It’s not there. My arm isn’t there.
I can feel it, yeah. The muscles are moving just fine. I feel pricks of cool air pierce the sheen of water on my skin. I even feel drops of water fall down from my arm and splash against my chest. I have nearly every sign I could imagine to confirm that my arm is right there working just as well as it always does.
But I can’t see it. It’s pitch black and I can’t see a thing, not even a shadow of a shadow, not even the angle between two walls, not even my own goddamned arm.
Okay, just keep calm, I’ve gotta just keep calm. Don’t let the breathing get out of control, don’t start the hyperventilation, just breathe in and out. There we go, there we go, a nice rhythm. That’s what we need. That’s what we need.
It’s not enough though is it, no no no, it’s not enough to just control my breathing and still my body. I don’t know what’s happening. I still don’t know if my arm is there. I feel a choking, roiling cloud climbing up my body, seeping into my pores and clawing at my mouth to really strangle me properly, so I try to push it back. I try to take stock.
Think. Think it through. Break out of the haze, you can do something about this.
Okay, I can reach over and grab one arm with the other. Good. That’s solid, I can feel that. I still can’t see it, but I can feel it so I know it has to be there. Or, at least, I can tell myself I know that long enough to come down from the panic.
What about the rest of my body?
Yeah, okay, I can pat that down too.
My fingers dance shakily down my body, hitting everything they can. I pull my legs in tight so I can grasp as my feet. I raise my hands back behind my head and run my fingers through my hair. Everything is still there. I can’t see it, but it’s all still there.
My breathing is still labored, the hyperventilation just off the horizon, but that’s a layer of security down. That’s a step toward calm.
But there’s too much left to panic about. I can’t see anything. I don’t know where I am. I don’t even know if I’m alone. I make myself think back to stepping into the pod, seeing the lights and the contours of the tub, the height of the ceiling and the emptiness of the chamber. I was all alone then, I must be all alone now.
I can’t hear either though.
I can’t see and I can’t hear. The room directly outside the chamber is just as dark as the chamber itself. Someone could have slipped in from there without my even knowing. There’s no way to tell. 8 feet of darkness between the ceiling and me. 8 feet of nothing where anything could be hiding. I need to check. I need to look through every nook and cranny and make sure that I’m safe and alone here. That’s the only way I’m going to calm myself down.
But the ground is slippery. The walls are slippery. Everything is slippery and covered in water. And I’m still shaking. I can’t see my hand, but I can feel it shuddering like I just sprinted a mile. My legs won’t be much better if I stand up. I have to look though, I have to make sure that I’m safe and alone.
I jerk wildly all of a sudden, snapping out a wave of water to ricochet through the enclosed tub. I look around in a panic, searching for the sound of the voice that just whispered in my ear, look around wide-eyed for a minute before I remember that it’s impossible to see in this room.
My breath control begins to slip and I grit my teeth, trying to force my body back under my control. I heard that voice, yes, that familiar voice reproduced so terrifyingly here. Launching into another round of panic won’t do anything to help.
The panic gorges on itself though, feeding into a loop. I hear the voice again, flinch wildly and instinctively look. Before I can regain control of myself, a different voice is speaking in my other ear and I’m spinning in that direction, clumsily pulling myself into a sitting position in the shallow water.
My sight is going haywire now too and I see dark shapes spinning in pinwheels in front of me. There’s not a hint of light, but I see Ferris Wheels just above my head. I press my eyes as tightly closed as I can, so hard that my eyeballs begin to ache under the pressure.
It doesn’t help.
I see things crawling on the invisible ceiling, things clinging to the nonexistent walls. I hear drops of water and the sounds of bodies being dragged along the smooth surfaces of my prison. I hear whispered chatter spread through the room, expanding, growing, filling the room and drowning out everything else, the creatures on the walls moving in sync with the echo chamber.
I groan and flinch, my arm jerking against the wall to my right. The impact jolts me out my downward spiral, cutting off the cycle. The water ripples around me and I reach out hungrily, grasping for a way to ground myself. The feeling of the ripples on my skin calms me and the indistinct shapes and shuffling sounds fade away in my mind, heavy darkness sinking back over me.
The spell broken, I gasp and pant wildly, gulping down as much air as I can. My sense of normalcy gets some grip on my mind and I begin to relax slightly, my fists unclenching and my breathing ticking down in urgency.
But it’s still there.
I see it. In the corner up there. A shape, lurking between the walls and the ceiling, pressing itself against the sides of my little prison. I stare at the shape desperately, my breathing slowing until I’m nearly holding my breath, little inhalations and exhalations slipping in and out as quietly as I can let them. No matter how much I stare, I can’t identify what it is. It’s just sitting there. Watching me.