I remained sitting in the darkness for a while. I liked it there I realised. The darkness.
Complete. Whole. Perfect.
In the corner somewhere I could hear the familiar sound of dripping water. A leak where the roof and the joists didn’t quite meet, I suspected. The thought that it must be raining beyond the walls outside.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Strange to be sat there in darkness. The sun had not yet begun to show its winter face and the stars completely hidden behind a blanket of clouds that had settled across the evening sky. A window against the wall to the side of me and bars that separated me from the outside world. Nothing seen out there. The darkness that seemed to have devoured the whole of the world so that all that remained was me floating away at the centre of the universe. Nothing and no one apart from me.
And I liked it, I realised, I liked it alone in here. The darkness like a blanket that I could wrap my weary bones against so that when I blinked there was nothing that separated my mind from reality. There was nothing that separated the inside from out. Darkness outside and darkness within. And I knew he was there of course. The goblin. Hidden against the folds of darkness and out of sight. I could smell him. The stench of death that resided upon him. Because he was death of course. He had been born from death and I had been drawn towards him as though he were the darkest of black holes. His gravity that drew me in and swallowed me whole.
Until sometimes I was no longer sure what separated him from me and me from him.
We were one, I thought. We were one within the darkness.
Something cold that I felt against my cheek.
Something cold and spiteful.
A tear. A single tear that ran down from the corners of my eyes and traced a weary course against my cheek. And I spited that tear I really did. I despised its weakness. The weakness that continued to reside within me. And so, I brought my hand towards my face and smudged away the tear and half expected to feel the goblins scales against my skin and those cruel claws of his. But the warmth of my own skin against my cheek. The palm of my hand that was smooth and soft and warm.
The tears that began to flow some more until I couldn’t seem to stop. And there I remained alone at the centre of the darkness. My body suspended by the night where I continued to float. Halfway between this world and the next.
I brought my arms forwards and over and across my head and arched my back and curled myself into a tiny little ball. So that I reckoned if all the lights were turned on that they wouldn’t discover Mandy on the floor of the cell but a little hedgehog. My quills that would twitch and prickle and protect me from the outside world.
I remained there for a while.
Floating in darkness.
The tears that continued to flow out across my eyes and were like iced rain against my cheeks.
And it was then that I heard the voice.
And at first, I thought that my goblin had returned to play his mischief. His cruel little games. His sneering voice that rattled against the insides of my skull.
And I was surprised when I heard the voice speaking to me in the darkness. Because it wasn’t the voice of the goblin that tormented me. But someone else. Another voice.
“Why are you crying?” The voice asked. And the voice was the sound of a girl’s voice I realised.
I turned my face from left to right within the cell that imprisoned me. But all that I could see was the darkness that leaned in towards me from all directions.
I shook my head. And the voice away with it.
“I’m not listening.” I said. “You’re not real.”
And the sound of the girl’s laughter. The light amusement that danced upon the laughter.
“You’re a funny dumpling.” The girls voice said, and the sound of the voice so clear, so startlingly clear, that I was forced to move my head sharply to one side and fix my gaze upon a spot where I was sure I had heard the girls voice in the cell with me.
“Go away.” I said. The anger to my voice that was real enough. “Leave me alone. I don’t believe in you.” I said and brought my hand once more towards my cheek and rubbed away the last of the tears that had settled there. The skin that was warm against my touch.
“Well if you believe in me or not it still doesn’t change our problem does it.” The girl said, and her voice behind me now so that I spun around upon the spot where I had curled myself into a hedgehog ball. The spiky quills that folded out from my spine as I peered towards the darkness that folded in behind me.
“Where are you?” I asked, turning this way and that and the cell completely devoid of any light and my eyes squinting to see. And that was when I heard little feet skipping away from me and the sound as clear as day. The sound of the girl’s laughter. “You’re not real. Where are you?” I asked.
The skipping of feet around to the other side of me. So, I reached out my hand to grab hold and trip the person from their feet, but all that my fingers closed over against was air and darkness.
“What is real?” The girls voice replied. “And what is not?”
I shook my head from left to right and turned my face around to follow the sound of the girls skipping feet. But the girl was fast and fleet of foot and as hard as I tried, I found that I could never fix my attention upon the spot where I was sure that she must be.
“What do you mean?” I said, turning myself around upon the spot and pushing my hands down so that my knees slipped against the floor. The stone that was cold and crumbling against the palms of my hand and the dust that collected between my fingers. “Real is what we see.” I said, frustrated with myself that I had been drawn into the conversation with my madness, but curious all the same. “What we touch and taste.”
“And are your thoughts not real then?” The little girls voice asked. “Are your memories not real?”
“No,” I said, “They’re made up. Like you.”
The chime of the girl’s laughter once again. The playful quality to it.
“Oh Mandy.” The girl said, “Are you still not wise enough to question something about the nature of this world?” The voice said. “That not all that you’ve been told is what it is?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, “The world is real.” I said. “The world has been explained.”
“Really.” The girls voice replied. “And we have discovered every little secret?” She asked. “In those books that you read?”
And I nodded my head and knew that it was true. That the world was discovered and the secrets that it held had been explained. The books of science and history that I had devoured as a child. And every ‘ology that was mine. And the lessons and the facts that had come so easily to me. And the mathematical equations that had popped into my head in an instant. And the teachers that had smiled with pride as I had passed every test and examination that had been placed before me. And the children that had taunted me. The names that they had called me.
“There’s something wrong with me.” I said, and when I spoke the words, I understood the great truth that had been revealed to me in that moment of darkness. My mind was fractured and splintered in to a thousand pieces and I couldn’t grasp hold of the shards that sliced across the surface of my brain. “I’m weird.”
I balled myself into a hedgehog and allowed the tears to flow like cool rivers across my cheeks. “I’m broken.” I said. “Inside my mind.” I cried. “The voices I hear. My eyes that deceive me.” I said, remembering the way that my skin appeared to me sometimes. My body transformed into something monstrous. And all of it lies and deceit. The insanity of my fractured mind. “It’s my madness. All of it. That’s all that any of this is.” I said.
And now that the truth had finally purged itself from me, I collapsed towards the floor and my flesh felt as though it hung against loose bones. The memories of nightmares that I had seen. Of reptilian beasts that chased upon our heels and demons that had peered down to me from branches. Of people who wore masks and eyes that flickered with flames. And my knobbled hands that had been revealed before me as I had pushed Lucy towards the well. And my hand that was shimmering with scales and the talons I had seen.
And all of it lies.
The madness of my mind.
And that’s when I heard a movement to the side of me and the sound of someone’s foot being placed beside my ear. And I knew that it was all the creation of my fractured mind of course. Because there was no one in here with me at all. There never had been. And all that had ever remained at the centre of the darkness was me.
The sound of a fabric being ruffled and creased beside me as the spectral child lowered herself to the side of me where I had collapsed upon the floor. The darkness that closed in from all sides and consumed my mind so that not a single thing could be seen. And then the warmth of the girl’s breath upon my cheek. And her lips that were brought towards my ear. The sound of her words that she spoke to me. The smell of her breath that was sweet like sugar puffs.
“It’s real.” The voice said. The girls voice that blew into my ear so that strands of hair around my ear gently lifted. “It’s all of it real Mandy.” The voice said.
“No.” I replied, crying and shaking the madness away.
“You need to leave this place Mandy. Tonight. Away from Sister Dixon. She’s killing them Mandy. She’s killing them all.”
“No.” I said, “It’s me, I’m poorly. My mind is poorly.”
“You’re wrong Mandy.” The girl said.
“Look into your mind.” She said.
“The truth is hidden there.”