When the lights suddenly went off, Adam ran to his bedroom to hide under the covers as fast as he could.
When his parents were going out to see some friends, he was really happy; he could finally taste the feeling of having the whole apartment just for himself. This was going to be fun! Downstairs, in the dining room, he installed military bases. On the bookcases – that turned into mountains – at the books, there were patrols of a few plastic soldiers; and behind the table, there were some tanks. This time, it was going to be total war.
‘The first home war,’ he giggled.
He was just heading to the next toy – after all, he still had to do something in the parents’ bedroom and the attic – when the lights suddenly went off. Surprised by sudden darkness, he froze still, nailed with an icy sting of panic. A moment later, he was speeding, as fast as his legs would allow, to his bed. Hidden with the covers up to the very tip of his nose, he was trying to hold his breath, so that nothing could hear him. His heart was pounding like mad – as if it wanted to escape from his skinny chest. He hid his head under the covers and turned himself into a tiny scared ball. Apart from the pounding sound of his heart and intermittent breath, he couldn’t hear anything. He just wanted his parents to come back as soon as possible – he was afraid of what could lurk in never-ending darkness of the old house.
After a few minutes, he got a bit calmer – thick, warm blankets gave him an elusive sense of safety. He hoped that whatever evil was roaming his house, it wouldn’t be able to find him.
He had no idea what could be going on outside. There could be a vicious ghost at the window staring with its dead eyes at his hideout; or maybe SOMETHING dark came out from the wardrobe and was sniffing with a ferocious look in its red eyes, because it could smell a scared little boy. There also could be a lot of terrible things under the bed, but here, under the blanket, he was safe – it was irrational, but that was the way he felt.
Over time, Adam started to get warm – what is more, the longer he was lying without moving, the more he felt something disturbing him; he didn’t like that feeling. All he needed was light – just that – and he could forget his discomfort; he could play undisturbed. And generally, how could he be sure that the bad creatures wouldn’t figure out that he was hiding in his bed?
He felt threatened – fear started to surround him with its paralyzing tentacles.
The moon shine did its best to sneak through dense curtains and lighten the interior of the bedroom. Behind the window, wind was hissing, a moment later the sound of rain knocking on the windowpane was added. The boy finally gathered all his courage to make a small slit between the cover and the bed; now he could breathe in some fresh air.
He was scared that a spooky tentacle would appear from under the bed and pull him into where it came from. He was forcing his eyes, trying to see any potential danger. After a few seconds of stress, his eyes got accustomed to the darkness around him. Adam carefully stuck his head out from under the blanket and he saw several viciously sparkling eyes. His heart froze, touched by fear, but a moment later he realized that a few days before he had put a collection of teddy bears on the shelves – it was their glassy eyes that were shining evilly.
Oh, you ungrateful bears! he sighed with relief. He looked deeper into the room – there was a big black shape, but luckily he remembered it was just a wardrobe.
Just a wardrobe, but there could be SOMETHING inside it…
Clouds hid the moon and it got darker. The rain was drumming stronger and louder. The boy was wondering if he should risk going out of the bed – after all, there was a decorative candle on the cupboard. He would feel a lot better, if he could light it and make sure, he was safe.
Safe? You must be kidding, fool! – an evil voice laughed in his head. You’d rather have the chance to look at a blood-thirsty creature that would jump on you from a dark corner!
‘Shut up!’ Adam hissed under his breath and jumped from the bed. He wanted to get over all that nightmare.
Suddenly, the room was flooded with amazing light, blinding the boy for a second. He screamed, terrified, and almost at the same time he heard a great thump. Adam threw himself towards the bed. He jumped under the blanket, hurting his leg against something hard.
‘It’s just thunder, just thunder, just thunder’, he was whispering, trembling with fear, trying to convince himself that nothing wrong was going on, that he was safe. When he calmed down a bit, he realized his pajama pants were cold and wet.
‘O no, I pissed!’ he moaned.
He jumped from the bed not to wet the covers – he hoped to cover the traces before his parents’ return – and he felt a painful bruise in his leg. He bit his teeth and tumbled to the cupboard – the unpleasant adventure made him forget about the suffocating fear for a while.
Yellowish candle light made the vicious darkness less evil, offering a moment of safety. The pajama pants were wet from urine, that was sure, and there was a purple bruise on the leg – luckily, the bed was untouched – the sheet and the blanket were only slightly spotted with tiny wet spots.
No one would know – Adam thought, relieved.
The only drawback of this situation was that now he would have to wash himself and the pajamas – so he was about to face going through the darkness, climbing to the attic where the bathroom was located. Of course, there was another one of the ground floor, but it was being rebuilt.
He wasn’t happy about the journey, but he knew he had no other choice.
Another lightning struck in the neighborhood.
The faster, the better. He’d check what he had to check – whether there were any bad creatures in the room. He would take clean pajamas from the cupboard and then go upstairs.
He kneeled. There was nothing under the bed. Carefully, he tip-toed to the old wardrobe – he was most afraid of what could hide in its large wooden body. He pressed his ear against the door, but he heard nothing – purely perfect silence inside.
Maybe it is lurking? Adam bit his lip, uncertain. Just one fast move and come what may! Just one fast move and it would turn out that mum was again right – nothing in there.
‘Right, right, just one fast move and sticky tentacles would shot from the darkness. They would slither around your wrists and pull you into another dimension,’ a vicious voice was whispering to his ear. ‘You know, a lot of children disappear in unknown circumstances… Do you want to be next? OK, just go on.’
‘Shut up! Just shut up!’ Adam commanded with a calm, orderly tone, knowing that he must overcome the fear; after all he had to finally fight with what he was afraid of. After all, he was almost ten, a man – he simply had to stop being scared!
