The River

May 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The river is deep, and dark, and it holds many secrets. At least that’s what they say, and recent events have left me with a completely unshakeable belief that what they say is entirely true.

There’s a river that runs through the part of the city that I live & work in. It’s got a proper name, but everyone just calls it ‘The River’ anyway. Originally it was outside of the city limits, but as the city grew the boundaries pushed ever outwards, eventually spanning both sides and beyond. My part of the city has a lot of steel & glass & concrete used in the construction, it was built during a fairly soulless period, architecturally speaking. There are a lot of high-density apartment blocks in my area, I live on a middle floor of one of them. The apartment has a view of the river from the window; sometimes I’ll sit and look out at it, wondering what’s going on under that deceptively calm surface. I never look for too long, the river has a peculiar way of being able to give you chills. The river isn’t that wide, but it’s deep and has strong currents, especially near the bottom. Nobody swims in it, the current makes it too dangerous and the water is very, very cold; even during the hottest of summer days.

My work is in one of the office buildings on the other side of the river from my apartment. It’s close enough for me to walk, and there’s a scenic riverside pathway that the City Council built during the expansion, envisioning a bustling riverside precinct. This didn’t happen. People avoid the river if they can at all help it, but when quizzed about it nobody really knows why. You’ll get the odd tourist going for a walk alongside it, but they never linger for long. Even the ducks and other waterfowl seem to avoid it.

My walk to and from work would be probably ten minutes quicker if I went along the waterside, but I cut through the city streets where there’s people; and the only part of my walk where I get close to the river is where I cross it, walking quickly along the utilitarian concrete bridge as traffic passes. The drivers always have their eyes set dead ahead of them, nobody ever looks at the water. I tend to speed up as I cross the bridge, it’s not particularly high and there’s a well-sized concrete guardrail, but I really don’t like being above the water if I can help it. If you look over the side, sometimes the surface seems so dark that it’s almost black, and it’s impossible to see the bottom. If you really look closely, then sometimes you’ll see dark shapes moving rapidly through the gloom of the water, but it’s impossible to see if they’re just big fish or something else.

I live a fairly quiet life, all things considered. I’ve got good friends; a girlfriend & a steady, well-paying (ok, well-ish paying) office job. I like my apartment, I like my friends, I like the city I live in, I have no problems with the way things are going. All in all, I’m a fairly normal guy. But I don’t like that damn river, not one bit. I’ve never felt comfortable near it, and things have been a whole lot more unsettling since that night.

I’d stayed late at work on a Friday to finish up on some stuff I’d been putting off. Normally I’d have been outta there at 5pm and off to meet my girlfriend for date night, but she was out of town for the weekend, off to stay with her parents. The plan was to pick up some pizza or some Chinese on the way home and to settle down on the couch for a relaxing night watching crappy horror movies.

I leaned back in my chair at work, looking around the empty office. I’d just finished up the last of my paperwork, so I shut down my computer, and glanced out the window, catching the flickering of the streetlights as they came on outside. The sun was just on the verge of setting, so you could see the harsh artificial light from the streetlights in the half-darkness. I was trying to decide between pizza & Chinese on my way down the lift, and settled on a large pizza to myself as an acceptable option, making a mental note to do extra cardio at the gym the next day.

I stepped out of the lift, shouldered my bag and headed towards the building exit, wishing the night security guard a good weekend as I went. Making my way out onto the street, I took a moment to appreciate the fresh, cool air that comes with the evening of a day that’s had fine weather. I called ahead to a pizza place near my house as I headed towards the bridge, placing my order for pickup (large meat-lover’s pizza, double meat, extra BBQ sauce). I figured I’d have maybe 5 minutes to wait at the pizza place before the pick-up, and then I could head to mine and settle in for the night.

