Originally written for a contest. Prompt: Write a story that takes place at night or in the dark. (Mature for language)
Fear, heavier than the shackles around my wrists, pressed me back against the wall. The echo of receding footsteps grew softer until nothing but my own erratic breathing could be heard. Pain. Everything turned to pain. Every twitch, every breath, every thought. I felt like moving shattered my bones, and that every breath stabbed my lungs. My parched tongue stuck to my palate longingly, the taste of water long forgotten. My tired eyes gazed at the bars' dark shadows until they blurred into one another.
The palpable, frigid darkness was suffocating, and before long, I found myself drifting in its midst.
- - - - -
Gathering my thoughts by staring out the window, I noticed the clouds – which previously hovered on the horizon – now loomed ominously overhead. Thunder boomed, and my windows rattled against the wind. To drown it out, I turned up the music and continued typing furiously on my desktop.
Halfway through writing a mini-novel e-mail to a friend, the screen went dark, along with all the lights. Are you serious!? Take a deep breath. Not again... My e-mail had better been saved. I went to grab the match box and stubbed my toe against the table. “Oww, damnit!” With clenched teeth, I lit a match, found the candle and managed to singe my fingertips before lighting it completely. Today really wasn't my day.
I sat down and cradled my throbbing toe. Stupid pain. Stupid power outages. Two in three days was beyond ridiculous. Couldn't read, couldn't internet, couldn't anything. Thank goodness it hadn't started snowing yet, or not having a heater would be slightly more than inconvenient. A flash of light pierced through the obscurity, quickly followed by an unbearably loud crack of thunder. I shuddered involuntarily. No, the sky was not tearing open, but the booming did make me retreat to my room. With little to do but listening to the deafening pounding rain, I might as well sleep.
Grabbing the candle, I walked into my room, and closed the door to keep out the dark. I put the candle on my nightstand, next to my dream diary and stared at my dream catcher. For all the times I remembered my dreams – quite often – I never remembered having a nightmare, just a scary dream, once.
I grabbed my sleeping shirt from the bed and noticed the flame flickered slightly. That was me, right? Wheeling around, I glanced at the rather bland room. Obviously no one was here, just my messy clothes on the floor. I wasn't about to start believing those rumors about the haunted building nearby, but even if I did, why would the ghost have a problem with me? I glanced over my shoulder. Did that black dot just move?
Oh no, a small clump of hair. I better vacuum this weekend, but at least, it wasn't a bug. I hated them, especially when they hid under – or worse, in! – my clothes. Suckers. A flickering flame was no reason to get jumpy. Even if I had no flashlight, the dark wouldn't kill me. If anything, I'd kill it.
Slipping my arms through my night shirt, I paused as another flash of lightning penetrated my new curtains. One... two... I shrank slightly within my shirt before pushing my head through as I pulled it down. Ugh, way to feel like a kid. I had to fight back unbidden memories about those sleepless nights, glued to a window and staring either at the pouring rain or the firefighters pumping the flooded garage.
I set the alarm on my phone, blew out the candle and nestled in my futon. Already I thought of waking up, possibly late, in the morning, and my stomach grumbled in agreement. No, it's not breakfast time yet. Usually, I'm a sound sleeper. A few summers back, I slept through the sonic boom of a landing space shuttle... with my window open. But since college, anytime I wasn't home, the tiniest sound kept me awake. Go figure.
Tonight was obviously going to be a late night. Every drop of rain urged me to strain my ears for muted sounds, like the usual yelling or pounding of the neighbors, or even that annoying barking from across the street. Even the barking plunged me back into childhood. What a stupid, annoying dog Sydney was, strutting in the middle of the street like he owned it. How he never got hit by a car mystifies me to this day.
I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the rain. There would be no flood, and no crying for mom. Lightning flashed again, breaching through my eyelids, as if reminding me I couldn't will the storm away. “Go away.” I turned my back to the window and let my dozing mind free. Random pieces of my life came to mind. An ex-boyfriend who was still fun to hang out with, my childhood best friend who hadn't answered my long, heartfelt letter, my brother who was happily settled halfway around the globe, and my job with wonderful, and fun kids.
The rain continued pounding on the roof. I remembered working in a bad storm, getting drenched despite the over-sized poncho and walking in soaked shoes. Now I was in somebody's arms, my shoes were different, and smaller. I stared down at the flooded street. Oh, right, me and my brother went to our neighbor's house once, I was kept in the dark as to why. I was too young to deal with a flooded basement. I wasn't told anything until we moved and gave our cat away. I was kept in the dark when packing my favorite, bright skirt for a last minute trip to Illinois. “Why don't you take a black one too?” suggested mom. I went through SAT IIs, and a family dinner only to be told at the hotel that grandpa died.
I suddenly felt very awake as a wave of sadness swept through me. So many times I'd carried on, oblivious. Had I been purposefully excluded, or was I culpable for shutting myself out? I grabbed my pillow and hugged it tightly, clenching my teeth to prevent a breakdown, but the tears dropped freely. I should be thankful for my parents' consideration, but I felt cheated, and untrustworthy. Sniffling my sobs away, I let sleep draw nearer as I sank further in my futon.
Still hugging my pillow, I let my mind rise high above the physical realm and into the wonders of the subconscious.
- - - - -
A disturbingly loud crack of thunder jerked me awake, my heart leaping in my throat. I swear my bed shook, was it right over my roof or what? Before I could get my bearings, the door burst open. Squinting through the bright beams of lights, I could barely see the obscure shadows holding rifles.
