Her name was not Helen then. Not until much later. I cannot tell you what her name was then – and for that matter I do not think that then, I should even have called her 'her' - so we shall call her Helen. Helen she is now and Helen may she remain.
Nor can I truly describe to you the place we were then, before she was Helen, and before I was as I am. Human minds, I think, lack a true frame of reference for it, or I the words to describe it. It was darkness, and infinite depth, deeper than the darkest gulfs of the ocean, and we in it as fishes, perhaps, for it was formless, and yet, in it there were towers, cities, hills, though they too were somehow insubstantial, like images seen in a fire...in truth, I am no longer sure, sometimes, that I myself remember it rightly. Sometimes. When with the passing of time I have almost forgotten that I was ever anything but this, and that that place was anything but a half-remembered dream.
Then the nightmares come, and I remember, and I know that I was there. And that though we may be free of it now, we are not, and we never were, so human as we pretend.
There, then, we were. Helen – though, as I said, that was not her name then – was there from the beginning, she must have been, though I did not always know her. There were many of us, in that place, and had been since the beginning. It was not as if we could leave. And even if we could, we did not know where we could go. We did not know, even, exactly where it was we were, though we called it ours. I suppose that may be why we called it ours – it is with us as with you, that to name a place as your own, to call it home, is to know where you are: you are here, after all.
We had nowhere else to be, and so we made the best of what we had, and it was all we knew.
Some of us remembered, dimly, as if a half-forgotten dream, that once, perhaps, we had been somewhere else. Somewhere so beautiful it made us sad to remember, though it was hard to call it clearly to mind, after a while, and because we could not recall it clearly and because it hurt to speak of it, we gradually forgot it. And where we were was all there was, then.
Then Helen came to me, and whispered, in the silence and the dark, “...do you remember?”
And the words fell into my mind like stones into a deep, deep, well, and the ripples of it spread, and I saw, dim and misty and vague with time and distance, things I had long forgotten. Things that were beautiful beyond all the imaginings of this place, and things I yearned, sudden and strong, to see again in truth.
And there was silence, and I answered, finally, slowly, “Yes.”
And Helen's joy danced like a firefly in the dark, and she said to me, “come, then.”
And she seized me and I ran with her, and no-one followed us. We ran alone, through that night, and everything around us seemed frozen, as if the world held its breath for us as we tempted the abyss. The great arch of the gate swung high above us – but though it stood open, the gate never stood unguarded, and, afraid, we would have stopped, but through the gate and far ahead we saw, for the first time in an eternity of dark, the distant starlight.
Helen glowed with joy, reflecting that light, and hand in hand we leaped towards the gate. But as we did a shadow flickered across the face of the stars, and once more we were plunged into darkness, a darkness that had never seemed so suffocating as now, in the memory of light. And with the darkness, came the fear, settling over us like a suffocating web. Fear, unnatural fear, such as we had never known, tangled us in its grip, chilled us through and turned our joyous flight to a plunging fall.
I would have turned and fled without a thought, what we sought forgotten, but Helen held me tight. And we took another step towards the gate, and Helen turned, and would have run, but I held her, and she stayed. And step by step we stumbled onward, through the horror that guards the gate.
Lost in that miasma, there was nothing but the darkness and the fear, and the fear was the darkness, and the darkness the fear. If you have ever woken at night, and thought you saw something in the corner of your room, if, walking at night on a lonely path, a cloud has covered the moon and in the dark you were sure someone walked behind you, though you knew you were alone, if you have ever sat with a dying fire your only light as the shadows flicker across the walls, you know the slightest taste of it. It is the primeval fear, it is the unknown lurking in the shadows, the predator that dogs your steps unseen, it is in your bones and in your blood, this fear, through you have never truly met it – something in you knows, that it lurks, there by the gate, and if it should venture forth -
That is the thing that guards the gate. Its furthest tentacles sprawl across space, their touch a warning – stay away.
