When the Sun Goes Down

I tell you this story in the hopes that I might find some clarity in my mind and soul—and if I cannot find it myself, I ask that you listen to what I have to say and help me decipher these thoughts and opinions into something coherent. Into something that might cast away this haze of doubt that clouds my troubled mind.

My mind has run thin, and time has run long, if it has even moved at all. Whether I have grown older or younger since that dreary, winter day in Usher Hill, I am not certain. Every moment seems as the last, and is replaced by one that is the very same as its former. In this town, day turns to night, and night over to day, yet the world does not move. I am no longer sure if anywhere else in the world exists but this silent, country town, or if this place has somehow become separated from the world and reality itself. Or, perhaps, I have long since lost my mind in the recesses of this enigmatic and unexplainable place, with dark secrets lurking in deep places. I cannot leave, and I do not know why. Or, perhaps, I simply can’t remember.

As an unsettling, eternally smiling cat once said to a curious young girl on a very curious adventure:

“We’re all mad here.”

Sometimes I linger on the fact that, foolishly, I had the audacity to find myself lucky to discover Usher Hill. How unbelievably foolish was I! Lucky?!

On that dreary winter day of a year I can no longer remember, I was headed west. Where I’d come from or where exactly I was going, I cannot recall. The country I traversed was a monotonous gray-brown and green scape, with hardly a home or crossroad. There had been no variation in the scenery for many miles, and having earlier spilled coffee on, and ruined, the one map in my possession, I grew worried when my car’s engine began to make strange noises.

It was growing late, only bringing further uniformity to the blur of trees rolling by my windows. And as I had been fearing it would, my car gave up its ghost with a cough of smoke and a groan of gears, forcing me to pull over to the side of the narrow lane. The sun was down past the horizon, so I knew I must make a decision soon: wait in the car for some other driver to pass in the night or morning, or walk down the road in the hopes of finding some small town or homestead, entirely unsure of how far that may be.

A fool was I for the choice I made! A damn fool! Though, perhaps, it was not my choice. I cannot be certain. Perhaps the road of fate had long laid before me this path into dementia. Or, perhaps the road of fate was tilted out of my favor, rolling me like a stone, all the way down into these accursed halls of Usher Hill. Damnation, and hell upon us all! But let me not stray too far from the story with emotion.

As I came a while down the road, unsure of how much time had passed or how far I had come, I saw a break in the woods. It was the first estate I had seen in what felt like an eternity. The gray, two-floor home was of southern style, and wrapped tight with unkempt vines and trees. The vines seemed to be strangling the house, the trees’ branches stabbing and gouging it alive. Or, the house wasn’t gray at all, but the weather-worn color of a hue long forgotten. Wild bushes and shrubs occupied the front yard with no clear path to the front door.

I thought of going on to the next house but I did not know how far that would be, and the sky was growing steadily darker. I am, in fact, a young black man, and wandering around these deep southern towns after dark has never been the wisest of ideas.

Movement caught my eye—from the window. But when I turned to look, there was no one there, and the blinds were all drawn tight. I may be mistaken, for my memory comes and goes, but I would swear they had been open when first I approached.

I decided I must take my chances with this house and its small-scale forest of shrubbery. The plants poked and prodded and caught on my clothes, as if they may be living, but when I turned to them, they remained still as their stalks. A heavy feeling of unease gripped my chest and throat. Vines slithered for my ankles, but only when I was not looking in their direction. Nearing the porch, I stared up at the windows feeling as if I were being watched, yet the blinds were still drawn and dark. Coming closer, I realized the full extent of the property’s decline. The wood was worn and warped, and there was the dull smell of the grave. The windows were opaque with dust and water spots, some boarded up in clumsy fashion. The porch steps creaked when I put the slightest amount of weight on them, and the boards looked more than fit to give way. But they held firm, old and wizened, under my feet.

My knocking on the door seemed to shake the house to its very foundation and stirred a dark fear in my heart. As if I may have, by a twist of fate, awoken something I should not have.

“Excuse me!” I said, but not too loudly. “Is anyone home?”

There was no reply from within, even after trying a few more times. Yet, listen to what I say: to this very day, whether today is tomorrow or today is yesterday, I will swear to whatever is good that I heard movement from inside. A slinking, dragging sort of movement—and not very far from the entryway where I stood.

I left the estate after this, with as much haste as was still discreet, now contemplating returning to my carriage for the night. But as I have said many times, but not to you, the road of fate rolls on without regard for your opinion. No. Not for the opinion of mortals.

As I came to the road I was hailed by a man in camouflage clothing from head to toe. Immediately, I froze in place. What this man might say to me could be any variety of foul, bigoted remarks, for in the deep, darker parts of the South, they don’t take kind to “no niggers and beaners,” “no gooks and hajis,” and “no Jews and fuckin’ Catholics.”

