The darkness bites.
It digs its thick talons into you. It sinks deep into your brain. It aches. It claws over you until you stop shaking...until you give in. Until it gets what it wants. It swallows you, it consumes you, and when it spits you back out again because technology is stronger – you’re never quite the same again. Because you’ve endured the darkness. And the things you see there, well, you can’t quite come back from that.
It’s always a different sensation.
This time it’s warm. It starts at my toes, the darkness blanketing me in a gentle caress inch by inch. And when I can’t see anymore, when everything is pitch, the warmness gets hot. Scalding. Burning. I feel my skin melting. There is a sharp pain in my middle. I choke on my spit.
I can’t hear anything anymore. Darkness is silent. The drone of computers and the steady beeping of the heart monitor is gone. I supress a shiver and blink. Once. Twice. Thrice.
The shapes appear first. Everything is in black and white and shades of grey. The darkness slides away with a promise that echoes more of a threat. As it leaves, and the white light shines through, shapes emerge. The straight lines of cement sealed between the wall tiles, then the jagged edges of the countertop, then the circular plate of the stove. It’s an older model, I remember my grandmother using it when I was growing up. The centre burns red as it approaches peak temperature; the newer models don’t have that feature. The newer models are just a sleek, black, rectangular surface that you’re never sure if you can touch. A fire you can’t even see.
There is an egg in my hand. The shell is brown and freckled. It feels cold, like it just came out of the fridge. From before I can remember, everything I’ve had for breakfast has always had an egg inside. From the classic scramble, to classy waffles, my grandmother ensured I never once skipped a day. Now that she’s gone, I feel a pang every time I carry out this tradition. I feel a pang because I miss how she used to ring and pester me. “Eat an egg,” she used to say. “It’s good for your brain.”
I used to make some sassy retort about the latest studies. Eggs cause cholesterol. Eggs cause the blood to clot. Every year, the reports would disprove the last hypothesis and a new one would arise. While science played games of touch and go, my grandmother was always unwavering, already at the finish line.
I break the egg into the greasy pan stained with ghee. A monarchy of spices sits next to the stove. I empty a pinch of salt into the sizzling glob of white and yellow. That’s when I hear it. It’s the faint click of the front door; the sound of the lock unlatching and the door being shut quietly. I look down at the watch on my hand – another heirloom from my grandmother. Always the conspiracy theorist. Always saying that city times could never be trusted. I turned down my free retina display to soothe her nerves; the golden strapped watch became invaluable after that.
I had just returned from my morning run, still in my sweaty gear, one earphone plugged into my ear – the latest song from Nyra Adams playing soulfully in my ear. I tilt to look out into the living room at my apartment door. The faded chain is still in place. Though the bouquet of daisies I bought from the florist downstairs has wilted a darkened petal onto the floor. I hesitate. The angle of trajectory is wrong – but I brush it off because it could have easily have just been swept from the table down to the ground when I had jogged in twenty minutes earlier.
I turn back to the stove. I love this apartment. It’s part of the Remnants – pricy and lacking the sleek edge of modernised apartments – but I loved it. It was antiquated and rich with history. The cupboards were lined with a red and yellow floral linoleum. The front door was wood, and the security system consisted of thick locks and chains that hooked from the door to the wall. It was a simple one bedroom, outfitted with mismatched furniture and green cabinets in the kitchen, but I liked it all the same. It felt cosy. It felt like home.
I spoon the cooked egg onto a plate, and as the metal of the spoon scratches against the bottom of the frying pan, I hear the couch being shifted. This time I cannot quell my curiosity with a peek from the kitchen round out into the front of the apartment. I put the pan and spatula down, walk out into the living room.
Nothing is different. Morning light filters in through the windows, illuminating the floating dust motes. The yellow futon – a gorgeous piece I spent a month’s wages on at the Old Shoppe – is still in place. The smaller patterned footrests are splayed around in front of the vintage curved LED TV in the same way I had them earlier. I wondered for a second if it was the unfamiliar beat to the song that made me hear things. Irritated, I changed the playlist to one of Nyra’s older albums – Holy Grail – where I know every bass drop and treble rise.
I look back at the vase of daisies by the door and another petal has dropped onto the floor. The varnished octagonal side table is large enough, and the pile of previously fallen petals that stain its surface stand testimony to that. I frown, but the windows are closed and there is no breeze. Outside my lounge window, there is a metal canopy I had inserted, to peg wet pages from the museum when I restored them at home. The metal is reinforced to withstand the rain, and bends at such an angle that even if there was a breeze, it wouldn’t even cause the gauzy curtains to billow. I check again for good measure, but it is latched shut. I must have knocked the table when I walked in, and the vase must have somehow slipped closer toward the edge.
