Seeing in the Dark

This was an exercise to gain entry into a little writing course my school was hosting.

Seeing in the Dark

Lachlan Marnoch, 2010

“Why does the darkness frighten us?”

She hung in a lightless void. The manacles in which her wrists and ankles were bound stretched her spread-eagled. Only her own thoughts accompanied her.

“Why does the darkness frighten me?"

She was suspended in total blackness, the only sensation the growing ache of her limbs.

“Humankind has spent hundreds of thousands of years trying to escape the dark, trying to protect from it. But why? What is it about shadow that scares us so much?”

When she turned her head, she couldn’t see her arms.

“What is darkness?”

Alone, she answered her own questions.

“Darkness is simply the absence of light.”

Like the absence of honour in those who had bound her here.

“What, then, is light?”

She remembered back to her mother’s physics lessons, so many years ago.

“All light is, really, is an electromagnetic wave consisting of infinitesimal sub-atomic particles, travelling at close to three hundred thousand kilometres a second. It bounces off surfaces at varying frequencies and intensities, to be received by our eyes and interpreted by our brains as colour and brightness.”

Science had always fascinated her, especially physics. Learning about the fundamental structures of the universe, the things that made up energy, matter, and existence itself, was something she always enjoyed.

“Light is necessary for us to see.

“So, perhaps it is not so astounding that we fear the dark, seeing as our primary sense, our most-used navigational tool, depends solely on the presence of light. Sight, a sense which has taken hundreds of millions of years to develop, provides us with important information regarding our surroundings. It allows us to witness events, objects and scenes which our brains recognise as beautiful.”

She knew that beauty was just a human idea, a concept which existed only in the mind of her species and probably within certain other animals.

“Most human beings rely almost utterly on sight to navigate, operate. Which is why it is easy to panic when sight is taken away from us. By the dark.”

She herself had been unable to rein her own panic for almost an hour after she had been placed here.

“But, although many cringe, even come apart, at the thought of living in darkness, many others already do. Those whose vision has left them, or were born without it, are able to navigate using their other senses: hearing, touch, even smell.”

Of course, none of those were available to her either; the only sound she could hear was her own breathing, and her manacles didn't give her enough slack to scratch her head. But she tried not to remember that as her determination rose.

“So it is possible to live without sight.

“And not just humans. There are animals that plunge into the shadows without a hint of fear.  Bats, whales. Of course, they have developed their own ways of ‘seeing’ in the dark, to make up for the absence of vision.

“Perhaps that’s what I should do. I can be a bat, flying through the night sky, the wind beneath my leathery wings as I hunt for the next moth with my sonar, my echolocation.”

Maybe then, wrapped in her own imagination, she could survive this ordeal.

"The Creation of Light", Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

"The Creation of Light", Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons