In an unusual move for the blog, I’m posting an original piece of fiction. The first draft was done about a year ago, though I’ve only just got around to finishing it. It was inspired by a collection of short stories I read by H.P. Lovecraft.
In the autumn of 2013 I found myself one Sunday sat on my sofa in my tiny flat in south London. The nights had been drawing in for some weeks, though on this day, the sky had darkened early due to a low pressure system to the west of Ireland kicking off numerous isolated storms, complete with heavy rain, thunder and lightning. To the modern, enlightened and rational mind, there was nothing unusual about this; it was an event that was predicted on the weather forecast and duly played out as expected.
Yet as the sky changed colour in the minutes leading up to the first drops on rain, I became aware of the failing light not through looking out of the window, but by the increasing difficulty with which I was able to read the volumes I had been perusing that day. To many a person in the 21st century, the common instinct would be to simply switch on a light with little thought, let alone to consider darkness as being a thing which needed to be repelled. Had the switch been within reach I would have joined them, but this afternoon I had an unusual lethargy which stayed my hand. I remained rooted to the sofa for a few moments more.
From my position, I could look to the right and see out of the bay window, across the road. The sky outside had that faint tint of mustard yellow that one is familiar with just prior to a storm or a heavy shower. Yet something seemed amiss. I couldn’t work out what it was, but I had difficulty in taking my eyes off the foreboding sky. There was something to see out there, something loosely tangible, but it just eluded me. I wondered if it is was the sort thing best spotted by looking away and viewing it in a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of one’s eye, but which might scurry away if you dared to look at it full on.
No. Instead this was more like something camouflaged; something right in front of me that could be discerned if one looked long enough and hard enough. So I looked, yet I did not see. This sense of something that was just not right did not escape me. Was it my imagination?
Ah. It was the light level. That’s it, it must be. But it’s not quite the light level. It’s something about the light. Though it was more yellow than normal, it wasn’t the colour that perturbed me. Somehow, the light was lower than it shouldn’t have been. Yes it was gloomy, but it was fractionally darker than there seemed good reason for.
In the dim room, I continued to look out to the tree on the far side of the road, puzzling over why it seemed to gloam at such an hour as this. The obvious reasons seem not to apply; the window wasn’t dirty or anything like that. Was it possibly some kind of pollution? That seemed absurd, yet something about that last idea planted itself like a seed in my mind. Yet it’s not quite pollution either. It was more like something in the air outside of the window; something hanging in the atmosphere that occluded the view by an amount that was just marginally more than that which would be imperceptible, yet which would likely be ignored by the unobservant.
A group of people passed by on the other side of the road, so I observed them as they walked. From one point of view, I wanted to see if they reacted to the darkness around them; from another, I looked at them to see if the same effect of the light could be seen around them.
To my disappointment, the answer was negative on the first count. Lost in their own conversation, their environment was a mere background player, barely noticed by any, though they noticed enough to avoid tripping on the paving slabs pushed up by the tree roots.
On the second count, however, the answer was true. There was something about the colour of their shirts which just seemed wrong. It was as though they had been washed many times and faded, but it wasn’t quite that. My inability to specify the problem was increasingly frustrating though as my anxiety grew, so did my certainty that something was wrong.
I looked for a few minutes more, staring out of the window pondering a variety of possibilities, each flashing through my mind for a few seconds. Yet the more I thought about it, the further a rational answer seemed to be. I needed something else to do, or else I might just sit here forever, always wondering, never doing, unable to move.
With something of a more strenuous effort than I was used to, I forced myself to avert my gaze from the window pick myself off the sofa and turn on the light.
With that small flick, the curious lack of light that had so preoccupied me was now filled with the slightly yellow glow of the tungsten filament above my head. It was an old bulb, I must admit, and I am not sure I could get a replacement if I so wished. But as long as it worked then there was no need to replace it. I could forget what fleeting atmospherics were outside and resume my reading, perhaps with a cup of coffee if I could muster the energy to go to the kitchen.
As my eyes fell back upon the pages, I noticed that the dimness I had noticed earlier remained. How could this be? The light had been switched on, filling the room with a level of artificial incandescence that would surely eliminate any gloom. Yet here I was, struggling to read the words in front of me. I raised my head to look at the bulb which should have illuminated the room.
As I did so, my chest seized momentarily, as it seemed that there was an almost imperceptible cloud of something within my very living room, hovering between me and the ceiling. It was exactly the same kind of intangible thing that had been between me and the tree on the far side of the road. Had it penetrated the glass and come indoors?
Or had it been here all along?
With a shortness of breath and a quickening of the pulse, it dawned on me that the unsettling, subtly different kind of darkness was not outdoors. Indeed, it wasn’t even above my head in some kind of ethereal form. As I bowed my head in resignation, what had been primarily a visual phenomenon became one that was auditory. Like a whisper in my ear, only generated not by external source of sound, there came not words, but a sense of words, the sighing of an internal monologue where the essence is enunciated without a single parting of the lips. “I am the darkness. I am inside you. I am here to stay. I am you.”