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Night Vision

He was an old man who'd outlived his parents, two brothers, and a wife. He had children and grandchildren, for God's sake. It made no sense he be afraid of the dark.
But endings are difficult to accept. Like most people, he liked to pretend they didn't exist. But everything has an ending. Everything eventually shuts down. And even when people try not to think about it, every day is a reminder as the light ends and all we love is enveloped in shadow.
All his adult life he'd lived on the edge of town at the end of a long, narrow lane. He had few neighbors, and each year there were fewer still as families moved away and houses were torn down for planned developments which never quite materialized. During the day he could see several houses down the road. At night they turned out their lights one by one as if nibbled on until gone. A mail carrier visited weekdays with catalogs and ads. There used to be the occasional salesman hawking siding or replacement windows, but this had stopped years ago. He'd never imagined missing them but he did.
His children visited on holidays and birthdays, or to retrieve items stored in his garage. They brought their growing families and never stayed for more than a few hours. "It's a long way back," they said. He understood this. Everyone always ran out of things to say.
He never shared with them his news about the dark, which was all that filled his mind these days, and these nights. He didn't want to worry them.
Not that his news was either startling or complicated. The trees went dark before the sky did. The houses were always last. Ultimately everything beyond his windows looked like a series of overlapping black cutouts, and nothing real, just placeholders for whatever had existed there during the day. It was as if the world had gone away and he was the only witness.
Or perhaps he had it backwards and he was the one who had gone away, fallen through some hole into nothing. Perhaps somewhere in his house there was also a placeholder for him.
Some days it did feel as if he were nothing, and all his memories just nervous aggravations.
Each day the night came deeper and blacker than the day before. He didn't have the stamina he once had, and took to his bed earlier each evening, so that as he grew older his time under daylight grew gradually shorter, and he questioned when the onset of night actually began.
He noticed around noon some scattered shadows--the undersides of leaves, the side of a tree away from the sun--became more intensely dark than others. Sometimes these areas grew so dark they became holes burnt through the fabric of the world. There was more of these every day it seemed, until his vision developed a "speckled" effect. It became irritating to go outside or even to look through his windows. But he couldn't not look, could he? Not with this going on.
Of course he assumed it must be some sort of deterioration in vision, but he hated to go to the doctor--or to travel from his house at all--and the effect was inconsistent. Some days he didn't see these intensely dark areas at all. Other days they were everywhere, eating holes in every object. Except he never experienced these apprehensions inside his house. They appeared to be strictly outdoor phenomena.
These shadowy perceptions were so subtle he wasn't even sure when he began having them. But their increase and accumulation had become undeniable. And over a period of a week or so they became so numerous the darkness developed a kind of furriness as murky areas joined and blended.
The only way to escape this, it seemed, was to sleep, and with sleep came dreams of another kind of darkness, a darkness without presence or detail.
Each day he slept longer, arising occasionally to look out the window, where the darkness shook and buzzed as it multiplied, driving him back into his bed again.
He slept through meals, which wasn't a problem since he had lost almost all of his appetite. He was dimly aware that he'd missed a few phone calls, and knowing it was probably his children he thought he really should answer but could not make himself move. Maybe they would call again or visit, drag him from his bed and feed him and then perhaps everything would be normal again.
The darkness whispered to him from the other side of windows glazed ebony with its concentrated presence. It nibbled at his ears and his brain and it terrified.
"Dad, it's a beautiful day! You should come outside!"
He turned his head slowly on the pillow. It wasn't easy--his muscles had stiffened from maintaining the same position for so many hours. The interior of his house was in shadow, but the windows, the window panes burned with the most brilliant white light!
With a great deal of effort he pushed himself upright in the bed. Outside he could hear his grandchildren laughing. Those beautiful children--when was the last time he'd heard them laugh?
The walls around the windows began to blacken and peel. He staggered to his feet. He knew he was wearing pajama bottoms, or pants. He didn't know if he had socks on, or any kind of shirt.
Darkness dripped from the ceiling and began pooling at his feet, burning a hole through the floor. He had to hurry. He could still hear them shouting in the brightness outside, but just knew they would not be there forever.
He made it to the door with a run and stepped out into all that light.
There was a moment of hesitation as everything watched him, then a rapid sigh as the brilliance shrank, the darkness rushing out to gather him.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, April 16th, 2019
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