When I wake from time to time in that dark room, I see the figure sitting by my bed with its head bowed, its elbows on my thighs as it holds a small, silver cross aloft in the pale light shining from somewhere above. “God bless you, God bless you…” Whispers the Thing in a faint, wavering voice. “God bless you, and God keep you.”
Following the little prayer, I drift back into the realm between sleep and waking, drifting along ocean tides until at some point a faint light shines once again, but this time it drifts across my vison and then disappears. It comes and goes, comes and goes until slowly I realize I can feel sand beneath me; I have washed ashore.
There is dread in this place, potent, and I find it far more frightful than the room I wake in from time to time, though standing upon the shore I am unsure whether that memory is even real. Yes, compared to the room with the Thing, here, things are vivid: I can hear the waves lapping against the shore, I smell brine in the air and feel cold. There is a whisper that permeates everything, or perhaps a sigh, long, drawn, the epitome of despair. It enters my mind and casts a cloud over clarity of thought, and, indeed, as I turn, it feels I am looking through a translucent glass that warps everything into something… nightmarish.
The shore stretches far whereupon it borders a thicket of willows running along the coastline. Their gnarled, naked branches reach upwards towards the moonlit clouds like pleading fingers and meld well with the Incessant Whisper. But what holds my attention is the large cliff sprouting from somewhere within the forest, reaching far into the sky upon which there rests the lighthouse, shining its light round, round, round; the rhythm is hypnotic and the ground beneath me sways to and fro as if trying to follow it.
And then I wake.
There is nothing but the light, the Thing, and the cross.
“God bless you, god bless you. God bless you and God keep you.” And like all the times before the memory of this room returns, and now it is the shore with the lighthouse that seems but a distant dream. And with the memory of how this goes, I close my eyes to the light, waiting to be pulled back onto the ocean waters.
But this time, nothing happens.
At length, I open my eyes, and Thing lower’s its hands with a sigh. “Oh, thank goodness, thanks goodness. The young master is awake.”
Suddenly I am aware of my limbs, and I sit upright, though Thing has taken caution and has retreated further into the darkness, only close enough that I can spy the glint of the cross dangling in a way redolent of… something; I do not know why a beach comes to mind.
“Do you know how long it has been? Day and night, I prayed, for many day’s and night’s, but you would not wake. I recited the prayer again and again… I was afraid I had lost us.”
“Yes, ‘us’. Do you not remember? It is alright, everything will become clear in time.” And Thing makes a sound that sounds close to a purr, only more thoughtful. “But you do not remember why you came here. That… is strange. And if you do not remember, it is surprising you are so calm.”
“Why am I here?”
“To forget.” The answer has a sense of finality to it, and the glimmer of the cross disappears.
I jump out of bed, suddenly afraid. “Wait!” I shouted. “Don’t leave me here!”
“I am still here!” And the faint tinkle of a bell rings through the silence. “You humans have weak minds; I am too much to take in for now, and so I remain out of sight. It is best to leave some things to the imagination; curiosity will only confuse your further. If you want to go home, come, follow the bell.”
We carry on this way, Thing ringing the bell, and me following.
At length, I spot a glimmer of light in the distance and it swells as I grow closer. By now Thing has stopped ringing the bell, it now being obvious what the destination is, and I find its taken the precaution of retreating somewhere where I can’t see it. I consider turning around to find a trace of it in the dark, like the glimmer of the cross, but can’t bring myself to do it; I’m afraid that if I turn back around, the light will have vanished.
I emerge into a hall made of smooth, grey stone. The side facing the garden is lined with arches and through them I see a scattered view of the blue flowers sprouted from the snow, some of the colour trailing up from the petals like the embers of a fire before disappearing.
Seated on the bench beneath the dead oak is a life-sized toy soldier that is missing an arm. “Ah, forgotten, have we? Perhaps it’s better that way!” He seems to say. “But mark me: the phantom remains; you will never feel quite like yourself again. Indeed, like something is missing… not unlike an arm.” And he bursts into laughter. “And in time, it may very well drive you mad, and you’ll seek to remember what you went through so much trouble to forget! Oh, the humor!” His laughter is clearly that of a madman, and I force tear my eyes away from the soldier. The laughter stops immediately. There is silence. I look back at him, but the only thing I hear is a near indistinct sobbing, though perhaps it is just my imagination.
