Once more, I am filled with a strange uneasiness. The day has passed and again I must sleep. Still, it is never a calm, quiet rest filled with pleasant visions, but always my nights are filled with the deepest darkness. And always there is scratching.
I know not what it means, but the better part of my adult life has been spent dreading the coming of the night and what must inevitably fill my dreams. For every night, as I fall to sleeping, that cursed blackness must come again. My sole companion during these long hours is an erratic scratching noise, the source of which I have never discerned.
It is nothing like metal scraping metal. Nor is it the shaping of wood or the dragging of anything I can imagine. No, this sound is softer still, with a slight, hollow ringing. Now and again, the sound changes and becomes barely audible. Then, it will suddenly increase in intensity until it holds my senses in its rapacious claws.
No, that’s not entirely accurate. It is not my only companionship. Once and a while the scraping is punctuated by a soft whimper or a feral cry of anger, or terror, I can not discern which. However, in my twisted dreams, I imagine that the cries are mine and the terror-filled roars of anger only the expression of the pent-up frustration of bearing years of nights filled with darkness. But, when one’s own voice is counted among his companions, then perhaps he is truly alone, trapped with nothing but darkness, darkness and a hollow scraping.
I fill the hours, for I am lucid, with thoughts of family and friends, of kin and country, and of what the future may bring. Never has this darkness driven me mad, but occasionally I awake so greatly disturbed that I can’t face my family, let alone my job. On those days, I sit at home and curse this dreadful malediction.
Despite this, my life has proceeded at a fairly normal pace. I attended college and procured a job, found a wife to love me, but have not yet sired any children of my own. It seems like that will come with time, as all things have. Sometimes though, life takes you in directions that may seem foreboding, forces open doors that you would have preferred to leave closed and brings you to places that leave you with nothing but the frantic clamor of your own heartbeat in your ears. I once thought I would prefer any sound to that dreadful, empty scraping. Now, I know better. Now, I have seen where a light in the darkness can lead.
It was all to remain a peculiar mystery, a grotesque unknown in my otherwise unremarkable existence. Then, as often occurs, a phone rang. Upon answering, a calm, unfamiliar voice broke upon my ears.
“Do you still remember it, that darkness?”
“What? What do you mean?”
“Nights filled with nothing but blackness. Do you remember them?”
I should say that, by now, a sharp chill had overtaken my spine and my voice trembled slightly, “Yes, well, sort of. Who is this?!”
“An e-mail will be sent to you. It will explain all that you need to know. I will contact you again soon”
Call display yielded nothing. The number had been blocked, so whoever it was wanted to keep their identity a secret for the time being. Under other circumstances, I may have ignored the call altogether. In fact, I would have were it not for the persistence of my horrid nightmares and the e-mail I was expecting to receive. I checked my inbox with a savage persistence for the rest of the day. Nothing that remarkable was sent to me; only a torrent of Facebook up-dates.
That night, I slipped into bed with my wife and returned to the darkness into which she could not accompany me. The malaise of this night was somewhat alleviated by the notion that I may soon understand this inky void. I stared into the darkness once more in an almost adversarial manner. Now, I could face it and, perhaps, armed with a greater knowledge of what it meant, I could vanquish this unrelenting foe. Almost as if in response to my agitation, the scraping that haunted me roared like a silent cacophony through the halls of my endless dreams. I felt, for an instant, like a statue, cast in onyx, trapped and hungry for release. For the first time, that scraping felt like the approach of my jailer. As it grew louder, I imagined tricking him to earn my release. That unceasing echo seemed to be my best and only clue. For the first time in years, I woke refreshed.
However, the world that I would wake in to would not be my own. It is not that anything had changed. Rather, life began to fall from my tenuous grasp. It slipped slowly and, as I have read the e-mail I received, fewer things are clearer now than before. It contained an attachment that detailed the extreme psychosis of a young boy. It seems that the boy had experienced some seemingly terrifying trauma and had become uncontrollably feral as soon as darkness enshrouded him. From this I could tell little, for the problem of this child seemed quite contrary to my own long, tedious nights alone in the dark. Perhaps it was meant to provide a comparative comfort. Either way, it yielded few answers.
At the bottom of the e-mail was written a date, time and place. At first, I felt little compulsion to show up. It seemed like the voice had been mistaken and contacted the wrong individual, however unlikely that may be. Still, I felt it was my duty to attend and correct that wrong, either way.
