The block of wood, crudely painted a red-orange colour, sat awkwardly in Daniel’s hand. He made his way down the corridor with a purposeful walk, the responsibility, denoted by the red-orange block of wood and the key dangling from it, heavy in the pit of his stomach. Arriving at his destination Daniel faced the door, drew a deep breath in through his nostrils, and turned the key.
Fumbling a hand along the rough brick of the wall he found a light switch and with a couple of half-metallic ‘plinks’ the cellar flooded with light. The boy descended the wooden stairs with unnecessary care and concern. Upon reaching the floor he exhaled and looked at the room. Daniel could make out the familiar shapes of toys and games he was used to in the daylight of the classroom, but here they possessed little of the personality that play brought them. A procession of teddies and stuffed animals dumbly stared into space with dead glass eyes. Myriad board games were stacked on shelves, bright cardboard colours lost under thick films of dust like forgotten museum exhibits.
‘Dust is mostly made of dead skin cells. Teddy bears are named after President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt,’ the boy reminded himself, taking comfort from the security reciting these facts brought him.
Daniel followed the path laid down on the simple map his teacher had scrawled on lined paper. One of the fluorescent lights that illuminated his trail flickered above casting sporadic bursts of darkness. The bulb played an unsettling tune with the same strange half-metallic notes over the boy’s head. Looking straight ahead, his neck rigid to avoid catching sight of the darkness pulsing behind the shelves, Daniel pushed forward. Repeating the two facts in his mind, and running a finger along the grain of orange-red block, he walked on into the more certain light a few paces ahead.
The school’s storage area seemed cavernous, appearing to spread out forever. None of the classrooms, playgrounds, or assembly halls betrayed any of the reassuring noise of human presence. Daniel imagined himself deep underground, nothing but solid grey rock for miles above the undercroft’s ceiling, alone in the cold unnatural light at the centre of the world. This fantasy strengthened Daniel’s resolve and he added some geological facts to his mental litany of knowledge. It was then that the lights went out.
Daniel was frozen solid. Shoulders hunched and legs locked crooked. It had been dark for less than a second before the lights returned with a solid unified ‘plink’. A glowing neon afterimage swam across his sight. Everything took on a menacing aspect in the undercrofts clinical light now. The shelves’ unhealthily pale metal, the grime grey floorboards, disturbed dust particles floating by the bulbs. Daniel realised that he could hear his own quick breaths and tried to compose himself.
Dust is mostly made of dead skin cells. Teddy bears are named after President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. The centre of the Earth is filled with lava. The facts repeating faster and faster in his head. Daniel’s pace was faster too. Still rigid and straight limbed but now with a stumbling restrained panic to his movements.
The lights began to flicker as one now. The effort of suppressing the terror rising in his chest kept his legs marching on. He was now completely fixated on the light. The uncertainty of it was maddening. There was no pattern to the flashes of light and darkness, no rhythm, nothing he could understand or make sense of. Daniel felt himself in the power of unknowable forces. Time had lost all meaning and the darkness seemed absolute.
The lights’ stutter grew faster, adding disorientation to Daniel’s fear of a complete darkness to come. The brief stabs of sight gave no comfort. The glimpses offered nothing familiar, just terrifying patches of shape and florescent light bleached texture. The flashes burned blinding afterimages across his eyes. He was running now, gasping for air in fitful sobs. He spluttered his list aloud the facts loosing all meaning followed by the words. His comforting litany became a pitiful chant of frantic human squeaks between panicked breaths. It occurred to Daniel that the blind terror had driven his original assignment from his head. He no longer had any idea why he had been sent down here, of what he was meant to do.
The seizure of flashes finally subsided and the boy was left alone in the dark. There were a few final ‘plinks’ from the cooling bulbs around him and he was left in thick silent darkness. The frantic energy he had felt coursing through his body left him. He slowed, stopped, and finally sat down on the floorboards. Daniel sat perfectly still, his legs covered in unseen dust.