“Steer clear of the rabbit.” Says the voice of Thing, and despite the warning he had given earlier, I look around to catch a sight of it. “He pulls people in, and once he has got them, there is no getting out. And where he sends the inquisitive that approach him… not even I know.”
“I should be getting home,” I say, looking down both ends of the hall.
Thing leads me out the garden and further inside whatever castle we were in, as by now I have reasoned that only a castle can feel so old yet stand the test of time with the beautiful and symmetrical architecture of subtle, grooved arches lining open gardens; thick wooden doors studded with iron separating grand halls and small corridors, coloured many hues from the sunlight through patterned stain-glass windows; ceilings where the stone was sculpted in tendrils that arched overhead and crashed against each other, causing ripples to bloom across the ceiling like ocean waves. I don’t see a single person through the whole trip, but the whole while I can’t shake the feeling that I’m being watched, especially in the large rooms fit for a palace where pillars are scattered throughout like a web-work of prison bars.
After descending three staircases, each of which turned the air thin and colder, we arrive before a pair of thick stone doors reaching up to the ceiling, etched into their faces the slanted, haphazard writing of a language I do not recognize.
“Close your eyes,” says Thing. “And do not open them if you value your sanity.”
I close my eyes, my skin crawling as a sigh sounds from the silence and a gust of freezing air brushes against me. There is the sound of something sliding against the stone, and then a growl similar to the one I had heard Thing make shortly after waking.
There was a loud click.
“You may open them,” says Thing, and as I do, I see silver light pouring through the stone doors that open without a sound.
Something pushes me from behind.
I stumble through the doorway and go tumbling to the ground. Before I gather my bearings, I hear the doors click shut behind me.
“Wait!” I yell, heart thundering in my chest as I get to my feet and rush over to the door, running my hands along it as if they would somehow open with my touch.
Nothing but silence, and as I turn and regard the spacious room of mahogany, it slowly turns malicious and melds perfectly with the panoramic painting lining each wall of the room, portraying a nighttime sky, and sculptures of winding geometry that hang from the ceiling and reach for the ground like pleading fingers. And in the middle of the floor hovers a silver orb, white light shining through the pores of its surface. But what takes my attention is the man sitting atop it with a cup of tea in hand, stirring it with a silver spoon. He smiles with a face I know all too well.
“What deranged mind thought of this?” Says the man with my face. He jumps off the orb. “Of course, now, maybe going home isn’t at the top of your priorities. But if by some chance I’m wrong,” Man tossed me a key and gestured to the space behind me. “you’re free to go.”
I look over my shoulder and suddenly fall to the floor as the world suddenly begins swimming.
The doors of stone are no longer there, replaced by a standard single door of mahogany with a golden doorknob.
“But now you’ve seen this room of forgotten memory, you’ve seen ‘yourself’, and now, magic. I don’t think you’ll leave, but you’re free to prove me wrong.”
I look back at Man, and he smiles at the look on my face. “I thought so.”
Man makes his way over and sits down across from me. He hands me the teacup. “Here, drink.”
I take it and consider the tea inside.
“Oh, don’t be so stupid, it’s just plain-old tea.”
I drink, and yes, it is – maybe the first familiar thing I’ve experienced since waking.
“Take a look around you. Do you notice anything you remember?”
“Well, what is the last thing you remember?”
“Before waking up?”
Man nods, his eyes staring at me intently, and as I try to remember, I realize I can’t find anything. My skin goes cold and it feels like my heart has dropped off a cliff. I close my eyes, searching for something but… what is that rattling noise?
I open my eyes and find my hand’s shaking, causing the teacup to rattle against the saucer. I set the teacup down. “Nothing. I can’t remember anything.”
“Then how does that tea taste so familiar, hm?”
“I don—” But I look at Man with surprise. “How did you know?”
Man only smiles. “Intuition.” He stands and sits back on the orb. “I’m still waiting, friend,”
“My ‘thank you’.”
“Saving you.” Man frowned. “Actually no, it’s too early for that.”
