Lilith had always sought for her solace in the place where others found their fear; for Lilith loved the darkness. Even as a child, she had refused to sleep with the light on as, contrary to most children, Lilith could not be consoled by the presence of her daily reality. Instead, she welcomed the night, as what she saw, in the depths of its oblivion, was the infinity of her imagination. She always hoped that one day, the darkness might divulge its secrets – for Lilith very much believed in things that go bump in the night. She was convinced that ghosts, aliens and suchlike must exist as accounts of them have existed for as far back as humanity cares to go; that the supernatural must be real because it was around long before these modern fads of science and skepticism came to shoehorn themselves into our psyches. Even the merciless tyrant of Logic can’t dispute the existence of images depicting these spirits and ‘strange visitors from the sky’, that have been discovered through the ages, painted on anything from canvas to prehistoric cave walls. And there aren’t just pictures, either; there are stories too, tales of the unbelievable, the inexplicable; and though the styles of both these mediums may have changed with each passing culture, their content remains the same. This, therefore, formed the backbone of Lilith’s defense against skepticism: that there must be a strong seam of truth running through these depictions – something of substance to bind them all together – as if they really were nothing more but mere delusions, they would’ve died out long ago. You see, to Lilith, our ancestors’ superstitions were not an indication of their ignorance, but rather their awareness of the existence of such things which cannot be cowed by a ruthless need for clarification. And when Lilith regarded the world she lived in – a world now dominated by the digital domain – she felt certain her civilization was growing numb from its never-ending need for irrelevant information. As she saw it, people were so used to achieving a path to illumination through a tap or two of their fingertips, they no longer took the time to search for enlightenment in the vast universe that surrounded them; or that the modern world had grown so obsessed with the marvels of its digital ‘magic’ that it had become all-but-blind to the real thing. Lilith, however, took pride in her conviction that she was different; for she still believed in the those same mysteries with which our ‘ignorant’ ancestors had sought to shape our world. She was convinced that it was they – not us – who had had in their possession a true understanding of the nature of our universe. They were not blind-sided through their admiration of their own brilliance but were wise enough to admit that there were things out there – remarkable things – which our species was incapable of rendering as routine. Lilith had yet to experience such things herself; but she never lost faith that one day, when the universe deemed her ready, these mysteries would reveal themselves to her in all their glory…
And so it was that one night, not long after her twenty-first birthday, Lilith felt her time had finally come.
The first incident – though alarming – was not unsettling; and while Lilith had not expected it, she was elated to find it occurred as she had expected it would… So as soon as it was over (and as soon as she was able) Lilith had reached out to her bedside table and grabbed her phone. She wanted to check the time – she couldn’t wait to discover how much had mysteriously gone missing – and so she was sorely disappointed to find barely a couple of minutes appeared to have elapsed. Still, she reasoned stoically as she chucked her phone back on the table, this apparent lack of unaccounted time didn’t change things: Lilith knew without doubt that she’d just experienced something supernatural. So she settled herself back into her bed, and waited… She knew that whatever it was that had visited her would return to her; and sure enough, Lilith experienced many similar incidents that night (even though, on every subsequent occasion, time still stubbornly refused to disappear). It was in this manner that the phenomena continued for another three nights, and Lilith was longing to allow it to go on even further – but she knew that there was something of even greater significance to which she must attend; something which would force Lilith to bid farewell to her darkness in favor of the unnatural light of her computer screen. Lilith knew that for the next two weeks, she would have to do without the luxury of sleep. She’d allowed herself a few days off to top up her energy levels but she was acutely aware that it was now time to knuckle-down one last time. Lilith still had a good deal of revision to go over again before she was ready to face her last-ever the finals week. She’d steeled herself for the imminent mental battering by assuring herself that she was almost there now, that she’d almost finished her History of Art degree; that there was just this fortnight to go and all those years of sacrifice and study would be over… She’d put everything she had (and more) into securing this degree because Lilith’s future – her very fate – hinged on her achieving the highest pass possible. She knew she’d done exceptionally well so far, just as she knew this was no guarantee against getting a First. So she couldn’t afford to leave anything to chance. Lilith would have to excel in her finals – and that meant not letting a moment’s prep go to waste. So those last weeks went by in a whirl of coffee, cramming and nocturnal consciousness.
