Do you ever feel like a shark? Like if you’d stop moving for even a second, if you stopped distracting yourself for but a moment, it would get too much, and you’d drown under the weight of it all?
It was a mistake. It was my fault, but I didn’t mean for any of it to happen. I couldn’t possibly have known it would happen. It was just meant to be something to do for fun.
Our story begins, as most do, with a group of people. Three friends – three children – with little to do on a summer afternoon, until one of them noticed the date. Friday the thirteenth, the night before Halloween.
For you see, our story begins, as only the best do, with a little island. An island outside of time and independent of space. Where time is fluid instead of linear, where nothing ever happens and where everything is happening all at once. One merely needs to look. Poke a few bears, turn over the right stones, and you’ll find what you’re looking for.
The three children in question had decided they were too old to go trick or treating, so while the rest of the island made last minute trips to the mall for a costume, hung up fake cobwebs, and excitedly called their friends with plans for the next night, Jessica, Jerome, and I, James, were looking for something to satiate our boredom.
Ask and you shall receive.
We asked, and the calendar provided. There were temporal slipups here all the time – once, Jerome had two birthdays on consecutive days, making him, much to the dismay of the rest of our eight-year-old class, a whole year older than us. So, Friday the thirteenth falling on the night before Halloween was unremarkable in every regard – except one.
The Warp was coming.
Until that night, I’d only ever read about the Warp, never experienced it myself. Very few have, and even fewer have lived to tell the tale. The only records we have are largely unhelpful and interviews consist of mostly incoherent babbling – no one is ever left the same.
When you’re thirteen, you think you can rule the world. You could topple empires, cut down the old gods, save the world, and be back home in time for tea. So, of course, three thirteen-year-olds thought the Warp was the perfect evening distraction.
The Warp is fabled to be the manifestation of the strongest emotion you hold inside you. It combs through your being and peers through your soul, latching on to the first thing it finds. And what, pray tell, dominates the human mind more than anything? What sits there, front and centre, working behind the scenes at every decision?
Fear. Fear has kept humans alive for centuries and fear is the strongest force our brains have to offer. The Warp is the worst thing your twisted mind could possibly imagine, brought to life.
But we had no fear, our thirteen-year-old selves reasoned. We aren’t like boring old people who fear monsters that can pick you up and swallow you whole. We’re tough and we’re strong and we’re going to beat the Warp. With that in mind and pre-Halloween candy in-hand, we set off.
If you were dropped in the middle of the ocean and could feel yourself sinking, drowning, reaching for the presently obscured seabed, do you think you’d kick your legs and flail in desperation or let the waters claim you?
Our first task was finding the Warp and it was proving to be a difficult one. Jerome was pretty much a walking encyclopaedia on all things Warp. He’d been amassing information on it for years, ever since a group of older kids at school decided it would be fun to try and scare a bunch of children hanging out at the swings. Truth be told, it had worked (a little) on me, and even on Jessica (not that she’d ever admit to that), but Jerome was left downright fascinated – you could see it in his eyes. It was all he could talk about for weeks, and he’s never really shut up about it. We hated it at the time.
Unfortunately, according to Jerome, every Warp encounter had happened at a different place, or at a place that didn’t actually exist: the corner of two streets on opposite sides of town, carparks of buildings that don’t have carparks, playgrounds supposedly next to buildings that were infamous for their precise like thereof. Anecdotal evidence had, once again, gotten us nowhere.
So, we decided to take a hard right into the scariest place we could imagine – the cemetery. Correction: the scariest place we thought the Warp could imagine. We were not, we maintained, scared of anything.
Our island cemetery was not, like most things here, usual. It wasn’t a particularly large island, but we tended to have large families, which meant a lot of people, and therefore a lot of eventual dead people. I’m not sure what people do on the mainland, but the island came up with a clever solution to the problem of grave overcrowding. (Yes, by the way, the island came up with the solution. That’s what we claim, anyway, seeing as how no one’s heard of a personnel-led initiative for a solution.)
