Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
I have a friend, Tomas, who works as a freelance artist creating booths and installations for event shows. He’s quite talented at designing interactive presentations for companies to showcase their products. The last time we got together, he told me that he had signed on to be part of “something big” that he wasn’t allowed to talk about due to an NDA. Then this past week, he included me as blind carbon copy in the following email.
As soon as I finished reading this, I gave Tomas a ring, but the call went straight to voicemail. I drove over to see him, but when I buzzed his apartment, there was no response. His truck is in the parking lot, so at this point I can’t tell if he’s just not answering or if he’s not there. I know I don’t have to wait to file a missing person report, but I’m going to give him a day to call me back and then I’m taking this to the police.
To: Charles Fetterman <cpfetterman@#########.###>
Bcc: William Dalphin <wdalphin@#######.###>
From: Tomas Laurent <tslaurent@#####.###>
Subject: Beyond VantaBlack Project
My name is Tomas Laurent. I am one of the artists recruited by Mr. Gustav Sørensen for the Beyond VantaBlack (BVB) project for your company. I won’t beat around the bush here, sir… I am scared out of my wits. When I was first approached and offered the chance to work with “the next step in Vantablack”, it was like winning the lottery. VantaBlack’s nearly 100% absorption is a fantastic achievement. I assumed that the only possible next step was perfect 100% light absorption. But when I was shown how BVB not only absorbed all light, but even some of the scattered light of the surrounding area, I was astounded. The way it strips away the defined edges of an object like it’s enveloping the thing in a black fog is breathtaking.
I’m telling you this because I assume you’ve never actually seen BVB used before. If you had, you would not have approved the production of it. The color is unnatural, sir, it does not belong in this world. When we look up at the night’s sky, we think we are seeing the pure absence of light, but we aren’t. Light reflected off the atmosphere, light from the Earth and Moon and other stars, it protects us from the true emptiness of the void. BVB is the void, Mr. Fetterman. It extends beyond the boundaries we give it, and sucks away the light from everything around it.
I am writing to you today because something has happened. I, along with two other artists, Genevieve LaVer and Piotr Edartu, were asked to come up with three unique exhibits with which to show off the “glory” of Beyond VantaBlack, which we did. My own art installation remains down in your research department, unfinished, where it shall remain as I have no intention of working further on it.
Ms. LaVer’s idea was a room, the inside of which was completely painted with BVB, save one wall, which was installed with a full-length mirror from floor to ceiling. I’ve been inside the room, and it is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen. Imagine stepping into absolute nothingness. Every step, you’re unable to determine if your foot is going to touch solid ground or not. To make matters worse, she had the floor installed at a slant, so as you try to walk toward the center, you’re going up an incline but can’t see the angle at which it goes. There is a single, white light in the center of the ceiling, for the matter of allowing whoever is inside to at least see themselves; otherwise it would be like not existing at all, just pure blackness. Because of the unique properties of BVB though, you cannot actually see the light in the ceiling, even when staring directly at it. Once the door is sealed, the occupant is trapped inside with only their reflection. The effect is unnerving.
Yesterday, after Ms. LaVer finished her project, she shut herself inside the room, I presume to see how it looked. I was busy in my own area, working on my project. Half an hour later I heard yelling. Hurrying down the hall to her room, I saw a crowd of people surrounding the area, and I was quickly ushered away before I could see what was going on. After things quieted down, I managed to ask one of your engineers what had happened. He told me that someone had gone to check on Ms. LaVer and found the poor woman sprawled in the center of her room, bloody and crying. She had clawed out her own eyes, Mr. Fetterman. Somehow, her experience in the room drove her to take her own sight. When I asked Mr. Sørensen about it, he told me that only that Genevieve had had an accident, but that she was taken to the hospital, and she would be okay.
As I mentioned, I’ve been in the room myself, having gone in later that day. Security had cordoned the room off, but nobody was monitoring the area, so it wasn’t difficult to get inside. The effect of the room’s design, with its BVB blackened interior and slanted floor, is almost instantaneous. Within seconds, I felt nauseated, and had to resort to crawling to reach the middle of the room, all the time watching as my hands disappeared into the black fog. As I went, my need for visual stimuli forced me to keep my eyes on the mirror across the room. In it I started to see things that couldn’t possibly exist: first the air seemed to fill with swirling tendrils of color, followed by sparks of light like the flashbulb of a camera, floating, and ghostly, disembodied eyes watching me.
Worst of all though was my reflection looking back at me. I don’t know how, maybe the floor was curved toward the mirrored wall or the lack of defined space messed with my sense of direction, all I know is I found myself crawling toward my reflection, rather than the center of the room. Or worse, my reflection was crawling toward me, staring at me, watching me approach, me watching it approach. I tried to change direction, but I swear to you, it kept crawling toward me no matter how I tried to orient myself. And the more I looked into the eyes of my own reflection, the less human it appeared. Every second, it was like watching my face smear like a painting, my eyes, cheeks, nose, and lips turning runny like melted wax.
