Alter Existence: The World Within - "About" Blurb

Alter Existence: The World Within - "About" Blurb

Axel Sullivan was your typical man trying to make it in a mundane world of bad habits, new jobs, and that never-ending search for the perfect piece of ass. For him, life was in an endless routine of morning jogs, peanut butter sandwiches, 2nd shifts at a new security job and weekends out with his drunken cousin. With nicotine addiction as his only worry, Axel never really minded the monotonous existence he took part in. That was until he mysteriously wakes up in a world ruled by nature itself and his only way out is to destroy the human corruption he has been a part of for so long.

Alter Existence: The World Within - Book Cover

Alter Existence:  The World Within  - Book Cover
The book cover for the novel you are currently reading (created by yours truly)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

AE - Chapter 5

Chapter Five

I opened my eyes with a start, but I was still trapped in a darkness of sorts.  It was so cold here, but my insides were on fire.  I felt as if my lungs were ready to burst from the heat held within.  I forced myself to gasp for air, a difficult task – but nonetheless, the breath eased the pain inside.  I took another and another, breathing away the sting and the fire.  With every exhale, the carbon in my lungs escaped in a patch of fog.  The mist surrounded my face in a brief cloud of warmth before it fell again.  I was lying face up within the metal air duct, just as I was when the blue light first consumed me.  Perhaps all of that had been a crazy-ass dream after all.
It took way too much effort for me to move.  My arms and legs felt as if they had been asleep forever.  Man, what the hell did that light do to me?  I wiggled my fingers and toes, slowly trying to work the blood back into my veins.  Then suddenly, my limbs were alive with the stinging pain of needles running through my muscles.  Trying to turn on my right side, my muscles cried out with an uncontrollable spasm.  My whole body convulsed for a moment and when I finally calmed, my head pounded with a punishing agony.
Fighting through the anguish, I grasped the edge of the opening in the air duct and attempted to pull myself out of the confined space.  It took a lot of effort to drag myself out, but the attempt was finally met with success – then immediate failure as I plummeted helplessly to the table below with a loud crash.  Half-expecting someone to come running at the sound, I just laid there a while, trying to ease the discomfort of my weak appendages, my pounding head, and my now throbbing back, which had broken my fall.  Well, Axel, not your brightest idea.
Time passed by and yet I heard no movement of any sort.  Where is everyone? 
“Hello?” I tried to scream out, but the word only came as a whisper.  My throat was raspy, dry and it cracked with the failed attempt at calling out.  Rolling my head to the side, I peered out into the dark hallway, looking for anyone that could hear me.  As I turned my head, I discovered that my hair had fallen across my face and into my eyes.  What the hell?  I put a hand up to my face to brush the stray strands away.  My hair had probably grown about four inches since yesterday!  I ran my fingers back through it to find it in long locks that lay flat against my head, replacing the short spikes from before.  Now this is just fucked up…
Getting over the fact that I just didn’t understand what the fuck was going on, I looked out into the hallway – maybe for an answer.  Through the doorway, there appeared to be a pile of cream-colored sticks lying in a heap on the floor.  It took a few moments for my eyes to focus, but when they did, I didn’t like what I saw.  Using the strength of my arms to push myself up, I slid off of the table to try and get a closer look.  Holding myself up against the tabletop, I could tell that my legs were weak as well.  Well this could be fun…
I took a step – success.  Then another – success.  I slowly let go of the table as I took my third step – fail.  My knees buckled underneath me and I found the floor rushing up towards my face.  I hit the tile a little harder than necessary and I just laid there.  What the hell is wrong with me?  Propping myself up on my elbows, I stared out into the hallway to confirm what I had seen.  Just as I had presumed, there lay a pile of bones in a neat fashion, outlining exactly how the creature had died.  I said a silent ‘thank you’ that the skeleton was not that of a human, but rather belonged to a large reptile.  Immediately, my mind flashed back to the dinosaurs.  Oh shit!  What if they’re still around?  And here I am, a weak shell of myself lying helplessly on the floor.
