The flash faded, and I shut the flashlight off. I held my breath hoping the person standing next to the dresser hadn’t seen the flashlight beam. My entire body was shaking as a single tear ran down my cheek. My free hand flew to my mouth to stifle the scream that had worked its way to my lips.
I need to get out of that room. My parents were in their room on the first floor, so even if they heard me scream, they would never get to me before the person in my room did. I said a quick prayer and took a few deep breaths to calm myself. I crawled to the corner of my bed and prepared myself to sprint out of my room.
My shirt stuck to my body with sweat, so I pulled it loose giving me a full range of motion in my arms. I thought I may have to throw the flashlight again, and I didn’t want my mobility restricted.
The previous spring I had run track, so I got into a sprinters stance beside my bed. With my hands touching the floor on either side of my legs, I had one knee on the floor and the other leg stretched out behind me with my foot on the floor. Holding the flashlight like a baton, I counted to three in my head and ran.
I didn’t turn the flashlight on, and that was probably a mistake. I sprinted across the room towards the door, but when I reached the other side, the door wasn’t there. With shaking hands I felt around for the knob, but couldn’t find it. The tears I had tried to hold back fell freely now.
I spun around, pressing my back against the wall and raised the flashlight. The beam of light shined out into the darkness but didn’t penetrate it. Nothing was visible. The blackness was thick and complete. My breathing was quick and shallow as I stepped away from the wall and spun in a circle looking for the door. The darkness was so complete I couldn’t see anything.
I screamed like I had never screamed before. My throat hurt from the force of it. The veins in my neck bulged as the blood rushed through my body, but no sound came from my mouth. The infinite darkness that had enveloped my room swallowed my scream.
I leaned back into the wall and stumbled, off-balance because the wall wasn’t there. I reached back with my empty hand and still couldn’t find the wall.
“No! No! No! Help!”
Tears streamed down my face as I turned to look where the wall should have been. I walked backward towards where I thought my bed would be. The floor beneath my feet had grown rough and uneven; colors began to swirl on the ceiling.
I stopped moving as I sensed a presence behind me. My eyes widened and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Fear rippled through my body like wind through a field of wheat. The intensity of that fear severed the connection between my brain and my limbs; I couldn’t move a single muscle.
As I stood there shaking, the darkness changed. Though there was no light source, I could see things. This was no longer my room. The ground beneath my feet was dry and rust colored. There was a billowing red fog hovering just above the surface. The colors I had noticed earlier continued to swirl above me like a dark and foreboding Aurora Borealis.
There were no trees or plant life that I could see. It was just a dark, desolate landscape like nowhere I had ever been. Massive rocky mountains loomed above me, appearing to float on the red fog. The space between them was black. Not just black but a dark emptiness.
Even though I was standing on the ground and the void was before me not below me, looking at it made my eyes swim. I felt like I was standing on the edge of an endlessly deep hole. If I looked too long, I believed I would fall in and continue to fall for eternity.
The air was thick and motionless. The chill of it coated my body. It felt similar to when I would put my hand out the window when Mom was driving on the highway, except nothing was moving.
All of a sudden, a wave of nausea hit me as the world before me shifted. I didn’t turn but rather, the landscape rotated around me. Bile burned my throat as my vision blurred. Part of the world before me transformed back into my bedroom. I could see the window out of the corner of my eye. Beside it was the barren wasteland of this new world.
Directly before me was the dresser. It was not in my room though, it was resting in the fog. Beneath it, the ground resembled the hardwood of my bedroom floor, yet it was rust colored and cracked. The dresser lit up and began to rumble again, this time silently. That was when I saw him again.
He seemed to materialize out of the nothingness surrounding the dresser as it flashed. Each pulse of light revealed a different feature. First, I saw the dirty boots, then the dripping, shaggy beard. The baseball hat and his long stringy hair was the last thing I noticed. He was still wet even though it wasn’t raining in this strange place I found myself.
The shock of seeing the pizza delivery guy again overwhelmed my fears, and I found I had control of my body again.
Taking a step backwards, I asked, “What are you doing here?”
“You must not attempt to finish it! You aren’t ready.”
His scratchy voice carried an edge of authority I didn’t expect.
“It’s too dangerous. If you fail...” His voice trailed off with a quiver.
I furrowed my brow and shook my head. I didn’t know what he was talking about; This whole situation was too bizarre to comprehend. I held my head in my hands and stumbled as dizziness washed over me again with the motion of my head.
“Try not to move too quickly at first. Movement here is not quite the same as on your world,” said the pizza guy with a surprising touch of concern in his voice.
