Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
Although much ridiculed as a childish fear, a wariness of the dark is an instinct which has, through millions of years of evolution, become ingrained on our subconscious. Even a fully grown manly man, six-foot-something with rippling biceps and sturdy facial hair, cannot deny in all honesty that he has never looked into a dark space and wondered, without meaning to, what might be looking back.
Children are, without question, far more at one with their instincts than adult humans can possibly be. As we learn about the vast intricacies of modern culture by our parents, teachers and experiences, we lose clear communication with our inner voice. It is this voice which warns you when an unseen danger is nearby, giving you temporarily heightened senses in order to safely escape the hazard. It is this voice, too, which asks you to question whether you are going about unseen when wandering in the dark.
The truth, in its most basic and raw form, is that you are never unseen, unnoticed or unwatched. Just as people are prone to stopping and watching animals in a park, or slowing down on the motorway to survey the carnage of a recent accident, so people are observed by those who wish not to be known.
It is widely believed, by those who are of an understanding that we are not alone in the shadows, that our instinctual voice chooses to become nothing more than a nagging feeling in the backs of our minds by the time we reach adulthood. For, if it were not so, we would be consciously aware of our voyeurs, and this would cause them enormous displeasure. Not only would we be aware of them, but we would be able to hear them.
In order to explain this as well as I am capable, I will tell you the story of a young woman whom we will name Elle, in order to maintain her privacy – and to distance ourselves from the situation as much as possible. I implore you, before reading on, to never attempt the same actions as Elle. Never do as she did, or you will become what she has become. You will lose yourself to the darkness.
Elle was in her mid-thirties, divorced and childless, living once more with her parents in their handsome four-bed somewhere in the suburbs of London. Elle worked as a freelance journalist, and did most of her writing from the room her parents had kindly set up as a study for her. It was one of the back bedrooms, an odd shape with five walls rather than four. Bookcases lined two of the walls, a large bay window dominated the back of the room and a broad fireplace stood proudly in the centre. Above it was an ornate Victorian mirror Elle’s mother had bought at a church fete almost two decades before. The window never faced the sun, and the chintzy lampshade overhead did little to cast light into the room. It was uninspiring and dim, but Elle had not been asked to pay rent during the financial fallout of her divorce, and she refused to complain about their kindness.
While writing, Elle would often hit a block, jump to her feet and pace back and forth while her mind scrambled around, trying to find the right words. Once she had them, she would dive back down into the chair and type away furiously. This cycle would be repeated numerous times during a few hours’ of writing. It came to the point that Elle would close her eyes while she did it, able to track her movements back and forth across the room by the squeezing floorboard on her fourth step and the cool hint of a draught as she crossed the path of the fireplace’s mouth.
It was late October and she was writing a frustratingly fluffy piece about mental health in the winter months when Elle did something she hadn’t done before during once of her pacing runs: she opened her eyes as she turned back toward her desk. It was a split second, almost too quick to see, and yet she knew she had seen it: in the mirror, behind her own haggard reflection, something had moved in the dim shadows between the bookcases. On instinct, she immediately looked to the shadowy space, and found it, unsurprisingly to her adult mind, to be unoccupied.
‘Just a trick of the light,’ she muttered to herself and settled back down to her work.
Later, after giving up on an article that refused to be written, she shut down her laptop and, as she stepped out of the room, glanced back once more. Once again, it was only a split second… but she had seen it. The first time, she had shaken it off without trouble. The second time was not quite so easy.
In bed, that night, she read until her eyes were burning from the strain and the words on the page were turning into a blurred mass of meaningless letters. Putting the book on the nightstand, she clicked off the lamp without thought and settled back against the pillows. Her mind, addled with tiredness and stress, found itself unable to suppress her inner voice: can you hear that?
It was white noise, nothing more; that almost high-pitched hum that, every now and then, would inexplicably inhabit your hearing for several seconds before disappearing once more. There was no rhyme or reason to it – it was just “one of those things”. And yet, half-asleep, Elle did something she had never before done in her life: she listened to it.
Whispers. Her eyes shot open in the darkness. She could hear whispers. She could not understand the words but she knew, without a doubt, that she could hear voices whispering in the dark. They were so quiet, so shrill and so distant that she could not place them, but they were definitely audible to her.
Elle was not a woman to retreat from the unknown, and so, unwisely, she concentrated harder, her interest now piqued, her mind racing. Was this what “crazy” people experienced when they claimed to hear voices in their heads? Were they actually more perceptive than “normal” people? As Elle fought harder to understand the voices, they became more and more aware of her alertness to them. It took only minutes, barely even five of them, before the young woman was lost to them forever.
Because once you begin to listen, they listen back. And they gain access to your mind: all its hidden corners, all the deep, dark thoughts you keep for yourself and never let anyone know about. And once they know these things, they use them against you.
You drive yourself mad from the very core of your mind.
Her parents, doctors and friends blamed her breakdown on the grief of her failed marriage, and though she was seen and treated by many professionals in the years that followed, no-one could ever get through to her.
All because she had stopped and listened.
You’re doing it now, aren’t you? You’re trying to hear. You’re trying to see from the corner of your eye. You have been since the moment you read what Elle did. You have been trying to tune in to the voices, to hear what they have to say that is so awful that you would lose your sanity. You don’t believe it is possible.
You are listening now. Listening to the darkness.
And I am so, so sorry my friend. I am truly, terribly sorry.
Because we are listening back.
CREDIT : Sarah Kearsey