All was well as I wandered along the street, taking a left after a few blocks and heading towards the river. I noticed that I was the only person who seemed to be out and about, the entire area seemed pretty much deserted. Not entirely surprising, given that it was probably 7pm on a Friday night and I was in the business area of town, all the bars & restaurants are across the river on the side that I live. The night air was still & cool, and the sky was rapidly darkening; the sidewalks lit by the bright, harsh light from the streetlights above.

My pace quickened as I took a left and headed towards the bridge. The streets were still deserted, but I could hear faint noise from the restaurant precinct across the river. I kept my head down as I stepped onto the bridge, intently staring at the pavement as I made my way across. As I reached the halfway point, I felt a chill settle over me, and I froze in place. The noise from across the river had stopped. In fact, I couldn’t hear anything in the way of street or bird noise, I couldn’t even hear the buzz of the streetlights any more. The only thing I could hear was the water of the river rushing around the pylons of the bridge, and then I heard what sounded like a sob.

I looked towards the other side of the bridge, and then back towards the home side of the river that I was heading towards, when I caught something in my peripheral vision. I turned towards it, and took an involuntary step backwards in shock when I saw something I’d swear hadn’t been there a second ago. There was a girl sitting on the guardrail, facing towards the river, feet dangling off the side.

“Shit…” I said to myself quietly, breathing deeply and trying to slow my suddenly racing heart. “Man, you scared me! Sorry, I completely missed that you were sitting there”. I took a step towards her. “Are you ok?” She had long, dark hair that seemed to be wet, it hung down over the side of her face, hiding her features. She was wearing a simple white dress that ended at her knees, and I could see through gaps in the concrete railing that she had bare feet . Her hands were resting on the rail she was sitting on, and they too seemed to be damp, putting some moisture onto the concrete they were placed on. I couldn’t see her face because of the hair, but her shoulders were hunched forwards, and seemed to be shaking slightly; as if she was holding back tears. I couldn’t see her face to tell for sure if she was young or older, She had a slim build, I figured she was in her mid-20s at the most.

I took another step. “Miss?” I asked, reaching out a hand to touch her shoulder. She stopped shaking, and I stopped moving forward before my hand could touch her. She was… cold. So very cold that it seemed to be radiating out from her, and I drew my hand back with a shiver, grabbing it with the other hand to warm it up. She seemed to notice my presence, and straightened up, turning towards me as she did. I tensed with apprehension, suddenly worried about what her face might look like, but relaxed as it came into view. She was a pretty, normal looking girl in her early late teens or early 20s, and the only out of the ordinary thing I could see was that her eyes were red, I assumed from crying.

“Are you OK?” I asked her again. “Do you need any help?” The corners of her mouth curled up slightly in a sad, wan smile. And then she turned back, looked down at the water, gave a little hop and jumped off the side of the bridge.

I stood there for a second, completely dumbfounded. Then I heard a splash from the river below, and it snapped me out of my stupor. “Jesus!” I exclaimed, throwing off my satchel, and running towards the edge of the bridge. I looked over the edge towards the water, but I couldn’t see the girl, she must have gone under already. Placing both hands on the guardrail, I vaulted over it and plunged into the water below.

The river was cold. So, so icily cold that the shock of it drove all of the air out of me as I hit the surface and went under. I came up, gasping for air and treading water, and looked for any sign of the girl. I noticed that with some luck, the spot I was in seemed to be a fairly dead spot for the current, but I could still feel the pull of the water as it dragged me downstream, taking me under the bridge. I took a deep breath and dove under the water as I was taken under the cover of the bridge, and everything went dark as the light from the streetlights above was cut off by the shadows of the space under the bridge.

I could barely see anything as I swam around, in what I was by that point assuming was a futile hunt for the girl. To make matters worse, I could feel the current strengthening, and all of a sudden I was swept sideways as the river eddied around one of the supports of the bridge. I slammed into the support, the air driving itself from my lungs once more. The current spun me round and pinned my back to the support, my shirt snagging on some protrusion from the concrete. To my horror I realised I was stuck fast, the freezing water rushing around me in the darkness.

