by Sam Knight
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They come late at night, when there is no one to tell me how silly they are, when there is no sunlight to expose them for the shadows they are. I don’t know why electric lights cannot dispel them as the sun does. I don’t know why firelight makes them stronger. But I know, in the deepest of the nights, in the darkest of the hours, these thoughts take on a life of their own.
I can’t remember how old I was the first time I noticed them. Maybe they have always been with me.
Sometimes I wonder if they are thoughts at all. Or if they are even mine.
In the twilight darkness, in the gloom of the room, I have watched the things that should not move, do things they should not.
Have you seen them too?
Dolls, toys, action figures, faces in paintings, patterns on the ceiling… Have you seen the way they move in the darkness? Some ever so slightly, so carefully, that you can’t be sure you are seeing them at all. Others are bolder, reveling in knowing that you know but can do nothing about it.
The photograph of grandmother that winks at you. The stuffed animal that turns the other way when you aren’t watching. The fish in the tank, barely visible in the reflections from the streetlight, that inexplicably stands on its tail, fins where its hips would be, if it had hips, and glares at you disapprovingly.
I know I’m not the only one who’s seen them. They’ve told me I’m not. They whisper it in voices disguised to sound like house creaks, fan motors, rattling water pipes, distant trucks, and anything else they can think of that you, or I, could possibly explain away.
It’s when they talk using the sound of distant dogs or coyotes that I hate it the most. They taunt me then. Taunt that maybe the dogs are real. Might be accomplices. That they are coming this time, finally coming here. Will tonight be the night the pact will be broken, the night something in the darkness will dare use the distraction, the arrival of beasts, to do the unthinkable? To do the forbidden.
To kill me.
They shouldn’t even be able to touch me. But they have. And they get away with it. There’s never proof they did it. Maybe a gust of wind did it. That’s what knocked the curio off the shelf and onto my head. Or the vibrations from the washing machine on spin cycle, shaking the old wooden floor, rattling the whole house. That’s what made the frame fall from the wall, sending shards of glass all over the room. Including onto my bed, five feet away—and three feet higher—than where it landed.
A distraction might be enough for them to get away with more. I don’t know what stops them. Some higher power that keeps them in check, maybe? But if the dogs get here, or the coyotes, if they got here, that distraction would be enough to let them get away with it.
I would drop my guard. I would be focused upon what seemed to be a real danger. And then they would strike.
Those things in the shadows. The things that the sunlight says are mine, would, under the cover of the night, claim me for their own.
And maybe not just me. Maybe others, too.
They’ve told me, in disguised voices, I’m not the only one who’s seen them. And, I believe, anyone who has seen them is considered a threat. I don’t understand why, but we are a threat to them, a threat that needs to be eliminated.
I’ve tried throwing some of them away. Giving some to charity. Selling others. But the threat isn’t the things themselves. Whatever the threat is, it uses those things to come closer. To be close.
All the time.
To watch us. To mock us as we lay awake in the dark.
And then, eventually, to do more.
I feel the distraction coming, like a thunderstorm growing on the horizon. The tension is building in the air like an impending lightning strike, and the distant rumble is deep in the ground.
They are going to find a way to reach me soon. And now, I can tell, they are looking for a way to reach you, too. They are using me to get to you.
I am so sorry.
I didn’t mean to.
Put this down now. Don’t read any further. I pray you are reading this in the daylight. If you aren’t, please forgive me.
These dark thoughts have escaped from me, forcing their way out into the world. I no longer have control. They have already infected you.
Oh, God, why?
Why did I write this? Why did they publish it? How were they manipulated, compelled, to pass this on, to continue this curse? Didn’t the editor feel it coming, as I did? As surely you must as well?
You can feel them looking at you, can’t you? Feel it on the back of your neck. Feel them waiting for you…
Why didn’t I have the strength to resist?
I should have allowed them what they wanted. Allowed them to kill me. I could have stopped this.
But I was weak.
They have won anyway. They have killed me in a different way. They have killed me through you. I can’t live knowing what I have done to you.
What they will do to you.
Please. Why are you still reading? Put this down. Stay out of the darkness. Stay in the sunlight. Don’t pass this on to anyone else. Destroy it!
Remember, firelight makes it worse.
Do you see them? Did something just move out of the corner of your eye? Oh, God. Is that moving when you don’t look right at it? Was that a dog barking?
Please don’t close your eyes. Don’t get distracted.
I’m so sorry…
©️ 2021 by Sam Knight
“The Darkest Thoughts,” by Sam Knight, was first published on September 30, 2021 in Love Letters to Poe and can be found in Love Letters to Poe, Volume I: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe.
Interview with Sam Knight, Author of “The Darkest Thoughts”
What inspired your story?
This story was written in May of 2020, when people were really (mentally) settling in for the quarantine. When we were all starting to realize it wasn’t going to go away any time soon. Some people were taking to social media, late at night, for company, because they were all alone, and they were going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
For me, the scariest times are the middle of the night, when you are all alone, and I felt for those people, and their need to reach out.
As a child, I had all my Star Wars (and Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers) action figures lined up and posed across a couple of shelves in my room. It was great, easy access and clean-up during the day, but at night, when the light in my room was restricted to the dim nightlight that did little more than cast long shadows, sometimes it looked like the figures were moving, ever so slightly. A wave here, a shift of balance there. Didn’t Chewy used to be over there, by Han and Leia? How did he get over by Darth Vader? I would never put him next to Darth Vader…
Ahem. Anyway. Yeah. So, there was that. And people at home alone, reaching out on social media. And their loneliness, their depression, their fears spread, like campfire stories. Everyone can be just fine, laughing and having a great time, until someone decides to tell that story about the thing in the bush behind you, and then, just like that, everyone is freaked out. Even the people who say they aren’t end up looking over their shoulders when they go to pee.
Because these thoughts do take on a life of their own.
What’s your favorite gothic story or poem and why?
“Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
I always admired the balance of beauty and love contrasted against the dangerous, the unknown, the evil, horror, and death. To me, this very nearly is gothic perfection.
How long have you been writing?
I started seriously trying to write my first novel, Lucid Nightmares, in 2000. The learning curve was not what I expected. It took four years to reach the point where I thought it was finished. It took another thirteen years for me to feel it was fixed up enough to publish. Even now, I’m not so sure…
Do you have a theme you return to time and again?
I never considered this question until now. Looking over my publications, and thinking of the stories in them, there are of course many themes, but the one I seem to come back to the most is probably akin to a theme of justice. Whether my characters achieve it or not, the sense of fighting against an injustice, or righting wrongs, runs deep in many of my stories.
What else would you like people to know? Where can people find you online?
A Colorado native, Sam Knight spent ten years in California’s wine country before returning to the Rockies. When asked if he misses California, he gets a wistful look in his eyes and replies he misses the green mountains in the winter, but he is glad to be back home.
As well as having worked for at least three publishing companies, Sam is author of six children’s books, five short story collections, three novels, and over 75 stories, including three co-authored with Kevin J. Anderson, two of which were media-tie-ins: “Wayward Pines: Aberration” (Kindle Worlds, 2014) and “Of Monsters and Men”, Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone (Titan, 2016).
A stay-at-home father, Sam attempts to be a full-time writer, but there are only so many hours left in a day after kids. Once upon a time, he was known to quote books the way some people quote movies, but now he claims having a family has made him forgetful, as a survival adaptation. He can be found at SamKnight.com and contacted at sam [at] samknight [dot] com.