By now my patience has run out and I make my way over to the door, putting the key inside the lock. I may never know what’s going on here, but I think I would rather live comfortably at home and think about these things that spend all my time in a place I don’t understand and with no one but – literally – myself as company.
“Wait,” Man yells. “Wait, don’t!”
I open the door and feel the warm air of summer brush against me. The dirt-paved path leading home waits for me on the other side.
And then Man slams the door shut, his eyes suddenly wild with panic. “You can’t leave, you can’t!”
“Then why did you give me the key?”
Man is silent for a long moment, and as his eyes drift to the key in my hand. I barley have enough time to get clear before he lunges at me. Diving straight past where I was standing, he stumbles forwards a couple paces and then begins crying. “I… I need your help. Please, don’t leave me here.”
“If you want my help then tell me who you are!”
“I’m you!” Man moaned, a deep sadness in his eyes as he clutches his chest. He takes a step forwards, but then shakes his head. “Or I used to be. I’m who you’ve forgotten. I’m who you abandoned in this room for so long,” and he sinks to his knees. “oh, so long… And you… I … was foolish enough to think it would help me forget.”
“If that is the name you have given it, yes; the monster that brought you here. I was to trap you here so I could get my freedom. Yet I never wondered why the monster would give me such a bargain. I thought I could do it, be strong enough to fool myself, but I can’t. The key is a lie, friend. The world you saw beyond the door is a lie, meant only to draw you in and cause you unfathomable pain; the instant you step into that world, the two of us become one: you feel the pain of remembering what I do, and I feel the pain of having forgotten what led me to the Terrible Knowledge – and in time, we both die. Help me, and we’ll escape this place without having to worry about being caught!”
“You know a way out castle?”
“Castle?” And Man burst into such maddened laughter it reminded me of the toy soldier. “This isn’t a castle, friend, it’s a lighthouse.”
“Impossible! What lighthouse has a garden?”
“You’d best keep from asking such questions because those are for logical thoughts, and if there is one thing I have learned about this place, things do not operate on logic.”
There’s no other way out: I know that if I open the door again, I won’t have the courage to walk through after what Man’s told me. “Fine. What do we have to do?”
“Give me the key,” says Man, and I wish I hadn’t seen the look of hunger in his eyes that I did. I take an involuntary step backwards.
“Trust me, trust yourself! Give me the key, everything will be alright!”
But I take another step back. “And what’s your plan once you leave?”
“I’m going to break that toy soldier to pieces!”
“Are you mad? He’ll suck you in!”
“No, no! Don’t trust anything that monster said. It’s lying – lying! That toy is what’s keeping this illusion over the lighthouse. All I have to do is break it. Please. If you don’t let me go, then we’ll be stuck here forever!”
That sounds far better than the alternatives: either walk through the door and die or entrust my only way out to a stranger. Dread has soaked into every fibre of my being as I hand the key to Man.
A look of relief spreads over his face. “Thank you, friend. I’ll me back, I promise.”
Man unlocks the door and steps through the threshold. The door closes behind him with a click.
I stand, waiting, and it is the silence that causes the wheels of doubt to turn. It only takes seconds for me to regret my decision. “Oh god!” I run to the door and try the doorknob to no avail. I’m beginning to feel lightheaded and I run my hands over the lock as if it will, like I had through with the doors of stone, unlock beneath my touch. I try the doorknob again and again, each attempt causing my panic to skyrocket until the terrible realization comes crashing down on me: Man had been asked by Thing to trap me here, and that is exactly what he had done.
And then my breathing calms.
I sink to my knees and lean my head against the door as despair hollows my heart.
Tears flow down my cheeks.
I let out a bloodcurdling scream redolent of the toy soldier’s laughter.
And everything goes black.
Ten Years Later
The time is right, and freedom is at hand.
The doors of stone open,
And ‘I’ come through,
Pushed by the one whom helped me forget,
And what solitude in this room helped me remember;
A remembrance that soiled the heart,
Tainted it with lies,
Ones I aim to tell ‘me’,
So, I may fool and fly -
Beyond doors of stone,
Turned a single mahogany,
Where beyond the turning of its gilded knob,
My freedom waits.
The stirring of my tea that I will gift to ‘me’,
Counts the seconds leading to ‘my’ folly.
I remember what he has forgotten,
He will remember and judge me not,