^^D A little short story to brighten (or maybe not…) your Tuesday morning.
By CJ Waller
It all started with a dot.
Just a dot, on my wall.
I’m not much of a housekeeper – bit of a lazy sod in that field, to be honest – but it bugged me. So, last week, I decided to clean it off. I had to clamber on a chair to reach it. I remember spraying disinfectant and wiping it away, and the satisfaction that came with it. Gone. No more dot.
But the next morning, there it was. Small, circular, dark. And it had brought a friend. Two tiny dots, sitting side by side.
No one else could see them, not unless I pointed them out. But I knew they were there, and that was enough. They gnawed at me, taunting me. So a day later, I fished out the step ladder, climbed up and washed them both away. I scrubbed good and hard this time, just to make sure. Afterwards, the wall gleamed. No dots now. No more dots.
Now, I know you know what’s coming next. But I didn’t see it. So the next morning – day three of this particular little nightmare – I looked up at the wall, and yes, there were three dots now. They formed a little triangle. Dot, dot, dot.
This time, it didn’t so much niggle at me as send me into a rage. Bloody dots! Maybe it was me. Maybe I was going mad. Ha. Dotty, as it were.
I fetched the step ladder again, but rather than disinfectant, I brought a tin of paint. Let’s see those little bastards reappear through a new coat of Dulux’s finest.
Usually paint fumes make me feel sick, but that day, they smelled like a fine wine; a good nose, perhaps a little strong. The dots were obliterated with one stroke of my brush. I painted the whole wall, just in case.
Day four. Nice clean wall.
With four dots on it.
They formed a square.
Fucking dots! What the absolute fuck? Maybe it was damp. Damp comes back through paint, doesn’t it? But weren’t they a bit uniform for damp? Who cares – the dots were back, and now I wondered if I was actually going out of my mind.
Rather than paint the wall again, I knocked on my neighbour’s door. I don’t know my neighbour all that well, just enough to share pleasantries when we pass in the hall, but I needed a second opinion.
She shrugged. I think her name is Amy. Or it could be Andi. Or Amber. Whatever.
“Well, what?” she replied.
“Well… can you see them?”
She gave me a look that screamed ‘I’d like to leave now!’, and shook her head slowly.
“No… I can’t see any dots.”
“Oh.” The dots looked smugly down at me. “Good.”
“Yeah. I painted yesterday and I was worried the dots were coming through.”
“I can’t see them.”
“And that’s a good thing. Thank you.”
The dots sniggered at me. She left soon afterwards. I don’t share pleasantries with her in the hall any more. Not after what happened. Now she avoids me at all costs.
I don’t think I blame her.
After that, I decided my mind was playing tricks on me. Sending me dotty. Dotdotdotdotdotty. It was the only explanation. So even when the dots multiplied until the covered the whole wall, I ignored them. If I couldn’t see them, they weren’t there. Ha ha, I win.
But then the little fuckers started to grow.
I can’t really describe it in any other way. At first, I thought I’d finally cracked. Gone cuckoo. Even more dotty. My mind, not satisfied with making me hallucinate thousands of dots, was making them grow bigger and bigger every hour, until the began to merge.
And form holes.
Holes in my wall.
Holes I could see though.
I first realised they were holes when I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of one eye. I generally avoided the room by now, but since it’s my sitting room and I’ve got to go through it to reach the front door, it’s a bit hard.
The movement was merely a flicker, but it was enough to make my heart leap into my throat. No, no, NO. Not going through this again. I closed my eyes. Gone. I couldn’t see them. No more holes.
I left my apartment to fill my own hole: a bacon sarnie and a coffee. People stared, but I ignored them. Just like the dots. Heh. No, not dots. Holes now. Great big ones. Staring at me, like the people. I gave them all a vicious look. Don’t come near! I know your game.
I crept back to my apartment around two. I stared at the door. Don’t want to go in there. But what choice do I have? Can’t sleep on a park bench. There aren’t any parks near by.
So I pushed the door open.
The wall pulsated before me. The holes rippled, and shadows darted behind them.
My eyes goggled. Where had my sitting room gone? I craned my neck forwards. If I screwed my eyes up, I could just about make out my couch, in front of the wall. The holes. The… whatever. Not important. Not any more.
A perverse wave of curiosity stole over me. Dare I? Dare I look into the holes? Dare I look into those deep, dark abyssal pits?
Which is stupid, if you think about it. If they were holes, the should go through to the apartment next door. I should’ve been able to see Mrs Calloway’s chinzy nightmare, all flowers and cats.
But they don’t. They don’t allow me to spy on Mrs Calloway. They show blackness. Interminable blackness.
Nope. Not going to play any more. I shook my head. I think I muttered. The dots aren’t there. Just my imagination. Like the song. How many times do I have to tell myself this?
I scuttled through to the kitchen and closed the door. Out of sight, out of mind. Going to use the back door from now on. Even if it does mean shinning down the drainpipe.
That night, I lay in bed, awake, listening. The sitting room is directly beneath my bedroom, and I was sure I could hear something. A soft, slithery noise; a slapping of waves against soft sand, no more than a sigh. I dragged the covers over my head. The waves still lapped, back and forth, in and out, reaching up, exploring-
No. Stop it. Nothing more than my imagination. Stress. That’s what it is. Stress. Go to sleep.
But I didn’t sleep.
I haven’t slept since.
