There wasn’t much I minded about the dark because it pairs well with the silence. However, it was when the lights came on that I began to feel… uncomfortable. Something clashes, something scratches at the edge of my mind and I can’t quite describe it, as if the thing itself wasn’t entirely real. I tried to explain this in a joking manner over a few glasses of wine with friends, but they didn’t understand. Some accused me of being crazy, or just plain irate. However, I know I’m right.
I wasn’t always irritated by the mixture of light and silence. When I was seven, I reveled in being in quiet rooms, perhaps because they reminded me a lot of hospitals. As a child looking through a picture book and never stepping foot in the real thing, I let my imagination run wild. It wasn’t until I was forced to sit in a small waiting room, night after night, that I truly began to loathe bright lights mixed with hollow quiet. Living alone made it worse until I stopped turning on lights. For some reason, the daylight isn’t concerning, perhaps because I know other people walkabout during the day. At night, however, I learn to navigate my way through touch, because I refuse to flip the switch that might bring clarity but also an aspect of fear.
One night, the kitchen light was on. I hadn’t turned it on because I never turn the lights on. My electric bill declined every month, and it helped me pay for other things such as groceries and a nice pair of earbuds that blasts a playlist eighteen hours long on days that I really struggle with the silence. I listened to that entire playlist for a week straight once. However, I didn’t have my headphones now, and I desperately wished I’d taken them from the drawer in my nightstand. The second wish I had was for the pistol hidden in the drawer below. As I stepped into the kitchen, I heard no noise; just that damn silence. There were no burglars, no thieves, no unexpected friends. That scared me a lot more because then I asked myself if I had turned on the light without noticing. After a few minutes of debating why the light was on, I began to hear something, something other than my frantically beating heart. A whisper, so quiet the words were indecipherable yet growing in volume. It seemed to head straight towards me, but the source was unclear. All I knew was that it came from the darkness, a darkness I had sat in for hours of sleep and contemplation and enjoyment. When the whispers almost turned into screams, the words still indecipherable, I grabbed the nearest knife and pointed it towards the darkness. My eyes squeezed shut, and the sound of the whispers almost rivaled the sound of my pounding head.
Just as quickly as they began, the whispers vanished. Tentatively, I opened my eyes and kept a white-knuckled grip on the steak knife. When I was sure that the whispers were gone, and my heart rate became normal, I slowly turned on the living room light. Nothing. I ran from the study to the guest room to the bathroom, flipping on as many lights as possible. If my electricity bill would skyrocket, I didn’t care. I never wanted to hear that whisper again.
I spent the night with wide eyes and the bright lights. Around midnight, I turned on all the lamps as well. At two in the morning, I made sure even the little glowing figurines I receive from my grandmother every year were flashing. Two hours later, the sun began its glacial ascent across the horizon. A sigh of relief escaped my lips, and I began to turn off the little statues and lamps. For now, I kept the main lights on. There wasn’t any way I was going to take that chance.
It wasn’t until high noon that I finally turned off my main lights. The windows were open and allowed the sunlight to pour through, piercing even the darkest corners. My eyes felt like sand and my head was full of cotton as I shuffled through my home, waiting in an uncertain limbo. Sleep evaded me; the room was too bright. However, I would rather stay away than allow the darkness to come back.
The quiet prevailed.
When the sun touched the horizon, I flicked the main light switches back on. Before the sun completely disappeared, I turned on the lamps and the small figurines once more, just in case. A ringing began in my ears and a headache began minutes later. I grabbed some water from the kitchen yet didn’t stand on the linoleum for more than a minute. Events from the night before were still too fresh in my mind. Once the pink and orange hues of sunset melted into the blues and blacks of the night, I sat on the couch and waited with wide, bleary eyes.
By midnight, I was exhausted. My hands shook so terribly I set my cup of water down, emptied hours before. I began to doze off periodically, always jarred awake by my fear of the darkness. The ringing in my ears overpowered every other sound until I clapped my hands on either side of my head in a desperate attempt to stop it. How many hours had I been awake? Thirty? Forty? Fifty? Basic math evaded me, and my ears continued to ring. This was ridiculous. What would truly happen to me if I slept? It was stress, I thought. Stress from work, from past memories, from everything that brought about my hallucination last night. Yes! That’s all it was. Merely a figment of my imagination. Despite my reasoning, I couldn’t bring myself to stand up from the couch. When I tried to lay on my side, I immediately jolted up once more. Fear spiked through my veins, and the adrenaline from pure exhaustion and paranoia caused my tremors to worsen. A whine escaped me, matching the pitch of the ringing. Would I continue to stay awake until I saw the darkness again? Or would I die from sleep deprivation first?
The room went black.
I took my hands off my ears and stood up, trying to figure out where my invisible enemy was. The ringing in my ears ceased as soon as the lights turned off, even the battery-powered figurines flickering only to die seconds later. A feeling of dread settled low in my stomach as the hairs on the back of my neck stood erect. Slowly, I began to walk towards the garage, hoping it was nothing more than a power outage. Although the power lines in my neighborhood were underground, seismic tremors still caused the occasional damage. Before I could fully turn, the light in the kitchen flickered on. Another wave of adrenaline shot through me, just as potent as the first. My tremors became so violent that I fell on my way to the kitchen, knees hitting the carpet with a bruising impact. Using my hands, I crawled towards the cool linoleum and rested my cheek against the floor once I was bathed in light. Everything echoed in the silence, including my heartbeat and breath.
I heard it.
The unintelligible whispers were back, originating from the same darkness I sat in moments before. As they drew nearer, I desperately tried to stand, only to collapse back onto my knees. My hands went to the side of my head as the voices began to scream, and I finally understood what they said.
And moments later, it was silence that remained.
I am not one to write horror stories, but I recently read one that piqued my interest enough to get some inspiration from its tale. If you haven’t read House Taken Over by Julio Cortázar, I highly recommend it. The difference between the character portrayed in this short story and the characters of House Taken Over is this character experiences bouts of paranoia and fear brought on by sleep deprivation. Moral of the story: remember which lights you keep on.