This Thing of Darkness, I

by Philip Webb Gregg

They come out in the daytime, dressed in smiles and three-piece suits. Mercilessly, they hunt and roam and mutilate what they catch. Sometimes they laugh, yes, but usually they are dour, committing their crimes with closed and vacant faces. It might be different if they found some sense of merriment in their actions- some assertion of their ultimate meaning in this cruelty, but no: they make massacres in no one’s name.

I have known them to crawl through dank cracks in the earth and scuttle over high mountain tops without ever a thought for the pure silences they were shattering. The sea is not safe from them either. Though she wails and shifts beneath them, trying to buck them off, still they ride her without remorse. The very air festers with their breath. The forests boil with their rank skin and pus.

Monsters are everywhere in this world, said the thing beneath my bed, when I was just a boy.

In the cramped darkness of my childhood bedroom, late into the early hours, the outside sound of cars and insects had stopped, and everything was still. That’s when I heard it. Shy and whispering, there was something desperately sincere about its voice.

Curious, I brushed the blankets off and got down on my hands and knees. And there it was. As if it had always belonged. It looked far more at home in my home that I’d ever looked. It smiled with three mouths.

Hello, I said. What are you doing there? 

Same as you, said the thing, and I glimpsed the twist of limbs and the glint of rounded claws as it spoke. Hiding from them.

They have been known to show kindness, on occasion. Yes, there are tales of their exploits which paint them in a pretty light; as heroes, saints and kings. But they are none of these. They are bottomless pits of fear and longing. Stomachs that cannot be filled. Hearts that bite instead of kiss.

They are the ones who drop chaos into sacred places. Who find truth and kink it with opposable thumbs. Skin and gut and stuff all that is honest, and then raise falsity on a pedestal.

Years later, as an adult, I was dancing uncomfortably in a posh London nightclub when the fire-alarm suddenly rang. We piled out into the murk and the rain, and I stumbled down an alleyway littered with filth, glad to be free.

Sitting with my back against the wall, I lit a cigarette and watched as the shadows grew and hardened all around me. A single, hooded shape appeared like the smoke that curled from my lips, and I smiled, feeling among friends at last.

Sometimes, said the thing beneath the hood, which bore a knot of tentacles instead of a face, the only thing you can do is run to the shadows and hide.

I offered it my cigarette, and it took a long drag and passed it back.

Remember, it said, we are the real victims, they’re just the ones who write the stories. 

It is true, they are gifted with the darkness of words and will use their tongues as harshly as other creatures use their claws. They have a cry for every occasion, and a different scream for every pain. There has always been a terrible pressure within them; a force born of solitude that withers and makes lonely all that it touches. And this is the well of their rage. It is not their feeble senses or their grasping paws or their bendy thoughts that make them strong. No, it is their fantasies that empower them. Their unparalleled illusions, pregnant with the force of misspent emotion.

All my life I have battled them, and ran from them, and sometimes, occasionally, loved them.

I am old now, and my eyes are bad and my back is bent, but I live among the monsters still.

I am sitting, watching the shadows, knowing there is something in there that understands me better than the lady who brings my soup or the doctor who takes my blood. I have been waiting many years to leave the monsters behind, and join the real people in the dark.

Now, at last, I sense the air shimmering all around me. I cough, smile and splutter; glass and violets in my lungs. The light dims and blares, then vanishes. I feel the kiss of a thousand teeth across my face and feet and hands. Here it comes, now. Darkness.


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