With one fast move, he opened the wardrobe. The door objected with a loud groan. He froze, terrified…
For a moment, inside the vast furniture, he could see SOMETHING – something that made him tremble – SOMETHING!
He laughed in a high voice – it was just an old, bundled blanket, just a stupid blanket, but for one horrible moment he believed he could see a brown demon body.
‘See, nothing to be afraid of’ he was comforting himself, as if he still couldn’t believe his eyes.
Relieved, he closed the door and froze – with the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of movement.
‘Well, the monster was more clever than you expected,’ the internal critic was mocking. ‘He took you from behind, you loser. Now what?’
But nothing happened and Adam decided it must have been just his imagination. The room was empty. Not to waste any more time and not to risk being caught like that by the parents, the boy took clean pajamas from the drawer and went towards the door.
‘OK, here I go,’ he pressed the doorknob and went out of the room.
In the distance, eyes shone in the darkness. Their owner moved a few meters and… meowed miserably. Of course, Donald! Adam still hadn’t gotten used to the fact that they owned a cat. New (old) house. New family member – brownish cat walking its own paths, and only sometimes paying a bit of his attention to the new owners.
Cats don’t have masters, cats have servants – as someone once said; aristocracy!
New town, new school – far too many new things. Eh, if anything was up to him… but no one ever listened to him; such fate…
He closed the door (not to let any monster sneak into the room) and went towards the stairs that led to the attic.
From the portraits on the walls, eyes of someone else’s descendants were shining with oil paints; the boy was wondering why his parents didn’t take those disgusting paintings off. They were all fat, ugly faces! Trying not to pay attention to the numb, dead observers, he rushed upstairs; each step was accompanied by an unpleasant squeak.
Luckily, the bathroom door was just next to the stairs, he sighed with relief, realizing that all this stress would be over in a flash. Laundry, washing and back to bed – to sleep, he lost all will to play.
Sparkling candle light reflected from the wall plates, making the bathroom shine with shimmering flickers, it looked like the interior of a tomb filled with treasures. He set the candle on the edge of the bathtub, took of his wet pants and took the candle back in his hand. He went to the sink. Looked into the mirror. Icy sting of fear bit his heart.
What he saw made his eyes almost leave the eye sockets. Now it was not only the pants he had to wash. He also had to clean the floor, but this very moment he couldn’t think about it. All his universe shrank to what he could see in the mirror. He was breathing spasmatically, breathing in with effort, like an asthmatic patient during asthma attack.
His body was trembling, his forehead was sparkling with sweat. He felt weak. He knew that a moment more and he would faint. He bit his lip as hard as he could, almost until he felt blood – this helped a bit. For a moment, he pushed the overwhelming weakness aside – just enough to stand still and not fall. He wanted to run, as fast and as far as he could – he couldn’t believe that what he saw was true. Despite paralyzing fear, using superhuman effort, he made himself touch his face.
Yes, his face was unchanged – he was still himself – a small, scared boy!
But why did the mirror show a half-naked, toothless old man with hanging, wrinkled skin? The phantom was looking at him with its bloody, bruised eyes with yellowish whites.
The boy felt more and more dizzy. The stiff hand could not hold the candle any more. Darkness came – this was like a strong impulse that made him escape, blindly, as far from the mirror, as possible…
Old age has its advantages, but it also has drawbacks.
Unfortunately, the latter are significantly more numerous.
Of course, life gets less stressed, you don’t have to work – you can taste each day like a ripe fruit. You see many details that were previously overlooked – due to lack of time to take a closer look; they flew by in the background of life, lost forever. But these details are the spice that gives your life specificity, taste – making it richer with a new, deeper dimension.
The old man could appreciate all this; he only regretted that it took him so long to understand this truth.
Unfortunately, there are also sad moments, and they get more and more frequent. In old age, you get disabled, you have problems with controlling your physiological processes – simply speaking pissing in his pants was not shockingly new to him; he got used to it and accepted it – after all, there had to be something on both sides of the scales of life.
These problems were not the worst ones. Even pain or trembling hands – sometimes this was so intensive that anything he touched was landing on the floor within split second – nothing was as scary as the fact that more and more often he forgot what happened.
At the beginning, only from time to time, he had forgotten where he had put things – with time, it happened more and more often. Events and memories got all mixed up. Then he started having problems with recognizing people and places – which made him drastically reduce the frequency of leaving his home. Then he felt like an invalid person.
After a few years, the disease progressed so badly that sometimes he didn’t know what he did a moment earlier, where he was; but the worst thing was that sometimes he didn’t even know… WHOM HE WAS.
Oldness, like a mean vampire, was sucking memory and clearness of thinking out of his mind.
Now it happened again – this time he remembered whom he was, which was not that bad, but he couldn’t realize how did it happen that he was standing next to a mirror with a candle in his hand.
He came closer and… saw a little boy – himself from over eighty years ago.
A tear appeared in Adam’s eye.
‘That was long ago!’ he sighed.
He wasn’t surprised by what he saw in the mirror – at this age, people don’t get surprised easily. He decided that he was either sleeping or it was another phantom – a creation of an old, worn brain. The only feeling he had now was a deep touching emotion. In his mind’s eyes, he saw a long forgotten scenes from his childhood – crazy times when he could do all kinds of exciting things and no one had any problem with it.
So many years have passed, in a flash; eighty eight or maybe eighty nine – he sometimes forgotten even his own age, but what difference did it make?
‘Well, what comes around, goes around,’ he whispered and blew off the flame.
Darkness surrounded him and that was OK with him.
Translated by Monika Olasek.
This story previously appeared in Schlock Magazine, 2018.
Edited by Marie Ginga