The darkness was terrible. It pressed in, like a velvet cloth, suffocating and absolute. I could feel my eyes were open, yet when I squeezed them shut it was as if my eyelids were clear, no difference in what I saw. Or didn’t see. There wasn’t much difference.
I couldn’t move, couldn’t turn my head. I had no idea whether some nightmarish creature crouched beside me, or if I was alone in this place. I had no idea which was worse.
I waited. There was no time here. What felt like hours could have been minutes. Flashes of light danced on the edge of my vision, illusions spawned by my mind. I knew they weren’t real.
I became aware of faint vibrations in the surface I was lying on. Wood. I could feel a fog beginning to retract its tentacles from my mind. There was still no light. The vibrations grew stronger, resolved into pounding footsteps. The fog lifted more. My throat hurt, and a hot pain in my temple throbbed. I tried to lift my hand to touch it, but I still couldn’t move. I was breathing, frigid, musty air filling my lungs. It was freezing here. The tips of my nose and ears stung with the cold. The air felt like a spike driven into my lungs.
I heard muffled voices, shouting, grumbling. They were looking for me. I knew this. They wanted to rescue me from this place. Here! I wanted to scream. I’m here! But of course I couldn’t.
The footsteps below grew louder. I heard a door being wrenched open, and a draft of warmer air reached me. Thundering steps came up, up towards me, and a light, real this time, shone on cobwebbed rafters above me.
“He’s here! He’s in the attic!” Attic? Things started to come back. A dark door. Steep, old stairs. A mirror.
A man in a police jacket came up the stairs, breathing heavily. His eyes widened when he saw me. “Oh, god.” He rushed to my side, put two fingers on my wrist, then my neck. He breathed out. Turning to the stairs, he yelled, “He’s not conscious, and he’s hit on the head! I’ll bring him down!” Strong arms lifted me carefully, and I felt myself being carried down a curved stair, away from the attic, to somewhere safe.
And then it was a blur of bright lights, blue and red, then I was being loaded onto a cart, pushed down a walk. A mask was slipped over my face, filling me with air, and my vision started to grow fuzzy again. No! I tried to struggle. I don’t want to go back to the darkness! But it came anyway. The last thing I saw was the outside of a house, a dark window at the very top.
I was in darkness again. No. I forced myself up, my eyes open. I was not in the attic. I sat up in a small, light blue room with white cabinets and a large frosted window. Two folding chairs sat against the wall. I sat in a hospital gown. I reached my fingers up to feel a puffy bandage on my temple. My legs felt unused, like sticks, and I wobbled a bit as I got to my feet. I hobbled to the door, twisted the cold handle, and went through.
I stood in a tiled hallway lined with doors, fluorescent lights on the ceiling. I began to walk, my bare feet slapping the floor. This place was bright, no shadowy corners or blackened doors. It felt safe. I heard murmuring voices, and turned a corner to see a waiting area. A nurse in scrubs gave a jump.
“Oh! You should not be out of bed. Which room are you?” Her eyes flicked to my bandage. “Oh, of course.” She got up and started herding me back down the hallway. “There’s a lot of talk about you. Turning up in that creepy old house.” We reached my room. “Here we are. Sit on the bed, will you? Keep your eyes open for me.” She held up a light and shone it into my eyes. She checked my bandage and held a hand to my forehead. “Well, you seem to be alright. I’ll get Doctor Henry.”
A few minutes later, a man in a doctor’s coat walked in. He had frameless glasses, the ends of which pushed out his ears. He sat down on one of the folding chairs.
“Hello, Ezra,” he extended a hand. “I’m Doctor Henry. How are you feeling?”
“Good.” My throat was dry and scratchy, as if I had been yelling.
He nodded. “That’s good. Do you remember what happened?”
“I was in…” I remembered what the man who had carried me had said. “An attic. It was dark.” Doctor Henry nodded.
“Do you remember how you got there?” I shook my head. “Try to. Think back. How did you get in the attic?” I strained my mind. It was like there was a spot where nothing was there, and I was trying to look at it but it was impossible to look at for long, like the sun. I shook my head again.
“I remember walking home from school. … and then… I noticed something.” I stopped. What had I noticed? Doctor Henry waited patiently. I gave up. “I don’t know. I can’t remember. I noticed something, but I can’t remember what.” Doctor Henry sighed and nodded.
“You have a head injury, but not a concussion. You shouldn’t have any memory loss, at least not from that. I don’t know what hit you, but the police might. Don’t worry,” he said. “You’re not in trouble. They only want to find out what happened to you.” I nodded. He clapped his hands on his thighs. “Welp, get some rest. Your parents will be here soon. We called them as soon as we found out you were awake.” He left, closing the door softly behind him.
