“Curtain open again, I presume?”
Her voice surprised me, but I didn’t jolt. I hadn’t realized it was already this late in the evening. My lack of response confirmed her presumption.
“Have a wonderful evening, Mr. Benen.” I heard her light footsteps recede from my chair. Then a brief pause. Then the clicking of the door; not locked, just shut.
She was a very friendly young lady, early twenties I’d guess. Her eyes were brown, her nose thin and her face round but slender. Her hair was brown at first with a red ombre, but in the last few months that she’d been working here, most notably with me, it faded back to it’s monotone brunette.
She told me her name was Emily, but over the shuffling of feet in the hallway just a few metres from my chair I overheard another nurse greet her by the name Sophia. The realization clicked in my brain when I heard that name, but I didn’t flinch. It’s no surprise she would keep such a name away from me. Sophia was my sister.
When the nurses helped my mother bring the boxes into my room back in December, there was a family photo resting on top of one of them. I was in my chair, looking out the window, but out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the older nurses place it on my bedside table. Hastily, my mother rushed over to grab the photo and place it face down in the box before ushering the nurse out into the hall and closing the door behind them.
After several minutes they returned to the room, both quiet, setting out small decorations in mutual silent understanding. Several times I heard an object being taken out of the box before immediately being returned.
Now my room had all the decorations it needed: a landscape painting above my bed, which was covered in plain gray covers and a disgustingly coloured quilt of various faded reds and blues. The shelf opposite to the painting housed two polished agate bookends that guarded my personal library. Roughly two dozen books sat in disordered fashion, ranging from a dark red leather gospel to a large brown atlas to collections of Mr. Lovecraft and the like’s most twisted works. Oddly enough, my mother didn’t see an issue with the mythos remaining in my room.
But nowhere in my room were there any photos of Sophia.
There was no explicit reason for this that I made clear to my mother, but her assumption to clear her face from my new life, or the fragmented remnants of what once was a life, was all in good nature. After all, it was Sophia that sent me into that black spiral of chaos to which I emerged in this room; in this chair.
I know Sophia isn’t dead. I feel it in my gut. Not by random instinct, but by the prongs that stab the inside of my stomach every second of every ticking day, each one like the hand of another trying to escape this endless chrysalis of interwoven pain and paralysis.
And one of those hands belongs to Sophia.
What she did was not her fault. In fact, it was my own primal perseverance that landed me here, in this room.
It was early October, the fourth, to be specific. The first Tuesday of the month. The day started off as if it were still August, with cloudless skies showcasing the sun; a light kiss of cool breeze the only hint at the impending change of season. I decided to walk to campus, seeing as my first lecture wasn’t until noon. The commute was just over a half hour, but in the roughly thirty-six minutes it took me to get from Wade Street to Marlow Memorial Hall, the entire atmosphere shifted. I had just turned right onto Baptist Way when I noticed the monstrous face of an impending stormfront looming over the horizon.
Throughout my life I’d been no stranger to storms, especially not to those flashes of angry downpour that seem to materialize out of nowhere in the midst of perfect serenity. This, however, was different. I didn’t know it at the moment, but in less than four days’ time I would.
The storm began as an angry wave. When I first saw it I stood frozen for several moments. It had a rectangular front; the underside was flat and not yet releasing any precipitation, and the face was that of a wave nearly frozen in time, rolling and swirling gracefully just before a crest would form bringing the entire structure crashing down. It glided across the sky as if on some invisible track, and I felt each motion as a surge of power coming directly to me.
If I had not been distracted by the cardinal crossing my plane of vision, I don’t know where I would have ended up, nor if I’d be able to pull myself away. I shook my head and looked around to make sure there were no other audience members. After giving a friendly nod to an elderly couple crossing the street behind me, I continued down Baptist Way toward both the campus and the storm, hoping I’d reach the one before the other.
The rest of the day was a blur of unexplainable monotony. I sat through lectures without absorbing any information; my attention was constantly dissolved by some unknown force. Several minutes after finding my seat I would unknowingly settle into a dreamlike daze, static and empty. My mind would become numb and my eyes would glaze over, separating me from the others. The only external stimulus I was able to pinpoint was the repetitive pattern of raindrops on the roof, the intensity of them increasing and decreasing in an uncomfortably soothing song of sinusoidal pattern. Each time I managed to shake myself awake, but shortly after I’d allow my perception a sip of rain and unconsciously fall back into the back-and-forth rocking of the waves above my head. My mind became a sea of gray swirling into nothing, building up intensity until the climactic release of collapse back onto itself, only to rebuild the structure and repeat….repeat….repeat….
At about seven o’clock the rain came to a sad drizzle, just enough to remind one that the gray entity hadn’t yet left. A couple of hours later, as I got off the bus at the corner of Wade and Blackmore, it had completely stopped, leaving only a blanket of moisture in the fall evening. That was one of the few other things that distinguished the day from that of a warm summer; it had started getting dark around eight thirty, and was completely night by nine.
That night I did not dream. Normally this would not be noticeable, let alone a concern, but it was the very lack of mental activity I remember so vividly. Not dark, that would require a place to hold the dark, a place to see it. There was simply nothing.