28 Sep The Long Night
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"The Long Night"Written by
Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
Bound in night’s shackles, an ageing man yearns to be free. As he tries to cry aloud only a starved, raspy breath escapes his tired lungs. Too weak to be heard, he faces this terror alone.
Nearly suffocating under the potent anxiety carried forth by an atmosphere starved in darkness, he is desperate to feed on the security of light. Treading carefully amongst the unknown, he fumbles for a light source. He gropes aimlessly at unseen walls around him, but no light switch can be found.
In his haste he dislodges an object hanging from the wall. Suddenly, he is startled by the screeching of iron against the hard surface beneath him. Straining to bend down so that he can inspect the fallen object, he brushes his hand over its surface. Suspecting and, indeed, hoping it may be a lantern, he searches his pockets for a matchbox. Absurdly, he retrieves one. Surprised by his good fortune, he strikes a match and applies the flame to the object. To his relief the lantern casts a dim light which brings the immediate area around him into view. For a moment he is comforted by the emergence of light, but his comfort is soon disturbed. A new fear is brought to the forefront of his mind: What if this light reveals no trace of familiarity? He wonders, fearfully. What if I cannot find my way back home? With cold sweat dampening his face, his mind is ablaze with quandary, but he does not truly understand why. Not yet.
With little choice but to press on in spite of his fear, the old man proceeds to survey his immediate surroundings. By his discoveries he is dismayed. Everything about this room is uncomfortably alien. First, examining the floor beneath him, he realises this is no homely environment: the surface is reinforced concrete laid bare. There is no carpet covering to breathe life or solace. Examining the mostly featureless confines, out of the corner of his eye he notices the handrail of a flight of stairs. Turning to look upon the stairs, he considers the opportunities which might lie above. If he were strong enough to ascend the staircase, who knows what he may find? Perhaps I would be safer up there. He speculates. Perhaps there might be some means of communication; a telephone, perhaps? Perhaps … it does not matter. Whatever haven of respite lies beyond these steps is, for now and always, beyond my reach. Knowing this, he is forlorn. How cruel it is that such a false promise of hope could be offered to him like this. Returning to his search, he finds the strange emptiness of the room serves only to increase his feelings of isolation and confusion. Even the walls appear to encircle him – taunting him.
It is not long before another feature of the room seeks to entice him. A combination of curiosity and dread grows inside of him as he fixes his eyes upon this all at once inviting and foreboding detail. The object of his attention is unremarkable, yet far from unassuming. It is a windowless steel door. Terror looms closer still – but curiosity lingers – as the man becomes acutely aware of distant cries. They are hostile. Whatever foul creatures loom beyond this door, he does not wish to find out. Yet he must proceed. His journey has brought him too far to avoid it much longer. Perhaps subconsciously he knows this. Why else would he be struggling for breath? For what other reason would his heart beat at the disconcerting rate it is so doing?
Hesitating briefly, he wonders what might happen were he to refuse to open the door; to defy whatever forces would have him venture beyond it. It takes him no great effort to dispel such thoughts, however. His determination to return home is powerful enough to keep him moving forward. As he reaches the door, he presses an ear to its cold surface. Whatever lurks beyond is unmistakably agitated. He pulls himself away and, with a deep breath, braces himself as he carefully opens the door. The scene before him is unimaginable.
Where prior to opening the door the air had possessed an aura of foreboding stillness, now a vicious gale ravages the atmosphere. Its cries, once distant, now verge on deafening. In the midst of the storm archers in the sky target the building with a relentless barrage of liquid arrows. Before him – revealed only by a warning light high above his head – perturbed waves writhe and thrash as if in attempt to free themselves from the night’s dreadful curse. Vain, yet persistent. Deep into the heart of a vast ocean of unfathomable depths, the man is trapped. Alone. It matters not how he came to be here; he is too far gone for anyone to help him now.
Standing transfixed in the agape doorway, his body trembles violently under the ominous shadows of the night. In horrified bewilderment, he gazes listlessly into the void. Amidst the callous taunts of the wrathful waves he seeks desperately for a rational explanation. With tremendous concentration he tries to take his mind back to the moment of his arrival. With great frustration he finds he cannot retrace his steps to a point in time prior to finding himself in the dark.
