As Douglas took a seat in the small waiting room, the pretty girl came out from behind the welcome desk and handed him a clipboard. It held a release form, printed on two sides of one page, and a pen clipped to the top with the place’s name on it: Deep Escape.
“Standard stuff,” the girl said, “not liable for anything, blah, blah, blah.” She smiled and returned to her desk, where she kept her phone hidden behind the computer monitor. Douglas filled out the form on auto-pilot- if you’ve read one you’ve read them all. Meanwhile, Peter’s words rang in his head.
“Did I ever tell you about my brother. The poor guy came back from Iraq with shell shock. I’m not sure what they do exactly but it's some kind of isolation. No sound, no light. He said he tripped out a bit at first, but by the end he felt like he'd slept for a year.”
Douglas didn’t really care what they did, so long as it worked. He was tired of being anxious, anxious about being tired. His mind just needed a little break before it broke. There was no such thing as unseen presences or disembodied voices, just the very real effects of stress on the brain, and he knew he had to treat it in very real ways. He skipped over all the disclaimers and got to the part where he signed on the line. Before long he was standing in a private room the size of a bedroom while an attendant explained the white beast in front of him.
“When you enter isolation,” the young man explained, “you’re in the darkest place in the world.”
The thing was the width of a large bed and twice as high. It was enclosed on all sides, with a slanted front wall where the door was located. The door had a handle on its left side to open it as well as two larger ones on the body to hold while climbing in. The attendant explained everything about the treatment- how to get the most from the experience, which specific parts of the brain it stimulated- but Douglas was only marginally aware of him until he asked if Douglas was ready. Douglas nodded, and with that the attendant showed him where to hang his clothes and left him alone in the tiled room. Naked, his clothes folded on the small bench, he opened the white beast and stepped inside.
The water was set to skin temperature, making the transition an easy one. It was like slipping into a second skin, a friendly hand that welcomed him and took him in safely. A voice deep inside told him not to get in, not to do this, but already the smooth water had won him over. Completely inside, he crouched down low and pulled the small door shut behind him.
Dark, true dark, was as unfamiliar to him as it was for most. Accustomed to ambient light as his eyes were, from sun to moon, starlight to streetlight, they struggled to make sense of the complete absence of stimulation. Douglas found the first minute of this new darkness to be dizzying, and he only lay down in the shallow water when he felt comfortable enough to move. He was surprised to find he floated easier than normal, and he seemed to remember the attendant saying something special about the water which gave it that characteristic.
As the shadows settled around him, the water no longer sloshing against the side of the tank, his ears, too, fought to understand a loss of constant input, followed by his skin. He lost all sense of time passing. Soon his eyes were creating a show for themselves. Flashes of light formed and swirled above him, and he watched them like a child does a fireworks display. A beautiful burst of color exploded before his eyes. At its center, set like a jewel, a tiny dot of black grew until its true shape became clear- an eye, wide open. The black pupil at the center expanded until it overtook the outer colors completely.
Surrounded by pure dark once again, he was jarred by the deafening sound of impact that filled up his eardrums, like a bird smashing into a bedroom window, like the world come crashing down, and he was pulled into the black, all-encompassing pupil and out the other side where his hands struggled to regain control of a steering wheel.