FIGURE IN THE DARKNESS
THE TRAGEDY OF VAUN GREYLOCK - CHAPTER FOUR
There was a time in my life where it felt uncomfortable to enter the embrace of frigid, dark waters. A time when the fear of the unknown played with my mind. Where the cold of the water permeated through to my soul. Caused hypothermia. But as my body submerges into the pitch-black surf now, I feel nothing.
I was afraid short moments ago. The cold waters leech the fear from me. Draw it out like a carnivore licking the marrow from its prey's bones. My soul now matches the freezing water's temperature. Cold blooded. A little less than human as I let my muscles take over.
We've swam for weeks in preparation for this strenuous mission, Matthews and I have. Monotonous pool laps. Open water swims. Enduring every hypothetical under the sun so we were best prepared for tonight. And so I have no choice but to put my trust in muscle memory. It isn't known to overthink things like my brain would be prone to do. One stroke after another. Scissor kick. Repeat. Scissor kick. Repeat. Easy as that. No need to overthink anything.
I get lost in the motion of it all. Bubbles from my tank dance around me, impartial to the chaos that will soon ensue. My nerves are gone as my body slowly loses feeling from the chill of the water. And before long, we arrive. A marine outfall, expelling human excrement into the innocent ocean. The pipe is the same size as the one we practiced swimming through, which is encouraging to see. If was any smaller then Matthews' thick-set shoulders most likely wouldn't fit.
I stare into it for a brief moment, feeling the warmth of piss- and shit-filled water pulsing forth from it. The heat of the grey water warms the center of my body as I float in front of the offshoot, my outer extremities still tingling from the cold waters surrounding the tunnel.
And then I plunge into the dark warmth of the pipeline.
No moon above to illuminate this river of feces.
My headlamp does little to penetrate the darkness of the torrent of sludge that courses against me. Doing its best to spit me out.
It's funny how well this situation resembles a parable of life. How hard we often stumble through the dark, shitty torrents this world sends against us. Incapable of doing little more than clinging to the nearest solid object, feeling our way through the darkness. Hoping the entire time to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Dreading that what lies ahead of us is worse than what we leave behind.
This reminds me of another life. A time when I was younger. More innocent. A time when I was afraid of the monsters outside of me, not the ones that lived in my head.
When I was a child I was prone to night terrors.
I dreamt of this ghastly figure who loomed in my house, walking the midnight corridors.
Entering my room.
Staring at me.
Whispering my name.
A figure made of darkness.
A figure that wanted to feed on my soul.
I was also privy to sleepwalking. It was an awful habit to have as a child so young. I one time went so far as to walk a mile away from my home in the dead of night, nothing but loose boxers to keep my naked body warm. Fast asleep the entire time. A neighbor holding a bat for protection woke me with their shouting. Must've thought I was a midnight intruder looking for a house to break into. Me, an innocent kid.
There was this one time—I'll never forget it—when I fell asleep in my bed on the second floor of our house. I woke up in a terribly dark, unfamiliar place. It was pitch-black, and my body lie on a jagged, terrible slant. I had no way of seeing in any direction. All I could do was cling to the surface beneath me, hoping I didn't slide down whatever slant I rested on.
It was a cold and miserable experience. I cried out for my mother and father to save me. It was not a dream. I knew it was reality. I'd had plenty of nightmares before. I knew the difference between them and reality.
And it was at the darkest part of the night—the part when I'd given up all hope of seeing the light of day again—that I heard the cold, raspy breathing of the figure made from darkness. Like a dying man's last breath repeated over and over. A struggling, forced inhale, like the sound of someone trying to breathe in through a tube. A whimpering, bone-chilling exhale. Like watching frost form on glass.
The figure made from darkness was somewhere below me, at the bottom of the slant I laid on. I could feel the evil of its presence. Could smell the rancid scent of rotting eggs and mothballs. Curdled milk and burning rubber.
And then I heard it. Its voice, calling from the darkness below.
Fear gripped me like a barbed hook grips the mouth of a fish, though I was too paralyzed by fear to thrash wildly for freedom. I just laid there, paralyzed. Slave to fear. Fear of the darkness. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what stood watching me from the darkness below.
"Give it to me, Vaaauuuuunnnn. You soul, Vaun. Give it to me!"