He moved closer to me as he spoke. He didn’t walk though; he seemed to float. Once close enough, he raised his hand and reached for my shoulder. The thought of him touching me made my skin crawl. I screamed and jumped back from his touch and tried to turn and run.
I shouldn’t have done that. I should have listened to him. My vision blurred and faded to black as I fell to the ground, landing in a puddle of my own vomit. The fog emanating from the ground enveloped my prone body. With each breath I took, I inhaled more and more of the fog and I became less and less aware of myself.
I felt as though my body was melting away. If I stayed on the ground and continued to breathe in that fog, I believed my physical body would completely dissipate, leaving just the true essence of who I was; my soul. The thought was terrifying, yet it filled my mind with a feeling so ecstatic I couldn’t will myself to stand.
A voice filled my ears.
“Yes, this is where you belong. Remain still. Let the peace fill you.”
I didn’t recognize the voice. It had a calming effect on me though. I rolled onto my back as my eyes drifted closed. I had never felt this relaxed before. I could feel every inch of my body. My skin was tingling and complete joy filled my soul. All my worries and fears took flight like a flock of birds migrating south, except never to return. All the while, the fog continued to fill my lungs. It entered my mouth and nostrils of its own accord.
The pizza guy’s voice penetrated my happy slumber. “No! Wake up!”
Two strong hands grasped my shoulders and pulled me from the fog. I could not stand on my own as I was in a semi-conscious state. The pizza guy hugged me to himself with one arm while forcing my mouth open with the other. He stuck two dirty fingers in my mouth and down my throat. His grip around my midsection tightened to a painful point.
I began to retch, not only from the fingers in my throat, but from the taste of his filth. When my heaving intensified, he pulled his fingers from my mouth. He continued to squeeze my chest and abdomen like he was trying to pop a balloon. I had already vomited my dinner, but my body continued to dry heave. I could feel something rising in my throat. A black goop shot out of my mouth with the force of a geyser. It pooled on the ground and began to boil and steam before it turned into more of the red fog.
He let go of me as I vomited. I remained doubled over with my hands on my knees. Cramps continued to roll through my stomach so I was unsure if anything else would come up. Wiping saliva and black stuff from my chin, I turned my face towards the pizza guy.
“Why did you do that?! I was fine! Everything felt great, and you ruined it!” My soul longed for the peace I felt when I was filled with the fog.
“There’s no time now, he knows you’re here.”
The authority I noticed in his voice earlier was replaced now with fear. His darting eyes only strengthened my belief.
“We have to leave.”
I was not fully out of my hazy state of mind, but I wanted answers. “No. Who are you and what is this place?” I stood to my full height now; The pain in my abdomen remained, but it was bearable.
His whole body trembled with fear, causing droplets of water to shake loose from his beard and fall to the ground. He grabbed ahold of my shoulder and pulled me towards him and the dresser. I must have adjusted to this place because I only felt faintly dizzy with the movement.
I shook loose from his grasp, anger fueled my courage. He looked down on me and pressed his lips together. He grabbed my wrist with a grip so tight there was no way for me to break loose.
“This is Khôra, and you aren’t ready to be here. It’s dangerous. I won’t let you make the same mistakes as Arthur. You need to leave. Now!”
He jerked my arm forward and placed it beside his own on the dresser which immediately began to flash and rumble with more intensity than ever before. The light was blinding. I squinted my eyes and turned my head away.
A loud humming resonated in my ears. Behind the humming, I could hear the other voice scream, “No!”
I sat up with a jolt. I was in my bed. My sheets were soaked with sweat. I could still feel his hand on my wrist, but when I looked down, his hand was not there. I jumped from my bed and looked around my room frantically.
There was no one else in the room. The dresser sat dully on the floor. No fog, no depressing aurora swirling above me, and no empty void surrounding me. Just the pitter-patter of rain on the window, and the grey, stormy daylight filtering through the glass.
I clutched at my chest and blew a sigh of relief. I wiped the sweat from my brow and sat down on the edge of my bed and laughed at myself.
I shook my head in disbelief. “A dream.”
It had all been a dream. It was the only explanation that made sense. The memory of it was already fading as dreams often do. I shook out my nerves and stood.
“What a crazy dream.”
I walked across the room to head downstairs for breakfast and to tell my parents what I could still recall of the dream. I laid my hand on the doorknob and froze. I turned my head and looked at the dresser. My mind couldn’t comprehend what I saw. On the floor next to the dresser was a puddle.