It was a Dark and Stormy Night

Nothing like a classic opening line to get the MONSTER juices flowing, so today my Monster Meditation is on the quality of darkness. Not all darkness is created equal — some darkness is simply scarier and it seems to hold the promise of mystery and mischief.

Ambient light erodes the depth of darkness in cities. It also hides the stars. I love the night sky in the countryside. A few years ago I was in Umbria in the late spring, staying at a villa up in the hills above Lago Trasimeno. (Believe me, I daydream about La Rogaia, the herbs outside my window scenting the morning air and the sky alive with stars at night.)

Far from any source of light, the depth of the darkness was extraordinary. Driving on a narrow road through the woods on the way back from Perugia, a porcupine skittered across the road — a scary sight when you’re inclined to let your imagination roam. What else lurked in those woods?

In October, the darkness caused by hurricane Sandy in New York, made my neighborhood a scary place. Each night of the blackout (for me it was five) I walked downtown from the “power zone” to the “powerless zone” and into the dark. It was creepy. My familiar corner was suddenly threatening. The ambient light of the city that usually fills the shadows was gone. Flickering candles, flashlights and emergency lights in windows, just created more shadowy figures. More fear not less! Inside was almost as scary as outside. Climbing the darkened stairwell by flashlight and hearing footsteps before seeing a neighbor emerging from the darkness above or below. It was a nightmarish commute up and down.

Moisture adds texture to darkness. The morning fog deepens the darkness near dawn. You can easily imagine a night creature hurrying home in a protective low-lying cloud. After a hazy, hot & humid (HHH) summer day in New York, the humidity turns the night into a backdrop for real and imagined monsters. It feels like there is a heavy theater curtain just beyond your reach. In the dry cold darkness of winter, drops of rain hit the freezing cold air and turn to snow. It is a lovely sight — until it’s not. Snow, in the city or countryside, can be sinister at night. It hides — everything.

All darkness is not equal, but all darkness is home to MONSTERS!


  1. What a beautiful essay on the dark! Where I live we’re about 30km from the centre of the city and on some nights the sky is so clear you can actually see the Milky Way. The nights I don’t go out that much are the ones when it’s pitch black and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. On those nights, trudging out to the road pulling a rubbish bin is kind of scary, especially when my two black cats decide to join me. 😉

  2. Good job on this one Candy. Very insightful and thought provoking. I used to live on Long Island, NY and I remember going through the same things after a few hurricanes and one or two ice storms. The cold during those ice storms really added to the atmosphere you described.

    • Candy

      Parts of Long Island were hit very hard by Sandy. I have friends who were left “powerless” for weeks and some even homeless for real. Summer morning fog on Eastern L.I. is very special to me. It’s like driving into a cloud and then it burns off as the day goes on. And ICE STORMS! The trees were transformed into menacing beasts with icicle coatings. Very scary.

      Thanks for connecting with my dark & stormy nightmares.

  3. Your thoughts of the “power” and “powerless” zones reminds me so poignantly of how much a place changes when the lights go out.

    Years ago when I was a shift supervisor in a plastics factory I worked second shift. During weekend work there were many times that I was alone when I had to shut the entire building down. This building was well over 200,000 square feet (very large open pole barnesque). And had so very many places for bogeys to hide. I got to a point, while roaming around in the dark with little but a flashlight making sure the doors were locked, that I started carrying a lead pipe for just in case moments.

    • Candy

      I can’t blame you for carrying the pipe. The familiar becomes frightening when the lights go out. A dear friend had just arrived from Berlin (she works all over the world and has a little apartment in Berlin & one in the East Village near me) and after one night alone in my dark place with my cat, we decided to be “storm refugee buddies” and we arranged to walk downtown together in the dark and she stayed on my sofa — her place was further east where there was flooding and the rats were running in the streets at night!!! Ugh! Her husband kept skyping from Germany that he was looking for flights back to Europe or hotel rooms in NYC in the “power zone” but she had to keep telling him that both of his options were out of the question. Neither was going to happen. We managed OK. I really feel sorry for the folks who lost their homes entirely or who spent weeks in the dark. Five days was more than enough for me.

  4. Your post makes me wonder how often people ponder the varying degrees of darkness they encounter? Sure, we’ve all given a passing not to how dark and speckled with stars the country sky can be, but to truly assess the impact of darkness on one’s psyche? Your blog post could become a full-fledged feature essay!

    When I was little, I remember being both scared and fascinated with all variety of darkness that came with visiting my grandpa’s cabin in northwest Montana. One of my most succinct memories is of bouncing up and down an an inner-tube with some of my cousins and then noticing how absolutely huge and diamond like the north star looked. I could write so much on this, and in a way I am, since the fear of the dark Montana night has inspired me to write Lost Girl Road.

    • Candy

      Darkness has the capacity to impact our conscious, unconscious and sub-consciouness, too. What lurks in the darkness? What hides there just beyond our ability to see, but we still sense on a visceral level? That’s where stories are born. Don’t you think?

      I love the fact that you are tapping into your vivid memories of the fearful darkness of a Montana night for your novel!

  5. I love the tales or movies that start with, “It was a dark and stormy night or “Long ago, or “In a mystic and dark land far far away lived and evil old troll or ugly mean old nasty witch or sorceross. I love reading scary book curled up by anything that provides warmness and I love watching scary tales on the tube in winter at night. The creature features comes on late at night and usually, it shows some creepy monster scurrying away from danger or impending danger about to happen to the victim.

    • Candy

      Winter darkness really is special. It’s the quiet of a winter night, combined with the intense darkness. Umm… I feel a story coming on.