This plopped out of my head and onto the page today. I’m not sure what to say about it, and not sure I want to say much of anything. There was no prompt. I just sat and wrote. That’s a dangerous thing sometimes, and sometimes it’s cathartic. Maybe this is a bit of both.
Rather than talking about it, I’d prefer to just hit ‘Post’. I could dissect it, but I don’t have the desire. Instead, I submit it to you, dear reader, asking that you take it for what it is: a story about scary things, no more and no less.
Make of it what you will.
now we play
“I think you know the problem,” he said. His voice was not unlike that of a compassionate oncologist–authoritative, sympathetic and terrifying, all at the same time.
Claire’s head hurt. It was a stabbing pain, mostly on the right-hand side. She felt it throbbing through her eyes, across her forehead, even to her jaw, her neck, and her shoulders. She massaged her temples.
“Enlighten me,” she said.
Toab smiled. Her eyes were closed, so she didn’t see it. Besides, it wouldn’t have scared her. When he stopped smiling, that would be frightening.
“You assumed, Claire. You’ve assumed your whole life. All this talk of darkness and light. You mistook the metaphorical for the literal.”
She was loath to admit it, but he had a point. It was mid-afternoon. They were sitting in her breakfast nook. Toab was sipping tea. There was no hint of sulfur in the air, no shadows that moved on their own, not even the chilling sense that she was in the presence of some kind of evil. Rather, there were flowers on the table. The sun shown through the open window. Outside, sprinklers were chit-chit-chitting away.
She looked up at him, raw contempt on her face. “Fine. You fooled me. Happy?”
“We fool everyone, Claire. You’re not special.”
She wanted to hit him, then. To punch him in his perfectly pleasant face. She wondered if his nose would give, if she’d feel the bone crunch, or if the first gush of blood would paint her fist red. He drank his tea, and she imagined feeding him shards of the ceramic cup, making him chew until his mouth was a pulpy mess.
She’d always known he was there. When she was a child, she could sense him. Back then, she had dreams, but she could never quite remember them. She only knew someone was near. Someone not good. But she convinced herself those were childish thoughts brought on by her parents’ failed marriage and the typical trials of adolescence. Quite intentionally, she lost her sense of awareness.
Only now he was sitting in front of her, talking to her. Her own personal demon.
“What now?” she asked.
The headache was getting worse. She felt like her eyes might pop out at any moment. God, she wanted a drink, but the websites all said it would only make a migraine worse.
“Now you know,” he said with a grin.
He sat his tea down and began to dissolve. His skin went first so that for one brief, fleeting moment, she saw his true form. Not the man in a pristine suit, but a diabolical creature. No horns. No bat wings. No tail. He didn’t need them. What she saw was beyond description, visually horrifying at a whole new level. And then he was gone.
But she was not alone. She could feel him, like when she was little, lying in bed at night, covers pulled up to her chin, her eyes darting around the darkened room, certain that something else was there. His voice echoed in her head. “Buckle up, Claire. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
Her stomach dropped, and for a split second she thought she was falling. But she wasn’t. She was still in the chair, her headache now gone, not even a trace of the pain left. She sat there for a few minutes, dazed. Then, with a feeling of embarrassment she couldn’t quite explain, she shook off the past hour. The headache. The man who’d come to her door unannounced. His insane proclamation of identity. The Wes Craven style vanishing act.
Like the pragmatic adult she was, she told herself she’d imagined it all. She took a few deep breathes and went to the bathroom to wash her face. And there, in the mirror, water dripping off her nose, she saw it. A face laid over her own. The face of a demon, its eyes hungry and its mouth twisted in a bizarre, cheekless grin.
A voice whispered in her ear, breaking the silence. “Now we play,” it said.
All at once, she understood. Darkness isn’t the mere absence of light. It’s something more. Something thicker, something with a will of its own. Something set against all of humanity, maybe, but most definitely set against her. Something that haunted her dreams as a child. Something that never really left. Something that introduced itself to her as Toab, taunting her with its very presence before hiding once more in plain sight, a phantom only she could see.
“I’m losing it,” she said out loud.
The voice laughed, and she could feel its warm breath against her ear. “You’re not going crazy,” it said. Pause. And then, “But you are losing it. All of it. And I’ll be the one to strip your soul.”
The first tears came, acidic drops that burned her cheeks before plopping on the counter top. And somewhere down below, metaphorically or possibly literally, a creature named Toab danced with his cronies, delighted by her sense of defeat. He understood the game better than she.
“The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong,” he muttered to himself while the dark dance continued. Above, the object of his contempt quietly surrendered behind a veil of half truth. Victory cries echoed through caverns in the deep.
For Claire was a warrior woman who could have won the day, but faltered when confronted by her own fears.