… And then it was done. All over. The two weeks had passed in the blink of a bleary eye and Lilith was now free to do just as she pleased – except that, now she had every option at her fingertips, the only option she could see was to do nothing at all. Lilith was so used to having her days mapped out to the minute with activity, that the sudden shock of inactivity left her feeling fairly bewildered and lost. In fact, on the night of her final exam she was so shattered from her exertions that she skipped out on all the celebrations and went straight to bed, where she passed out as soon as her head hit the pillow… But the next night – when her brain and body were still bursting with wasted adrenaline – sleep seemed as intangible to Lilith as her hopes of securing that First. Lilith was finding it hard to adjust to the reality that her future was no longer in her hands. That she had done all she could to shape it and now it was up to someone else – some faceless, anonymous entity – to decide down which path her fate should be directed. She needed to find something else on which to focus, and her brief quest brought her to the living room, where she’d surrendered herself to the sofa, setting her eyes on the TV and yet seeing nothing beyond the depths of her doubts and fears. It was several hours later when her flatmate Ramona (who’d been out celebrating the conclusion of her psychology PhD) came home to find her friend still lying in a state of abject distraction. The newly-appointed doctor relished the opportunity to offer up her first diagnosis and told Lilith with absolute conviction that she was suffering from a case of Acute Sobriety, for which the only known cure was multiple doses of prosecco – to be administered immediately. Lilith was feeling too listless to argue, and was pleasantly surprised to find that, following her doctor’s advice (and two increasingly unsteady trips to the corner shop later) she was indeed feeling sufficiently medicated to achieve unconsciousness, and so staggered off to bed.
It was pitch black in her bedroom and yet, the moment she stepped inside, Lilith shut the door behind her to block out all the hall’s bright light. It was purely habit of course (and she was barely aware she’d done it) although she was soon wondering if, just this once, she might try something unheard of and let a little of its illumination in – for Lilith was struggling. Normally, she could undress herself in the dark with ease; but on this night, her clothes seemed to cling to her like ivy, whilst the floorboards rose up beneath like tree roots, trying to trip her up with every unsteady step; and that had never happened before. Not even after her twenty-first, when she was so hammered she’d put Weetabix in the toaster instead of bread and almost burnt the kitchen down. Lilith didn’t remember much about that night, but she remembered being safe in bed. But she didn’t feel safe now she felt… on edge. It was as though the night, under the cover of its inky obscurity, was turning her room against her; as though the darkness made her blind not only to the shapes of the world that surrounded her, but to the places within her, the paths that led to where her dreams dwelt.
As Lilith stumbled her way into bed, she knew she was drunk and in need of rest but above all, she knew she desperately needed to dream. She had to find those soothing visions of what was set to be; of her graduation day, and her parent’s pride at her achieving that First. She needed to feel the reassurance that her reality and fantasy were finally converging, that all she longed to be yet lay before her. So Lilith lay still and strove through the darkness in search of her dreams… but the the deeper she descended into herself, the more she felt afraid. What she was really searching for, what did she hope to find – was it her dreams, or something else…? Was she alone now, or was there something else waiting for her? There, in the darkness – in the corner of her room…
There was something there. She couldn’t see it, but she could feel it. She could feel its desire. It wanted to possess her and it was using Lilith’s source of solace against her, creeping it’s way towards her through the night. She didn’t know what it was, she only knew there was nothing she could do to stop it. She couldn’t move – she could barely breathe – and yet somewhere within her skin she was shivering with fear. The thing was almost on top of her now, close enough to smother her and screaming in her ears so violently that she felt it was already inside her head. Then it revealed itself: a white light, cold and malevolent, destroying her perfect darkness. As Lilith lay helpless beneath it, she heard it shriek in frustration as it seemed to press upon her lifeless body.
But then it was gone.
Lilith blinked into the shivering silence, too scared to move; her skin drenched in sweat and her breaths bursting their way out from her throat. Then she realized she was free. That her body was hers once more, and the entity had failed to claim her. So she tore back her bed sheets and burst out of her room into the hall’s blinding light.
It was hard to say who was more upset – the hysterical, naked Lilith or her astonished, inebriated flatmate. But after Ramona had covered her friend up a little (and calmed her down a lot) she managed to make Lilith describe to her what on earth it was that had happened; and when she heard her flatmate’s account, the Psychology student breathed a substantial sigh of relief. Lilith regarded her friend’s reaction with affronted bewilderment, which only deepened when Ramona (with an infuriating smile) explained that these inexplicable episodes Lilith had been experiencing were not (as Lilith had hoped) paranormal visitations, but a by-product of her brain’s inability to deal with the disturbances in her sleep patterns. Ramona noticed her flatmate’s displeasure, though she mistook it for confusion, and so to clarify matters she stated that it wasn’t a supernatural phenomena but a scientific one: namely, sleep paralysis.
