Not even a telephone pole down this road, I thought to myself. It was the time of day when the fading sun started to sink into the fall skyline in a spectacular display of dark blues and black. A masterpiece in itself; too perfect not to admire. The crack from my window ushered in a sweet, stinging burn of someone burning wood in the distance. I took a deep, calming breath. I smiled.
Without warning, a gust of wind with the overwhelming scent of diesel screeched through my soul; a semi passed on the opposite lane, startling me with its deep horn. I thought I left my body in that very instant. I focused once more with a shudder.
Back to reality. Nearly standstill traffic. I turned on the radio for a quick distraction. A popular song was playing, and I cranked the volume nearly all the way up. I was tapping to the beat on my heavily worn leather steering wheel, but it didn't stop me from becoming frustrated, again, as to what was in front of me. Yet another standstill going into town, I think to myself. How many times will I go down this road until I learn? I slammed on my brakes as traffic from the ramp merged into my lane. Fantastic!
Having to drive into town was an event itself. I knew better than to wait so long to go to the grocery store, but I just forgot. My doctor tells me depression sometimes does that to people, despite the fact I told him I've had it since, well, as far back as I remember. I'm still not sure if I should keep going to him, I paused. Then, I remembered what it was like without the medication and therapy. I winced. Too many painful memories, I thought. Too many stupid mistakes.
I have also been warned about seasonal depression; how the sun affects mood and irritability. It seemed to make sense to me; how many of my "bad" thoughts creeped in while I wasn't around anyone and away from the outside world. Night time is when I was alone with my thoughts. In my single bed, facing the window while the bedroom door was always just out of my sight to my right. Growing up, it always seemed to make me feel more agitated about my personal life than it should have been.
When I finally graduated college and moved out to my own apartment, I vowed to arrange my apartment how I saw fit. It wasn't too long into the unpacking I realized where my big furniture had been inadvertently moved by me: eerily identical to how my bedroom was in my parents' house. How does that even happen?
After having those thoughts once again perverse my brain, I calmed myself a bit. I was feeling much better these days, even in the fall cold. At least the sun was shining in my face. My cheeks felt slightly tinged. What a strange feeling.
Almost thirty minutes later, I was finally walking towards the entrance of the store. The sunset had already been engulfed into total darkness. A familiar feeling. If it weren't for the contrasting, bright lights in the parking lot, I would be surrounded in darkness. I could hear the hum of the crickets start somewhere in the distance.
I walked through the automatic doors with a cart in tow quickly, eager to leave the lot behind. Despite the nearly filled lot, I quickly learned there weren't a whole lot of people in the store. It seemed isolated, almost lonely. Not even a clerk was seen at the front. The sound was minimal with a dreary tune playing overhead.
As I turned from the meat department to the frozen foods' aisle, the overhead lights had begun to flicker rapidly. The darkness of the slender aisle was only highlighted by the lights in the freezer themselves. "One of those big lights must be going out", I said out loud to myself. Not like anyone else could hear me. Did they not hire anyone after the usual kids left for their fall semester? I audibly groaned.
I perused the aisle, gazing at the various frozen vegetables. I knew what I wanted and would ultimately pick, but it was always a prerogative of mine to seek out new foods. Broccoli, carrots; oh, what about broccoli AND carrots? I chortled. I guess that's the thrill of being an adult shopper, I thought to myself smugly. I kneeled and was looking at onions and peas, recipes racing in my head.
Someone came up from behind me and grabbed a bag of frozen peas inches from my face. I gasped and flung my body back; falling suddenly on my rear. I quickly rose to my feet and turned, huffing and puffing. I felt myself immediately becoming agitated. My heart was pounding.
A lanky, elderly man stared back at me, his grey eyes trying to adjust to the dim setting. "I'm sorry! Are you okay, miss?" He was visibly shaking. He had a tweed hat on which matched his musty brown suit and faded black shoes. I realized one false move from me, and he could have fallen over. The poor man! I didn't mean to scare him. I immediately felt guilty about scaring him.
