This story is by Justin R Craig and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sprawled out. I laid on the cold, damp hardwood floor of my upstairs bedroom. Arguments swelled from the floor below. Nothing was new. I am used to this. Being alone in a house full of siblings and parents. I used to join in the argumentative exuberance. I used to enjoy the noise of it all. For a time that noise shadowed the darkness within my mind. For a time that noise kept the monster at a distance. Now, my darkness, my monster could not be distracted. I sat alone in a house filled with family. I sat alone alongside the monster. The monster didn’t say much that night. He just reminded me of his presence. He reminded me that I wasn’t enough. He told me that no one, not even my family recognized my absence. He repeated over and over his mantra, you are not enough, his mantra became my mantra as I slipped further into the darkness brought by the behemoth.
I tilted my head to gaze under my twin-sized bed. I saw a layer of dust amid candy wrappers and torn up journal pages. I saw a faint glow. That’s strange. This glow broke not only the darkness in the room, but the monstrous darkness I felt within. I picked up my head, outstretched my hand. The light called me; the light grew. I rose to my knees as the light encompassed my room completely. I climbed to my feet. I staggered to the epicenter of the glow. I reached my hand toward it and felt warmth. I started the night completely hopeless. Sprawled out. I brainstormed with the monster on ways to end the tedium of solitude. There was no use in feeling so alone, but now something was different. The warmth radiating from the mysterious glow brought a glimmer of hope. I dove my hand in further, sinking up to my shoulder in the light. I kept moving forward. Was this the escape I desired? I thought.
At last my whole frame was embodied in the flame. My eyes blinked repeatedly adjusting to the brightness. At last I could see that I was no longer in my cold, damp upstairs bedroom. I was standing atop a small grass covered hill. I peered out over the horizon and saw a small village at the base of a jagged, steep mountain. The village appeared to be glowing, as if light were shining from within thousands of stained-glass windows and reflecting off hundreds of mirrors. I wasn’t the least bit alarmed to have been transported into a different world. Was this a different world or just some other part of mine? I wondered and decided on a different world, this world just felt different, it felt hopeful.
I took my time journeying toward the village. I passed stables with bull-like beasts with three horns, two where you’d expect and the other right out the back of the skull. These beasts were covered in fur, so much that they didn’t appear to have any legs. I kept walking and came upon a towering wall made of stone that shimmered. Upon further inspection the stone appeared to contain shimmering shards of colored glass that reflected the sunlight in all directions. I walked the perimeter of the stone wall looking for a way to enter the village when I came across a gate. I peered through the gate and saw cobblestone streets, small shops, and quaint homes straight out of a storybook. The cobblestone streets glimmered much like the walls surrounding the village. All of the windows in the town reflected a mosaic of intricate designs of stained-glass. “What was it with this place and colored glass?” I wondered aloud.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when a kind voice asked, “Who are you?”
I turned and saw a girl about my age with eyes that reflected hope and warmth. What is with this place? She continued to stare, and I realized she was waiting for a response. I said, “My name is Theo. Theodore actually.”
“Well Theo, Theodore actually. Where did you come from? What are you wearing?” said the mystery girl.
Who was this girl? What does she mean what am I wearing? “It’s just Theo. And what do you mean, what am I wearing? And who are you?” After saying this I looked beyond her hopeful eyes and noticed that she was wearing a brightly colored tunic with even more colored glass woven into sleeves and hemline. Again, what was with this place? I looked down at what I was wearing and saw that I was in gray sweatpants and an old dark green family reunion t-shirt.
“My name is Avery, and you don’t really look like you’re from around here. Am I wrong? I don’t mean to sound rude, Illuminore is just a small village and I know everyone around here.” She was talking so fast; I was struggling to keep up. “So, just Theo, where are you from? You’re obviously not from around here.” She was neither accusatory nor hostile, simply curious.
“Well, I’ve never heard of Illumination.” I responded
“Illuminore.” Avery corrected.
“Right, Illuminore.” I continued. “I was in my bedroom, now don’t call me crazy, a light appeared and grew and then I was here. Well, not here, here, but over on that hill. What is Illuminore exactly? Where am I?”
Before Avery could answer, a dark mist shadowed the sun. The glass in the stone walls, cobblestone streets and villagers’ clothes stopped shimmering. I looked at Avery, her wide-eyed expression said it all. This was not a normal occurrence in Illuminore. Avery grabbed my arm and led me quickly through the gate and into the doorway.
“Did anyone follow you from where you came from?” Avery said with urgency.
“No,” I said promptly. “I was alone, why does that matter? What is happening?”
“Because that,” She pointed at the cloud of dark mist growing across the sky. “That has never happened before. This is a place of light, of hope, of refuge. It is never dark, never a place of despair.” Avery sank to her knees and began to weep. “What is happening to me?”
I recognized this feeling. It was my feeling. It was my monster. Had I brought my monster to this place? I questioned myself. I thought this place was an escape from that horrible beast I had to live with. For the brief moments of nothing but light and hope, I had completely dismissed the monster that brought me deep into despair. I had been free from his grasp. I looked around, Avery was still curled up on the ground, and other people in the village did the same. My monster was always something inside my head, but somehow, I knew that this darkness was my doing. I couldn’t sit idly by and let it affect these random strangers. I was growing sick and tired of this monster pushing me around. I had to do something before it destroyed the hope of Illuminore. I decided to return to the place where I entered this world. I ran toward the hill outside the village gates.
The darkness became dense and swirled around me shouting whispers of attacks. “There is no true escape.” He said.
I kept running.
“You are worthless, you only bring pain to those around you.”
I kept running toward the epicenter of the monstrous cloud.
“You will never be free from me!”
At last I reached the top of the hill. I planted my feet, raised my hands into the sky, and bellowed out the first thing that came to mind. “My name is Theodore and I am not worthless!”
The darkness stilled but remained.
I continued with a steady, unbreaking tone, “My name is Theodore and I am not worthless.” Where were these words coming from? Did I really believe what I was saying? Some part of me thought.
“My name is Theodore and I am done believing the words you throw at me.”
The monster started to swirl once again. He flooded my mind with more of the same words. I stood my ground.
“My name is Theodore and I am stronger than you think.”
The monster laughed, “You are delusional, I have the real power.”
“My name is Theodore, you may reside within me, but you will not control me.”
Sprawled out. I came to on my cold, damp hardwood floor in my upstairs bedroom. I sat up, brushed myself off and joined the noise of my family downstairs. I sat on the couch and observed the greatness of it all. I felt someone sit next to me. It was my monster, reminding me that he was there, that he would not be leaving. I gave him a nod of acknowledgement and let him be. I sat observing my family and the crazy joy of it all. I may be isolated with my monster, but I’m not alone with him.