I opened my eyes. It was still dark. Rolling over to one side, I checked my phone. I read 3:26 AM. I sat up and got out of bed, making my way to the toilet.
I walked past my brother’s room, down the corridor, and turned into the toilet. I’ve sort of trained myself to memorise the number of footsteps, the position of the furniture, the height of the toilet bowl and the small step that meant the entrance and exit of the toilet. You tend to sync yourself with the very design of your house, a peculiar intimacy that comes with time.
In the light of this, I could do everything in the dark. Upon executing my business, I quickly run my hands through the tap water and waltzed back to bed. I took a quick turn in the dark, and my eyes travelled quickly across to the study room at the end of the corridor.
Wait a minute. I noticed something.
I looked back at the study room. The entire room was bathed in darkness, only the streetlights filtered through the curtained windows. The room stood vacant. I could have sworn I saw something, or someone in that room as I made that quick glance.
I walked cautiously back to my room, not daring to look back, and quickly pulled the blanket over my body. 3:29 AM was the time on the phone. I fell asleep shortly after.
I opened my eyes. The room was as still as a mausoleum, damp and dark. I checked my phone. 3:26 AM. I needed to visit the toilet.
After I was done, I guided my foot just a few centimeters over the small step at the door of the toilet and made my way back to my room.
It was barely audible. But I could hear it. Barely. It was a very soft call in a nonchalant tone. Somebody called out my name. It came from directly behind me. It may have been from the study room. There was nothing very emotional about it; it had a sluggish tone that was similar to the reading of 4D numbers. It was not a voice I recognized but it still sounded strangely familiar, like someone recounting for you a dream you had forgotten.
I didn’t turn around. I walked straight up to my room, locked the door, jumped into my bed and pulled the blanket over my head. Just as I got comfortable, the doorknob started to throb violently. It was as if someone outside was trying to open up the door and barge into my room. Or maybe I was imagining this too. I counted my racing heartbeats to calm myself down. None of this is real, you’re imagining all of it. Damn it! Get to sleep!
Sleep did not come so easily this time.
The next morning, I woke up in a cold sweat. I looked at the clock. 8:53 AM. I tried falling back to sleep, but despite my exhaustion, I was unable to. I walked out of my room and into the kitchen. Dad was there, having his breakfast before work.
“Morning Ah boy, how was your sleep?” My dad replied, looking down at the morning papers.
A casual question, but one with an unusually complex answer this time.
“I have something to tell you, something happened last night. It was horrible.”
My dad looked up this time. “Tell me more.”
So I told him what happened. What I thought I saw two nights before, what I heard yesterday, even the banging on the door. I told him everything as he looked on intently.
He paused for a while before continuing. “I heard nothing last night.”
“I know, but you have to believe me. Something is out there.”
My dad thought for longer this time, his vacant index finger playing with the handle of his coffee mug.
“Boy ah, let me tell you something. I’m fifty-six this year, and I’ve had tens of thousands of nights, thousands of sleepless ones, I assure you. There may have been a few hundred nights where I’d woken up and felt that something wasn’t right. Just like you last night. Let me just tell you one thing: the only thing you should fear is here.” He pointed to his temple before continuing, “so please, don’t go exploring. Keep to yourself. There is nothing out there that is trying to get you. The only thing there is to fear is yourself.”
With that, he held me firmly by the shoulders, nodded at me, and trudged off to work.
I was not sure if he even vaguely understood what I had experienced.
I opened my eyes. The room was dark as death, and still as amber. 3:26 AM. I put my phone down. I made up my mind. I’m just going to lie here. Until I fall asleep again. I didn’t want to go out there. No, I didn’t want to at all.
3:46AM. I could no longer hold it. I stepped out of bed and walked out of my room. There’s nothing to fear. I thought of what Dad said. The only thing to fear is myself.
I switched on the lights this time. The corridor illuminated and hurt my eyes, which I had to adjust for a second. I walked to the toilet and did what I had to. I switched on the toilet lights this time.
Shortly after, I switched off the toilet lights and was just about to make my way back to my room.
The study room, it stood at the end of the corridor shrouded in darkness. Its darkness was more apparent when juxtaposed with the brightened corridor.
He stood there, a dark figure beside the study table.
He stood there, staring at me. I, too, stood there in the light, gazing at him, knowing I should run, run back to my room. Don’t go exploring; I could almost hear my Dad say. He is not real! He is something, someone from your imagination!
But I stood there. I could not move.
I closed my eyes and counted to three, straining so hard that my eyelids hurt. I opened my eyes again.
In the middle of the study room stood a fan. There was no longer any dark figure. You must be seeing things. Silly boy. What were you thinking? What kind of mind games are you playing with yourself?
I walked forward just to be sure. I had the courage of a man, a sudden surge that propelled me forward. I had to be seeing things. I had to. I needed to face this. All this time, the fan just stood there. I took a deep breath and stepped into the study room. The room itself wasn’t huge and it became immediately clear, there was no one in the room. There was only the fan and the table, and the table had three chairs tucked under it. All the windows were closed. There was no one. I walked over to the fan, and looked under the table. Nothing there as well. I stood in the darkness and chuckled to myself. Silly Justin, I whispered quietly.
I stood up again and faced the bright corridor.
I held my hand to my mouth and stifled a scream. There was someone standing in the middle of the corridor, in full view, under the light. My heart tumbled.
That person was me. Or at least someone who looked exactly like me. Same white plain T-shirt, same blue shorts, same disheveled hair. It was me. I was standing in the middle of that corridor, bathed in that courtroom spotlight. I was staring intently at me. But no, I was also here in the study room. So it couldn’t be me. He was staring at me, and I had no idea how we had managed to switch places. Upon locking eyes at my dark figure in the study room, a look of terror enveloped his face, and he strode straight back, back into my room. He didn’t even turn off the corridor lights. I stood there and watched, as he shut the door and locked it behind him.
I took the courage to walk up this time. In my head there could have only been questions. I tried for the doorknob and twisted it violently in both directions, but it wouldn’t budge.
The doorknob wouldn’t twist. The damn door was bolted shut. I was trapped outside my own bedroom.