No sooner had her flatmate uttered those two words than Lilith realized that she was about to be blinded by a bombardment of Psychobabble and in defiance, she all but put her fingers in her ears. But Ramona was equally determined to make her airy-fairy flatmate finally get a grip on reality – so the psychology student refused to give up. She subjected her flatmate to a relentless assault of evidence in support of her diagnosis (taken care to include cases which mirrored Lilith’s experiences almost word-for-word) until Lilith was forced to concede that her infuriatingly-rational flatmate was – probably – right. The final nail in the coffin for Lilith’s conviction (and the crowning glory of Ramona’s rationalization) was the lack of any time-lapse during Lilith’s apparent ‘abductions’. There simply hadn’t been enough time in each of the ‘abductions’ for the alleged ‘aliens’ to do anything – be it untoward or otherwise. And with her case thus concluded, Ramona sank back into the sofa and waited for her flatmate’s response. Lilith obstinately refused to answer straight away, and instead made a grand show of draining the last dregs from her fourth cup of tea… but then she set her cup down, and admitted Ramona was right. There was nothing otherworldly hiding in her room and there never had been. Everything that’d just happened, had only happened within the borders of Lilith’s brain. Ramona then tried to lift her flatmate’s spirits by assuring her that the human brain was, in fact, the most marvelous mystery of them all; to which the History of Art student sulkily shrugged her shoulders, then sloped off back to bed.
But sleep was proving to be the most contrary of companions for Lilith that night. She was thoroughly drained and longing to sink into sweet oblivion, yet her mind seemed unwilling to let her go. She tried, at first, to leave the bedroom door open; but found the abundance of light it let in far too distracting and, after a number of abortive attempts at keeping it a half/quarter/sixteenth open, she had to close it altogether. But that still didn’t seem to be enough because, no matter how Lilith lay – be it facing the door or turned away from it – she felt herself continually taunted by that crack of light which seemed to peer in at her from underneath it. So after an eternity of tossing and turning, Lilith threw back her bed sheet, yanked her dressing gown down from its hook and used it to blot out every trace of radiance. When she was finished, she clambered back onto her bed and lay there, prostrate on her back, and waited: waited for the waves of sleep to come wash over her, sending her down into the depths of her mind’s midnight zone, to that deep, dark sea where her luminescent dreams lived… but they wouldn’t come. Lilith, for the first time, was unable to drown in her darkness and instead found herself floating on the surface of sleep, staring up into that finite space beyond which she knew her bedroom ceiling to be. For Lilith knew that Ramona had forced her to confront the one thing she had done everything she could to avoid: the reality that, when dealing with the paranormal, nothing can be conclusively proved, only disproved. That all she’d spent her life doing was buying into other people’s daydreams and delusions to deflect her attention away from the shortcomings in her own life… And yet she was still determined not to admit defeat, simply because Lilith deeply resented watching while someone (even someone like Ramona) obliterated the mysteries of the universe one-by-one via the mechanics of a bullet-point list. Lilith wanted to cling a little longer to her childhood superstitions because they were, to her, a safety blanket to shield her from the unpalatable truths of adult life. She didn’t want everything to be made explicable, because that would then make the world wholly predictable; and Lilith needed to retain that sense of mystery now more than ever because (though she refused to admit it to herself) Lilith was experiencing that sense of anti-climax most burgeoning adults feel when they realize that maybe, just maybe, they might not become the super-spy ninja-ballerina that their pre-pubescent self assumed it was their destiny to be. Instead Lilith (like so many before her) found herself contemplating a reality in which she might have to settle for something a little more… achievable. Such as a Personal Assistant… or an office manager… or a shop assistant at H & M…
Lilith snorted contemptuously and rolled her eyes at the darkness, as though it was somehow sharing her scorn at her drunken, deluded brain. Of course she wasn’t going to take that job at H & M! That would be turning her back on her dreams and there was no way she was going to do that. Instead, Lilith resolved to carry on as planned by sticking with with her part-time job at the local boozer whilst she waited for one of those prestigious art museums to offer her a position. She’d applied to every one in the country and was therefore confident she’d get at least one job offer as a result. In fact (she told herself) they’d practically be biting her hand off to have her… After all, she’d been to a one of the top universities in the country and she was bound to get that First – not just bound to, she damn well deserved to get that First! And once she did, she’d get that coveted job, and after that the world would be her oyster… whatever that meant. Lilith never could understand why people favored that analogy. Why an oyster, of all things? It was such an odd choice of an organism; the only similarity she could see between an oyster and the world was that they were both mostly made of, like, cold, salty liquid – so how was that sodding inspirational…?
