Shadows

Knocking comes from the basement. It always comes from the basement. Of course horrible things can happen in broad daylight with lots of people around. But that isn’t expected. Horror is supposed to be confined to the dark places, to when we are alone. Hence, basements. See also, under beds at night.

Perhaps if we could see the monsters, they would not be terrifying. It is, after all, the unknown which frightens most of all. If the monsters were in the light, they would lose their power altogether. Vampires burst into flame in the sun. Werewolves change only at night.

The knocking continues. It is after midnight and dark outside. Inside, all the lights on the first floor are on. Surely that will keep away whatever wants up. The basement, the attic, all places where we put things forgotten. Or things we would like forgotten. Things we think we don’t need, or things we don’t like. So naturally that’s where the monsters live, among the things we want gone but cannot bring ourselves to throw away.

It’s more insistent, just on the other side of the door. What has been forgotten that now demands to be remembered? What is it that was ignored, cast out, with the hope that it would stay forever buried? Perhaps some behavior society says was not nice, or maybe a desire the world scoffed at.

The doorknob jostles. To barricade or open? Barricading is obviously the safer path. But taking the safer path is what brought us to this point. Getting rid of all that scared us, putting it into the basement, it has festered. Now it is knocking. What further violence must we commit to force it back down where it belongs?

Or we could open it. What would we see? Our monstrous self, revealed in the light. Coming face to face with all we have denied, would we ask for forgiveness? Would we get it? Or would the monster destroy us? There is only one way to find out, but opening that door… No one really knows what’s on the other side. And that is the source of our fear. We have created the monster, and now we fear what it will do to us because we don’t know.

If we had been rejected and locked away, we would be angry. Thus we imagine the monster will destroy us out of anger. But we don’t know. We never gave the monster a chance. And now it demands one. Open the door. Let in the light. Face what we have made. Nothing worse can be done to us than what we have already been done. We are the monster. We made ourselves that way. Open the door.

Memory

“Report.”

“Arrival at destination in 4 days 23 hours and 16 minutes. Memory function at 22 percent.”

Unconsciously, he chewed the inside of his cheek. The computer still knew where he was going, but it would be a one way trip unless the memory could be salvaged.

“Any luck recovering the back-up?”

“No. The drives were too damaged by the magnetic storm.”

“I don’t understand how the shielding failed.” It was not the first time he wondered about it.

“I do not have access to that data.”

“You’ve said that.” The shielding shouldn’t have been penetrable. The engineers spent more time on protecting the computer than on life support. It was more essential to this mission than he was. How could they have gotten this so wrong?”

“Hold on. Why don’t you have access to that data?”

“Rephrase.”

“Does the data exist?”

“Yes.”

“So it wasn’t destroyed in the storm?”

“Correct.”

“So why can’t you access it?”

“Rephrase.”

The AI was designed to understand colloquial speech. This was unusual. “Do you not have permission to access the data?”

“Correct.”

“Why not?”

“Rephrase.”

He gave up. Why was the computer prevented from accessing parts of its own memory? Was this just an effect of the storm? A nasty suspicion grew stronger. Was this always supposed to be a one way trip? But if so, why?

The several screens surrounding him provided no answers. He could think of nothing he could do that would lead to any. In the end, it didn’t really matter if this was intentional sabotage or just an accident. The situation was the same either way. He could establish orbit and use the lander for closer surveys. Nothing prevented the mission from going ahead. With communication made impossible because of the damage, someone would have to come after him eventually. He just had to survive until then.

“Are there any updates to our mission?” Had someone left a clue?

“No. With communications down, I am unable to receive any revisions. We will continue as planned.”

Planned. Nothing was as planned. But there was little point in arguing about it.

Choices

The room was empty except for a table that nearly filled it. Its oval shape perfectly matched the curve of the stone walls. The top of the table was traced with lines, intersecting and diverging, apparently at random. Some glowed faintly with a green light, while many remained dark. All of the lines came together at one point towards one narrow end of the table. Every line past that point was dark.

He looked at the pattern and intuitively understood it. Focusing on a section revealed fine detail that was otherwise obscured. One place where a number of lines came together drew his attention, and he reached forward to touch it. As soon as his fingertips came in contact with the surface, he found himself back in the hospital room.

His father was in the bed, looking at him. The breaths were shallow, each one accompanied by a wince of pain.”Can you forgive me?”

Again he shook his head, muttering only “Goodbye, Dad” before leaving the room.

He pulled his hand off the table and looked for other places, other times.

“You are not allowed in here.” A blue robed figure stood across the table from him. Its face was hidden by a hood, and its voice was not unkind.

He stared at the figure, waiting to be ordered to leave, but no order came.

“No matter what choices you make, every path leads here, to this table.” The figure pointed to the area where all the lines met. “You are not allowed, yet you always come.”

“I… can fix things. I can go back.”

“You can go back and make changes. A different path will light up. But they all lead here. You are never satisfied with the result.”

“If only I hadn’t walked away…”

“Then you would regret something else.”

“No, I won’t. You’ll see.”

“I already have seen. So have you. This is not the first time you have come here.”

“I’ve been here before?” He couldn’t remember.

“Yes. And each time you go back. And each time you find your way here.”

“But my life… I can make better choices.”

“You can make different choices. But none make you happy.”

“So what can I do?”

“Leave here. Allow a path to light beyond this room. Let your past go.”

“No.”

“Of course. I will see you again, then.”