At Least There Are No Shadows

The room is filled with the sorts of tiny sounds you don’t notice in the busyness of the day. The feathery sound of moving air, the almost-inaudible purr of something electronic. The soft, irregular peals of next-door’s wind chimes.

The blanket on top of me is a heavy, soothing weight. I burrow a little further under it. Just so that my mouth is covered.

It’s not dark in this room, either. That’s okay, I suppose. I’ve always felt that full darkness—the kind where you’re not sure whether your eyes are open or shut—is unsettling. On the other hand, the not-completely-dark creates shadows. There’s one near the window. I’m fairly sure it’s just clothes, left near the curtain. It’s just that it seems a little too tall. A little too narrow. A little too… limbed.

And there’s a gentle thumping. It might be my heartbeat.

I tuck my nose under the blanket. The air is warm, thick and heavy. I can hear the blood rushing in my ears. Come further, I imagine the blanket murmuring. It’s safe, under here.

I’m tired, but I’m also not. I need sleep, but I also don’t welcome it. I want to stay in this world, where I can see and hear and touch. A place where, if I do A, then B happens.

At least, usually.

My mind spins thoughts. Over time I’ve learned—oh, not easily, but I have—how to step away from them. To notice the feelings and hopes and anxieties but not be caught in the rushing, crashing storm of them. But sometimes, in the dark and the quiet, I do wonder… what’s outside the thought?

Isn’t it just another layer? I’m still caught, aren’t I? Like a fly that can’t see beyond the web.

My head is fully under the blanket, now, and the air is dense, turbid, full of the faded, creamy scent of deodorant, half-forgotten motes of laundry detergent and the redolence of my own body. That thick fug of molecules that all living humans produce. It’s reassuring, in a way. My chemical reactions are still happening. I’m still here. I’m still alive.

Yes, whispers the blanket. It’s good. Stay here, where it’s too dark for shadows.

It’s not that it’s hard to breathe. The motion is easy. In, and out. It works. But the air isn’t quite satisfying. Like sips of warm water on a hot day when you’re craving gulps of something tall and icy. I imagine the air above, outside. Cool and sweet. I can almost taste it.

No, says the blanket. No. There are… things out there. Stay here, where it’s warm.

In and out. In and out. If I sleep, I think, I won’t need so much oxygen, and then I can stay safe. Under the blanket.

There’s music. Just something caught in my head, a worm in my ear. Moving, twisting. Squirming. Thumping.

Funny, though, I don’t remember the tune. My mind trips along with it, soothed by it. Come with me, it croons. Drift with me.

The air is so dense now it’s like a blanket of its own. A blanket of air under a blanket of cloth. I can hear… soughing. Yes, that’s a good word. And that soft, thudding beat, ever slower. Slower.

Sleep, says the blanket.

It’s so dark, I can’t tell if my eyes are open or shut.

But at least…

…there are no shadows.


Author’s notes
A little slice of something unsettling in recognition of the fact that, through July, August and September, I’ll be acting as Assistant Editor at the horror podcast, PseudoPod. If you’re not subscribed, please do. Oh, and by the way: we open for submissions in September. Sleep well.


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© Kat Day 2021