I turn around and go back into my small kitchen. My stomach is growling, and I only have another half hour to shower and dress for work. I work at the museum as an intern, still studying toward my masters in history.
Hands tickle my back.
My foothold loosens.
Bash! I am sprung forward, my forehead colliding with the archway of the kitchen. My knees jerk to attention and I catch myself before I hit the ground. My collar is yanked back. The neckline of my tank cuts into my throat.
Pain is debilitating. It is sudden, and it is paralysing. It is an electric jolt that cuts into you and reverberates throughout your entire body. I feel it throughout my entire body. Something hits the back of my head, and somehow it is my knees that give in. I scream, and my hands fly to the base of my skull. Before they can reach, my hair is yanked back, and I am staring upside down, into eyes the colour of an oil spill. A green and blue ocean tainted by dangerous swirls of black that consume and kill and destroy. His eyes make my skin shiver; I remember his touch.
“Did you think you can hide from me?” he whispers into my ear. His breath is warm and reeks of chemicals. I know this smell. It is subtle but intense. The faintest undertone of bitterness coupled with the taste of bleach or unscented soap – a neurostimulant. Invigilators check our breath for it in secondary school and university before year end examinations. I knew a friend who once managed to stay up twelve and half days high on it.
I open my mouth to speak. To protest. I know him. I sobbed his face out of my memory for almost three years. I cried until the feel of his stubble against my cheek faded, until the echoes of his sweet nothings came apart at the seams, until I could close my eyes and his face was a blur – a silhouette. An is that was no longer.
The pain cuts me off.
This pain is different. It is not blunt. It is cutting. It rips through me. My stomach tingles, and warmth trickles out. He releases his grasp on my hair and steps back. I fall flat on my back onto the ground. I do not feel the impact. The pain I feel is not in my back, but in my lower stomach. Red blots out the little blue squares in my tank top. It doesn’t look red. It looks a diseased violet. And it hurts.
“Did you see that coming? Is that why you ran?” his voice is withered and broken. The ceiling hangs overhead. I stare, compelled; I can’t look away. He coughs the coarseness out of his throat and spits the phlegm next to my head. Beneath the sterile smell of the neurostimulant, he smells of hospital and powder. “This is what you get,” he says. “This is what you get for killing us.”
Move, I scream at myself. My mouth is dry. It hurts. Everything hurts. Move. Move. Move.
He edges into my vision and I see him more clearly. It hurts to process the picture since it’s upside down. The pupils in his eyes dilate unevenly, the black fire burning up the blue-green waves. Red lines snake up to the growing, murky round pits of lava. There is pain there – I feel that pain. It is in my stomach, pooling red that stains violet. His dark red hair that looks brown in the shadows is dishevelled, small grains of white dandruff speckle his hairline. His face is used – scarred – the familiarity is so aching. The ache spreads throughout my being. It hitches in my throat. It is getting difficult to breathe. He aches.
I push myself forward, propelling myself onto my stomach. A stab of pain torpefies me. I pause for a second, unable to summon the momentum to move. Move toward what? Tears rim my eyes. They burn, salty and warm. I think he watches me. I hook my hand onto the flat wood and pull myself forward.
Likely tiny pinpricks on every surface of my body.
His warm hand on my arm, soothing for a nanosecond – then he wrenches me onto my back again and there is only pain again. The ceilings hazes out of focus. It hurts too much to look. I blink. Closed eyes. Everything’s black. Open. White ceiling. Closed. Black. Open…still, closed. Only closed. Better closed.
They say after you die there is almost six minutes of brain activity left. Your brain scrambles for self-preservation – for something. Mine doesn’t. What would I do? Where would I crawl? Would I make it anywhere? Maybe I know it is too late for me. Every atom of me surrenders. I force my eyes open. He is there, watching.
I look at him with my six minutes. I look at him and see everything until I see nothing but blank white ceiling. I look at him until there is nothing left but the place he was standing in. I look until I hear the click of the front door as he leaves. I look and even though he is gone, I still see a faint blur where he stood as my vision corrodes.
“I had to,” I try to choke out. I try to reason. I don’t know if he is still there anymore. I don’t know if I am imagining the shape at the edge of my eye. I don’t know if it is blind hope or desperation. I try anyway but it hurts. It hurts so much. Blood catches in my throat and instead of words, I choke on that instead.
And then I die.