Redemption, Part 3 of 5

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Read Part 2 here. If this is your first time reading, you can find Part 1 here.

The man stood in the middle of a spacious living room, and he wasn’t entirely sure how he’d gotten there. He knew only that he’d entered through the front door. A tiny worm of recollection niggled at his brain, but all he could dredge up was a black void where memory should have been.

Light streamed through the windows, framed by white, semi-transparent curtains. Ahead, picture frames hung on a wall above a brown leather couch. Had he been here before?

He glanced down at himself. Clutched in his right hand was a worn stuffed bear with one of its eyes coming out of the socket. Where had that come from?

He ambled toward the couch, glanced up at the rows of pictures. Each one portrayed a little girl at various stages of development. In one, she was being pushed by an older man in a car-shaped stroller. In another, she beamed up at the camera from a teal beach blanket. In each frame, she wore the same enthusiastic smile, an involuntary gesture that communicated contentment and a general love of life.

A scream.

He jumped, turned toward the stairs where the sound had come from. A dark foreboding seized him, as if a part of himself already knew what he would find if he followed after it, and didn’t want to pursue.

Another scream, weaker. Then a strangled, muffled cry. Then silence.

He wanted to run, to bolt back through the front door and never return. But instead he walked to the stairs, pulled forward by an invisible line.

He took the steps one at a time. Each footfall triggered a camera flash of memory. He was a father reading a magazine on the couch. He was a mother brushing her hair in the upstairs bathroom. He was the same father rushing up the stairs two at a time after hearing his daughter scream. He was the same mother dropping the hairbrush on the floor and running toward her daughter’s bedroom after hearing the same scream.

The bursts of memory became longer, more frequent and more coherent as he neared the top of the stairs. Like a quilt, the man had become a patchwork of other lives, all converging on a tragic event that had taken place in one of the upstairs bedrooms.

He reached the top step and squeezed the stuffed bear against his chest.

He honed in on one of the doors in the upstairs hallway, and as soon as he spotted it he knew that that was where he needed to go. He took hold of the knob. Twisted and pulled. Walked forward.

Once again, he was consumed by light.

Read Part 4 here.

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Redemption, Part 2 of 5

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Read Part 1 here.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been running. The light seemed to be getting larger, yet still he hadn’t reached it. He was moving as fast as he could, had been pushing himself as fast as he could go, but he wasn’t tired, and he was too focused on reaching it to even care if he was exhausted.

Flashes of memory strobed through his mind at irregular intervals. He saw a house. A flower bed. A mailbox. He would poke at each recollection, only to discover every time that it was a dead end.

When the light finally took form, he stopped. Suspended in the darkness was a simple wooden door, slightly ajar. Bright white light spilled out from the inside and was swallowed by the blackness beyond.

He approached the door slowly. He reached out to examine it, and when he caught sight of his arm in the light he was struck with wonder. It was the first time he’d seen himself since he’d woken.

His arm was dotted with tiny red welts that ran along the length of his veins. When he touched one, he found that it was tender.

After a failed moment searching for a corresponding memory, he glanced back up at the door. He placed his hand beneath it and verified that there was nothing to hold it up. Then he tested the sides a few inches beyond the frame and found that they too were empty. He walked around, and when he came to the other side he discovered that the door was gone. He panicked, came back around and was relieved to see that it had reappeared.

Madness.

Where did the door lead? He wasn’t sure what would happen if he entered, but there was nothing for him here, only emptiness for as far as the eye could see, as if the world beyond the door had never been defined.

He gazed at the opening, hypnotized by the light. He had no choice. For better or for worse, it was clear that he was supposed to enter. He took hold of the knob, a ball of cool brass that sent a chill down his spine, and he pushed the door the rest of the way open.

The man walked forward and was consumed by the light.

Read Part 3 here.

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Redemption, Part 1 of 5

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Falling. Tumbling. Fire. Burning. Screaming.

The man woke with a start. There was still a residue of anxiety, the vague feeling that he was being pursued, but it was already slipping from his mind, and by the time he rolled over onto his side, it had left him completely.

When he opened his eyes, blackness rushed to fill the vacuum. He panicked. Had he gone blind? He groped for the edges of his mattress and instead made contact with some other smooth surface, soft and pliable, yet firm and unyielding. Where was he?

Memory tickled the periphery of his mind, but each time he reached for it, it would disappear like a mirage.

He scrambled to his feet and wheeled about, searching for something with which to orient himself. After a while he spotted it, a pinprick of light that pierced the darkness like a white-hot needle. Its distance was impossible to judge.

Was it real? He was afraid that if he turned away, that if he did so much as blink, it would disappear into the ether.

But the light stubbornly tugged at his eyes and refused to let go of his gaze. He paused for a moment, unsure, then chased after it.

Ahead, the light grew larger and brighter.

Read Part 2 here.

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Gone

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Everything was fine, until he made a mistake.

It’s gone now, the world, or at least the world he’s always known. A subtle slip of the tongue, one mispronounced syllable, and the universe collapsed. So many lives, squeezed out of existence. Friends. Family. Cities. Nations. Gone.

He tries to undo the damage, to bring them all back. But every word moves the universe one step closer to ruin. At last he stops, too devastated and out of breath to continue. He stands alone in the dark, the world hazy and insubstantial.

He calls the words back, recants the damage wrought by his careless tongue. But once uttered they will not return. The universe will not allow them.

He surveys the empty void. He does not speak again.

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Afraid of the Dark

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Mom tells me not to be afraid of the dark. But I know better.

“There’s nothing that can hurt you,” she says with a smile before kissing me on the forehead and closing the door behind her. That’s when I pull the covers over my head like a burial cloth and lie awake with my eyes open until I see the light again.

Once, I took her at her word and slept with the covers off. I trusted her then, was sure that if she said something it must be true. I’d begun to drift, to straddle the world of dreams in freedom and peace.

That was when I heard a voice.

“Christian,” it said, sounding like the rustling of dry leaves.

My eyes popped open.

“Christian, come to me. We’ll have fun together, you and I.”

I threw the blanket over myself like a ward, praying it would be enough to protect me.

“Christian,” it said again, a low susurrus whisper. “I’m here in the dark, waiting for you. Won’t you come? You’ll never have to sleep again. We can play, you and I. We’ll have so much fun.”

That was when I learned the truth, that there are things in the dark that can hurt you, that mothers and fathers don’t always know everything.

I didn’t sleep that night, and I don’t know if I’ll ever sleep again.

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