To Be Afraid
Atrocity births a candle: a series of wispy dancers artfully evading the skeletal shadows that curve about them to cast the umbra of my veins upon the rows and rows of literary antiquity. The pallor of my fingertips caressing the backs of powdery spines, however, is not captured by the crooked flame so much as sensed by the peculiar chill.
My hands are traversing the titles almost involuntarily, or so it seems, for the sedated wires within my head ignite a dull sort of electricity behind the crimson vessels of my eyes and the feverish dampness of my skin. Alert, but not quite awake, not quite sentient.
There is nothing to be afraid of.
The glassy spirit of the all-but-abandoned vaults mirrors the strange atrophy of my lungs, as my fingers persist in scouring the shelves, searching, searching, and beguile my abject acrimony into a vacant smile. Somewhere within the silence, my ears are shriveled and numb, my throat lined with the acrid staleness of the vault’s breathing. From time to time, a single metallic letter, perhaps a word, catches momentarily in the specks of yellowish light, but the meaning across them is thin, lost amidst the miles between myself and my skin.
The second presence hardly perturbs me.
It is a shift in the draft, a distinction in smell, a shore broken far, far away. A soundless footstep that, despite itself, echoes and reverberates like a shudder I cannot feel.
I am too far away to feel afraid if there is something to fear.
Alarms are struck, somewhere, but the dizzying pangs are dissipated before the electricity can break across my mind. A foreigner’s authority whispers to the crumbling archways, stirring the dust gathered within hollowed-out instruments, and my fingers hum in unison with the suffocating obscurity, still searching, searching.
There is somewhat of a disconnect between the seconds, as if one refuses to harmonize with the next, like distinct snapshots that lack any semblance of footage between them, and in the next instant, I am no longer moving along the racks. The stone from which my legs were once carved must have arisen in pneuma to reclaim authority over my motions ‒ is that where the cold is coming from? My limbs are wrapped in ice, of sorts, something pressing against me from behind‒
It’s just a little quiet, babe.
His whisper stirs my veins, tightening the dry, unseemly skin around my jaw as my withered lips press together in apprehension. His palm has enclosed my entire hand, but there is an unnatural absence to his grasp, a strange sort of iniquity, without the warmth of blood seeping through his veins, without the occasional pulse or flutter in his clasp. As the fingertips of his free limb touch the bone of my left cheek, turning my head toward him… I feel it. The shudder, as a spirited, yet lifeless, alive, yet inhuman, being makes physical acquaintance.
My eyes are closed so tightly that my drooping eyelashes tickle my skin ‒ because I will not look. I will not look because I somehow know already what I will see, who I will see. I will not look because I can feel.
Won’t you open your eyes, darling?
I collide with my body, almost ‒ almost ‒ feeling the physical brunt of the impact as I shake my head, vigorously enough for the bones along the shape of my neck to ache.
Nothing to be afraid of, babe.
He is speaking without speaking, I realize dully. His lips have not moved… or if they have, I have not felt the rush of air between them, even though he is so close.
So, so close.
Nothing to be afraid of, except‒
The books and shelves disintegrate from the raw, tense pressure I am applying in my concentration, and suddenly, the whole chamber is crumbling, sooty flecks wedging themselves upon my eyes, nose, lips, chest…
I rip my hands from his grasp, gouging at my collarbone, clawing violently at my stomach, and swiping at my face, squinting through narrowed eyes at the hurricane in an attempt to locate the trespassers before they can suffocate me‒
And then it’s quiet, the blotches reintegrating themselves, and his hands are on my shoulders.
His hands are on my shoulders.
I cannot bring myself to look away from the way his skin is sallow and grayer than this landscape of endless clouded concrete, the way his eyes have taken upon an unnatural color which I cannot place, but most of all, his wide, sickening grin, exposing teeth like fangs.
Did he always have those? I cannot remember.
See? Nothing to be afraid of.
Nothing to be afraid of except something I cannot recall.
And then his hands are on my waist, squeezing, pressing, until something escapes my diaphragm, but the cry is lost in the dry, empty air.
Nothing to be afraid of?
Just a little touch, babe.
I step back, reeling, and I can feel the ice rushing to my head, all at once, as my scalp tingles and throbs until my eyes close of their own volition.
The ground gives way under my bare, pallid feet, and then I am falling, soot and space tilting around my grainy vision‒
I draw in the remnants of composure and open my eyes to comfort and daybreak.
Nothing to be afraid of.
Nightmares are a common symptom of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Their very nature is to warp the realities of the past and future, creating an environment that heightens our stressors and triggers, and often making it difficult to sleep through the night or will ourselves to sleep at all.
If you are finding it increasingly difficult to cope, please reach out to 1-800-950-6264. If you are in immediate crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.