The night is an Ocean in which every star in the Universe is but an island. The Ocean’s waves lap over the Earth on a 24-hour cycle; its tides roll in and roll out at a rate of once per year. And the Ocean carries things in its depths; things you would not believe.
Every so often, something meant for deeper waters finds itself beached here. We mistake them for unhappy dreams because we cannot process their reality. Usually, they suffocate in daylight, thrashing in their death-throes and expiring in a paroxysm of terror. That, at least, we can feel.
Some (lucky or unlucky, depending on your perspective) find refuge in what puddles of Earthly night they can find. Basements; closets; the depths of the forest; the space under your bed. Children are aware of them, though their parents are not. Children have not learnt what is impossible.
In the dark places of the world, they may persist for years or centuries, every so often going abroad with the setting of the Sun, every so often ensnaring a victim. How many stories have you heard of demons and vampires; ghosts and monsters; phantoms and hags and things that go bump in the night? Each one is a fable, and yet each one contains some true feature of that which lurks in the dark. Our brains cannot process them, nor our eyes see without light, and so we fill in the details; our mythologies give them form and those forms change over time--once a troll, then a devil, now a black-eyed child. Many are the masks of Nightmare. Their shapes and names evolve to fit our fashions, but they themselves remain ever the same.
How many times have you seen a shadow out of the corner of your eye, one that was not there when you turned to look? How many times have you lain paralyzed in bed, certain that something was with you in the room? And how many times have you awoken from a nightmare, nigh-unable to convince yourself that it wasn’t real?
It was real. It’s always real.
Every nightmare you’ve ever had; every half-remembered terror of your childhood; every razor-toothed, snarling-jawed, dead eyed thing that has ever haunted your dreams is real. And it is your fortune that most of the time--most of the time--they are just passing by.
They can afford to be patient.
For the Night is ancient. The Night was already ancient long before the first day. And a billion years before the first terrestrial life writhed out of the primordial ooze, it was already there, watching.
Out of its trillion trillion eyes, the Night saw our ancestors descend from the trees; when early humans first harnessed fire, it stood just outside of the warm circle of light, waiting; and when we built our cities, wired them up with electric light, and declared that we had won our final victory over the darkness, the Night smiled silently in its infinitude. For the Night will still be here when our cities crumble; when the last streetlamp goes dead; when the last star in heaven burns down to a cold ember.
The Night will win. The islands of light will each sink in their turn beneath the Ocean.
And when that time comes--when that dark Ocean drowns the world--the Night’s victorious children will run rampant, gorging themselves with abandon.
And it is then, and only then, that we will see the true face of Nightmare.
Written by Queen Iacomina