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Learning to Walk in the Light: Short, Short Fiction

Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

I loathe the darkness. Ever since my nanny locked me in the closet in one of the spare bedrooms I've been lucky to have avoided spending even a few seconds under that evil cloak. I sleep with my eyes open. There is a name for such a condition. Go ahead, look it up. But that is not me. Those poor souls have a malfunction of the eyelid, but I have chosen to spend my hours in the light. Until one who called himself, The Illuminator came to town.

He must have read about me in some science digest, for my condition was of interest to researchers, and he became obsessed with introducing me to the Cimmerian shade. Whether by pill or spell, he brought me here. But where is this place that engulfs me in blackness? You've won, now let me go so I can find my way home to spend the rest of my days cleansing myself of this thing called gloom. But the answer is, no. We will go for a walk instead.

Darkness is not a thing, you say. I disagree. I am here now surrounded by the stuff that is so palpable, I feel I could scoop it up in my hands like snow. I am free to go, says He. My hands and feet are not bound. But the darkness prevents me from moving about. What might I find? A sheer cliff? A vat of boiling oil? A pit of vipers, or worse, rats? A gauntlet of reaching, grasping hands of the dead? The emptiness where I fall, and fall, and fall, without end, but always expecting the end? My fear of darkness is first and foremost fear of the unknown and unseen. Darkness is an unsolvable mystery.

Even so, I must venture forth.

I reach out with my hands but find nothing. Only my bare feet provide any information about my surroundings. As I walk, the pavement turns to gravel, then to grass, and finally to bare earth. Is this a forest trail? A path across the tundra? Where does it lead?

My attention is drawn away from the sensations of my feet, to the sounds emanating from the gloom. Yipping and howling conjure images in my mind of wild beasts finding my scent and stalking me on the path. I swing around but there is nothing to see. Do I hear them panting nearby? Do I see eyes glowing?

As the rain begins to fall, the acrid odor of wet fur permeates the air, reinforcing my suspicion that wild things are afoot.

Like dark chocolate, darkness is bitter. Some like it, but I don't. I have bitter memories of darkness that no sugar, milk, pill, or therapist can sweeten. They are the childhood memories of neglect and abuse, the memories of a nanny closing and locking the closet door, of darkness, and the strange sounds of a man and woman together. Was that Father's voice I heard?

A light goes on. I am standing in an empty room. The Illuminator asks me a strange question. He wants to know if I am still afraid of the dark. I answer by saying, yes, of course, nothing has changed. To which he responds by asking what I learned about darkness. I consider the question, for it is unexpected. I answer by saying how could I learn when I could not see? He claimed I was not so stupid as to believe that.

So I consider my first journey through darkness since I was a child. "My fear of the dark is a fear of the unknown." I recall thoughts of sheer cliffs, vats of boiling oil, and pits of vipers.

"Your fear of the dark is a fear of the nonexistent," says He. "You have never fallen into a vat of boiling oil."

"I learned that without light, I will wander off into dangerous places."

He shows me a map of my trek through the darkness. "Your path came close to no hazard, and that is because I made the trail. A trail is as trustworthy as its maker, even in the dark. Learn to trust those who have gone before you."

"I learned there are scary things, beasts, in the dark. I heard them."

"Did you, now?" says He.

A door opens and a troop of playful dogs enters the room. The little ones yip and the older ones howl. Then they all come over and lick my hands and face.

learning-to-walk-in-the-light

"Please continue," says He.

"But the dark closet of my childhood—"

"Was unfortunate."

"It was real."

"Yes, the darkness was and is real."

"And my father...my nanny?"

"They were in the light, not the darkness. They knew what they were doing. It was not your fault."

"But in the darkness, it scared me so much."

"And what did darkness do to you?"

I can not answer. I think about all my fears concerning darkness. None had ever come true. The irrationality of my thinking sweeps over me. "I am not afraid of the dark."

"Then let's follow the path back to the beginning together."

And so we enter the darkness without fear.

"Next," says he, "we will learn about loving your father and your nanny."

"Never."

He laughs and walks on.

© 2019 Chris Mills

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