Report Transcribed from a Vocal Account Given by HARGREEVES, KELLEN. (39, M)
UAU MEMBER ID #00000294730
My name is Kellen Hargreeves and I was an MDU supermax division warden.
I was a regular warden before I moved to the supermax division. It’s probably no surprise that being a prison warden in Sinine city during this day and age is no walk in the park. I’d say I probably had my face spat in five… maybe six times a day? I could give you an expansive list of all the ugly names I’ve been called. I don’t have that steely enforcer work ethic to me that a lot of my co-workers do. I really don’t know how they do it, being degraded and assaulted day in and day out for a living. It just. It just got to me I guess.
Funnily enough, I took the post to try and get away from it all, y’know? I know not a lot of people get what I mean by that, it’s like going to an aquarium to get away from the ocean, but I really just needed some peace and quiet and there always seemed to be an open position in the supermax division. All those street protests and violent riots… I couldn’t even lay in my own damn bed at night without some awful ruckus outside my window to keep me up. That’s why I took the position. I have a lot of faith in the U.A.U, I know what they’re capable of– hell, who doesn’t? So the fear of any of the inmates giving me trouble down there hardly crossed my mind. I know from word of mouth that all the prisoners in the supermax division were usually so restrained and tied up in U.A.U’s finest MD constraints that they could hardly speak or even move for that matter. Sure enough, the post I was assigned to was to monitor a single cell. That of Inmate 072518. I don’t remember the actual name of the inmate if there ever was one, whenever spoken we would always just say inmate 072518. Which I guess in retrospect was a bit cumbersome but it never seemed to strike me as odd.
Inmate 072518 was confined to a large empty room for a cell. It was much longer than it was tall, spanning for a good maybe fifteen feet? On each end and with the inmate stood in the very center. The room was stark white and empty save for the walls which were lined with large industrial stage lights, all of which were on at full blast and positioned to face directly at 072518. The inmate stood straight in the middle, bound up by a series of constraints that covered most of his body. It was reassuring seeing him so locked up. With so much wrapped around his frail little body, you might think he’d never move again and those powerful lights shining on him all day and all night gave the impression of a bug frozen under a magnifying glass. I almost wasn’t afraid of him if I hadn’t known what he was before he stepped into our institute.
The Shadow Legion is a group of conspiracy theorists, internet trolls, and fire starters who fancy themselves cultists. They’re always on the news having caused some new scene. Sometimes it’s just some loser kid who threw on a cloak and a mask and ran out into the street looking to cause trouble for attention and sometimes it’s a lot darker like those bodies they found at the old factory lot a few weeks back. The common theme is that they claim to be followers of the Shadow Archers. I’m no magic aficionado, I don’t really understand any of the witchcraft or runeworks or anything in between but I am keen enough to know that the Shadow Archers are those who have been disgraced from magic and their activity is largely offensive and rejected in the larger magic community. They work in black magic, hexes and curses, stuff like that, y’know? I haven’t seen much of it but I can recall seeing a newsreel where a man slipped into his own shadow while being pursued by the cops. I’ve also heard of sightings of the Shadow Archers in the underground before. Apparently, they just stroll about freely down there, imposing and unbothered, they coexist peacefully with the underground. Lots of terrible people who are both capable and responsible for some heinous things walk those streets but even for their standard everyone keeps a healthy distance whenever an Archer is around. We all know the stories of those who have gotten in their way going missing and then being found a week or so later mutilated in unholy ways.
I heard nursery rhymes as a young kid about them, y’know the sort that seem far too grim to be recited to children and yet they are. The fairy tale went that the Archers got their name from them allegedly firing arrows up to heaven in an attempt to skewer an angel from the sky and cannibalize it when it fell to the ground. People have debated whether it was to “obtain the power of the holy light” through particularly gruesome means or if it was hatred towards the light and the angels who shed it. Either way, I was taught since childhood to stay as far away as possible from any Shadow Archers I might encounter and there I was spending entire round-the-clock shifts face to face with one.
