What if I told you there was something watching you right now. Something that was almost always there watching you. Hiding in the shadows but always around. A constant presence throughout your whole life. If you’re anything like me, I suppose you’d ask why you’d never seen it. Why you’d never even heard of it. The thing is, you most certainly almost have. Not really seen it, but you’ve sensed it. Every time you’ve been sure you were being watched. Every instance you saw something out of the corner of your eye and turned to find it gone. Those moments you could have sworn something was moving in the dark then dismissed it as nothing, just a trick of your imagination. That was it. That was them.
I remember the first time I knew they were there. It was more than two decades ago and I was just nine years old. Back then, a few times every year, we’d drive up to Nyeri to visit my grandmother. She had this little house surrounded in coffee plants. There was always something striking about that place. It’s stones had an aged look to them that gave it a sense of timelessness. It was like a living slice of history, touched by the passage of time but largely unconcerned by it. Everything about the place promised serenity and an escape from the busyness of the rest of world. It promised peace. But, for all that, it was only something good to look at, not something to live in. All the great things it seemed to promise were only to be seen from the outside. The inside was another matter.
While my grandmother had tried to make it homely, there was only so much that could be done. The place had no electricity and it was always dark. No matter the time of day, no matter how many curtains you drew back, some of that darkness always remained. My father said it was because the house had not been designed by a professional architect. That whoever had done it had positioned the windows all wrong for light entry. Whatever the reason, the house was constantly covered in shadows and this had always unsettled me. A place that reflected splendour but would not let that light in. Beauty that was meant to lure you inside. A trap.
The nights were the worst. The only lights we had were gas lamps that glowed brightly but produced a constant loud hiss. In my view this was no better than darkness. The light only touched certain places and the shadows lay dark as ever all over the house. Maybe it was irrational but I was convinced that they were the same shadows I saw during the day. That it had nothing to do with the windows. That there was something in those places that not even light dared to touch. So I watched them. I watched the shadows not willing to turn my back on any of them for too long. If there was something there then the hiss of the lamp would stop me from hearing if it moved. I had to watch or I would be caught unaware.
Something dark launched from the shadow I had been looking at with surprising speed landing on the table before me. I jumped back screaming ready to take off until I heard laughter.
“What is going on with you,” my mother said amused, “look at what you’re running away from.”
I looked at my attacker. Now that it was within the lamp’s sphere of light it seemed a lot smaller than it had merely moments before. It was just an insect. A harmless little cricket. Embarrassed, I avoided looking at my parents who were still laughing and found myself staring straight into my grandmother’s eyes. She was not laughing but she seemed amused. Now that I think back on it, it wasn’t simple amusement. Something lay behind it. Something manic. Something crazy.
“What you should be asking,” she said leaning closer to me, “is what scared the cricket?”
“Oh no, don’t start with this one,” said my father, “you’ll give him nightmares.”
“Nightmares are good,” she said not taking her eyes off me, “nightmares mean that everything is alright.”
“What’s going on?” asked my mother.
“It’s just this story she used to scare us with when we were kids. The one about things hiding in the dark.”
“Is that why you’re afraid of the dark?”
“I’m not…oh shut up.”
My grandmother ignored their banter and kept staring at me curiously. It was like she expected an answer to her strange question. Maybe she had noticed how I had been watching the shadows. She looked off into a dark corner and then back at me.
“Do you see them?” I don’t think my parents heard her.
I didn’t look at first. I assumed it was a trick. I’d turn and she would flick my ear or laugh at me. But something about the look she kept giving me made me curious and the curiosity of a 9 year old boy is not a force that can easily be deterred. So I turned and … I saw them. By God, I saw something there. No, that’s not right. I didn’t see … I couldn’t truly make them out but I knew they were there swirling in the dark. I could sense them. There was definitely something in the shadows. I had never been more sure of anything in my short life.
As the years passed, I would question what I saw. Every year would plant a new doubt until I dismissed it and buried it in my memories. But right there and then, in that moment, I knew it wasn’t just a story. One look at my grandmother told me that she didn’t think it was one either.
She smiled at me. That unsettling smile of hers. She said,
“Guard your dreams little one. Guard your dreams in the dark.”
