Zero hours, four minutes, thirty-two seconds.
I’ve always hated the night. I have a clear case of nyctophobia.
I’ve looked it up. It’s extreme or irrational fear of the night or of darkness. But I’m being completely rational.
The night is when everything changes.
All those images of creepy horror games and movies you watched without a care with friends come back all too well when you’re alone in the dark. They’re much more of a threat than they were before, fictional or not, though they didn’t scare you in the day.
Of course they didn’t.
The day is different. It’s open and easy and bright and public. The night is the exact opposite – the world twists and curdles into... well, darkness. That’s the only proper word I can think of to describe it. And if you think I’m wrong, then why are there definitions of darkness that relate to wickedness and evil?
People often manage to escape the hellacious hours by sleeping – but even then, it can still get through to you, slipping into your mind and poisoning dreams, turning them into nightmares. So I’m being totally rational. All living beings are afraid of the unknown, and the unknown almost always makes its appearances when it’s dark. And far too many people my age are certain that such sinister emergences happen at three o’clock in the morning.
I’m not so gullible to believe that there’s a specific hour where Hell’s gates are left ajar, but when you’re left alone for the night because your mother has a one-off night shift at the nearby hospital where she works, and you’ve convinced her that you’ll be fine and won’t even notice because you’ll probably be asleep, and besides, you’re only months away from being a teenager anyway so you can handle yourself... your paranoia tends to spike.
Zero hours, two minutes, forty-five seconds.
I was given one of those thin, simple sports watches a while ago, and I can’t help but study the timer I set for the supposedly forbidden hour. It’s on silent, and so quite pointless since once it gets to the time it’ll just stop and do nothing. But I set it just in case. Just in case I couldn’t force myself to sleep and just in case I needed to prepare myself as much as I could emotionally. Which isn’t much. But my mind refuses to shut down when I need it to, and because of that, I sigh impatiently and reach over to my bedside table to switch on the lamp. It immediately brings a soft, dull yellow glow to my small bedroom, highlighting part of my face and the patterns that curl like wisps of smoke on the bedsheets.
That’s the only way you can beat the night’s games. Bring light to the room. You still can’t see everything as clearly, but you have a way of being aware.
But the light goes out almost as soon as it turns on. My eyes widen, but that doesn’t change the lighting. There is no lighting, not anymore. Why the hell not?!
My fingers glide gingerly over the wall behind me, in between the wooden strips that make up the headboard of my bed. I flick the mains switch off and on, repeatedly, but it makes no difference.
A power cut.
A power cut not just electrically, but emotionally and physically for me too. Alone, defenceless, in the dark, awake. Such a petty target.
Zero hours, one minute, seventeen seconds.
I daren’t move. The only things moving are my eyes, darting about the room, lingering on the curtains that drift and flutter ever so slightly when breeze drifts up from the small crack in the floorboards beneath it. It’s painfully silent. I can’t even hear my breathing, though I know I am – unevenly, which corresponds with my pulse. Everything in my bedroom is fogged by taunting, thick darkness, and I can’t do a thing about it. I glance at my watch, tapping the screen, and my breath catches in my throat when I realise how time has raced past, undoubtedly slowing once it reaches the hour.
Zero hours, zero minutes, twelve seconds.
Zero hours, zero minutes, nine seconds.
Zero hours, zero minutes, four seconds.
Zero hours, zero minutes, zero seconds-
Time set reached.
Nothing happens, and it’s agonising. Because nothing happens that I’m aware of, but really, what am I aware of? Far too little. No significant change has occurred, but the unknown doesn’t give itself away boisterously or normally like we do. Because, it must think, where’s the fun in that?
I hate being this vulnerable. But no matter how much I hate it, it won’t alter the situation. So I attempt to look for a distraction.
There’s a wall mirror on the opposite wall to my bed – fairy wide and tall, taking up the middle half of the wall space. It was a stupid idea to put it there, really, because it’s the first thing you see when you wake up and look forwards. I used to joke with my mum about terrorising myself with my reflection in the morning. But I’m already terror-stricken, and I can barely make out my reflection. Just a hazy smudge of a silhouette mimicking my slight, infrequent movements. My tiredness plays tricks on me, and for a split second I think my reflection lags, but then because of my paranoid state, I question it being tiredness or, indeed, every and any other unknown possibility.
It’s still too quiet. And this is pointless – sitting up so straight and forcing myself to stay so much awake. So I begin to give in, and slowly lower myself back down so that I’m lying in bed properly.
I don’t make it that far at all.
Because just as I start to relax, my gaze automatically lands on the mirror, and I shoot back upright with newfound horror when I realise that I can’t see my reflection.
Is it because it’s too dark? But I saw it slightly before, the dark, shadowed shape outlining my own and following my every move precisely. Am I going mad? Am I going mad?!
I’m going mad.
It’s still not there. It’s just a mirror, reflecting everything but myself. I daren’t scream, in case it triggered anything else. I can scarcely breathe now.
