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What would wake me I can’t say. I climb from the relative safety of my bed and pull open the door that’s already cracked to let in the light. My constant fear of being alone in the dark makes it nearly impossible for me to sleep and impossible for my parents to make it through the night without being awakened at least once by my screams. 

I make my way past my parent’s bedroom door, also cracked to ensure I’m heard at night, and I walk to the door of the next room. Before it became my father’s office, it was the house’s catch-all. This is where our junk lived and would sit in haphazard piles waiting to either be discarded or utilized. 

I stand in the doorway. The longer I stand there, silently hypnotized by the darkness that terrifies me, I see that the inky black pool of shadows at the back of the room is now swirling. The swirl of darkness is also growing as if another doorway is opening into a void so dark that sound dies in the throat. 

Something begins to emerge, at first equally dark but still distinguishable from the black hole twisting like a lightless galaxy in the back of the dingy room in a drab Midwestern home on a forgettable suburban street.  

Slowly, a figure rises from the portal. My three-year-old mind can only interpret it as a giant monster zombie pirate. It looks dead. Perhaps it is, but it still stares at me with one working eye and a sinister awareness that frightens me so badly the breath is pulled from my body. I cannot scream for help. I cannot alert my parents. I can make no noise whatsoever. 

The thing in front of me stoops as the ceiling is too low to accommodate its bulk. It begins leaning toward me, leering as though it is starving. Starving for what, though? Does it just wish to elicit as much fear as possible, or will it tear the flesh from my tiny bones and feast on my still-beating heart? 

I manage to turn away from the monster and try to sprint down the hallway to the front door. I'm unsure why I don’t go to my parents’ room. Perhaps I’ve surmised in my panic that I would be blocked in with no means of escape. 

I make it to the front door even as I slog through that oft-experienced mired footing that terrorizes so many who make the vain attempt at escaping their dream monsters. I threw open the door that, at age three, I’m sure I was unable to reach, much less unlock. 

Suddenly, I’m on the sidewalk. I am headed two doors down to my grandparents. But, as expected, I keep falling. My feet won’t work. They are heavy. The air seems to push me back toward the gnashing teeth I can hear just behind me.  

    I make the mistake of turning to look back. He is upon me. 

Surely, I had many dreams during my time in our cul-de-sac’s number four house. But there is only one I remember; the terror it inspired in my then-tiny body blooming to inhabit every neuron and pore and muscle fiber so that it would be forever impossible to forget as I have had almost every other dream before or since. 

The darkness of that dream existed on many levels. The room was dark, sure, but the essence of the dream itself was steeped in a darkness so black that the evil radiated hell itself. 

Perhaps the monster in the dream was a demon. That is what I believe, anyway.  

This began as a dream to be sure, but it didn’t end there. As I grew, my fear of the dark morphed into a fear of black doorways. I could not walk by, look into, or in any way exist near a doorway through which only darkness was visible. 

At first, I didn’t know why. I didn’t even consider why. Just as, at age three, I didn’t stop to question why I was afraid of the dark, my fear of dark doorways became another reasonable fear that was just a part of my makeup. As I got older, my parents quickly learned that leaving a light burning in every room after sunset easily offset any inconvenience that a higher electric bill might bring. If I was in my bedroom at the end of the hall, and they wanted to leave the house, there was no way to coax me past three gloomy entryways without lighting each room I had to pass to reach the front door. 

And if I was in the living room watching television at bedtime, no threat or enticement would encourage me to go to my bedroom unless my mother or father went ahead to first chase the shadows from every imaginable corner. 

Time passed, and my knowledge of my fears increased. To some extent, I now understood why I was afraid. By the time I was eight, I knew that, if I stood in the doorway of a dark room looking in – especially one room in particular - the darkness itself could see me. It was a living thing with awareness. And an agenda. 

That was 1982. I know because The Empire Strikes Back was released two years previously. All the boys in my third-grade class were little idiots as they tried to outdo each other’s Yoda impressions. One of their favorite quotes from the little green Jedi master was, “When you look at the dark side, careful you must be. For the dark side looks back.” 

Sometimes I would laugh at them as they’d have their little contests, gargling out Wookie screams and swaggering around like Han Solo and crouching down to mimic Yoda’s backward riddle-like sayings. 

But when they started in on that particular quote, I’d get shivers down my back. It wasn’t funny anymore. Because it was true. 

