The shadows shifted in the corner of Cal’s eye. It was back.
It never left.
“Leave me alone,” Cal barked.
“You’re always alone,” a grating voice replied. Darkness emerged from the shadows, a hulking form, long twisted limbs, a featureless head. “Worthless,” it croaked.
“Enough! I’m done letting you control my life.” The thing cocked its head, curious. But Cal was already moving, knife in his hand. “Now die!”
A half stifled moan of surprise. The blade sank deep into the being’s chest and it crumbled to the floor. Cal was shaking, panting, giddy and terrified and sick. He watched the thing’s skin turn grey and brittle as cracks spread from the knife wound.
“I did it,” he whispered. “I’m finally free.”
“You’re a fool,” the thing announced. It’s skin had gone grey and dry. The cracks spread to its mouth as it spoke, then the skin began to crumble. “You can’t kill me.” The figure began to rise, large chunks of it’s flesh flaking away. “You don’t even know what I am.”
Cal staggered back, his features twisted into an expression of horror as he saw those same features emerge from the crumbling shadows.
The sun was rising slowly, persistently. Pale light illuminating gentle slopes, peaks casting shadows into the valleys folded around them. A world spread out around her, peaceful and still. A landscape of folded cloth.
Her phone buzzed. “Do you want to talk?”
She retreated beneath the covers, back into darkness. It wasn’t that she wanted to sleep—not that her mind would let her anyway—another day was simply too much to bear. That growing light revealed the mess of sheets around her, the pile of unwashed clothes, the dishes in the corner. She couldn’t clean her room, couldn’t change her clothes, couldn’t even get out of bed.
Better not to try. Better to stay inside—to stay in the dark, where there was nothing to see and no one to see her. She recognized that she was cycling, but that didn’t mean she had the energy or willpower to overcome it.
Her phone buzzed again. A light beneath the covers. “I’m here when you’re ready.”
There was a whole world out there where the sun illuminated beauty as well as pain, cruelty as well as compassion. She wasn’t ready. Not yet. But she held her phone close.