's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"The Endless Night"

Submitted by Alexis Feynman

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

I wake to that sound. The noise of a droning clock, plastic parts too muffled to "tick" properly. It's the only noise in the room that my fogged mind can register. My mouth is dry as cardboard and my head hurts as if I've been sleeping for days. The smell and taste of decaying copper linger like a slow poison.

I can't have been asleep that long - not if it's still dark. Just to be sure, I power my phone on. I thought so; it's only been an hour since I went to bed.

I want to get up and get a drink of water, but my body refuses. I'm so tired, and everything hurts. I just want to sleep, but now my mind is awake, and all I can hear is the endless song of that irritating clock.

I should have gotten rid of it months ago.

I roll over, trying to ignore the acid sting in my nostrils. I force myself to close my eyes, shut everything out of my mind. I drown out the clock with a song in my head. My mind maintains a needless vigil.

Everything hurts.

Eventually my mind relaxes, and the boundary that stands between life and dreams begins to fade. I embrace the dark, ready to sink into sleep. The noise of the plastic clock follows me.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

They are marching. An army of men parade across my bed, up my legs, across my stomach. Their plastic feet tramp out a relentless, steady beat. Their tiny hands hold sharp bayonets that they are ready to use.

They reach my face and the first soldiers jam their weapons into my cheeks. I struggle, trying to knock them off, but more always replace them. A second wave stabs into my jaw, pinning it shut and leaning forward so the others can climb higher, reaching my cheekbones... my forehead... my eyes...

I try to scream, but all that comes out is a pained whimper. Blood pours from my face as the tiny, plastic soldiers pursue their relentless assault. I must be nearly dead, but I still hear them coming - the endless march echoing through the room like the sound of a ticking clock.

Then, suddenly, the soldiers fade. I return to consciousness in the dark room. I feel my face - no blood. Was I dreaming? But I can still feel them stabbing at me, and the only sound in the room is the same as their march.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

Sanity returns. It is only the clock. I must have dreamt the experience, as real as it felt.

I pull myself from the bed, ignoring my aching body, and force myself to the bathroom. I drink some water. and wipe my face with a damp cloth. My reflection is pale - so impossibly pale. My eyes are half-closed and lifeless, as weak and helpless-looking as I feel. I'm so tired I want to curl up on the bathtub rug and go to sleep, but I force myself back to my room.

The shadows of the soldiers have been cleared from my mind, but the darkness still sparks some fear in me, and I do not embrace it so happily, even as exhaustion pulls me toward sleep.

I wake on a table, shackled in the darkness. I cannot see anything but vague shadows, and I struggle, toss my head. Pain shoots through me with each wrench of my limbs. I stop resisting.

Figures crowd around me, too deeply shadowed to quite make out their forms. They are shaped like humans, but not quite. Their heads are wide and flat, with great, gleaming eyes that stare straight forward, giant cogs protruding from the rear. Their bodies vary in size, some long and thin, some squat and bell-shaped. The tall ones drift about without moving their legs, as if on wheels. The short ones trundle on short, rounded feet. I can hear their clockwork heartbeats, all ticking simultaneously as they move about the room.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

No, they are not humanlike at all. I'm not sure why I ever thought that.

One of them reaches out with a pincer and seizes my nose. Suddenly I can't breathe. I open my mouth, but my lungs seize up of their own accord as a smaller machine begins to tug violently at my toes. When one comes off, the machine titters mechanically, and I realize it's laughing.

Two of the tall ones seize me by the wrists and lift my arms high into the air. My body follows as far as it can, but the restraints hold me back, and I am forced to watch my limbs as they are pulled high above me, far beyond their natural limits, turning limp as rubber and twisting around each other as they stretch endlessly into the sky.

The short machine has pulled off one of my legs. Its hollow, metallic laugh is even more excited than before. I try to scream but I can't even breathe, so I scream in my mind, loud and piercing as a siren.

Hands and claws and pincers release me. The creatures back away, and my body returns to its real shape, and I am back in my bed.

I know I was sleeping, just as I know that they will come for me again if I let myself fall back into their domain of the subconscious. Instead, I try to sit up. My exhausted body will not let me, so I prop myself on one elbow and force down some of the water that I brought back from the bathroom. I will not sleep again until the monsters are gone.

"Do not step there yet!"

The platform in front of me vanishes. I take a step back and look out across the abyss that I am facing. Dozens of small, square platforms appear and disappear, some for minutes, some for scant seconds. This is my final test. I have bested the rest of the gauntlet and now must survive this challenge. If I fail, I will plummet to the conveyor belt below and be carried to my death in a bottomless incinerator.

I must plan my movements carefully. I stare at the platforms for what feels like hours, analyzing their movements, trying to find a pattern. But there is no pattern. Some platforms stay for several minutes, vanish, and reappear only to be gone again in seconds. Some disappear from one place and return somewhere else. Nothing is certain except for the noise of the conveyor belt's gears, drifting up from the void below.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

No pattern. No guarantee of success. Only one chance to win or I am dead.

I step toward the first platform. It is gone before my foot even connects. I catch myself on the second, pull myself up, leap to the third.

It, too, vanishes. I fall through the space where it used to be and plummet into empty air. I miss the conveyor belt, but the threat of falling into the void drives my hands to grasp its sides and pull myself up.

