I grew up here.
All this time the dark has been watching me,
waiting until I could understand it.
Now, it was calling me out.
It was time to collect.
And that’s why I was back.
I was walking to my car
across the lot behind the apartment building when,
“Hey!” Came a slippery voice
from beyond the trees.
“Hey!” I said back.
After a moment’s pause it said, “you used to live here.”
I stopped. “How’d you know that?”
Instinctively, I opened my car door.
“Remember Jinny? She used to knock on your door
after the streetlights came on.
Your parents did not approve.”
A slight rustle through the trees sounded like quiet laughter as I thought, for the first time in ages, of what happened to Jinny. I thought that whatever was out there knew that and was using it, taunting me.
“Is that so?” I went to the center console. Found the old zippo lighter my father had given to me long ago. It still worked. Like very few things in life, it always worked.
“This is a special lighter, Son. Use it sparingly.”
“How will I know when, Dad?”
That was one of the last times I ever saw him. That day, in the garage, when the afternoon light after the rain dressed the sky in an otherworldly hue.
“Remember the first day you moved in here when you were ten?” The voice moved to the other side of the lot now, just behind the thicket –a coaxing, melodic string of words. “Teddy and Carol wanted to be friends. Not with you though, with your older brother. You were in your new bedroom unpacking your Star Wars toys.”
“Yup, I was there.” I put the zippo in my pocket and closed the door. Teddy didn’t last too long after that, maybe a couple of years. Carol too. Nobody had seemed to make it out of here. Nobody except for me.
“And little Timmy. Oh, what a beautiful bastard! Made you wash his bike. Want to know what he’s doing now?” The voice actually did laugh this time, like it was a little inside joke between us. Timmy had probably long rotted away in the back out there somewhere beneath the gravel and thistle.
I stepped to the edge of the parking lot. “Why don’t you show yourself and we can talk?”
Everything stopped then: the buzzing of the caged light, the night birds, the insects, cars on the streets, my breath.
And then the dark beyond the parking lot groaned, shifted –even seemed to sway.
I could see the darkness stretch…
I could hear the darkness yawn…
I could feel the darkness move air and night and nightmares with its being,
as it awakened…
as it was now getting ready to finally swallow me too.
“Do you really…” The voice came out differently now that it knew we weren’t going to be friends. It was Carol’s.
“…think that…” Timmy’s voice now.
The lights flickered.
The air grew colder and the cracks
in the pavement widened.
“…that lighter is going to help you…” Now Teddy’s, ending his sentence with a laugh just like always.
“…out here?” All of them now – whispers falling into whispers surrounding me, invading me invisibly.
I held out the zippo to the wall of blackness and flicked the flame alive. The landscape before me could be heard more than seen, but could be seen enough to know that it was moving in different places as though it were one living, breathing entity.
“This is all I need. This is all I ever needed,” I said.
And with that
I stepped down the embankment from the lot
into the trees and
into the darkness,
if only because I was so tired of hiding away from it
and from myself.
Now it wants to know what I’m going to do about it…
and so do I.