Yet, as I have said to many who may exist only in my head, as may you, yourself: this town is strangely disjointed from reality as I know it. But what do I know? I may know nothing at all. Perhaps I am disjointed from reality. Or, perhaps, this is your dream.

“Evening, sir,” said the camouflaged man, in a disconcerting rhythm of speech.

“Hello,” I said, a shiver in my voice that was not from the winter cold. I had spied the revolver in his hand.

“This ain’t for you,” said the man, with a smile that did little to still my unease. “Heard a stranger was walking into town; and this country is crawling with all kinda nasty lil’ creatures when the sun goes down.” He glanced down at my wrist. “Nice bracelet.”

“I’m not wearing a bracelet,” I said, glancing around at the darkening setting, though still I was more fearful of this camouflaged man and his loaded pistol. “Thank you for the gesture,” I continued. “I’m…”

My speech was broken by a spell of coughing that I thought might kill me there. But I caught my breath in due time, and continued. “I’m only in town to see about my car. It’s broken down a mile or so from here.”

“Your car! That’s no problem, bud. We’ll get you on and seen to.” He looked up to the evening sky. “I’ssa little dangerous to go fetch and push it into town at this hour.” He stuffed his revolver into the back of his trousers. “But don’t you worry about that. You can stay ‘round my place until morning. It’s not a good idea to be out when the sun goes down.”

I considered politely refusing him and taking my chances with whatever he was hinting might be lurking about in the woods, but I was sure he would insist. And only a fool would refuse an insistent man with a gun in his trousers, while stuck in the middle of nowhere.

“I’m grateful for your hospitality,” I said. “I’d just need to grab a few things.”

“Don’t you worry!” said the man, clapping me roughly on the back. “I run the general store in town, so you can take what you need and just pay me back when you get the chance.”

Perhaps it was the fact it was getting dark, but I saw something evil play on his face, if only for a split second. Something human yet otherworldly; familiar yet unsettling.

“You’re very kind, sir,” I said, fighting the urge to flee into the night. To flee as fast and far as I could. “If it isn’t a bother, please lead the way.”

The man shook my hand and introduced himself as Warden Brooke, which only made me more uneasy, as with every step I took, I felt more like a prisoner to something that was beyond Warden and even the town itself. He was a long-winded man and rambled away our entire walk. I’ll never know what it was he spoke about; my focus would not be drawn from the estates that slowly rose around us as we walked on. The windows were not drawn among these gray-cast homes.


Some windows were darkened, some were dimly illuminated—but in all of them, I could see hidden gazes, watching my procession through the streets. And some gazes were not hidden, peering out from behind partly-drawn blinds. I could feel their gazes like ice on my skin. When I could no longer take their stares, I focused only on the road just ahead of my feet. Anything to keep from gazing into their frigid eyes. Every step was a lifetime to the next. Into the horizon, the road faded into a gray nothing.

“This is it,” said Warden.

I was surprised to find that we had made it to our destination already. I followed Warden’s gaze, who was looking up at his store. It was not very large, situated alone at a four-way intersection of identical-looking roads, and held an assortment of different and somewhat random things on the veranda porch.

“What do ya think?”

“It’s very nice,” I said, looking to the windows of the second floor, where, again, I felt someone was watching from the shadows. “How long have you been in business?”

“How long?” said Warden, his face going slack with thought. “Shoot, long as I can remember! Let me show you around.”

The inside smelled of mold, tobacco, and an odor that made my eyes dry and my heart troubled. But it was not acrid or sour. It was simply strange. The first floor was made only for the store, with a small kitchen in the back, and a door nearby leading down to the basement. It was dark inside, lit only by lanterns, but I could see dust collected on every item set out for sale and display. Every countertop, windowsill, and every flat surface was layered with enough dust to suggest no one had stepped foot inside in many, many years—if not decades. The flicker of the lanterns and the dancing shadows they created made me uneasy, and I tugged anxiously at the plastic bandaround my wrist.

The stairs to the second floor creaked and groaned under my weight as if they were the wails of the souls of trees, trapped in the lumber. Warden led me up to the last three rooms in the building: one bedroom, one washroom, and a room behind a dark and sinister door, mostly hidden in shadow.

“You looking to wash up?” asked Warden, setting a candle down on the far off-white sink.

“No, I’ll be fine. And I’ve forgotten my change of clothes in my carriage.”

“I’ve got plenty’a clothes you can borrow ’til morning. Plenty and plenty.”

“No. I sometimes get a chill after bathing at night. I think I’ll just lie down.”

