There were no vampires hunting in the perfect darkness of night, no zombies waiting to grab your ankles when you couldn't see where you were stepping, and there were certainly no ghosts waiting for you to turn the lights out so they could appear in your bedroom. These were the nightmares you never had because there was no reason to fear what didn't exist. You never had a reason to fear the dark, but if you had, maybe you wouldn't be where you are right now.
It was always a show of fearlessness when you took the unlit alleyway as a shortcut on your way home. Not every time, but when you were walking with some friends, and the opportunity presented itself, you would slink down that path while they went around. Hoping they wouldn't notice you were gone, you’d wait until they were just about to the other end of the alleyway and you’d leap out and give them a scare.
You further solidified their fear of the dark while alleviating your own with each uneventful trek through the darkness. At least, until that time where it took your friends a little bit longer to realize you were gone. For the first time, you encountered something unexpected in the void of light. It grabbed you, choked you, and as you thrashed, you felt even more of these beings as they grabbed your arms and legs and pinned them. The last thing you heard before succumbing to unconsciousness was the panicked voices of your friends calling out to you.
Now, you have nightmares every night. That’s not to say the iron cage you’re locked in brings you any comfort when you awake. The grimy metal encloses all around you, not giving you enough room to even stretch your legs. You have a single pillow, sticky and smelly, unwashed for who knows how long, that you rest your head on, curled up in the fetal position while your naked body shivers on the cold floor. No, there is nothing you want to be awake for, except to escape what you now see every time you close your eyes.
When you’re lucky, you’re still just in the cage. At least time passes quicker that way. But more often, you imagine the grotesque faces and shapes of the monsters that now hold you and what their plans might be. These nightmares have become deeply ingrained into your mind, and the idea of monsters no longer seems so laughable to you. This dreamscape of horrors runs rampant in your sleep, as if making up for the lost years of peaceful nights.
It’s been dark for days now. Maybe weeks. Dim lights illuminate some spots around you, and you see other cages, more captives of these creatures. But no one makes a sound, for fear of attracting too much attention from their captors. Food comes scarcely, a putrid gruel just edible enough to keep you alive. You eat it, praying that salvation may come. But this routine continues, day after day, weaning you from your hopes and prayers.
But one day, the routine stops. You hear something unfamiliar across the room. Metal creaking and moaning, sounds of pleading, and muffled cries echo through the chamber, slowly approaching you. Eventually, they make their way to your personal prison. The cage door creaks as it opens, but you merely weep quietly as your hands are tied and a gag fills your mouth, knowing that nothing you can say will sway this creature.
It pushes you into a line with the other victims, and slowly you march along until the line approaches a single heavy door. One by one, captives are marched through this door as it opens and slams shut behind them. No one has come back out. After living in this hell, through the nightmares and darkness, you almost welcome the thought of your death beyond this door. Every few minutes, another victim passes through. Maybe it’s a quick death, you hope. You hope for painless too, but life could hardly be that fair. Only two more remain in front of you. You imagine saying goodbye to your friends and family. One left. You pray for forgiveness, just to be safe.
Now it’s just you and the door. You hear nothing beyond it. Silence surrounds you. You look behind you. You can just make out a figure standing there. There is no escape. You accept death, and prepare yourself.
The door opens and a hand grabs you to pull you inside. You hear the door slam shut behind you. The same hand pulls you forward by the wrist a few more steps. It is unmistakably human. It lets go, and after just a moment’s wait, a bright light blinds you. It seems brighter than any light you've ever seen before. You turn about and try to find the source, but suddenly that never-ending silence was broken by the murmuring of voices. You stop moving, and hope for your vision to return as quickly as possible.
Gradually, you begin to make out faces. People. They stare at you in near darkness from slightly below. You finally find the source of the light above you, and you realize you’re on a stage. You’re mind races to explain what’s happening, but as you look over the faces of the crowd in front of you, there’s one you recognize. A teacher of yours, Mr. Corman! You’re in his physics class right now, and you can tell by the shocked look on his face that he recognizes you. You try to call out, to beg for help, but the gag ensures only muffled nonsense comes out.
You only get to plead for a few seconds before a voice booms over an intercom,
“This is the last one for tonight, people, so lay down what you've got now. Bidding starts at ten thousand!”
Hands go up in the crowd, raising the bids higher, and you can only watch in horror as your last hope, Mr. Corman, breaks a sly smile over his face and raises his hand as well. You were right about monsters, at least. They don’t exist. But as you look at the sadistic faces filling the crowd in front of you, you understand that there are far more sinister things hiding in the dark, and that your nightmares are just beginning.