I don’t remember who I was before the Creeping.
I was a woman, yes, although I never felt like more than a girl, and my skin was that angry mottled white that is so erroneously prized. It still is, I think, white, although veneered in the tenebrous hue of granite and things long dead.
Before, I was little more than a mouth to speak and ears to hear, and, doing very little of either, most days I could almost make myself entirely invisible.
Now I am the wind beneath the door.
Now I am the dirt caked underneath a gravedigger’s fingernails.
Now I am
I was dead. Not the permanent kind of dead but the dead of “shoulds” and “no longers” and ”never agains.” Of stories untold and potential unexplored.
I hardly left my bed except to piss or shit or force down half a sandwich every other day, enough to keep my sagging stomach from retching up bile. Otherwise I lived in a putrid nest of unwashed blankets with water and pills and entertainments on hand.
Sometimes I’d play a video game. Sometimes I’d stare for hours at the wall. Sometimes I’d rake my nails down my arms to feel something.
Only nothing ever felt any different, just the same gray haze that had engulfed me body and soul for weeks.
It happened very slowly, the Creeping. I observed it one day, from the flat of my back, at the topmost corner of the room. It was a spiderweb thread of black. A nothing. A crack in the paint.
I closed my eyes. There was nothing to interest me here, nothing to satisfy my craving for novelty.
At least, not at first. Ten minutes of staring at my eyelids, however, and I was very ready to reconsider the crack.
I opened my eyes.
As I watched, the line began to…to creep. Inch by inch, a trail of black bleeding into ice crack patterns like the surface of a frozen pond, only so very small and delicate as to resist my eye’s attempts to capture it.
I opened my eyes wider. Pulled my covers up to my chin. No. That couldn’t be. I hadn’t seen that…move, had I?
Perhaps it was foul water, a drip spiderwebbing into a lattice while I watched.
No, too dark, like ink more than water.
There was nothing magical, nothing sinister about it. It was just a trick of the light.
Only a trick of the light.
I counted out my pills. Abilify, 30mg, one round white pill. Effexor, 300mg, two bicolored capsules. Lithium carbonate, 90mg, two round white pills. Omeprazole, 20mg and one pill, violent purple, just to shake things up.
I had lain them out on my blanket when I was struck with the sharpest sense of déjà vu. My heart stuttered, a broken dotted line. I’d done this before! I’d done this before! Fearful, uncanny dread settled into my bones and threatened to pulsate into tears. Uncanny. Unheimlich. Unhomelike.
Then a cackle pealed out of my mouth, the first real laughter I’d managed in weeks.
Because of course I’d done this before. Of course! I’d done this yesterday, and the night before that, and every night before that onward and forever. Sometimes the pills were different colors or had different unpronounceable names but it was all the same shit, different day.
I slammed back the fistful of positive poison and gulped them down, hoping maybe this time for a miracle.
But even though the pills could cure me of my depression, they’d never be able to cure me of myself.
No, it was definitely getting bigger.
I’d been staring at the black spiderweb of cracks for an hour or so, determined to discover whether the web had, indeed, grown from its dusting of lace two days before. Three? Difficult to keep track of time, given the circumstances.
I thought about getting a ladder from downstairs so that I could get closer, poke and prod at it to see if it was mold come to kill me, but the motivation for that thought only lasted in the amount of time it took to think it. Of course I wasn’t going to go downstairs. I was going to stay here, where it was safe, where none of the demons of the outside world could find me.
So instead I watched, watched, while the lines crept into a more intense, more dread filigree, a flat ironwork just for me.
You can never go back to a moment in time before your depression.
They won’t let you. They will have seen you at your worst, and their perceptions will lock you there. Even on your deathbed, they’ll still treat you like they did thirty years ago when you were in your darkest hour. When you were annoying. Frightening. A burden.
I don’t have thirty years to tell you about but I have enough. Enough shattered friendships. Enough “you vent too much” and “you cry too much” and “you are too much.”
So what, praytell, do we do with these unkind words?
When people ignore and dismiss you constantly, you teach yourself to shut down.
They will ignore you so long and so readily that you will cease to exist.
My only recourse was to retreat within. Within the walls of my room. Within the walls of my body.
Deep inside, where no one, no one could ever find me.
I opened my eyes to a bleak swathe of black creeping down the brittle paint of the white wall. Only it wasn’t just creeping downward, not anymore; it was creeping outward. It was a dark, flat, fathomless black, like someone had torn off a strip from the world just like you’d tear off of wallpaper.
Still cocooned in my comforter, I inched closer on my knees to the edge of my bed to investigate. Peered closer, closer, until my nose was inches away from the blackness. Almost shivered from the burn-cold wafting off of it like ozone.
