Please, come in out of the dark. I must apologize for the length of time you have been waiting patiently on my doormat. If this is the first time you have picked up one of the scary novels that I have written, then indeed you have been ringing my doorbell since about the time you read the exploits of ‘Dick and Jane.’ Some of us learn to read by mouthing out words. Others are fortunate enough to have someone read to us; and, in that case, we learn that words are not obstacles to be overcome, but are the notes within an elaborate musical score we call a ‘story.’ Like learning music by first clapping our hands to a song, the notes will come more naturally to us, when finally we see them on the written page. Get the rhythm, and you see that notes (words) are just the filler for the dead spaces. Regardless of how you learned to read, you did learn, because the exploits of ‘Dick and Jane’ suggested more (and better) stories still to be discovered. I imagine at some point soon thereafter you started to go to a children’s library, and you sensed vaguely that there was a lifetime of imagination contained in the pages of every book on the shelf. You started down that path, reading first for school, then for exams, and finally for your own pleasure. Perhaps, you were one of those who bought books at garage sales for nickels and dimes. Perhaps, you made a habit of buying a new book at the airport just before being corralled into your cattle car coach seat. Perhaps, you are so in tune with the twenty-first century that you have forgotten all about books. Your love for words is still there, but you choose to find them on digital readers or computer screens. The point is that, regardless of the medium, you have been on the hunt for the next great tale, since ‘Dick and Jane’ first found a small home for themselves inside of your imagination. You have been ringing my doorbell since then, just as you have been ringing the doorbell of every other storyteller that might be of interest to you. I guess that makes you a rather indiscriminate party guest, but so what? Every book lover is a promiscuous sort, loving or at least tolerating the author he or she is reading at a given time, and then loving or at least tolerating the next author down the line. I should be glad that you are standing before me at this very moment.
But I digress; and, as you can see from the paragraph above, I am also at times much too longwinded. Moreover, you are still standing out there in the dark. So, please, come inside; and let me take your coat. Follow me through the foyer and into the main living room. My manservant, Manuel, will fetch you a drink. Remind him to be light on the gin, unless you actually want to see the living room spin at an angle before we ring the dinner bell. As the author of the book you are about to read, I am naturally the kind and gentlemanly host of this soiree. Nevertheless, as a reader, you are the master of your own stomach. Do with it as you will, but please note that we do not have a proper vomitorium. I bring that out when I host my Roman themed kink parties; but as you can see, I am not now dressed in the outfit of a Centurion. Nor am I inclined to dust off my plumed helmet, which is the only item I wear when hosting a ‘Naked Caesar’ swimming party in my pool out back. Therefore, since Nero will not be playing his fine fiddle for us this evening, and Caligula will not be doing his ‘talking horse’ standup routine, you will be out of luck if looking for a vomitorium. Just run to the bathroom like everyone else who indulges too much, and hope there is no obese man ahead of you in the queue.
As you see here, there are other guests already with cocktails in hand. I keep my private retinue of cigar smokers in my wood paneled den down the hallway. The missus does not accept smoke inside her home; and since I too am not a smoker (well, a rare cigar with brandy does not really count), I do not quibble with my wife’s decree in this regard. Actually, I do not quibble with her on much of anything, since I have learned in my forty-third year of existence that the man’s ticket to a happy marriage is to say the following whether he believes them or not: ‘You’re right. I’m wrong. I’m sorry.’ There is some latitude for artistic discretion in how these sentences are said, but not much. I have learned that simple and straightforward is better, when apologizing for the sin of actually having a different point of view from one’s better half.
Ah, but I digress yet again. Sufficient to say that if you like to imbibe, then stay here. If you like cigars, then find your way into my manly man’s den. Do not fret that I have a boar’s head staring down at you from above my mantle in there. Yes, in death, it can stare into your soul; but it cannot ram your flesh. Your life will be his open book, so long as you remain in the den; but at least Manuel will not be sweeping up your grey and weathered spleen tomorrow morning. Oh, and if you smoke cigarettes, then go out to the dumpster where all the other cigarette smokers congregate. You will hear rats squealing in the trash nearby, while you are blackening your lungs. I abhor those little critters personally, although I admit that a really nasty rat’s squeal, especially when it is heard up close, can prepare a person nicely to read one of my scary novels.
Before I leave you to attend to my other guests, I must warn you now about one of the ‘games’ scheduled for tonight’s soiree. I know that it ruins the surprise, but my attorneys tell me that I must forewarn to avoid liability. After all, we do live in heavily litigious times. Just consider the ease with which a student or a co-worker can file some sort of harassment complaint nowadays. Give a girl a dirty once over, and you are liable to be fastened to the stocks for public opprobrium. So it is wise to forewarn, and likely even wiser to get your signature on one of my waiver forms, long before we indulge the one ‘game’ that has caused a problem in past parties.
And this is the ‘game’ that has caused such a fuss: Sometime tonight, when this living room is maxed out with tipsy guests in varying degrees of undress, I shall direct my trusted manservant, Manuel, to turn off all the lights. You may have noticed earlier that there is no moon out tonight, so there will be no light coming in from the outside. We shall be crowded together in total darkness. I shall announce that, until we see the first hint of sunrise breaking through the windows, we are now in the ‘Darkest Night.’ I then shall do my best rendition of a creepy Vincent Price laugh; or if I am too drunk at the time, then I simply shall switch on the last thirty seconds or so of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller,’ and let you hear the real thing. So what may pass as a ‘nocturnal interlude,’ when so many are huddled so closely together in total darkness? Where may our drink enhanced imaginations roam? More to the point, where may our fingers roam? Hard to tell, when there is no way to distinguish this person’s hand from that person’s foot. Oh, sure, we may endure nothing worse than an unpleasant tummy tickle, but then again…
Do I see fear in your eyes? Or are you simply impatient for your first cocktail of the night? If the latter, then I shall finish my introductory comments as soon as possible. If the former, then I must say I do not blame you. After all, the “Darkest Night” really is more than just the occasion of unwanted overtures. It is also the occasion for beasts and witches to come out of hiding. They sense that, if indeed it is dark enough, then perhaps even God cannot observe their dirty work. There will be so much mischief and mayhem when the coast is clear, so to speak, that perhaps a beast or a witch will see fit to drag you away, or to cast a spell on you, or to swallow you whole. You could be a fucking mess, or just gone altogether, before anyone else has a clue. Not a nice thought, especially since we like to think of ourselves as no longer afraid of the dark. We have had some experience in the world, and have learned to put away childish fears, correct?
Maybe; but, then again, maybe we are not so removed from the primordial fears that caused our ancestors to kick up their feet around a bonfire. We can tell ourselves that beasts and witches are just make believe, like characters in a Disney cartoon; but when we are overtaken by the ‘Darkest Night,’ can we be so sure? Frankly, can we be sure of anything, when our senses fail us, and when we are left with nothing then but our imagination? Those are just several of the uneasy questions with which you will be confronted, when the lights go out. How will you answer them? Or will you simply cry out in rabid fear? Or will you fall into that strange silence that is the prelude to murder?
Do not try to tell me now. Instead, order your first drink for the night, relax on the sofa a bit, strike up a conversation with one of the other guests, and finally settle in for the tale. You will have ample time later to question your sanity. Just know that when that occurs I shall be beside you, blowing in your ear, and whispering in the dark.