Black Room 1-9By: Jasinda Wilder
I open my eyes to utter darkness.
Where am I? Dear god, where am I?
I cannot see a thing. Nothing—this darkness is blacker than anything I’ve ever known.
I can feel nothing, hear nothing, and I am aware of nothing.
No sounds, no smells.
I cannot even hear my own heartbeat.
There’s just…nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. No one.
Not even me.
Who am I? My mind is a total blank.
I don’t understand…where I should be there is only blackness.
There is no breath. No sense of being. No fibers of awareness. Only darkness.
There is only darkness.
I feel my lashes resting against my cheek; the first sensation.
I am awake.
I am; the second sensation.
I breathe in, a slow exploratory breath. I blink again just to feel my eyelashes sweep like the flutter of moths against my face.
And then, a tiny, dancing flicker of light appears. Orange and yellow, wavering side-to-side, jumping upward, then going still. Only the flame, though, no candlestick, no details revealed in the dim pool of illumination.
I stare at the candle flame. Involuntarily, I reach out for it, and discover that I do in fact have hands. And a body. The stiffness and tingling I feel in my hands and legs becomes an almost-painful pins-and-needles.
I feel the heat of the flame. But now it is no longer teardrop shaped. It has become a dim small orange orb, nearly dead, as if starved for oxygen. The candlestick reveals itself, but I fear to touch it, fear to lift it higher. What if the flame goes out? I’d be left in the darkness again, doubting my existence. So I merely stare at the flame and gently bend my knees, then flex my fingers and wiggle my toes.
I’m lying down; the third sensation.
I begin to move cautiously, testing the limits of my motion, testing the strength in my limbs. I stand up and feel dizzy, but more from the disorientation of near-total darkness than from physical weakness.
Questions begin to bubble deep within my consciousness, but they are too weak and too deep to rise to the surface. The questions barely even register, and that’s fine with me. I have so much to do to simply rediscover myself in this place of darkness.
I’m standing upright now, firmly balanced on the heels and balls of my feet. I’m aware of something warm underfoot, warm but not hot. Cool, but not cold. The floor is not carpeted, nor is it made of marble or tile; it’s just…a floor. A solid presence underfoot, featureless yet reassuring.
Once again I reach for the candle flame and my fingers brush through the flame. It is hot, and I jerk my hand back. Of course it’s hot—it’s a flame. I reach for the candlestick but, instead, I grasp hold of something thick and cool and round—the candle. The flame illuminates the white wax, some of it melted and dripping down one side. I lift the candle up, but I can see nothing beyond the tiny pool of light—only more darkness.
I turn around, but I can see no evidence of the couch or bed I was laying on mere moments ago. I step out hesitantly, but feel nothing. I can see nothing. Maybe there never was a bed; maybe I had been lying on the floor? But it doesn’t feel that way. I don’t know for certain. My memory is fuzzy. Each moment now seems unique, as if each thought, each second, each sensation is its own entity, separate from the one before. As if…
I don’t know. My thoughts won’t coalesce.
It’s as if time does not exist here. There is no forward or backward, now or then. There is nothing but…now. Only now.
I try to corral my thoughts, but it’s like trying to hold water—impossible.
My thoughts are just out of reach and I cannot quite grasp hold of them with any real firmness or understanding.
There is only now.
So, in the now, I take another slow, questing step. Not forward, because there seems to be no forward or back, either. No directions, only…here.
Another step, cautiously. A third. With confidence, I take more and more steps, perhaps as many as a hundred, and then I fetch up against a wall. The candle flame flickers, dances, gutters, and I hold my breath, remaining absolutely still. It jumps up once more, and dances merrily. I breathe out in relief, blinking my eyelids, curious about what lies in front of me. The wall, like the floor, is cool but not cold, warm but not hot, featureless but real nevertheless. I touch it, running my fingertips over it. It feels slightly pebbled, as of paint over drywall, perhaps. It’s just a wall, but it’s something.
I follow the wall, trailing my fingertips along it as I walk, holding the candle up high. It doesn’t provide enough light for me to see beyond my own feet, or to even see my feet. Only my hand and the candle are visible to me: long fingers, slender but strong, fingernails short and unpainted, neatly rounded. Feminine hands, real and familiar; mine.
I continue walking beside the wall, counting my steps.
