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In the Dark, Waiting

By Mark Aragona All Rights Reserved ยฉ

Horror

In the Dark, Waiting

I want you to know how sorry I am. If I knew any other way, I would do that instead. But I don't. I'm at the edge of myself. I haven't slept in five days.

The dreams began some time last month. It started out this way: I was alone, looking up at a swollen autumn moon. The biting chill shrank the skin around my bare arms, and I could see my breath turning to mist before me. All around me lay a thick forest of vines and brambles that formed a natural wall. In the dim light, they looked like hordes of snakes frozen in mid-embrace.

I've never known utter silence before, growing up in the city. It lay there in the dark like a sleeping tiger. No insects, no night birds, nothing but the murmur of air as it left my body.

At the heart of the clearing lay a pool of darker darkness. I shuffled a few shivering steps through the low grass and saw a small hole in the ground, barely big enough for a man to fit through.

It was cold enough for me to consider slipping inside. I peered down into the blackness, wondering how far into the earth it went, how long I would fall if I jumped in. I knelt by the edge and shouted, "Hello!"

My voice returned, but didn't come alone. There was a muffled noise, like someone drumming their fingers on the surface of a table. Every follicle of hair on my neck prickled. There was something in that pit, something that hated the light. And it knew I was there.

I woke up in a cold sweat, just in time to see the gray dawn creeping in through my window.

I let the nightmare fade from my mind--it's easy to be brave in the daylight. But in the next days, during quiet moments, my mind kept getting drawn back to that dream, back to the empty clearing with the dark hole at the center. And each time, the memory brought icy fingers crawling down my spine.

The dream found me again two nights after. Again, I stood shivering in the clearing amidst the brambles. The place was cold and still, like the bottom of the sea.

Something was wrong. The hole at the center looked slightly bigger.

I approached it and peered down. Far below, something uncoiled and stretched as my shadow blocked the moon. The drumming noise came again, and my stomach sank somewhere down to my groin. I wondered how many legs it had, whatever it was. Then I made myself stop wondering.

The soil at the edge of the pit crumbled and slid into the dark. I leaped back and dragged myself towards the brambles. The thorns dug into my arm like cat's claws and I woke up.

That was more than two weeks ago, and over that span the dream returned with increasing intensity. Each time, the edge of the hole would creep towards me like it had a will of its own. First it was ten feet from the forest wall. Then eight. Then five.

And the noises from the pit kept getting louder. It was...chittering, almost giggling. I couldn't help but think, with mounting terror, what a greedy sound that is.

I tried many times to escape. I searched the bramble wall again and again for an opening. I tried climbing over the vines; each time the thorns would bite into my flesh and my hands would come away bloody. I even cried out for help--the only answer I got was the beat of the creature's excited footsteps.

I would wake each time with my nails digging bloody curves into my palms, my heart fluttering like a bird in a trap.

Once, a friend at the office started tapping his fingers on my cubicle wall. I jumped up and screamed at her. She looked at me like I had escape from the asylum.

I've told no one. What would I say? And what would they tell me? That it's just a dream? That none of it's real? But healthy people die in their sleep all the time, don't they? What do you think killed them while they were locked up in their heads?

Five nights ago, the edge of the pit had nearly reached the forest wall. I had less than three feet of space on all sides. I spent that dream curled up in a shivering ball as far from the hole as possible, the dull thud of my heart accompanied by the thing's rumbling feet. Yes, rumbling. As if the creature had grown massive from eating the edges of the hole. I didn't dare look to verify.

Since then, I have done everything possible to keep from falling asleep.

It's nearly two in the morning. All the lights in my house are on, the TV blaring at its loudest. I have drunk coffee nearly by the hour. I've even had friends over, anyone I could think of, just to talk to me and keep me awake. They're passed out right now, drunk and snoring on the floor. I'm sitting on my sofa, my back aching with the effort to stay upright.

But in the split-second that micro-sleep sets in, I see a great blackness yawn before my eyes, I hear that high chitter, and the terror jolts me awake.

It's a losing battle, I know. Any moment now I will fall asleep, and that will be the end .

But there's something I have to try.

I have figured it out, you see. I didn't create this nightmare--it must have found me. Perhaps it's a parasite of dreams, like the incubus or the old hag. Perhaps it's something that thrives on fear.

If so, then what I have to do is clear. The host doesn't matter to the parasite, so long as it gets fed. The only way I can escape this nightmare is for someone else to dream it in my place.

I know you think I'm crazy. But I know too that the mind is tar baby. Once you think of something, it sticks. You cannot unsee it. A red table. A white elephant. A drop of blue water.

A pitch-black hole, ringed with brambles and large as the night, filled with the rumbling of many, many legs.

I'd like you to think about that hole now.

I'd like you to dream of it.
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