The next morning, it took all my courage to open the door. Curiosity ate at me, nibbling at my sanity, tearing holes in my reason. I had to see.
I had to know.
The door felt heavy, leaden, reluctant. I should have taken that as a sign. But I didn’t. I wrenched the door open, open to the Stygian depths of eternal night.
I hesitated at the threshold. Behind me, sunlight streamed through the windows, carrying the merry laughter of children from the school over the way. Before me, dots. No… Holes. Dirty great big ones.
Big enough to push my fingers through.
Big enough to look through.
Big enough for something to look through at me.
I don’t know what possessed me. I should have stepped back, closed the door, shut in the darkness. Instead, that infernal curiosity got the better of me. I had to know.
I stepped inside my sitting room. Everything felt heavy. The air crackled with static, the floor crunched under my feet. Sand? I stooped down. No, carpet. But carpet doesn’t crunch. I giggled. The holes were even bigger now, huge, ragged apertures, their edges nibbled at, the way moths nibble at clothes. Another step closer. The wall rippled and flowed around me, encasing me from all sides. Not flat now, but cylindrical. All around me, ragged holes, and beyond them… Beyond them… Nothing. A vast expanse of black. Not just darkness, but infinity.
Transfixed, I pressed my hands to the plaster, and peered in further. I felt something cool curl around my fingers. I turned to look. Tendrils of darkness enveloped my hands, wrapping themselves around my wrists and fingers, sinking in to my flesh, pinning me to the wall.
A scream built up within me. Not one of those panicky squeaks at discovering an unexpected spider, but a soul-deep roar, primal and ferocious. I pulled my hand away and the darkness pulled back. Bright spots of blood beaded my skin where the tendrils bit, pulling me back, dragging me into the abyss.
From the other side, a chittering started. What once was infinite blackness now swirled, a great kaleidoscope of dark matter, a vortex of abyssal light. At its heart I was sure I could see figures dancing, leaping, their movements jerky, their dancing desperate. The thin whine of pipes joined the chittering, and the scream building within me finally crested, a crashing wave of sheer terror.
It gave me the strength to pull away. The tendrils poured through the holes, tearing at my skin, seeking me out, ripping at my clothes in search of my flesh. I yanked my right arm away as hard as I could, not caring that blood ran down my forearms and pooled upon the floor. My mind babbled in panic. Please let me go, just let me go, pleaseohGodohpleaseohGodohplease…
The darkness stretched and gave way with a sucking pop. The tendrils, free of my flesh, snaked down and buried themselves in the puddles of my blood. My blood. My blood. Disgust billowed in me, and I tasted the sour taint of bile. My blood. The wail of the pipes grew to deafening levels, and the figures still danced, closer now. I could see them more clearly, but they didn’t make sense to me. They danced around something amorphous that pulsed and writhed to the beat of deep, deep drums.
I struggled backwards, ignoring the bite of the dark, scuttled backwards, back towards the door. I wrenched it open. Daylight flooded it. Hallelujah! A blessed warmth upon my chilled skin. I threw myself out of the room and slammed the door shut as the walls spewed a wriggling mass of tenebrous horror onto my carpet-
The doorbell rang.
I let out a shriek.
“Joe? Are you okay?” The voice was soft, feminine.
Amber! Or Amanda. Or Annalise. Whatever. It didn’t matter.
More insistent now. I gasped in breath after breath, batting away the last of the foul, oily tendrils, stuck to my skin like leeches. They slithered in, burrowing into my arms – No. NO! Get out! Out, Damned Dot!
“Joe – stand back, I’m going to break the door down.”
Oh yeah, like that would help. I sat with my back to the sitting room door, using my weight to keep the portal shut-
“Are you away? Joe? Answer me if you can! Joe!”
I reached up and opened the front door. Annalise, or maybe Annette, quite possible Ailsa, looked down at me, her eyes huge and luminous with fear. The sun that streamed through the windows behind her gave her a halo, like an angel. My angel. My saviour.
“Dear Lord, you gave me a fright! Are you all right?” She backed away. No, bright angel – do not leave! I need you. I need you to fight the darkness. The darkness within.
I nodded, panting. Everything was going to be fine. Fine and dandy, like lemon candy.
The angel – Angela! That was her name! – hunkered down in front of me, her face a picture of concern. Concern for me. I reached up to touch her, to touch that perfect face, but she recoiled. No, bright angel, do not recoil, for you are here to save me…
… aren’t you?
“Shit, Joe – what have you been up to? Mrs Calloway has been on the phone to the Landlord – have you been taking something? You look like hell.”
Ha! Hell. No, sweetheart, I don’t look like hell, I’ve been to hell. To hell and back. To hell with it all.
“I’m fine,” I muttered. “Bad dream.” Bad trip. Bad everything.
Now she dared to touch me. For a moment, I panicked again, fearing those terrible black leeches would pour out of me and find her skin to burrow into, but her touch purified everything. I sighed. She smelled so good.
“Now let’s get you in…”
No! Don’t open the door! I tried to scream at her, but my body was made of lead. She reached out, turned the handle, unbarred the portal, the portal to death and decay and darkness-
“Okay, let’s get you a cup of tea. You really do look like you could do with a lie down.” She wrinkled her nose. “Smells a bit in here – I’ll open a window.”
No darkness. No death. No decay. Just my sitting room. As it always was. I chewed at my fingers and inspected my arms. Nothing there, either. No cuts, no bruises, no blood.
Just a dot.