The Dark New Year
A Short Story by Matthew C. Woodruff
As soon as he woke, Jay knew something was wrong. Though he was yet to open his eyes, every other sense was telling him things were somehow different. The air felt oppressive, strange smells assaulted his nostrils and even the feel of the bed was wrong. Momentarily Jay felt befuddled. Finally he also noticed faint background sounds that he couldn’t quite recognize. All at once Jay realized he wasn’t in the same place where he had gone to sleep the previous night.
Today is Monday, New Year’s Day and even though he had partied with his friends and imbibed liberally the night before, Jay distinctly remembered going to sleep in his own bed. As he thought about the events of last night he could even remember the Uber driver’s headlights startling a small raccoon as he pulled into a parking space in front of Jay’s building.
Just as he was going to give into the desire to open his eyes, he heard a faint rustling sound from across the room. The unexpected noise caused Jay to stiffen and he quieted his breathing, straining to listen closer in the hopes of hearing more. There is someone or something in the room with me, he thought with a small jolt of fear.
He was loath to give away the fact that he was now awake because he did not know what circumstances he has found himself, or in fact, how he had gotten wherever he seemed to be. Suddenly Jay realized there could be someone watching him. His fear and curiosity increased.
Has he been drugged and snatched from his own bed? Did he suffer some kind of medical emergency, an aneurism maybe and he is now in a hospital where he may have lain in a coma for who knows how long? Has there been a natural disaster or even a nuclear attack and he was brought to a survivors’ center? His mind whirled, seeking an explanation that made sense. But without more input he just didn’t have enough data to form a justifiable conclusion.
Finally, and without moving his head, Jay slowly opened one eye just a crack.
From his vantage point of lying flat on his back, he would have only a limited range of view. Jay expected to see a ceiling and maybe part of an upper wall. He saw nothing however, only blackness. He opened his other eye, and slightly turned his head toward the earlier sound. Still only blackness surrounded him. He couldn’t even see his hand held directly in front of his face. Earlier he was feeling both curiosity and fear to the strange circumstance he had found himself in. Now the total darkness was leaching the courage from him completely. Jay wondered where he could possibly be, for he had no idea.
Jay was hearing heavy breathing now and soon realized it was coming from himself. He had to calm down. Jay attempted to control his breathing and slow his heart. He closed his eyes again automatically in preparation for a calming technique he sometimes uses, but soon realized it didn’t matter. There was absolutely no light wherever he was. His attempt at the calming technique was soon abandoned. Right now, he needed more information.
A new sensation started pulsing through him, one that caused him to flush with the heat of worry. He had to take a piss, badly. He also realized he was terribly thirsty. No doubt both extremes resulting from the partying the night before. If it had been the night before, he thought.
Soon Jay wouldn’t have the luxury of laying in the bed, thinking. He would have to get out and find out where he was. He again heard a noise from across the room, if it was a room. Jay knew he could not let his imagination run astray. That type of worry would not be helpful and, as his bladder was insistently alerting him, he had enough worries for the moment.
After a few more minutes Jay decided to sit up and swing his feet onto the floor, being driven by desperation more than anything else. There must be a bathroom. Every place had a bathroom, Jay thought trying to marshal his resolve.
Jay pushed off the thin covering and sat up swinging his legs off the side of the bed. The platform of the bed must be unusually high though because Jay’s feet did not touch the floor. As he performed this small movement, he again heard a noise from nearby. A rustle caused by the movement of someone else, he wondered. He was in complete and utter blackness, and so was whomever or whatever else was in there with him. The insistent pressure on his bladder increased with the movement.
Jay stretched out one foot as far downward as possible, still meeting no resistance. How high off the floor am I, he wondered. Should he just jump down? The obvious thing to do he knew, would be to toss something over the side and wait for the noise of it striking the floor. But what could he use? He had no jewelry, no watch and no wallet. In fact, he had on no clothes, just the boxers he normally slept in.
He got fully back on the bed, and slowly stood up, balancing precariously on the spongy surface. He reached out fully with both arms but encountered nothing but air. No matter how far he reached, there were no nearby walls nor could not reach the ceiling or underneath the bed. By finding the edges of the ‘bed’ he was on, he could tell it was possibly just a bit wider than twice his width and about a foot longer than his prone length. It seemed as if he was floating on a small island in dark space.
He sat back down with his legs over one side. There was nothing more for it now, he thought. He had to piss, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to piss on himself. He maneuvered himself to what he considered the foot of the bed, got up on his knees and eagerly and desperately pissed over the side. He was intently listening for the final splash as his urine hit the floor underneath him, but no sound ever came back.
Once finished, Jay lay back down on the bed with his hands behind his head. He felt an inexplicable need to masturbate but squashed down the desire. Fear does strange things.
Soon he considered that he must be being watched or otherwise monitored. What else would be the point to imprison someone in the dark with absolutely nowhere to go but to gauge reactions?
After thinking about it for some time, Jay thought that maybe the monitoring was physical. He felt all over his body, in front and back and was rewarded by finding a small dime-shaped object attached in the small of his back. It felt totally smooth but was somehow embedded in the skin. So, just as he had thought, it was probably a small monitoring device of some kind. Someone brought him here as a kind of a test. But who, and why and where was here? These were the questions that all swirled around in Jay’s head.
But still he had no answers.
At this point and after exhausting all obvious attempts to discover something about his environment and circumstances Jay determined his only choice was to try to communicate with whomever. Jay hated scenes in movies where a character heard a noise in his house and walked through it saying ‘hello?’ as if some burglar or serial killer would respond to the genial request for communication. He considered it weak writing.
As he lay considering this, Jay heard the same rustle of movement from across the way.
Jay’s heartbeat intensified. “Hello?” Jay said out loud, sitting up. The rustle of sound continued for a moment then died away, just like the previous times he had heard it.
“Hello,” he demanded, “Answer me! Why am I here? Who are you?”
No answer ever came back.
Jay didn’t know how long he was in that dark place for, but after he screamed himself out he had fell asleep again and woke again and again and again. No effort to communicate, no matter how loud, how insistent or how hysterical was successful. The noises form across the way came intermittently and died away just as inexplicably as they started. Jay slept, woke, wondered and pissed for an indeterminate cycle of time.
Soon, the blackness became all. Jay knew something had to change before he lost his mind completely and only he could change it. He had no idea how long he had been in the darkness. Days, weeks, months… he could no longer tell.
Finally, he came to a decision. Jay sat up and swung his legs back over the side of the bed. After a moment he turned over and laying on his stomach he inched down the side of the bed until he was only hanging on with his hands. Still he could not feel a floor.
Now was the time for action, Jay thought and before his courage ran out, Jay let go.
The ringing of his cell phone woke him up. He slowly opened his eyes to find himself in his own bed, at home. Jay was in his own bedroom which was flooded with morning light. It was just a strange dream then, he thought. A very strange dream. He rolled over and grabbed the phone off the night table.
“Hello?” he said.
“Jay, buddy,’ the voice started. “Where the hell are you?”
“Jackson?” Jay asked. Jackson was Jay’s best friend since they both started working for the same software developer three years ago. “What…what is it?” he asked.
“You aren’t at work, dude. Are you okay?” Jackson asked. “You aren’t still hung over from the other night are you?”
“At work”, Jay repeated, being unable to wrap his mind around his suddenly changed circumstances. Today should be New Year’s Day, a work holiday…unless…
“Dude, Its Tuesday, we have that analyst meeting in ten minutes. I’ve been trying your cell all morning. Are you still at home?” Jackson said with some uncustomary concern in his voice.
Jay paused, looked around feeling confused and finally replied, “Um, yeah I am. It’s Tuesday, you said?” he asked. “I will call you back.” Jay hit the end call button and tossed his cell onto the bed and ran into the bathroom, shielding his eyes from the uncustomary brightness.
He gazed at himself in the mirror. He needed a shave, but no more than a normal night’s worth. He desperately turned around to see his lower back in the mirror but was unable to get the correct angle. He opened and dug through several drawers until he found a handheld mirror. He turned his back to the wall mirror once again and gazed at it in the handheld.
He now had a small but noticeable scar in the small of his back. Suddenly the bright lights and left-over fear and adrenalin overcame his reason. Jay ran through the apartment, turning off lights, closing blinds and drapes, anything to block out the insistent, unforgiving light.
Still it wasn’t enough.
In pure desperation to be away from the light, Jay ensconced himself in the small hallway closet, used towels and pillow cases to block the slight light coming in around the closed door.
It wasn’t total darkness, but it calmed Jay down immensely. It would have to do.
Matthew grew up in upstate New York surrounded by books (and snow). After founding what became the most widely distributed alternative arts and entertainment magazine in upstate NY (based in Albany), Matthew moved to Greenville, FL where he accepted a position on staff at the University of Florida.
His first book, 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions, was inspired by his love of the macabre illustrations by artists like Edward Gorey. Selected as a finalist in the American Fiction Awards, 26 Absurdities may be the most unique collection of short stories ever written.
Matthew’s second book, Tales from the Aether, continues in the Dark Humor/Dark Fiction genre and is scheduled to be released November 1, 2019.