It has always been this way. Even Father does not remember a different way. When the light goes out, we must be inside. My uncle once told spooky stories about creatures that lurk in the dark, eating up any poor soul that didn’t make it home. Of course this was untrue. No one had ever witnessed that. Unfortunately my uncle does not say much anymore. Day and night he silently stares out of the window. Father says his mind is gone. That senility and illness runs in the family. It used to make me sad, but Uncle does not seem in pain. I miss his stories, even if they were untrue.
We know why we stay indoors at night. That is when they are about. For the most part they do not bother us. They lurk about. We hear them stumbling about nearby. At times they may peep through a window that is not draped completely. For the longest it disturbed my older sister Rebecca. She desired privacy and rarely found it. Our home is small and sturdy. It was built by my grandfather, or perhaps great grandfather, I forget which. It was built long before I was born. Father says the hearth is the family soul, and adds jokingly that ours is as old a soul as the soil we tend. Sister Rebecca tries to be respectful, though her dissatisfaction is always present. Mother tries to console her, but Mother knows it will never be different. It will not change. Rebecca is nearly eighteen, and I am nearly sixteen. It feels like ages as I eagerly await my birthday. Mother says impatience draws short time into eternity.
During the daylight hours we work outside tending to the garden, drawing water from the well, feeding the animals. and so forth. Father says work is our only salvation from the devil’s game. I don’t mind it. Feeling the sun on my shoulders as I sweat in the garden feels nice, though the devil has little to do with it, much less salvation. Father has many old sayings that don’t make much sense to me. Mother tends to laugh them off, and Father gives her a stern look if disapproval. There is not much laughter in these times, but this always makes us smile. For the most part we eat well. The garden provides and I do not recall the last Winter. When it is available we have a pig to slaughter, and that fills our belly well. It is odd they who lurk do not bother the livestock. As if they do not see the livestock at all at night or the livestock simply ceases to exist when night falls. We don’t ask questions about these things. Father says inquiry is an awaiting bear trap, quick to snare and never release. The land provides our basic needs. We have always had a good harvest, and nothing beats a well fed hog.
Last week something happened of which I am ashamed, and it has made me appreciative of Father’s sayings. Night had fallen and a candle burned brightly on my nightstand. The window was shuttered. I was in long johns about to enjoy the cool sheets on my bed. Suddenly there was a tapping on the window pane. At first I dismissed it as the hobble of a lurker, or perhaps the wind. The tapping increased, a panicked rasping that was not forceful but insisting. Fear did not overtake me. It was curiosity that brightened my eyes. This had never happened before. Cautiously I crept over to the window and pulled back a shutter so slightly. Staring at me were two gaping holes, as gnawed and black, with a button nose and small drooping lips. It was sad, it filled me with pity, it stared. This thing without eyes. I could not see past its face, not even the neck, for the blackness of the night is all consuming. As if nothing at all existed past this face that had pressed itself against the pane, looking in with a begging despair. I stared for what seemed like hours into those gaping eye sockets, crude craters, it did not speak at first. It struck me as a poor starved puppy, deserving of pity. Finally it hissed a few small words, escaping its lips like escaped air from a tire, “hello….there….”. In a shock of fright I shuttered the window, utterly speechless and without color, frozen in fear. Moments passed. I was about to crawl into the security of my blankets when again the persistent tapping occurred, frantic, insistent, and did not cease throughout the night. Perhaps in shock or exhaustion I fell asleep, despite the raspy tapping that pecked like a chicken gone mad.
The next day continued as usual, though the experience distracted me from daily chores. No one ever spoke of them, what they were, and no one had seen them, aside from the silly tales Uncle told us. The nearest neighbor was not for miles away and I could not recall the last time there was visitation. We rarely left the farm as there was no reason to. There was no sign of the creature near the bedroom window, which was not unusual as they never left signs of being present. No longer could I attempt to ignore what happened. It was decided that I would stay out past night fall. Father may never forgive me, though I will make sure they never find out.
The blackness that closed in around me was suffocating. Even the lantern did not do much for piercing the shadows. Hardly a few feet ahead could I see as I eased across the yard. Things were different at night, altogether different. There was no smell. No scent of nature or the pungent odor of livestock. Following an inner sense of direction I should have neared the stables, and yet I did not reach them. Step by step across weedy and grassy ground, only blackness surrounding me, and all was barren. There were no structures to be seen, only continuing blackness. At first I felt dizzy at the displacement, then rationalized that I must have lost my way in the dark. a left instead of a right maybe. The air was cold, empty, and eerily silent. No night sounds of insects or scurrying animals, as if sound itself had been sucked away. Agitation set in, I was getting nowhere, only blackness, not even a single tree had been spotted. It made no sense. I was walking and going nowhere, as if there was nowhere to go, only this continuing.
