It’s been nearly two weeks since my life as I’ve known it, changed forever. As I sit here writing, I now realize this will be my last journal entry. Sunset is only a few short hours away, and I’ve made my decision. I know it’s the only way, I will finally find peace. Before continuing, I think I need to tell you a little about myself, so you fully understand the path I’m slowly, and inexorably being drawn toward.
I’m a large man – both strong, and self-assured. The type of man, women move closer to at isolated bus stops, crowded elevators, and late-night subway rides. It’s not because I’m exceptionally handsome, or even particularly interesting. I think they sense, I’m someone who lives his life by specific, and uncompromising rules of behavior. A man who has seen and understands evil, and will not tolerate it in his presence. Sometimes, they’ll lean slightly towards me and start a conversation. I’ll nod politely, say a word or two, and return to what I’m good at; being a large and quiet, but ever vigilant statue. They don’t seem to mind my silence. Intuitively they know, as long as I’m near, they’ll be assured of reaching home safely for at least one night – and for them, that’s enough.
In my mind, I’ve often thought of just once, reaching out and gently grasping their small and delicate hands in my large and weathered ones. Feeling the warmth and the life coursing through them. Maybe, saying something like, “Hello, my name is Patrick, and I’m pleased to meet you.” I know it sounds a little cliché, but I’ve always been a polite and proper man. I’ve never reached out. I guess I never will. It is who and what I am, and some things just can’t be changed.
I’ve been told I have kind eyes. If you look closely though, you may see an underlying sadness, or possibly a distant and well-hidden pain locked inside them. I rarely smile anymore, but on those rare occasions when the beginning of a small one crosses my lips, my eyes will light-up with a promise of something more. Perhaps, a mischievous grin, or possibly a long, drawn-out laugh. The laughter however, never comes.
Despite my size and strength, I’m a gentle man. I never look for trouble, and seldom does it find me. Once, several years ago, I accidentally broke the arm of a mugger, who had knocked an elderly woman to the ground, and stolen her purse. They called me a hero. I can still remember the sound of his arm snapping just below the right elbow like a dry and brittle twig, and his gasp of surprise and pain. My only thought was the hope that I never hear that sound again.
Oh, before I move on; I almost forgot to mention something. I have been alone for most of my life. I’m not sure when it all began. As far back as I can remember, it’s always been this way. Even in a room full of people, I’m totally isolated from those around me. Sometimes it feels like being enclosed in a large transparent box. I can see those nearby, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t reach out and touch them. Even if I screamed, I’m sure no one would hear me. Please don’t feel sorry for me, or pity me. Like anything, you eventually get used to it, and learn to push the pain deep inside, until it’s just a dull and distant ache.
I do have one companion, who helps to ease some of my loneliness. I found him in a small pet store at a local mall. I don’t know why I stopped in after work on that cold November afternoon. He was a large dog in a very small cage. Among cages filled with barking dogs, he stood silently, as his long brown nose pressed up against the bars of his tiny prison. He seemed so out-of-place. I left, but returned two months later to the same store. The steel cage he was in seemed even smaller than before. He was now lying down, and his fur was matted, but he was still silent. I moved closer to his cage, and looked into his eyes. Maybe it was my imagination, but I saw something, I myself had been searching for – hope. I call him Chase. We’ve come to an understanding. I try to give him a good life, and when I’m home he never leaves my side. I’m not sure if I’m capable of love, but I’ll reach down, scratch his head, and let him lick my hand. It never fails to bring me comfort. For both of us; it’s enough.
I take Chase for long walks among acres of rolling fields dotted with patches of woodlands. What was once a horse farm, still contains numerous stables, though they are in disrepair and overrun with encroaching trees and climbing vines. We take our walks in total darkness, hours before the first rays of sunlight creep over the horizon. It seems strange, but I’ve never feared, and have often found comfort in the darkness. Even as a child, I never pulled the covers up over my head to hide, as most children do from dangerous and unknown terrors. I realized at an early age that monsters don’t lurk under beds or in closets, waiting for the chance to snatch up unwary children. Most people don’t realize this, but monsters never hide amidst the darkest shadows. The real monsters in this world move among us in the bright light of day. We just don’t recognize them for what they are.