The voice was authoritative and manic at the same time. Like an abusive husband five seconds from a fit of delirium.
The ground on which I lay grew colder, which didn't make sound thermodynamic sense, considering it was carpeted. How can a carpet feel cold?
But this was the wrong question. I questioned as a child often does. Asking the first thing that popped into my mind, though such questions are rarely sensible. Childhood. A time when questions plagued my mind like stars in the night sky. But the fear drove all logical inquiries from my mind.
I didn't wonder to myself how a voice could sound so evil.
I didn't ask how the weight of the atmosphere seemed so dense that the air in my lungs grew heavy.
I didn't question the state of my paralysis, nor the nature of my inability to scream for help.
I wasn't a fly caught in a web. They can at least retalitate. Twitch and writhe vainly. Fight for escape. Even the ability to fight for my survival was gone. My body comatose. My brain the only part of me left alive.
I could hear the thing's heavy breathing. Slow on the inhale, exacerbated on the exhale. A maniacal wheezing. A demented, rhythmic cycle. No words needed to be said. The demon didn't need to request my soul to frighten me. Its breathing alone did that. The coldness in the air did that. The weight of my lungs holding back a scream did that.
No, the demon didn't need to demand for my soul. But it did anyways. And when it did, its words ripped all hope I had remaining from my bodice. It was when the demon spoke that something changed. Before, it had only been my surroundings that were cold. The carpet. The air. The walls around me.
But when I heard its voice—that's when the coldness penetrated my soul. My internal temperature dropped instantly. It felt like stepping into a freezer. My breath had already been stolen, but in this instant all reserves of oxygen were sucked from my lungs. The blood in my veins slowed, my heart too cold to continue pumping.
The darkness was inside of me. How could it have been inside of me? It didn't make sense as a kid, but even twenty years later I fail to understand the occurence.
It wasn't just the feeling of warmth that left me.
It was my emotions too.
All feelings—the good, the bad, the ugly. All gone. I felt nothing. I was reduced to a vegetative state while the coldness spread from my extremities toward my heart. Even my memories began to fade, as if they never existed. Leeched from my brain.
Nothing inside me was safe from my assailant. My heat. My emotion. My memories. All of it left me in that instant, and I was nothing more than a dead body with an overactive brain.
But then the light poured in, and it shattered the darkness to smithereens. I can't remember what happened next. I was too derranged and delirious to understand it then. I woke up, almost as if it were all a dream. My body was drenched in sweat. Feverish. My skull was filled with an angry oatmeal brain. Mushy and uncomprehensive.
I looked above me towards the light. A door had opened, spilling in the morning light into the dark stairway I lay on. I slowly looked around, confused to see I was sleeping on the staircase that descended to our basement. Beneath me there was darkness. Retreated darkness. Darkness that pooled at the bottom of the stairs. Darkness that was forced to retreat and regroup within the confines of the basement.
It had been the opening of the basement door that had spilled light into the stairway.
It had been the opening of the basement door that had saved my life.
The memory of the event made me shiver as I continued my progression through the pipe, my legs kicking in fluid motion. Darkness such as this always reminds me of the mysterious happening. Still though, doors do not open by themselves, and I never did find out how that basement door had swung open. There had been no efficient cause. No opener.
When I'd pulled myself to the freedom of our first floor, there had been no one there to congratulate me for surviving the night. Not my mother. Not my father. None of my siblings. But doors do not open themselves.
I've spent the rest of my life opening my own doors. Moving from chapter to chapter solely based on my own action. Forcing light to spill onto my darkness by my own doing.
I tucked the memory away, fixed on my current predicament. Won't be long until I breach the darkness of this pipe. It leads to a system of sewer tunnels. Tunnels where I can walk through the grey water instead of swim. Tunnels that will lead me to the Underworld.
Soon enough, I will be the figure in the darkness. Soon enough, I will be the one who demands for the souls of mankind. I have become my greatest fear. Embodied it. And soon enough I will force my fears on others. But there will be no one there to open any doors for them. No one will come to save them. And they will face me in the darkness.
My hands penetrate the water's surface. My body follows, breaking through to air. I have no time to delay, Matthews will be behind me soon.