“I’m going to die here”.

The thought entered my brain, and I began to panic, struggling back and forth, but the current was just too strong. I was going to drown, and I couldn’t even help the girl who’d gone in before me. I could see the glow of streetlights dimly above me, but I was too deep under for the light to really penetrate the water, and I could feel blackness closing in from the corners of my vision as my empty lungs began to take in water. It felt like a fire in my chest, and I coughed underwater, but instead of the air I desperately needed all I got was more water. Even worse, I could make out shapes in the darkness. They swirled around at the edge of my vision, pressing menacingly closer, and I could feel their malignant presence. I knew that whatever these things were, they would do me harm if they could. I closed my eyes, and the darkness turned to black.

With the last of my strength, I reached up behind me and felt around for where I was snagged. With what felt like a superhuman effort, I managed to tear my shirt away from the pillar and get my feet up under me against it. I pushed off, driving myself towards the surface, reaching out above me as I travelled up. As I flew towards the surface, I opened my eyes, and saw a flash of white down low ahead of me, but there was no time to think about that.

My hand broke the surface first, and I coughed and vomited water as I gasped for air, struggling to stay above the surface. The current had me once more, and I could feel myself being dragged downstream. I could hear shouting from the shoreline downstream, but again didn’t have time to focus on it. The freezing water was fast sapping what little strength I had left, and I was still spluttering, trying to get the last of the water out of my lungs. I once again took deep breath, and dove under the surface, heading for where the flash of white had been as I’d come up the last time.

Swimming down, I was struck by the thought that this was an incredibly bad idea, but I felt I had to at least try. Looking around, I tried to spy where to head for, but all I could see was the inky murk below me. Just as I was about to give up and resurface, I spotted the flash again! I kicked hard, fighting the current, and spotted the girl, floating face-up in what must have been a dead patch of water as the river didn’t seem to be moving her downstream. Worryingly, the dark shapes I had spotted in the water earlier seemed to be circling ever-closer, just out of my field of vision but close enough for me to catch near-constant flashes of movement. I tried to ignore them and swum for the girl.

As I got close, I felt the current grab me again, sending me quickly towards her. I could see I‘d overshoot her, so swam as hard as possible and reached down, managing to snag a grip on her arm as I went past. I pulled her to my chest as I swam upwards, and caught sight of her face, which was pale against the blackness, but looked surprisingly peaceful. We travelled towards the surface together and my heart sang to see I was only a couple of feet below the surface; and then we came to a dead stop in the water. Lungs aching by this point, I looked down to see what had stopped up, and saw her eyes snap open and look at mine. They were full of terror, and I could see her lip shake as she looked down to her right shoulder. I followed her gaze, and saw that the shape of a hand upon her, grabbing her tightly; the arm extending into the blackness that all of a sudden pressed in around us.

I stared in horror at the hand. It was the same darkness as the water and gloom that was pressing in on us, and I could see the figure that it was attached to looming behind her, but it was too murky to make out any details. I could feel it’s presence and I could make out a vaguely darker shape in the blackness, but that was all. The girl looked back at me, grabbing me by the upper arms as she did, and opened her mouth as if to say something, but then suddenly gripped harder; almost causing me to cry out in pain which would have wasted the ever-diminishing last of the air in my lungs.

The black hand had dug it’s fingers in, and I saw what can only be described as corruption flowing from it. The girl’s flesh turned grey and started to slough off, ever-widening holes in her skin exposing clammy muscle tissue and stark white bones. Within seconds, she looked as if she’d been in the water for months. I looked in horror at her face; her skin coming away, hair falling out in clumps, eyes widening and then seeming to burst, leaving empty sockets. Her lips came away and teeth became visible, and then came apart as her mouth opened in a silent scream. I realised by this point that I too was screaming underwater, the last of my air clawing its way from my lungs.

