A Night to End All Nights: “Another Day”

A bored college student’s daily routine is suddenly turned upside down when he discovers something evil lurking in his seemingly normal college campus. Read more about his adventures in first year Matt Carron’s piece below.

Another Day

By Matt Carron

Wake up, shower, get to classes on time, try not to think about it too much, it’s not going to make it any easier. All black again today? A fine choice. Maybe this time nobody will notice you and you can just slip by under the radar. Wouldn’t that be perfect? If you could just enjoy these last few days to yourself? I mean, they probably won’t even notice when you’re gone, so why do they have to pretend that they care now? It doesn’t matter. Just make it through the end of the week and then nobody will be able to lie to you anymore. Just another day.

Remind me again why you signed up for this class? Jesus Christ this boring – who gives a shit about Romanesque architecture? If just getting up and leaving wouldn’t draw so much attention there would be no reason not to, but of course that isn’t the case. Why would anything be that easy for you? Every tick of that goddamn clock is another tiny step toward the edge, but it still seems so far away. Maybe things would be different if you actually had some desire to do something with the information that these mindless drones are trying to shove down your throat, and maybe things would be different if they understood that it was all over before you even sat down. You think it’s funny how they try so hard to feed you these stupid facts but have no idea that all of their effort is pointless.

Now it’s that time of day again that you hate more than any other – it is time to run the gauntlet. How many times do you have to blatantly ignore these solicitous leeches before they will just give it a rest and leave you alone? You don’t want to join the chess club, or the Republicans’ Association, or any of the other pointless, contrived organizations that these fools have assembled to occupy their time while they waste away just like everyone else. All you want is to get your food and eat in silence without disturbance.

“These guys just don’t give it a rest, huh?” says a voice in line in front of you with a chuckle. You nod and roll your eyes in agreement. For some reason he interprets this as a display of comradery and invites himself to sit with you. “The name’s Charlie” he says. You already knew this of course: he lives on your floor and he’s been in a few of your classes but he obviously did not recognize you. This did not upset you as it would most people. In fact, the passing thought of this guy being the one to find you brought a smile to your face that would only be perceptible to the keenest eye. After a long, peaceful silence, Charlie’s growing discomfort was apparent. He asks you for your name and where you live and when you tell him he reveals a plastic smile that seemed about as genuine as whatever crap he was trying to sell you. Your attempts at being brusque and giving the most short-handed answers possible seem to fail miserably: it’s as though the more distant you act, the deeper he tries to wedge himself into your affairs. When Charlie is satisfied with his interrogation he proceeds to extend you an invitation you to a party that he and his friends are hosting this evening which you respectfully decline. Not surprisingly, he persists in trying to get you to agree. Had it been any other day you would’ve walked away by now, but finally you agree because you know he will just find you again later. Either way, it’s not like you’ll ever see any of these people again. When you reluctantly accept, Charlie looks as though he’s just found a piece of himself that he’s been seeking for years. “Great! See you at 10!” he exclaims as he hurries off across the cafeteria toward a table full of salesman-looking grad students who you do not recognize. You pretend not to notice as he signals in your direction and they all try to take a discrete glimpse at the same time.

You finish eating and leave to head back to your room. There is a slight resistance caused by the harsh December wind as you push open the double doors to get outside. You’ve always lived in New England so the cold is nothing new to you; it doesn’t really bother you the way it does most people, who just want to add one more topic to their list of things to complain about. These people don’t like the bitter wind on their faces or the sharp sensations that shoot through their fingertips when the temperature drops. But you don’t think of these as burdens like they do; you think of them as reminders, reminding you that the world is still going on around you and reminding you to feel when sometimes you forget. It never really made sense to you why people felt so compelled to whine about natural things that they can’t control. Everyone knows that it’s cold out, they don’t need confirmation, so why not just strap on some gloves, bundle up, and quit wasting precious oxygen?

Today isn’t like most winter days, though. There is tension in the air and an oppressive blue shadow hanging over everything that only comes in the dead of winter. You see a tree that looks like it’s been standing there for ages and you pause for a moment. As you begin to think about the stories that this tree could tell, a powerful wind picks up, blowing large drifts of snow up off the ground and sending a shiver down the spine of the tree. The tree gives a powerful shudder in response to the gale and from one of its uppermost branches falls an old bird’s nest, carelessly tossing a lifeless chick onto the cold, unforgiving snow. The image of the baby bird laying stiff among the trash and piles of cigarette butts that accumulated next to the curb will remain burned into the back of your memories.

Now back in your room with some time to yourself, your mind starts to wander. You think about all the people that you are going to meet tonight, all the faces that you won’t remember, and you smile silently to yourself at the thought that not one of them has a clue that it’s your last day on this unwelcoming earth – for them, it’s just another day. You’re anxious now, not scared or worried or upset, just anxious. You’re ready to step off the edge. You don’t fear the impending knock on the door but, instead, you are ready to welcome this new experience with an open mind. And why shouldn’t you be? You’ve spent all your life getting to know yourself and figuring out who you are, what harm could it be to take a walk on the other side of the street, even though it may actually be the last thing you do? With this thought you look down at your hands as they pass back and forth the brown leather belt that hangs from the bedpost. You run your fingers over each notch, feeling your way down the length of its serpentine hide, down to the heavy brass buckle, scuffed and dingy, which tells of a life spent trapped in solitude and routine. A sense of comfort fills you and you gaze up at the familiar ceiling that you’ve looked over so many times before.

