's 2013 Horror Write-off:

" Imaginary Pet "

Submitted by Hisham H

I'm not afraid of the dark. Not really.

In the dark, I'm completely fine. Calm. Happy even.

What I AM afraid of, what I fear most of all, is turning on a light while it's dark.

To reveal something that should not be there.

To reveal something I would rather not see.

So I'm perfectly fine in complete darkness. I'm also fine in a dimly-lit room, with a small lamp perhaps, or a nightlight. The transition from dimly-lit to brightly lit does not bother me. But flicking a light on when it's pitch-black? No can do.

When I do have to use the bathroom at night, I do so in the dark. And I never open my refrigerator at night.

Similarly, I'm perfectly fine groping around in the darkness of my flat, but forget about flipping the switch.

Sometimes my imagination runs wild. Sometime I fear if I turn the lights in the bathroom, I'd catch a glimpse of something bristled and hairy, something that did not belong in a bathroom. Or if I flip a switch in the hallway, I'll see an ill-defined, towering, shadowy something that stands there for a split-second before disappearing.

Strange, isn't it? I do not fear the unknown, but the unknown becoming known. I'd rather live in ignorant bliss.

I'd rather piss in dark with a bristly monstrosity not inches away. I'd rather walk past some towering shadow-demon without ever knowing it's there.

I'd rather die not knowing what killed me.

It wasn't this bad you know. I mean, I've always had this condition, but it was much milder. I'd be mildly apprehensive as I turned on the hallway light. I'd flinch as I switch on a flashlight. I'd breathe a sigh of relief as the bathroom revealed itself to be empty after being bathed in the harsh lights of fluorescent tubes.

But at least I could turn on lights. And after the lights were on the fear and anxiety would go away, and real-world concerns would occupy my mind.

This all changed that one time I went to the zoo.

I was feeling a bit down when one of my cousins came around. He was a real conservationist and animal-lover, always talking about saving the penguins or some shit. He had decided that the best way to cheer me up was to take me to the zoo.

At first, I protested; at the time, zoos seemed childish, a wonderland for toddlers, not jaded adults. I would see no wonder in lions and tigers and zebras.

But in the end I gave in due to his sheer persistence, and consoled myself with the fact that maybe there'll be something interesting, maybe they'll have gorillas or alligators or something, or maybe the baboons will decide to have a shit-flinging contest that day.

No such luck. On such a hot day most of the animals showed greater wisdom and better judgement than my cousin and chose to sleep away in the shade. The only excitement we had all day was when a capuchin fell on top of a sleeping capuchin.

At this point we decided to turn away from the more popular (and crowded) exhibits and check out some of the less glamorous wildlife.

We walk to an enclosure of tapirs. Big, dumb-looking animals, with something like an elephant's trunk, but much, much shorter. And they had this funny two-tone coloration; white body and rump, but black head, chest, and legs, like they were wearing giant diapers.

There were three in the enclosure. One in particular caught my eye. It seemed older and more frail than the other two, its hide hanging in loose baggy folds. But what stood out was the fact its eyes were milky white; seemingly devoid of pupils or irises.

That elderly, most likely blind tapir, left quite an impression on me. And as we walked away, I turned my head to catch one last glimpse at the exhibit, and that thing was staring right at me. Tapirs have eyes on the sides of their heads, so this old geezer had turned his head to one side to look at me with one opaque white eye.

Somehow, I got the feeling that it actually saw me, and I was now under its scrutiny. Of course this was creepy as shit, so I shook my head and looked forward, but as I turned my head, out of the corner of my eye, it was as if the ancient tapir was shining. Maybe it was the way its coat caught the sunlight at a certain angle, but for a moment, its dark coat gleamed with shades of inky blue and indigo, and its white rump took on a golden cast.

On the drive back, my cousin mentioned that I seemed to be particularly entranced by the tapirs, a fact he found both surprising and hilarious. I admitted I was more unsettled by the tapirs than entranced. "Especially that old blind one. It gives me the creeps."


"What blind one?"

"The old, blind one with the milky eyes. Looks as if it's a thousand years old."

"Wait, what? Those were both fully mature adults, but I would hardly call them old."

I was getting irritated. "Senior citizen tapir. The geriatric one. The old wrinkled one. The fossil. The one that should have been retired. It stood near the back wall, stayed away from the other two."

"Dude," he says with a laugh, "There were only two tapirs in that enclosure. There wouldn't even be enough room for a third."

He then goes on a tangent of how many square feet per cube of critter or something, and I just tuned him out.

The next thing I know, I'm being nudged awake. I mumbled my thanks, and saw him off. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful.

But as night fell, I started to feel uneasy. Jumpy.

I went into the bathroom. I saw two pale orbs in the darkness. I almost screamed. I lunged for the lights.

Nothing. I turn off the lights.

It was just the light from the streetlamps reflecting off of the taps of my bathtub. I cursed that old withered bag of a tapir for giving me the creeps at my age.

Next, I walk into my bedroom and proceed to almost have a heart attack when I see the two back legs of a tapir. But then, as my eyes adjust to the darkness, I realize it's just a pair of pants draped over a chair.

Now, at that point I was pretty much pissed off at myself, at my cousin, and most especially at that stupid tapir. Maybe I'll stuff an apple full of Scotch Bonnets, see if it likes that, I thought. I viciously whipped the pants off the chair and flung them rather vindictively into my closet.

My bedroom has light switches located conveniently at the door and above the bed. I climb into bed, turned off the lights, and relaxed.

I looked around my room. No tapirs here. Just my room, my desk.

The dim glow from the streetlamps shining on my wall as an irregular patch.

My pants draped over the chair.

The pants I had just tossed into the closet.

My drowsy mind struggled to come to a conclusion. It meant something was wrong, but I was so sleepy I couldn't figure I out.

It was the next thought that jolted me wide awake.

There is no window in my bedroom.

The pale patch moved. Shadows shifted.

I did put my pants in the closet.

What was that?

An icy dread started to coalesce in my chest. My heart was pounding.

Oh no, nononono...

I stretched my arm over my head, groping blindly for the switch. I didn't dare take my eyes off that shape.

I turn on the lights.

That moronic, withered, moth-eaten tapir stood there, head cocked to one side, fixing me with its pale stare.

Then suddenly, there was a flash. To this day I'm not sure exactly what it is that I saw. I remember the impression of an enormous head, filling up the whole room, and somehow extending beyond its dimensions, and a golden shaggy mane. I remember gleaming, terrifying tusks. I remember an enormous, bloated elephant's trunk, curled up like some kind of purple snail. I remember a big, leering grin, showing a row of deep blue, sparkling teeth, like uncut sapphires; the lipless, fleshless, humorless smile of a pig skull. And eyes. Huge, bulging eyes. As bright and as pale as the moon.

No irises, no pupils.

I saw all this for a split-second, and it was gone.

My bedroom was empty.

I've read up about it. Night terrors. Hallucinations. Schizophrenia. In the end I concluded that I either had a particularly vivid nightmare, or I was having some sort of mental breakdown which first manifested in the zoo.

My doctor has been very kind. Prescribed some medications, told me it was a good sign that I was getting plenty of sleep.

I've read that paper slip that comes in my box of pills, and under "Side Effects" it lists "abnormal, vivid dreams".

Funny thing, actually.

Ever since I had that nightmare, I haven't dreamt a single dream, good or bad.

And I don't dare turn on the lights when itís dark.

For, you know. Reasons.