She let herself in as per usual, a six-pack of their latest discovery dangling from her slender hand. The bottles clinked happily – as pale ale is want to do. But she nearly tripped over the Dark Lord Cthulhu (or Cat, for short) when she entered the living room. For whatever reason all the lights were off, and as Cat hissed and scurried she wondered if the thing really was a Dark Lord. Then she wondered if there’d been some mistake, so she pulled out her phone and checked. Nope, it was definitely 9:08PM on this long awaited Thursday night, movie night, and he hadn’t texted or called her to say it was off. He was probably just trying to save on the energy bill.
“Gene? You here?” she called through the apartment. It was a small place he’d just found, some forlorn boxes of college mementos still packed in the corner. Her eyes adjusted and she dimly saw them there, piled awkwardly like frightened animals huddled for warmth. There was a faint glow coming from the kitchen. With no answer from Gene, she probed deeper while keeping an eye out for Cat.
She made her way over to the kitchen where some orange light filtered in through the window from the street lamp. It landed squarely on the table and he was just sitting there, eyes closed, breathing deeply.
“Gene,” she said, “you okay?”
“Oh. Hey Abby!” He spoke slowly. “I’m sorry, I forgot you were coming.” She sighed with relief and set the beer on the table with a clink.
“Ha-ha, you scared the hell out of me. Why are you sitting in here with all the lights off?” His hands were flat on the tabletop and he didn’t move.
“Oh, you know. Just drinking-in all the darkness; it’s really quite refreshing. Have you ever tried it?” Gene asked. She recalled one particularly spiritual night her freshman year of college.
“Uh, yeah I guess. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
Not hearing her, he closed his eyes again and drank through his nose.
“The great thing about it – the more you drink the more there is to drink, and instead of filling you up it empties you out.” He sucked the darkness in deeply, smiling. Knowing this might take a while, she sat down across from him, took out her key ring - which had a bottle opener she’d stolen from her old retail job - and opened a bottle.
“Look, I know it seems great now, but it’s dangerous, all this dark, you know? You ever tried, I dunno, drinking sunlight instead?” she suggested. He frowned.
“Oooh, no, no, no. That’s just the opposite. It fills you up to the bursting and then you get sick of it: your eyes ache, you sweat like a dog, it lights a fire under your heart. And the worst part is, you feel everything. Right now – oh it’s so beautiful – I don’t feel a single thing. I’m perfectly numb and only growing more so; like I’m melting into it all.”
“But- but don’t you think it’s good? Feeling things? I mean, what’s the point of not feeling anything? Isn’t that why we fear death? Look, in no time at all it’ll be morning, and you’ll be filled up with brightness whether you like it or not.” She paused; it sounded like a threat. Anxiously, she drank the otherwise delicious brew, but it tasted like nothing in all the numbing darkness. He kept his smile, however, while responding:
“But you understand, right? How the more you drink the more there is to drink? So what if- what if I just keep drinking it up all night? Would the day no longer come, so long as I keep drinking?” He seemed giddy at the thought. His eyes were closed and humming, but, she noticed, beginning to tear up. Cat jumped on the table, seeking the only light in the whole house; even the Dark Lord had become afraid of the dark. Abby finished the beer and clanked it down resoundingly as she sat up:
“Alright, this is getting a little crazy, I’m turning on the light.”
“NO!” His hands balled and he shut his eyes tight in panic, preparing for the searing brightness.
“Okay! Okay! I won’t turn it on, relax…” she said, sitting back down. He let out a sigh and pushed himself away from the table a bit, out of the orange glow of the street lamp and against the blackened wall. Cat whimpered. They sat there for an agony of seconds.
Not thinking very clearly anymore and with staggered breathing, she gave it a try. It ran cool and smooth down her throat and, sure enough, she felt a little more empty, a little less there. She drank again and felt the coolness radiate from her, as if her body were taking it in, manufacturing more, and spilling it from her pores. They were melting, both of them, into their chairs, into the walls, into the ether.
Then she began to panic, though not physically. Physically, her breathing had slowed, her skin and mouth were dry, and her eyes glazed heavily. But mentally, she was searching desperately for something, something, something. There’s so much, she thought, truly truly truly true true true truth truth truth, whatever that word means. But, where did it all go? Why? All the poetry and music and love – oh love – gone now. She couldn’t stop, the drinking, darkness hanging heavily on her eyelids, on her tongue, coiled down in her lungs. She squinted through mortal eyes at her drifting beloved and willed herself up from the chair. The void between them, palpable and flexing, parted around her extended hand. He came into view in the space beyond her finger tips, but barely. The smile on his face was the same as the one on her face – a twisted, painful smile. Recognizing it from some memory, she threw her shoulder into the blackened wall next to him for support, which held her firmly like a parent confided-in, urging her on. She reached down for his cold hand with her cold hand while drowning in the darkness and, with one final effort, kissed his trembling, tear-stained smile with more brightness than any day could bring.