Then it were as if my instincts took over, leaving my mind behind to wallow with hurt.  Axel Sullivan wasn’t one to just sit around and wait for death to find him – he was a fighter.  With that thought running through my mind, I managed to battle through the agony of my burning muscles and get myself up to my hands and knees.  I crawled, painfully, to the door frame and supported myself against the structure.  Reaching up over my head, I grasped hold of the framework and began pulling myself to my feet.  The pain was excruciating as I forced my muscles to comply, but surprisingly my body lifted as if it barely weighed a thing.  Finally, I managed to get myself to my feet once again.  I gripped the door frame with all of my strength as I gasped for air to fill my scorching lungs.  Perhaps I had pushed myself a bit too far in this state, for my vision began to shift in and out of focus as I peered down the abandoned hallway.
I’m not sure what had happened, but it looked as though no one had been in the facility in ages.  There was dirt and leaves strewed all about the floor.  It also looked as though all of the lights had been blown out and the hallway was so dark I could only see a few yards into the lab.  I wasn’t about to go searching in that darkness – who knows what I would find there – or what would find me.  All I knew is that I needed to get out of here and get back home.  This security guard shit was done for me.
Gripping onto the wood of the doorway, I started to get to the point where I could use my legs to turn around.  However, as I began to twist myself around, I suddenly had blade to my throat.
“Don’t move.”  I heard an accented male voice from right behind me.  How had I been so oblivious? I hadn’t even heard him coming up behind me.  “What are you doing here?”  He inquired as he pressed the knife further into my throat.  I felt the skin break open and a small spot of warm blood began to trickle down my neck.  This asshole is lucky that I can’t fight back right now.  Because I’d sure as hell kick his fucking ass.  Well, best to just go along with it Axel, you can’t do anything in your state.
“I’m not sure why I’m here.  I used to work here.  I don’t really know what’s going on.”  I spoke the truth, but kept it vague – I didn’t know what this guy wanted. 
“I don’t believe you.  Stand away from the doorway.”  He ordered, pulling on the back of my shirt, still keeping the blade at my neck. 
“Why don’t you believe me?”  I calmly asked.  I was surprised at how cool I was staying; I usually would’ve lost my temper a long time ago.
“I said to back away from the door!”  He shouted, pulling at me again.
“I can’t!”  I yelled back.  You don’t want to start ordering me around, dick.
“Now!”  His final jerk pulled my arms away from the frame and next thing I know I was crumpling onto the floor again.  Why didn’t he just listen in the first place?
“I told you, I can’t.  My body isn’t working right.”  I explained, putting a hand to my forehead to try and stop the throbbing that had started up again.  From my seat on the tiles, I looked up at my aggressor.  He appeared to be a middle-aged man, with blonde hair cut really short.  Streaks of gray in his blonde goatee gave away at his age.  He was of a moderate build with broad shoulders and a substantial frame to match.  His attire was in shreds for he was dressed in a tattered cream-colored shirt with a thick jacket and frayed blue-jeans.  Holding out the dagger in front of him, I could see my fresh blood on the edge of it.  Asshole…
“You’re human?”  He seemed surprised as he finally got good look at me.
“Well what the hell else would I be?”  I questioned sarcastically.
“Well honestly, from the back I could’ve sworn you were a Vitan.”  He laughed, offering me a hand to help me up.  A Vitan?  I took the man’s offer and got to my feet.  Biting down on a metal pop tab, he got my arm up over his shoulder and helped me stand there.  Then suddenly, Quercus’s words were echoing through my foggy memory. 
“Axel, you need to wake up now.  And when you do, find the Vita. 
They will help you make sense of all of this.”
Shit… had the encounter with Quercus not been a dream?  Or was I really going insane?
“What are the Vita?”  I pried for information.  But he wasn’t took quick to spill it out.
“Ah, that’s the least of your concern right now.  We need to get you back to the settlement.  I’m Jeremy, by the way.”  He stated in his Australian inflection as he let me lean on him to take a step.  With my legs wobbling underneath me, we slowly made our way out of the lab.
The very moment that we stepped into the outside, I knew something was terribly wrong.  It seemed as though I was in the same area, but there was no parking lot or vehicles anymore. Trees still surrounded the grounds, but now it seemed as though those trees had doubled, maybe tripled, and they were right up to the entrance of the facility where the blacktop had once been.  And if that wasn’t strange enough, the ground was white with a thick blanket of snow.  Understanding now why I had been so cold in the air duct, it still didn’t make one ounce of sense why it was snowing in the middle of May.  And when in the hell did it have a chance to do this?  It was a hot summer day just 24 hours ago.
