Once there was a man walking home at night in the country. He was in no hurry; he had lingered at the inn later than he should have, drinking with other local men, and he knew that a tongue-lashing from his wife awaited him. Thus, he walked at a leisurely pace, holding his lantern aloft, admiring how the full October moon alighted the nocturnal scenery. It was so beautiful, he thought, the way the autumn color was visible even in the moonlight.
He had reached the bridge to cross over the creek when a dark shape arose suddenly in front of him. From whence the thing came he’d never be able to say. Nor could he put a name to its shape. It was darkness, darker than the night around him, and its shape flowed as if blown about by an unfelt wind. The light from his lantern utterly failed to illuminate it. For a moment he was so astonished at encountering this thing on the bridge he had crossed a thousand times or more in his life that he was unaware of his own fright. He quickly became conscious of how frightened he was, however; indeed, terror seemed to have seeped into the very marrow of his bones.
“What are you?” a hoarse voice asked. He immediately realized it was his own but it sounded so throaty and strange that he didn’t recognize it. He was so fearful of the thing that he desperately wanted to flee but simply stood staring at it, stunned…. and, somehow, he had his answer.
It didn’t know what it was either. It had no name for itself.
“Can you speak?” he asked. He then understood that the thing had no language to put words to things or concepts. Without realizing it, he took another step on the bridge, moving closer to the dark thing.
“Are you a ghost?” he asked. Once again he simply knew that it was not, though exactly how he could know the answers to his questions he could not say. He took another step on the bridge without being aware of it.
“Where did you come from?” he asked, taking another step. Yet again, it had no answer. It had become aware of itself a short time ago. Or was it a short time ago? It didn’t actually have a sense of time either. In fact… time? An odd notion.
“What do you want?” he asked, taking another step. It was a short bridge; he was getting very close to the thing now. In another step or two, it would be close enough to touch—close enough for it to touch him. A flood of feelings and wants washed over him. It was as astonished at discovering itself as he was at encountering it. It wanted to understand what it was to exist.
He suddenly became aware that he was walking across the bridge and not quite of his own volition. His terror peaked in a crescendo at that moment. He tried to turn and run with all his might but to no avail. Instead he took another step closer to the dark thing. It rose up abruptly, stretching upwards and sideways to flow over him. He would have screamed if he could have but was unable to make any more of a sound than a faint gasp.
The man returned home late that evening, but his wife’s scolding was forestalled by the strangeness of his demeanor. “Are you alright?” she asked, looking at him closely.
He seemed to consider the question for a long moment. “What is ‘alright’?” he asked.
A story I wrote in less than 10 minutes, inspired by watching my husband, a talented photomanipulator, work on a dark shape in Photoshop. You can see the picture he made for this story here.