If you ever have the misfortune of seeing one of them out on the streets, slinking around the underground and sometimes the back alleys of the slums, you’d find yourself too busy keeping your distance in fear to bother trying to fathom what’s under those long, dark billowy cloaks and menacing mask. I wager it would surprise a lot of people to know that the horrible man under such horrible garb is hardly a man at all. When we admit criminals and they’re first stripped of their belongings and reduced to our prison uniform it tends to take away a lot of the threat from their presence but for inmate 072518 that wasn’t the case. Bound in a straight jacket and standing completely alone shackled by both his… no, it’s… it’s neck and it’s ankles, it was tall and yet looked crippled. At first glance, you might think someone had put a skeleton in one of our uniforms and called it a practical joke but it was more than bone. It had something over it’s bones but I can’t bring myself to call it skin. It was a murky gray layer that seemed to shift gently across its body, almost like a thin blanket of smoke. It almost looked as if it’s entire body had been scorched but from our thermal scans you might think that even the sun's rays would simply pass through its body from how low its readings were. Its eyes were covered by a heavy restraint that wrapped around the dome of it’s skull which I always found myself grateful for… I couldn’t bear to imagine staring at that thing and having it stare back. If it even had eyes underneath there. The only real discernible feature of its face was its teeth as its mouth was held ajar by thick leather as a part of the restraints that covered its body. It’s teeth were jagged and crude but always reminded me that that thing was once a human, like me or anyone else.
Dark magic is performed at one’s own personal expense, I hear. That’s why it’s so taboo, to perform such work you must give something in return, whether that be your blood or something worse. I don’t know how much dark magic this creature had performed in its “life” but by now it had left it a shell of a man, locked up and probably slowly evaporating from the inside out, the darkness it lived in slowly eating itself up. I can’t remember if I had read it from the report or had just deduced it myself after a few on-end hours of sitting and staring into that cell but their magic allowed them to freely manipulate the darkness, hence it was locked away in a room absolutely devoid of any shadow whatsoever. And that was more than enough to provide me the sanctuary I sought. I spent days sitting there in silence, usually occupying my time with a book or something and sparing glances to make sure 072518 was in the same spot. And that was it. That was my job. For a short time, I was paid to sit in a bright room and watch through a small opening to make sure that rotting corpse never moved. No rowdy street rioters to wrestle with, no crazed lunatics spouting some arcane bullshit, just me, my books, and 072518. It was… almost peaceful. I can’t quite say I was completely relaxed. I mean, how could you be, right? I spent a lot of time studying 072518 through the thick reinforced glass.
Many of our prisoners who get locked away in these special quarters to hamper their magic look drained and weak, but 072518 didn’t look weak to me. It looked dead. The thought of having someone check if it was still alive occurred to me quite often and I think I only ever ignored it because of that shifting ethereal shadow in place of it’s skin that would crawl in a manner that was almost imperceivable from my distance and sometimes lift from its scalp in weak wisps that immediately flittered into nothing. It was that subtle movement that kept me set on the notion that it was still living. Or maybe I just dreaded the idea of anyone having to get close to that thing in it’s barren state. I found myself remembering those grim old nursery rhymes much more frequently in the time I spent in that post.
The day it first happened was proceeding just as any other. I was sitting in my chair, one I was never cocky enough to really recline in, juggling glances at the pages of my book and through the looking glass as I always had. I’ve since heard that it was most likely caused by a massive power surge that came from a museum downtown; I guess it was some sort of heist and someone from the High Council got involved? I just… I just have such a hard time believing that’s what caused it. The prison is miles from downtown Sinine so either that was some massive power surge or it was something else. My theory is that it was someone from the Shadow Legion. Allegedly a good few of them are well-versed in hacking and have been known to give the U.A.U some trouble on the cyber front. Whatever it was, it only actually happened for maybe half a second.
I felt a low buzz and it made my hair stand on end. Before I could even move my head to look it happened: the lights went out. The prison had been hit by a power outage and I heard the slow decrescendo of millions of watts of electricity leave every bulb in the room. You know how when you spend time around machinery the white noise of their operation kinda fades into nothing for you but the second they stop working and you find yourself in true silence you suddenly realize they had been there the whole time and you had stopped noticing their sound? That’s what I heard as all those lights blinked off and I heard them die down almost in sync with my heart plummeting into my stomach. My eyes shot to the window instantly. Emergency lights. Thank god. Emergency lights. They weren’t nearly as bright as all of the stage lights that had gone out but they kept the room illuminated and apparently 072518 in place. It was still in place but I saw it move. Seeing it move for the first time after all of our time together was… Horrifying. It writhed. Struggled in it’s restraints for the half second that only the emergency lights were on it. I can only assume it was trying to escape but it couldn’t beat the heavy restraints before power was restored and the room was soaked in the almost blinding light from every wall again. 072518 seemed to cringe and almost shrivel as the light washed over its dreadful skin and it returned to its static state.
