“A Fear For Your Comfort” by Christina Giska
Cecily hadn’t been scared of the dark as a child. Her friends would talk of night lights or hiding under their covers and she would laugh loudly in their faces, asking what was so scary about their own rooms.
She understood realistic fears—heights could be fallen from, snakes could bite, even germs could make someone sick. But being scared of the rooms you grew up in, just because everything wasn’t illuminated in blinding light? It was stupid, and Cecily’s kindergarten teacher changed her behavior card to yellow several times before Cecily learned not to say so out loud.
Her haughtiness gradually faded as her classes turned from reading to algebra to AP Environmental Science. She awkwardly sprouted into a gangly 5’9’’ her last year of high school, and while her thinking advanced, her understanding of her friends’ fear did not.
Ironically, it was this ignorance that let her deny her own terror.
The feeling creeped up slightly and slowly, at first just a glance behind her to make sure no one was there before she flipped the light switch, but then ‘accidentally’ leaving her tv on while she slept and buying extra strength lightbulbs for her lamps. She didn’t think of this with any curiosity or alarm. She just assumed she liked the sound as she drifted off, or that the stronger bulbs were better for the environment and she wanted to do her part.
It was harder to explain locking her door, but Cecily was almost an adult—it made sense that she wanted privacy. Once, five days after she started locking her door, she took a mental step back and wondered why she was shoving her chair under the doorknob of her closet. After a couple seconds of cautious thought, she decided the door’s creaking had simply been irritating her.
There was an uncomfortable heaviness in her mind when she thought that way, and the chair was always back to its proper place by the desk in the morning. No one ever saw it out of place so no one could ask her about it, and Cecily planned to keep it that way. There was a distant part of her that thought if she said her reasoning out loud the words would fall lifelessly to the ground like sand in the wind.
The lights didn’t stop the shadows that creeped in from below her door, so she shoved spare t-shirts and jeans into the gaps until the creeping dark couldn’t touch her. Her stomach tensed. She chewed her lip until her mouth filled with iron. There was no rationalization for the way the flickering shadows made her flinch back.
She stopped switching the light off at night and started storing flashlights in every drawer she owned. All of her lamps were kept on, and when one died she would be paralyzed in fear, ice in her veins, until she jerked into motion and put new batteries in with shaking hands.
Cecily couldn’t put her fear into words, she couldn’t explain why the sight of shadows shot adrenaline into her heart. It was a source of frustration for her; her room was the same it had always been, but suddenly the parts she couldn’t see seemed sinister.
“Another flashlight?” Maisy asked one day, picking up the red one and placing it in the car door with the smaller blue one and the collection of handheld lights you had to press down continuously to use. “How many is that now?”
“I read a safety manual saying drivers should carry flashlights in case of emergencies,” Cecily lied.
“You have an iPhone though, doesn’t that come with a light?”
“Phones can die,” Cecily said simply, eyes straight ahead. There were three heavy duty lights that construction workers used in her trunk. Batteries could die too.
“Hey,” Maisy bit her lip. She reached out to touch Cecily, then pulled back. “I just—if something happened, you can tell me. You know that, right?”
“They’re just flashlights. Don’t make it such a big deal.”
Her sleep grew fitful. When she slept she couldn’t make sure the lights were on, and the first time her father, Richard, turned her lights off in the night she woke up screaming in terror.
“That’s enough!” her father growled as she cried and shook, struggling to calm down enough to pick up the flashlights and turn them on. “It’s just the dark! There’s nothing there!”
His hand was on her arm, gripping it too tight. She tried to jerk away but the movement was clumsy, hindered by her fear. Her heart beat too fast.
She stumbled as her father dragged her out of the room, trying to force her feet to support her but having them lag behind her. The hall was dark and she screamed. She was shaking.
“Shut up!” he snapped. “There’s nothing here!”
Her father shoved her into the basement and she couldn’t form words beyond a sound of primal fear, not even when he tore the trembling flashlights out of her feeble fingers.
The basement was unfinished. The only light was from the moon, and it drifted in through the small windows near the top of the wall, where the basement wasn’t below ground. She threw herself in the small patch of light, but there was no separation between her and the rest of the room. The dark slithered and sleuthed and Cecily sobbed.
Her father locked the door.
. . . o0o . . .
Cecily wasn’t crying when her father woke her up, but she wasn’t saying much at all. When she talked—only monosyllabic answers—her voice sounded raspy.
Richard watched her walk throughout the house as she silently prepared breakfast. She moved the food around with her fork mindlessly for ten minutes before giving up and throwing it away uneaten.
“Don’t waste food,” he snapped, unnerved. Cecily had an appetite to fight the gods, and a temper to match. But all she did was pause, like she hadn’t expected to hear his voice, then move on.