I looked at the dark hand and then into the gloom behind the girl, and saw what I could only describe as a grin in the blackness, but caught only a glimpse as the hand gripped even harder and jerked the girl from my grip, her hands torn away from my arms with the force of it. She was pulled away into the inky water, quickly disappearing from my view. I thrashed about in the water, trying to get to the surface. I felt something grab me by the scruff of my neck, and promptly passed out from a combination of fear and lack of air.

I came to on the shoreline, a young couple next to me, one pumping my chest and the other breathing air into my lungs. I sputtered and once again vomited and coughed up water. I could hear sirens in the distance getting closer as I struggled to sit up.

“Oh, thank God!” the guy exclaimed. “Buddy, we thought you were a goner!” He took off his coat and wrapped it around me, as I had begun to shiver violently. I’d probably been in the water for no more than a minute or two, but it had felt like a lifetime and was enough to chill me to the bone. “We called for an ambulance when you went in” his girlfriend said, “They should be here in a minute”.

“Why did you jump in? Do you not know about how dangerous this river is?” he asked, looking slightly incredulous.

Trying to speak between bouts of violent shivering, I looked up at him. “There w-was a g-g-girl,” I stuttered. “She w-w-went in the w-water!”.

The couple looked at each other. “….We didn’t see any girl…” she trailed off. He spoke up, and explained that they’d been walking along the waterfront as a shortcut, and had seen me jump off the bridge, surface and then go under again. Luckily, the current had taken me close enough to the shoreline for him to grab me as he went past. He thought he might have seen something dart past in the blackness as he lifted me out of the water, but assumed it was just a fish or a bit of debris. Neither of them had seen a girl in a white dress.

The ambulance turned up and took me off to the emergency room (picking up my satchel from the bridge along the way), where they got me warmed up and released me once they’d made sure I wasn’t hypothermic. They called the police when I told them about the girl and I was interviewed by some officers, but nothing ever came of the police investigation. They had divers in the water next few days but didn’t find anything, and the search was called off due to danger and lack of evidence. My girlfriend was furious when she found out I’d almost drowned, but softened when I told her I’d been trying to save someone. She was still angry at me for taking that sort of risk, however; saying I should have just called the police.

Life returned to normal fairly quickly. I took a week off work before going back, and my life goes on as it always did before that night. I did my own research on the river, and found reports a few years old of some missing persons who had last been seen by the river, one or two of who fit the description of the girl I’d seen, but I couldn’t be sure if it was any of them.

I walk a little quicker as I cross the bridge to and from work, however, often breaking into a jog. Every now and again I’ve heard a sob or caught a flash of white in the corner of my vision, but I just power forward, never breaking stride. And I’ll occasionally see dark shapes swirling in the water from the window of my apartment, but I try not to look too closely. Like they say, the River is full of secrets, and I’m of the opinion that some secrets are best kept.

Credit To – Abtrogdor

Not Afraid of the Dark

December 26, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I always have a torch in my pocket these days. I found a small LED one at an electronics store for a couple of bucks, and I keep it on me at all times. It’s actually really bright, despite the size. I bought five, the other four are placed in strategic locations around my house, so I can get to any of them quickly if need be. I won’t be caught in the dark again, you see. It’s bad enough that I see her every time I close my eyes, I don’t think I could handle seeing her again with my eyes open. But, I digress. Perhaps this would be better told from the start.

I used to work in an office building in town, for the public counter service of a Government Department that shall remain unnamed. The work was fine, it basically involved taking and checking applications, talking to the public about different services that our department provided, that sort of thing. Nothing out of the ordinary with the work, or my colleagues, who I got on very well with. The building, however…

To look at it from the outside, you wouldn’t think that it was any different from any of the surrounding office buildings. 12 stories tall, very square, flat sides etc. Nothing ostentatious, it was just a simple office building, like hundreds of others in my city. The building was slightly older than the surrounding ones, built in the 1980s (I think). There was the occasional draft, and the lights would flicker now and again, but no major problems. There were four elevators, one of which always seemed to be out of order. They’d fix one, and then another would inexplicably break. There was something with the electrics that would cause the doors to slam shut without warning sometimes, and they would occasionally drop slightly when you got in them. Nothing serious enough for the building owners to actually do anything about, but enough to be more than an annoyance.