I never gave way that I was completely floored by the extreme change in the environment, I just let on like everything was fine –  Like Hell It Was!!!
“I don’t know how fast we’re going to go with me like this.”  I complained, considering we were inching along at a snail’s pace due to my weakness.  Well, at least the pain in my head has subdued for the time being. 
“Ah, don’t worry about it… sorry, what’d ya say your name was again?”  Well, I never said it in the first place, but I could tell he was trying to be friendly. 
“It’s Axel.”  I kept it short.  It’s not that I didn’t trust him or anything, but I didn’t want to be too quick to give out information.
“Axel…hmm.  And you said you used to work at the lab?”  He sounded really intrigued.
“Yeah, I was a security guard.”  That bit of information couldn’t hurt, could it?
“Were you working there about nine months ago or so?”
“Well, no.  I got hired only a few weeks ago.”
“So the lab is still there…”  Jeremy began to ponder out loud.  “So how exactly did you get here?”  He averted his questions back to me, still chewing fervently on the pop tab.
Now here’s the thing – I wanted to pretend that I was confused, I even wanted to believe that I was going insane, but unfortunately, bits and pieces of information were starting to fit together.  And that little encounter with Quercus was starting to seem like more than just a coincidental dream.
“Axel, did you hear me?”  Jeremy’s concerned tone brought me back to our discussion and I realized that I had stopped walking.
“That blue light.”  I muttered, not knowing how else to explain it.
“Oh, so yours was blue, eh?  Mine was a lavender color.  It’s funny how it picks us like that.”  He started jabbering away, really losing me in the process.
“Your light.  It’s like the color chooses you, ya know?  It states what your attribute in this world will be.”
“You’re really starting to lose me, Jeremy.”  I admitted as we began to slowly walk again.
“Ah, sorry mate.  I’m not very good at explaining all this shit, ya know?  I’ll tell you, I’ll get you back to the settlement and they’ll be able to describe it better than me.  Mandy’s real good at…” 
“Mandy?!”  I cut him off and brought us to an abrupt halt.
“Yeah, Mandy.  She’s one of the scientists there.  She’s really good at explaining things to where you can understand.  I think it has to do with her attribute.  You see, she’s got this inflection in her voice…”  He paused in his rambling and redirected his gaze at me.  “Wait a minute… are you saying you know her?”
“If we’re talking about the same girl.”  I didn’t have any doubt.  What is the coincidence of another Mandy working as a scientist in this area? 
“Brown hair, um… about up to here.”  He held his hand up to his chest.  “She really likes her jewelry; ya know uh… earrings, bracelets, rings…” 
“Yeah, that’s got to be her.  I worked at the facility with her.”  There was a long pause from him as he looked at me in disbelief. 
“Wait… you worked with her?  She showed up here like nine months ago.  When did you say you got here?”  Well… once again, I didn’t say in the first place.
“Well, I just woke up here maybe a half an hour before you came and attacked me.”  I spoke a little aggravated.  I was just getting annoyed with all of the questions was all. 
“Oh, yeah, sorry about that.”  He put a hand behind his head in a nervous manner.  “Okay, last question then, ‘cause I can tell that you’re getting all questioned out.”  Man this guy was good. 
“Sounds good.”  I laughed under my breath.  He returned with a laugh of his own.  I think I could get along with this guy.  He seemed genuinely welcoming – minus the cut that was streaked across my throat.
“So, when did you last see Mandy then?”  He inquired, bringing me back to our conversation once again.  Jeremy waited, staring at me intently in anticipation, biting down hard on his metal pop tab.
“Well, I just saw her yesterday.”  I stated matter-of-factly, even though I knew he’d probably disagree with me – considering she supposedly appeared here (wherever the hell ‘here’ was) nearly nine months ago.  Well, Quercus did say I’d been gone for nearly ten months.
“Well fuck me sideways, Axel!  Do you realize you’ve been here for like nine months and didn’t even know it!  Have you been asleep this whole time?!”  He shouted with excitement.
“Jeremy, you said no more questions.”  I answered sarcastically.  He immediately put his palm to his forehead in disappointment.