Realizing her thoughts were taking a turn for the absurd again, Lilith flung herself over onto her side and scowled into the night. She really wished she could just flip a switch inside her head and send her brain to sleep… but trying to force yourself to fall asleep is like trying not to think about pink elephants: the more you try, the less you succeed. So it went with Lilith that, rather than lulling herself into a slumber, she was working herself up into even more of a state, alternating between snorting contemptuously at the more realistic premonitions of her future, and those which depicted her as a senior curator at the National Gallery – and it was during one of these more outlandish daydreams (involving her single-handedly restoring Perugino’s Archangel Michael Panel) when the entity began to stalk her once more…
She felt it first; lurking just beyond the livid colors of her fantasy (that seemed to drain away into the darkness the moment it appeared). She couldn’t see it, of course, but she knew it was there; only this time it would be different because, armed with Ramona rationalization, Lilith felt she knew what was happening to her. So she wasn’t unduly concerned when she noticed a faint high-pitched whining, like that of a mosquito, gradually growing louder and louder. Nor was she alarmed to discover she no longer felt herself to be alone – though now she knew that this ‘presence’ was nothing more than a blending of her dream-world and the real world, a result of her ‘waking up mid-way through an abortive REM cycle’ she was determined not to fear it. Lilith told herself there was no need to try and escape the illusion that her imagination was tricking her into believing was real, because any attempt at fleeing it was pointless. She knew she wouldn’t be able to move – this was, of course, called sleep paralysis for a reason. Lilith knew she would remain paralyzed until the conflicting parts of her brain had managed to broker some sort of temporary peace; which would be indicated by that sudden, blinding flash of light. Then the shrill screaming would stop, the malignant presence disappear, and Lilith would regain control over her body… So she lay still and tried her best not to panic, as the tinnitus-like ringing in her ears became almost deafening – then, as if on cue, she saw a point of light opening up before her.
But it was the wrong kind of light.
It should materialize everywhere at once like a sheet of lightning that vanished as soon as it had appeared. But this light was slow, almost insidious… beginning in a pin-point of brilliance in the far corner of her room, then gradually expanding outward like an ink stain, spreading its way through her darkness in incandescent tendrils that tested, as though tasting, every millimeter of the space they encountered. The light moved as though it were alive, exploring everything it came across, every space, every surface… like it was searching for something.
Like it was searching for her.
As soon as the realization stole over her, Lilith panicked. She knew this wasn’t sleep paralysis; she wasn’t something scientific but something else, that couldn’t – that wouldn’t – be explained. She wanted to charge out of bed again, tear back her door and take shelter beneath the hall’s bright light. She wanted to scream for Ramona to come with her arsenal of rationality and obliterate this phantasm: yet Lilith knew there was nothing she could do. She couldn’t move and she couldn’t speak. She was utterly helpless… except… except this wasn’t sleep paralysis. This wasn’t her mind turning against her so perhaps, this time, she might move her body. Perhaps this time she might be in control…
Trying to keep calm, Lilith focused on her right hand and tried to move it – without hesitation, it flew out from beneath the covers and presented itself before her face almost as though it had a life of its own. She stared at it a moment, as if unable to comprehend that this apparition hanging patiently before her could belong to her; but then, without realizing what she was doing, she had pressed both hands beside her on the bed and pushed herself back up against the wall. Then, as she gazed down in perplexity over her pliant figure, Lilith realized at last that she wasn’t paralyzed. Yet she was so stunned by the revelation that she wasn’t being held against her will that she made no attempt to move. Lilith knew she should get away – back to that bright reality that beckoned to her from beyond her bedroom door – but she didn’t want to; at least, not yet. She wanted to stay and watch the light a little longer; those myriad luminescent fingers that caressed the darkness so tenderly they seemed to be making love to the midnight air. The light moved with a latent sensuality, weaving its way across her room like a sea of silk threads, inducing through its shimmering brilliance an unknown metamorphosis in every particle of matter, every atom of air it touched… As Lilith followed its languorous passage through the depths of the night, she understood that the light’s desire was to reach her, touch her, and transform her, too. Then she felt afraid; though her fear was of the kind one experiences before a long-anticipated event – the fear of finding the moment for which you have yearned for so long may yet be ruined by the unwavering indifference of reality. That her dreams might be prove insubstantial to take form beyond the realms of her fantasies… and so Lilith turned away from the light a moment, across to her bedroom door. It’s shape was still there, shrouded in darkness; the light had not ventured there. It seemed to be showing Lilith that she could, at any point, escape – if that should be her desire. As it slipped soundlessly across the room, the light sought nothing but her.
