Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Painted Darkness (Once Upon a Time in the Fairytale Forest)

Note: Thought it is never mentioned, the narrator's name is Lenore.

Darkness here, and nothing more.
            My wings do not pierce the darkness, but become a part of it. My entire body becomes one with the increasing blackness as I make my way through the night. I am moved by the peace, the solitude, and the hint of beautiful sadness that only the dark can bring. The blackness deepens and I know that the night is ideal; it’s the perfect shade of black, so silent, so secretive…and so treacherous. It’s the kind of deep black night in which weary travelers are led astray, those who wander are lost, and fools are swallowed up by the darkness. It’s the kind of night that gives way to thoughts of fear, of hopelessness, of unseen hobgoblins lurking in the shadows…and of tragedy.
            I find my perch on a branch completely enveloped by the dark. To the ordinary observer, I am nothing more than a spot of black paint in the image of the night. Such an ordinary observer could not know that I am watching, waiting, and anticipating the next unlikely visitor that the darkness will send to me. My feathers are ruffled by the winds of the early spring night and the chill strikes me so deep in my bones. The atmosphere is so perfect that it brings a tear to my eye.
            And then he comes to me, a spry-looking young man, his hands jammed into his pockets and his hair tousled by the wind. He tries to hide the fear in his eyes, as young men are apt to do. But there is nobody to hide from except for me, and it’s no use trying to hide fear from me. The young men are the most amusing, as they never realize that their fear is as plain as the light of the moon until you play with them a bit, and then they understand that they are not as tough and collected as they would like to be. I emerge from the darkness and perch on an old log just an arm’s length away from this young man. I call out to him.
            He glances at me for only a moment, but in that moment, I can see the terror. He’d like to think that I am only a bird, but I am a raven. Ravens are the harbingers of death and despair, the night birds that lead the lost to their doom. But he is not ready to reveal his fear. He passes me by and walks off into the night, and I follow him. I perch on a low-hanging branch and call out to him again.
            He will not look at me. He is a fool, with his head held high. He will not look at me until I abandon this form that melts into the darkness a little too well. First I shed my birdy talons, then the thick black feathers on my chest. I cast aside my wings and my beak, and a plait of long black hair forms from the feathers on my head. In a raven’s place now stands a woman, with skin as pale as the light of the moon.
            “Young man!”
            He starts, and then he turns to look at me. His eyes are wide enough to pierce the night, and so hopelessly confused that I cannot help but laugh. “Oh, what an amusing character you are!” I say, before tightly wrapping my arm around the young man’s shoulder. “I do believe that I am going to have my share of fun with you!”

            My, does the little imp ever struggle and fuss! The fool that he is wants to run off into the night. But I know the night and its ways much better than he ever could. “Stop your fussing!” I order him, and pull back on his arm when he attempts to tear away from me. “My company is preferable to the cruelty of the night! Run away, and the darkness will surely consume you!”
            “I don’t care!” he insists. “Just let me go! Leave me alone!”
            I wrap both arms around him to keep him from running loose, and I lift him from the ground as if he’s nothing but a mere toddler. He screams, but there is no one around to hear him but the darkness, which does not care. My arms are wrapped around his legs and he cannot kick. His arms are firmly pressed against my torso and he cannot strike out. I can feel him trembling like a leaf in the wind. Even in my firm grasp, the fool struggles, but it’s all in vain. When he realizes that he cannot escape, he begins to cry. Alas, his façade of bravery has been stripped away, revealing who he truly is! The foolish young man who was so sure of himself in the night is now nothing more than a frightened little boy, and I do not feel the least bit sorry for him. In fact, I am greatly amused by his predicament.
            Together, the young man and I proceed into the darkness. He looks up at me with his desperate eyes, still filled with tears, and says, “What are you going to do with me?”
            “What do you think I plan to do with you?” I inquire.
            “I don’t know,” he chokes out. “You’re kidnapping me.”
            “Am I, now?”
            “Of course you are.” I can feel him shudder.
            I don’t provide any further comment. One thing that the night has taught me is that silence can easily play with one’s mind; the mind is forced to fill in the blanks by itself without a voice or a sound to do so, and the mind cannot always be trusted. We are both silent for the rest of the way to my home, and I know that his mind is filling in the blanks.
            In the darkest area of the forest, where very little light reaches even in the day, we reach the secluded little manor that I call home. I carry my guest inside and gently set him down on the soft black couch. I am not worried that he will flee, as I have effectively eliminated his hope of escape. He looks up at me with the eyes of a frightened child. He is still trembling.
            I proceed to my piano, its white keys providing a subtle contrast to the rest of my black world. I place my fingers on the keys. The dirge comes so naturally to me that it’s as if it plays of its own accord. “Black is the color of the painted darkness in the picture of the night,” I say over the sound of the dirge. “It is the color of the unknown, that great beast so feared by all. It is the color of uncertainty, of the cold fear that strikes you in every bone, every muscle. It is the color of ebony coffins, mourning clothes, the hidden journey of the dead into places unknown…”
            “Why tell me this?” the young man asks.
            “But alas, black is the color of the comfort of sleep,” I continue. “It is the color of the feathers of the wise old raven; that clever bird knows that the painted darkness can be a thing of beauty, while others may call it an eyesore. The darkness cannot be good or bad. It cannot be your friend and it cannot be your enemy. Like the raven, you can never be sure of its intentions.”
            “What are you saying?” the young man asks rather defensively. “Are you talking about yourself? Are you talking about me?”
            “I speak of the night,” I elaborate, “and how beneath its painted blackness, it is an entity of pure grey. It must be respected, for you never know its true nature. It must be heeded, for you never know its motives. It cannot be tamed, nor can it be reasoned with. But it can offer you safety and comfort just as it can offer you peril and unease.” With that, my dirge ends and I shed a single tear.
            “I understand now,” the young man says. “I get it. You’re telling me to be more careful at night.”
             There is nothing more for me to say. One by one, I blow out the dim candles lined up along the polished stone wall. In the meager light of the final candle, I can see my guest’s eyes begin to fall. Enveloped by the uneasy darkness of a room, he will feel warm blankets wrapped around him as he falls into the comforting darkness of sleep. When he awakens, it will be light, and I will be gone.  

No comments:

Post a Comment