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The Strange Dark

He never could shake the fear of that strange, strange dark...

Photograph by Andrei Lazarev

Paranoia swept through him colder than the icy breeze breaching the cracks of the lone log cabin’s wooden makeup.

Overcome with fear of the restless shadow he burst into a frenzy, flung the door wide, and there it was.

Stood there, staring at him, eyes cutting through the blackness of the strange dark and turning the lump in his throat into a white-hot coal.

~~~~~~~~~

The morning fog had been sliced thinly by a ray of gold that cast itself over the crystallized fragments of dew-laden snow.

A pillar of smoke rose from a lonesome cabin cradled by the edge of a wood; the only sign of life for what seemed like an endless horizon.

He scoops the crusty gloop of sleep-glue from his eyes with a browning fingernail, a not-unusual occurrence on this somewhat usual morning, and stabs the small fire in its place.

Another day in paradise.

The man, following his usual morning routine and avoiding the freshly yellowed snow, scoops a dollop from its home with his lone metal pot.

As it boils over the fire he ponders his life.

It’s not so bad being the only one out here.

It’s peaceful.

Still.

Sometimes one misses the company of a fellow or a stranger or two.

He reaches for his beard.

Long and what one might deem “scraggly” his facial hair was sort of like a friend he could hold on to.

He stepped from his place by the fire and sat on his cot, taking a now-unusual moment in this now-not-so-usual morning to contemplate the remembrance of his face.

His fingers traced the lines running across his forehead. They were like streams that crossed and fed into one another fading out into the crow’s-foot branches beside his eyes.

A sign that laughter was no stranger to him.

He moved to the bags beneath his eyes and for a brief spell felt the heaviness that weighed in him.

The softness of this flesh drew him downward and it wasn’t long before the skin turned to leather as he made his way past solemn memories stood latent on his lips to the scar that wrapped like a half-halo or a smile around the radial curve of his neck.

He always felt that it was the bad memories who knew him better than any others.

It could’ve been yesterday, the slashing of his throat, by that strange dark.

It was the only thing that truly terrified him; the dark.

He had been living in a city of black pillars and rat-colored streets. Loose women in neon doorways and men whose sole pursuit was the money in your pocket.

The sound was always a pitch above overwhelming. Distorted brass from the bands who played for a few nickels hopped from the thumbs of streetwalkers were muted and hushed by the steel clang of pistons driving downward in the distance.

The factory’s city was like a fair and make no mistake it was the factory’s city and not the other way around.

As he made his way from the hellish burn of a day’s-ending timestamp toward the lone compartment in a beehive of others that he would later attend his nightly sleep within, he was always gazing with naive lust at the city’s silhouettes; sultry and transfigured in his mind.

Enamored though he may have been, he never stopped, for the petty fear that someone might tempt him into an offer he couldn’t say no to, for he could rarely say no to the offers of the factory’s city’s charismatic citizens.

His naked face had yet to experience true dread.

But the night was young.

Making his way to the domicile, he gave himself a half-smile at the joy of his own independence, but it didn’t last long, for as he laid himself to rest in a peaceful blackness so too did a hand attempt the very same thing; leaping from the strange dark and slicing his throat open like a bloody geyser raining downward and warming his chest causing his feet to slip and get a splinter in one of his toes, banging knee on floor, as he reached for the light-switch only to illuminate a room empty of life other than his own bloodied mess.

He found himself clutching his beard as if to ensnare the memories that ran from him.

The pot of snow at a healthy rolling boil now, he shakes a chill from his spine and makes his way to the fire.

Taming the untamable.

The words turn like a whisper in his mind.

He’d never get over the fear of shadows, but before dread would become him, he could press it to the wayside with a warm and illuminating fire endlessly relayed by an ever-replenished stock of firewood.

That, and rabbit soup for breakfast.

It was his favorite of the forest’s game, though he was never sure if he’d been missing out on anything better or more exotic for he had never ventured further than a mile into the wood what with his soul stung by that permanent fear of the dark and all.

But it never bothered him to play it safe.

He stuck to the wood he knew and so far it worked for him.

After his breakfast, he regained a grasp of his usual routine by rolling himself a cigarette and chopping some firewood.

It was a monotonous task, but one that had to be done if he were to keep his endless light burning.

Plus, there was nothing that a fresh cigarette and brilliant sun shining on a painted blue sky couldn’t make lovely.

Except for that spot.

A wave of fear crushed his heart for a skip and a grim sense took hold of his eye.

There was something sitting in the snow a few yards away.

Something black.

The same black of a strange and darkly night.

Wielding his axe, he stepped toward the thing.

The crunching of snow under his boots became more apparent than ever before as the birds who’d been singing their daily tune became hush as death.

Soon even the crunching of snow underfoot was silenced as he stood before the black object in a void without sound.

It was a can.

