[Prompt: She was all of the light I had in the world ]
She was all the light I had in the world. Without her, I was powerless to stop the darkness.
I first noticed the change that evening while I washed dishes. The window above the sink looked out toward the woods. The sun had yet to begin to truly set, but already the shadows beneath the trees were thick. I had set my hands against the lip of the sink to steady myself as I watched the tendrils of darkness snake out past the tree line before shrinking back under the trees. The branches and grass shuddered against the phantom touch and swayed unnaturally against the breeze. Terrified of the approaching night, I turned on all of the outdoor lighting. Aside from the trees on the very end of the property, my yard was clear of any landscaping that might cast an obtrusive shadow. I checked the backup generator in case the wind might conspire with the night to torment me. When the sun began to kiss the horizon, I retreated inside to repeat the process of turning on lights and gathering up flashlights and other battery powered light sources to protect myself. I had once tried using candles, but flames cast their own series of dancing shades that could touch places where the light was strong.
When she had been with me, the darkness never grew bold. It always stayed where shadows belonged. It always feared the light. It must have sense my vulnerability now that I sat alone in the brightness of my kitchen. While I liked to think as the darkness as a lurking entity living somewhere deep in the woods, I knew it was here with me. Lesser versions of itself hid in the small crevices of my home. Over the years I had vied to eradicate its presence. I removed doors from closets. I designed my bed to drop all the way to the floor instead of leaving a homely gap for my enemy. I installed a ridiculous amount of lights I could turn on with a touch of hand if the need arose and everywhere I had stashed spare batteries in drawers and on shelves.
I checked the window facing the woods as the sun’s light began to wane. The shadows were there, both natural and unnatural, but without the natural light to chase them back, it was near impossible to tell one from the other.
A helpless sound escaped from my throat and when I recognized it for the fear that it was, I slammed my hand against the sink. I shouldn’t be afraid! She had taught me to be strong against the darkness, not to cower in a corner while grasping a flashlight as if it was the only means between life and death. Perhaps she didn’t fully understand the grievances the darkness had against me, and how it would always seek me out to consume me, but she had still taught me how to win against the darkness. Every day was a battle, all part of a war I instigated when I was a foolish child.
I would advise any parent to allow children to be afraid of the dark, to let them sleep with a light on. Don’t tell children there was nothing in the dark, or that there was nothing to fear. There were many things to fear in the dark; things that shouldn’t be disturbed.
Sometimes I wondered if the darkness would ever forgive me, or if retribution was the only acceptable action.
The sound of the phone ringing sent my heart racing. I scrambled to the opposite counter to answer the call. “Hello?”
My older brother, calling to check in with me instead of stopping by the house like he use to do. I could hear reluctance in his voice and I merely waited for him to spit out what was on his mind while keeping tabs on the encroaching darkness I could see out the window.
“I’m sorry to hear about Lauren..”
“Can you come over?” I didn’t want to talk about her.
“Ah, Pete, uh.. “ My brother made a series of stalling noises as he tried to form an semi-believable excuse.
“Just for tonight,” I tried, doing my best to mask the rising anxiety from strangling my tone. “We can order pizza.”
He sighed from the other end of the line, “I’ve got the kids tonight.”
“They can come over too,” And I meant it. The happiness from children was a natural deterrent to what lurked in the dark, but on the down side, when they slept their innocence was a sweet lure to everything I wanted to keep out.
“I don’t want the kids over there,” He sounded annoyed.
I curled the fingers of my free hand into a fist while trying to bite back my own temper. My brother never understood the darkness. When the initial rush of anger passed, I calmly responded. “Why not?”
It was a fair question. I kept my house clean, there was healthy food in the fridge, and I had an expansive collection of DVDs ranging from the latest Disney flick to old action movies. Even my yard, if the darkness wasn’t already draped across it, was tended and watered to remained a healthy green. It wasn’t a bad place.
“I don’t want them there,” My brother firmly repeated in a tone that ended the argument before it could begin.
Maybe my brother did know the darkness, or at least sense it enough in a subconscious way to know that it circled around me. I shouldn’t be mad at him for wanting to keep his distance thus keeping his children safe, but irrational I was angry. If my brother cared, truly cared, then he would stand by me as the darkness came.
“I just wanted to call to check in, make sure you were alright.”
I could taste the bitterness of my anger on the back of my tongue. I wanted to yell at him, because I was not okay. My light was gone and the darkness was pressing against my front door, but my brother was too much of a coward to help me. In truth no one was safe, they were simply ignorant of the dangers that lurked around them. I could rant at length about it, but no one would listen. I had spent months locked away in the white rooms because I had tried to warn people. Remembering those times kept my tongue in cheek. If I went of the rails now, my brother might see that I be returned to those white rooms and then I would be defenseless against the darkness. So I nodded my head and lied, “Yeah, I’m fine.”
My brother must have sensed my inner struggle, “Look.. We’ll stop by tomorrow, okay?”
I had no guarantee I would still be around come the morning, but I mumbled my acceptance of his offer.
“It’s just one night, Pete.” I wasn’t sure if my brother was trying to assure me or himself. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
I hung up and switched the phone in my hand for a flashlight instead. I was still angry and part of me was still hurting from the loss of Lauren. I hid the pain under the anger and gave in to the foolish whims. I walked out onto the concrete that floored the patio behind my house. The flood lights kept the darkness at the edges, but I could see it pressing against the light. I could feel the hunger of it as I tempted it by standing in the middle of the light, only disturbed the shadow my body cast beneath me.
I began to taunt it, using the flashlight to cut away it’s form with quick side to side motions. It wouldn’t hurt the dark, but it would annoy it like a fly buzzing around its head. This is the way it had started when I was a child, when I was so bold to pick a fight with the formless night. Inside the phone began to ring, but I ignored it in favor of cutting away at the shadows attempting to creep in over the concrete. I didn’t want to talk to someone else that was sorry without really being sorry. Someone who wanted to help but not really help. They were concerned so they called to ease the guilt weighing on their minds.
The thoughts fed the flame of my temper and I stepped closer to the edge of the light, feeling the cool touch of the shadows ghost along my cheeks. My heart raced, and my panic screamed for me to return to the safety of the house, but I was so mad.
The answering machine picked up the call, “Pete?”
It was her voice.
I turned as if where were there standing at the opening of the sliding glass door, but the entryway was empty.
“Are you there?” Her voice spoke again.
Realizing she was speaking through the answering machine, I rushed back toward the house. I was halfway across the patio when the bulb in the flood light burst, flooding the space in one last blinding flash before the darkness rushed in, engulfing me.