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“The space between life and death is the place where the monsters dwell…” Anonymous
When I woke, the room was eerily quiet. A sterile white that faded into nothing around the edges. The room shimmered as a slant of sunlight lengthened a long rectangle of warm yellow light that just turned burnt ember around the edges. A faint odor of rubbing alcohol and campfire permeated the air.
I wanted to go back to sleep, but something didn’t seem right. The hairs on my arm stood on end as an icy chill raced down my back. I didn’t know where I was.
I racked my brain and… nothing.
Everything before this moment was blank. My life was a giant Etch-a-Sketch that someone shook until the screen was an empty gray.
Was I dead? No, that didn’t seem right. A hospital?
A hospital would explain the pasteurized white, but not the freakish silence. There should be monitors beeping and the shuffle of nurses outside my door. Instead, it was a vacuum where sound didn’t exist.
I swung my legs over the edge. I seemed unhurt. Tentatively, I got up and walked towards the door. The round metal handle was icy cold to the touch. Unbearably so.
I let go and went back to the bed, drawing my knees into my chest. I couldn’t shake the feeling of wrongness. The room felt electric. My scalp prickled as my hair tried to stand on end. The anxiety rose in my chest as the cotton-ball feeling of no sound popped like an altitude change. The sound rushed back in. My heartbeat and breathing were suddenly very loud in my ears.
A shadow gathered in the corner, like a storm cloud hovering near the ceiling. I wondered at it, so out of place in the white room. It radiated darkness. And as I stared at the cloud, it stared back.
A woman’s face emerged with an ear-piercing shriek. I ran to the door, but not before I saw the blood dripping from her midnight black eyes.
I turned the frigid knob and stopped in the doorway.
The hallway was the opposite of the room. Tangled shadows and a gray fog seemed to linger in the corners. Black and blue veins spread across the walls, and the harsh fluorescent lights flickered in and out. The mist felt alive as it contracted and expanded like a giant lung, slowly edging closer with each exhale. A soft, rhythmic dripping echoed through the stale air.
I couldn’t continue. The hallway thrummed with a darker energy than the room. But then cold black fingers wrapped around my arm and tried to pull me backwards.
I screamed and lurched forward, straight into the mist.
I couldn’t see more than a few inches in front of my face. It was a clammy, bone-chilling cold that made me realize I wore a hospital gown… and nothing else. My skin prickled with a feeling unrelated to the cold.
Someone was watching me.
I stumbled forward, blindly feeling the muculent walls for a door. Anything to escape the hallway.
After a few minutes, I found a door, and sighed with relief when I turned the knob. The room I entered was mostly dark, with a single light illuminating the center. And underneath… a body, strapped down to a bed. A body covered in blood.
I stifled a scream as bile rose in my throat.
The person stirred, recognizing my presence.
“Hello?” I stepped towards the light. “Are you okay?”
It seemed a stupid question to ask from the sheer amount of blood that I saw. Of course, they weren’t okay. But I couldn’t just walk away. I took a step closer.
The person’s eyes were a cloudy white that gleamed unnaturally in the dark. They snapped towards me as a guttural scream erupted from their lips.
“Don’t! No more… no more…” they muttered, over and over.
Another step, and I could see shadows move in and out of my field of vision. I couldn’t see the shape of the shadows, but the person on the bed could see them clearly. They screamed and pulled at the bonds that held them.
“Please! Mercy… no more…”
While I could not see the shadows, I could see what they were doing. I watched as a scalpel cut into the person’s skin. A piece of flesh moved through the air as the shadow removed it from the body.
Then another cut. A string of intestine pulled upwards.
I gagged and emptied the contents of my stomach. The smell of puke mingled with the acrid tang of blood as my stomach betrayed me repeatedly.
The sound made one shadow turn. As it focused on me, it snapped into a being, materializing as a nurse, wearing a face mask and a bloody apron. Human in shape, but also the least human thing I’ve ever seen. Its eyes were solid black, deep like the swirling shadows around me.
It took a step towards me. Then, it seemed to melt and stretch before my eyes. The bloody hospital gown morphed into circus-striped overalls. The face mask flattened into white face paint, while the swirls of blood changed to a bright red, smiling mouth.
I did not need my memories to know that I was terrified of clowns. My heart stuttered in my chest as the fear gripped me. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe.
It walked towards me with the most ridiculous pantomime of a smile on its face. With each step, it slowly raised a club above its head.
I still couldn’t move, completely paralyzed by the fear coursing through my body. Two more steps, and it would be upon me, and all I could do was watch the black eyes focused on me.