My parents arrived, and there was a flurry of hugs and pats and “we’re so glad you’re okay”s, and I was given clean clothes and the ones I had been wearing when they found me, neatly folded, and I was walked back to the car. The parking lot was lit by the afternoon sun shining through the autumn leaves.
“We’ve got one more stop to make, buddy.” My dad said. “The police want to ask a few questions, and then we can go home and you can rest.” A nap did sound nice.
We pulled into the police station parking lot, a small patch of asphalt with five spaces, two of them filled with squad cars. We walked in and sat for a little, then were taken to an office with a desk, behind which the man who had found me sat. He smiled tiredly as we came in. In brighter light, he looked like a normal guy: brown suit coat, messy hair, pencil tucked behind his ear.
“Hi. Good to meet you. I’m Detective Milford, but you can call me Dan.” It felt weird to think of him as Dan. It seemed so informal.
“You were the one who found me.” Detective Milford–Dan–nodded.
“I was. Did the doctors tell you?” He shuffled some papers on his desk.
“I saw you.” He stopped shuffling the papers, then carefully put them down.
“Your eyes were closed the whole time.” He shook his head. I know they were. Maybe you opened them a crack.” He looked at me, waiting. I shook my head.
“No. I couldn’t move, but I saw your flashlight on the ceiling, and then you came up the steps and checked my pulse. Then you carried me outside to the ambulance.” Detective Milford’s eyes widened.
“That’s exactly what happened, but I could have sworn you were unconscious, or at least that your eyes were closed. You’re sure you saw me?” I nodded. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I was tired, but I don’t know if I could have missed that.” He shook his head. “Anyway, we’ll let you go after one more thing.
“Do you remember how you got in the attic of the house?” I shook my head. Was he going to ask me the same questions as the doctor? “Do you remember which house it was?”
Images flooded into my brain. A tall, old house, with peaks and chimneys and a turret, squeezed into a normal plot between two houses. Remnants of a fence lay in the overgrown yard. Dusty floors. Stairs…
“There was a door.” I remembered. “It was blackened, like it had been burned. But nothing around it was like that. It was in that old house. The one with the turret.” The detective nodded.
“Do you remember what you were doing there?” I shook my head. “You won’t get in trouble if you tell me. We just want to piece together what happened.” He reached under his desk and pulled out a heavy-looking chest. “We found some blood and hair of yours on this,” he said, pointing to a stain on the corner. “We think this is what hit your head. Does it ring any bells?” I shook my head again. He sighed, like the doctor had. “Well, you can go home now. Get some rest.”
The drive home was short. I was tired, and just wanted to crawl into my bed and go to sleep. Though it was still bright as I stumbled into my room and collapsed on the mattress, I fell asleep almost instantly.
Darkness. It was everywhere, weighing down on me, blinding me. Bile rose in my throat. I thrashed, trying to break out, and finally untangled myself from my sheets and tumbled out of my bed. My eyes adjusted, and I relaxed as I realized I was in my bedroom. Everything looked strange, like it was insubstantial, translucent. I was hungry.
I padded downstairs. The microwave clock said it was one thirty. I was rummaging around in the pantry when I heard steps behind me.
“Ezra?” My dad stood in the kitchen, looking worried. When I turned, he paled and whisper-shouted upstairs. “Anna! Come down! I think Ezra’s sleepwalking!”
“What? No, I’m awake.” I was confused. Dad looked at me, uncertainty creeping across his features.
“But Ezra– your eyes are closed.”
“No, they’re open.” My dad started to look afraid. I could see my reflection in the window behind him. It showed me, just as I expected–except my eyes were shut, unseeing.
My dad called the doctor, and we went over to the clinic around two. Doctor Henry greeted us, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. We told him what had happened.
“How could he have seen anything? Could he have seen through his eyelids somehow?” My dad asked.
“No.” Doctor Henry looked grave. “There is no way anyone could see with their eyes closed. They’re our only way of seeing. The most likely thing is that you thought you were able to see–you know your kitchen so well you can envision it in your mind.” My parents nodded, relieved for a rational explanation. I wasn’t satisfied.
“But I could see dad. And I knew exactly where everything was. I was seeing the kitchen like it was right then.” The doctor shrugged and shook his head.
“I can’t explain it completely. Your other senses probably contributed. But there is simply no way you could have been seeing if your eyes were closed.”
We left with nothing but a recommendation for more sleep. I knew I had been seeing, but no one believed me. It was early, too early, and I felt sleep dragging my eyelids down.