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We Are the Dark by Leanbh Pearson

The firelight drew us to you. We move through the trees, slipping between shadows and the darkest darkness. Below us, the fire is brighter. Some of us shrink back into the trees. We watch and chitter amongst ourselves, just beyond the range of your human hearing.

But still, you shift uncomfortably on the ground and inch closer to the fire seeking comfort in the light.  

You reek of fear and sweat beads prickle across on your skin. A few of you look casually over your shoulders just in case you catch movement from us. Eyes bright with fear, your eyes search but have no chance in finding us secluded in the shadows. But you know we’re here. The raising of hairs across the back of your neck.  The sensation of being hunted. 

The rest of us move closer to the edges of the forest and draw in all your different smells. Fear mostly, but each of you have individual scents too. We hunt as a group but have our own targets for tonight’s feast.

Firelight pains our eyes, but we endure it. One of you grabs a small branch and stabs at the fire in fearful frustration. Embers burst upwards and into the sky and we cling to the darkness. The space around the camp is illuminated. 

Those of you not paralysed by fear take the brief moment of sudden light to track us down.

Shifting shadows and creatures that might be visible against the dark tree trunks. None of you glance to the shadows bleeding from beneath rocks and logs. We surround you, and your primitive senses barely know it. Our long tongues flick quickly to taste the air. The delicious aroma of anger, frustration and hopelessness. A hunt is always the same. Your human senses too dull to know you’re prey until the last moments like these. 

A branch cracks in the fire, collapsing the logs. Firelight flares into a raised colour of light with sparks and embers blown across the camp. You huddle behind your arms, shielding your eyes from the firelight. We cling to the shadows and wait for the light to pass.

“What are those things?”

“Bats?”

We chitter in amusement that we could be something as innocuous as bats. 

“I’ve not seen a bat the entire time we’ve been here. This forest is weird, wrong.”

One of you shrugs and moves to the edge of the firelight. So close we can hear the blood racing through his body and the unsteadiness of his breathing.

“I don’t think there’s anything here but our own imagination.”

If that is true, we are nightmares. We swoop from the shadowed trees and scuttle forward from inky darkness surrounding the campfire.

We are the hunger of the night. Drops of human blood spill across the fire and scorch in the frenzied attack. We will feast until gluttonous, crawl back to the shadowed hollows and hedges of the land you stole from us. 

We are the nightmares carried in your hearts and given form at night to drink and feast as we once did with keen abandon.

About the author
Leanbh Pearson (she/her) lives on Ngunnawal Country in Canberra, Australia. An award-winning LGBTQI and disability author of horror and dark fantasy, her writing is inspired by folklore, fairytales, myth, history and climate. She’s judged the Australian Shadows Awards, Aurealis Awards, an invited panelist and member of the AHWA, CSFG, Australian Fairytale Society, British Fantasy Society, HWA and SFWA. Leanbh has been awarded AHWA and HWA mentorships, nominated for the Ditmar Awards and winner of AHWA Robert N Stephenson Flash Fiction Story Competition. Leanbh’s alter-ego is an academic in archaeology, evolution and prehistory. Follow her at www.leanbhpearson.com | Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & Threads @leanbhpearson