“The counterpart to people living solitary lives in public might well be those who have chosen to shut themselves away. Known as hikikomori, these are people, mainly men, who haven’t participated in society, or shown a desire to do so, for at least a year. They rely instead on their parents to take care of them. In 2016, the Japanese government census put the figure at 540,000 for people aged 15-39. But it could easily be double that number. Since many prefer to stay entirely hidden, they remain uncounted” (National Geographic).
I first learned about the hikikomori during high school. School would have these lectures that taught us the importance of going to college, getting a job, etc. I was in agreement with them. The concept of locking yourself away for years on end was actually ludicrous. My girlfriend, Eva, and I sat in the back of the auditorium and snickered at the pictures of men in their late twenties or thirties with piles of manga stacked up beside their beds; the men getting deathly thin from eating only cups of ramen and other ready-made meals.
We’d often sneak out, my girlfriend and I. We hung out under this tree in the furthest south part of campus. A part that no one really knew about and if they did, they did not want to visit. Everyone else was concerned with social status and which girl or guy they’d bang next, but us… We just sat there. Sneaking cigarettes and looking at the outline of the tops of buildings against our gated community. We’d lie down and waste the hours away just being together. We didn’t need to talk, just be there, ya know?
I dug my pencil into the paper as hard as I could, ripping a hole straight through it. My teeth were gritted, my knuckles turning white.
Prince... Please... The voice called again. It knocked itself against the door, trying to get my attention. But if I ignored it, it would go away.
Dinner’s ready. I’ll leave it by the door, okay?
Silence spread through the air; it pressed down on me, making it hard to breathe. The room shook as an amalgamation of darkness crept from under my bed. The darkness crawled to the door, checking it out, making sure it was safe.
Look… I know you’re mad because school didn’t work out, but you shouldn-
“Leave me alone.”
The darkness pulsated as the voice spoke. This voice had no right to talk down to me like that. It knew that there was this darkness around me. The darkness did things to me. Part of it was comforting and the other part horrific. When I looked into the darkness, I saw a reflection of my own soul and saw how disgusting it looked. Battered and chipped in different places, the same darkness covered my soul. I knew a soul like that shouldn’t be let outside.
But… just eat ok-
“LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!”
The darkness provided comfort. I give into it and the voice went away. It’s almost like
It made me laugh that things worked like that. I was expected to be all nice. All prim and proper, but when it came down to it, I enjoyed being in control. And I was in control when I was safe in my room.
I kept this picture of my girlfriend in my pocket to remind me of our time together. I used to take the picture out and just stare at it. I could get lost in those chocolate brown eyes for hours. And I did. We had this secret hideout in the basement of her house. It was a large tent pushed up against the wall. In the dark, it was easily overlooked despite its size. Though, we had an oil lamp in the middle of the tent so we could see each other—even though it might have been more intimate in the dark. It was childish, but it was where we did most of our bonding. Against the tent, we cuddled to conserve heat in the cold. I learned about her family and how she despised them because of the unspeakable things her father did to her and she learned about how my mother was making me live the life she never had. Our first kiss was when we shared a cigarette, the smoke intertwining with our breath. Pushed up against the edge of the tent, we stayed there for a while. It was just us two against the world for the majority of high school. We thought that would last for years to come.
But my stomach began to growl. The darkness swirled around the door, its force deciding to linger in my gaze. Who knew what horrors lurked beyond that door. A place of complete darkness and void of feeling is my guess.
The last time I opened the door, there were demons all around me. The demons did not have faces. Their eyes were scratched out with the same ferocity in which I stabbed the paper earlier. Their soulless eyes bore into my own soul, trying to extract it. They looked through me. As if I were invisible. They moved in swarms. Each demon was assigned to their own swarm. Other swarms hated each other—I witnessed a bloody battle between two swarms. However, the swarms seemed to come together to do one thing: antagonize me by not acknowledging my existence.
Instead of the usual sun, the world was outlined in a solemn black. Only street lamps birthed the tiniest bit of light. It made it hard to navigate the university campus. My heart was constantly in my throat. Maybe one demon would decide to notice me and hunt me down.
The darkness pulsated again. There was another knock at the door. Another voice to torment me. This one had more spring in it when it spoke. It almost sounded happy. The darkness did not like that.
Staying quiet is the best course of action. I watched the darkness leak under the doorframe.
Then the door opened.
Outside, the walls were covered in dark paint. The couple steps before my door where sawed out. Down, down down, for miles. The gates to hell were opened. A pristine white light shone through this hole and a demon covered in darkness crawled out of it. I grabbed my knees as tears started to escape from my eyes. High pitch squeaks replaced words and I could feel my body rocking back and forth.
