I am consumed. Darkness has slowly devoured every inch of me, and I find no signs of light or relief. My wrists and ankles are bound by thick straps. They only seem to tighten as I tug. I have no memory of how I got here. I only know that I’d rather be burning in the fires of Hell.
Most children outgrow their fear of the dark. I never did. I am almost thirty-five years old, yet I refuse to sleep without a nightlight. I carry a tiny flashlight on my keychain, and I always park beneath streetlights. To me, darkness is the ultimate terror. Anything can lurk in the shadows. Anything at all.
Anyone could be in this place with me right now. Anyone.
The hairs on my neck prickle as I listen. It sounds like I’m alone, but I can’t be certain. The only way to know is to break free. Maybe then I can find some light. I start to wiggle my hand against the wrist restraint on my right side. If I do it just right, perhaps it will slip loose. It’s all I can do anyway.
While I work, I try to understand. Where am I? Why have I been strapped to a table? Who could possibly be doing this to me, and what are their plans? I think back to the afternoon. I was on my way to a meeting when my car ran out of gas. Before I could call for a cab, a car stopped to offer me a ride to the nearest station.
Now, who was it? Who was behind the wheel? I try to picture the face. It has to be someone I know. I’m not the type to get into vehicles with strangers. Was it a friend? A coworker? No. No, I remember a white collar. It was brilliantly white, so much so I jokingly asked what bleach he used. A priest? Yes, it was a priest. Father Flannigan.
“Thank you for giving me a lift, Father,” I say as we drive towards the gas station. But he doesn’t stop. He’s still driving. I point. “Father, that gas station would’ve been fine.”
“I need your help. Would you be willing to help me?” he asks.
“Sure, but not now. I have a meeting.”
“I’m sorry. You won’t be able to make it.”
He lunges across the car. I try to push him off, but he removes a cloth from his pocket. It’s saturated with chemicals. I breathe them in and fade.
I jolt at the memory. Desperately, I yank my hand at the strap holding me down. I now know I’m involved in something that won’t have a storybook ending. Surely, someone from work has alerted the police that I’m missing. I’m never late for a meeting. Never. Plus, it’s impossible to know how long I’ve been out. It could’ve been days for all I can tell.
Pain bites at my skull. I don’t know what’s wrong, but it’s starting to burn. My eyes hurt from the blackness around me. I ignore the throbbing sensation in my eye sockets and keep fighting. Eventually, it works. My hand slides through the restraint. I feel the strap scrape my flesh as it travels.
I feel around for the strap on my left side. It’s hard to find the buckle, but I manage to grab it. After some fiddling, I get the restraint to loosen. With my hands free, I can liberate my ankles. I carefully sit upright and follow the shape of my legs. Then, I undo both straps. At least I can move now.
Cautiously, I swing my legs over the edge of what must be a table. The table feels cold and smooth as if it’s made of metal. I don’t know how high I am, so I lower myself bits at a time. The floor is cold on my bare feet. Why are they bare? I feel my body, realizing I’m also in a set of what must be pajamas or scrubs. Have I been put in a hospital?
“You’re sure about this one, Flannigan?” a gruff voice asks.
“Yes. It’s like I said. Fear of the dark,” the priest replies.
The voice hums. “Good. That’s good. We’ll get to it. Prepare the anesthesia.”
I gulp. When did I hear those voices? It had to be after Father Flannigan attacked me, but that’s all I know. Nothing makes sense. I reach out in front of me, feeling for a wall or anything I can recognize. However, I’m grabbing at nothing. I tiptoe forward, still reaching. Eventually, I bump into a smooth surface. My hands follow it to a corner. I found my wall. My back flattens against it. I heard something. It was a high-pitched squeak like an old doorknob turning.
The squeak gets louder and longer. I hear a sticky sound as if a wooden door has been released from its frame. That’s exactly what it is. Someone is opening a door, but there is still no light. They’re coming from another dark room. We must be in a basement or some other underground structure. Perhaps it’s a lab and I’m their new rat.
I don’t move. I shrink into the corner and hope whoever this is can’t see anything either. Still, I feel footsteps on the floor. Step. Step. Pause. Step. Step. Pause. I start to hear them. They’re louder now. STEP. STEP. Pause. STEP. STEP. Pause. CLINK—the restraints. My visitor knows I’m not on the table anymore.
My breath lowers. They can’t hear me. If they do, I’ll be found. I just want them to go. I’ll find the door myself after that and try to escape. I’ll never be able to run if I’m put back on that table. So, I play statue and pray.
I hear their breath. It’s heavy and lazy. Innnnn. Outtttttt. Innnnnn. Outtttt. I sense that it’s getting closer. Bumps are raising on my arms. The footsteps start again. They’re heading towards me. I hear that damn breathing. Innnnn. Outtttt. Innnnnn. Outttttt. I can almost feel it.
They’re on top of me. I sense their presence. Something brushes my cheek. I jolt away from the contact, frantically moving along the wall. The steps move with me. I’ve been found.
“What do you want? Who’s there?” I demand.
“Hush,” the gruff voice whispers. A hand grabs my chin. “You shouldn’t be up. You can get hurt this way.”
“Tell me who you are.”
“I’m a friend of Flannigan’s. He’s helping me complete some research. I study phobias. It’s a topic that’s always interested me a great deal.”
“And I’m part of your research on phobias?”
“Yes. Flannigan helps me get my test subjects. He finds out what people are afraid of and then brings them to me. Not very priestly of him, I know, but I donate a great deal of money to his church.”
I make my plea. “Can we end whatever experiment this is? I can’t take this. Please just turn on a light. Any light.”
“But the lights are on.”
“No, they’re not. It’s pitch-black in here.”
“Let me ask you something. Are you in any pain?”
“Yes. Behind my eyes.”
“That’s because you don’t have them anymore,” the doctor chuckles. “The experiment is just beginning, my friend. I took your eyes. I took them so I can watch what happens to someone who can never escape their phobia. It’s going to be fascinating, I think. Don’t you?”
I don’t want to believe him. My fingertips rush to tap on my eyes, but all they find are holes covered by gauze. I slowly drop to the floor as my body shakes.
I am the darkness.