“And I’m driving you to school today,” he continued, sure she’d argue—she had driven herself ever since she had passed her driver’s test. But she nodded without a word.
Richard hated listening to music in the car. It was infantile and distracting. Talking to the other passengers was better, and silence best, but that morning the silence felt like an accusation and he turned on the radio so he didn’t have to listen. He didn’t look over; Cecily’s face hadn’t so much as twitched with any expression since she had woken up and it reminded him of a corpse.
They pulled into the school parking lot.
“After school you’re going to the mall,” her father said, stern and pushing down the pit in his stomach. “Meet up with some friends.”
Cecily’s eyes had a blank look to them. She stepped out of the car and all her weight seemed to have sunk to her feet; her feet dragged slowly but her arms swung loosely at her sides, like a ghoul in a movie.
It’s temporary, he told himself. She’ll be back soon.
He didn’t mean from school.
. . . o0o . . .
Cecily wasn’t aware as her classes passed her by. Lunch arrived. She hid in the bathroom with the stall locked. Talking to her friends, even Maisy, somehow felt like a herculean task, and so she didn’t. Her mouth was wired shut and trying to talk would let something soar out of her that she was desperately trying to contain.
She didn’t ask anyone to meet her at the mall.
. . . o0o . . .
Cecily sat at a bench, staring blankly into the water fountain artistically sprouting curves in the air. The light reflected off the coins that littered the bottom; a sign nearby declared they would be donated to the nearest hospital for cancer research.
She checked the time on her phone. 4:13. No texts from her father.
She stared into jets of water, watching them plunk into the basin and ripple outwards.
Five minutes passed and her phone only changed to 4:14. Cecily stood. She didn’t have a plan, except to walk around, maybe to the third floor.
Her emotions felt detached. Everything felt far away, and then she saw it.
Before, the dark had always carried a sense of foreboding, an awareness she could never put words too. She had never seen anything, not in a concrete way, not in a way she felt comfortable admitting. Now she did.
All the emotions that had been buried slammed into her with the force of a semi. Her breath sped up. She couldn’t breathe.
The thing was too tall, elongated like it had been stretched, and skinny like it had been slit in half. It didn’t just look dark, it sucked in the light around it and made everything grim. Its dimensions shifted even as she froze. It walked like it had only learned how to second hand, and as it passed corners and stores it left them dimmer than they had been before.
It took a step forward and all of its mass sank to the floor, sliding forward before rising up again, more humanoid this time.
Cecily stumbled back. She had always made fun of horror protagonists for doing the same, but her body knew to escape while her brain still tried to understand what was happening, and the conflict made her hesitate.
The thing got closer, its fingers stretching and stretching and stretching until it was closer to her than not. A tingly feeling rose up her throat, and when her mouth opened it was to scream.
Cecily ran. Stores blurred past her: Justice, Forever 21, Hollister. They were all bright and cheery, but it felt plastic: a false promise. Her eyes darted around, the surroundings blurring in her panic. There was a flash of grey and her vision focused; it was Dmitri, someone from school she didn’t talk to.
She sprinted towards him, not glancing back. She didn’t want to see it, didn’t need to check how close it was when she could feel the temperature dropping as it neared. Goosebumps rose on her arms.
“Dmitri,” she cried, “Dmitri!”
There was no response.
She didn’t slow down and they collided painfully. He stumbled but didn’t respond, and she tore at his arm. Dmitri kept talking, even when her grip slipped and her nails slid, spilling red.
“Look at me, damn it!” Cecily screamed.
She swerved, desperate, calling his friends names too. Philip, Leah, Molly. Desperation crawled in her throat and she slapped the one closest to her. Leah’s head whipped back, but when she looked back her smile hadn’t even faltered. No one answered. No one heard.
She could feel the thing lurking up towards her, leisurely. Her eyes darted around, looking for a place to hide, a place to—
The thing’s hand touched her chin, the grip gentle but the darkness emanating from it sinking into her pores; it left her shivering and frozen. Any thought of running left.
“No one’s scared of the dark, dear,” it said, and god she had never wondered what shadows sounded like but now she knew, and the knowledge was seared into her soul. The sound was deep and reverberated, like nails on a chalk board but lower. “They’re scared of what happens when no one can see.”
A drop of blood dripped down Dmitri’s arm. She screamed.
No one heard.
Biographical Note: Christina Giska is a sophomore at Widener University and is currently minoring in creative writing. She has loved writing since middle school and reading for even longer. This is her first publication in a literary magazine and she’s incredibly grateful for the opportunity. Thank you to anyone who reads her first published story!