After cursing at myself for being such an idiot there was a faint stream of speaking in the distance. As I walked in that direction the speaking was more like preaching, though not in a language I could comprehend. It was guttural with short hisses, followed by a mishmash of phonetic sounds. It was mesmerizing and soon there I witnessed the speaker. Standing on a soapbox crate was a man dressed in black, torches were about giving only the slightest illumination, and a half dozen or more individuals were listening in awe. They wore plain clothing, a bit ratty and worn. The guttural preaching continued and I went unnoticed. In a shock of familiarity I noticed the faces, shriveled with age and gaping holes where the eyes should be. The preacher raised his arms in communicative enthusiasm revealing only four fingers on each hand. The conformity among them worsened as I observed closer, a kind of fuzzy fungus crept across their neck, arms, and a few contained a rhizomatic root fungus that grew from the eye socket. It appeared dry, crusted, and porous. The torches flickered and in unity each unsheathed a knife, much like the one Mother used for filleting. In one fell motion each slit their wrist vertically, a black ink blood began pouring from the slit. The listeners held their arm out with no emotion, letting the black blood drip steadily onto the soil. The preacher continued the guttural sounds and then slit his own neck. The black blood poured onto the crate wear it stood. The sight was horrific. I stood frozen until I felt a burning in my forearm. Looking down I saw my veins tighten, a black tint became apparent, and without though I ran as hard as I could.
In what direction, for what distance, I know not, only that I ran until my lungs burned. Stopping to breath I looked at my forearms and saw nothing unusual. It was surely in my head, my mind playing tricks on me due to this damned darkness. It was not night, there was no moon, it was simply absolute blackness, absolute nothingness aside from where I stood and what little the lamp illuminated. Surely dawn comes soon I thought, again walking across the barren fields. Soon I came upon the sounds of a feasting animal, or so it sounded. Once more a few torches littered an area revealed a freakish sight. Before me was a woman, or perhaps a man, I could not tell, at least 600lbs or larger. I had never seen a person so large. This blog of nude flesh which quivered with each motion, its grubby hands holding a chunk of raw meat as it ate voraciously, gobbling it into its small mouth. The meal looked to be a rabbit, or similar small furry thing. Nearby a tall figure stepped forward, a clown like the one I had seen in picture books, a single balloon floated above it. It’s gloved hand clasped the hand of a small child, and its still face was pockmarked with gaping eye sockets above its bulging red nose. The face makeup was cracked, and it squealed forth the most horrific laugh imaginable, like a lamb being slaughtered mixed with choking bits. Other children lined up behind the small girl, all wearing ragged clothing, again with shriveled faces and gaping eye sockets. The children formed a line in front of the large bulbous flesh that whined with glee, like a child itself, stumpy arms stretched out toward the first child. Now I could see my observation was incorrect. It was not a rabbit she was chewing on, it was a child’s leg, though oddly deformed in structure. The clown sounded off again the ungodly squeal of a laugh as the repulsive pile of flesh embraced the child, and with a wince I looked away. I could hear the sounds and I vomited in response. Wiping my mouth with a sweaty rag I saw blood on it. Wiping again at my mouth I felt the wetness and confirmed the blood smeared across my mouth. Again I vomited and felt small bristle chunks , looking down I saw tiny bits of bone. Dizzying sickness overtook me as I drunkenly stumbled away from the hellish sight.
None of it made sense. Uncle was wrong in his stories. There were not lurking beasts out to eat us. In fact these things, they didn’t even acknowledge my existence. What in the hell was this, where was I, and what is the meaning of it. Surely the farm was near. I couldn’t have walked that far. Panic set in and the blackness never ceased, ever, and I became doubtful there would ever be a dawn to save me. Sweat and dirt covered me, a sticky mess. It felt as if I had hiked for miles, been gone for weeks, perhaps I had been. There was an itching at my forearm. A mosquito maybe, a gnat, but there had not been a single insect in this. Scratching at my wrist, it got worse, looking down the skin had flaked and bled slightly. The veins tightened, the speckled blood a black tint, or terribly dark red. I scratched until the skin came off in slivers. The itching was too much, and from the scraped out wound wriggled forth small maggots, outward from the flesh itself. Half my forearm dug out, a chunk, my fingernails caked in bits of flesh. A sharp pain struck my stomach, my belly began to extend horrendously, bloated monstrously. I doubled over in pain as it my abdomen convulsed and jerk forward, bulging out as if pregnant or worse. Lying on my side in agony, weeping and cursing my idiocy, the blackness closed in. No, it was not the blackness closing in, it was my eye sight fading. Soon only absolute blackness, nothingness, lying on my side in agony, silence aside from the moans that escaped me. Reaching up cautiously I felt a gaping hole where each eye should be. The membrane inside the socket was dry, callous, though it was tingling. An insect, a mite, it began building its nest in this socket. It began building a porous and honey combed nest, the stench of a fungi, this was what I was reduced to, a rotting hollowed shell for burrowing insects. Despair overtook me as I lay there. I ceased being. There was only absolute nothingness.
Morning came and my father found me at the doorstep. They began crying, cursing, and Mother became hysterical in grief. From what they could see I lay there with eyes open, seemingly aware, but gone. Much like Uncle which we cared for, a vegetable from which the mind has vacated. The body was there, breathing, functioning, but the mind long gone elsewhere. For you see I am still here wandering in the blackness, my form has succumbed to the worst horrors, it ceases to resemble anything human. My flesh may be there in the sunlight hours, but truly I am only here, eternally in this night which never ends.