He reassures himself that in all the confusion of this scenario, combined with his deteriorating mental faculty, he is bound to be less capable of coherent thought. Whether he remembers this or not he reasons that the only rational explanation is he must have arrived by boat. Yes, Of course! He realises, almost gleefully. What other explanation could there possibly be? Approaching the railing, he searches the perimeter of the lighthouse for any sign of a vessel. With a quivering hand he raises the lantern above him as he walks along the railing, examining the illuminated ocean waves for any sign of the boat on which he arrived. Several minutes pass, to no avail. He becomes increasingly disheartened as the cruel realisation settles inside of him: There is not a single ship in sight. The much stronger light above confirms this. With no signs of life as far as the eye can see, the man now truly begins to comprehend his worrying isolation. Understanding the full extent of the emptiness of his surroundings, a truly mystifying awareness dawns on him: This building does not belong so far out into the ocean. I should not be here!
He is pulled back from the inner turmoil of his mind by the sudden awareness of the increasing agitation of the ocean’s waves. With great urgency he staggers back inside the building – back to its cold but sheltering enclosure. Once inside, he shuts the door tightly. He is drenched in icy water, quivering in unbearable discomfort. The lantern has been extinguished by the storm; the room is now submerged in utter darkness. Using the handrail for support, he lowers himself onto the third step, resting the now lifeless lantern down beside him. He leans forward, his elbows resting on his thighs, and his head resting upon cupped palms. Considering the absurdity of this situation he feels it would be fitting to laugh, but in his devastation he can only weep. In search of consolation his mind takes him to the fondest moments of his past, as it has so often done in times of distress. It is in the imagining of his wife’s beautiful face that refuge is to be found. His memory of her is so strong it is almost palpable. Above all else he remembers how beautiful she had appeared on their wedding day – how happy she had made him feel that day. Smiling through tears, he recalls the blissful memory of reciting his vows and the gleeful celebration which reigned until dawn the following day. He had loved her dearly; his memories of her have always brought comfort when nothing else could. Since her death, he has often longed to hold her; he has yearned to hear her soft, reassuring voice – to simply tell her one last time, “I love you.”
Through a mist of cold tears, he sees before him a vibrant aura. Its mere presence eases his sorrow. Drying his eyes so that he might see for himself the entity before him, he is left incredulous by its appearance. A mere arm’s length away from him stands his wife in the flesh. She is vibrant and youthful. He is overcome with joy, for her vivacity breathes life into an otherwise decadent atmosphere. He reaches out to touch her, but she steps away, slipping from his grasp once again. Fear creeps back into his soul as she evades his touch. With graceful effervescence, she glides towards the door, glancing back every few steps, smiling playfully as she does so. She is beckoning him. Realising this, the old man struggles to his feet, heading towards the door. Stopping inside the doorway, he watches in horror as his wife stands on the outside of the railing, preparing to leap. He tries to cry out for her to stop; to plead with her to stay. She turns to face him, smiling innocently, urging him to trust her. She relinquishes her grip, allowing the waves to carry her away. For a moment the man hears nothing but the distressing laughter of the ocean. Then, out from the depths, he hears the soothing voice once more. “Don’t be afraid, my love,” she reassures him. “We can be together again, I promise you. Just let go.” He edges closer to the railing, knowing perfectly well what he must do to be reunited with his love.
The now faint light – a spectral apparition dancing on the blackened water – begins to flicker. With this, the old man’s hearing begins to fail him; the scene before him fades to a blur of uncharacteristic forms. The bitter cold is now imperceptible. His time is short. With great strain, he steps closer to railing. The restless waves now strike the derelict structure with malevolent intent. It is as though their forces have now been completely alerted to his presence. To him, however, the waves are barely audible; their soothing cadence puts him at ease. No longer trembling quite so violently he closes his eyes, trusting the ocean to deliver him from this place of suffering and solitude; to deliver him into his wife’s loving embrace.
In an instant, immense waves engulf the lighthouse entrance. At once, lucidity is lost. Unseen servants of the night descend on the old man’s feeble form with devastating precision. Without hesitation they pierce his withered heart, dragging him further into their everlasting embrace. A pitiful, gargling whimper escapes him as consciousness seeps out of his body. Submerged in dark waters, vacant eyes stare helplessly into sightless visions of eternity.
Silence accompanies the night.