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What you expect is not always what you see.

What began as a foggy morning turned a sinister corner, following the mail I received. Within this small, unassuming box I pondered the reagents of my clockwork slowly grinding to a halt. This box, however, is not the culprit. I took the box in hand, and tossed it aside without a moment's hesitation, expecting some useless nick-nack or some unnecessary piece of garbage I've come to expect. However, upon second glance I notice the name of a sender I could not possibly have expected. Under hazy light of dawn's first break crashing through the doorway, I read silently, "Aria Weiss."

As one can discern, this worried me greatly. While not family, this young lady was dear to me as a friend, at least. The package loomed in my hand, as all other thoughts evacuated my mind -- something between paranoia and displacement replaced them. With a swift motion, the box popped open on both sides, enabling me sight into its contents. Here we find the culprit; as the box splits open there are two items held within its bowels.

An envelope, relatively cumbersome at one end and filled to bursting with yet unidentifiable papers. The other is a book. A thick, leather-bound book clasped by tiny padlock in the shape of a heart. Staring deeply into that box, an overwhelming sense of trepidation washes over me, as I slowly lift the book from the box. I gaze at its fine worksmanship, its exquisite leather, and its lovely iron accenting. A heavy thing of times much older, or at least made by hands not accustomed (or pretend very well not to be) to today's manufacturing circuit. I lay the book aside, as the clock on the wall remains my only reminder that time still exists. However, as I touch the paper constructing the envelope, time seemed to stand still. A moment became an eternity of blood draining slowly from my face. In a cold sweat, I swallowed hard. What could possibly be contained within?

I ran my finger along its fold, hoping that this sense of dread would be all for naught. Perhaps this is the money she owes me? Perhaps this is some kind of joke? Perhaps -- 

I unfold the envelope, to find photographs. No fewer than one dozen, but strange and blurred -- as though taken with shaking hands and developed with faltered body, stressed with fatigue. There was always something going on with Aria related to photography. I have no doubt that she took and developed these photos within her home, but for what purpose? And why send them to me --

I realize. These photographs were taken from inside her home. The hair on the back of my neck turned up as I looked at them closely -- the doors and windows, boarded from the inside. Mirrors broken, shattered against their will. Her bedroom completely demolished. Her bed against the once gorgeous picture window, covering it with the curtains strewn overtop. The walls scratched and torn, furniture no less than smashed or broken. Pieces of wood, shards of glass, hunks of indescribably mangled metal all indiscriminately littering the floor and corners. 

Repulsed, I looked away from the photographs. I looked again to the book on the couch beside me. I then pondered the weighy envelope, now devoid of its other occupants. I picked it up, as a pair of miniscule keys fell into my hand. Each shaped of a heart and made of iron, matching the leather-bound tome beside me. I snatched up the book, and attempted to remove the padlock. I felt my gut wrench, a flash of every photograph echoed in my recent memory, as the lock opened with a soft click. I removed it, and unraveled the thick leather strap binding the hardback together. Its pages free, they opened to the first page. Her diary lay in my hands.

Some hours passed, detailing meaningless facts and figures, notes of the weather and what games she'd played. She is a notable video game journalist, after all; her thoughts and opinions matter much to some people. I grew somewhat bored of the dull, listless droning of hating this game, adoring another. Break the monotony with something mediocre, but altogether leaving my thirst unquenced. I had began to believe that this was indeed some kind of joke, but I was unfortunately incorrect, as I reached a section of her diary dating of around three months prior to receiving this package.

The Diary

The most notable factor leading into the diary entries that catch my attention is the mention of her publisher requesting a review on "Amnesia: The Dark Descent". She does not mention where the game originated, simply that somewhere thereabouts of a week transpired between her finishing this game and the first diary entry. I did not connect the dots on this fact until having read all the entries and re-indulging myself in the prior weeks and days.

Day 1:

My dream of night past disturbed me. I cannot explain what I saw, nor heard. However, before I awoke, I saw what I can't justify describing as an image of myself in the mirror, staring in two directions – both into, and out of the mirror. I felt as though both were me, but neither was me. Simply an expressionless stare, but I dared not move because I knew not which was the real me. By automation, however, I reached for my lipstick, and wrote heavy across the mirror, “I can see you.” I did not notice the writing, however, until I had seen it for myself. My question remains: Which self wrote the message, and which read it?

Day 4:

Another mirror dream. I seem to be encircling treacherous phantasms of incomprehensible boundaries. I feel my heart sink of tedious beat within my chest as I feel my mirrored self staring back at me, incapable of deduction for where I stand, the side of which I want myself to be, or the side which stares at me. If I could discern which is the real me, I may understand better the purpose.

It had occurred to me as I read that this strange dream seemed to be a recurring theme in days to come. Her handwriting became more frantic and hurried as the days progressed into this spiral. This leads to a period of sleep deprivation due to night terrors. The writing on the mirror has not been recorded since the first night according to her diary. I had unearthed that she had been sleeping fewer and fewer hours each night, accompanying the recorded times that her diary received entries. The diary then supplied me with an unexpected turn of events as she began suffering from insomnia.

