Finally, he realised he didn’t know where he was at all. It was dark, and as he opened his eyes it grew no brighter. He expected shape and form and colour, but there was none of any. He blinked and waved his hand in front of his face, but it was useless.
For a moment he thought that perhaps he was dead. It was black and still and quiet and there was nothing at all. He thought death would be that. But he pinched the soft cold flesh of his palm to see if it were really true, and it stung and rang up his arm.
He was there alright; somewhere, someplace. He speculated who he might be, but his name was no clearer than his hand in front of him. He wondered where he’d been, or what he did, but the answers to these questions were obscure and hopeless. He tried again and again to remember his own face, he tried to think of what he looked like in the mirror, but the black around him fell into his mind and coated it like dark felt.
There was hope, however.
In the briefest moments, he almost knew himself. But then in others he didn’t. He felt complete and distant and alien to his body all at once. It was strange. He hated it. He racked his brain some more, still rooted to the spot, until he felt unwell.
He took a deep breath, and it rang and bounced around in the nothingness like he might be in a well or bore hole. The space was vast and confined and seemingly nothing at all. He stayed the thoughts about the space around him and thought about one thing he must do, and that was find a way out of the darkness.
After an age of standing still, he finally put one foot in front of the other, he could still do that at least, and took off walking in a direction that he chose based on no assumption at all.
He walked and walked and walked; the darkness never ceasing, his eyes never adjusting and his breath never softening. He went on this way for what seemed like hours. Maybe it was. Perhaps minutes. In the nothingness he found it hard to keep track of much.
After he had started to grow used to the sound of his own feet padding along beneath him, suddenly something rose out of the darkness and stung his eyes like swarm of fervent bees.
There was something blooming out a cloudy mess of dull orange, far away across the space. He squinted and for the first time in what seemed like his entire life, he could see shapes again. He looked down at his hands at last; they were old and wrinkled. That gave him nothing. He felt like he might have been younger than he looked.
He walked on, faster still, looking over himself as he went. He could see a baggy suit on him; trousers creased around his legs and scuffed old boots on his feet. He even wore a tie.
He closed the distance between himself and the glowing thing, bounding and leaping, half furious, half euphoric at the gift of his new sight. As he came closer and the last dregs of darkness crumbled away from the glowing entity, his nearly virgin eyes could discern what it was.
It was an old brass gas lamp, coated with messy slicks of oil and grime. It had a glass sleeve around the flame, which was burning away quite heartily. He bent down and looked closer. The flame danced so beautifully, lapping at the air like a fat orange tongue that he had the sudden urge to dig his scrawny fingers into its path. He wanted to feel something that wasn’t abject. That wasn’t darkness. That wasn’t nothingness.
He might have just done that if he didn’t see the leather book laid neatly beside the lamp. He took a step back then. Now, he could the whole scene; the handsome wooden table in which the lamp sat, lined with taut green leather and the newly discovered brown book. He saw too that the table had a modest drawer facing outward towards him, as if it had been set down in just the right place so he would be close enough to open it.
He knelt and shimmied towards the desk like it might be a violent animal. He extended his hand tentatively and slowly slid the smooth wooden drawer out of its mother structure and felt around inside.
Inside was a quill. A white feather as soft as the purest snow on the first day of advent, and a nib as sharp as the very nails that hammered through Christ’s palms.
He retracted his hand, the quill now in his fingers and he analysed it. It was perfect and pure and as fresh as could be. He thought about what he was going to do with it. If all else failed, at least he could dig the nib into his wrists and maybe put out the light for good. But that was a last resort.
He went to the thick leather journal next to the oil lamp and he opened it slowly. It creaked and he could tell the leather was good and new. Inside the pages were pressed perfectly, with crisp paper so neat the pages flapped like a bird’s wings when he turned them. He was surprised paper so clean and intact had writing on it, but it did. A neat script it was, with lettering so perfectly pronounced and delivered it lead him to believe that only an angel could have written it.
But an angel would not have written what it said.
It was foul and putrid. It was full of type and lexis so evil and noxious that they made him gag and bring up sour bile and spittle into his mouth. He was tremoring like a geriatric, like a dying man, and for a disgusting breath he was ashamed. He held the book up close to his eyes then and blinking heavily under the sultry orange lashings of the lamp, he gave the final verse his full attention; beginning to end, once, twice, thrice, until he knew what was waiting for him.
The final words were few, but the impact was colossal. His eyes pulsed and bled cold clear tears as he read and re read the beautiful, horrid verse.
“Is 100 enough? Foul and capricious. Bitter, bitter, bitter as you are. In one of them. Armoire or closet. Cupboard or pen. There it is. With foul white hide and great white teeth. And eyes of glorious ruby. And a love for flesh. It is in there. Somewhere. In the great 100. So, tell us, bastard. Which is it? One door must not be chosen. One door left untouched. And make it good and make it right. Then the door might come to light.”
He froze. It’s all he could do.
The intimate dark was not so intimate anymore. He looked around the nothingness and wondered if something really was in there with him. It suddenly felt like it. He was sweating and his hand that held the leather book was trembling. He wanted to cry and curl up on the floor like a baby. Was he a bastard? Who wanted him here? Who wanted him dead, here in the darkness? Who knew something he didn’t?
He tried not to cry but it was futile. He couldn’t remember what anything outside of the darkness looked like, so he cried for that, he could see a solid wooden armoire about 20 yards away in the gloom, so he cried for that, and he had a horrid itching along the back of his neck that told him he was not alone, so he also cried for that. He wiped his eyes and grabbed up the lantern and slowly made his way towards the armoire in the darkness ahead of him.
