As I walk down the hallway towards my locker, all I feel is a constant aching pain. Anxiety isn’t like a keen knife that slices into you, it’s a dull hammering ache that starts in your core and keeps beating until all of your defenses are shattered fragments on the ground. Nearing my locker I get the books I’ll need for next period and start down the hallway again. People look at me, some glances hostile and some friendly, but I don’t think of them. I fade into myself so that the hammering and the stepping of my feet become one continuous rhythm.
Ivan looks out upon the approaching army, their trained pounding march culminating into a ground-shaking master beat. But, Ivan is simply staring on with steely gaze at the approaching horde. What should it matter if all of the forces of darkness massed around him so that they formed a black darker than night? The only things Ivan feels are the balance of his blade, and a confidence in power. His power, so strong that nothing can shake it.
Lunch is and has been my least favorite period since entering middle school. On the first day back after summer, I had a panic attack and had to talk to one of the adults on lunch duty. His name was Nate, and he was one of the few adults I met who seemed like he actually cared. The lunch room was loud and confusing. I was sitting at a table without anyone and for some reason I just got struck with how alone I was. The sounds blurred together: the yelling and talking merging so that all I heard was the roar of a single, menacing beast. Then I felt a searing at my eyes and I was trying my hardest to repress the tears, so much so that they became actually, physically painful. All of the sensory overload combined to this volatile mix. I realized I didn’t have any control over myself so I started running out because I felt so embarrassed. Nate noticed and came over to talk to me at a table near the bathroom. Students were passing us by and looking at me. I felt even more panicked at their glances because I didn’t want anyone to see me as I really felt. Nate had tattoos and was gruff looking, which almost calmed me down. I tried to get myself together because I felt really embarrassed and with him talking to me I was able to. I don’t talk to him now because I don’t want to relive that experience. It’s not that I don’t have any real friends, though. I sit at the same table every day with people I know and like. But being there, surrounded by all of the noise and whirling movement, I don’t know anyone. In the climax of my fears, I don’t even have the strength to know myself. I look at my food, barely touched, and slowly I give in to the noise, and the fear, and the pain.
Ivan swings his blade unflinchingly as wave after wave of the relentless horde crash against his steely resolve, stronger than any metal. Those who come close are immediately cut down and in them he sees a new attitude, a new emotion they’ve never felt before, fear. The primordial forces of darkness, born the same instant as the light have come to fear him. To their horror, Ivan lets out a long, resounding laugh.
I remember that one time in PE we were roller skating and I fell down and twisted my ankle. The coach told me to rest a few minutes and that it would be fine. He said I hadn’t sprained it. I was in so much pain. I kept trying to do the exercises, even though I couldn’t move my ankle. Wrenching my shoe off hurt so much I almost threw up and for the rest of the day I was hobbling up and down the stairs to all of my classes. When I got home, I took off my shoe and saw that my ankle was swollen to three times its size and covered in bruises. My mother freaked out and took me to the doctor, where they said I had indeed sprained it. It wasn’t that I hadn’t cared about the pain. I just wanted to fit in and not get in trouble for being late for a class or something else. Even in those moments, the emotional pain was still much stronger than the physical pain I was experiencing. I head to my locker a second time and get my books that I’ll need for homework. Then I go and get on the bus.
Ivan whirls his sword down with a sickening thud as the last of the incarnations is slain. He looks around himself and views the carnage of the most epic struggle the world has ever seen and is unfazed. He begins to walk away and crosses over a mountain. There in the distance he sees a temple, velvety blackness pulsing off of it like a shroud at once ethereal and more solid than any reality. He starts towards the temple, a foul shrine to all that is unholy and non-sacred. A monument to evil that rises high into the sky, mocking the heavens, even though it should sink itself so low as to never be seen. He knows the place though he has never seen it. He knows it to be the tomb of the one great evil. The source of all that is perverted and unwholesome looms above him. They say it was the tomb of the great evil, but Ivan knew it was no tomb, but a prison.
I open the front door with my key and go inside; no one is at home. I make myself something to eat and sit in front of the TV. I used to enjoy video games, but now in my free time I find myself in such a state of lethargy that I do nothing but plant myself and dully watch without seeing. I have homework, but this has never been difficult for me, and I can generally pass my classes with little effort. But not even in these brief moments of respite am I safe as I start to think about how I’m home alone and that there are no adults or other people around. I start to think about men with guns, or knives, manifestations of what haunts me that would try and corrupt me to be like them. Maybe they would wait for my family to get home so as to have more victims. My father would die fighting them and leave me and my mother to be tormented. Maybe they will just come in now and steal me to some secluded warehouse to commit abominations in private. Considering this idea, I find myself hoping they’ll be more traditional criminals, after the money in the house, and that they’ll just break in and shoot me to death.
Ivan strides bravely through the temple as unctuous pools of something thicker than water cling to his boots. He enters a room filled full of blazing light and mountains of every form of wealth tower before him. He immediately recognizes the falsehood of its nature and ignores the hills of that which man craves most. The money is not false as if in an illusion, but so that it is a simple ruse to conceal the true purpose of this place. As he passes through a small, discreet doorway he enters into a labyrinth- like system of catacombs that would take any other man weeks to navigate. Ivan is immediately able to pick the proper path, and exiting within a few minutes, comes out into a large cave. In the center of the cave is a being of blackness shifting from corporal to non-corporal shapes instantaneously. As he walks towards it, a large pair of yellow eyes open and the velvety black forms its self into a monstrous ebony dragon.
Plagued by my images of large men in ski masks I make my way to my parents’ bedroom and get my father’s gun from the top of a shelf in a cabinet. My father had explained to me very clearly all of the proper procedures of gun safety and that I should only get it in emergencies, but that doesn’t matter to me in this moment. Besides, my father won’t be home for another hour and by then I can have put the gun back. I go and sit down at the kitchen table with the gun resting in front of me, and then something occurs to me.
Ivan is locked in the deadliest struggle of his life as he parries blow after blow, but can do nothing as his relentless foe redoubles his efforts. He knows he is defending faster than it is possible for any creature to attack, but he still feels the claws getting closer. One bladed talon sinks deep into his side and his blade is torn mercilessly from his hands.
I pick up the gun.
Ivan makes a valiant leap towards his sword, but a heavy tail slams him into the ground.
I raise it to my head.
Ivan tries to roll away, but he is again caught and thrown into a corner.
I undo the safety.
Ivan is paralyzed as the creature raises itself on wings so impressive as to be almost beautiful, and then begins to fly towards him.
I put my finger on the trigger.
Ivan looks on in horror as for the first time in his life he knows fear.
But as I’m about to pull the trigger, all I feel is afraid. Not afraid of getting bullied, or failing my classes, or winding up alone, or even of men in masks. I feel afraid that I won’t have the strength to save myself. I know that evil isn’t something external that beats you down through relentless blows. I know that evil starts inside you as a tiny seed and grows until you can’t find the will to keep going.
Ivan doesn’t understand as the claws wrench deep into him.
But I do, and slowly putting the gun back on the table, I realize I don’t need Ivan anymore.