I felt a relief wash over me but it wasn’t a complete relief. The lights were coming back on already and they were promptly accompanied by flashing red strobes and a blaring alarm. Understandably, the outage had caused a disruption in the prison’s activities and there were some breakouts. I find myself feeling bad for the prisoners and not my coworkers. I remember when I left my shift that day how miserable and brutalized some of the inmates had been. The MDU is not renowned for how comfortable it is for its prisoners. If my own experience hadn’t occupied my mind as I left the prison that day, I probably would’ve had enough attention to have called for medical assistance for some of them but I could only think about the way 072518 had twisted and thrashed against its straight jacket for not even a full two seconds. I had stayed put in my post while the alarm sounded. That was my job, after all. 072518 was my sole responsibility and I was damned if I was gonna take my eyes off of it again for the rest of the day.
The next day things went back to normal. 072518 did not move, pressed under the heavy glare of all those lights. I was nervous, though. I caught my hand shaking as it lifted my coffee to my mouth more than once and I didn’t even open my book because I was so busy peering through that hole. I think I had started to have trouble sleeping because I started having headaches. Maybe the paranoia was just getting to me and it started to affect my health. I think it was driving me sick. I visited my doctor but didn’t get prescribed anything more than some minor painkillers that anyone would use for migraines and the like. But things proceeded uneventfully and the status quo returned. I went in, stared through the little opening all day, and then packed up and went home. It was a week before I felt safe enough to open my books again and another before my gazes through the window returned to much less frequent glances. It never felt the same, though. I felt like my heart beat a tick faster while I was in that room, there was that unease in my stomach, y’know? Especially whenever my eyes were on 072518.
It was maybe after those two weeks of recuperation that I had noticed the thing on my wrist. At first, I thought it was just a small cut on the back of my wrist, perhaps I had accidentally hurt myself in the panic of the outage and hadn’t noticed. But that was far too long ago for the cut to still be so deep so maybe it was some other time afterward during my bout with this pseudo-insomnia. After another week it didn’t seem to be healing so I contacted my doctor to less than satisfying results once more. I was told to keep an eye on it and call again if anything changed or if nothing changed at all. Maybe that call for my attention was what caused me to first notice what happened. The first time I noticed it was in my peripheral vision, I saw a thin strand of… something rise from my wrist. I turned to wipe it away thinking it was a stray hair or thread that had stuck to me and dismissed it as it had disappeared. The next time I noticed it was during a shift of mine. I saw it rise from my wrist and swept it away again. But then it happened again. I examined my wrist and saw it up close. Slow, weak wisps of haze slipping through the slit on the back of my hand. I blinked and put my hand over it. It felt almost cold but so vaguely so that I can’t say with perfect certainty that it wasn’t just my imagination. I wiped my forearm up and down almost as if I was attempting to smear the cut off my skin. I tried blowing on it. I tried wiping it against my shirt, my desk, the wall. Nothing was working so I furrowed my brow and returned to my idle work, resigning to call my doctor and notify her of the new development after my shift.
That’s when I looked up and connected the dots. Those whispering threads of shadow that would continuously slowly lift from 072518’s head like somebody had extinguished a fire on his scalp… I felt the pit in my stomach twist and my mouth go dry. My eyes frantically returned to my wrist just as another thread faded away. I grabbed my wrist again, this time tighter like I was trying to stop blood flow or something. I opened my hand again and it was still there, two or three thin slivers of smoke silently rising from my skin released from my panicked grasp. I looked again at 072518, my eyes wide but as always it hadn’t moved or responded in any way. Was this it’s doing? Had it happened during the outage? Was it a curse? Had it bit me like an animal– like a snake– in the dark and injected its dark venom? Had it managed to slip through and touch me? Had just the act of staring at it too often for too long caused its shadowy affliction to spread to me? In my frenzy, an idea came to me. The light. If the light could stop inmate 072518, maybe it would stop the mark on my wrist. Maybe it would wash off my skin under a ray of light like grime under water and soap. I grabbed a flashlight I kept on my desk and quickly clicked it on and hung it over my wrist. I was acting so quickly that the stinging took me by surprise and the flashlight flew from my hand as I clutched my wrist in pain. I clenched my teeth and sucked in air as I winced, it was a stinging burning sensation on my wrist that took a second to vanish.
