He came in the Darknight, then time when ice settled into the bones of the earth and winter’s breath coated the world in white and blue. He came silently, the soft crunch of snow the only betrayal of his arrival.
Visitors never came during the Darknight, when candles were lit, food hoarded throughout the year was brought to table, and liquors were served piping hot. During Darknight the sun never rose, the River of Color danced on the horizon and the stars watched your every move. It was a time when you did your best to keep the strangeness outside and the familiar tucked safely inside.
No one moved to answer the knock on the door. Glances were exchanged, each seeking out the brave soul who would move first, perhaps seeking comfort in a time of sudden discomfort.
I rose first.
Once inside, our visitor shed his parka, revealing a brittle, elderly man with a thick grey beard and eyes that glittered like stars. We offered food and drink and he told us wild tales of weeks spent out in the Darknight, alone, without food or shelter.
“The Darknight feeds me,” he said. “And in return, I feed it.”
A carved stick no longer than his forearm always remained in one hand. He held it in his lap, beneath the table where it would be inappropriate and obvious should anyone dare try to look at it.
Deep into the night, as the fire died down and children dozed in their parents’ arms, he started singing. The words were nothing I had ever heard before, a haunting chant punctuated by the steady tap of his stick as he knocked the butt of it against the table. The fire popped and cracked, sparks flew up into the air and it seemed, for a brief moment, that fey light danced along the dark ceiling above us. No one noticed the drop in temperature, no one saw their breath cloud before them.
He kept up his song as he rose from his chair and drew on his parka, a dark figure among sleeping shapes. I followed him out, my heart beating in time with the rhythm of his song.
The Darknight had changed. Trees coated in ice shone with tendrils of fire snaking through their trunks, branches and needles. The River of Color was more brilliant than I’d ever seen it and it painted purples, greens, blues and crimsons across the black velvet canvas speckled with stars. A white fox darted past, its eyes like embers. Snow sizzled under its paws and steam curled into the air.
The strange fell silent. He was gone.
I stood in the snow, shivering with cold and adrenaline. The fire in the trees and the glow in the fox’s eyes burned out little by little until there was nothing left but cold blue ice.
No one saw the River of Color retreat.
No one saw the sun rise above the horizon.
No one heard the echoes of the stranger’s song as light flooded into the world.