This is a continuation of the story I've been sharing through The Prompt over the last two weekends. This week's writing prompt didn't seem to fit with the story so I'm including it separately here for those who are following Tom's dilemma. Hope you enjoy and please do comment if you do (or even if you don't!)
The tiny letters flickered before Tom's eyes, commanding his attention. As he breathed in and out the flames guttered slightly in the breeze. They appeared suspended in mid-air, not attached to anything like the wick of a candle. Cautiously he reached out and felt the heat from the flame on his fingertips. They were definitely actual, physical flames and not a trick of his imagination. He passed his hand around, below and above them. There seemed to be nothing providing the fuel for the flames. Tom knew from his scientific schooling that a flame needs fuel, oxygen and an ignition source yet these flames appeared to be burning without any source of fuel. Also, they had 'popped' into existence without any visible means of ignition - one moment they weren't there, the next they were.
Slowly Tom stepped back from the flaming letters. He needed time to think about this. What was happening to him was impossible according to all the physical laws of the universe, yet he was living through this bizarre experience. This morning he'd got up, caught the train, worked, eaten lunch, travelled home, all perfectly normal. A day like any other day. Then that tapping noise, whatever that had been, had changed everything. He'd investigated the noise which had led him to enter the lounge and get shut in the dark. Now he was staring at some burning letters which were spelling out the word 'HELP'. But who, or what, wanted help?
Something had changed. Tom was aware that the room was different but couldn't immediately put his finger on what it was. The darkness was till all encompassing, the letters flickered in front of his eyes, still seemingly floating in the air as if by ...
The drumming had stopped! Tom was suddenly struck by an enveloping silence. For the first time he was acutely aware of his breathing. It sounded shallow and ragged, causing the flaming letters to pulsate gently. He made a conscious effort to slow and deepen his breathing, aware that at any moment he could tip over into a panic attack. As his breathing deepened Tom strained his ears for the slightest sound but there was nothing, only the sounds he was making.
When had the drumming stopped? Was it at the same time that the letters had appeared? Were these things connected? Tom had no idea. He had been so drawn to the visual stimulus of the letters that he'd ceased to notice the drumming. Now that it was gone and he was conscious of this fact the silence seemed overwhelming. It felt as if it were sucking everything out of the room. Tom felt briefly lightheaded and thought he might faint but thankfully this quickly passed. He concentrated on looking at the letters and his brief panic passed.
'Let's look at this logically' he thought. 'Today was a normal, boring day. Nothing extraordinary happened. Then there was an weird tapping, which became a drumming. I followed it into my normal, boring lounge and now I'm standing in the darkness, staring at some burning letters, unable to find my way out of the room.'
He sighed, the flames flickered and Tom's shoulders slumped. There was no point trying to apply logic to this, there was nothing logical about what was happening and no logical solution presented itself to him. He had no idea what had happened or how to get himself out of whatever it was he was in. Tom suddenly slumped to the floor as if the puppeteer had cut all his strings. He put he head in his hands, all energy seemingly sucked out of him.
Tom sat like this for a while, no energy, no impetus to do anything. The situation was hopeless. If he couldn't work out what was happening to him what chance did he have of getting out of it? For the first time in his life Tom felt real despair. He was alone in the dark, surrounded by silence, with no idea what to do. He couldn't help himself and there was no one out there to help him. Time was passing and he had no idea how long he'd been in this space, wherever it was. It certainly didn't feel like his lounge anymore. Slowly Tom raised his head and opened his eyes. He was stunned to see the letters before his face. They had been in front of his eyes when he'd been standing and they were still in front of his eyes when sitting. They were commanding his attention, demanding to be noticed. Tom closed his eyes, counted to ten and opened them. The letters were still there. He repeated this twice, each time counting higher but the result was the same; the flaming letters flickered gently before his eyes.
Tom stood up gingerly, aware that without being able to orientate himself it would be easy to stumble and fall. The letters rose with him, staying directly before his eyes at all times. Tom experimented with them, turning round, standing on tiptoes, ducking down until he was squatting on his haunches but the effect was always the same. The letters stayed in his eye line, demanding to be looked at.
Tom understood that whatever 'HELP' meant it was something to do with him. His attention was being held by this word and he was obviously supposed to do something, to react in some way to it. That much was obvious by the fact that he couldn't escape from it unless he shut his eyes. And to be honest, even with his eyes closed he could see a shadow of the word on the inside of his eyelids. There was to be no escape, he had to do something. The word was commanding him to act, demanding something of him.
Tom took a deep breath as he tried to decide what to do. Someone or something wanted, needed help. But who? And what? He had no idea. So where should he start? He knew from recent experience that if he started walking he would get nowhere. So that seemed pointless. There was no sound to guide him and nothing apart from the word to look at. He was totally lost as to what his next move should be. Then it occurred to Tom that the only option open to him as to break the silence. Maybe he needed to open the lines of communication? He was reluctant to do this without knowing who or what he would be communicating with but he had no other option. He'd tried everything else.
What should he say? Without too much thought Tom nearly blurted out 'Hello' but something stopped him. That didn't feel like the right word for this particular situation. Then he knew what he should say. He stilled his mind, tried to calm his breathing and whispered 'Help' into the darkness.