“I know, I know!  But do you understand what this means?”  He paused, waiting for an answer.  “Fuck! Of course you don’t know, how could you know?  You don’t even know where you are!  Axel, you should be dead!  You should’ve died months ago!  But here you are.  You’re alive and well and standing here and…” 
“I wouldn’t say I’m doing well.  I can’t even walk on my own.”  I interrupted his rambling.  Man he loved to talk.
“Well… but still! You’re alive!  Tellus must have really wanted you here.”
Now, I didn’t understand half of what Jeremy was talking about, nor did I know who Tellus was, nor did he even answer my question about the Vita – but I wasn’t about to ask any questions.  He talked enough without me instigating him any further.  But he was kind of a cool guy.
My feet were wet and cold from the snow we trampled through, but I was slowly regaining the feeling and strength of them.  I couldn’t yet walk on my own, but I was using Jeremy as a support less and less.  We continued walking along in silence.  I could tell that Jeremy was puzzling through all of the possibilities of my survival – and he was getting frustrated the longer he went without discovering an answer.  I, too, should’ve been puzzling over all of this, but honestly, my mind was just focused on one thing – I was going to see Mandy again.  And as I closed my eyes, I relived the last moment I had seen her.  It was almost as if I could sense her soft lips upon mine once again.  But instead, I was awoken from my daydream by a rough hand over my mouth.
“Don’t say a word, Axel.”  Jeremy whispered in my ear.  We weren’t walking anymore, and when I opened my eyes I could see why.  Just ahead of us, in the middle of a river bed stood a massive creature like I had never seen before.  Its body shape sort of reminded me of an elephant, but it was far from anything recognizable.  The head hung low on its body, revealing a row of huge ridges traveling down its back and to its large lizard-like tail.  The shape of its head was long, like a horse’s would be, but it had a large diamond-shaped plate over its forehead and over the back of its skull.  Its feet were flat, elephant-like and complete with toes on it like a sloth.  At first, I thought perhaps it was a reptile, but the longer I stared at the lumbering creature, I realized it was more like a mammal in that it was covered with a gray fluffy coat finished off with bright green patches – almost like a very poorly done camouflage. 
Honestly, the big creature didn’t look harmful at all, apart from its size.  It just appeared as a large blundering, awkward animal.  But then it spotted us…
The harmless looking beast was immediately replaced with a hostile monster.  Its large fluffy mouth opened to reveal jagged, saber teeth and a blood-curling bellow.
“Should we run?!”  I called out, urging Jeremy to move.
“Hell no!  Watch this!”  He laughed as he let go of my arm.  I was able to support myself, but I knew if I took a step, I would be face down in the snow.  So, helplessly, I stood there watching – hoping that Jeremy really knew what he was doing.
He adjusted his feet hip-width apart as the creature began to charge towards us in a rampage.  Oh shit… I’m going to die.  Pulling his hands out to the side, like he was holding onto a rope, Jeremy flexed against the tension and raised his hands towards the sky as if he was lifting an immense weight over his head.  His eyes, once a dark hue of green were replaced with a brilliant violet glow.  The air within his hands began to visually shake, forming a very soft, transparent purple colored smoke within it.  Suddenly, Jeremy threw his hands forward, ‘throwing’ the smoke towards the creature as it stampeded closer.  The beast opened its mouth wide again, letting out the ear-splitting roar, but as the ‘smoke’ clashed with its face, the sound ceased immediately.
Out of the blue, the animal stopped dead in its tracks.  It shook its head side to side as if it were shaking water from its ears.  It opened its mouth again and attempted to wail, but nothing came out.  Jeremy laughed as his amused eyes slowly faded back to their original green.  He took hold of my arm and began to lead me around the bewildered beast.
“What did you do?”  I inquired, just as bewildered as the animal.  
“Ah, that?  That’s nothing.  I just manipulated the sound waves.  Tempermas are very sensitive to sound.  In fact, they depend on it.  So I took its sound away.  That’s why it got all pissy.”  He said matter-of-factly, happily grinding on the hunk of metal in his mouth .  When I didn’t say anything, he turned to face me, surely to find a confused look upon my face.  “Ah, that’s right – you have no idea about any of this.  See, remember I talked about those attributes and stuff?”  He questioned, making sure I was following along.
“Uh… yeah.  You mean about the colors and stuff.”  I recalled, still confused.