As the day approached, my agitation became evident. Friends asked me what was wrong and my wife complained of a new thrashing behavior I seemed to have taken on in my sleep. I wore the strain of it on my face in dark circles and strained stares. No mere day-time agitation could compare to the newly rallied strength of my nightly terror in the abyss. Nothing changed, but the scratching grew louder, more insistent. I no longer thought of the scratching as a chance at freedom. Now, there was only dread. A deep, sinister dread that crept into my head and latched on to my very brain, filling it with the worst thoughts I could imagine.
Perhaps that scraping was a knife. I could see the serrated edges of a blade tearing bits of flesh from bone and rending skin from muscle. Drops of blood formed vividly before my mind’s eye and plunged towards the stonework, forming puddles, then rivers, of scarlet waste. I knew that, very soon, my own life would mingle with those that had come before me. Then, it became the rusted hinge of a bladed pendulum swinging back and forth, back and forth over the body of a lost soul. With each pass, the blade was lowered a miniscule amount, slicing that much deeper into the body of the damned.
Whatever it was, I could still only imagine it. All I could see was the shroud of night that wrapped around me. Surely, whatever the cause, a curse had been placed on me. Spending half your life in utter darkness seems hardly a life at all.
Again, the morning sun greeted me. However, it was no longer the welcome relief from a night’s horrors that it once was. The graphic images that my scratching inspired followed me to the waking world. Yes, my scratching. For, I am sure no one else suffers that infernal droning. The days passed in this manner and things only got worse for me with time. Acquaintances remarked that I was becoming rather short-tempered and long-time friends seemed to be avoiding me. My wife had not touched me since the argument we had had several days before. I felt that I could not be blamed. Finally, that dreadful curse had worn through my sanity and the effects were there for all the world to see. It needed to end. At last, the specified day arrived.
I quietly left the house and drove to a restaurant near the edge of the city. There I approached the only patron sitting alone. He had a kind face and spoke in a flat, even tone. Few words passed between us, but he offered to shed some light on the dreams that I told him plagued me. He did not seem the least bit surprised by these revelations, merely intrigued. He appeared to me as somewhat familiar, but I could not place my finger on his identity. It was this familiarity that propelled me from my seat as he paid his bill and beckoned me to the door. I followed closely behind his car as we drove out of the city.
However, I could not drive the morbid thoughts from my mind. Now, in my head, it was the strange, kind-faced man that was being subjected to the terrible tortures that the scraping inspired. I saw him die over and over with no way to banish the bloody visions from my mind. I held no grudge against him, so I could not understand the feelings of gratification they inspired. I felt sick to my stomach over my own sadistic thoughts and the curse I had endured. If anything, I was grateful to him for trying to help me. I hated the man I had become that much more. One way or another, I prayed for it to end.
We eventually reached the driveway of a small house that looked strangely familiar to me. A sudden pain stabbed at my forehead and visions of the house flashed through my mind. Broken windows and sunny afternoons flooded into view. I had been here before. A sudden realization struck me. This must have been where I had lived before being taken to the orphanage. The state had taken custody of me but this had been my home. I stabbed the lock on my seatbelt and jumped out of the car. Surrounded by the fields I must have wandered through as a child and basking in the brilliant sun shining down through the clear, un-crowded sky-line. During those briefs moments, before being reminded of the errand that had called me back here, I finally felt at home.
Unfortunately, these feelings were short lived. Upon closer the inspection, it became clear that the house was in poor repair. A feeling of unease formed in the back of my mind. Every stair leading up to the front door groaned under the weight of our steps. The paint around the frame was reminiscent of the skin of a poorly flayed creature. Every inch of it appeared to be peeling off. The inside of the house was caked in grime and dust, except for a few visible trails leading off in several directions. After a brief tour of the tiny up-stairs area, the feeling that I had once lived here grew. So too did the feelings of unease.
“The tour is almost complete. What do you think?” The man asked me as we approached the last room at the end of the hall. He turned to me and smiled, spreading wrinkles from his eyes and mouth.
“I… It’s all so strangely familiar…”
He continued to smile with the cunning of a magician before his coup de grace, fishing in his pocket for the key to the door we now stood before. The door seemed like it had undergone much renovation over the years. Now, it was reinforced with a deadbolt and a beam of wood across its width. He slid the key into the lock and a solid clicking sound resounded through the frame.