Warden shrugged stiffly. “Suit yourself. I just ask that you stay out of that room there, and also the basement. Nasty vermin and whatnot in there.” Warden’s voice took on a serious tone, his speech slowing. “You wouldn’t want something to… happen.”

“No. I don’t think I would.”

Warden said nothing to me after this, handing over a small candle lantern. He just stared into my eyes, the rest of his face distorted by the shadows. There was a noise from behind the forbidden door, acknowledged only by myself.

“Goodnight, Alex,” was all Warden said, and I realized, then, that he had not yet blinked since we’d come upstairs. And that I was certain I had never told him my name. He stood motionless, waiting for me to retreat to my room.

I only knew he was waiting because his footsteps sounded right after I shut the door, though which way they went, I can’t remember. They seemed to simply disappear in every direction at once.

I shivered and pulled my gown closer as I inspected the room. It was small, with nothing but a bed and empty dresser, and window that did nothing against the winter cold. The bed was dressed neatly in covers that looked older than the building itself and smelled of an abandoned cellar in a long-forgotten castle.

I started in fright when the drawn curtains shifted, as if someone unseen had moved them. Yet when I blinked, they were still as a bone. Feeling more and more fearful, I sat on the bed, carefully. A small stroke of luck: the blankets were free of dust, and the mattress not as uncomfortable as I thought it would be.

As I lay down to time travel through sleep into the morning, I found that there was no sound but the slow chirping of the crickets out in the cold, and my very own breaths and heartbeat. I’m not sure how long I laid awake in this unnerving silence, staring at the wall, the ceiling, the pitch-black window, the back of my eyelids. The bed groaned whenever I shifted, echoing menacingly through the house. I had not heard a sound from Warden or behind the ominous other room in all this time, as if I lay alone in the building.

I thought of the ocean, as I often do to this unknown day, whenever my mind is running amok with questions and worry. I thought of the ocean and a beach bathed in sunshine, boats sailing past, not too far from the shore, and faded into the warm depths of sleep.

The bizarre ruminations of the early phases of my sleep cycle were full of images of pale, dead-eyed fish, staring at me, no matter where they lay. And of a darkness that lurked behind me, yet I could never turn to face it—as if it were actually far away as a distant star, yet close as a cloak on my very shoulders.

When I came to the true dreams of my sleep, I dreamt of something just out of my sight. Of a taste just beyond my tongue; a sound just out of earshot; something hovering just out of reach. Though it was beyond the bounds of my flawed and human senses, I could still tell that it was there. Its name was familiar in my mouth, yet I didn’t know what it was.

I then saw a Great Beyond, and from and into it, simultaneously flowed all the knowledge of the universe—mortal and immortal. All sound I perceived as light, and all my thoughts as music, and my memories as the wind on an endless sea of half-conjured tomorrows.

From the center of the Eternal Distance—both descending and rising at the same time—was a being whose name my tongue could not pronounce. I could not see this being, but I knew that they could see me. Their voice was the darkness and their presence felt as if it was time itself.

It spoke my name in a tongue that has never existed that shook me to my core, and its horrifying cadence startled me awake.

It is this point that I began to have true doubts about my own reality and sanity, if humans can even rightly be described as “wholly sane” creatures to begin with. Where the dreams ended and reality began, I’ll never be certain, but one certain thing I know is we all must suffer this.

When I opened my eyes from sleep, I found my room full of people. Warden Brooke stood closest to me, along with others dressed in patched, dusty clothing, and wide, dead eyes that saw things I could not. But I see them now! And I am sure that one day, you will see them too. You all will see, as we all already have in lives we have never lived.

For several long minutes they did not move, each holding a candle in hand, try as I might to elicit a response. Stranger the situation was made when I found the candles in their grasps did not flicker, but indeed produced heat and smoke. The orange glow of their flames stood motionless against each person’s face.

When finally I made for the door, Warden seized my arm in a grip that was a vise. He flung me back to the window, where it was shattered by my arm. Glancing out, I saw that there were others standing outside. Dozens, if not hundreds and thousands. They stood in the road, in the driveway, between the trees, each with a candle of their own. All with cold, dead eyes, staring up into my own.

I turned to beg Warden for an explanation, but found everyone in the room had disappeared. Turning back to the window I found the streets, driveway, and woods vacant as well.


Not even the crickets.

Not even my own beating heart!

Disoriented, I staggered into the hallway, my footsteps echoing not in my ears, but in my very soul. I found no one downstairs and the basement door was locked. Returning to the second floor, I came to the door forbidden to me by the vanished Warden.

There were markings and engravings on the door I had not seen before, but in the darkness I could make nothing out for sure. The door was old and heavy, and smelled of decrepit stone, though it was surely wood. I touched the knob, old brass with a strange shape to it—entirely uneven and bulbous. Suddenly the knob grew colder than death and instantly my body was shattered into innumerable pieces of silverglass.