"No, sir. I'm sorry I was in your way!". I smiled to reassure him, despite how I felt inside. He nodded and continued to walk down the aisle. I noticed his smile completely faded from his face as he trudged through the darkness. I quickly went to my cart as feelings of remiss entered my brain once more. Kind of rude, I thought. Kind of strange, too. I watched his figure seemingly vanish into the next aisle. Not a single sound followed. I had to slow down my breathing to continue.
A few minutes later, I was done with my grocery shopping. As I looked upon the empty checkout lanes, I happened to see a clerk wiping down a register at the far end of the store. The self-checkout was only a few feet away. I surmised he was getting ready to close for the night and didn't want to bother him. I scanned, paid for my groceries and quickly left.
Traffic has died down! I thought to myself as I finally exited the store. That thought made me giddy with excitement. I quickly pushed my cart to my truck and loaded the bags onto the passenger's seat, nearly skipping the whole time in glee. I didn't even notice how the lights from the lamp posts started to become even dimmer than before.
I pushed the cart into an empty cart corral. Strange. The corral was nearly filled when I came in. A chill came over me, making my insides shudder. That sudden, almost gushing feeling of panic swept over me. Any happiness or excitement I had inside of me vanished without notice. I physically stopped in my tracks, forgoing my surroundings. "You will NOT have these kinds of thoughts today!" I firmly said to myself. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath in. Slowly opening my eyes, I had to quickly take in my surroundings.
Darkness. Even the parking lights have turned off.
Real panic set in. My body betrayed me as anxiety filled my every fiber of my being. I almost crumpled to the ground. As my heart began to race and my breathing shallow, I turned and started to unlock my truck with my FOB key. A quick "beep" and shine from the headlights came through the darkness, but then I heard footsteps. Turning around, I saw the old man again. I froze in complete shock.
"Hello there," he said. He had that fake smile on his face again. I noticed he was in front of a car with a concerned older looking woman in the driver's seat, engine running. I was too flabbergasted to put a smile on my face. "You've been standing there for a few minutes. Are you alright, miss?" he said with resounding tenor in his voice. Unlike in the store, he was much more intimidating. His stance was sturdier and had earnest and his eyes. His focus was solely on my eyes.
I paused a few seconds for composure. Was I really standing here for a few minutes? Are the lights suddenly back on? "I'm so sorry, sir. I'll get out of your way…" I stammered. I started to back up to my car, making sure not to take my gaze off him. As suddenly as the encounter started, he abruptly began walking back to his car. I heard him say "That's alright. Be safe going home". The older woman in the driver seat smiled and waved at me as they drove off.
A feeling of normalcy washed over me. I watched their car as they turned the headlights on as they exited the lot. The older woman waved at me again. I really shouldn't be out here this late, I thought. I entered my truck and started the engine. I looked at my groceries next to me and reached out to feel the chicken. Still frozen. My attention turned to the outside of the vehicle. I gasped.
Where the hell did everything go?!
The lot was completely void of vehicles and corrals; there was a vast nothingness. The only shape I made out was the store in the distance. Why did it seem farther away than it was? No lights were emanating from the store. It almost seemed like it had been abandoned for years.
I was in near total darkness. There was no sound whatsoever, save for my own heart beating. Is this real? Am I sleeping again? Panic welled up from deep inside me remembering what happened last time I saw the vast nothingness.
"WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING!" I thrashed and screamed at full force. Feeling the pain of hitting the dashboard and steering wheel felt somehow comforting to me. Familiar. I stopped, my hands covered my eyes in a futile attempt to protect myself. The pain was distracting and comforting to me. I felt stinging tears stream down my face as I bowed my head down in despair. Surely, I was having a bad panic attack. A psychosis. I breathed deep for what seemed like minutes, letting the sound of my heartbeat slow. I'm not sure for how long. All I knew was that this was the only thing I could do at that moment. I opened my eyes and let them adjust, ready to face whatever world I was in.