But the one moment I will never forget, the image seared into my brain of the entire experience, was when I stopped in front of the mirror, staring at my reflection, it staring back at me, and then trying to stand up. As I raised my head, I found myself looking over the shoulder of my own reflection and seeing my face again, behind the reflection, also looking over it. In other words, the face I had come to accept as my own was not, there was someone else between me and the mirror, someone who even as the realization came rushing at me, stared up at me with the same horrified expression on its face, its features melting. It was too much. I was ready to follow Genevieve and claw my own eyes out. The only reason I’m here, able to tell you about it now is that I let go. I just let myself fall backward, striking my head on the floor in the process. I blacked out a bit, but I remember rolling down the slanted floor and then hitting the wall. The door must have been swung open from the force, because when I came to I could see out into the hallway, and I dragged myself out. I swear that before I got out and shut the door, I looked back and saw my reflection, only it was standing in the center of the room, watching me leave.
That room is cursed. BVB has turned it into a residence of something sinister and malevolent. But that’s not even half of it, Mr. Fetterman.
Piotr Edartu’s plan was the polar opposite of Ms. LaVer’s. Rather than a person in a room devoid of light, he had your team help him build a full coverage, cloth bodysuit using the BVB process. Now, everything upsetting about LaVer’s room one could explain away as tricks of the mind (ignoring the fact that she is currently missing). What happened to Piotr though, I assure you, cannot be explained.
His suit was finished a week before Ms. LaVer completed her room. I watched him be helped into the suit for the first time, the team struggling to find where his legs went, then his arms. Once he had all four limbs clothed, they still had to find the zipper and hood to completely seal him in. Upon donning the full body suit of BVB, the effect was truly astounding. Piotr became a foggy, black silhouette. You couldn’t tell if you were looking directly at him. He had his work room installed with almost two dozen large flood lamps, drowning out every angle with harsh lighting, and still the suit cast a shadow. Nobody else in the room had a shadow, but Piotr in his suit did. Even more amazing, when he moved, he left a trail of blackness, a sort of after image of where he had been. I’ve never seen anything like it.
He put the BVB suit on for short intervals every day, increasing the length he spent inside each time. He told me he enjoyed the way it unnerved the people around him. I asked him what it was like inside and he remarked, “I can see inside you. I can see your bones.” I’m not sure if he was joking or not. Piotr spent every work day setting up and taking photos of himself against various backdrops to see how the BVB of the suit affected the pictures. There was one I saw of him standing in a glass box filled with water. The water looked like ink. Piotr told me that the way water refracts light, it seemed to magnify the BVB’s absorption effect.
After LaVer’s incident but before I went into her room and experienced the horror of that emptiness firsthand, I rushed to Piotr’s dressing room to tell him what had happened. He had been wearing the suit since before I got to work, the longest amount of time he’d ever kept it on. He was sitting at his desk, clad completely in the BVB bodysuit. I told him of LaVer and he became understandably distraught, asking me to help him out of the suit so we could get to the hospital. At first, I couldn’t find the zipper; my hands would disappear in the foggy blackness of the suit’s effect. Eventually I found it and unzipped him.
There was nothing inside, Mr. Fetterman. The suit fell away as if draped on a frame of empty air, the hood deflating like a balloon and dropping to the floor along with the rest of the material. Stranger yet, Piotr still seemed to be inside the suit. It was pooled up on the floor in an undefinable pile, like a hole in the floor, but I could hear him from inside it. And whatever– wherever he was, he sounded terrified. I could hear him start to scream, echoing from out of the suit’s interior like he was falling through a great, endless void, his voice never fading off like it does as someone falls away. He was always right there, screaming, calling my name, begging me to get him out. I gathered up the material and tried shaking it, thinking maybe I could shake him out of the hole, but I had to drop it quickly because the way my hands disappeared inside it, I was afraid I would fall into the suit as well.
I immediately hurried to Mr. Sørensen’s office across the research area and told him about Piotr. He seemed more put out than concerned, made a quick phone call, then told me to stay put while he marched off to Piotr’s room with a group of men from your security. I sat around in his office for a couple hours before he finally returned with a gentleman named Mr. Klein from your legal department. They assured me that Piotr was alright, that what I had seen was simply the BVB playing tricks on my eyes. They fed me a bunch of hogwash about how my vision hadn’t fully adjusted to the bright lighting of the room, then instructed me to sign a form to waive my rights toward speaking about either of the incidents. It was after that, after they had someone escort me back to my own work area, that I ventured over to Genevieve’s room and experienced its horror myself.
That was yesterday, Mr. Fetterman. I called in sick this morning, with no intention of going in today, or any other day, out of fear for my own safety. Already my phone has rung at least twenty times this morning, from different unknown callers. Mr. Sørensen tried to reach me half an hour ago and left me a cryptic voicemail saying, “I hope that we don’t have to initiate a breach of contract clause”. I’ve looked over my contract with your company Demtronic, but I still have no idea what he meant by that. It sounds like a threat.
There is something evil in Beyond VantaBlack, Mr. Fetterman, something Mr. Sørensen does not want people to know about. Ms. LaVer is missing. Mr. Edartu is missing. I’m afraid that I may go missing as well. I hope that I’m not making a grave mistake by trusting you with this information. Please contact me via this email address or the number provided below.
Tomas Laurent, Artist for Hire
CREDIT: William Dalphin
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