What was this? Mold? Water? Paint? Ink?
I swayed a little closer. A little closer. Squinting my eyes. Trying to see deeper into the black.
I scrambled back, my heart pounding, and flipped my covers over my head and didn’t come out for a full day.
Because I had learned two things in that moment:
One. It wasn’t mold and
Two, and the most important…
The groan wasn’t a groan.
It was a word.
That’s what the groan said. Just one word. “You.” I’d been up all night ruminating on the singularity of it. You, as in me? You, as in…god forbid, someone else?
The wall made no other sounds. Eventually I got up the courage to creep back towards it to inspect. At least, from a safe distance. I wasn’t about to touch it, afraid I’d be sucked into an alternate universe, or contract some deadly virus. Every possibility had occurred to me from a brain fed on novels, and none seemed quite the same.
Close up, it just looked blank. Not flat, precisely, but endless. It was a hole, that much I could tell, but there was no obvious end to it, and the edges seemed to creep and pulsate as I stared, wavering like a heat mirage.
But no matter how long I waited there, nothing happened.
No more creeping. No more groaning.
I crawled back towards my pillow. It was late, anyway.
I woke with a start.
The bed, it was shaking, raucously like an earthquake, but we don’t get earthquakes here, and even if we did, I’m pretty sure the sound coming from the hole in the wall wouldn’t be part of one.
It was a high-pitched wailing, the sound of something dying—or the sound of something already dead. It thrummed through me, plucking out notes of fear and dread.
In a rush, I picked up my phone, then laughed mirthlessly, put it down. Who was I going to call? No one I knew wanted to hear from me. Even my inner demons were sick of me. The police wouldn’t believe me.
I pulled my covers over my head and resumed my stupor, while the wailing played a dreadful tune behind my head.
Three days went by, I think, and I’d been too afraid to emerge from my cocoon even to eat. I drank water, at least, and ran to and from the bathroom as fast as I could, afraid that something was going to climb out of the wall and get me.
The wailing wasn’t constant, but it would pick up at intervals, when I was on the brink of sleep, when I was lost in the labyrinth of my thoughts, that preternatural moan sharp as knives slicing the air into ribbons.
I shuddered in my blanket cocoon. It was my safety, my security, it always had been. Now I just needed to ask more of it. I tightened the covers around me and counted down from one hundred by sevens and prayed, to a God I didn’t really believe in, to make it stop, to make everything stop.
A week of sleepless nights had staggered past by the time I noticed the vein. It was one on the underside of my wrist, bisected by an ovular burn scar, and it was black.
And its ends were creeping, creeping, branching out like a tree, like the void in the wall.
I didn’t have the energy to shriek, but I wanted to. My bones screamed instead. What was happening to me? What was this?
Had the Creeping done this?
Or was the darkness in me all the time?
My days became divided, between the usual sleeping or pretending to sleep, and observing changes in the Creeping. By the end of a week, all the veins in my arms were black, and my fingertips had curdled into a dusky grayish color like I’d dipped them in ash. By the third day, the dusty color had crept up to my elbows.
I was becoming a gargoyle; I was becoming a corpse. I worried about this in a way, but in a quiet, muffled way.
What could be done?
The wailing wasn’t always senseless moans. Sometimes in it I could catch the imprecations of a monster.
“You fucker, you’re a piece of shit.”
“Go kill yourself.”
“Don’t you just want to die?”
“You’re the worst sonofabitch in the world.”
It made me want to laugh. It made me pull my covers over my head and go back to sleep.
Perhaps these thoughts were meant to torment and ensnare me, but they were so similar to the thoughts in my own head that it was almost like welcoming home a vicious companion.
Hello, old buddy.
Hello, my friend.
I couldn’t tell you the point at which my sanity began to slip into many consciousnesses. It happened slowly, then all at once. I was me, and then I was us. I was the universe, and all the mysteries therein were open to me and it was so beautiful and so terrible that for the first time in months, I sobbed.
I was the wind beneath the door.
I was the dirt under the gravediggers fingernails.
I was me, and you.
I was all of us.
And I was alive.
Thirty-one days under the onslaught of the Creeping and I still lie here, curled in my bed, our bed, pondering the mysteries of the universe and snoring from time to time. The Creeping wails its horrors and shakes the bed a little and I curl up into my blankets and I dream.
Have I thought about leaving? Sure. But even if I did decide to leave, where would I leave to?
My ghosts are all inside me, and they’re not letting go.
C.J. Subko is a dreamer and a dabbler. She has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Michigan State University and a B.A. in Psychology and English from the University of Notre Dame, which makes her highly qualified to think too much. Her short fiction has been published in The Crow’s Quill (July 2023).