I felt tears come to my already blurry, frightened eyes. I’m not sure why the thought came to me but I couldn’t help but ask in the back of my mind, was this what that monster had felt all over? Did it endure such pain from all angles for so long? Was I… Was I tearing up from empathy? No. No, it had to just have been from the searing pain. There’s no way anyone could feel anything like that for something so far from human. My eyes went back to it as I blinked my tears away and tried to recompose myself. My hand felt weak and limp after the shock from the pain. I called in for someone to come and take over for me. I went home early that day for the first time ever.
I told my doctor and she had it wrapped in bandages. She asked if I was involved in any magic. I told her about my job at the DMU and everything that had happened. I had expected more worry from her but the grimace I got in response felt more like befuddlement and a disappointed kind of pity. She couldn’t offer any concrete diagnosis even if she tried, and she did, offering a bunch of bullshit half answers for my problem. I didn’t go back to her office. This was partially because going out felt like more of a chore than before. This new development had made my paranoia so much worse and I don’t remember getting any sleep during the time resulting in a lack of energy. I would always nervously rub my bandaged wrist. I don’t know if I was trying to soothe it or if it was some sort of dark itch but it became an idle habit of mine, something I did without even noticing, often catching myself in the act after snapping back from an insomnia-fueled trance. I found myself becoming acutely wary of any lamp lights or open areas of brightness that I would keep my right hand away from. This was difficult for someone who worked in a room intentionally kept as bright as possible. My wrist started to tingle while I was working, reacting to the strong light of the room even from underneath the bandages.
I began to consider resignation. More so because my insomnia was beginning to render me unfit for work than the concerning itch that beckoned to me from under the bandages but that was definitely an unspoken factor of it. I wouldn’t need to quit, though. I happened to be mulling those very thoughts over when it happened again. I was wrestling with a tenacious tiredness that day from my sleepless nights so I think I had first closed my eyes and kept them closed for a second too long as one does when they haven’t been sleeping. But when I opened my eyes again it was dark. I know I had opened my eyes but I didn’t see anything, it was the same darkness that I saw in the back of my eyelids. I felt myself immediately leap from my chair and I swung my head around frantically, still seeing nothing. The strangest thing was that I didn’t hear anything either. It wasn’t like the first time. There was no dying hum of the lights, there were no emergency lights flickering on, and there was no loud siren that followed. I fumbled for the emergency button on my panel frantically, my sweaty palms scouring the board of keys and buttons. I can’t remember how long I was in the dark, I feel like the actions I took should have only taken a few seconds and yet those panicked moments in the dark felt like they went on for hours.
Nothing sounded out of the ordinary. The low hum of the lights still purred and I didn’t hear any frantic footsteps anywhere but I couldn’t see anything. Was it only my room that lost its lights? Was I alone? The one instance during that unholy darkness where I heard anything unusual was a low rush of wind, I felt it ruffle through my hair and gust past my shirt… I can’t tell you what direction it came from but it felt like something intangible had passed through me. It was implausible, there was no way a gust of wind could ever slip into the airtight facilities of the MDU, not in a million years. And besides, I was way too freaked out to pay it any attention at the moment, I just needed to make sure the cell was totally secured and 072518 hadn’t gone anywhere. My panic overcame me after my blind search for the emergency button took a second too long for me to stomach and I started to smack every button on the panel in an attempt to do anything at all. I felt a blanket of warmth cover me. At first, I thought it was the blood rushing to my face in my flustered panic but the warmth began to steadily grow and it wasn’t just my face. It was on the nape of my neck, the back of my head, my arms, my knees. It felt like it was pushing me down, like deep sea pressure compressing you from every angle, but I wasn’t underwater and I felt warm. It wasn’t a burning heat, no, it remained warm but it was so present and persistent across my body that I was completely uncomfortable. I fell to my knees, it was like a hundred wide-open eyes were peering at me unyieldingly, watching as their hot eyesight crumpled me further into the floor.