I began to see the outline of the vehicles. The lights were all off, but the cars and empty corrals were still there. Could I experience normalcy once more?
Immediately I noticed the engine was off. I glanced at the clock on the dashboard: Two AM. More panic: I start work in six hours! It's been years since I lost time. What is going on…I suddenly realized the vast stillness of this place. Soundless. Was I even breathing? While carefully making sure I did not shatter the silence, I reached for the key in the engine.
Nothing. I rubbed my feet against the carpet near the gas pedal, silently praying for a miracle. Nada. My keys were gone.
Unexpectedly, there seemed to be a sound of bare feet shuffling on concrete just outside the truck. I darted my head to the right. The left. I looked outside to only see a vast sea of darkness again and in the center: a small child. Its face was obstructed, but there was no doubt: it was a child. Never mind the fact I was thrust upon this oblivion again, but now there were others. Children!
Unnerving as that was, I suddenly heard an erratic breathing. An unnatural shape loomed much, much closer to me than the child I saw at my passenger door. Its body and face were unnaturally slender, with only a condescending smirk covering its wide jaw. The eyes, although not apparent at first, seemed to appear with a hint of red. It was the old man from before. It took me a few seconds to remember to breathe again; his face and body never moving from its opposing figure. "Wait, I know yo-"
This child, once motionless, came to life and rushed to the car; bumping into my hood and darting beneath. The figure of the old man suddenly left. The child spoke and banged on the hood. "Let me in, let me in! The man is coming back! Hurry, Hurry!". He was screaming, his voice breaking. Where did you come from? My eyes went back to the little boy. I recognized that absolute panic in his voice. Reacting without a word, I leaned over to the passenger door and popped the lock. The child saw this and ran to the door. He opened the door and slammed it behind him. He began to cry. This is all happening so fast!
"He-hey, wha-what's your name?!" I stammered, shaking and barely able to grasp the steering wheel. The little boy looked at me. His face was red and puffy. "What are you doing here? Who was that guy?!". My voice was becoming louder. He continued to sob.
"Please get me out of here. He hurt me!" Hurt? The little boy? More panic swelled up. This old man was clearly deranged. I couldn't let a child get hurt. A sense of righteousness flooded me. Where are my keys? We need to leave, NOW!
I turned my head towards the crying child. The keys were next to the little boy on the passenger seat! Instinct took over. I grabbed them and jammed them into the keyhole. My car shuddered as it started. The little boy's cries suddenly stopped. I put the headlights on, and I said out loud "Hey, we can leave and get help! It's going to be alrig-!" I looked where the boy was. He was gone and the passenger door was open. Did he open the car door and run in panic? I didn't hear anything! I gasped as a loud THUD was heard from my hood. Two sets of red eyes had appeared merely inches from my face with only the windshield glass between us. I heard them laughing. I sharply inhaled, almost holding my breath.
The door. I shuddered. The door is open! I completely turned my body and I reached for the passenger door, only to be met by a moist and long hand. The old man.
But he wasn't an old man anymore. His body was large, albeit no defining muscles on his frame. His limbs, especially his hands, were impossibly slender and oblong shaped. His eyes, wide only seconds ago were mere slits and his mouth was, well, there was no mouth. I felt a strong jerking on my outstretched hand and much to my jargon, I found myself being pulled out of the passenger side of the truck. Within seconds, I was laying on the concrete of the once parking lot. My right arm was pulsating in pain. I hunched over and felt the pain in my lower back. I looked up to see him: his emotionless gaze beamed down into my being. "I know you!" My voice echoed into darkness.
A thousand flashbacks nearly blinded me back to my younger years: nights often spent under the covers crying in fear of the dark; knowing what lurked on the cold floor below my bed and in my closet.
The time when the old man started to appear in my room.