The lifts used to give me the jibblies, even before all of this.

I used to take the stairs a lot. There were two stairwells, one on either side of the building. Both of them were fairly narrow, so if you were coming up and you met someone coming down, then you’d either need to wait in the stairwell bit by the doors into the different levels, or turn sideways and let them squeeze past. They tended to get a bit clogged if there was an evacuation for a fire alarm or something, but I was only on the 3rd floor, so it didn’t take too long for me to get from there to the ground, or vice versa. The stairwells were windowless, plain cement with pale yellow lights illuminating them, but fairly dimly. I think the building’s owners used crappy energy-saving bulbs to try and save some money.

There was a bathroom in each of the different stairwells, on every level. Men’s room in one stairwell, ladies’ in the other. The building managers installed combination locks on all of those doors after there was a peeping tom incident in the ladies’ one day, so only people who worked in the building could get in. There were different businesses and departments on each of the floors, and the locks all had different combinations, so you could only use the bathroom on your floor, you couldn’t go up or down a level to use another.

Because we were part of a Government Department, there was an emphasis on security. We all had swipe card access to get from the reception areas into the back office bit of my floor, and you also needed to remember your card if you were going to the bathroom. The doors to the stairwells had the same magnetic safety locks as the doors to the back area, and although you could get out by pushing a button to release the lock, you had to swipe your card to get into the floor from the stairwell. If you were in the bathroom there was a similar button to press to get back into the stairwell.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the trouble started. It’s not like somebody clicked their fingers and everything turned on like a light switch. I’m assuming you’ve heard the story about how a frog put in boiling water will jump straight out, but if you put the frog in cold water and bring it slowly to the boil it’ll stay in, happily boiling to death without realising. Had the situation gone from normal to messed up in a hurry, then I probably would have got the hell out of there, and quickly; but like they say, hindsight has 20/20 vision.

There was an imbalance of girls to guys who worked at my office, so I quite often had the men’s room to myself. Nothing like being able to go in peace, you know? The earliest occasion of anything weird happening I can remember, I was going off to the bathroom, which involved walking through the reception area. I pressed the button to let me into the stairwell, and was in the stairwell, keying in the code to let me into the mens’, and the stairwell door shut behind me. There was nothing out of the ordinary in this, the door was on one of those hinges which makes it close automatically. What was weird was that the second that door shut, I got a shiver up my spine. Everything was suddenly quiet, almost oppressively silent. The noise of the radio and the people in the waiting room had been completely cut off when the door shut, when normally you could hear things even when in the bathroom.

I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but I didn’t take my time as I normally might have. I got in, did what I needed to and got out of there, quickly. The feeling of unease faded as I came back into the brighter lights of the waiting room. From there, everything was normal for days, possibly weeks. I’m a little fuzzy on the actual time-frame, as a lot of the stuff that happened took place over a long-ish period of time. A few smallish things happened here and there; the odd cold spot, the odd shiver, (like when you feel you’re being watched), but I just put it down to stress, and kept going with my job and my life.

Like I said earlier, I got on very well with my colleagues and my boss. Most of us were of a similar age (mid-20s) and every now and again we’d go out for a few post-work drinks on a Friday, let loose a little and de-stress from the week. One Friday we’d closed up the public counter, and all the customers were gone, and we were packing up and getting ready to head out. I excused myself to use the mens’ room before we went out, but when I opened the stairwell door I noticed that it seemed dimmer than normal in the stairwell – the light at the top of the flight of stairs to the floor above had blown.