The only light of the tunnel is a pale shade of brown, the light of the shit-water reflecting off the arced ceiling. I look around quickly, scanning my surroundings before exposing my body to being spotted. I am alone in this tunnel. It's dark, but my eyes have already adjusted to the darkness. Enough to see that no measures of security are in place to stop us.
I lift myself from the pipe, quickly and quietly wading away from the suctioning vortex of gravity-fed poop water. I move forward, not looking behind me as Matthews slowly rises from the hole in the ground like a ghost rising from its grave. Silence is our ally tonight.
Silence, and darkness.
The ground shakes slightly. At first I'm confused. I look around, thinking it might be just the movement of water around my legs that makes it feel like the ground is shaking. Then the world around me explodes.
I'm thrown from my feet. I plop back into the water, my head fully submerged in the outflow of excrement. For a brief moment I am inwardly grateful that I have yet to take my wetsuit's hood off.
The tunnel trembles. Matthews falls atop me, stumbling from the vibrations around us. Then, the unthinkable happens. The tunnel collapses in front of us. The concrete caves and the ground above falls with it. It fills the space in front of us, snuffing out our entire plan of progression. Matthews and I dive in sychronization, the debris of the implosion coming close to pouring over us.
Something hits me, knocking my goggles enough to break their seal. Grey water rushes in to fill the space, polluting my vision with microscopic poop particles. My blood pressure increases and a flush of anger rushes over me. I rise to my feet, ripping the goggles off and throwing them to the side. I hear distant gunfire. More explosions from somewhere far away, the aftershocks shaking the tunnel enough to make me stagger.
I reach for my coms. "What the fuck is going on up there!" I scream into it, mashing the relay button so hard that I could break the walkie. I sit in the silent aftermath of my question, listening to my words echo off the walls of the dark tunnel. Nothing.
"I didn't hear you in my ear," Matthews announces calmly, as if the clusterfuck of this situation doesn't faze him. He continues, "Coms are cut. See," he says. I turn to look at him and see that he is holding his own com relay button down. His words echo in the tunnel, but they hadn't come through my earpiece.
"Something is wrong," I say, more to myself than to Matthews. My brain races a million miles a minute, all while the sounds of World War III envelop above us. More explosions. More gunfire. Audible shouting.
"We're blown," Matthews whispers, more to himself than to me.
The signs were there.
There had been no dogs in the outer perimeter.
I should have pulled back and reassessed the situation. A good officer would have pulled back and reassessed the situation. Fallible impatience.
What did I think was going to happen?
Was I so blind?
I look at the blocked path before me. That was the only route to the service tunnel. No service tunnel, no doors to the Underworld. No doors to the Underworld, no Khathul.
But it's worse than that. Much worse. My men above are in jeopardy. Could be dead already, though I have no way of knowing.
Dead men means no getaway craft. No exit strategy. No way off this invisible island.
I have no idea how long my coms have been cut. But the continuous rumble of the ground below me churns my stomach like a rotary machine filled with anxiety. I get the urge to vomit, but my adrenaline forbids it. Pushes the rising stomach acid back down.
I am mentally alone, in the dark, covered in actual shit.
"Vaun," Matthews whispers, pulling me from my inward despair. I look to him and see that he points at the opposite end of the tunnel. The end of the tunnel that our surveillance shows leads to nothing but dead ends.
My eyes follow the finger's direction.
And then I see it.
There, standing at the end of the tunnel, caressed by the shadows of this hellish underworld, is the dark sillhouette of a Rottweiler.
It looms, its enlarged shadow a menacing sight on the wall behind it.
Matthews raises his gun and aims, finger on the trigger.
The dog stands there, staring at us as if it pities our circumstances. It doesn't scurry off. It just slowly ambles around the corner, maintining eye contact with us the entire time. It doesn't bark or charge us. It doesn't feel threatened. We watch as it disappears around the bend at the end of the tunnel.
Matthews and I stand silent for a moment. Then, without any further hesitation, I start walking.
"Where are you going?" Matthews whispers in a shrill voice.
"That dog had to come from somewhere. I'm following it to the exit," I reply.
Doors don't open themselves, and this dog will show me which door needs to be kicked down next.
About the author
I am a 22-year-old recent graduate from Mars Hill University. I have a double major in Criminal Justice and Religion & Philosophy. I also played collegiate lacrosse! In my free time you can find me writing fiction and hiking with my dog.