The graveyard shifts according to those present, with the graves of their near and dear surfacing as needed. If one’s lucky enough to not have had any dead loved ones, it shifted to a random assortment of graves, which is what it did for us. The three of us obviously had dead family – we had to have come from somewhere – but none of us knew them, nor were we looking for their graves, which the land must have picked up on. No grave had any one of our surnames on it.
‘So, now that we’re here, what do we do?’ Jessica asked, raising a valid point. Jerome was too excited to be finally hunting down the Warp to care.
‘Good question. I guess we try to up the spooky ante?’
‘By doing what exactly?’
‘Hey, I came up with one idea. Why don’t you?’
‘That wasn’t exactly an idea.’
‘Shut up, Jessica.’
‘Both of you shut up and come over here,’ Jerome called over from several graves over.
‘Look. Charles Spencer Eccleston,’ he said showing us the name on the gravestone.
‘Are we supposed to know who that is?’
Jerome sighed annoyedly. ‘Charles Spencer Eccleston. The first of the Warp’s victims. And look there, Clarisse Oswald and Rose Samantha Gravel,’ he explained, pointing to other gravestones around us. ‘These are all victims of the Warp. We’re in the right place, alright.’
Jessica and I let out a simultaneous low whistle.
‘So, we’re really doing this, huh?’ I asked
‘Getting cold feet, James?’ Jerome teased.
‘Shut up, of course not. What would I be scared of? The Warp’s got nothing on us,’ I boasted confidently. ‘Unless…you two are scared of something?’
Before they could voice their indignant objections, the ground began to shake. No warning, no heralding tremors – it happened all at once.
If you could feel something sneaking up on you, their eyes boring into the back of your neck, and you knew – instinctively – that it wouldn’t end well, would you consider, even for a moment, relinquishing control and just letting it happen?
Gravestones shook violently and trees threatened to capsize. Flowers withered and died before our eyes before joining loose pieces of rock and stray leaves in their makeshift tornado pillaging through. The graves of past victims caved in to reveal empty pits and the ground began to crumble at our feet until the little spaces we stood on were the only remaining patches of stable land.
The sky darkened overhead, the stars blinking out one by one until it was nothing more than an envelope of blackness. In their place, rings streaked across the sky, stretching further than we could see, with no apparent beginning or end. They shone brightly, casting their light far and wide, but it seemed to multiply the darkness, giving it more to take over, rather than undermine its efforts. It enveloped the sky and for a moment everything flickered.
One momentary, fleeting flicker, but that was enough. The world fell around me.
Jessica, Jerome, the graves, the trees, the beautifully horrifying sky, the darkness – everything dissipated, disappearing into the background at the drop of a coin. A thousand – barely discernible – voices screamed in my head (or around me – seeing as how the world was nothing more than a gradient of black and grey, it was hard to make out the difference) as the last of the ground crumbled beneath me, sending me flailing into an abyss.
If you slipped and fell off a ledge, do you think your body’s first instinct would be to reach out and grab hold of something – anything – in an attempt to save your life, or would it be to resign yourself to your fate?
Just as suddenly as the world fell away, it all came rushing back. The ground rematerialised, the trees stood proudly back up, the graves dusted themselves off, and the sky blinked back into place. Everything was replaced in an instant, the world set right once again.
The darkness was gone, but the world seemed tinged with pain all the same. It hurt to stand upright. It hurt to fall to the floor. It hurt to see. It hurt to close my eyes and curl up into a ball. Pain coloured the world and the voices in my head exploded once again, amplified tenfold and then some, moaning, badgering, and booming through the island.
I breathed a sigh of relief. My fear wasn’t just in my head anymore.
If a fire threatened to burn your house down, would you fight against the flames and smoke and emerge victorious, or would you simply lie there, grateful to have felt warmth of any kind for the first time since you could remember?
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This was a bit of experimental piece, so please do let me know how you liked it! I haven't really done a thematically emphasised story before (at least not like this one), nor have I leaned this hard on reader interpretation as opposed to a more explicit narrative, so I would love to hear your thoughts.