Another step and I could see my reflection in its eyes. My mouth hung open in a silent scream. I braced for the end.
A hand grabbed mine and tugged me backwards, outside the room and back into the swirling mist.
A girl, late teens, with dark skin, a long diagonal braid, and a slight gap in her teeth, rounded on me. “Never make eye contact with the shadows.” She jabbed my chest with her finger. “They’ll change into your nightmares.”
“Wh-a-a” I was shaking so badly, I couldn’t speak. All I could do was gape at her.
“Come on.” She grabbed my hand and led me away. “We’re not safe here.”
She dragged me down the hall, to a door I didn’t notice before, completely hidden by the fog. Little more than a supply closet, we crammed in and shut the door behind. She checked the corners of the room before sitting back against the empty shelves. “We’re safe here. No shadows or souls.”
My hands were still shaking from the adrenaline. I didn’t know where to start, but I stuttered out the obvious, “W-where is here?”
“The Between,” she said casually, as if that explained everything.
“Is this hell?”
She laughed. “Some may call it that. But actual hell… that is for the truly dead. You’re only sorta dead.” She played with the tuft of hair at the tip of her braid.
The confusion must’ve been clear on my face, because she sighed like I was a dense child she needed to explain everything to. “You are in the space between life and death. Your soul somehow dislodged from its body and you need to either find your way back or move on.”
“Am I being punished?” If I’d done something wrong, I couldn’t remember, but hell was reserved for bad people…
“It’s not hell,” her voice rose in pitch as she rolled her eyes. “There is no good place or bad place here. If you are in the Between, you are stuck, not punished. The shadows torture good and bad alike. And there are things worse than shadows here.”
I swallowed the bile that rose in the back of my throat. “How do I leave?”
“We’re all here for a reason. You got stuck for a reason. The sooner you figure that out, the sooner you can leave.”
“I remember nothing…”
“Well, you’d better figure it out. Start where you started. Maybe there’s a clue there.”
I shuddered as I remembered the woman with the bloody eyes hovering in my room like a storm cloud. “I can’t go back there.”
She shrugged. “Then, you’ll never leave.”
A chittering sound spread through the wall behind us, setting my teeth on edge.
“It’s time to go,” the girl said. She sucked her teeth and leaned forward. “What’s it gonna be?”
A shadow gathered in the corners of the room, and took shape as hundreds of small creatures. Long and thin, with dozens of legs, they tumbled into the room through crevices that didn’t exist. They skittered towards us, turning the walls a sinuous black.
“Run,” the girl said. She grabbed my hand and pulled me forward and out the door. Seconds before the insects caught us, she slammed the door shut. “Which way was your room?”
I instinctively knew that I did not want to face whatever secrets my room held. Every fiber of my being screamed that I should run the opposite way. But I wanted to get out of this place, and if the only way out was through my room…
With trembling hands, I pointed towards my door.
I audibly sighed when we entered, and there were no shadows to be seen. The room still held a hint of twilight, but besides the bed, it was blessedly empty.
“We don’t have a lot of time. Fan out. Look for any hints why you’re here.”
“Where?” I said, looking around the empty room.
She shook her head and went to a space on the wall. When I looked closer, a rolling table that nurses use came into focus. I went to the side, where an outline of a nightstand seemed to hover in and out of focus.
“What about you?” I asked while we searched. “How did you end up in the Between?”
“Poison,” she said. “I was getting sick, and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. The medicine made me feel worse whenever I took it. Food tasted like ash.”
I checked the drawer and found only a tv remote. I moved on to another table on the side.
“I found out too late that it was my step-mother, putting small doses of rat poison in my food.”
“That’s awful,” I said truthfully. It seemed like a story I’d heard before, but it was still hazy around the edges of my memory. “How can you escape?”
“The only way to leave is the way you came. I’ve searched everywhere for the poison, but if it is in the Between, I cannot find it.”
A bag on a side chair caught my attention. A bag of personal effects.
I didn’t notice the electricity building in the room again. I only had eyes for the purple iPhone and the small silver ring with a blue stone.
As I slipped the ring on my middle finger, memories flooded back. I remembered everything, from the popular life I used to enjoy, to my fall from grace and the daily torture that ensued.
My boyfriend pressured me to do things before I was ready. Worse, he filmed it. That film made its way around school, and they bullied me until… I jumped off the roof.
I remembered now. I couldn’t handle the cyber bullying and slut-shaming of high school. In a moment of utter aloneness, I’d decided to end it.