“Yeah, that’s right!  See, we have a way to ‘borrow’ attributes from the Vita.  Now, we’re not as strong as them, but it still really comes in handy.  And the best part is we all have different abilities.  Ya know, I control sound waves.  That’s how I snuck up on you at the lab without you hearing me.   And um… Mandy, yeah she does this voice thing, but I can’t really explain it. Honestly, it’s kind of lame compared to my power. Let’s see… Ramsey has this smoke ability that is pretty cool, Craig can manipulate minerals or something and Keeley can…”  Jeremy started rattling again and I lost all focus in what he was saying.  Instead, the only thought that ran through my mind was: What the fuck did I get myself into?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

AE - Chapter 4

Chapter Four

I was trapped in the world of soft azurline blue.  My body was cold, painless, almost weightless.  I don’t remember leaving the air duct, but as I looked around, I realized that I was lying in a sea of misty light and nothing else.  I had no idea where I was, nor how I had gotten there.  Slowly, groggily, I sat up, further surveying the nothingness around me.
Not knowing which direction to go, I got up and started wandering through the fog.  I had to get out of here.  Stumbling along the barren void, my feet felt as heavy as my thoughts.  Where was Mandy?  Where was the lab? Hell, where were the deadly reptiles even?
I felt as if I had drifted on for hours, but then again, I had no real concept of time.  Pulling out my cell phone I tried to check on the time.  Inspecting it over, I found that the whole thing had been fried.  How long had it been since the incident?
Suddenly, a wordless whisper echoed softly in my ear, causing me to turn to look over my shoulder.  No one was there, but in the distance, I could see a silhouetted figure against the bright blue.  Immediately, I headed towards it.
It seemed to take forever to reach it, this mysterious black outline in the distance.  But with every step, the nonverbal murmur grew ever so slightly more audible in my ear.  No words had yet formed, but I could tell now that this was definitely a voice – it was just muffled, almost like it was speaking underwater or through a strong wind.
Once I got only a few yards from the shadow, the light seemed to recede, leaving behind a very familiar tree.  Jogging up to the old oak, I took note of how barren it was.  No leaves were upon its branches and if I hadn’t known any better, I’d think it had died.  But what is this tree doing here?  In fact, I knew for sure that this was the same exact tree from the park back home.  I would know – I would sit and stare at that massive oak every single day on my morning jog.  The knot under the lowest limb gave it away for it looked like an eye, which would gaze at me no matter where I would stand.  Not to mention the way that the branches twisted and ensnared made the tree appear ancient – a unique feature all its own.  There was just no denying that this was the same tree.
As I stood there, gazing at the bark, the limbs, the empty branches, it almost seemed as if at once they reverberated.  It was slight, but just noticeable enough to trigger my curiosity.  I started to reach out to touch it and it resonated again.  There was no real sound, just the muffled whisper from before.  Could it be coming from the oak?  Okay Axel, you’re thinking like a crazy person.
Crazy or not, my intrigue in the reverberant bark caused me to reach out and touch the rough texture.
“Axel…”  My hand withdrew immediately as the soft voice rang out inside my head.  I had retracted so quickly that I fell on my ass from the shock.  So, the subdued voice had come from the oak.  Sitting on the cool ground, I just stared at the ‘eye’ of the tree.  I kept hearing the muffled whisper and I watched as the bark continued to pulse in anticipation.  Hesitantly, I crawled over to the tree and slowly put my hand back out to touch the base.
“Axel, it’s been a while.”  The ‘tree’ spoke in a calming tone.  “Where have you been hiding?”  There was a long pause as if it was waiting for an answer, but I didn’t know what to say.  I hadn’t been hiding anywhere.  I don’t understand what it is asking.
“What do you mean you don’t understand, Axel?  It’s a simple question really.  Where have you been?  It’s been months since I’ve seen you last.”  I was shocked when it had answered, considering I had never spoken my thoughts out loud.  Was this tree reading my mind? I tested the theory a little further.
“I’m not necessarily reading your mind, Axel.  This is how we communicate.  Tell me have you ever heard a tree speak before?”
Great, a tree with a sense of humor. 
“And not just any tree, but none other than a Quercus muehlenbergii, so to say.”
Umm… okay.  Is that your name or something?