Well before entering junior high, my knowledge of being watched by the dark moved beyond simple awareness to something more substantial. More than once, I made the mistake of standing before the dark doorway to my father’s office. These happenings typically only occurred if I was sleepy and managed to stumble into the wrong place after using the bathroom in the middle of the night. 

Then, it was almost as if the darkness could infiltrate my awareness and pull me toward the door. My semi-conscious brain would buzz as something slithered through it, whispering to me to come look… just for a moment… nothing bad would happen. 

That was a lie. It was always bad. My sleepy pre-pubescent brain was pliable in these moments, and I could feel cool curling wisps of the darkness winding slowly around my wrists and ankles as the murmurings continued, lulling me into a sleepy cocoon of seeming safety. The lull didn’t last, though. Those cool wisps around my limbs would suddenly tighten painfully as the darkness tried to pull me toward its hungry mouth. 

I’d wake fully in those moments, screaming for help. My parents would rush into the hall, flipping on the light and looking around in a watery three a.m. panic to deduce that I was once again standing alone in the hall, screaming for no reason. 

“What’s the matter?!”  

My mother would look at me wild-eyed, at her wit's end, her frayed nerves pushed beyond their snapping point. She'd take in her 12-year-old daughter, who had developed a penchant for sleepwalking night terrors just when she was hoping I would have grown out of the nightly banshee-wailing nightmares she’d somehow survived since I was a baby. 

Exhausted, she would take me by the shoulders and propel me back toward my room as I could only ever lift my arm and point into my father’s dark study in answer to her question. 

“Shouldn’t she have grown out of all this shit by now?” My dad would scream and whisper to her when she’d return to bed. He thought I couldn’t hear him. The worry and irritation were evident in his voice, making it carry into my room. 

I’d try explaining it to them in the daylight, but all I’d get were eyerolls and heavy sighs and the same mantra repeated over and over. 

It was just a dream. 

When I left this house at 17, I swore I was never coming back. I almost kept that promise.  

I knew the only way to escape the darkness that threatened me each night was to get out of that house for good. I needed a scholarship from a good university. The further away the better. I must have applied to more than 50 colleges, most dotting both coasts with a few peppered throughout New England. I enjoyed the daydream of higher learning in California, but the idea of crisp autumn days attending a university beneath a sky raining bright red and yellow leaves sounded terribly collegiate. 

I maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout high school, skipped a grade, and graduated valedictorian. I was offered a full ride to six different institutions. My mother cried the day I left, but I knew she was proud of my accomplishments. My father kissed me and told me he’d miss me, but I could see the relief in his eyes at the prospect of his first full night’s sleep in 17 years. 

I didn’t blame him. 

I was hoping for the same. 

I also didn’t have the heart to tell my mother I was never returning. 

That was six months ago. 

Now, my parents are gone. 

I had been able to beg off for Thanksgiving with the excuse of the part-time job I made up. Christmas was more difficult. I tried using the non-existent job as an excuse again. Then, I conjured a project I needed to finish. Finally, I was sick at the last minute. I could tell my mother didn’t believe me, and I didn’t blame her. I didn’t put enough effort into my performance. 

Was it her growing sadness that allowed the darkness to take her? My father mentioned she’d begun hearing murmurings in the night. I knew those whispers. I knew what they were trying to do. I just didn’t realize they’d follow through. They never had with me. Or so I thought.  

A few weeks after moving into my dorm, I realized how much more energy I had. Everything looked brighter. I felt more alive. Thinking back to my time at home, it was as if I’d been living life underwater. What I could hear had been muted, what I could see had been a bit bleary, and I often felt as if I wasn’t getting enough air. The darkness hadn’t been overt in its attempt to take my life. But it was trying to kill me. It had been robbing me of energy for 17 years. 

But, for my mother, it only took one midnight trip. She stumbled from her bed, finally giving in after so many nights of hearing the whispers in her head. She followed the voices down the hall while my father slept. I know what happened next even though no one was there to see it. My father only saw what was left after the darkness had its fill. I know because that’s where he fell too, dead before hitting the ground. The stroke thankfully took him before the darkness was ready for a second helping. 

I should have known this would happen, that it would take revenge on me for leaving, for not answering its nightly call. 

Now that I’m back, I can feel the old numbness descending as I move toward its door and away from the fire sliding quickly over the living room carpet. I can also feel its awareness of my return, and the frenzy of its hunger easily masks any understanding that its home is about to burn to the ground.


I am a current student working on my MFA in Creative Writing as well as my first novel. This short story is my first work of fiction


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