I was scared at first, but he told me he was there to protect me from the dark. He would listen to my loneliness and my cries for attention. My parents thought I was lying; they never once believed me that an old man lived in my room. They seemed too preoccupied by their own personal issues and work. They barely had any time for me. "Don't be upset with your parents. They're providing a life for you" He would say. I felt so comforted by that. It didn't bother me at all when he asked me for a favor.
The old man told me the neighbors across the street were abusing their son. I would see him come out of the house sometimes. He was always quiet just like me. I heard his Dad screaming from across the street from time to time. One night, the old man told me to take a matchbook in their garage and light the piles of newspaper on fire. "Don't worry. This will just scare them! They'll learn to appreciate their son! Don't you want to help with that?" he said. I remember running across the street on a moonless night long after my parents went to sleep. The garage door was slightly opened, and I managed to crawl under. After I lit the pile and ran home. I waited. No fire trucks, no paramedics. I figured they immediately put it out and that's why the old man didn't visit me again after that. I forced myself to close my eyes in a vain attempt at sleep.
At dawn, I woke up to an ambulance blaring its sirens. I peeked my head out my bedroom window just in time to see they were hauling a body from the house in a stretcher. The parents were crying and holding each other. I found out through my parents later that day the little boy died of smoke inhalation as his bed was right over the garage. All I could think was he was dead because of me. I was supposed to help him.
The rage I felt afterwards was insatiable. My own parents couldn't control me, the once demure and reasonable child. I wouldn't tell my parents I had something to do with it, even when they brought me to a hospital. So that's why I was in that hospital for months, I thought. The clarity of the situation seemed to lift a veil of uncertainty in my mind, unlocking damaged memories. That explains why I can't remember most of my childhood. The loneliness. The empty rooms with only a bed facing that window and the door in front of me…
I should have been paying attention, but I was lost deep to forgotten memories. I paused, gazing forward. It was then I realized the old man seemed to be only centimeters from my face. His skin radiated head and some sort of tainted smell I couldn't yet recognize. His slits where his eyes were supposed to be flickered. "You remember" I heard his voice inside my head. "You remember all that you've done". I heard a chuckle. Unsettling; almost as if he was holding back a hearty laugh. I pulled myself back, wincing in pain.
"What I've done"? I screamed, pounding my fists on the pavement. My right-hand throbbing with pain, but that didn't stop me from continuing. "You made me do that! I was a kid. What right did you have, asshole?" I started to get up, knees trembling. The fury in my heart was blooming. It was apparent the old man, nay, demon, did not like my new-found sense of confidence. His slits fluttered once more. A resounding bellow was heard all around me.
An invisible gust of wind struck me down as I just made it to my feet. I cried out and closed my eyes; my head was aching terribly. I reluctantly rested my head on the pavement. I felt something wet, most likely my own blood. When I opened my eyes in a daze, his face was on top of mine inches from my face. The slits of his eyes were oozing some type of fluid; falling onto my forehead. The stench of rotting bodies quickly overcame my senses. The absolute horror possessed me immediately. Too scared to scream, I dragged my nails into the pavement trying to hoist myself away from his face. I felt my nails crack as the weight of me was furiously digging into the pavement bared down. I opened my eyes. His body was now floating over mine and slowly rising.
My entire body was dead weight and I couldn't move. The wetness from my head seemed to spread to my shoulders. I knew I was bleeding. The thought of dying scared me. Knowing the suffering I caused, even if I was coerced by some demon, meant I would end up right where he was. I started to cry. My tears and utter despair were noticed by the demon.
You missed me so much, you even arranged your own bedroom the same as when we first met; but I never said I was going to kill you, the voice boomed. I forced my eyes to focus. The demon was just hovering a few feet above me. He was completely motionless. In his form hovering near the stars, he almost appeared angelic. His appendage stretched out and touched my head. A cold and numbing feeling came over my body. I felt my fingers move without pain. The massive headache had gone away. I felt myself sitting up, relieved. His massive arm contorted back to the amalgamation that was his body. I kept touching the hot earth around me to make sure what I felt was real. I must get the hell out of here, I kept thinking, this is my chance to get out of here. I rose to my feet quickly and tried to make sense of what was around me before I ran. Nothingness. I looked back up at the demon. The stars had disappeared; it was just darkness once more. It seemed to be closing in.
