It was a long dark.
It was a lonely dark.
Lona lost track of the time, she lost track of her place. The darkness went beyond the mere darkness and beyond the shadows where she knew not to tread. Helda had told her that it was for Lona to come to know the darkness, to know the emptiness, to know what the old Wise Woman called The Void.
‘But I’m scared,’ Lona had said.
‘Good.’ The old woman had looked deep into the young girl’s eyes. ‘It is good to be scared of this. Many things can kill you, but this, the Darkness, The Void, can destroy you.’ The old woman held up her closed fist in front of the girl’s face. ‘But I have you here. I will hold onto you all through your journey into the Darkness. I will not let you go. You will not fall.’
Now, Lona held her arms out in front of her, turning and turning, not knowing what she stood on, not being able to feel anything underfoot. There was nothing around her. She reached up as far as she could stretch on the very tips of her toes, but there was nothing there. She knelt, then lay down on the nothing under her and tried to feel down. Her body was supported somehow, but she could reach down, below whatever surface was holding her lying there, deeper into the Darkness.
Lona had the idea that if she wanted to she could dive into that darkness supporting her and swim down deeper and deeper in the nothingness, into The Void.
Maybe she would go too deep, beyond the reach of Helda, beyond the ability of the old woman to pull her back.
Still, though, despite her fear there was something comforting about diving deep into the nothingness, going beyond where any light could reach. Life was hard, life was short, life was filled with pain, with loss and so much beyond her understanding. Lona could dive deep into the nothing and be beyond all that. She could go to a place beyond human pain and human suffering. She could live there forever wrapped in the comfort of the Darkness, never knowing cold, never knowing heat, never seeing all she knew growing old and dying.
She could swim there in the nothing forever and never need anything ever again.
The Darkness was safety and security.
‘Wha…?’ Something had brushed her hand as it tried to reach out into the nothingness. Something dark was swimming in the Darkness beneath her. Lona jumped to her knees, her eyes trying to find shapes in the nothingness.
Had she imagined it? She knew how easy it was in the ordinary darkness of the night for shifting shadows in the flickering firelight to become monsters and demons. She knew how easy it was to see ghosts in the shadows beyond the trees.
She jumped back as something sleek furred brushed against her legs. She could hear breathing, heavy wet breathing, panting in the blackness. She felt hot breath on her cheek and turned to catch the smell of that breath, meaty, rotten, sour. An odour of the long dying, the reek of those unable to break free of the Darkness.
She realised then that the Darkness was not freedom. It was a prison, full of savageness and wildness that would give her no rest, no peace.
She didn’t realise her eyes were closed, until she opened them to see Helda looking down at her where she lay on the old woman’s bed.
‘Now do you understand?’ Helda opened her clenched fist, showing the girl it was empty.
Lona felt herself nod. ‘Yes, now I understand.’