A prose poem for an Old God.
The sun has set, twilight’s pastel aether faded to cool, thin air, and a vista like a vast sphere of ink hangs over the camp. In daylight, the landscape had been unremarkable, hill after hill, trough after marshy trough, but the night has taken even those bland features, engulfed them in a void the campfire can only lap at.
At first you see nothing in the dark. The fire is hot and blinding, and next to it, you surmise you must be safe, though you wonder if the light has simply made you terrified of the beyond to which you’ve been blinded. In a moment of courage, you stand, you forsake the heat and security of your fire, and you take a small, timid step into the night. With surreal immediacy, pinprick glimmers blink into the sky overhead. The hills, the trees, the cattails and rocks at the pond’s edge all fold into relief as the night stirs in its sleep, and, slowly, in a sense you can feel only in the space between your lungs, the Night Sky opens its eyes. On the horizon, from shadow your fire could never reach, the moon rises.
Blight. Aberration. What do you dare bring here?
The words are not spoken, but nonetheless they are borne to your ears on whistling wind, the buzz of dragonflies, pond water slapping at its shore. They are not spoken, but, somehow, you perceive a speaker anyway.
From the horizon, the moon approaches, wreathed by dead branches, clad in bark and tenebrous mist. Atop an eyeless steed the color of coal, it regards you. You feel its presence, its vastness, its derision–for you–its hatred–for…something else–and as the pale sphere’s gaze moves beyond you, to your camp, your fire, your intrusion upon this dream so clearly not your own, you feel–deeply and certainly–unwelcome.
Children. Gone astray. Weak. Blasphemy. Destroy. Devour.
The words are no longer coherent. They still suffuse the air, spoken in that half-sense by which the Night Sky speaks, but they are not for you. None of this is for you any longer, but the Night Sky does not lash out in violence like the creatures of day. It would have you understand your transgression, swallow it, have it writhe like worms in your blood, that you should go willingly to nothingness, for you deserve only nothing.
The moon’s steed turns to you, and its head splits into halves, equine silhouettes spreading like lepidopteran wings, baring yet more swirling constellations within their cranial span. Then the nightmares begin. All around, you perceive the subtle, fearful shifts. At the shore of the pond, the tiny pebbles glinting in firelight reveal themselves to be teeth, erupting, bloody and irregular, from throbbing gums where ground should have rested. Leeches wriggle at your ankles, crawling over one another for a taste of the blood you yet owe this place, and in the pitch beyond the moon’s sinister figure, the reeds and grasses flagellate the sky in ways that plants should not move.
The steed continues to approach, vaporous tongues lolling from its mangled wing-face, caressing your cheek, your eyes, the inside of your face, tasting what it is like to be you. Its touch is icy, alien, shocking in its utter strangeness, and yet its intent cannot be misunderstood: It means to imbibe you, with the night, of the night; to extinguish your heat, your clarity, your definition; to purge from you any pretense of being.
You feel the hopelessness, the isolation of the dark, but instinctively, you rebel. You tear your gaze from the steed’s hypnotic visage. You run headlong back to your blaze, your bulwark against the night’s advance. Behind, you hear the steed’s hooves bearing down upon you. You shudder at its rider’s curses, carried on the whistle and rasp of the breeze. You thrust your hands into the fire and withdraw a flaming bough, and you fling it, whirling, frantic, back at the approaching moon. The flames lick your hands, leaving charred, smoldering marks on your palms, but your aim is true enough. The branch strikes the rider across the arm, igniting its wooden armor, but even as the blaze engulfs the rider and its steed and the grass and the sky and the nightmare that has swallowed you, the moon’s gaze remains impassive.
You open your eyes to an undisturbed camp. Your fire has died down, the sky is clear and starlit, and even your erstwhile terror, still ringing in your skull, cannot quite disturb the serenity of this nocturnal silence. But the moon still hangs between the clouds above, and it occurs, quietly, buried between the ripples of your relief, that the eyes of the Night Sky have still not closed.