Within Me by Hailey Hoffman

Cold. 

I sat down in a metallic chair in the middle of a dimly lit room I was directed to enter. The metal against my skin made me shiver hard and the light, although was dingy, hurt my eyes. 

“Do you want me to count down?” a man in a white lab coat entered the room without a greeting and asked right away. 

“Not really. I’ll chicken out.” I answered timidly, starting to think that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea and that facing my biggest fear was not something I was ready for, even if it was just supposed to be a simulation. I hardly even knew what my biggest fear was in the first place. I liked to think I was a fearless warrior, but don’t we all like to feel unstoppable?

 The man took out a needle from the small white pocket on the chest of his coat and grabbed my arm, pushing it down hard onto a table sitting close to the chair. It was just as cold and had brownish smudges on it that I prayed to God were not blood. 

“This is probably going to hurt.” He said and smiled an unfriendly smile. There was no going back now, I wasn’t about to try and stop some psychopath with a needle. Without warning, the cold point pinched and penetrated the crease of my arm. I felt the liquid flow into my veins and watched as they turned a faint green color, hoping that was supposed to happen. 

“I guess I told him I didn’t want a countdo-.” My thought was cut short when the world around me began to fade in and out slowly, then all at once, darkness.

The sound of a million voices buzzed in my head. Then nothing.

My body shook to life as I sat up and gasped for the oxygen my lungs so desperately needed. Still cold. The spot I had been lying in when I woke was hard as a rock, and made my spine ache from the base of my skull the whole way down to my tail bone in no particular pinpointed spot.

“What the hell.” I thought as I opened my eyes to relieve myself from the shade of the back of their lids. 

Dark.

Were my eyes even open? 

I reached my hands out in front of me. “Where are they?” 

The darkness of the room was blinding. Literally. I couldn’t see my hands in front of me, or anything at all really. There was no light, I blinked hard to see if my vision was just acting weird from passing out.

I reached for my face, starting at my chin and slowly feeling up to my eyes. My fingers felt like ice and made the hair on my arms stick straight up. 

“Mouth..” I grazed my bottom lip with my pointer finger and felt the painful dryness of my skin, then to the upper lip, which was just as cracked and in pain. Out of reaction, my tongue came from my mouth to moisten the dry surface, which tasted of blood, and made my taste buds and stomach feel uneasy. 

As my fingers continued up the profile of my face I found the tip of my nose. I inhaled deeply, my sinuses were surprisingly clear. The air was dull smelling. No scent, except for maybe a flooded musty basement odor, it was almost as dark and lifeless as the black I was seeing around me.

Finally, my fingers reached my eyes. I blinked hard again to be one hundred percent sure I was even opening them in the first place and felt the soft tips of my eyelashes brush up and down against the side of my pointer finger. I moved my hand off of my face and waved it back and forth quickly in front of me. A dark shadow moved in my line of vision and stopped when I pulled my hand away. 

“I can see.” 

“Hello?” I asked out loud in hopes of hearing any reply possible. “Is anyone there?”
The silence was deafening. It put pressure behind my eardrums, like they were filled with pools of water that were impossible to shake out, even if you were to jump up and down and shake your head like a mad man. I rubbed the temples on each side of my head hard and slow, hoping that some pressure would be relieved. 

“Hello?” I yelled again, still hoping that someone would answer. My voice echoed far off in some distance I could not wrap my head around. 

The world had gone dark. And there wasn’t a single person around. 

“What is this? What the fuck is happening? Where is everyone?”

I grabbed my wrists and ran my nails along the veins and scars I could feel popping from my skin, applying slight pressure, something that I naturally found myself doing quite often when I was in the midst of a panic attack. I could feel every nerve in my body become on edge. The hair on my arms that had just had a quick second to calm down from the cold, rose again, only this time, the hair on the back of my neck decided to join in. 

“I don’t understand. What is my fear? Is this even working?” I scratched my wrists hard, wishing my mom was there to grab my hands and stop me. Something I had been working on was self control, but it’s hard to control yourself when you’re supposed to be living your own personal hell and you can’t even figure out what it is. 

“What happens if I get stuck here like this forever.” 

“Oh my God.” I said out loud, as if someone would be there to ask me why I said it. 

I stood up in the spot I had been sitting in for far to long, both of my knees cracked as I used my hands to push myself off of the hard ground and onto my feet. Grabbing each of my sides one at a time I turned my torso around, holding my feet still on the ground, each air pocket in between the plates of my aching spine popped.

“Uughhh.” I let out the most unnatural sounding sigh of relief I had ever heard projected from my voice. My legs were weak and wobbly from being on the ground for so long, so the brief process of relearning how to walk felt impossible. One foot after the other. The song from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” began playing through my head. 

“Great, that’s going to be stuck in my head forever.” I smiled a little, thinking that a song replaying through my head seemed better than the thoughts I normally had when I was by myself. There is this cheesy quote that I found on Tumblr once, “If you could read my mind, it would make you cry,” and I wish I didn’t live by how extremely relevant that felt in my everyday life. 

My footprints echoed through the darkness. 

“STEP.. STEP.. STEP..” one after another, my feet hit the ground. 

Off in the distance, “STEP.. STEP.. STEP..” echoed back, the noise bouncing around my head, knocking the song that was replaying out and filling my mind with the repetitive sound. After a few minutes of what felt like walking in circles, only to end up in the same dark spot I was lying in before, I stopped and decided that I couldn’t take the ringing echo of my walking any longer. I bent down to touch the ground and make sure it was okay to sit and finding it was just as ice cold as before, I shrugged and sat anyway.

