Thing What Lurks In The Dark
rating: +1+x

All Hallow's Eve, 2727
The Monster's Hollow

I chose to tread into the realm of monsters. Not because I'm a fool, but because on any day except the Hallow's Eve, undead hands clench the path shut. The threshold is marked with stark departed trees and a radiant deep violet that reeks of grandeur. There's something in this place that Man, the mortal, never laid eyes on. I wonder why… Were they afraid? I know I'm not.

Ages ago, when my family did their duty, the focus was on the intertwined aspects of securing, containing, and protecting. Back then, entering into the realm of monsters was insanity. Then, one day, we plunged a sword into our collective spirit, to show the monsters that we will never be afraid of them. The monsters taunted us. And then they roamed in and reigned over the Earth. We were trying to hold back our fear…

Now, an ocean of rot plagues the monsters.

Rats, in countless scores that fill the horizon and obscure the sun. Rats, that suck on the marrow and the bone, and the ash and the dust. On the rot, they feast. The rot that fed the monsters; now the rats feed.

If not for the shrieks of the rats, this dreadful calm might be pleasing. Almost as pleasing as knowing that the monsters are gone.

The path remains open behind me, and the night has yet to come. When it does, then I'll understand. At least, I hope.

"Did you ever fear what lurked in the dark? Or just the darkness as such?"
"My imagination populated the dark with its own monsters. I was never afraid of the darkness itself."

We once believed in a past defined only by light and darkness. These are the only two realms worth evaluating, we thought. And the separation between the two tantalized us.

In time, when our creativity peaked, we came to understand that, no, it's shades of gray that define the depths of the soul. And for an entire age, that's how we came to think of the classical world of goblins and ghouls. Shades of gray, down innumerable steps that lead to the bottom of our collective mind.

It never occurred to us that these were the insecurities we projected onto the world. That "shades of gray" was a reflection of the horrors within, and that the monsters didn't operate that way. They never did. In truth, you can't understand the way the monsters work. They're not us. They're not me.

You're just a child, is what my parents used to tell me. You're a child, that doesn't yet know what it means to be a monster. It was and is true that I'm just a child. But that doesn't mean I don't know what it's like to be a monster.

"We wear costumes to mock them. And when we grow up, we mock the costumes."
"Mock? Not quite so, it's to scare them away."
"But what happens when we grow up?"

I donned a costume tonight. The pretty princess one, with the rhinestone-studded silver tiara and cascading pastel dress. I thought I grew out of it, but it seems it still fits. Okay, perhaps it's a bit snug.

It would have been perfect. It was perfect, before it tattered to ribbons in the undergrowth on my way through. I climb through the valley of rot and consumption, up to the top, where the rats dare not trek. It's here on the peak that I spot a familiar sight. I try to run towards it…

I fall, grazing my knees. Looking skyward, I think I spot a shift in the darkness. A familiar sight strolls near, picks me up, and — if I was any other child — tries to startle me. But I know better.

In front of me are the friends that I used to conjure up when I felt a crushing emptiness. Not one that could be cured, but one of gripping existential anguish. One brought on only by loneliness, and the understanding of why it persists. And even now, alone in the Monster's Rot, they've chosen to stay by my side. Because the friends in my head are monsters. What was their meaning tonight?

At first, I noticed Spooky Shirley, the skeleton. Otherwise known as Col. Shirley Bones, a veteran of the Skeleton War. I think he was my grandfather: a herald of my ancestors, but with a cold stone truth behind his carapace of bone. I always took his confusing disposition as another silly jig to lighten my spirits.

"Shirley, you're here! Did you visit to tell me one of your funny stories again?"

"Nay, I be here to remind ye of vanishing sweetness in the world. Of bitterness that crawls in from ships of war. See, Lassie, there was a time before bloodshed, and burial, and lamentation. A time ye knew not o' my presence within ye."

"Nowadays it's like I'm hugging you with my entire body!"

His jaw clattered, but he wasn't telling a joke. "I was meant to stay, close within ye, forevermore. But not just you. All of you, and your people. Even now, I show up in graves. Only this time, 'tis a reminder." He didn't elaborate further.

Next, my eyes fell upon Samara, the apparition. In times I knew her as Samsara the Silhouette. She danced like one: a shadow in my periphery. But she struggled because she was always shackled to the ground. So I tried to dance as a shadow in hers instead. The dance she taught me.

"Don't cry this time, Sammie. It's okay, you don't scare me anymore."

"I'm cursed to always come back here, you know. There are many things I was too weak to do when I was still alive, and that's why you should be afraid of me. You wouldn't want the same failure and disappointment to happen to you. There is too much potential within you."

"How about you come with me, and we can adventure together!"

She moaned at all sorts of things unseen and wept to me alone. "Oh, I can't join you. I'm too afraid these days. My fear of the depth… persists. The depth that leads you to believe that you were always the monster." She masked her tears and turned away.

At last, I shifted my gaze towards Pumpkinskull, the scarecrow with the pumpkin for a head. I used to play with him, calling him funny things like Gourdguts and Fruitface. He tended to the harvest. The harvest that kept my family and I fed, when I still had a family.

"I remember when you used to serve me, mister harvester. Maybe, if you show me how you did it, I might tend to the harvest some day."

"I don't think there'll be another harvest. As the olden time fell into rot, so have I, and so has your family. As will you. As will all things. Soon, but not just yet, of course. Make the last of your time here the best of your time. Make all your time the best of your time."

"Oh, you're just mopey because the crows came and ruined everything again!"

Discoloured pulp streamed from the openings carved into his face. "I am the lifeblood of the past. Forget me, as all are forgotten. It will hurt less, I think, if you forget. It won't be easy. Well, it never is. If you can't learn to forget, then you'll have to force yourself to. I reckon that's the hardest part…" He ended with a croak.

I took a step back, and my friends were gone. The dark clouds above began to part.

"When we grow up, that's when we realize the ultimate truth."
"What's that?"
"We were the monsters all along."

The clouds revealed familiarity: a rising yellow sun. And below the peak that I stood upon was a blackened musty tarn. But my gaze was stuck on what played in the sky above me. It was All Saint's Morn, and the black gate to the Monster's Hollow had closed for another year. I was stuck here. But this was my choice. No, it was my calling, to understand how the monsters lived their deaths.

I glanced down, into those depths. Was this where the monsters had crawled from, all those years ago? Or did we traverse down into that hole to find them, ourselves?

Whatever the truth was, I knew that the realm of monsters was everlasting, even if my Home could not be. If I was being honest… It should not be. We spent so much time running away from the darkness. We didn't realize the darkness was in the rift between each one of us, and deep within ourselves.

I thought of my friends. The monsters were my friends all along. And they were calling to me.

Should I answer?

Would you?

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