As I turned to the right to key in the code to the bathroom door, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, in the gloom at the top of the stairs. Something – and I can’t be any more descriptive than that – something flashed across my vision, A dark shape going from right to left from the door by the bathroom at the top of the stairs, around the corner to the next flight, out of my line of sight. It was fast, impossibly fast, like watching a movie and fast-forwarding to 4 times the normal speed. I couldn’t see any details, it was just a black shape, but it seemed darker than the lack of light surrounding it somehow. The movement was the worst though. Despite the speed, it didn’t seem to blur or sway at all, it was a scuttle more than anything.

I swung around, away from the bathroom door, and stood frozen at the bottom of the flight of stairs, staring transfixed up into the gloom at the top. I don’t know how long I stood there for, but I was frozen in place, too scared to move. The next thing I can remember, a hand clapped down on my shoulder. “(My name)! What are you doing man!?” It was my boss, come to find out what was taking so long. “There, there was… there was something” I stammered, trying to get the words out. My boss looked quizzically at me, one eyebrow raised. “What was it?” I turned to look up the stairs again. Everything seemed less dim than it had been a moment ago. “Nothing,” I replied, shaking my head. “Must have been a trick of the light. Been meaning to get my eyes tested.” “Then let’s get the hell out of here, and off for some drinks!” my boss exclaimed.

Later, at the bar, surrounded by my colleagues laughing and joking about the week’s events, everything seemed fine with the world. It was warm and bright in the bar, and my sense of dread had completely gone. Had I known what was to come, however, then I probably would have been feeling very different indeed…

Things seemed fairly normal for a while after that. I came back to work after the weekend, got on with my job, tried to put what I’d seen (or thought I’d seen, anyway) out of my mind. My job had some perks, one of which is that the Department would pay for an eye test and new glasses if you needed them, so I got that done. The optometrist said that my eyes hadn’t deteriorated at all in the five years since my previous eye test, but it was probably time for a new pair of glasses anyway. About a month after the last incident, I was heading to the gym after work, so I headed to the bathroom to get changed so I could run there. We’d turned out most of the lights, but it wasn’t dark yet outside so the place was still well-enough lit to see in, although not nearly as bright as with the lights on. Because the public reception area was shut for the day due to the time, I used the public bathroom attached to the waiting area to put on my gym clothes. I put my earbuds in, and cranked up the volume on my MP3 player, getting myself in the mood for the run, when I heard screaming.

It’s hard to describe exactly how it sounded – It was definitely female, but it sounded raw, like it came from a throat full of razorblades, if that makes any sense. It sounded impossibly loud and close, but at the same time like it was coming from miles away. I yanked out my earbuds, unlocked the door and sprinted out into the waiting room, fully expecting to see someone being murdered.

It was deserted. Completely empty, not a soul in sight. I looked around slowly, listening hard, trying to see or hear what had been screaming. I turned back towards the public bathroom from which I’d come, and I could see the mirror and myself in it – and I could see something dark looming over my shoulder.

I spun on the spot, bracing myself as I did so – but there was nothing there. I looked back to the mirror, but whatever had been there a second ago was gone. I scrambled for my swipe access cards, used them to open the door to the back part of the office, and ran in there, where my boss was sitting at his desk, packing up for the day. “Did you hear that!?” I half-shouted. He looked confused. “Hear what?”. “I heard someone screaming.” He got up quickly, and we walked into the waiting room, both listening hard. After minute, he turned to me. “I didn’t hear anything, (My Name),” he said. “Are you OK? you’ve seemed a little… off lately.” To his credit, my boss looked genuinely concerned. He was easily the best manager we’d ever had, and really looked after all of his staff. “If you need some time off, just let me know, you have plenty of leave saved up…” He left the offer hanging. “I… I don’t know.” I replied “I’ll let you know.” I turned, and headed for the lifts. The sense of unease and dread I had felt was back, and much harder to shake this time. What the hell was I seeing, or hearing? And what the hell could I do about it?

Like I said earlier, had this stuff happened all at the same time, I probably would have bailed on my job and tried to find somewhere else. For God knows what reason though, I decided to stick it out, see if things would get better. Benefits of hindsight, right?