What a strange thing to be found in the middle of nowhere.

Upon picking it up he realized it was a beer can.

A beer can.

A full beer can out here.

Out here in the furthest reaches of no-man’s-land, he could find away from all civilization and thus razor-wielding hands who leap from strange darks.

Yet not so far out for beer cans.

Puzzled, he had too many questions.

He dropped the thing back into the snow and ran back toward the cabin. Gathering his firewood, he frantically reached for the broken threads of his morning routine, but as he dropped the wood and collapsed into the snow scraping his elbow on sharp bark, the dream was gone and this once-usual morning was now elevated to totally-unusual by several degrees.

In a matter of moments, he was back at the beer can lifting it from its resting place and bringing it home for further inspection.

He didn’t know what it was about taking it from where it was found that made him feel better but it was a brief feeling of solace in a cold white desert of perplexed anxiety.

The black can was scrawled with copper-colored writing written in a language he couldn’t understand with characters he couldn’t read.

But he knew.

He knew enough to know what this was.

Not exactly what it was or where it came from, but he knew enough to know it was beer.

Beer.

It had been a long time since he tasted beer.

Frankly, it had been a long time since he tasted any drink other than boiled snow.

>Crack-POP<

The fizz of beer.

How could it be?

He tasted it.

Holy fuck that’s good.

His mind ran simple.

Drink, he thought.

Drink.

And drink he did.

Before he knew it the can was empty and his head was now light and heavy at the same time. What the fuck is going on?

He swayed to the music he imagined.

The fire looked sad. Oh no!

Stumbling outside, he saw it.

Another one.

Another beer.

In the same place.

He ran for it.

Picking it up, it was the same thing.

He repeated his actions.

Taking it inside.

Drinking it.

Swaying.

Stumbling.

Another!

Take.

Drink.

Sway.

Stumble.

More!

More!

More!

More!

And now he was drunk.

Fucked up.

He was absolutely fucking wasted and now there was nothing he could do about it and the fire died and there was nothing he could do.

Shit.

The fire’s dead.

Shit!!!

The fire’s dead!!!

Sifting through the haze of drunken hilarity at the death of an untamable force like fire he found the corner of a piece of tiny dread that reminded him of that strange dark and soon that dread filled him and he couldn’t remember how to make a fire.

And before he could notice, night had fallen.

And he shivered and wept as his cold shaking body paced the boards of his lone cabin.

Moonlight was not enough and soon even the fullness of that lunar spectacle was covered by a fleet of dark clouds.

A shadow rushed past and he shrieked.

It was an animal. It was an animal. It was an animal.

The words thumped in his skull to the tune of the heart beating in his throat.

And then the steps.

The creak of the cabin’s wooden ceiling that sounded like a man sneaking around above his head.

It’s an animal it’s an animal it’s an animal...

The words sped through his mind and spilled right the fuck out and down his spine as he shivered a death-walk above his grave and felt himself floating to damnation and the abyss, but opening his eyes he was still in that cabin cradled by the edge of a wood in a half-smiling horizon covered by endless dark and just then he knew. He knew.

It was coming.

And the shadow that swept past him was back, now pacing above him and filling his eyes with tears.

He grabbed his knife, clutching it with sweaty paranoia.

Overcome with fear of the restless shadow he burst into a frenzy, flung the door wide, and there it was.

That strange dark blackness of the wood.

He could barely make it out but he had no time to pause and ran straight forward into the night, carried by fear and dread and the anxiety of all that blackness and darkened dismal hatred of the abyss. He ran. And ran. And moved effortlessly through that wood, surprising himself at the grace of his scratched and bloodied legs leaping over branches and brush blinded by black and then he saw a light and it was a light that seemed familiar and so he ran faster and now he had something to run to and not from and so he ran even faster and if only he could’ve known what he was running toward maybe he wouldn’t have run so fast but it doesn’t matter because he’s here running so so fast and now he’s made it to a lonesome log cabin at the edge of a wood.

It’s his lonesome log cabin at the edge of the wood.

But this one has light emanating and a pillar of smoke rising from it.

No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t swallow the heart beating in his throat.

And just as he was to enter, the doorway flung wide, and there he was.

Stood there, staring at him, eyes cutting through the blackness of the strange dark and turning the lump in his throat into a white-hot coal.

That scraggly beard under baggy ice cold blue eyes and a half-halo scar wrapped radial like a smile around his neck.

He stared at this mirror image of himself and with the craven fear of a pathetic creature reached from that strange dark and slit the throat of his doppelgänger just as he felt his own neck begin to bleed.

Collapsed backward into a pile of empty black beer cans he could hear the faint sounds of a brass crescendo.

The neon-lit silhouette of hands caressed his heart and turned his gaze onto himself so that he may watch his bloody gurgle as a slow and peaceful death.

This sanguine cloud dripping onto snow, a rose of white cradling the forest like it was the edge of the world and smiling its half-halo smile around the radial of his neck; gushing scarlet lips under the pale twilit moon. 

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