The tension in the early hours of the morning is like no other. Footsteps deafen, whispers cut like a knife, and movement exaggerates the stillness.
The darkness hides the detail, yet highlights what it deems important. It doesn’t care for what you need or want. The trees keep breathing but hide their faces. The waves continue to tumble, but leave us guessing for what they have in store.
Like moths to a flame, a single light represents a beacon of hope in what seems like a vacuum of life. Optimism to pursue.
We are vulnerable at night; our eyesight diminished. We cannot see what is stalking us; only anticipate what we can imagine. What was only familiar moments ago becomes uncertain, bordering on treacherous.
There’s comfort in the hum of an engine or the activity of another person. A promise of protection in a moment of exposure. Unless of course, we do not expect their company. That only intensifies the tension.
The darkness is terrifying because it wields uncertainty, risk and the possibility of change. Unlike other risks, we know we cannot stop the darkness and all that it brings. It won’t listen when you beg for mercy, nor will it give special passage. You have to wait like everyone and everything else; it will move on when it’s ready.
The darkness does however, provide anonymity and focus. Covering scars and concealing all that could stimulate us. It makes our world smaller, but only in context. The absence of light makes us look harder. It pulls us closer to our subjects; ourselves and each other; all that we love and fear.
The darkness then lets us retreat quickly, and vanish again into secrecy. For this reason alone, the darkness can feel more appealing and safer than the light. The darkness creating questions; the light providing answers.
Questions arouse curiosity and stir expression; the bespoke curator of the curious soul. Anything is possible when questions remain.
Answers however demand acceptance of fact. Ready or not, pencils must be put down. Those who dedicate their life to pursuing answers often feel torn by the anti-climatic closure that answers are romanticized to provide.
Some proactively prevent closure in order to protect the uncertainty of the dark. To them, ongoing art cannot be criticized, for who can judge what remains unfinished?
The floor creaks.
What was that?
Your partner is sleeping soundly beside you. It wasn’t them.
Your eyes fail to focus in the dark. Damn genetics.
Holding your breath, you move ever-so-gently, desperately trusting your ears to protect you.
Did that just get closer? Did you lock the doors? Is someone else in your house?
An arm touches you in the dark. Your heart skips. A chill pulses the length of your spine. A sigh of relief as you see your partner looking at you, wide-eyed and afraid.
“What was that?”
“I don’t know” you whisper back.
The creak intensifies.
“I told you to check the locks.”
Villages are considered to be safer than living alone. Towns safer than a camp. A city more robust than a hamlet. There’s perceived safety in numbers; belief that the pack will provide more comprehensive security than our own humble abilities.
A community is easily destabilized when attacks come from within. It rocks the individual’s trust in the group. While the group still provides core protection, it can no longer be guaranteed or taken for granted with the presence of doubt.
While there is a default level of faith – enough to commute between refuges – there is an unspoken and ever-present vigilance for the preservation of self. A complex friction of trust and suspicion; alone in a sea of people just like us.
We are not always within reach of the group’s protection either. Asylum may be close by, but not always available or willing. Doors within reach, but locked and hidden by the darkness.
Walking a quiet street at night, sitting in an empty carriage, or alone on a rainy night are trademarks of scary movies. They appeal to our deepest sense of insecurity – the things we cannot control. The conscious-self reasons that lights, motors, and buildings will provide safety and immunity. Our sub-conscious however, is acutely aware of what the darkness is capable of hiding.
Eyes that are normally ignored, now burn into us. Unheard whispers now tap us on the shoulder. Small behaviors become large suspicions. Some walk scared; others stand tall if only to give the impression of confidence or a willingness to react in fear.
Sitting upright in bed, you do your best to formulate a game plan in your semi-conscious state. Your hands fumble around the darkness looking for the light switch.
Life was simple until now.
You want to be brave but you’re nervous. All that lies between fate and reality is a thin hollow door and a pile of clothes.
With shallow breath and light footsteps, your hand inches towards the door handle. Looking back at your partner, you motion for them to be quiet and to keep down.
You swear it’s louder and closer now.
Some people never see it coming. Some freeze in terror; helpless to avoid what would they chalk up as fate. Some run or fight. Few embrace it.
It’s partly natural instinct. It’s partly nurtured behavior.
