Chapter One: The Darkness
I've always been scared of the dark. Not that vague sense of unease it gives some, but a palpable, strong, tangible sense of terror and foreboding. A feeling that it might surround and consume me, that I would be lost within it. But not only lost; for the dark always brought with it the promise of something else, something it carried along, that lived inside it, hidden yet longing to emerge, to reveal itself. To get to you.
Toby was scared too. He inherited from me that same fear, that the dark was not merely a cloak, a shadow that hid the world at night time, but instead was something far worse; something both evil and a bringer of evil.
So our house was well lit at night, night lights were bright and numerous, with back ups because, well, you just never knew what might happen. I tried hard not to show my fear, but it was there,
clearly visible all the same. Toby knew it and no amount of unconvincing "there's nothing to worry about" rhetoric from me would hide what we both knew: there was plenty to worry about.
Sarah, Toby's mum, had no such concerns. The dark was just a clue that you needed a torch, and, failing that, you needed to just "let your eyes become accustomed." She did her best, patiently (with Toby) and not so patiently (with me) but neither of us would develop her almost carefree sense of comfort once darkness fell. She accepted our foolishness, she tolerated our need for light; she loved us, what else would she do? If only she had realised we wereright.
We thought we knew darkness, we'd both been out in the park at night; in that furthest corner from the street lamps when Tiger, our dog (don't ask), would run to sniff and search in the brambles and rubbish. We thought we knew how black and oppressive an absence of light could be. We knew nothing.
The day we learnt just how little we knew, but just how right we'd been, was as any other; school and work, journeys to and fro, evening meals together, then daily routines leading to bed and the expected darkness; to be shortened and ignored by sleep. But bed was never reached, the world as we knew it ended before the evening bath had finished running. Darkness came and turned off our
lives, something pressed off and nothing we could do would change that.
Toby was sat on his bed reading, Sarah was on the phone downstairs and I was lazily pushing bath water around in a vague attempt to mix temperatures, when suddenly it went dark. And quiet. Eastenders fell silent downstairs, Sarah's voice cut out in mid-sentence, the hum, rumble and clatter of the world outside suddenly stopped. But the darkness hit me like a punch to the stomach. In the same second I thought "powercut" I also thought "too dark, too quiet." There was something very wrong, something I couldn't identify or name, but I couldn't move, I couldn't do anything.
"Daddy!" His voice returned me to life, I replied; "Toby, it's okay" and felt my way to him, feeling for his hand and then holding tight. I'm not sure who was comforted most. Then Sarah's voice called from downstairs, checking we were alright, "she knew we were scared, and she'd come and get us, but first.... first she'd just pop outside, see what was going on, check if it was the whole street or just us."
I sat there, next to Toby, holding hands, unable to speak more than: "ok."
Inside my mind raced through all that I really felt "No! Don't go out, it's NOT a powercut. There's something wrong, something VERY wrong. Stay inside... come HERE." But none of that came out, just: "ok." And to my future shame and horror, I let her go; out into the darkness, the unknown, out to face the horror.
We never saw or spoke to her again; just as the door closed behind her we heard the first crackle of electricity, a sound that started as a plane-like rumble and then built into an explosion of thunder. Then multiple crashing sounds like a building falling in on itself, repeated over and over, near and far, merging with the thunder in to a cacophony of horror; to shock and awe.
Then silence again, briefly. Before more crackles of electricity, then an unearthly, animal, siren followed by the first screams. People shouting in terror, calling to Gods that wouldn't be coming, calling for help that didn't exist. Then, as a final addition, we heard the growls and moans and roars of beasts unseen, as they ripped and tore, hunted and fed on people. Meanwhile Toby and I stayed hidden; hugging as if it would protect us, make us invisible.
It was Toby who saw the folly of this first. "We can't stay here." It pushed my mind towards
its first coherent, rational thought: "Next door has a cellar; we'll be safe down there." I had no idea how to get there, but my fear for my son was greater than my fear of the darkness. I tore myself up from the bed and, keeping low, opened the curtains an inch and gradually, very gradually made to look at the street below.
I could see nothing. The sky was black, stars and the moon were no longer visible, there were no lights from houses, or cars, from street lamps or the sky. Just vague outlines of movement, of chaos, of death. Then there were flashes of electric light, illuminating glimpses of monsters, unearthly monsters attacking people; ripping, shredding, chasing, eating.
My mind then had its second coherent thought: "the walls are thin." We'd often moaned about the walls, worried at how noisy the baby Toby must be to the neighbours, how many other night time
noises they might hear. With that I dragged Toby to my bedroom, thinking: "the hammer, where is it? I kept a hammer under my bed; at last my fear was vindicated. I reached and stretched for the hammer, scared to explore too far under the bed, unable to let go of Toby's hand, frightened to lose it; even more frightened to be on my own.
Finding the hammer I felt towards the wall joining our house with the neighbours. "Sit by my feet Toby, I need both hands." I raised the hammer and hit the wall, scared to make too much noise, but terrified to take too long. Fortunately the wall was as thin and fragile as it sounded and a small hole
quickly became a larger one; which soon became big enough to crawl through.
I grabbed Toby's hand and we scrambled through to the room beyond, feeling our way we started down the stairs to the kitchen trying hard to remember which door led from it to the cellar stairs. "Why had we not visited more?" Eventually I found the door, turned the handle, hoping against hope that it wasn't locked. There was a key in the lock, but the door swung open anyway.
"Wait" said Toby, "food." It took me a moment to realise what he meant, but once again he was right; how long could we hide in the cellar without food? I felt around the kitchen, found cupboards then opened them frantically trying to work out what items I'd picked up. I found tins and bags, bread and bottles, luckily a torch, and finally, a bucket. I didn't need to tell Toby why.
We returned to the cellar door, I pulled the key out and locked the door behind once we'd passed through. As if that would protect us. And there we sat, in the darkness, in silence, hugging in terror while listening to the sounds of horror and death from outside, hoping they would come no closer.
But all along we left unsaid what had never left our thoughts; that we had not mentioned or spoke of as we'd made our escape from our house. That we had ignored while we had smashed through a wall, hunted for supplies and made good our sanctuary. "Where was Sarah?"" Where was mum?"
But fear for ourselves and fear for each other kept us silent; kept us inside. I rationalised why this was right; "I can't put Toby in danger." But all along there was the nagging thought, the honest realisation that it was as much my safety as his that kept me hidden.
Toby may have felt the same, but said nothing,and while we remained in the cellar (and afterwards) he did not mention his mother or the night we'd fled without her. But it must of hurt, it must of eaten away at him; the guilt, the sadness, the horror. Eaten away at him until he could stand it no longer, until this morning...