Things started getting worse from there. I’d get chills walking through parts of the office, or while sitting at my desk. I put in requests to the property service to have the air-conditioning looked at, and everything came back as normal. The lights above my desk would flicker occasionally, no matter how many different bulbs I had maintenance swap out. I’d see shapes moving in dark corners on the edge of my vision, and they’d be gone when I turned to face them. My health started to deteriorate, I was jumpy and tired a lot, losing weight, and my workmates were noticing the change. I wasn’t sleeping well, my dreams were plagued by shapes moving in the darkness, just out of my line of sight. I had to leave the lights on at home when I tried to sleep, I was too scared of what would happen if I awoke in the dark.

As I mentally and physically grew weaker thanks to stress and worry about what was happening, whatever was chasing me seemed to get stronger, more real somehow. I started noticing details in the darkness – long, lank black hair, for example- nothing clear or corporeal enough for me to be able to give a real idea of an appearance, but enough to make me shudder, thinking about possibilities. More than once, I felt the brush of impossibly cold fingers across my shoulder, turning to find nobody there.

I almost quit several times, thinking back now I don’t know why the hell I didn’t just up and leave. I think I might have stayed out of a sense of misguided pride, I wanted to show I was tougher than whatever was tormenting me, or at least to find out why it was only targeting me. Nobody else had any issues at all, and they couldn’t understand my misgivings about being alone when I was at work now. I did try to look into the building’s history, but everything came up a blank. No skeletons in the closet, no suicides, absolutely nothing out of the ordinary at all. It made no sense, dammit!

Everything was about to come to a head, however, as we neared the Christmas season. One of the traditions of the workplace was a team photo every year. We would all get dressed up in our best to have the photo professionally taken, and then the photo would be blown up and hung out back. This year, though… They didn’t hang the photo. The day came and went as normal, we lined up together and had the photo taken, the photographer left, and we went about our day as normal. A week went by, and I came into work one morning, to find the team surrounding my boss’ desk, looking at something on it. As I entered, the team looked up from what was on the desk as one, and all looked towards me at the same time. Something was wrong, I could tell. Some of their faces showed puzzlement, some showed confusion, and more than a few showed some fear. Without a word, they filed away from the desk and went off to their own stations, with my Boss beckoning to me to come over.

On his desk was an A3 sized photo – the team photo. He gestured for me to take a look, and I did, naturally seeking myself out from the bunch. I had been sitting in a chair at the front row, so it was fairly easy to find myself. But, when I did… everything went cold. “What the hell is with this, (My Name)?” my boss asked, his voice quavering slightly. Whereas everyone else in the photo was completely normal and smiling brightly, my face was almost indescribable. When the photo had been taken I was smiling like everyone else, but here, here it looked like you were looking at my face through a fishbowl. I was distorted, stretched out. I looked in pain, my mouth stretched much wider than it would naturally go, eyes slightly crazed. And that wasn’t even the worst part.

There was something standing behind me. Again, to the eye it was nothing more distinct than a dark shape; no details could be made out but the way it loomed over me, it was… meanacing, malevolent even. The hair on the back of my neck rose as I looked at the photo. “I don’t have a clue, (boss’ name). Something up with the camera lens maybe?” I had considered telling him the truth, that there was something that seemed to be after me, but that’s a good way to end up as ‘the crazy guy’ in the office. As things were, I wasn’t even completely sure that I wasn’t already the crazy guy. The photo went in the bin.

The next day, I found myself posted to a different part of the office – the banking room. For security purposes, the banking room was completely internal & windowless, with swipe-card access in from the back area of the office. Once inside, the doors would lock magnetically, and you had to push a button on the wall in order to release the locks to get out. My boss thought some time away from the counter would do me some good, and he’d arranged for an appointment with work-provided counselling services for me. An hour or so into the day, I felt a chill settle into the room. I looked at the thermostat on the wall, and was surprised to see it unchanged. Then, the lights began to flicker. They flicked on and off, on and off again. I spun on my chair, looking for a cause, but finding none. I spun back towards the desk – and came face to face with a nightmare.