A few weeks ago, on one of my nocturnal walks, my new journey began. This is where my story begins and will eventually end. It was a cold, calm, early winter night. The moon was a bright white orb in a cloudless sky. The only sounds, were the occasional barking of a dog in the distance, and my heavy footsteps on the frozen ground. As usual, Chase ran ahead of me, nose to the ground, using his extraordinary sense of smell to track small animals foraging among the broken corn stalks left from the late autumn harvest. Stopping, I suddenly sensed an uncanny silence. Even the wind, which only moments before was whistling through the branches of barren, leafless trees had ceased. It was as if time itself had stopped its eternal march. A few moments passed before I found Chase sitting motionless, twenty or thirty feet from the entrance to one of the well-built, but weathered horse stables. The roof and walls were still intact, but glass windows high up on the structure were broken, and the entrance doors were missing. I stopped, reached down and patted Chase’s head and said, “Hey boy. What do you smell? I hope it isn’t that skunk we ran into last month. I think I’m all out of tomato juice.”
Chase ignored me, as he continued to look towards the stable door, which seemed to be shrouded in shadows. He didn’t appear to be afraid, just curious as his head turned slightly to one side. He seemed to either smell or hear something that my ordinary human senses couldn’t. In spite of his curiosity, he seemed hesitant to move closer. I left Chase’s side, and moved within a few feet of what appeared to be a solid curtain of impenetrable darkness. I strained to see beyond the doorway, but failed. Even the bright moonlight was held at bay by the strange phenomena.
Taking a step closer and removing one of my gloves, I extended my hand forward. As it penetrated what appeared at first to be a solid barrier, the light from the full moon moved from my fingertips along my forearm to a few inches before my elbow and stopped. The air beyond the curtain of darkness was slightly warmer than outside. It wasn’t the heat of a summer afternoon, but more like a cool autumn, when a light, comfortable sweater was all that was required to ward off the evening chill. I moved my fingertips slightly, and it felt as if I had reached into a thin and sticky cobweb. I quickly pulled my hand out, only to find nothing clinging to my hand.
Reaching forward again, I relaxed and closed my eyes. Feeling what seemed like a feather brushing against my fingertips, I almost pulled away, but fought the urge, and remained still. The light caresses soon became what I can only describe as the feeling, similar to an infant grasping my finger in its tiny hand. Soon, I felt a gentle tugging, like many small hands trying to pull me slowly but insistently into the darkness. My mind imagined a group of small children, holding my hand excitedly, attempting to lead me on some fantastic and wondrous adventure. I know it sounds crazy, and I’ve sometimes questioned my sanity, but I was drawn in some way to what I couldn’t see, but sensed only a few feet away.
As I stood perfectly still under a bright full moon with the darkness enclosing my right arm, a peacefulness, unknown to me before, engulfed me. I wasn’t sure what I was experiencing, but I instinctively knew, what lay a mere step or two away in the old horse stable wasn’t evil. I also sensed it wasn’t necessarily good. I did know in my heart and soul, what was there, needed me as much I needed it. I was also sure, I wouldn’t be judged, but would be accepted for who I was, and embraced in spite of all my human frailties and imperfections. I would be in a place where all the pain and loneliness of this world would be just a memory. All I needed to do, was take a step or two forward, let the darkness embrace me, and I would never be alone again.
My thoughts were interrupted by more tugging; but this time it was not on my hand, but at the back of my pants leg, just above my boots. I opened my eyes, realizing I must have taken a step forward and was only inches from the stable’s entrance. I turned my head, and looked down to see Chase, attempting to pull me back. I reluctantly pulled my hand away from inside the stable, and stumbled a few yards, almost falling on my backside. I reached for the flashlight I always carry in my pocket, with the intent of piercing the darkness in front of me. I hesitated, and stopped. I was afraid. Not of what I might see, but fearful the light would reveal only aged rafters, a cold concrete floor, and empty wooden stalls. What if what I felt was either my imagination, or worse yet, I had gone completely mad? What if my only hope of ending the unbearable loneliness I lived with each day was gone? That was something I didn’t think I could face.