Guard your dreams. Sound advice. Maybe impossible, but sound all the same. You should take it if you can. I never did. Maybe if I had things would have turned out different. Maybe I would have discovered a way. Maybe…No, you don’t know what I’m talking about do you? I’m rambling. Sorry, that’s just how I am these days. It happens when you’re always lost in your own thoughts. I should start somewhere more convenient for you.
If you are somewhere dark, take a look around. You don’t have to take my word that there’s something there, you can see them for yourself. Or sense them at least. Anyone can. The only thing stopping you is that you just don’t want to. You keep running away from it because it is difficult to accept. You know it deep inside but you don’t want to know and so you don’t. Denial, the most perfected human trait.
While you may refuse to know, I think that all children do. They always know. They don’t yet have a lifetime of being told there’s nothing there. They’ve not yet learned to doubt their instincts. This is why anywhere you go in the world the children will tell you. They’ll tell you about the monsters. Monsters under the bed, monsters in the closet – the monsters hiding in the dark places. They’ll tell you and you won’t listen. Out of the mouths of babes comes truth and wisdom.
My grandmother knew as well. I don’t know how. Maybe living so many years in that dark house led her to know something. Maybe if you live with as many as must have concealed themselves in a house of permanent shadows they cannot truly hide their presence, not forever. So she knew and she tried to warn people. She told stories because she could not warn them in any other way. They’d think she was crazy. Maybe she thought she was crazy. I cannot fathom living with that kind of burden for quite so long. I suppose that was why she insisted on her grandchildren visiting so often when we were young. To see someone else watch those corners as much as she did. Maybe. I’ll never know now. I learned my lesson far too late.
Here’s what I do know. It usually starts with the scratches. I’m sure you know them. Those times you look at yourself and you find a wound or a scar that you don’t remember getting. On your hands, your legs, sometimes even on your face. You don’t know where it came from, you don’t even remember getting hurt or any pain, you just looked at yourself one day and there it was. A scratch from nowhere.
Then there’s the forgetting. You walk into a room and forget why you went in there. You try and try to remember but it’s like something is missing. Like a memory is out of place and now you can’t reach it no matter how hard you try. Does all of this sound familiar? These little occurrences you’ve ignored for so long are more important than you could possibly imagine. There are things out there in the dark and we have become experts at explaining away everything they do.
Imagine for a moment that everything I’m saying is true. Just imagine. Consider that one day you walked into a room and you found something there. Something you’d never seen before. Something that disturbed and unsettled you. A thing that had been living in the dark so you’d never know that it was even there, so that you would never see it. But now, you’d seen it. So it attacked you. Before you could do anything it launched itself at you and fed on your memory pulling it straight out of your brain before fleeing into a shadow and blending away.
Meanwhile, you stood there stupidly your brain reeling back from the loss. You tried to think but you couldn’t do it properly. You were trying to connect to a mental line that was now broken and all you could come up with was “Why am I here?” There were no answers forthcoming so you shrugged it off and walked away. Later, you found scratches somewhere on your body. You wondered at them but not for long. It was not a matter you needed to spend time pondering. This kind of thing happened to everybody after all. Right?
To think that something like that has happened to you is crazy. It’s insane. It’s hard to believe. It’s also true. You see, these things can reach into your mind and draw out your thoughts. They’ve no doubt done it to you already many many times. Don’t worry though, they don’t like to do it that way. They’ll avoid you most times. Direct attacks will only come if you see them and only to make sure you do not remember them. When you’re walking around they just watch from the shadows. They watch and wait until you’re asleep. That’s when you should worry: When you’re lying in the dark, unconscious and defenseless. That is when they move openly. When you’re at your weakest and entirely in their territory.
They’re not interested in hurting you. Or at least, not in hurting your body. Your mind is their aim. Your dreams is what they’re after. They hover above you as you sleep picking at your mind and carefully drawing things out. They take their time only disappearing as you wake up groggy and confused. You remember that you had a dream but you can’t remember what it was. It’s somehow gone. Another one of your dreams picked up and stolen away and you none the wiser. Some of you even think you don’t dream anymore. For you, I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. But it’s very nearly too late for you. You’re very close to the end.
