Written for my university assignment.
Through a Glass, Darkly
My eyes snapped open.
There was no sunshine; no warm, welcoming light to greet me as I was dragged into consciousness. All that could be seen for miles was the darkness; a crushing, loving womb of black that held me in its relentless embrace.
For a moment, only the sound of my fluttering breath in the dead air lay with me in my lonely existence. The air seemed to move around my weak exhales, before rushing in like the tide and swallowing the noise whole.
The black was interrupted by the faintest blur of grey. My vision began to return to me; it looked like cloud cloaking a moonlit night, and I waited in anticipation for the brilliant, glowing orb to appear before me. Instead, my eyes focused. I became aware.
The first object that revealed itself in my new world was a curtain. The banality of the object fascinated me, and I watched it hang with an unnatural stillness. Dust swirled lazily through the faint beams of light that bloomed from the tattered holes of the dirty fabric, beautiful in its own way.
I grew disinterested in the glimmering patterns and slowly sat up. My joints creaked, an ache shooting throughout my body as a struggled to move, and I found myself tangled in a creature wrapped around my legs and arms. I struggled, panic jolting through me, and then relaxed. It was merely a sheet, greyed with age and grime. Inspecting it for a moment, I noticed smears of unpleasant colouring all along its frayed length; faint browns, murky yellows, and a darker stain that I could not identify. Against my better judgement, I leaned forward and sniffed the sheets, before reeling away, gagging. The smell was rank, like meat left out to spoil, and I jerked away violently. The room tilted, and I fell from my putrid altar.
The water hit me like concrete, and I thrashed in it, gasping with terror as a chill crept through my veins and caressed my bones. Then my flailing arm cracked itself on the tile floor, and I realised the pool was only ankle deep. Pushing myself to my hands and knees, I steadied my breath and then allowed my fingers to explore my throbbing jaw line, gently touching the newly formed bump. It hurt, but didn’t seem serious, so I drew away from it.
My hands were coated in thick algae. I glanced around to find something to clean them on. The platform from which I had toppled was actually a bed, the mattress sagged and rotting, the metal frame battered and tarnished. The sheets had been completely submerged in the slimy water, and the mattress, upon closer inspection, was actually damp. There was a hole in the ceiling, where liquid dripped down every so often with a slight pattering sound.
I sighed and looked down to wipe my hands on myself, before stopping. The garment I was wearing, while ruined from the pool, still showed signs of being clean prior to my fall. The loose, pastel shirt was intact, with no unexplained stains or rips. I considered this for a moment, and then wiped my hands on it anyway. Wriggling out of the old bed sheets, I grasped the leg of the bed and pulled myself up. My arms burned, while my legs screamed in protest, the muscles desperately resisting my will. I gritted my teeth and continued, groaning with pain until I was onto my feet. I inhaled deeply, savouring the air despite its musty, damp stench, and examined the room.
Many of the windows had been boarded up, the wood so badly decomposed that it was split and splintered, chunks missing or covered in greedy fungi and moss. The little light there was filtered through the gaps in the deteriorating boards, highlighting ruin and decay amidst the deep murk. Old, metal cabinets framed the edges of the room like ancient gravestones. Some had their doors wrenched off, others overturned, their innards scattered.
Something brushed against my leg and I jumped, choking back a scream. It was nothing more than a square, plastic bag with a long tube attached at the bottom. There appeared to be some form of congealed, dark liquid in it, but the mere thought of what it could be made my stomach churn. I nudged it with my leg and watch it float away like a grisly little boat.
My hold on the bed slipped slightly and I stumbled, sending up waves of filthy water.
“Who’s there?” I cried out, squinting into the gloom. “Hello?”
No answer. This did not deter me, however. I knew I had heard a voice. I knew it. “Please, is someone there? I don’t know where I am and I can barely walk. Just…please…help me….”
