The first time I saw one of them was almost twenty years ago, as I walked into a patients room with Catherine, the nurse assigned to train me. The patient lay in bed, eyes closed, chest rising and falling slowly. Coiled around his neck and draped over his left shoulder was a writhing, black, snake-like creature that appeared to be composed of shadows that had somehow gained substance.
I tensed up immediately, nearly dropping the medication cup in my hand. It took everything in me not to scream. The only thing that stopped me was Catherine’s calm hand on my shoulder. When I turned to her, the look on her face said more to me than any expression I have seen before or since. ‘If I had warned you beforehand,’ that look said, ‘you wouldn’t have believed me. It’s there… But you better act like it’s not.’
Since that day I have seen more of them than I can count. Always in the rooms of terminal patients. And always three days before that patient dies. They start in the dark corners, slowly moving closer as the hour approaches.
Over the years I have come to accept these creatures as a fact of life, never questioning their purpose or origin. Mostly out of fear. But now, these are questions I must ask. Because as I write this, I am watching one of them move from the space under my dresser to the nightstand near my bed.
I don’t understand.
I don’t even feel sick.
I had been blind from birth, and by God, I was bitter about it.
From the moment I could carry one of those hefty Braille books, I studied. The optic nerve, light diffraction, pharmacology. The autobiographies of anyone who’d suffered as I had. I knew that someday, someone would be able to fix me.
I jumped at the chance to participate in the human trials.
The drug worked overnight. I was speechless at the blurry black and white world that sat before me. I had been given such an incredible gift. Enough vision to recognize faces, even enough to read! But I wanted color.
And so I lied. I cried crocodile tears about how the doctors could never understand my pain. About the cruelty of the false hope that they’d given me.
And they upped the dosage.
My eyes opened and I smiled at what could only have been 20/20. But I still envied all of those naturally sighted. Children who talked about their shapes and colors. Men and women who could drive. I wanted better than perfect.
They upped the dosage once more and I could see like no person had ever seen. Through walls, the nurses’ uniforms. My mind raced at the possibilities. I was superhuman. I couldn’t resist the temptation. I begged the doctors to give me more. Promised that if it didn’t work this time, I’d leave the trials.
It’s two days later and I’d do anything to be 20/20 again. Blind again, even. Because now I see far too much. I seeThem.
And believe me, they do not like being seen.
It’s been a year since I lost everything. My house, my car, my life.. all for the few hours of joy the needle in my arm brings. On the first night, disoriented from the high bought by my last cents, I got lost. A strange man tapped me on my shoulder. Because of the darkness, I couldn’t make out his face, but I knew he was smiling. He told me “Move forward.” and so I did. I walked forward right across the street. Without realizing it, I walked into a rehab center. I got in, I got better, I got out.
My first day sober in the outside, among a crowd of moving people, I saw the man. Dressed in black, with his face covered in shadows, even though it was noon. He told me “Move forward.” and so I did. I walked and walked until I reached an office building with a sign out front “Now hiring”. I got in, I got the job, I got promoted.
They threw a party for me. Everyone was there: my boss, my coworkers, the man in the shadows. He told me “Move forward” and so I did. I walked right into the men’s bathroom and found a single needle on the sink. I lost everything, I lost everything, I lost everything.
I found myself on the rooftop, standing on the edge of the 40 story drop. The man was standing behind me. I didn’t need to see him, I just knew. He told me “Move forward.” and so I did.
Charlie Morgan of 23 Pentraven Drive had read about lucid dreaming on the internet. “Learn to control your dreams!” one website proclaimed. “Wake up… TO YOUR DREAMS.”
Charlie devoted himself to the idea. He kept a dream journal, lit scented candles, and set his alarm for odd hours of the night. Finally, after five days of dedication, Charlie had his first lucid dream.
He was lying on the ground in a dry desert. He could feel the sand beneath his body and the warmth of the sun’s rays. And there were ants. Thousands of small red ants crawling towards him. “Hey, I’m dreaming!”
Charlie started running, bouncing, and swimming through the sand. “This is fun!” Charlie thought. But the ants kept coming.
Charlie saw a tree off in the distance. In a single leap, he was next to it, and with two swift moves he had climbed it. There were ants on his legs.
Now Charlie was flying. Gliding above the sand and then tumbling down into it. The ants had covered his body. “Damn these fucking ants.”
Charlie saw a pool in the distance and bounded towards it. But of course, it was a mirage. And now the ants were biting. Nibbling into his skin with razor sharp teeth. “Motherfucker. I’m ready to wake up now!” Charlie shouted to no one in particular.
The ants bit harder and deeper. Charlie could see bone. He shrieked in pain. No matter where he went, no matter how high he leapt, no matter how fast he ran, the ants were there. Nibbling.
There were no survivors at 23 Pentraven Drive the night of the fire.
If you’re reading this note, I’m sorry. I assume you’re in the same situation as me—that smug bastard drugged you and dumped you in these catacombs, with only a candle to find your way out.
I don’t know how many people he’s done this to, but there have probably been a lot. He wouldn’t spend so much time on it otherwise, would he? He told me the catacombs are a maze, and he’s set traps and deadfalls at every turn. But he promised there’s one safe way out, if I’m lucky enough to guess the correct path.
I’m not lucky. I’m just an art student, here on holiday. There’s no way I’m getting out alive. But I want someone to. I want revenge.
I’m sure you do, too, so let’s help each other. I still have my sketchbook and pencils. Before each turn, I’m going to leave them behind for the next person, writing down which way I went. If I survive to another passageway, I’ll come back and leave a page like this one. If I don’t, then it’s up to the next person to carry on and go the opposite direction.
Eventually, if we keep leaving breadcrumbs, one of us will escape. Get to the police and find that bastard. Do it for those who didn’t make it.
My name is Jeff. I went left here.
Reading the note by candlelight you feel a glimmer of hope, until you realize you’re reading from the sketchbook itself. Jeff never returned to tear out the page, and you’re the first person here since him.
You look to your right, where the dark maze awaits.