After my experience, Chase and I headed home. The next night, we began avoiding the old horse farm. Over the next few days, I thought about what had happened. I call the darkness I’d seen and experienced at the horse stables, “The Other Dark.” I’m not sure if it’s a different dimension, a hidden part of this world, a separate plane of existence, or maybe just an imaginary world created in my own mind, to help me escape from this life.
I was raised with church on Sunday’s, and a belief in the concepts of Heaven and Hell, but I’m not sure what I believe in anymore. There is just so much hate, fear, pain, and despair in the world. I find it hard to believe that a kind and merciful God would allow such suffering without offering an alternative.
Whatever the “Other Dark” is, I believe it can be found in those places where even the faintest light has never penetrated, and the bravest men refuse to venture. I doubt if many people have ever encountered it, unless they, like me, were searching for something. From the beginning of time, mankind has always feared the dark. He’s looked at it as something bad or evil; something to be avoided at any cost. From the first fires man huddled close to, to modern electricity, people have attempted to hold back the dark.
A thought has been forming in my mind. What if darkness isn’t what people believe it is? That it doesn’t need to be feared, just understood. What if it’s not filled with demons and monsters, and unknown terrors? Maybe it’s a place like any other, just different. Maybe the “Other Dark,” is a world like ours, that is not necessarily good nor bad, but becomes what we make it through our actions. Could it be a place for people like me; those of us who are different, and have known only loneliness? I can still recall the feeling of being pulled gently, but insistently into the darkness. It was as if others had already found their way to the “Other Dark,” and were trying to guide me.
Yesterday, I found a new home for Chase. He’ll be spending his remaining years with a family, a few miles outside of town. The Murphy’s, own a large farm with acres of farmland planted with wheat and corn, unspoiled grassy meadows, and a small orchard of apple and peach trees. There’ll be plenty of room for Chase to run and play. I wasn’t sure about my decision at first, until I met Ned Junior, the Murphy’s nine-year-old son. Tall for his age, he seemed to be all-elbows and skinned knees. With a head of unruly, sandy-brown hair, large prominent ears, and a face full of freckles, he reminded me of myself when I was a boy. Plastered to his face was a lop-sided grin that seemed to say, “Watch out world; here I come, and trouble ain’t far behind!”
I watched the look on young Ned’s face, as Chase nuzzled his chest, looking to have that special place, just behind his left ear scratched. A half an hour later, walking to my truck, I glanced back to see a big brown dog, excitedly chasing a laughing young boy. Chase had found his place and his purpose. He would grow old protecting Ned, and knowing love. The smile on my face, almost reached my eyes.
It won’t be long now. I didn’t go to work today. I’m not sure what happened. I awoke this morning, showered and dressed, and was drinking my coffee, when I closed my eyes for a moment. When I opened them, the sun was high in the sky, and I was standing along a roadside by the edge of a field staring at the old horse stable in the distance. I’m being drawn to a destiny, I don’t yet understand. I returned home, and have been writing and waiting. I feel a strange anticipation. If you looked in my eyes now, you might see what I once saw in Chase’s eyes as I approached his cage, years ago, in a small pet store. It’s a cloudless, cool night. In a few minutes, I’ll put on a light jacket, turn off all the lights, and lock the front door. If what I believe is true, I’ll not be returning. For any of you who may read this journal, I wish you well. I hope you all find what you’re looking for.
This is a short story, I wrote during some very difficult times in my life. Though it’s a work of fiction, it does have many similarities to my own life. This includes the main character, and of course Chase, my loyal canine companion. Sometimes, when things are at their worst, many of us look for a means of escape. We often imagine a place where the pain, hurt, and loneliness of this world are just a distant memory.
Many people who struggle with depression, feel totally alone, have no one to turn to, and will sometimes look for their own personal escape. I was lucky. With the help of my wonderful wife, I came back from the edge of darkness. Sadly, many good, loving and kind people have lost hope, or had no one to reach out and pull them back from, “The Other Dark.”