After what feels like an eternity of looking up at the ceiling in the silence of the single bedroom, only illuminated by a small desk lamp placed in the corner of the room, the sound of two firm knocks on the door pierce the lull and you start from your chair. You can hear a group of people conversing and laughing in the hallway on the other side of the door and, peering through the peephole, you can see Charlie standing there with another guy and two girls. Two more knocks send vibrations through your face which is pressed against the door so you take a step back and then, after a fleeting hesitation, you open the door. A slow, audible creak comes from the hinges which calls to mind some autonomous doors at the entrance to a haunted mansion swinging open by their own volition to allow entry to the unsuspecting victim who got caught out in the storm. The visitors stop chatting and turn to get a good look at you and you see on Charlie’s face, though it is barely for a split second, a look of confusion, as if he had already forgotten you and is just now seeing your face for the first time. This look is gone as quickly as it came and Charlie exclaims with open arms “There’s our guest of honor! Ready for a night to end all nights?” then, noticing the dimly lit room, he asks “Oh, we didn’t wake you did we?” and makes a feeble attempt at a coy facial reaction, which the others seem to mirror. When you tell him that you were not asleep and that they did not disturb you, they all don artificial smiles comparable to Charlie’s practically in unison. “Perfect, then! This party would surely be nothing without the guest of honor, everyone is dying to meet you!” You’re confused as to why a bunch of people you don’t know would have any interest in making your acquaintance, let alone be excited to meet you, but since this is your last evening you decide to just go along with it and see where the road takes you.

“C’mon, the place is right around the corner” says Charlie as you and the pack head out into the bitter evening cold. When you turn the corner around the back of the building Charlie tries to introduce the others, but you can’t make out what he is saying over the sound of the wind whipping against your ears. The wind is harsh and the tiny bits of ice and snow sting when they hit your cheeks. Most people would be driven to stay indoors with such conditions outside, but they are not fazed by the weather; they carry on at a casual pace, undaunted by any loss of sensation in the ears and hands, and you follow along just as well. They don’t seem put off by your lack of participation in their conversation. In fact, you would probably think that they forgot you were with them if they didn’t all stop and turn around every time you fell more than five feet behind the group.

The walk is longer than Charlie made it out to be, but finally he mumbles something in your direction that you interpret as him declaring your arrival, and after a quick scan of your surroundings your hunch is confirmed. It looks just like the party scenes from the movies: lots of cars parked on the street mostly concentrated around one house with all the lights on and small groups of people flowing in and out. This seems to be the only place on the block with any sign of life; there is no movement in any of the other residencies, no flow of traffic down the narrow street, not even the sound of a dog barking at the commotion coming from outside. Besides the liveliness of the house on this particular evening, there is something else that makes it stand out from the others. Directly beside the front door of the house there is a symbol that you’ve never seen before painted on the wall. It depicts two circles, one on top of the other, that overlap in the middle (like a vertical Venn Diagram) and the ellipse where the circles meet is made to look like an eye. Charlie takes the lead and you all shuffle up the snowy walkway toward the door. Before going inside, Charlie stops to kiss his right hand and then touch the image on the wall by the doorway and the girl behind him does the same. Unsure of what to do, you imitate their actions before opening the door, and when you do this you hear the other two members of your party saying something under their breath. You turn around to see the others follow suit then file in behind you.

Standing inside the doorway and looking around the large main room of the house, you can see that this is not a typical party like you see in the movies. Every single person in the house is wearing the same identical outfit: white button-down dress shirts, all paired with the same pale shade of khaki pants. There are small groups of people, much like the one you arrived with, scattered about the house, going about a variety of activities. Some are standing around a table with drinks and cups set out, others are sitting on the sofa and conversing, some are sitting in circles on the floor holding hands, while others still are reading or dictating to others passages from what appears to be all the same book. Charlie walks toward the middle of the room and stands up on a table, requesting the attention of all the party-goers. The room comes to a hush and Charlie declares with fervor that the guest of honor has finally arrived, signaling toward the doorway where you still stand in consternation at everything unfolding before you. The room goes into an uproar. Every person in the house flocks to you, trying to shake your hand or touch your face or ask for your blessing. There are so many people crowded around you that you can barely breathe, let alone try to get a goddamn word out. As the frenzy subsides and the cloud of white and tan returns to being a group of faces and people, you regain your composure and try to organize your thoughts. The only question that you can think to ask is the meaning of the emblem on the wall outside. Before you even finish uttering the question, everyone around you, as if they knew you would ask before you even knew, says in one massive, monotone voice “Unity and vigilance” with the soothing reverberation of a meditative mantra. Then the room goes silent for a moment, followed by a heavy thud, then darkness.

You wake up lying on your back on some cold hard surface, it feels like stone: your arms and legs sprawled out and chained down so you are unable to move. You look around; you do not recognize the room you are in. However, you do recognize the circle of white shirts that has formed standing around you, but now they have all donned masks and bear candles. Rising slowly up from the ground is a chant coming from all directions, it is hard to comprehend it at first but as it grows in size and volume the words become unmistakable: unity and vigilance. As you are struggling against the strength of the chains, you can now feel that most of your body is damp and, looking around, you see that the altar to which you are chained and the floor around it are also wet. Your heart falls to your feet when the smell of gasoline fills your nose. The circle begins to close in around you without ever stopping the chant. The circle is now about 20 feet across and the room goes silent. After what feels like hours of silently waiting in fear, all the voices ring out at once “Unity and vigilance” and as you see them all drop their candles around you, the only thought that comes to your mind is the image of your brown leather belt dangling lifeless from the bedpost.

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