Fifty paces, and then my fingertips touch an irregularity in the wall. A protrusion of some sort.
It’s the frame of a door.
My breath catches, because this…this is real.
I stop directly in front of the door, and now I feel my heart beat. It is a steady pulse and then, as I examine the door, it begins to beat a little harder. Thumping quickly, just enough to get the blood flowing, as if I’ve jogged a few steps.
Holding the candle close to the door, I scrutinize the frame and the black door itself, taking in every detail I can. But there is nothing much to see, just the wall, and the doorframe, black-painted hinges. A lintel. A handle.
The door handle is a simple, modern lever. Black metal. It curves upward and then swoops back down, tapering into absence, like a comma turned on its side.
I notice one more thing about the door.
In the center of the door is a simple numeral:
Stark, bare. Made of silver metal, it offers the only bit of color, the only hint of something other than the blackness of the room, and the dull, dim light of the flickering candle flame.
To the right of the door is a wall sconce. Elaborate, black wrought iron, it sprouts from the wall like some kind of organic metallic bloom. Inside the sconce rests another candle. This one, however, is several times the size of the one I am holding. It is not a torch, per se, but a proper candle, writ massive. I touch my flame to the thumb-thick wick, and there is a crackle and a sparkle, a spit and a sputter. And then the huge candle bites and flutters into life, casting a bright glow, illuminating the door, the door handle, and the number.
I reach out to touch the handle, but my heart begins to thunder in my chest, anxiety growing in the pit of my stomach like a heavy knot curling and tightening.
It’s a gut feeling. Thoughts echo loudly in my brain.
I back away, shaking my head. I touch my chest just over my heart, feeling the pounding subside as I step away.
I walk away from the door, moving in the direction from where I had just been, the wall now on my left.
I take another fifty steps. Another door.
This door is also black and identical to the first door, the difference being the doorknob and the silver numeral:
This time the doorknob is very plain, unadorned, and unremarkable. It is just a knob. Round, black, no keyhole, no locking mechanism.
Beside this door, on the wall, is another sconce containing a massive candle identical to the previous one. I light it.
I’ve seen two doors, now.
Curious about what else I might find, I continue another fifty paces and reach a corner, a right angle. I take fifty more paces and encounter another door. It, too, has a silver numeral affixed:
The knob is made of old glass, antique, delicate, rattling loosely when I touch it.
I move on. Another fifty paces. Another door.
This knob is brass, gleaming and ornate, with a swirling, dizzying, knot-work design on the face.
Another fifty paces, another corner. Then another fifty paces. Another door.
This door handle is a little frightening: a single snarling lion’s head in burnished bronze, a heavy bronze ring pull clutched in its jaws.
I keep walking, and the emerging pattern has now become obvious. Fifty paces, a door with a sconce beside, fifty paces, another door, another sconce. Fifty more paces, a corner. If basic geometry applies in this place, there will be eight doors.
Door number 6 is bizarre. The door itself is like all the others, painted black, the same size and shape, the same silver numeral in the center, a wall sconce to the right. But the latch is not a knob, or a pull, or a lever. It is a slab of wood fastened to the door by a thick, rough iron nail or pin. The slab is seated by a hook fastened to the wall beside the door, so that to open the door you must lift the latch, and pull. The hook, it appears, moves up and down. If I understand the basic mechanism, there would be another lever on the other side of the door, so that you would pull the lever down to lock the door, and lift it up on this side to unlock it, releasing the door. Old…very old. The wood of the mechanism is not black, but worn smooth with age, made of oak or pine, unpainted. Not polished, not sanded, but worn smooth by generations of hands.
I am curious what lies beyond this door, but I don’t open it. I want to know first what the other doors are like. Assuming there are two more doors, that is.
This door hurts to look at, and I don’t know why. This door is not black. It is green. Old, deep, dark green. The paint is chipped in places. The knob is old brass. Scuffed, scarred, and scratched. There is a keyhole in this one, and it is marred by the scuffmarks of a key scraping at the edges of the keyhole countless times over countless years. I push through the visual pain and touch the knob, finding it warm, unlike the others, which were all cold. This knob is…somehow familiar. As I grasp hold of it, it feels as if I’ve grasped this knob a million times before. It’s as if I should have the key: a plain brass key with jagged teeth, the kind one would see on any keychain.