“I was scared of dentists and the dark.”
— Vance Joy, Riptide
When the sun sinks into the horizon and darkness blots the sky, familiar sounds begin to fade away, and fear slowly creeps into your mind. You might thank your dull imagination, but at a time like this, that’s no defence against the stillness of the night.
“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.”
― Terry Pratchett
Every summer, my siblings and I, would visit our hometown for the holidays. If the days were hot and dull; the nights were filled with nervous excitement. We’d spend some nights at our maternal grandparents’ ancestral house and the others — at our paternal grandparents’ house. Each house was different and each had a story of its own. The night made each story come true in our minds.
“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”
― Mark Twain
In a small town, night comes a lot sooner than you’d expect. We were happy to have the few street lights, on the empty winding road, to my maternal grandparents’ house. Back then, before construction killed the trees, it was hard to find the red-tiled rooftop house with its flowered iron grills, stone well, and front garden. The house was surprisingly deceptive from the outside. It looked small and yet, had a lot many rooms. As kids, we weren’t allowed to enter all of them, and I, unlike my elder sister, never questioned why or found the courage to explore. When it rained, the lights went out, and the candles cast more shadows than light. We’d all sit together in one room and hope the shadows wouldn’t move or when we’d close our eyes — we’d remember that we’re asleep.
“Be hole, be dust, be dream, be wind/Be night, be dark, be wish, be mind,/Now slip, now slide, now move unseen,/Above, beneath, betwixt, between.”
― Neil Gaiman
My maternal grandparents’ house didn’t survive for long and after a while; our summers were only spent at my paternal grandparents’ house. Their house was relatively modern (it was rebuilt in the seventies) in comparison to the other house. It did have the characteristic red-tiled rooftop, flowered iron grill, stone well, and was surrounded by dense tree cover. During the day — my siblings and I — were invincible. We were explorers of the wild and untamed, green wonderland. At night, we’d transform into shy kittens, who wouldn’t move an inch without their parents.
“Maybe all the people who say ghosts don’t exist are just afraid to admit that they do.”
― Michael Ende
One summer, my aunt (my father’s elder sister) who lived in the house, told us (my sister and I) about occult rituals practiced by the neighbours, on the opposite side of the street. In the days that followed, we tried hard not to believe what we heard. But the red dome of that house was hard to ignore. The harder we tried to forget what we knew, the more it played in our minds. One night, my sister and I were the last to sleep. As we struggled to sleep, we heard a soft voice out of the window. A shadow, at the front gate, was calling out. We tried to focus our eyes on what we thought we saw or didn’t. The dim lighting didn’t help in deciphering shadow from darkness or fear from reason. Terrified, we covered our eyes, and tried to sleep. The next morning, I thought it was a dream. But my sister remembered it too. Everyone else laughed at us and dismissed it. To this day, we remember this strange collective experience from our childhood, and even if, I’m not so sure I believe in the ‘otherworld’, it’s something I could never explain.