I took my tea on the roof at three in the morning. The moon was full, and incredibly bright. Across from me, he delicately sipped from his cup—I left mine alone, for I never liked tea. I was amazed at how normal he looked in this setting. In fact, he looked a bit…I want to say "dapper," but that's always sounded like a silly word to me, and it wasn't silly at all. Not at all.
"You know how it works," he asked me, "don't you?"
I looked up at the sky. "In an infinite universe, everything must exist. Everything is real." That's the kind of thing you say, when it's three in the morning and you're at the tea-table above what you're sure is the sitting room.
"Correct," he said.
"Why are you talking to me?"
"Because you make for excellent conversation. They all do."
"You've spoken with more people."
"Only a certain kind, and since you know so many, I'm going to be paying them a visit."
There was a silence as I gnawed on a biscuit. A few seconds passed, perhaps twenty, I guess, before I got curious: "What kind of people?"
More silence, but this time because he was eating a cucumber sandwich. I wondered how he could do it, given his particular abnormality.
"Why are you here?" I asked him at long last; I'd been wondering that for ages now.
"To explain that," he told me, "I'd have to explain darkness."
"How many people have you explained darkness to?"
"Just a few. I think they forgot. Shame. On top of that…some of them were…" Pardon my language, but damn, that voice of his was alluring. "Eliminated."
I already knew by what, so I kept my mouth shut or I'd become one of them too.
"Do you want to hear about the darkness?" he asked me. It was like making a blood oath with the leader of a gang. He didn't have guns, he didn't have knives…he had worse ways.
I answered yes anyway and took another cookie.
"I'm sure you've read a lot."
I nodded politely, as the alternative was saying "Uh-huh" with my mouth full of cookie and I'm sure that would have ruined the mood enough to get him SERIOUSLY annoyed.
"I'm sure you've seen a lot of films."
I nodded again.
Another nod. Then I swallowed my cookie. "You don't have to pretend you don't already know all about everything I do. I thought we were being perfectly honest here."
"Very well." I could hear a deep chuckle, far down in his throat, and it nearly made me melt. "What do you know of the clash between light and dark?"
"It's a clash. And that's pretty much the whole of it. But there is also…" I tried to think of how best to phrase it. "Twilight. And dawn, too, but I read in the dictionary that the word 'twilight' actually refers to the kind of light that you can see at both dusk AND dawn." I stopped there because I recognized that I was getting pretentious.
He just nodded, though. "Twilight. Two-light. In fact you are correct. Light and dark, black and white…grey areas, two-light areas. What do you know about dichotomy?"
"Always two things that are opposite. But whenever there is a pair of opposites, one of them is always thought to be negative and the other positive." I felt rather proud, like I was answering my schoolteacher.
He seemed rather taken aback, then asked a question and promptly answered it: "Where did you hear that? From another writer."
"Milan Kundera," I answered, blushing with pride. Maybe if I showed off some of the more smarty-pants attributes of my mind, I could impress him enough that he would think I wasn't like the others. That is to say…to think I wasn't the kind of person that should disappear.
"And tell me: which one is negative, light or dark?"
Now he was just patronizing me. I had to answer carefully: "We BOTH know it's neither, but everyone else wants to think it's darkness." That actually sounded a lot more careful in my head. Outside of it…rather cocky. He didn't seem to care, though.
"That's right. There is a balance. There has to be a balance. Kept by many people. The light has its glowing hearts, its droplets of sun, its keys and rings and stopwatches and other trinkets. The darkness has its witches and wizards and rituals. In the twilight, there is all manner. There are many bad things in the dark…blades that slash, yellow-eyed beasts of hunger, shadows that purge, and the like. But the light." He waited for me to fill in the blank.
He seemed bemused. "A lot of people don't suspect the angels."
"Not all of the angels. Just the overenthusiastic ones."
"You surprise me."
"No I don't. You already know I've been around in fiction."
"Why do you think that so many have written about the struggle of light and darkness?"
I wanted to scream at him to stop patronizing me, but that would cause this teatime to end with my guts on the roof and my blood in the teapot. "Because it's real."
"It's all real. Every…last…bit. Even what contradicts itself; there is a Schrödinger's conundrum of parallel universes within this vast entity. Lines and spirals, set by time and space, adrift on the ocean and yet somehow always managing to form a constellation shape that pleasingly reminds me of a spider's web. And to think once it was all one. However, it had to become more than one, not because of the reasons of violence you might think, but instead…because it is too complex to remain such a number as ONE."