“You remember?” The girl was at my side in an instant.
I nodded, tears flowing down my face and neck. “I jumped off the roof of the school.”
She grabbed my shoulders. “That’s good news. If you got here by jumping, you can jump again. You can get out.”
The storm clouds gathered in the corners of the room.
“It’s the only way. You can leave the way you came!”
It was the lowest moment of my life. Feeling that betrayal and absolute agony of the soul when my friends turned against me. I could hear their jeers and laughter. I just wanted it all to end. But jumping hadn’t ended my pain. It felt like I was jumping into it, letting it consume me as I fell into nothingness.
“No,” I whispered. “There has to be another way.”
At that moment, the storm cloud solidified into a face. I looked into the eyes, black and lifeless, but so filled with pain. The face was mine.
I screamed. The creature mirrored me. Its piercing wail sounded like the moment I had jumped, the deathly last cry of mine mingled with screeches from the onlookers below, and the sickening crunch as I hit the pavement. I heard it all as if it was happening again.
The girl grabbed my hand and pulled me away from myself. “I know a way to the roof.”
I nodded. Too numb to argue. I had to escape this place.
I followed blindly, but I could tell we were being chased. Shadows swirled behind me. When I looked back, some solidified into the faces of my classmates. They taunted me as I ran.
“I hear you seduced the quarterback, you slut.”
“I enjoyed your latest video. Are you free tonight to make another?”
“She appears all innocent, but we saw what you do behind closed doors.”
“Come on. We know you like it.”
“You’ve been asking for it with that skirt you’re wearing.”
I tried to block them out, but as we ran up the stairs, it seemed to echo off the walls. One moment had defined the rest of my life. I was the joke on the bathroom stalls, and the whore in the school hallways.
I couldn’t tell my parents. They would be as shocked as my classmates at my slut-status. Every church group and bible reading, they’d emphasized purity. They would’ve sheltered me my whole life if they could. I was a disappointment. Couldn’t follow their one simple rule.
I barely noticed the bite of the night air as we emerged on the rooftop. The wind whipped pieces of the girl’s braid free. She stopped at the edge. “This is it.”
I looked down, and… I couldn’t do it again. I remembered every moment of that fall, including when the ground collided.
“No. I can’t…”
The shadows circled us, fully forming into the faces of my classmates.
“Are you afraid to jump?”
“No one will miss you.”
“We’re better off without you.”
“What are you waiting for?”
“No!” I covered my ears with my hands.
“Hurry.” The girl with the braid said. “They will only get stronger. You don’t want the others to find you. There are creatures worse than the shadows.” She shivered at some memory. “Just hurry.”
The shadows pressed forward, forcing me to the edge.
My boyfriend’s face appeared in the crowd. I turned to him, hoping for something to keep me grounded. Something to make it worth it.
His face turned disdainful. “You already gave me what I wanted.”
My heart shattered all over again, and…
Two hands pushed hard against my back. I fell.
For one exhilarating moment, I felt the freedom of weightlessness.
Then it shifted as the wind whipped around me, threatening to tear me to pieces. The pit in my stomach dislodged and settled in my throat, and came out as a strangled scream. My vision blurred as the building raced past me and the ground loomed.
A sense of déjà vu settled over me as my mind played out the story of my life, and I came to an inevitable conclusion as the story ended. A conclusion I know I reached the last time I jumped, moments too late.
I wanted to live.
The other creatures shifted back to shadows and went inside. Only one remained.
The girl with the braid watched from the edge of the roof, not taking her eyes from the descent. A smile played at the corner of her lips, then stretched into a toothy grin. Her lips disappeared as the smile stretched abnormally from ear to ear.
Too easy. Next time, she would have to drag it out a little. Maybe play on a maternal instinct by appearing younger. There were endless possibilities.
Her body lengthened, doubling in height. Fingers stretched into talons, and the braid stitched into spikes along her spine. The dark skin melted into a skeletal, deathly white pallor, and the eyes sank deep into the humanoid skull. The only thing that remained the same was the smile, still stretched liplessly from ear to ear.
I startled awake in a room, freakishly white and devoid of sound. My mind was blank and I couldn’t remember a thing, but there was a sense of dread that settled deep within my core. Something terrible was coming.
About the Creator
Fantasy writer. Creator of nonsense. Animal lover. Occasional Poet. Dabbler in painting. Only truly myself when being creative.
I've been creating stories my whole life, and with Vocal's help, hope to share with a wider audience. Thank you.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Niche topic & fresh perspectives