Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
I was well into spending my Friday night as I typically would – staying up most of the night, playing games and looking at stupid meme sites – when the room went dark. My phone suddenly illuminated on the desk where I had just plugged it in, and I realized the power had gone out. I cursed softly as the screen went off; I knew the phone hadn’t charged nearly long enough for me to use it as a light for any length of time, and I was relatively certain we didn’t have any actual flashlights around. Just as I was wondering if it would be worth it to try to grope around in the dark for a lighter, I heard my roommate’s door open across the hall. There was a brief shuffle of movement, then I heard my own door open.
“Hey. Power’s out, huh?”
I considered giving a smartass answer to this asinine question, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth it.
“Yeah, seems like it. You don’t have a flashlight, do you?”
In the near pitch darkness, I felt and heard him move farther into my room more than I watched him.
“Nah. Can you use your phone to see?”
“I had just plugged it in ‘cause it was almost dead. I should probably leave it alone, just in case we actually need to call somebody. How about yours?”
“Dead. So… What do we do?”
I sighed inwardly. Jake was a good roommate: He always had his half of the rent on time, didn’t leave messes in the common areas or use my stuff without asking, and if I told him to stop doing something (like leaving his coat on the couch instead of taking it to his room), he stopped doing it. But he was not the brightest guy, and often looked to me to explain things or figure them out for him. Don’t get me wrong, I liked him, but sometimes I started to feel more like his dad than his roommate.
“Well, I have to assume somebody in the building who doesn’t have an almost dead phone has already called the super or the power company, so now we just wait. There’s really not much else we can do.”
“Oh. Okay. Well… Can we just hang out ‘til it comes back on? It’s so dark.”
Again, it was hard not to respond flippantly to Jake stating the obvious, but it was true that there was really nothing to do until the power came back on but sit and talk. It seemed foolish to go offending him when he was to be my only companion for God knew how much time.
“Sure, why not? Go ahead and sit down.”
“I already sat down.”
I was surprised to realize that his voice had, in fact, moved to where my bed was in the room even though I had not heard any movement.
“Oh. Cool. So how did you notice the power had gone out? I thought since you’re home you must have work in the morning.”
Generally, unless he was scheduled to work Saturday morning, Jake would spend Friday nights out with his girlfriend. Like Jake, she was not terribly bright, but sweet and clearly devoted to him. I had been dreading the day he would say the two of them were moving in together, thus meaning I would have to seek out a new roommate. I hated most people on principle, so the idea of having to find another one I could stand to live with was daunting to say the least.
“I woke up ‘cause it’s so dark. It’s never been so dark in that room before.”
Naturally, this statement confused me greatly. I wondered if I’d heard him right.
“What? You woke up because it got darker?”
“Yes. Because of the dark.”
I still didn’t think he was making a bit of sense, but he had just woken up, after all. His initial response of “yes”, however, oddly unnerved me. Jake had been my roommate for over two years, and I felt very sure that in all that time he had never given an affirmative response that wasn’t “Yeah” or “Uh-huh”. Furthermore, we had had power outages before, so his assertion that it had never been so dark in his room before didn’t seem to add up. Then I remembered that he had recently gotten (or rather, his girlfriend had gotten for him) some black-out curtains for his room, to block out the sun when he needed to sleep during the daytime. If he had those pulled, they were probably blocking out any small amount of light that may have filtered in from outside before. Nonetheless, it seemed bizarre that it being especially dark had somehow woken him.
“Well, if you have work tomorrow, maybe you should try to go back to sleep. I’ll stay up until the power comes back on.”
“No, I don’t want to go back to sleep. Let’s talk, Dan.”
Unnerved was steadily progressing to downright freaked out. Jake was a naturally laid-back and easygoing type of guy, so to have him suddenly use such a forceful and aggressive tone was very disturbing to me. Even worse, however, was him calling me “Dan”. One of the only habits I’d been unsuccessful in breaking Jake of was calling me “Danny”. Eventually I had just given up and allowed it. I tried to tell myself that he was probably just tired, that that was the reason for his uncharacteristic behavior. It dawned on me that I’d be much readier to accept that explanation if I could actually see him. As dark as it was in my room – even with a small amount of light coming in from a distant street lamp – I could barely make out his silhouette on my bed. Just a black, vaguely human shape in the darkness.
“Why are you calling me that, Jake?”
There was a moment’s silence before Jake’s voice responded, now in a conciliatory, decidedly more Jake-like tone, “That’s what you prefer to be called, isn’t it? You said so before.”
I can’t fully describe the thrill of horror I felt as I realized that whomever – or whatever- I was speaking to was backpedaling. I was certain now that this was not Jake, and certain that whoever it was knew he had shown his hand a bit, and was now desperately trying to return to acting like Jake. The tone was good: unsure, almost apologetic. That was very much like Jake. The wording, however, was all wrong. And there was another problem.
“I haven’t mentioned that in over a year.”
Another pause. It was taking all my willpower not to jump up from my chair. Whether to confront the impostor or run from him, I wasn’t sure. I think both the desperate, lingering hope that this really was Jake as well as a notion that if it wasn’t, it was in my best interests to keep playing along, kept me rooted to my seat.
“Oh, haven’t you? Sorry. I guess I’m kind of tired. I can call you Dan, though. If you want.”
I couldn’t take it anymore – this wasn’t Jake, I was beyond sure of it now. I jumped up from my seat, “Who the hell are you?!”
I had only a second to reconsider the wisdom of choosing confrontation over fleeing as the impostor answered quickly this time and in an appropriate tone of alarm,
“W-whaddya mean?! I’m Jake!”
“The fuck you are! Tell me who you really are!”
“I’m Jake! It’s me, Danny,really! Why don’t you believe me?!”
“Because I can’t fucking see you, and you’re not acting like Jake – you aren’t Jake! Who the fuck are you?!”
“I am Jake! I know you can’t see me… Hey, wait – you said your phone wasn’t quite dead, right? Let the screen come on just long enough to see my face. You’ll see it’s really me, Danny!”
This gave me pause. The voice in the dark was now sounding very convincingly like a frightened and confused Jake, and had quickly suggested I use my only light source to prove its identity. I was starting to feel increasingly foolish and chagrined at my paranoid freak-out. But still… I had to be sure. I turned to reach for my phone where I knew it was still sitting, plugged into the inert wall socket. I picked it up and the time appeared in white, causing a miniscule amount of illumination. As I was about to unlock it, it started ringing.
I didn’t turn. I slid my finger to the little green phone icon in a kind of surreal haze of disbelief.
“Hey, Danny! I forgot my key again, can you come let me in?”
“Yeah, it’s Jake. Hey, is the power out? It’s all dark-”
And the phone went dead.
Credit To – A. McKee