I don't know why I did that. It is carrying me to my death. I can see the glow of the incinerator just beyond.

It's the fear of death that pushes me to my feet, forces me to run against the belt. But I'm getting nowhere. No matter how quickly I move, the belt is quicker. As I struggle, I feel a sense of being in two places at once. Here on the belt, and at the same time, lying in a bed, fighting to pull myself out of this fantasy.

But it isn't a fantasy; it's real.

My leg catches on one of the belt's ribs and I fall. I try to pull myself up, but my limbs don't work properly. I lie there and struggle, try to pull myself back, but my fingers find no purchase and I grip only a cloth that does not move. I try to scream, but the void does not answer. I am almost at the mouth now - a great metal archway passes overhead - and I'm falling, falling into heat and teeth and endless pain and why is it so hot - no - this isn't real - wake up - WAKE UP -

My hand hits wood, and I see the room around me. Inside I am still plummeting, but the pain from hitting the headboard has given me enough purchase to pull myself into the real world.

It is still dark. The clock is still ticking. I am panting and drenched with sweat. Adrenaline has driven back the need to sleep, but my body is still aching and exhausted, so I lie still for a long while.

Ghosts torment me as I rest. First it's merely the incinerator. Then I hear the voice of my mother, shouting at me to get out of bed and get my room tidied. I argue with her - I'm sick, I can't get up. She says it doesn't matter. So I get up and start straightening the room. I'm almost done when I realize that I never left my bed.

I'm back in school, wedged into a trashcan. The others are taunting me. Calling me "lardo" and "lazy" and other things. I wrestle myself out of the fantasy again, but they follow me into the real world, and my mother joins them, drifting through my awakened subconscious, taunting me. Lazy. Worthless. How can you just lie there in bed when there are things that need done? Why don't you do your homework or clean your room or finish your aunt's Christmas present? What kind of lazy fatass just lays around in bed because they're a little bit sick? The clock joins in, turning each click into an accusation, drawing out my faults.

lazy. selfish. worthless. who are you. you only care about yourself.

Why aren't you sleeping right now? It's bedtime, stupid.

I try to scream, to drive away the voices.

stop it. you'll wake them up. they still need to sleep. get over yourself. you're not special.

go to sleep. you have chores tomorrow. I don't care if you're sick. you're a part of this family. you will do your part.

I shout at the clock to stop. My voice is a strangled moan.

shut up. no one cares. you're a burden. stupid. selfish.

I try to run away. I find myself in an endless, gray corridor, running and running without end. My legs feel like lead. Somewhere behind, I know the clock is following. I hear its feet pounding the metal, louder with every step. My footsteps, by contrast, are muffled.

Its endless heartbeat echoes down the tunnel, coming at me from all directions at once.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

It wants me. It's going to take me and change me. Make me dutiful. Obedient. They'll all love me then but it's wrong. I have to get away.

I keep running. It's catching up. I let out a scream. The sound reverberates, blasting the clock, slowing it down. I know it hasn't bought me much time, so I scramble around a corner, looking for an exit.

The door is locked. I'm still struggling at it when I feel the clock behind me.

I turn around. It's almost on top of me now. I try to scream again, hoping I can push past it, but no sound comes out of my lungs. My legs are growing weaker by the second, and finally give out beneath me. I cannot move. Cannot fight.

The clock plunges a claw into my chest. It doesn't hurt, but I can feel it gripping around my heart. There's a tug as the beating flesh is torn free of connecting tissue.

The clock glances at it briefly before tossing it away.

The replacement heart is more than twice the size of my old one. It's covered in knobs and wires and metal tubes, and at the center of it all is a clock. The clock that will control my actions. Its own song is softer than its parent, but I can still hear it.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

Not one tick. There's not one clock in this entire place that can make the right sound.

My chest is stretched open as that thing is forced into the cavity. I feel tubes connecting with arteries. Flesh sliding as it settles into place like a living being. Wires snake out through my skin and knit the wound together like a torn sock.

The clock orders me to my room. Like a puppet, I obey, and suddenly I am there. Awake. The air is thick. My head is aching.

Sleep, it tells me. I lie still and close my eyes. I must. It is my order.

I must sleep.

why can't I sleep


The soldiers crowd around me again. They will attack if they know I am awake, so I feign snores, but the clock is not so easily fooled.

obey. you will sleep. i command you. you will sleep.

But I can't sleep. Not now that my nightmares have followed me here, into the real world. My clockwork heart pounds with fury, trying to punish me into unconsciousness. For a second I feel that I have it and then the feeling is gone. I am awake, horribly awake, wrapped in my nightmares as the clock comes closer and I feel it leaning over me-

it knows I'm not sleeping, I'm going to die-

Suddenly, it is gone.

I roll over, and the clock is nowhere to be seen. There's a faint shadow where it once stood, but even that vanishes, and the darkness itself seems to fade, giving way to a gray hue that brightens every second, transforming my room back into the den of safety I once knew. The clockwork heart beats once, then twice, before falling from my chest and vanishing as the wound knits itself shut, my own heart returning to me.

The soldiers melt away. The fear fades, and the cold sweat on my skin becomes soothing.

I am still tired, still in pain. My mouth is dry and my glass is empty. But as the first golden rays of sunlight breach my window, I fall calmly onto my pillow and sink, for what feels like the first time, into a peaceful, dreamless sleep.