The door swung open, and I found I was still very much whole, though I was cold to the bone. A mist drifted out of the room and was wafted into my nostrils, as if of its own accord. I tasted Sulphur and honey, smelled blood and a bouquet of roses before my consciousness gave in to this unknown ether.

I was roused by a sharp sensation against my bare chest and found a red-hot brand pressed to my skin. My screams were drowned out by a chorus of drums and drones, their booming kick paining the fresh burn on my skin, the numbing melodies invading my ears and mind. I cast my eyes around the scene and learned I was laid across a slab of stone, hands and wrists tied and drawn out as if I were to be quartered.

The room was granite. A cavern but not quite. It seemed to be made by something human. Or, perhaps not. Along the wide walls stood the town folk dressed in dirty white clothes and gowns, candles held to illuminate their misshapen faces. I could not see to the top of the cavern, though my screams did not echo, nor did the drums, telling me it was much higher than I might ever have thought it to be. In front of me burned a blazing bonfire, which seemed to glow blood red and green. I could feel the warmth of the flames and smell the smoke that reeked of hair and flesh.

Between the fire and I stood Warden, and just behind him a figure in a heavy black cloak that concealed them entirely.

“Let me out of here!” I screamed. “Let me out! God help me, what are you doing?!”

But Warden only stepped forward, producing a rusted, serrated knife. “God has no power here.”

“What are you doing!” was all I could say before he gave me his answer.

The terrible blade tore flesh and blood just under my sternum and was driven up into my heart. My breath was stolen from my lungs and he tore the knife from me with the same intensity as his thrust. In his eyes was a darkness I could see had swallowed his mind and soul.

I’m killed! I thought to myself. Killed without reason! Slain without cause! I cursed all the angels and devils, heavens and earth, time and space.

But the cloaked figure stepped forward this time. Slowly, they drew back their hood, and from underneath it spilled a fount of shadow that swirled itself into a mist, darker than the night up above the fire. Further the figure removed their cloak until it fell to the floor, a torrent of shadow swirling out and up above us all.

The fire danced and sang in a strange dialect. Its flames shouted and shot like an arc of lightning, upward into the cavern. Even my wildest of dreams could not have imagined what my eyes saw next:

The cavern ceiling opened up to the Great Beyond, the Eternal Distance, where light and darkness were inseparable, and all ends and beginnings were the same. The Shadow and the flame stormed into the void and took form together.

What it was that stared down into me, that still stares into me and into us all, I’ll never be able to explain in my human tongue. It was the stillness that surrounds sound itself; the silence around a raging storm; the End that precedes every Beginning. Time and space were bent and distorted around its super-cosmic form. It spoke and all things that existed no longer made sense. It spoke in countless languages that have existed, that exist now, that have never existed, and those that never will. It spoke of things that no mortal such as me, or any of us, should ever know. It spoke my own name, in a language forbidden to mortal speech, which tore apart my very soul. It swallowed me whole in flame and shadow until all I knew was all that I didn’t know, and all I didn’t know was ingrained into my memory and soul, yet forever foreign to me.

My existence ceased and I was reborn into non-existence. The foundations of the universe quaked and the stars fell from the sky, destroying worlds old and new.

My mind left me and traveled beyond this realm of material reality, to places I’ll never know yet always remember.

And then all was silent, still, and dark.

These days I wander the streets and halls of this place, without the answers for the questions that swirl in my mind. Some days I remember everything so vividly, the year it all happened, where I was headed, where I was going. But most days it is all just a haze of jumbled memories and fabrications. Whether the fabrications were made by me, I don’t know. Perhaps they were placed in my head by the Void; the Unholy One; the Beast. Perhaps it is something else entirely. Something far less sinister and based in the reality we all have come to accept as normal. Perhaps you will be able to tell me. Perhaps you can figure this all out, whatever this is.

A day has yet to go by when I do not think of the evening I first came to this haunted place; when I first wandered through these cold, godless, gray halls. It may be a lie to claim that the town is “godless,” but in an Anglo-Saxon Christian view of the world, perhaps the statement holds merit. Whoever—or whatever—the gods are, I believe there to be more than one. More than all those that we as mortals claim to know.

Older gods.

Stronger gods.

There are no Christians in these darker parts of the world. No Jews. No Buddhists. No Muslims. No Hindus. There are no gods here that you should hope to find. There are only strange folk and heathens. And gods that are better left un-worshipped. Gods we would do well to leave alone and never speak of again.

And forget you not, friends: when the sun goes down in Usher Hill, in these darker parts of the world, it is wise to be afraid.