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Author's note: This is my entry for Cornconic's Liminal Spaces story contest.

I've never felt comfortable in spaces with a lot of people. As a child, I ended up wandering off by myself or bumping into something or mumbling too much basically every time my parents took me somewhere. They'd silently stop me in public, but they'd scold me for it once we got home. Maybe they wanted to challenge me to act normal, but it just made me instinctively avoid situations where I could mess up.

Three days ago, my parents told me to drive to the mall and go inside. Once I arrived at the parking lot filled with cars and people, I was terrified of hitting someone or getting hit. After parking at the very edge and trying to calm down, I figured I'd feel comfortable enough to get out after spending a little time alone in my car, but ended up waiting until the sun was just above the horizon and the mall was almost closed.

I walked to the mall and neared the doors once, twice, thrice, but I couldn't bring myself to go inside. I felt like if I messed up - bumping into someone, stepping on someone's foot, acting too afraid - it would get back to my parents somehow and they'd yell at me even though I went into the store. I went back to my car after the third attempt and sat there even after the other cars were gone and the sky and mall were both dark.

When my father called, he asked me how the mall was. I stammered something about how the stores looked nice, but he knew I was bluffing. I stared at the horizon as he started loudly scolding me, wishing I was anywhere else.

That's when I noticed the details of the mall and the space around it slowly fading to black as if the night sky was swallowing them. I told my father about it, but he was hung up on the fact that I hadn't gone to the mall. Ignoring his rant, I started driving towards the advancing darkness, half-hoping I could get him to stop yelling at me if I brought up something more interesting.

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My mother was yelling at me too by the time I reached the edge of the darkness. From a closer vantage point, I found it eerily pretty. The darkness advanced almost like it was pulling itself across the ground. It left light sources and paint on the ground untouched until almost the last second, so it looked like they were floating in the void. Combined with the pitch-black sky, it looked like a wall of ink was covering the entire world.

I snapped a picture with my phone and sent it to my parents. In response to this terrifying, beautiful phenomenon, my mother scoffed that the picture was how that area normally looked and my father whined that I had to focus on going to the mall.

Before I could take more pictures, the car started sputtering. The edge of the darkness had reached the car while I hadn't been paying attention, and even as I backed out of range, inky tendrils were already climbing up the hood.

I didn't want to find out what happened if I entered the darkness, so I drove home, only stopping when I saw the ground ahead being engulfed by the same all-encompassing void.

I reversed until I was comfortably far from the darkness and stared cautiously at it. There weren't any other cars or people on the street, so I couldn't watch to see what happened when they entered it. The only option was to go in myself, but I wasn't sure I should take that chance.

"If you don't take that chance, which one will you take?"

It felt like I'd heard someone whisper into my ear, but I couldn't remember what the voice sounded like. As I looked around in alarm, more whispers trickled into my brain.

"I have watched you for quite a while, and I can confidently assert that nobody else will give you any chances. Think of the choices your parents make which determine the course of your life. When do you get a say in these without them being undermined?"

It was true that I rarely, if ever, had a say in what I did. If I objected to anything, my parents would badger me until I gave in. I figured that was normal.

"In fact, this is unusual. Your parents are your only confidants, yet refuse to productively help you improve. With no avenue for self-betterment, you still stubbornly cling to this world. Why not escape it forever by death?"

I had asked myself that question before, when I felt especially hopeless. I really felt my parents wanted me to be better and didn't think they deserved to have their child commit suicide. Despite what the voice said, I still held out hope that life would improve. More importantly, I hated the idea of someone stumbling onto my dead body without warning, because I didn't want to cause people trauma. Most importantly, there was no guarantee of success. It was even possible that I would fail and lose what little freedom I had.

"Your reasons for staying are reasonable, but I still think you might accept my offer. If you drive into the darkness, you will be painlessly erased from the world. Your body will not frighten anyone, and there is no chance of failure."

I actually considered the offer for a second. This took care of two of my biggest problems with suicide, but that just made the other ones more prominent. Was I really willing to throw my life away and leave my parents reeling?

"That, of course, is the issue with suicide. You must accept that your life will never improve in order to cut it short. But do you really want to waste your entire life in a painful rut, sinking further and further into despair, when you could simply take my advice, accepting my gift of a sure and quiet death?"

That made me wonder how this voice was so sure my life wouldn't improve. Surely there was an ulterior motive?

"Your skepticism is deserved, and I will answer you honestly. I am taking you from this world to bring you into another one. You will not have the moral high ground there, but you will have a purpose to which you are exquisitely suited. I reckon that's better than this life."

The darkness around me slowly cleared until the sky was studded with stars and the road in front of me was perfectly clear.