I cowered against the wall, racking my brain over my instincts yelling get out of here! Door? Blocked. Window?? Blocked! Not to mention I was extremely outnumbered. Adrenaline kicked in. I jumped on the closest shadow, slamming it to the floor as it let out a satisfying painful grunt.
Before I could stand, though, strong hands held my arms apart, forced my neck down, shoved a cloth bag over my head and began dragging me outside. “Let me go!” I tried to reason with them, plead with them, and brace my weight against them. I twisted and turned, kicked, and screamed. “I haven't done anything!” They marched on, impervious, over the remains of my front door. I felt splinters on my soles, followed by wet concrete.
With every heartbeat, I felt fear entrench itself deeper and deeper, until my very core shook in its relentless grip. The hands holding me began to lift me, reinvigorating my desperate attempts at freedom. I feared I'd disappear, wiped off the face of the earth after being taken. I screamed for help, barely recognizing my shrill voice.
Subdued at the feeling of a gun against my temple, I let myself be cuffed and felt two immovable bodies sit beside me. At the same time, a door slammed shut and I heard the wheels skid on the wet pavement. While trying to stop shaking, questions burst forward, one after another without respite and so quickly that I could only comprehend fragments of my fear.
Who were--? Where were they--? What had I--? Why? Rape? Murder? Ransom? Survive! Escape escape escape!
The men beside me carried me with them, yanking me out of my panic. The abrupt frigidity made my teeth chatter and my toes curl. A moment later, the grips holding me vanished. Unsupported, I nearly toppled over, but before I could, the handcuffs vanished, replaced with something heavier. Suddenly I breathed in fresh air, not the moist residue of my exhales. Hesitantly, my fingers touched my face. No bag.
A door clanged shut, but I couldn't see anything. Frantic, I glanced around, wide-eyed at first then squinting, but no light penetrated the darkness. The earlier clanging of a door sounded like metal. A cell then, but where? A dungeon? I looked down at my wrists, but could only distinguish thicker shadows. Probing, my hand grabbed the large cuff and heard a quiet jangle. Blindly continuing down, I realized these weren't handcuffs, they were shackles. I heard faint noises and stood up, confused and scared.
Listening closely, the noises grew closer and slightly louder. I took two steps forward and pulled against my restraints. Clearly, they wanted my movements restricted. The noises stopped, then I heard squeaks. Gasping, I scrambled backwards – away from the scurrying mice or rats – and hit a wall. Silence reigned supreme again, and amidst the everlasting obscurity, panic returned. I found a second wall on my left, but none on my right; I only had a corner for company.
Despite my terror and growing fear, I must have dozed off from exhaustion, because the sound of footsteps and the jangling of keys startled me awake. By now, my eyes had grown accustomed to the absence of light, and the extraordinarily bright flashlight blinded me. Somehow, I felt they came to extract information from me. I didn't know what, or even why, but I knew I'd hate whatever happened next.
And I was right.
Strangely, I didn't remember exactly where they took me, what they did to me, or even what I told them. My body just felt the aftermath. I always thought I had a pretty good pain tolerance, except for annoying paper cuts. I endured the pain of benign cysts without painkillers, and have lived with random pain that bent me in half for at least seven years. But this? I didn't know whether to feel grateful or despair at being alive.
Bruised, broken and weakened, I landed unceremoniously on the cell floor. The bright light shining in my face blinded me, even through my closed eyelids. They locked the shackles back on. I could hear them talking to each other in low voices, but my over exerted brain couldn't make sense of the syllables. Their footsteps resounded loudly in my skull, bringing with them a fresh wave of terror and a subdued sense of relief.
Fear pressed my back against the wall, until the receding footsteps' echo dissipated to nothing but my own erratic breathing. The world once again turned to pain, and the blurred shadows of the bars dissolved into the frigid darkness.
- - - - -
I jerked awake, gasping for breath. Sitting up, I realized I was drenched in sweat. The rain was still pounding on my roof, and my house remained pitch black. I took deep breaths to purge out the terror. My usual awesome, crazy dreams I could handle, but this nightmare scared the shit out of me! This felt too real to be something I made up.
I got up and flipped the switch for the light. I had to flip it back and forth a good five times before I remembered about the power outage. Shaking my head to get rid of the vivid dream, I felt my way into the kitchen for a glass of much needed water. My mouth felt parched, like I hadn't drank anything in a week. I held the glass with one hand, vaguely staring at the water for a moment before noticing I was shaking. Just a dream, don't freak out so much...
Still, I finished the glass and made it back to bed, where I sat a while, pondering. Never mind that I had to be at work in 4 hours. Tempting as it was to call Mandy for an interpretation, I didn't want to wake her up only to worry. It could wait until I got to school, since I have an hour before teaching. I settled on the less sweaty half of the futon and stared at the ceiling, the pouring rain now muted to background noise against my stormy mind.
The darkness of my room was cozy, even warm. I could discern objects and recognize familiar patterns, and if I tried, I could glimpse my wiggling toes. The remembered darkness was a hundred times darker, denser and more glacial. No matter how much I strained, the best I could see had been tenebrous at best. The mere thought of a dark, violent and desperate presence existing somewhere inside my mind frightened me.
A crack of thunder broke my daze as my breath hitched in my throat. Lights swept the cracks of my bedroom door.
The door burst open. My blood turned to ice.