The scream I’d been holding in rips out of my throat in an instant, high-pitched and wavering and loud, when suddenly the glass making up the mirror smashes with no warning. Glass shards spray across the room and scatter across the floor, leaving an empty, black void which the glass used to cover.
I soon see that’s not all it was hiding.
The darkness I’d been so terrified of is real, and it’s worse than anything. The black void moves – it moves, into a deformed, silhouette-like shape of a human. No, not a human. Not a human. A being, but not a human. Never a human.
I’m frozen completely now, my eyes so wide they almost water, as I watch the scene unfurl like something out of the worst nightmares of the world fitted together like a twisted puzzle. It’s the darkest shade of black I’ve ever seen, but its eyes look like carved, milky-white, shaky circles. They seem to dip in, and there’s something glistening and liquid-looking dripping from them. I wish I didn’t know what it was.
I’m still frozen when it pulls out two pieces of sharp glass and, in one swift move, plugs both in either side of my head. I gasp in agony, a strained sound escaping me as it relentlessly pushes the glass in deeper. The room around me is blurry, so blurry, like fresh ink smudged carelessly around a page. I can still see the darkness, the nyctophobia in full form, and in a flash, it’s so close that a droplet of blood splatters onto my cheek.
“Nycto’s crypto – darkness is better in a head than when you’re dead.”
That’s what I hear. Every single word, exactly like that. But the words weren’t spoken. They were thought – they weren’t my thoughts, can’t have been my thoughts. No, never my thoughts. It was Nycto’s. It’s the last thing I hear, that biting, whispering voice inside my head that settles my madness debate.
Then I feel hands shaking me frantically, and I inhale sharply, throwing myself up as Nycto, the pain, the darkness coating my room and the whole scene fades in the blink of an eye. My mum’s in front of me, worry evident in her expression. My eyes dart about in confusion. I’m in my room, still in my room, but it’s not as dark as it was before. It looks like early morning, and I can hear birds faintly from outside. The sky is most likely streaked with navy and tangerine shades. I look past my mother to the mirror, but it’s untouched, the glass all intact, not the slightest sign of a smash or even a crack showing. My head is throbbing, but when I raise my trembling hands to my temples I feel no blood or mark.
“You were having a nasty nightmare, hun,” my mum says with a sigh, moving back a little, brows furrowed. “There was a power cut. Still is, but it’s getting dealt with soon. You were screaming bloody murder.”
I shake my head in a daze, pushing myself up to a sitting position as my eyes scan the floor for any glass or stains. Nothing.
“Are you all right?” My mum asks again, and I take in a deep breath through my nose, letting it out through my mouth shakily.
“W-what... what’s crypto?”
My mum’s frown deepens, and she shrugs, shaking her head. “I don’t know. Like a secret, or hidden or something. Why do you ask?”
I don’t answer for a few moments, then force a small smile. “A weird dream, I suppose.”
Mum doesn’t look convinced, but she nods, reluctantly getting up off the bed. “Okay. It’s still pretty early in the morning. Before seven anyway. I’m heading back to bed. Take it easy, yeah?”
She leaves the room without any knowledge at all that matches mine. My head still hurts, and when the breeze from the crack in the floorboards brushes the curtains and causes it to flutter a little, I jump involuntarily, searching the room for Nycto. It’s nowhere, of course.
I’ve gone mad.
Fear can do that, can’t it? Like it did to Jonathan Crane from those DC comics and series? Fear paralyzing the mind so much that it reaches a threshold, and it snaps. I don’t think I’ve become Nycto now though, but it’s too soon to tell. The sun is starting to make its appearance, and doing so, it’s ushering Hell’s gates closed. I don’t know whether to be relieved or not, to laugh or to cry. So I do neither.
There’s no point in trying to sleep now, so I don’t. I make a move to get out of bed, but when my hands happen to slip underneath my pillow, I feel an unusually smooth, cool surface – thin and slick – two of them. Lifting the pillow up, I swear my heart skips a beat when I look down to see two glass shards, like transparent, revealing blades, simply lying there. The tips have distinct red crusts to them, and I stay still and silent for several minutes, just looking with no proper emotion.
Do I still hate the night?
I finally shift and get up out of bed, pins and needles rushing through my limbs for a moment from the action, and I walk as steadily as I can to my desk, taking my laptop and opening it up, unlocking it and going onto Google and then to Wikipedia. I make it back to my bed, feeling strangely calm, and search one word up, redirecting me to ‘fear of the dark’. I murmur the lines under my breath as I read, every so often glancing at the mirror and my reflection mimicking my action, smirking at me knowingly when I do every so often.
’Nyctophobia is a phobia characterized by a severe fear of the dark. It is triggered by the brain’s disfigured perception of what would, or could happen when in a dark environment. It can also be temporarily triggered if the mind is unsteady or scared about recent events or ideas, or a partaking in content the brain considers a threat--