The demon began to talk with the voice from earlier. I could only hear snippets through my tears and shaking.
He’ll remember me…
A strong force clasped my shoulders and pulled my chin upwards. There was the demon’s scratched out eyes. Completely empty. I could imagine maggots and cockroaches crawling out of them and running down the demon’s slender form. Fangs dotted its mouth, creating a field of knives while its mouth salivated.
It growled my name.
My body froze over.
Please stop this…
Then, there was no demon at all. In fact, a person stood in its place; a girl about my age to be exact. After squinting a bit, I could tell that it was Eva. An older, more beautiful, version of her, but definitely the same girl. She had the same pretty brown eyes. Fear dominated those eyes as she shook my shoulders. Her brunette hair was flying all over the place. My tears were transferred to her face instead. She was acting as if she cared. Where was she all of these years? She did not care about me.
It was funny.
My chest began to expand, laughter rising in it. I surrendered my free will over to a different type of demon. My entire body was shuddering uncontrollably as a raspy laugh escaped from my mouth. It squeaked at first but eventually evolved into something more powerful.
The girl let go of my shoulders and stepped back. She crossed her arms. She was scared.
Why are you trying so hard? The demon let go of my body. The laughter stopped.
It’s like you’re trying to be crazy. The silence spread once again.
I haven’t seen you in years so I thought I’d come to visit and look at you! She paused for a second and grunted in frustration. I mean, look at this!
She bent down and picked up my notebook that now rested at the foot of my bed. It was tattered, almost decrepit. When she opened it, dust flew out and filled the air. She showed me the first couple pages. They were all about my senior year in high school. Every single page after the first couple had holes drilled into them and the writing became more paranoid.
“H-how long a-go?” I managed to squeak out.
She let that sink in.
Your writing becomes more frantic after I moved.
I was too blinded by anger and sadness to find out why she moved. I just knew that it was coming, and when it did, the world kind of imploded. I was in this kind of stasis where I was too frozen to do anything about the move or even talk to her about it. She was the only person I talked to in and out of school. She was the only person who stook up for me (And trust me when I say that private school kids make dangerous bullies). The world was covered in this darkness as if the man above decided to paint it black. A mere stroke of the brush on this canvas we call Earth and my entire life is gone.
I fell forward, pulling her into a weak embrace. She went limp in my arms, shuddering a bit from my touch. I pulled back, worried that I did something wrong. She looked me in the eye and tied a smile to her face—it hardly reached her cheeks.
We haven’t been like this in years.
The darkness crept along the walls in my periphery, making its presence known but not attacking. It grew bigger, eventually taking over everything around me. A sharp chill found its way into the room and covered my body in its frost. My body trembled.
I looked behind me to see nothing; the back wall of my room was gone. The same phenomenon was occurring with my bed, it was in space, almost floating. The darkness hadn’t enveloped the front side of my room. My girlfriend was still standing there, expectantly, but a bit sad. I immediately thought that if I could push her out of the darkness then it wouldn’t envelop her. I stretched my hand out, but she was so far away. The brown strands of her hair rested calmly by her sides.
Maybe if we kept in touch, we could’ve had something but you never responded to my messages, my girlfriend said.
I swam through space to reach her. I knocked away planets, comets, and asteroids just to get a little closer. It was sticky like quicksand. Space tugged down on my ankles, trying to keep me attached to my bed.
Not everything is gonna go your way, Prince.
My bubble popped and I hurdled down back to the Earth. Eva ran a hand through her hair.
We were dumb kids. People grow up. You haven’t.
I looked at her weakly.
The world is going to destroy you. Beat you down and put its disgusting boot down on top of you so you can’t get back up. But you can! Like, we used to laugh at people like you. I know you don’t want to be like this. Just… Get up.
My head hurt. My limbs felt like they were chained to the bed. The rough steel rubbed against my hands as I yanked against the chains, trying to move.
“I need help…” I croaked. Eva stared at me like I was crazy.
You need to get up yourself.
I screamed and put all my effort into one final pull. My skin bristled and tightened around the chains. They were pulling against my skin as if it could tear off at any second.
But then I was on the floor. I don’t remember how I got there, but there I was. Covered in my own sweat and tears and curled into a ball.
I looked up and Eva was gone but the clack-clack of her scarlet red shoes reverberated through the hallway and found a home in my soul. That sound would come back to haunt me every time I had to make a decision in my life. Every time I went to sleep, I could hear her leaving me. Leaving behind everything we had. Then I realized that we had nothing. That everything we did together could be chalked up to the idiocy of our youth. That I really meant nothing to her.
My last moment before I completely embraced the darkness was me lying on the floor, my weathered body crumpling in on itself, and I was screaming my soul out.