“What’s wrong with you, Axel?  I took you for a more intelligent human.  Did you never pay attention in your studies?”  I didn’t answer.  I never did pay much attention in school at all.  I was a bit of a hopeless slacker, but I still managed to pass with high marks.  I think the only thing I ever did poorly in was my art class.  And not that I couldn’t draw either, it was just that I never seemed to turn the projects in.  When I didn’t reply, the tree continued on its own.
“Pity, Axel, I thought sure you would recognize the name that the Latins gave me.  And considering the Latins seemed to know us quite well, I’m proud to take the name that they have given me.”  The great oak spoke so proudly.
How about I just call you Quercus?
“Oh, you humans!  Always wanting to change things to make them easier for you.  I suppose all is well anyway.  So, where have you been, Axel? You still have not answered me.”  Quercus continued on with his questioning.  “And you may think that trees have such an astonishing patience, which we do, but it is still rude to keep me waiting.  I’ve missed seeing you each day, Axel.  You’re the only one in this park that takes notice of me anymore.”
But, Quercus, I don’t understand what you mean.  I visit every day when I jog, even if it’s raining.  I was just there in the rain a few days ago. 
“Axel, I believe that you are mistaken.  The last time you visited me was nearly ten months ago.  Now you know it’s not nice to lie to an old tree – especially when we know better anyway.”
But I’m not lying.  Listen, I don’t really know what’s going on.  I don’t even know where I am.  I just know that there was that light and now I’m here!  And I’m talking to a tree!  Don’t you think that’s a little strange?! There was a pause after my rant.  I took a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves.  Sorry, Quercus, I think it’s just settling in that I’m not home anymore.
“Hmm… so you say there was a light?  And now you’re not home anymore.  Hmm… this is quite strange, but not unheard of.”  There was another pause.  “Tell me, what do you see around you?”  I could tell he was trying to calm me down, perhaps even help me out.  It was nice to at least have someone to talk to – even if it was covered in bark.
There’s nothing around me.  Just blue light everywhere.  Then a new thought suddenly arose.  Shit Quercus, am I dead?!
“No no, Axel, you couldn’t be dead.  If you were dead do you think you’d be spending your days talking to an oak?  No, you’re definitely not dead.  But I’m thinking you may be in a stage of alter-existence.”  I didn’t ‘say’ a word; I just waited on him to explain.  “You see, it’s very difficult to explain to a human, you are all so closed-minded after all.  But with you, Axel, with you I may have a chance.”  Quercus sort of laughed to himself as if he had told a joke and it went right over my head.  “Oh come on, Axel, lighten up a bit.  Not all is lost.”  I still didn’t ‘say’ anything.  I was trying to be patient, but it never was a forte of mine.
“Now, how can I explain this to where you could understand… hmm…?  Let’s just say that within your world, there lies another world that no human can see.  It’s a place where all of the occurrences of the human world are planned out.  Are you following me so far, Axel?” 
Let’s just say that I’m not.  Are you saying I’m in another dimension?
“Well, to put it in idiotic terms, I suppose.  You humans and your ways of explaining things.  You’re living in the world that controls your ‘home’ world.  In your new existence, nature and time are the rheostats.  But first, I suppose, you must wake up from your sleep and see it for yourself.”
Wait, my sleep?  This whole thing has been a dream?
“No no Axel.  You are definitely not here anymore, nor are you there yet either.  Truly, I should have noticed earlier that you’re caught up in an existence that’s in between the two.  Who knows how long you’ve been here though.  It’s been nearly ten months since you’ve been in the human world.  I suppose it is the same in the other.”
But… I just woke up…
I didn’t quite understand what he was saying – it was just that none of it made any sense to me at all.  But I didn’t want to ask anymore.  I was afraid that any more information would just send me over the edge.  My brain was already on overload as it was.
“Axel, you need to wake up now.  And when you do, find the Vita.  They will help you make sense of all of this.”
But who are the Vita? 
“You’ll know them, Axel.  Now, wake up!” Quercus’s voice grew louder in my head as he ordered me to awaken.  As he did so, the azuline blue light began to dim and fade away to darkness.  The cool air that I had once welcomed was now becoming so cold that it was unbearable.  My breath began to materialize with every exhale.  It was almost like I was caught in the dead of winter.
But how do I wake up?
“You already are.”  And with Quercus’s last words echoing through my mind, the world converted to complete darkness.