The animal in us wants to survive. To live another day. To do anything within our natural ability to protect ourselves. Survival requires strength, fitness and alertness.
The robot in us wants to reason. To be logical even if the cost is our existence. Manufactured beliefs overpower natural instinct, even when the outcome is death. We expect others to protect us, despite vigilantly doubting their integrity.
In the moments before death – the final darkness – humans try to make peace with what they cannot change or influence anymore. The urge to reason is no longer relevant. Time is their only need, but the darkness doesn’t care. Ready or not.
Social media, headlines, friends and our need to fill the silence with noise keep us sufficiently distracted.
Notifications provide the hum; the blue light in the darkness, the beacon of hope. Likes create the illusion of safety in numbers.
Unlike the past, the internet and our phones never sleep. So neither do we.
The lights are bright and burn indefinitely. It seems we’ve defeated the darkness with a feat of engineering. There’s no reason to fear it any longer. There is confidence in the abundance of light; immunity and immortality in our virtual group.
However there is a brief window of darkness that we have not been able to remove. The final click of the lock screen. The sheets upon our weary bodies. We use drugs or hope in a vain attempt to soothe the inevitable.
Our eyes cannot see. We are naked under a thin layer of cotton. The darkness lures us with promises of rest, but wields something behind its back. Although in close proximity to the group, behind every door, under every sheet, are individuals alone in the darkness.
A darkness that provides little protection or reprieve from what stalks within. In this darkness, it doesn’t make a difference whether you cower or stand tall, for it is not fooled by posturing. It’s not going to leave you unless you leave it, and no-one is coming to save you. You can hear it; you can feel it; you think you can make something out in the shadows, but can’t be sure. It might only whisper, but it’s relentless. It demands that you listen harder, and ignores your requests to speak up.
Twisting the door handle, your game plan is to jump across the hallway into darkness of the bathroom.
You pray that the hallway is clear. If you can just get the kitchen where you keep the knives.
You’ve never hurt anyone before, let alone killed them. Tonight you’d be prepared to do that. How dare someone try to hurt you and your family?
Each and every night, you will be greeted by the darkness. It is reliable like that. The cost of paralysis is your sanity.The cost of fighting is your resolve. The cost of avoiding it is your life. A winner-takes-all battle of tranquility versus torment.
There is hope, but it comes with strict conditions. Safe passage demands your integrity, authenticity, and courage. Do you truly care for these? Do you know what these words actually mean? Look them up. Your life depends on it.
How prepared are you? Are you fit, strong, and alert? Or are you weary, weak, and scattered? Have you prepared for this, or have you indulged in mental and emotional junk food?
Only you know what lives in your darkness. It will eventually consume you whether you like it or not. One day, sooner than you think, you will not leave. It will keep you – or maybe you’ll choose to stay. The question is when and how.
Do you have feelings of accomplishment or regret, courage or fear? Are you cowering in the darkness while strutting in the light? Or are you showing up every night with everything to lose, but the conviction to overcome what may or may not be hiding in the black?
It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. They likely can’t even see your darkness, or have enough resources to help you even if they could. They are lost inside their own.
Cowering in the shadow of the bathroom door, you hear the creak again.
Wide eyes dart in the direction of the sound.
Silence followed a loud sigh.
“What is it? Hello?” calls a quivering voice from the bedroom
“It’s the dishwasher” you reply before meekly getting back into bed. Your heart still beating rapidly.
The darkness laughs. Poor, petrified soul.
The darkness doesn’t skip a single person. Some people won’t admit to it, some don’t understand it, while others are tormented by it. Whatever their story, the darkness never misses its mark.
It’s best to invest energy into mastering your darkness than to pretend it doesn’t exist. Lying doesn’t make it disappear, and fools find themselves alone without the skill and courage to navigate it.
So I ask you. Are you avoiding your darkness? Are you fighting it? Are you paralysed by it?
What if I told you that learning to navigate your darkness would make you stronger and more confident? More peaceful, happier, and formidable? Fear and suspicion replaced with conviction and courage.
Either way, the darkness catches up with every single one of us whether we’re ready or not.
Whether you choose to embrace the next chapter with curiosity and confidence, or kicking and screaming, is not up to anyone else. It’s all on you, alone in the dark.