The Magic of the Night

By Elizabeth Engstrom

I am in love with the night. I always have been. Perhaps we all are, which is why so much of our dark literature takes place after sundown.

The night hides so many things. Light illuminates, but darkness obscures. Transparent things in the daylight become occult in the night.

As a young teen, I began sleeping outside every night during the summer, a habit that persists to this day. In my youth, however, I would get up and wander the safe streets of our little town, alone, imagining people sleeping in their homes, locked away and safe from whatever lurked in the night. Like me, although I was no threat.

Occasionally a friend would spend the night and we’d both sleep outside, watching the meteor shower in August, talk about boys and school, and then sometimes wake before dawn and go wandering, sure to be safely back in our sleeping bags before my parents got up to go to work. Why was this so attractive? Why were we so drawn to be awake and aware as everyone else slept?

We felt powerful. We felt as though we knew things other people did not, simply because they slept away the most interesting part of their world.

Everything is different in the night. Everything not possible in the daylight becomes possible under the cover of darkness. As an adult, I can lie awake in the middle of the night in my bedroom, obsessing and stressing about things that bother me, but as morning dawns, those fears fade away. Why is that? What is it about the night that fosters fear?

We capitalize on those fears in our fiction. Darkness is a powerful tool, whether it be a locked closet, an ill-lit basement, a grave, coffin, abandoned buildings, or the time when vampires are safe to travel freely. People who wander the surface of our planet during the day are far different from those who roam it during the night. Birds during the day; bats at night. Dogs during the day; cats at night.

People work during the day and act respectable, then drink and dance and let their inhibitions fall with the setting of the sun. Bake cookies during the day and have sex at night.

Night is when most people go inside, have dinner, watch television, close the blinds and eventually go to bed.

Night is when the other population wakes up and lets the darkness bend their minds. It does, if only the tiniest amount. Night dwellers live in a completely different universe than day dwellers. People who work the graveyard shift think differently than those who work 9-5. I know. I’ve been there.

As fiction writers, and as spinners of shadow fiction, we owe it to ourselves and to our readers to explore and understand the mind bending effect of the night and why some thrive on it and others fear it.

When I sleep outside, as I tend to do all summer long, I never lie awake and obsess about little fears. Instead, I’m watching the stars and the satellites and feeling small, but somehow a significant part of the cosmos. Instead of NPR waking me up in the morning, it’s the hummingbirds and crows and the dew on my pillow.  But that is because I have embraced the night. I have lived in it, loved in it, worked in it. I have nothing to hide—neither from the night nor in the night. I enjoy the mind-altering effect that the darkness has on me. I recognize it in others, and those who have embraced it recognize it in me, a silent yet respectful secret handshake of sorts.

Embrace the darkness. It is without, and it is within. There is nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.

Fall in love with the night.