Guard you dreams she said. Guard your dreams. Did she know how, I wonder? Is there a way? There surely must be. If there is, you must learn it. Your dreams are important. Maybe not to you but they are priceless to them because with those dreams they can learn all about you. They can learn about your mind. Every dream is like a part of a map, each one revealing more and more of the way. A little treasure map and it’s all leading to you. If you no longer dream then that map is nearly complete. Very soon now they’ll break in. They’ll root you out and drive you to a dark corner of your mind. You will watch as they take over your body unable to do anything about it. Worse, no one will even know the difference. They will have your memories. They will have your life.
By now, you should have already guessed how I know so much of this. They got me. Those bastards got me. For years now, my body has been their vehicle. I have been a slave trapped in my own mind. I’ve fought, lord knows I’ve fought, for so long and for so many years but it has all been fruitless. Even the victories I made now seem hollow. Every now and then I would push until I made an impact. Somebody would ask why I was acting strange and I knew I was breaking through. But do you know what these creatures did? They laughed. They just laughed. I could hear that contemptuous laugh echoing in my mind. The laugh of somebody who knows they have already won. That the struggling is pointless. I know it too now. I know it deep in the bones I no longer own. I’m dead. Dead as can be but they’re forcing me to live through it. They have no mercy.
I don’t know what they are or what they want or even where they came from. Maybe they didn’t come from anywhere. They were always here with us and are as old as the shadows themselves. Maybe they came because they wanted minds and bodies. I don’t know. All I know beyond what I have already told is that there are a lot of them. Not just in the dark, in people. I know because they meet sometimes. When they do, they do not talk with their mouths…our mouths, so I have no idea what they say or what they plan. But it isn’t good. How can it be? They are evil. Pure evil.
If you doubt how evil they are, look at what I hope you’re reading. You see, they let me write this. They gave me just enough control to get it all down. They do that sometimes. They let us write these things and then they hand them to each other reading and laughing. Always that mocking laughter. ‘Look at what this one thinks,’ they use my own thoughts to speak with me, ‘what mewling fools you humans are.’ I think they do it simply because they can, because they like to give us hope. Hope that we can warn the rest of you. Hope that they can be beaten. A straw to grasp at.
We know what they are doing, it’s torture, but we fall for it every time. We write these things whenever they give us a chance. There’s something about giving hope to the hopeless. We see the trap for what it is but we cannot resist it. We’re like moths drawn to the light.
So here I am, giving another warning to you people. A warning you will probably never receive. But…maybe you will. I know it’s stupid but I want it to happen. I want them to screw up somehow this time. I want one of you to be reading this right now. To show it to someone who knows how to help. Maybe you can save us, maybe you can save yourselves.
You won’t see it. I should know that by now. No one will see it but these things. They will read it, they will laugh and they will burn it right in front of one of us. That is how it always goes. That is how it always will. But I can hope can’t I? I can hope, not because I am an optimist but because it is all I have left. Hope is all I can do. So I hope you’re reading this. Please, please be reading this.
“We can’t not have author bios,” I said, “how will the fanboys and fangirs you will no doubt get from this know where to find more of your stuff huh? You totally have to write one.”
The writers looked away uncomfortably (unable to beat my logic) and grumbled what I’m sure were insults under their breath. They went on to take longer to kick out their bios than it did for them to write stories and they were a miserable lot for the experience. I cackled with glee. Being the manager is an extraordinary bit of fun.
It wasn’t until embarrassingly late in the process that I realized … I have stories in this too. I have to write a bio! Why did I do this? Kevin, you idiot.
Does that tell you enough about me? No?
Well, I’m a software developer (that’s what they actually pay me for), a writer (that’s what I hope a mysterious they will pay me for) and an artist (that’s what even more mysterious theys occasionally pay me for). Basically, I’m a guy who sits in front a computer and creates things.
I have written for storymoja, I have an article in the second brainstorm.co.ke ebook “What Crazy Looks Like” and I blog at willthisbeaproblem.com where I’m essentially the boss and come up with crazy ideas like this book.