As the door opened, a small room came into view. The window had thick bars spread over a metal screen. The wallpaper was torn from every surface of the room and a child’s bed sat rooted to the floor in its own corner. There was little else in this room, save a writing desk and chair, both in poor repair. As I walked into the room, the boards beneath me creaked and the oh-so familiar sound struck the wind from me. My mind burst opened and flooded me with memories.
I remembered the nights after the door closed into darkness. Every night, I would sit alone, shivering in the dark, listening to the scraping that kept me from sleep. My parents, whom I couldn’t begin to picture, would tell me that I was imagining it. Often, they would say that I was dreaming, or possibly, causing the scraping myself with my constant fidgeting. The bars, they had said, were to keep unwanted visitors out of my room, for it was not safe to keep someone so little on the ground floor without some form of extra protection.
At my young age, I had simply accepted their explanations, albeit with some trepidation. Now that I was grown I doubted them even more. Why would you reinforce the inner door, as well as the outer windows? Why was a deadbolt necessary for a child’s room? Why put your child in the room on the ground floor, at all, if it was such a risk? Why was all of the wallpaper torn from the walls in such an unnatural fashion? What caused the scraping that had clearly kept me from sleep? It was no figment of my imagination. I was sure of that fact now. For years I had clearly heard the sound echoing through my dreams.
“I… I don’t get it. I have more questions now than I did before.”
“There is one last thing for you to see. I’m afraid I have been less than open with you until now. I wanted to see how much you could recall on your own before I told you too much. You see, sometimes there are things that people are better off not remembering.”
“I have to. I can’t take much more of this torment. Not knowing is driving me mad…”
“Is it? That seems unlikely.” He mumbled as he bent over the bed in the corner.
With a frown, he pulled up the mattress from its wooden frame to reveal an hollow core. A terrible smell crept up from the cavity and assaulted my nostrils. Along the sides were layers of insulation and padding and in the middle sat a long, black box.
“This box was designed so that it could only be opened from the outside. It was porous enough to allow a free flow of air and big enough to hold… well…”
He pulled the bolt out and lifted the lid. The box creaked open and the vile odor redoubled in strength. Light pierced the shadowy veil of the box. The inside was stained a brownish-red and bits of plastic-looking flakes collected around the edges of the container. I gasped and covered my mouth to ward off the smell and the foul taste that accompanied it. Glimpsing my malformed nails sent an intuitive shock through my system.
The final tumbler clicked into place and memories raked my conscious mind. Pandora’s gifts came as visions and phrases. First, the small room, much like it was now, when I was young.
Voices pleading for sanity broke the silence, “Please, there’s nothing we can do. He’s crazy! As soon as it gets dark we can’t control him! We’ve tried everything. We barred the window and kept him near the ground so he won’t hurt himself jumping out, but he just cuts himself on the glass!!”
“…broke his bone pulling on the straps?!? What can…”
A kindly face looking down, an even voice, “…complete memory loss after nightfall, extreme aggressive behavior…”
That same even tone, “He won’t be able to move around enough to do serious damage to himself. He may experience some discomfort but the worst he’ll lose is a few fingernails…”
Darkness… utter darkness… the constant scraping…
…More scraping… panic… fear… darkness…
A sharp, piercing light, hope and a growing fear. Darkness… Hope… fear… darkness… anger…
A sharp crimson… the kindly face once more…
“…dealt with him previously…. Should have no memory of what happened. He seems calm in the dark now, though. Unfortunate that it couldn’t have come sooner… We must ensure he can not remember.”
“Can’t be tried as an adult… Cover his memories further… block them out. The box may have acted as a form of desensitization, flooding his fear or he may have repressed the events entirely… alone.”
“Condition him… Someday we’ll test…”
In the background, far away, almost a distant song… “Do you remember anything? I don’t want to reveal anything if I can spare you. It’s mostly trivial stuff, but it can be unpleasant. Hello… what…?”
He disappeared. I can’t tell you all that happened, but I was closer to him than anyone else. I do know that the man who contacted him was found in the room, dead. He bled out from multiple bite wounds and many, many lacerations. Pieces of flesh were scattered across the room and the walls were awash in blood. Even with all the information I have, all I can do is reconstruct what I think may have happened based on what he told me and the files I accessed through his e-mail. The evidence from the house and a few eye-witnesses from the restaurant filled in the gaps. Will he remember any of this? Where is he now? So many questions remain. It’s still so dark.