It was brushing gently against the edges of Lilith’s bed now, so close that she could easily reach out and touch it – and yet she shrank away from it instead, pushing herself back into the solid security of her bedroom wall, pulling her knees up and drawing her body close… feeling the quivering flesh of her thighs press against the cool skin of her belly. Yet despite the trembling that ran all over her puckered skin, Lilith felt a flush spreading through her like her whole body was burning with excitement. That a fire deep inside her had been awakened; a desire that could never be quenched, unless… then Lilith’s excitement became bittersweet by a fresh infusion of trepidation. For she she knew that once she touched this light, there would be no going back. Once they were joined together, she would belong to the light, as the it would belong to her – and she would no longer belong to the darkness. She couldn’t hold them both inside her, for the light cast no shadows into the darkness, and the darkness could not encroach into the light… though Lilith could barely see her darkness now. The light was surrounding her, weaving itself tight like a cocoon, yet still with that slender opening, that passage into oblivion through which she might safely slip away. Lilith understood the light would not make any attempt to impose itself upon her; that it must be left to her to decide whether to accept or reject its gifts. So slowly, cautiously, she raised her hand and reached towards it; and the light reciprocated instantly, moving gently towards her fingertips, flowing through the air, mimicking the shape of her hand, until it was poised millimeters away, the tips of its radiant fingers almost touching hers… Lilith held her whole body still. She could feel nothing radiating from the light; no heat, not even a hint of warmth, even though it was just a hair’s-breadth from her skin. She knew it wouldn’t hurt her, and yet… Lilith panicked, pulled her hand back and placed it somewhere safe; before the sanctuary that lay between her thighs. Something was wrong. Something didn’t feel right, because… because she wasn’t ready – at least, she wasn’t tonight. Maybe tomorrow night, when she would make sure she was sober, when she’d be prepared: but not tonight. Not tonight…
At the first sign of her distress, the light had mirrored Lilith’s movements and retreated back into itself. Yet it seemed unable to resist the promise – so nearly fulfilled – of her touch, and so ventured towards her once more. Softly, almost tenderly, it flowed downward, searching for that which had sought to summon it; coiling through the air, slipping softly between her thighs barely missing every inch of skin it passed, until the light came to where her hand was hidden… then stopped. Lilith watched with feverish excitement as the light began to tease through the tight breadth of air as though playing with itself; forming slender, beautiful shapes that spun languidly in and out of each other, pulsing towards her, then drawing back. The only barrier now that lay between Lilith and the light was a thin veneer of space. Keeping her body pressed against the wall, Lilith gazed into the light, trying to fathom its secrets, though all she could see within it was an exquisite web woven from her hopes, fears, dreams and desires. It was as though the light was a part of her, a part she had never known before that was too glorious to be real; and yet it seemed defiled somehow. The scar that showed her darkness still remained – yet now it seemed nothing more than a blight upon the light’s beauty. Lilith gazed now into all that was left of her former sanctuary and saw in its oblivion not a sea of infinite possibilities but a blank, black canvas, and she understood that now it was not the light that stained the darkness; it was the darkness that scarred the light.
Lilith looked into that bitter black rift and smiled. Then she whispered her last good-night and bid the light to heal itself. As the radiant threads wound themselves together and the last of the darkness disappeared, Lilith felt her whole body glowing with anticipation. The light was so close she could almost feel it brushing against the quivering tip of every downy hair on her body; yet still it held back, and toyed and teased itself between her thighs; still it waited for her… Lilith’s smile infused her whole body, as she opened her mouth and drew back her head. Then she opened up her hand and, her fingers trembling with delight, gently drew the light deep inside her…