The question came back to me, “what is this? What kind of nightmare am I supposed to be living in right now?” The question lingered.

I looked around my shoulder and hoped that some small shed of light would appear, leading me to people I knew and loved. 

I shivered hard. There was no wind, but the cold of the floor and the darkness was overbearing.

“I can’t handle this.”

I grabbed my wrists once again and began to scratch harder. Remembering the many times my mom had told me how bad I could hurt myself doing it, without even realizing it’s happening. She wasn’t there to calm me down this time. 

My nerves were still on edge as I began to think about the overwhelming amount of things I had been pushing into the depth of my mind and pretending were not there, something I had done when there was nothing around to keep my mind occupied from the locked part of my brain. There were no sketch pads to draw pretty pictures, there were no pencils or paper that I could write stories with, and there was no one to talk to about the things running through my brain that I couldn’t control.

Only me, the cold, and the pitch black darkness. 

I grabbed my wrists harder and pulled my legs in tight to my chest, close enough to rest my chin on the caps of my knees. All reaction to the nothingness around me. A fetal type position made me feel safe, secure, and much warmer.

“Breathe.” I told myself over and over again in my head, pushing my face into the small crack between my chest and my knees. I felt my chin touch between my collar bones. I breathed in deeply, the air was heavy in my lungs, like I had breathed in bricks and my body just allowed that through my air ways. It burned. I heaved hard and pulled my legs in closer, feeling the pressure of my knees against my skull. My hands, wrapped around my legs, had their fingers intertwined and began to sweat and slip from the moisture. 

“Breathe. Breathe. It’s okay. Don’t freak out. Please calm down.” The darkness began to spin and shapes began to form and dance in what seemed like the distance, but could have been directly in front of me, it was hard to tell through all the black.

My heart began to beat out of my chest hard and fast. 

“Bum-bum Bum-bum Bum-bum.” I could hear the sound of the blood flowing in and out of my heart. The darkness and sounds were all too much to handle. 

I grabbed my wrists hard again and began to scratch, my nails digging in a little deeper every time they moved up and down my forearm. I felt the jagged sharpness of the edges I had bitten off in previous times I had begun to feel nervous or uncomfortable, another thing my mom had helped me with. She almost had no choice in the matter, seeing as there were times I had made my fingers bleed, ripping the skin off the sides and biting until there was no nail left to grab onto.

The scratching was calming to me, although slightly painful. The movement felt oddly satisfying and made my nerves calm quicker than if I had done what most people would do and just breathed. Normally, it was just a light brushing from nail to skin, a painless and calming feeling that made me feel tired or drowsy. 

But not now.

A quick back and forth motion in the same spot on the center of my wrist, until it felt raw and lifeless, then a slight movement upward to make that spot as raw as the spot below it.

Until there is no more arm to scratch into having no feeling other than the initial touch.

“It won’t get better.” A soft female voice came from all around the darkness, a whisper from no source that broke the silence and made me jump up to my feet quickly. 

“Hello? Who is there?” I asked out of fear. 

No answer. The voice was familiar. 

“I won’t get better.” I said out loud, listening to each word form in the back of my throat and feeling them bounce off of my tongue. 

“I won’t get better. I won’t get better.” That voice. That whisper. It was me. 

I stopped scratching and grabbed my wrists, holding myself for a second. The skin on my arms was warm from the friction I had created rubbing them so much. 

That had been something that ran through my head often. The thought of never being able to work my way out of this sadness I have felt for so long. It came in waves. There had been days when the world never seemed like a better place. All of my senses were clear and I felt just pure happiness. 

Then there were days when the locked away thoughts in my head overwhelmed the happiness. The sun was out, but the darkness I felt on the inside seeped into the world around me and made it feel lifeless and far out of reach. 

I began to scratch my arms again as all of the bad thoughts in my head rushed around and made the darkness around me thicker. 

“I know what this is.” The pieces of the world this simulation had created for me fell into place. The darkness and lifelessness around me. The heaviness of the air and the cold hard ground. No warmth. No human touch. Just me.

  It all began to make sense.

“I am alone.”

“I am afraid,” I paused, unsure of the next words I would utter, trying to make sure I actually put it together and under it all, hoping that maybe my biggest fear wasn’t what I thought it was. “of myself.” 

My hands and body fell still. I dropped my arms to my sides and allowed them to rest from all of the straining and repetitive movement they had been doing. 

“It’s me. I’m afraid of me.” I felt a small tingle trace down my arm from half way up my forearm to the end of my wrist. The air began to smell less dull and more of rich iron. The tingle ran down the back of my hand, followed by a “DRIP” noise which came shortly after. I touched the steady flow of what seemed to be the blood of the areas I had been scratching at for nearly too long. 

“I want out.” I said out loud, blood slowly slithering into the palms of my hands and dripping onto the ground, one drop after another. 

“DRIP.. DRIP.. DRIP..” 

“Let me out.” I said again, louder than before. My chest tightened, breathing was harder than before. My eyes burned and watered as I choked on the darkness, filling my lungs with air full of sadness and loneliness. 

“Let me out. LET ME OUT!” I screamed an agonizingly painful shriek and fell onto the ground, gasping hard, blood from my wrists smudging onto my face as I reached up to lay my hands on my face, a security blanket. 

“Please.” I thought. 

“P-please.” I begged the darkness to subside, the darkness that would not release me.

The darkness within me.

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