Day 8:

I have fallen incorrigibly into a state of paranoia. Face pale and eyes swollen, I exclude myself from outdoor activities, and have neglected my writing and photography. The same dream occurs over and over, as I attempt to exorcise the thoughts from my mind. I can only think of me staring at myself. Only staring, never moving. How many hours have I peered blankly into my own eyes? Eyes now pained of seeing themselves. Mouth agape in wonderment for the spoils that never were. I don't understand what's happening, but I realize that I haven't used my computer since I played Amnesia over two weeks ago.

Day 10:

I happened across something unusual as I moved the boxes in the attic. From the corner of my eye, I caught glimpse of something – I unfortunately could not describe what, but something nonetheless. I am absolutely enthralled to know what, as I looked towards it. Under the crouch of a shadow, nothing was encased. There was absolutely nothing there, though I am sure I saw something. Perhaps it was a stray cat? I will investigate tomorrow.

Day 14:

The visions have proceeded much worse. I am seeing something from the corner of my eye every so often, but as I look towards it, it vanishes as though nothing was ever there. I expect this is a result of the lack of sleep I have received. However, I refuse to sleep. Not when I can see eyes staring back into me, those damn eyes. Were they truly mine?

Day 20:

I have seen those things through the corner of my eye far too numerous moments. Faces, eyes, stares, glares... with each new face in the shadow of an empty room, I feel a picking. A working devil splayed into the back of my mind. I feel as though my writing is not mine anymore. As though this itch that curses my skull directs me to what is recorded on this page. My hand trembles to understand the deep pools of madness which it spawned. I am falling. Encircling a drain of myself.

Day 25:

Faces. Plastered in the memory of photographic quality... eyes which pierce the veil of darkness to rend me powerless before them. A simple mouth without expression, a bewitching quality by which I may never wake from. A cognitive mind following that decrepit glare, that scuttling embrace which claws its way into my mind each wakeful hour. All of which are simply gone, without warning, trace, or trespass, as my eyes hope to meet theirs. But of course, as those eyes crawl across me, through me, I feel their grasping looks and hope never to cross expressions.

Day 30:

Within the enveloping shadows, the skittering madness consumes. Scratching, biting, always biting. It claws its way into your mind, the unfathomable depth of consciousness that searches and never finds. Twisting visage of pain and torture, that never leaves a physical mark. The darkness may not harm me, but what hides within its veil I will never know, but forever dream of. Their eyes are watching me always. Always watching, always staring...

And the diary ends. It does not peter and die, it simply ends. Each and every hair upon my body is standing at attention, and each and every fiber of my being is screaming. Her handwriting came close to tearing the page with her last four words. I looked again to the photographs, seeing now that shadows consume most of the living space. What disturbs me most is that Aria is in none of them. Regardless that she is the one taking the photograph, I would expect her to at least turn the camera to herself in some form of desperation if she went to this trouble.

What You Can't See Can't Hurt You

Against my better judgement, I found myself standing at her front door. Under gloomy skies able to break open and unleash a torrent of rain at any moment, I examined the modern home. Its windows are opaque of boards nailed to their inside sills. Its topiary design is dying of thirst, and its lack of use apparent. A haunting note of dilapidation overruns the outside walls regardless that someone has lived here. With a large amount of bolstered courage, I raised my hand and knocked upon the wooden door. With the absence of sound, I knocked louder. I pulled from my pocket my cell phone, and dialed Aria without a moment's hesitation. I suddenly but faintly hear her familiar ringtone from inside the house. Lowering the phone without hope, an answer is found.

I hold the phone quickly to my ear, frantically exclaiming into it for a response. To my utter dismay, the line is silent. As I fall to match its volume, I hear a faint sound from the other side: Breathing. Soft breathing was being delivered through the phone's receiver. Then nothing. The line went dead. I looked to my phone, discovering only my home screen and a new outgoing call in the log. Terrified by what I just heard, I took a step back, placing the device into my pocket. I then steeled myself, and slammed hard into the door, which crashed open. 

I stood in a house which appeared abandoned from every angle. Furniture overturned and smashed. Dishes demolished and the pieces piled into the waterless sink. Food strewn across the countertops and rotting. The smell of mold and mildew aside rotting food assailed me, forcing me to cover my face with my sleeve. I called into the home, with shadows crawling over every surface. No answer. Reluctantly, I searched.

From room to room, I find exactly what the photographs had warned me of: Distress. Pain. Something sinister far beyond my understanding. I finally make it to Aria's bedroom at the rear of the house. The last room to remain unsearched. She was not to be found within. She was not within the confines of this house. I look about the room, my hopes crushed. I step in to the inhuman world, ransacked of life and limb. The dust and the mold slowly settled, as the light from the front door cursed the room's shadows. I turned, heartbroken of her absence, and made my way to the front door.

She could not have left, as all the doors and windows are barred from the inside. What happened to her? None of this makes sense. Perhaps I'd be better off leaving it -- I stop myself mid-thought, looking harshly to my right. Nothing was there, to my dismay. I thought to myself, "Must've been a stray cat." And slowly pulled the door tight behind me.