The sky inches towards darkness, warm and inviting hues left over from the Autumn day are fading, slowly giving way to a cold blue the same shade as the slamming steel of a prison cell door. I feel something shift inside me, an automatic timer has clicked on and the floodgates that keep a primal fear buried deep within are now creeping their way open, allowing the fear to start leaking out in an electrified fog through my body.
The fear flips on the switches of my nervous system, adrenaline courses through me and I scan the darkening streets for the source of the threat but I can’t find anything obviously out of place. I take a breath and feel the call of home, I have a creeping urge to find a place of safety as quickly as I can but I tell myself to try to relax, there’s nothing obvious here for me to fear, I must not let anxiety rule me on it’s whim. I set a deliberate pace in the direction of home anyway though, it’s not like I have any other plans to attend to so I might as well get back there to settle in for the night. I justify giving into the anxiety, just a little.
Fear runs one of its cold talons down the inside of my chest with enough pressure to signal that it’s just warming up, as if stretching and growing limber for an oncoming fight. A nudge to act with urgency, to speed up, get somewhere safe. Adrenaline heightens my awareness, all my senses are tuned in to the streets around me, I rapidly locate the source of each noise to determine if it’s a threat. Each change in light and movement catches my eye and though I can’t see anything that’s a direct threat, it’s as though the layers of the world are being peeled back and I can see the through to the intangible layer of shadow beneath. My eyes flick to a rustling sound inside a bush across the road on my right, though I can’t see anything, in my minds eye I know there is something there, looking right back at me.
Something breaks open inside me, the floodgates are rising at an unprecedented rate, fear and adrenaline are spilling through my body. I’ve got to get home, I’ve got to get to a place of safety, it’s just a matter of time before reality peels away completely from this darkening street. I am being watched, I can feel many sets of eyes watching my every move, waiting. I want to run, to sprint home as fast I can but I know as soon as I do, whatever’s watching me will give chase like an attack dog and I mustn’t let them know that I know they’re watching. I’m not supposed to know about this layer of reality, something has gone terribly wrong in the world tonight.
I’m walking as fast as I can without being obvious that I’m trying to flee the street. I’m making calculation after calculation about how I can make each move more efficient to get home faster. My mind is racing and almost all rational thought has disappeared, every thought centres around home, safety, the image of shutting and locking that front door behind me. I can’t catch my breath, it feels as though I am breathing through a straw and I just can’t get enough oxygen. Fear is filling my entire body, electrifying every muscle, screaming at me to just run. A wave of adrenaline slams through my body and my legs begin to run of their own accord. I instantly know that was the wrong move, my body has betrayed me and now the chase is on.
It’s too late to go back to play pretend ignorance with the dancing shadows, the only cards I have left to play are to run home as fast as I can and to not look at any of them directly, I must keep my eyes to the footpath. I give into my running body and try to speed up as much as I can, I must get home, if I can just make it to my front door everything will be ok. I push the pavement behind me with all the force I can muster, I make each stride as long as possible to put the most distance between me and whatever’s breathing down my neck.
I’m breathing hard, sucking down air trying to get enough oxygen to continue running. I try to make my inhales last longer that my exhales so I have a chance to absorb the oxygen in each lungful of air but I can’t concentrate long enough to build a useful rhythm. My legs are burning, I know I can’t run for much longer, a thread of noxious doubt unspools inside my mind, I wonder how bad it would be if I just gave in, if I pulled up right now and let the shadows descend and consume me, how long would the horror last?
I turn the final corner into my home street and get a last wind, the finish line is almost in sight now, I’m almost home. My mind screaming, the terror all consuming, I know if I misplace one step they will be right on me. I can almost feel them running their claws down the back of my neck, toying with me, as if they could choose to could catch up to me at any minute but it’s entertaining to see me giving my all to escape them.
I make a running turn into my front gate and my speed trips me so that I fall, sliding down my concrete path on my arms, desperately scrambling to get a grip, to get back to my feet again. I’ve lost time, I’ve lost momentum, a heavier type of fear fills me, the fear of hopelessness, I know it’s all over now. I try to get up off the concrete path but the pain from my grazed arms slows my movements to an incredibly frustrating pace. Waves of sharp pain lash through my arms and knees, I’m still trying to catch my breath and my muscles are turning to jelly.
I’ve just got to get to the front door, I’ve just got to get to safety, I plead with myself, I beg my body to just comply, move, get up, get to the front door, please. I make it to my knees and then to my feet in an excruciating burst of pain, I hobble one step after another, making painstaking progress to the front door. I feel the shadowy sociopathic humour crack open and fill the air around me like a burst of thunder, they are here, surrounding me, I only have seconds left before they descend on me completely.
My key turns in the front door with the most comforting click I’ve ever heard, I made it. I just have to shut the door behind me and I’ll be safe. I slam the door, turn the deadlock and thread the chain through. I’m home. I slide my back down the front door and fall into a pile on the floor.
The fear still grows though, the ominous sense of the shadows being just behind me, about to attack is still there. I’ve made it home but I’m still not safe. The bleak sludge of hopelessness spews through my body, filling my muscles with cement even as the terror continues to grow and solidify. There’s nowhere left to go, I can’t outrun them anymore.
My body begins to freeze into a marble pile on the carpeted floor, the sickening truth starts to dawn on me. I will never outrun these shadows, I will never escape these demons. They were never outside on the street, they have been inside me all along. Shadows projected onto the outside world from the fire of my mind, a physical manifestation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. There nowhere left to run, there’s nowhere I can go to escape these shadows inside my own mind, inside my own body.
There’s nowhere left to hide.