Nothing to Fear
Little Jack Harken sat in the back of the empty classroom, the joyful screams of his peers echoing distantly across the courtyard. Ms. Davies approached him gently, the offending picture in hand.
“Jack…” she began hesitantly, sliding the sheet of red construction paper in front of his downward gaze. “What can you tell me about this drawing…?”
He stiffened at the sight. The paper had been covered with black crayon and marker, circles scribbled madly, layer after layer. Haunting slivers of red peeked out from the thick black lines, like glowing eyes piercing the gloom.
The air seemed to thicken as heat flooded into Jack’s ears. His stomach sank. He sat numbly in embarrassment, feeling his teacher’s clear eyes scrutinize his every movement. His tongue was dry and fat in his mouth as he tried to force out a response.
“…nothing…” he finally managed.
“Nothing?” replied Ms. Davies, as she crouched beside the boy’s desk. “Jack, the assignment was to draw a picture of your family…”
“IT’S NOTHING!” Jack shouted angrily, nearly toppling Ms. Davies backward as he leapt up suddenly, his grey plastic chair clattering upon the hardwood floor.
“Jack!” Ms. Davies reprimanded.
“WHY WON’T YOU JUST LEAVE ME ALONE?!” the boy continued, fat tears welling up in his eyes. He kicked wildly at the hem of her flowered dress before collapsing in hysterics.
“It’s nothing…” he sobbed.
Jack sat on the small bench outside the principal’s office, defeated. On the other side of the door, he could hear his parent’s muffled concern as they learned about the fury of today’s outburst. Jack’s hot and heavy eyes, bloodshot from crying, nagged at his temples. His empty stomach turned in circles as he imagined the punishment that awaited him at home.
The office door creaked open. “Jack,” warbled Mr. Thorpe, the school’s principal. “You may join us now.”
As he entered the small, wood-paneled room, Jack felt the force of his parents’ ire upon him, turning his pale skin a vibrant crimson. He sank into the brown leather club chair, avoiding all eye contact.
“Your parents and I are very concerned about you, Jack,” began Mr. Thorpe, his pudgy fingers fiddling with a bent paper clip. “Your artwork is one thing, but this isn’t the first time we’ve witnessed an incident like this.”
Jack felt his pulse quicken. The edges of his vision started to dim. Why did his teachers always have to harass him like this? Why couldn’t they just take him at his word? Why wouldn’t everyone just leave him alone?
“We need to know if there’s anything going on,” continued Mr. Thorpe. “Bullying, name-calling, fights. Girls. Whatever. If there’s something bothering you, you need to tell us, so we can help you.”
Jack looked up and stared directly into Mr. Thorpe’s slightly-drooping eyes. “There’s nothing, sir,” he said. “Nothing at all.”
His parents smiled, satisfied. “It’s been a long day for everyone, Mr. Thorpe,” said Jack’s father. “I think it’s best if we continue this conversation with Jack at home.”
Jack’s blood ran cold as the front door of the Harken household latched closed with a well-oiled click. He turned to see his parents’ pleasant demeanors slide away into menacing glares.
“You really fucked up this time, Jack,” lectured his father.
“No…” pleaded Jack.
“Sounds like somebody needs to go to his ROOM,” taunted his mother.
“NO!” Jack screamed, scrambling madly through the kitchen for the back door. He didn’t get far before his small form was engulfed by his father’s strong arms. “Please don’t…!”
Jack’s legs thrashed madly as his father carried him down the plush staircase, into the darkened basement. His desperate pleas were ignored as his mother wheeled open the large steel vault in the middle of the finished rec room. Pain lanced Jack’s body as he was hurled into the back wall of the chamber, his head thudding softly as he landed. The small fragment of visible light disappeared as the heavy door swung into place, leaving Jack in pitch blackness.
The unit had been originally purchased to serve as a panic room after a daytime burglary shattered Jack’s parents’ notion of their perfect suburban life. As Jack’s father began to drink more heavily to cope, Jack’s mother began medicating herself with prescription drugs, as well. Neither had much interest in raising their young son.
Jack was 4 years old when he first experienced Nothing. He’d always been afraid of the dark, but the true terror of the vault was in its soundproofed walls. They didn’t just block out noise, they absorbed it almost completely, leaving Jack in utter darkness listening to the sounds of his own organs — the pumping of blood in his ears, the incessant churning of his empty stomach, the wan hissing of oxygen through the pores of his skin.
Once again, little Jack Harken was utterly alone, cut off from the outside world. He felt the void of the Room pressing into his brain, pushing him ever farther into madness. Tears streamed from his eyes, roaring down his cheeks and flooding the cold metal floor.
He felt Nothing. Nothing at all.