You must fulfill your oath to me, the voice said. The demon was still floating. He seemed almost majestic.
I shuddered at the thought of that thing being anything but horrifying. An oath? "I never gave an oath to you"! I yelped. The demon landed softly on the ground mere feet away from me. His shape began to violently change. I took one step back, fearing what was yet to come. His shape abruptly changed back to the old man.
He wobbled very slowly to me. He grabbed my hand and took it in his. A sudden, floating feeling took over me. My vision went dark. I saw yet another vision: me at the hospital about ten years old. I was alone in the room with only a bed and a window with bars on it. I was sobbing; probably because I was left alone again that day while I heard people outside the locked door. The sadness I felt was that of complete abandon and loneliness.
An all too familiar shadow crawled from under the bed. It materialized before young me. My sobbing suddenly stopped. I looked up at the old man. I was so angry. "You're mad at me! You let them put me in here! I want to go home, NOW"! The old man yanked my hand from me. It shocked me. My tears had stopped again.
His expression softened. "I'm very proud of you. You ended that boy's suffering.". Young me gazed at the old man, confused, as he continued. "I'll get you out of here, dear. In return, you must do me a favor". His smile, even in the vision of him, seemed more menacing than what I just experienced.
I saw myself stifle a cry, rubbing my eyes. I had been through too much and just wanted it to end, no matter the cost. "Okay", I had said weakly. I sounded defeated, as if I knew what was to come. The old man snapped his fingers and vanished into thin air. Suddenly, the door opened, and a doctor entered the room.
"Good news! You get to go home now!". I watched as younger me started smiling and cried again. This time, with happy tears. What I had just witnessed up to that point was all but a fleeting memory as joy had been returned to me. The vision then faded and I was right back in front of the old man, hand returned to his side. There was, however, another person there in impending darkness: the older woman from the car earlier. She was standing completely still, facing forward. Her figure was frozen, emotionless. What the hell was happening?
I was startled as the old man started to speak. "Do you understand yet?" His smile had shifted, causing most of his face to contort to encompass most of his cheeks into his eyes.
This was the worst yet I have seen; yet, I paused, genuinely confused. "No", I firmly said. My small voice echoed in the surrounding darkness. Was it getting even closer to us?
The old man's gaze went to the old woman next to him and I heard a very low, unearthly growl. His slits began to bleed again. The old woman let out a deafening roar and her body fell apart. She was in pieces, almost like she was a macabre jigsaw puzzle. Blood, however, was nowhere to be seen. This didn't make any sense. I just stood there, knees buckling. "What, why…" I started to shake and lower myself to the ground. The demon cackled, his slits and his body morphing into that unnatural shape once more.
"You're perfect" His voice was deepening and pierced my eardrums as he spoke each word: "Weak. Angry. Pathetic." With a wave of the demon's hand, the darkness jumped into me, corrupting my body. It pulled me into an even deeper void. My insides were in agony and my bones shifted and cracked as I was being forced into an unknown space which seemed so, very, small. There was no time to panic; suddenly, I was completely numb.
The last thing I remember was looking at the sun, one last time, as I realized where I was: in the old woman's car. There was blood everywhere. It almost seemed to paint the insides in a deep, crimson hue with the brilliance of the sun as its backdrop. My body was moving on its own: the old woman's insides were being carved out with a dull looking knife. I tried to scream, cry, run: nothing happened. I saw the woman's body as it was moments ago: this time, in a cesspool of organs and flesh. I heard cries outside the car and noises of people trying to get into the car and stop me from hurting this poor, old woman.
You are my perfect vessel, I heard the demon emanate from inside my mind, You will create utter, delightful chaos in this world in my name.