Darkness alters perception.
Everything, after all, is more frightening in the dark.
The tree scraping against your window, the same one that you thought was pretty during the day, with its blushing pink blossoms, now looks sinister and sharp. It’s jagged edges knock lightly on your window, asking to come inside.
A coat you left hanging on the doorframe, you could swear just moved. Ever so slightly. Only an inch.
So when the power went off, shrouding the city in darkness, it altered our perception.
Everything- everyone- was more frightening in the dark.
I was laying in my room, unable to fall asleep. I had my night light on, I was always afraid of complete darkness. The little light flickered and clicked off, like a candle blown out in a swift, final gust of wind.
It was silent, though. There was no wind. There was no sound at all until I heard the clicking outside. I didn’t dare get out of my bed, out from under the safe covers that I thought could protect me, so I peered out my window from my bed. Outside, past the thin glass pane of my fifth story window, I saw the apartment complexes and houses below as their lights went out in rows. It seemed that even the moon above switched off, and once it was completely dark, that’s when the screams came.
Horrible, shrieking screams coming from each corner of the city. The town we live in isn’t large, but there was no way we should’ve been able to hear the screams from that far away.
Finally, Father came to get me. “Violet?” he called into the darkness.
“I’m h-here,” I stuttered, and I felt his strong arms pick me up, cradling me as he walked carefully without sight.
I squeezed my eyes tight, even though I could not see with them open. I didn’t want my mind to make things up. I knew I had a tendency to see things that weren’t there, especially in the dark. So I kept my eyes closed, blocking out anything that goes bump in the night.
But the scariest thing wasn’t something that went bump in the night. It didn’t make any sound at all, really, because it wasn’t even something real. It was simply in our minds, something that can trick our minds into thinking we’re in danger. The most dangerous thing of all, the thing that can destroy the most; eat away at a person until they are nothing anymore.
And there is nothing more dangerous, more powerful than fear.
Unfortunately, there was an abundance of terror that night. Of course there was much to dread, I know that now, but we didn’t know it then. I remember hearing my baby sister, Ivy’s cries, and knowing that we were with her and Mother. I called for her, but Father hushed me, pulling me closer.
“Don’t make sound, Violet,” he whispered, and I pursed my lips together. “We don’t want to frighten Ivy.”
Father set me down and urged me to go to Mother. I crawled on my hands and knees until I found her, and huddled in close.
“Stay here,” Father whispered. “I’ll go find the flashlights.”
It was cold in our house, and I shivered there silently. I heard nothing but Ivy and Mother’s breathing, so I focused on it. I tried not to hear the things in the apartments around ours, for I knew that my fear would transform the common sounds into something more sinister.
There was a sudden crash coming from my left, where Father went to look for a flashlight. Mother jumped, and Ivy fussed. Mother hushed the baby.
Finally, I heard Father’s heavy steps come back into the main room. The sound felt unfamiliar; Father was always light on his feet. “Did you get the flashlight?” Mother asked.
Father said nothing; all I heard was the click of the flashlight as Father tried to turn it on and his breath, heavy and slow. The flashlight didn’t work, and Mother sighed. Without another word, Father retreated back down the hall, his footsteps and breathing uncharacteristically sluggish. I felt Mother shiver next to me.
“What’s wrong, Mama?” I whispered.
She didn’t respond for a beat, then inhaled sharply. “Nothing, darling,” she whispered back, kissed my forehead, and rocked Ivy back and forth.
She hummed a tune, a lullaby she would sing to me when I was small. I was still young at that time, but she hadn’t sung it for so long that I almost didn’t recognize it. The tune was sweet and her voice was melodic, and for a moment I wasn’t scared. For a moment I could forget the things my mind told me were around. The things I knew weren’t there, but that my mind thought were. `
Father never came back. After he disappeared down that hall we waited for hours, Mother, Ivy and me, but he never came back. Finally, Mother decided to leave the apartment building and try to find one of her friends.
“We’ll go see Ms. Jackie,” Mother told me. “We can stay with her until we find your father, okay?”
So we walked down the pitch black hall. Mother told me to hold onto her shirt as she walked, so she could hold Ivy in one hand and keep the other on the wall to stay steady. Carefully and slowly we walked down the five stories of steps, finally reaching the world outside. There were people on the streets, and I heard them talking of electrical shortages- something, of course, I knew nothing of at the time.
We walked down the street to Ms. Jackie’s house, and Mother made me go to bed right away. She sent me into the guest room while she stayed and talked to Ms. Jackie in the living room, which was lit by flickering candlelight.
“It was… unsettling,” Mother told Ms. Jackie. She thought I was asleep, but I was listening to her; peering through the smallest of cracks between the door and it’s frame. “And there was that crash…” Mother stared at the wall, rocking Ivy absentmindedly.
“I’m sure it was nothing,” Ms. Jackie assured Mother. “You said he was looking for a flashlight, right? He probably knocked something over.”
“Then where did he go?” Mother asked. “I never heard the door open or close. There’s only one entrance, one exit to our apartment.”
“Maybe he’s still in there.”
“Well why didn’t he come to us when we walked out the door?” Mother’s voice started to become panicked. I saw her bury her face in one hand, still holding a sleeping Ivy in the other. “I just don’t understand,” she cries, her voice muffled.
“Hey,” Ms. Jackie scolded, putting a firm hand on Mother’s shoulder. “Everything is just fine. You’re just afraid of the darkness. You always have been. Remember what I used to tell you when we were young?”
I heard Mother’s soft laugh. She lifts her head up, blonde hair still sticking to her face. I pulled my face back slightly, not wanting her to catch me eavesdropping. “Everything is more frightening in the dark.”
“That’s right,” Ms. Jackie confirmed, smiling warmly at Mother. “Everything’s more frightening in the dark. There’s nothing terrible happening; nothing but a power outage. You’ll go home to a worried husband, asking where you’d gone.”
Mother took a deep breath. “You’re right,” she said.
“But…” Ms. Jackie continues. “There’s no harm staying the night.”
That made Mother smile, which made me smile, too. I really believed what Ms. Jackie said. It would all be alright. All the lights just went out, and everything would go back to normal when the sun came up.
But when the sun came out from behind the mountains above the small town, that’s when our neighbors found Father’s body.
The killer took advantage of the shadows of our home, using the cover of a completely black night to take his victim. He chose Father.
There were others, too, in each corner of the town limits. We didn’t even know it, but our apartment building was built in the very center. Four victims all at once, and the fifth 5 minutes later. They didn’t even take any money, so the police assumed It was all a part of some sick ritual. A planned massacre; a pointless killing spree.
We thought that the man with the heavy footsteps was my father when he was really his killer.
Darkness alters perception.
And we should’ve listened to our minds, telling us that there were frightening things lurking in it.