My voice cracked and trailed away. I felt no shame for the blatant desperation laced within my pleas. Now that I was moving, the temperature of the air had plummeted and I was shivering violently. If I didn’t get out of there soon…
The whispers did not return. No one was there, and no one was coming for me. I decided it was time to explore and leave this place on my own. Perhaps when I reached the outside world, everything would make sense. Carefully, I let go of the bed and began to wade forward unsteadily, my legs shaking with every step. Then, out from the murk, a figure appeared. It was sat upright in a chair, its head tilted back against the metal frame. I told myself they were merely sleeping, though I struggled to believe it, and then called out to them.
“Excuse me,” I began warily, before stopping dead in my tracks. My mind tried to process the existence of this new person, but failed. For a fleeting moment, disbelief kept me there, hanging on the edge of sanity over a dark, yawning precipice as I stared at the mouldy remains of a long dead skeleton. Their clothes had all but rotted away, a few discoloured scraps clinging to the aging bones, and protruding from between the ribs was a long, sharp piece of metal. Reality crashed down, and I fell to my knees, terrified.
I could not bring myself to look at it again, and crawled past it towards the door, dry, petrified sobs wracking my body. A sudden pain shot through my hand and I yelped, retracting it up from the water. I was greeted by an old, cracked syringe, its rusted needle embedded deep into my hand. All too aware of the mouldering husk behind me, I rocked back onto my knees and used my free hand to gently extract it. Soft whimpers escaped my lips as my wound throbbed. The needle was resisting, but if I was too forceful, it could snap and become stuck inside my flesh. I took a gamble and wiggled it as I pulled. It felt like I had just plunged my hand into fire, and I hissed between my clenched teeth. The needle came free. I looked at it for a moment, revolted, and then threw it across the room. It clanged against an empty cabinet and ricocheted away into the darkness. What else lurked in the murky pool? I continued to crawl, but carefully now, my right palm pressed against my chest to stem the bleeding. The only exit lacked a door, apparently ripped from its frame as the twisted hinges still remained. I shuffled through it, my other hand deep in the water, guiding me along the cracked tiles littered with countless hard — sometimes sharp — objects.
The corridor was almost deserted, save for a few skeletons, their bones bobbing gently in the water as I scurried by. The dark stains that had been on my sheets were also on the walls in huge, streaking splatters. I rubbed my injured hand against my face, smearing wet blood onto my skin. I couldn’t pretend anymore. Wherever I was, this had clearly been some kind of slaughterhouse. All those bones, the walls, the sheets…
But what had happened here to leave it in such disrepair?
I reached a set of stairs and clambered up onto them, glad to be on dry land. The wood was warped and covered in a thick layer of moss, but at least now I could see where I was putting my feet. For what felt like an age, I stumbled up the steps, occasionally slipping on the slick ground. At one point, my foot had gone straight through the rotten wood, and I had only saved myself from a tumble back down the stairs by grabbing at the banister. It came away almost as soon as my weight tugged at it, but it gave me a few precious seconds to find my footing and force myself steady.
Once I’d reached the next floor, I leaned over, stopping to catch my breath. When I looked up again, I could do little but choke.
Skeletons, dozens of them, lined up against the walls. Some were hanging by the neck from rope nailed to the ceiling. Others had their hands bound, with their skulls cracked or broken in one way or another. The remaining were simply slumped against the crumbling walls, their heads missing. Was I next in this corridor of death? I didn’t want to find out. I turned to run back down the stairs, and then screamed.
The water level had silently risen up the stairs, like an assassin stalking their target. I would not be escaping that way. And even as I stared at it, I saw it shift and gurgle, before creeping up another step. The only hope lay forwards.
I spun around to the source of the whisper, but there was no one. The skeletons, however, had moved. All of them now faced me, waiting for me to join them. My heart was racing, thrashing against my ribcage with such ferocity that I feared it would break through. The bubbling behind me indicated that I was running out of time. I clenched my fists, ignoring the pain that shot through the right, and let my thoughts wander. I would relax. I would relax.
” Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” I quoted, and took a step forward. The silence that followed was music to my ears. A faint giggle slipped from my mouth, but I barely noticed. I inched forward again. The skeletons remained motionless. I began to walk at a brisk pace, making my way past the macabre guardians of the corridor. It was then I noticed a window, and decided to look outside to see if I could spot a way down. My insides froze. All around the building was dark, murky water, as far as the eye could see. I was isolated here, a wanderer locked in a tomb.
You are mine, David.
Despite my distress, I felt a strange sensation come over me, and I threw a quick look over my shoulder. Then I turned fully to face them, my mouth a perfect ‘o.’ They were following me. All of the skeletons were looking directly at me, their positions changed to a desperate crawl. The nearest, a decapitated husk, was lying flat on its stomach, one bony arm reaching out for me.
The slapping of my feet against the ground became rhythmic; I was a train hurtling along a track, unable to escape from its course. I could not leave this place, this building, this nightmarish hellhole. Every glance back revealed the creatures stalking me, getting closer and closer with every passing moment. I reached the end of the corridor to find the door chained shut, a thick padlock preventing me from going any further. I turned to face my hunters.
It was a stalemate. For as long as I remained awake, they could not take me. For as long as I looked at them, I controlled them. But they could wait; they would never get tired, never sleep. I considered the possibility of just closing my eyes and ending everything there and then.
A deep rumbling interrupted my thoughts, and I watched as the ground began to shake, rattling apart the loathsome predators. It gave me a great amount of pleasure to watch their mouldy bones skitter across the tiles, but my glee was short lived as an unstoppable wave of thick, black water thundered around the corner and towards me. I opened my mouth to cry out, and tasted death. Then I slipped away into nothing.
Come back, David.
My eyes snapped open.
There was no sunshine; no warm, welcoming light to greet me as I was dragged into consciousness. All that could be seen for miles was the darkness, and my mind fumbled through memories, trying to piece together what had happened.
A faint spattering of grey marred the perfect black, and then expanded to reveal my surroundings. For a moment, I blinked in confusion, and then realisation hit me. I was back in the room.
I sat up sharply, and found myself face to face with terror itself. The guardians stood around me, still and silent, their empty sockets watching me. At the foot of my bed was the first skeleton I had encountered, sat in his metal throne, his head now forward, eyeing me with a mocking grin.
I’ll never let you go, David.
A woman sat in a metal chair next to a man lying in a bed. The man was motionless, but breathing, a mask fixed to his face, tubes coming out of his arms. A heart monitor was set up next to him, beeping steadily. She fixed the pristine, white sheets, pulling them up to his neck and tucking them around his arms so that he was cocooned. Then she caressed the man’s gaunt face, tracing the stubble on his chin while lips trembled.
“David?” she tried again. No response. Her hand dropped to her side and tears began to roll down her cheeks. “David…”
She took a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at her eyes, sniffling. A man in a white coat walked into the room, glanced at the woman, and then immediately busied himself with a nearby cabinet, sifting through boxes of syringes and IV equipment. He then walked towards the patient and inserted a needle into the back of the patient’s right hand, before setting up a drip. The woman did not turn away from the man at the bed, but instead fiddled with the gold band on her finger. After a slight pause, she leaned closer and whispered into his ear.
“Remember when you first said you loved me? You told me you were mine.” She pulled back the newly fixed sheets and gave his exposed hand a squeeze. “You are mine, David. Come back. Come back, David.”
The doctor moved to the end of the bed, smiling, as others filed into the small room and crowded around the bedridden man, mumbling their reassurances to the woman. He glanced at a clipboard, and then caught the woman’s eye. “Talking to him is good, Carol. It’s very usual for people in his condition to hear everything that is being said, so keep it up. Your voice will be a great comfort to him.”
Carol beamed at the doctor and kissed the patient on the forehead. She bent forwards once again, ignoring the other visitors, and stroked the man’s face.
“I’ll never let you go, David,” she whispered.