What Lurks in the Dark?

My imagination populated the dark with its own monsters. I was never afraid of the darkness itself.

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What Lurks in the Dark?

Where, oh where have the monsters gone?

All Hallows' Eve, 2213
The Monster's Hollow

I chose to tread into the realm of monsters. Not because I'm foolish, but because on any day except the Hallows' Eve, undead hands clench the Gate shut. Stark departed trees mark the threshold, with a deep violet reeking of conquerors' glory. There are things in this place that Man, the mortal, never laid eyes on. I always wondered why, and that curiosity lured me here… Were they afraid?

Ages ago, when my family did their duty, they focused on the tenuous coils of securing, containing, and protecting. Back then, entering willingly into the realm of monsters was madness. Then, one day, we plunged a sword into our spirit, to show the monsters that we would never be afraid of them. They taunted us. Then they roamed in and reigned over the Earth. We tried restraining our fears…

Now, an ocean of rot plagues the monsters.

Field after field of rats fills the land between the horizons. Rats that suckle on the marrow and bone, and the ash and dust. On the rot, they feast. The rot that fed the monsters, now the rats feed.

If not for the shrieks of rats, this calm might please me, knowing the monsters are now gone.

Behind me, the gate remains wrenched open — though not for long, as twilight approaches. When it does, maybe then I'll understand.

Did you ever fear what lurked in the dark? Or just the darkness as such?
"My imagination populated the dark with its own monsters. I was never afraid of the darkness itself."

We once believed in a past defined by light and darkness. These are the only two realms worth evaluating, we thought. The separation between the two tantalized us.

In time, when human creativity peaked, we came to believe: No, shades of grey define the soul's depths. For an entire Age, that's how we defined the classical world of ghouls and goblins: Shades of grey, sweeping down innumerable steps to the bottom of our minds.

It never occurred to us that “shades of grey” reflected the horrors within, and that the monsters didn't work that way. They never did. We projected our insecurities onto the world. In truth, you can never understand the way the monsters work. They're not us.

You're just a child, my parents told me. A child that doesn't yet know what it means to be a monster. It's true that I'm young. But that doesn't mean I don't know what it's like.

You wear costumes to mock them. And when you grow up, you mock the costumes.
"Mock? Not so. We wear costumes to scare them away."
So then, what do you think happens when you grow up?

I donned a costume tonight. The pretty princess one, with the rhinestone-studded tiara and cascading pastel dress. I thought I'd grown out of it, but it seems it still fits. Well, perhaps it's a bit snug.

It would have been perfect. It was, until the undergrowth gnawed it to ribbons. Now I scale this gnashing valley of consumption and rot, where the rats dare not trek. It's here on the peak that I spot a familiar figure. I make chase–

And stumble, grazing my knees. Up ahead, the spidery dark twangs. Something ambles near, reins me in, and pulls me taut. It tries to startle me, but I know better.

As a kid, whenever I felt a crushing emptiness — one of gripping, existential anguish — I conjured up false friends for company. Now, peering through the fuzzed dark, I spot them for the first time in years. They've chosen tonight to make their début.

The darkness contorts, and I recognize my captor as Spooky Shirley, the skeleton. I knew him as Captain Shirley Bones, a veteran of the Skeleton War. I think he was my great grandpa, once: The keeper of my ancestors' memory, with stone-cold wisdom stored beneath his bony carapace. I always took his puzzling expression as another silly jig to lighten my mood.

“Shirley, you're here! Did you visit to tell me one of your funny stories again?”

He sets me down. “Nay, I am here to remind you of vanishing sweetness in the world. Of bitterness that crawls in from vessels of war. See, Lassie, there was a time before bloodshed — before burial and lamentation. A time ye knew not of my presence within.”

“Oh, you're so skinny nowadays — I could wrap you up in my arms!”

His jaw clatters, but he isn't making a joke. “I was meant to stay close within you, forever. Not just within you, but within all my kin. Even now, I show up in graves. Only, this time, as a pale reminder.” It's a riddle. He doesn't elaborate.

Next, my eyes fall on Samara, the apparition. In times, I knew her as Samara the Silhouette. She used to dance like one: A shadow in my periphery, a flicker in candlelight. Now, she struggles — shackled to the ground, not just by the misery of her past life, but also by chains. I try dancing like a shadow in her luminous form. The dance she taught me.

“Don't cry this time, Sammie. It's okay, you don't scare me anymore.”

“I'm cursed to always come back here, you know. I was too weak for many things when I was still alive. That's why you should fear me — you wouldn't want that same failure and disappointment on your soul. You hold too much potential.”

“How about you come with me, and we can adventure together!”

Mourning over all sorts of things unseen, she weeps to me alone. “Oh, I can't join you. I'm too afraid these days. My fear stretches deep, see, through a thousand lifetimes. Besides, if you take after me, you might come to believe that you were always the monster, yourself.” She turns her back.

At last, I look over Pumpkinskull, the scarecrow with a pumpkin for a head. I used to play with him, calling him funny things like Gourdguts and Fruitface. He tended to the harvest that fed my family.

“I remember when you used to serve me, mister harvester. Maybe, if you show me how you did it, I could tend to the harvest too!”

“I don't think there'll be another harvest. As the old times fell into rot, so have I, and so has your family. As will you. As will all things. Make the last of your time here the best of your time. Make all of your time the best.”

“Oh, you're just mopey because the crows came in and made a mess!”

Greenish, mouldy pulp streams from the openings carved into his face. “I am the lifeblood of the past. Forget me, as all are forgotten. It will hurt less — I think — if you forget. It won't be easy. Well, it never is. If you can't learn to forget, you'll need to force yourself. I reckon that's the hardest part–” He ends with a croak.

I step back and blink, and my friends disappear. On the horizon, dark clouds part.

"When we grow up, that's when we realize the Truth."
What's that?
"That we were monsters, all along."

The horizon holds a tired red sun, and below the peak sits a blackened, musty tarn. It's All Saints' Morn, and the Black Gate to the Monster's Hollow has scraped shut for another year. I'm stuck here, but it was my choice to stay. I need to understand how the monsters live their deaths.

I glance down into the valley. Was this where the monsters had crawled from, all those years ago? Or did we traverse down into this hole to find them for ourselves?

Whatever the truth was, I know the realm of monsters is everlasting, even if my Home could not be. To be honest, it should not be. We had spent so much time running from the dark. We never realized that darkness was in the rift between each one of us, and deep within ourselves.

I think about my friends. They were the monsters all along, and they call to me.

Should I answer?

Would you?

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