Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Weight of Darkness

If time is a line, let's lift off of it and sail up above it, back past years and decades, over fields scarred with muddy trenches and flashing insanely with artillery fire; over revolutionary battlefields, where men fire in formal lines, and above great, concrete-grey cities that rose out of small brown towns nestled next to rivers -- rivers that have watched and watched and watched, bringing life and then taking away the refuse of the hundreds and then the thousands and then the millions as years worked slowly around them all.

Then, let's alight, somewhere far away from the city, at the edge of a great forest, on a night in high summer, in a time when there were no machines but those bound with rope and cobbled together out of wood and propelled only by tired beasts -- a time when a few carried steel and many laboured at the plow to pay tithes to those few . . .

by Arthur Rackham
Paint me, then, a man sitting in his small hovel, children sleeping, wife sleeping since sunset. See that man peering through a crack in the boards, fearful, as he watches golden lights among the trees, flitting around, blinking brightly and then fading and then blinking again. He knows who they are: the stealers of dreams -- fairies who fly into the mouths of sleeping innocents, to take out their souls and to fly them around the gaping night in order to gather dreams.

He knows the willows wait hungrily for anyone foolish enough to pass near their roots. He knows the wights wail for their lost lives -- they wail somewhere under the sound of windbent trees. He knows the woods are a place of doom and the night a time for the red revels of witches and devils.

Fearing the dark, he lies next to his wife on the straw and tries to focus his ears on the beetles skittering in the thatched roof -- he tries to forget the weight of the darkness pressing all around them, closing like a great maw. Darkness is death. Darkness is an infinitely wide, temporary tomb that fears only the Church and the sunrise . . .

And let us lift up again, and fly back to a time with computers and plastic and enlightenment. A time where men are no longer fools who fear the dark -- who have outgrown such quaint superstition.

Red Jack?
Now, paint me a man outside a suburban household, fireflies -- only fireflies -- flitting about him in the darkness as he drags the garbage out to the curb. Still, he fears the shadows. And fearing the danger of such a perilous trek, he carries a flashlight to shine upon the cracks and the hidden spots which might make him trip and fall. He fears . . . boo-boos. And why shouldn't he? The night is dangerous.

Another man walks in the same neighborhood, clutching his own flashlight; neon green vest glowing on his body -- a brave man who has taken every precaution; for, the night is dangerous.

Still, another stands in a doorway, his spouse, concerned, says, "You are going for a walk in the dark? In the dark? You'll break your neck. You'll get run over. You'll get mugged."

He shrugs. He comes back in. Sitting in his chair in the flickering blue of the television screen, he watches a documentary about ancient superstition and chuckles into his beer mug at the old beliefs.

He glances at the black windowpane. She was right, he thinks. It's dangerous out there.

He falls asleep in his chair. The sunlight will wake him in the morning, after the fireflies are long-gone.


  1. Favorite one I've read

  2. I'm glad you liked it -- thanks very much for stopping by.

  3. I got here via Google on a search for the weight of darkness. A happy discovery, your tale; although brief it held me in its maws to the finish having never considered that we must fear the darkness now as much as ever before and the possibility that our enlightened world is as perilous now as it was before even centuries before electricity. Quite enjoyable, thank you!

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Sidris. I'm glad you enjoyed it!