The dark shape was on the desk. I recoiled in horror, pushing my chair back to the opposite wall, trying to put some distance between myself and it, but the room was small, and I hit the shelves lining the wall behind me, tumbling to the floor as I did so. For the first time ever, I could clearly see detail in the darkness, which would seem to solidify for a split second after the lights flickered off, and then fade in the light when they came back on again. The figure was a girl. At least, it was the semblance of a girl, she could have been anywhere between 16 and 50. She was crouched in a squatting position on the desk, knees near her head, hands on the flat desktop, long hair hanging down over her features. She seemed to be looking past me, but then the head turned – slowly, ever so slowly – and her gaze met mine. Oh, god, those eyes! They were entirely black, but in different shades, so you could make out the different parts – where the white would normally be, the iris, the pupils. Those eyes were full of madness, of hatred; and of hunger – the perverse, unsettling hunger of a thing that desired something sitting just outside it’s grasp.

A single tear rolled down my quivering cheek as I looked up towards this horror. With every flicker of the light, she seemed to grow more solid, more real; as if feeding off the darkness and my fear in turn. Her grin crept slowly, hungrily across her face, impossibly wide, and the eyes grew more crazed and viscious and larger in turn. She opened her mouth, baring long, sharp teeth, and looked as if she was trying to say something, but all that came from her throat was a hungry, dangerous growl – like nails on a chalkboard. I tried to call out in turn, but nothing came from my throat – nothing except a pathetic, frightened whimper.

Without taking my gaze from that nightmarish face, I struggled to get my feet under me. I didn’t dare look away, for fear she would be upon me. I’d seen how fast this thing could move in the darkness. staying as close to the wall as I could, I backed slowly, ever so slowly away, towards the door. Her gaze followed me, as she cocked her head slightly to the side, as if trying to figure out what I was doing. As I reached the door, I fumbled behind me for the button that would release the magnetic lock, and hopefully release me from the confines of the suddenly oppressively small room. I reached for it – and my hand hit the light switch.

The room plunged into darkness. I froze, all of a sudden feeling hot, wet, stinking breath on the back of my neck. It smelled like death and decay and corruption, and somehow of an aching, burning hunger. “MINE…NOW…” a voice rasped in my ear. I found the ability to scream, as pain shot through my body.

I don’t remember much of what happened next, for which I’m truly grateful. I think my brain has tried to block some of it out. My colleagues heard my screams and came running. They found me in the corner of the room, flailing my bleeding arms and gibbering madly. An ambulance was called, and I was sedated and taken to hospital. I had deep scratches all over my arms and torso, and bite marks on my wrists. The doctors decided that I’d had some sort of psychotic break and done it myself, because after all – who else could have done it? There was nobody in the room with me when I was found. I tried to point out that the bites didn’t look like my teeth, and that there was no blood or skin under my nails, but they didn’t listen.

The wounds eventually healed and became scars. My boss – good guy that he is – arranged for me to work for a separate part of the department, one in the brand new, well lit building. I remained in touch with some of my former workmates, although some of them now regarded me -perhaps not too wrongly of them – as a freak.

Since that day, I’ve never let myself be in the dark without at least some form of illumination. Most of the time I’ll stay in brightly-lit rooms, or outside in the sunshine. She can’t get to me in the light, and although she’s strong, she’s not yet strong enough to come out of the darkness. I think she wants to get me, and if she managed to catch me and finish me off, then maybe she’ll be strong enough to walk in the light.

So you see it’s not the dark that I’m afraid of. Not at all. It’s what lurks in the dark, watching, waiting; that’s what terrifies me. I think that she’s from somewhere beyond, somewhere behind the darkness, and was trying to get from there to here.

And I think that somehow, I let her in.

Credit To – Abtrogdor

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