It’s only when the pressure on my bladder becomes unbearable that I realize it is 2:31 AM. I have been sitting in front of my computer, legs crossed in my chair, traveling down a very bizarre rabbit hole of conspiracy theory videos about gods walking among us and otherworldly incursions on YouTube for almost six hours straight. I did get up three times to pee, however, courtesy of my financially-crippling addiction to Diet Coke. That stuff runs right through me.
I groan, not because I am tired or that I have to use the bathroom, but because it is late, and therefore it is dark, and I am terrified of the dark.
It feels so silly, at 25, to be scared of the dark. And yet that primal fear of what's in the dark, inherited from our prehistoric ancestors, clings to me like a second skin. There’s a sharp, sweet sting, trepidation-induced nibbling tearing at the chapped skin of my bottom lip.
My apartment has two floors and one bathroom. My room is upstairs and the bathroom is, of course, downstairs.
In the dark.
Usually my roommate keeps rather vampiric hours, wide awake and playing video games in the well-lit living room until four or five but, much to my chagrin, he spends his weekends at his girlfriend's.
Which just leaves me and my stupid, blind cat.
With the darkness.
There's nothing to be scared of, the voice of rationality says in my head.
A much louder voice holding a cartoonishly large megaphone on top of a milk crate lists off a half-dozen things waiting for me in the dark: home invaders, phantasms, serial murderers, Lovecraftian horrors, those little stop-motion demons from The Gate, a golem made from all of the garbage my roommate won't take out.
All of which, of course, are totally irrational.
All of which, according to Erwin Schrödinger, could be laying in wait for me so long as the darkness remains unpenetrated.
Why not just turn on the lights, you ask? I mean, it should just be that simple, right?
Well, as I previously mentioned, I feel awfully foolish being scared of the dark when I've survived for an entire quarter-century being surrounded by it. All I want to do, more than anything in this world, is to just go downstairs and take a piss without turning on a light, but here I am paralyzed with fear, my bladder screaming at me, offering up a fresh pang of uncomfortable pressure to remind me that it’s fit to burst.
“Fuck it,” I say out loud to an empty house. Enough is enough. Tonight's the night.
I’m going to brave the dark.
Ignoring the pins and needles running up my legs from sitting criss-cross applesauce for so long, I take a deep breath and plunge into the darkness.
Suddenly my senses feel magnified tenfold. My footsteps sound like thunder as with each step down the stairs. Carpet follicles jab my bare feet like needles as I cross through the living room. The garbage (which has hopefully not become a golem since sundown) assaults my olfactory senses like a sledgehammer as I make a mental note to end the cold war with my roommate and just bring it out myself in the morning.
There’s a sudden change in temperature as carpet gives way to ice-cold tile and I’m in the bathroom!
I’m so emboldened that I decide that I won’t even turn on the bathroom light. Who cares if I piss on the seat? I did it!
I feel electric, I feel brave, I feel... oh golly, that's nice. I feel relief. My bladder is blissfully, nigh-orgasmically empty.
Now all I have to do is make it back up to the womb-like safety of my hermit cave and I will have finally accomplished what I once feared was impossible.
My eyes have adjusted a little, but not much. It's only been about 45 seconds since I left my room. I think I see something out of the corner of my eye but I am moving too fast, propelled by self-preservation, to stop and look. It's almost definitely the cat and not a trash golem.
Just as my foot hits the bottom stair, I feel a clammy hand fall on my shoulder. Inhumanly long fingers fall one by one onto my arm. They are ice cold.
I realize I am ice cold.
“Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn't there,” a voice like a swarm of locust whisper-croaked into my ear. “He wasn't there again today. I wish, I wish he'd go away.”
I'm turned around to face the thing in the darkness. For one brief, fleeting moment, I think to myself that I wish my eyes hadn't adjusted to the dark at all.
There is a ripping sound followed by a meaty, wet plop.
Then, there's nothing but darkness.