I’ve been blind for about a week now. I can’t tell you how challenging it’s been adjusting to my… My new life. I don’t work at the MDU anymore obviously. They found me… They found me on the floor of its cell, curled up in a pool of my own blood. The blood was from my arms which had been gouged and ripped up by shards of glass. I wish, I truly really desperately wish to watch the security tape footage they tell me about. Apparently, it shows me... entering the cell and screaming in pain as I stumble over to one of the stage lights in the wall and thrust my fist deep into it, shattering the light and shutting it off. I don’t see but I can hear the video as it relays the sound of the glass shattering and it strikes me that I don’t scream in pain as my forearm is ripped up by fractured glass but instead I moan louder and louder as I near the next light in the wall and do the same thing I did to the first one. Apparently, I collapsed from blood loss before I could break every light but that was enough. Enough for 072518 to… to escape. It was only moments after I collapsed unconscious that other MDU wardens rushed into the room. I don’t remember doing it, of course, I promise you. You have to believe me. The last thing I remember is falling to the ground under that heavy blanket of invisible heat. I haven’t been able to move my arms without an unbearable pain since but I’ve been living in the hospital since and with medical attention they’ve slowly been healing a bit… which is more than I can say for my eyesight.
I’ve tried everything. I’ve had opticians come in, witches who claim to wield healing magic, even a few clergymen and exorcists but nothing has helped. All I see is darkness now. And… and it’s strange. Because… With every passing day, I find myself struggling more and more to remember the way things looked when I could see. The memory of myself in the mirror is muddled, my drive to work is foggy, my coworkers and the faces of the inmates I would pass by every single day have become featureless in my head. The only thing I remember clearly is inmate 072518, alone in its blank cell. That was the very last thing I saw while I could still use my eyes. And maybe the paranoia had finally caused my mind to crack but I think the very last time I closed my eyes I saw those lipless jaws grin at me from across the cell.
I’m still not sleeping. I sit in my hospital bed at night coming to terms with the way I am now. Blind people develop more acute hearing in place of their missing eyesight and I… I believe that is what’s happening to me. I sit there at night by myself and I hear the wind outside. I hear it all night long and all I can think about is that dark gust that passed through me when I lost my vision. Another sense of mine has also been heightened. My sensitivity to light. When the nurses were first assessing my injuries I heard them mention the dark markings on my arms. Markings. Plural. I only had the one small cut on my wrist. Had it spread? Had it seeped into all my cuts and gashes in my forearms? If there was that eerie smoke coming from them I couldn’t see it and the nurses hadn’t mentioned it, at least not in front of me. But now, every time someone turns on the lights in the room, my skin crawls with that heavy, hot sensation. It’s unbearable. How is a blind man supposed to avoid the light? I don’t know how I’m going to survive… All I’m left with is the mental image of that horrid inmate and a searing aversion to any light. The other image that happened to stick in my mind was that thing about the eyes– how the light felt like eyes peering at me, showering me in hot, suffocating rays. I can’t see but I know I’m being watched whenever I’m under the light. It’s always watching and I need to get away from it. I very desperately need to get away from it and to somewhere where I can never be watched again. I hate that feeling so much, the feeling of someone’s eyes digging into you and not being able to look back.
Every time I do manage to drift off in my hospital bed I’m immediately met by this recurring nightmare that sends me straight back to being awake. In my nightmare, my eyes… my eyes open again and my vision is back. It’s nighttime in my hospital room and I’m alone. I hear that dark rushing louder than ever and I feel it stir me again and then it's there, at the end of my bed, looming over me. It's taller than I remember it being from my safe distance before and it's wearing its black cloak again but no mask. No. Instead, its hood covers its face and I saw those teeth that I know all too well. It lifts its sharp hands up to its head and slowly begins to lift the hood but just before I can make out the eyes I wake up, returning to the endless void in my eyes once again. The one thing that I can’t get over though is that… If I only ever first entered this hospital room after being blinded… how do I know what it looks like in my dreams?