Darkness fell. All at once, the room was gone, lost to the intangible clutches of the night. The soft hiss of a dead bulb faded into nothingness. Only the boy existed in the dark. Abandoned and alone, a shiver running down his spine.
He drew breath. Something else breathed out.
‘Is someone there?’ asked the boy, speaking to nothing.
‘Yes,’ said the nothing.
‘Who are you?’
‘I am a voice in the dark. I could be your mother, or your father, or a friend, or a murderer who has broken in, or a voice in your head. It makes no difference. One thing alone matters.’
‘Do you fear me?’ asked the nothing.
‘Yes,’ said the boy.
‘And so you should. You should always fear the dark.’
‘Why?’ said the boy.
‘Because if you did not, you would have no desire for the light.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Do you feel the shiver down your spine?’ asked the nothing. It spoke with a voice that was sat in the far corner and that the boy felt whispering in his ear. It was forever out of reach and right by his side. ‘Do you feel your heart beating in your chest, or the sweat dripping from your head, or the breath catching in your throat? Do you know what it is you are feeling?’
‘Scared,’ said the boy. ‘I’m scared.’
‘No. You are alive,’ said the nothing. ‘That is what you feel when you sit in the dark and banish the rest of the world so that fear may find you. It is fear that reminds you that you are alive. Fear that reminds you that you have no idea what is lurking, waiting for you, in the dark. It is fear that makes you reach for a hand to hold, fear that lets you see a world beyond rationality, fear that keeps you human. When you are scared and alone in the dark, it is impossible to be cruel. You will stare into that darkness and wonder forever just how much it is hiding from you. You will venture into the dark alongside others, united in fear. Together, or utterly alone, you may step into the heart of darkness, driven by fear to accomplish one thing – to shed light.’
The boy moved towards the voice. Or, perhaps, away from it. Or perhaps there never was a voice and he merely moved deeper into nothingness, not in search of the voice in the dark, but guided by it.
His fingers found the switch on the wall and there was light. In the light, there was no boy, only a man.
It looked as though he were alone, but he knew better than that. He knew far more existed than the little electric bulb could ever hope to show him.