"You're thinking one thousand. One million. One…infinity. Pi."
"It may be smaller than 4 but it never ends."
"You have a point." He reached for another cucumber sandwich, but the plate was empty. He'd already eaten them all and saved none for me. I still had the cookies, though. He didn't seem to like them. "Darkness isn't bad, not on any plane you could name or any plane you couldn't. It merely shrouds. It keeps its secrets well. Deeds done in the light are done in the open. Deeds done in darkness are much more difficult to figure out. Such as those of my associates, for example. It isn't any use pretending you've not found their stories scattered about the internet."
A shiver went down my spine. If he'd brought up anything else, I might have been less afraid. I didn't want to know THOSE tales were true, the ones I found on the online superhighway when it was dark and deserted and I wanted a good scare before bed. I also didn't want to think about Halloween bedtime stories or campfire tales.
"If you want to know how it really works," he told me, "think of it like this: darkness is a house, and it lives in one of the rooms. Only one. You may ask, what is it?"
"What is IT?" I had to play his game.
And he told me about something I promised never to write down. Although I promised needlessly, he said. "It's already bigger than an ocean," he explained, and didn't give me any frame of reference.
"And that's what's been causing all the…bad stuff," I clarified. "The shadows. The soul-suckers. The things that crop up in every story and don't have a heart, a conscience, or even a consciousness."
"They all come from it," he told me.
I thought about how many of those I'd read about, how many monsters of that archetype.
Yup. Definitely bigger than an ocean.
"Now think of villains," he told me. "No, no, not the petty little villains like the faerie from your Sleeping Beauty video. She's lower than a pawn. A pawn's pawn. No, think of the lords and emperors, the complete monsters, the gods and destroyers. Only the most monstrous of all belong to it…but the petty ones belong to them. It is as a network. Which is not to say all evil relies on it. Much of evil…thefts, killings…revolves around the nature of living beings. However, the notable cases…those are the ones! Who haunts your nightmares? A shifting black cloak, a pickled specimen that watches you from inside the tank, a toymaker and his vicious robots!"
"And it controls the devil?"
"My, I'm shocked, and honestly! You know better. I know you do. There are as many devils as there are angels. Not all of them are bad…just the OVERENTHUSIASTIC ones."
"Then the…the…" I searched for the word. "Whoever in Hell is in charge of making bad things happen. A dead-raiser. A harpy-caller." I had no idea what kind of description I was pulling out of my butt here. I didn't know if someone like that existed in demonology.
"Yes. He belongs to it. He is a creature that basks in it, feeds off it…"
And so did plenty of other people. Maybe a few from MY world. No…definitely a few from my world. There was no explanation for some of the atrocities I've heard about…and for that matter, you've heard about…unless you took it into account, this great semi-sentient force that was so evil.
"What's its goal? Does it have a goal? Or is it just a natural thing?"
"It has a goal. To grow stronger. And that is why it gave me my assignment."
"And that is?"
"Find it another ark. It needs to be carried upon arks, across its vast ocean." He chuckled. Oh, I got it all right. "Ocean." The term was no longer applicable. How did I end up here with him, again? I knew from the very start that he was a monster. He might even have been one of the devils. I knew that whatever ran in his veins wasn't blood. It was the kind of darkness that IT lived in.
"And what kind of ark—"
I dropped my teacup. When did I even pick up my teacup? I hate tea. "That's all you've been looking for? That's it? Then why—"
"Because the work is never done. Because everyone can lead me to another ark, and it will always need another ark. Besides…I like to stop for some sport on the way."
I was shaking now.
"Would you like to know what kind of thing comes from the very depths of (and here he named it again, but I dare not, I am NOT going to be the ark!!!!!!)? Most of them were human…once. Or perhaps animal. It came upon them, apprehended them…planted seeds. However, some just belong to it. Would you like to know, my newfound friend, what belongs to it? What kind of creature is so monstrous that it comes from the womb of evil in that shape, never once stopping to become a man along the way?"
Something was wrong. I really wished he had a face so I could read his expression.
"I don't know," I told him, my voice breaking.
And for the first time I could see in full…the tentacles sprouting from his back, the spidery arms, the elongated fingers white as the overhead moon.
"Me," he said through the smile he didn't have.
Then he lunged over the table.
I sat bolt upright in bed, snapping out of the dream immediately, clutching at my rapidly pounding heart to make sure it was STILL THERE.