, a set of long fingers and the sounds of terror retreating and ceasing as it did. He struggled to catch his breath, his mind a nausea-inducing amalgam of confusion, fear and relief.
He looked at the door, which now had a small window near the top of it. He looked around him, still not sure of his surroundings, but decided to look through the window. What just happened to me? Where have I been? What day is it? Curiosity ravaged his mind. He took the same small steps he’d taken through the darkness as he approached the door, and when he got to the window, he cupped his hands around his eyes and peered through.
Inside, a factory ran like any other. Employees worked on an assembly line, moving indistinguishable parts from point A to point B to point C and then out of his view. He scanned the area inside, looking for any hint of the horrors he’d just endured, but finding none. He took a few steps back, his head spinning. Just then, against the wall past the assembly line, past the machinery, past the factory’s employees, stood a nude woman, brown, matted hair hanging down the sides of her face, yellow teeth bared over crusted, cracked lips, skin tight against starved body, fingers nearly touching the ground, and not a single person in the factory seemingly aware of her presence.
He turned away and sprinted down the alley, never looking back.