It towered over him as he made his way to it. It was a beautiful thing; carved precisely and strikingly, with Parisienne styling and glazed in emerald-green paint. It stood eight or nine feet high, the fat body housing two doors propped up on four tiny bent legs. It had bulbous golden handles and a pinpoint gold engraving deep into the thick coarse wood. There was already a key in the lock. A fat strong key, almost medieval in form, waiting to be turned.
He wanted to turn it, he had never wanted something so badly, it was fundamental to him now, to turn this fat old key and swing open the thick old wooden door. He almost did, and before he could blink twice more his hand was hovering on the key’s metal spine. He caught himself, stayed his hand and thought about the omnipresence of the note, and how they were watching.
“That’s cheating,” he squealed, enraged.
His voice went no further than the wooden thing beside him before it malnourished and died in the exposure around him. There was no echo. He looked around, then back over his shoulder, then again over his other shoulder, trying to spot who was watching him. They were cheating, he told himself. He must choose his doors wisely. He would choose. They wouldn’t trick him. They had already snatched him, kidnapped him, doomed him. Now it was to be death by his own hand?
He felt a blackness over him, like his skin and cells were the void everywhere here with him and then he thought, if this was indeed the pit of despair, then why wait any longer than need be.
He took a breath and then turned the key and swung open the door.
It creaked loudly as the old hinges grated on each other. He didn’t dare look inside. It would be there. The thing. Waiting.
There was darkness for a moment. He waited for red eyes to appear. He waited for the thing with white skin and sharp teeth to come for him. But nothing came.
He held up the lantern and sent away the gloom. The armoire was empty. The only thing in the empty wooden shell was a name, written on the back panel, in the same beautiful hand as that devilish verse in the leather book. It read; Jenny Belford
He didn’t know that name. He didn’t care. He cried and laughed and jumped up and down. He had won this one. He laughed and laughed until his throat burnt. Once he took hold of himself, he noticed something underneath the writing.
A small photograph. A polaroid. A school portrait. A girl, skin like plate and a plaintive look to match, with her face framed by crisp black hair. The longer he looked he found that he knew Jenny Belford after all. She sat on the precipice of his consciousness, her name and form and relationship to him shrouded in a fog so thin he could almost pass through and take her out and know. Know who she was. And then, perhaps, he would know who he was.
The longer he looked at the photo the more he became aware of the sickness in his stomach. The mournful look on Jenny’s face wasn’t so much mournful as downright hateful, he realized that now, and he was realizing her frozen eyes were crusted with fury and pain. He knew now that the eyes were not frozen in a photograph, they were simply staring at him. He was in the darkness with her then, the shroud and fog lifted, and her cancerous gaze made him weak and feverish. He knew Jenny Belford after all. He fell to his knees and let out a weak mouthful of vomit.
“No,” he managed.
He heard a howl from far off in the cavernous nothing. It roared loudly, horridly, like a dying wolf, like a burning fox, and he was so very scared. It echoed around, that shriek of the primordial. It was the beast. It was waiting for him. In a way it always had always been waiting, one way or another.
He tried to source from which direction the horrid noise had come but it rang and rolled around him so quickly that he gave up.
All he knew was that it was in there with him, somewhere. He raised his head and as his eyes took focus again, he found himself peering out into the gloom. There he saw the next armoire, and then beyond that, barely discernible, the next one still. He turned back to the open armoire beside him without looking at Jenny’s photo, and behind that one, half visible in the gloom, was another emerald-green shape. Then further behind that, another one. And another. They were all facing him, none were placed here at random, he was sure of that. He couldn’t look any longer. He couldn’t. Wherever he turned his head, he would see another armoire, doors waiting for him, out in the dark.
The howl came again. Louder now. In one of these green prisons it was sitting, waiting. Like the verse said, it had pale skin and a terrible grin and white teeth, and red eyes and it was going to eat him if he let it out. He was the bastard, and it was the thing with red eyes and white skin. He was the capricious one. The verse said so. They had caught him. All he had was that name. But he would never tell them. They said they knew. But he was there. He was there with Jenny Belford. He knew. He knew her and she knew him. But he would never tell them that. Jenny Belford. Maybe he was capricious and evil out there where the sun shone and life went on as life does, second by second, smile by smile, breath by breath. Something rustling to his side made him turn slowly. He stopped breathing for a moment as he turned back to the armoire. Something was there. He felt cold, sick again, unable to stand.
There was a woman inside the armoire.
Pale, gaunt, eyes wide, grinning a sick grin like a broken doll. The woman was staring at him. It was Jenny Belford. He knew her from the picture. She grinned and her eyes were fat and wide and full of evil things. He turned away but he could hear her stertorous breathing, almost hissing through her clenched teeth. There was a howl again, from one of the 99 armoires sat around him in the expanse of black cavern. He said he would be brave and wouldn’t cry. He’d been telling himself that since he awoke. Jenny’s the ghostly breathing dropped to a growl. He looked to the next armoire, just across from him, no more than ten paces away, and wondered if that would be the one to open next. If so, what would be in it? As Jenny’s horrid growling grew, he wondered which door he would open next. Louder and louder was her breath now. And he wondered and he wondered. He wondered which one he was going to open first. Or next. Or last. And he wondered what would be inside. And he wondered, if the monster with white skin and red eyes, would be the worst thing he’d find.
Dylan is a writer of short fiction, screenplays and poetry. He is a die-hard horror fan and by night you will most likely find him reading something by Shirley Jackson or Clive Barker. He lives in London and works in the Film & TV industry.’