There are few who will not heed that warning.
Helen and I know why, as few ever will.
It is horror beyond horror, fear beyond fear. It is not despair. Despair is kinder. Despair believes it can fall no further. This horror is the knowledge that you will always fall, and it will always fall with you. It will bind you, tangle you, suffocate you, and it will never leave you, and there will be nothing in the universe for you but the fear and the dark.
Helen and I walked into that night.
And when we could walk no further, we crawled.
There was nothing but the dark, nothing but the fear. Our minds slipped from us, until we knew nothing but screaming terror, our hearts were worn away like rocks in a river, until we felt nothing but the echoing fear. Our selves left us and our souls left us and all awareness left us, and we were left nothing but each other – for still we lay hand in hand, and I knew Helen and Helen knew me and we sank into each other until we were one and even the dark could not come between us, could not tear us apart, though it sank into every crevice of our twinned being, permeated us through and through until we were the dark and the dark was us and light was beyond our conception.
And then, after an eternity, the darkness was no longer everything.
Still it bound us and still it caged us and still we struggled in its grasp, but rather than a shroud it was a cage, now, and through the bars we could see the stars again. And we fought it then, fought for the stars and for each other when we had lost all will to fight for ourselves.
And finally its grip was weakened and we ran on, and did not look back at the dark or at the gate or the shadows that pursued us, that we could feel snapping at our heels - the fear held us that much, and it always will. Its touch will never leave us, its tendrils are bound tight around our hearts to this day. So if you wonder why in my house the lamps are always burning, why I start at shadows – it is the tentacles of nightmare that stroke me then, that whisper in my soul that I will never be entirely free of their embrace.
But there are always the stars.
And Helen and I crawled out of that night and into the starlight, and the cosmos danced around us, and we danced in it in the joy of existence. And before us, the sun blazed, and the Earth hung great and blue and wonderful in space. And the universe was full of light.
The Earth drew us and we flew to it, and then there was rushing and and falling and flying and we were insubstantial still, things not of this world, but as the ground came up to meet us we came to meet it and hand in hand we fell through more than the sky, we fell through dimensions and shapes and all the veils of existence, and when we landed -
- we landed, hand in hand, in glorious white and we ploughed a furrow through it and we were as solid and real and true as it was (remember, though, that snow will melt in your hand).
And Helen let go of my hand, and I let go of hers, because we no longer needed a tether, because we had legs to stand with and ground to stand on, because we knew beauty now as we knew horror.
And Helen danced in the snow and she was joy and life and love, and she kicked up showers of diamonds, and she stuck out her tongue and let the snow melt on it, and her laughter rang through the mountains. And I loved her, loved her with all that there was of my soul, for she had brought me through the darkness, as I had brought her, and without the other neither would have survived.
But she turned and her eyes met mine and the laughter died from her face, and I know that she saw the smile slip from my lips. Because each of us saw in the other's eyes the knowledge of the dark. And the memory of that night will always sit behind our eyes, for those to see who know. And in the darkness we were each other's light, but now in the light we are each other's darkness.
And that journey bound us together too deep to part, but when we are together the sunlight is dimmed with memory, and the shadows grow towards us like vines, and in the corners of our eyes the creeping horror comes.
If you walk at night on a lonely road, you will feel the nightmare behind your shoulder. But you, who have never walked through the true dark, will never meet that nightmare face to face. If you turn and look, the road behind you is empty, and you are alone.
Helen and I, we see the nightmare behind each other's shoulder, behind each other's eyes. I look at her and I see behind her the darkness crawl, and I know she sees the same when she looks at me. We who have passed through the gates of night know that darkness too well, and what has been seen cannot be unseen.
Hand in hand we faced the darkness, and back to back we fought our demons. But face to face we cannot bear to stand, though we yearn for each other, though I will always carry part of her with me, and she will always carry a part of me with her.
But alone we walk the earth, and in the light of the sun we try to forget the dark.