"I will give you three days to think about it. If you accept my offer, return to the parking lot three nights from now."

By the time I reached home, my parents were asleep. They screamed at me in the morning, but I had trouble paying attention, to the point that my mother grabbed my face and forced me to stare at her as she talked. All I could think about at that moment was that I'd rather be dead.

For most of the three days, I was conflicted. Logically, the right choice was to live. The voice had no proof my life wouldn't improve, and I had no proof it wasn't lying about everything. "Really," I thought, "it's most likely the whole thing was some kind of complicated delusion, and this whole debacle will end with me being medicated." I couldn't trust the voice to know what was best for me.

But did my parents know what was best for me? They couldn't help me by yelling at me, but that was all they tried. I decided to be assertive, just once, and say I wanted a different breakfast from theirs. My parents screamed at me for expecting an entirely separate dish and they didn't stop until I was crying. They also refused to discuss my encounter with the encroaching darkness, either beginning to complain about something else or making some kind of loud noise which startled me, like barking at me to shut up or slamming a cabinet. I normally tried to assume the best of them, but I started to wonder if that was the wrong reaction.

It all came to a head on the third afternoon - in other words, this afternoon - when I blurted out that I wanted to die. My parents were furious, bringing up how much work it took to raise me and how it would only hurt others if I died, while periodically insulting me for entertaining this idea. Then my father said something which cemented my final decision:

"You want to die, but you don't want to go into a mall."

When they were done, I ruminated on what he had said. I did want to feel comfortable in malls, but I also wanted to make my parents happy. Whether I went inside or stayed outside, they yelled at me. It dawned on me that they were doomed to be unhappy with me, and I had to ignore them.

I chose not to go to the parking lot. Instead, I stayed in my room as day turned to night and made a list of all the things I was afraid of doing. Every time the fear only stemmed from upsetting my parents, I wrote down the date on which I'd do it. I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt so invigorated.

That's when my mother raced into my room and frantically asked if I knew anything about the darkness slowly engulfing the house. She explained my father had tried going through the darkness to get outside and find help, but he wasn't back yet.

As we sat in my room, my mother finally listened to me talk about the darkness without interrupting. Explaining what had happened made me happy, even though my mother undercut those feelings seconds after I finished by saying she didn't regret yelling at me, neither of my parents had ever hit me (untrue), and other people were going to act far worse than them when I got older.

I decided to try something I'd never done before. I started loudly scolding her about yelling at me instead of figuring out better ways of helping me deal with stress and blamed her for my anxiety about doing things. She asserted that I had to toughen up or I wouldn't be able to live without her, and I responded by saying my life would be better without her. I honestly didn't mean it, but it's what I said.

She slapped me, and when I pointed out she had hit me, she slapped me again. After groaning that she shouldn't have listened to me, she walked into the darkness to find my father, ignoring my protests and twisting out of my grasp as I tried to hold her back.

I was alone with the darkness once again. As I watched it through the door frame, I was confused as to why it had followed me into the house.

"Forgive me. I believed you would come to agree with me without your hand being forced, and never intended to respect your decision if you did not. I am no longer willing to humor you. That said, I am still holding out that you will enter the void willingly. Take as much time as you need."

The darkness didn't advance through the door. I threw a lot of things into the void, like socks and comic books, and they disappeared after a few seconds. Curiosity inevitably led me to stick my foot into it. The inside of the void felt exactly the same as the room until it felt like needles were being shoved into my foot. When I stumbled backwards, the parts of my foot which weren't covered with inky black were bright red. I felt searing pain when the black disappeared and left gashes in my flesh.

"If I had truthfully expressed how painful the darkness would be, would you have entered it? If you had gone further into it, you would have died almost as soon as the pain began, like your parents did."

I'd assumed my parents wouldn't be affected by the darkness, and I finally started crying as I thought about how awful their last moments must have been.

"I implore you to look at this as an opportunity. You are no longer tied to this world by your parents, and can move to the next without guilt or regret. If I recall correctly, you have no other reason not to enter the void."

Three days ago, the voice was correct, but now I have one more reason: spite. My parents, for all their faults, at least claimed to be helping me. This voice just wants me to die, even killing my parents to achieve it, and at this point, I hate it enough to starve myself to death just so it doesn't win.

Almost the entire room is covered in darkness now, so even though I'm technically able to avoid entering it, I have to barely move in practice. The voice keeps begging me to enter the void willingly, as if I'm not dying of starvation just to make it suffer.

If the voice really watched me for so long, it should have watched me constantly fail to enter a mall. I am bad at many things, but I've decided my last act on this Earth will be a testament to how good I am at stalling.

Written by Squidmanescape
Content is available under CC BY-SA