The Night Man walks the winter dark, trailing mist and shadows, too tall and thin for an ordinary man and slightly translucent around the edges. No lock or bar can keep him out, and though a light might hold him at bay for a time, candles burn out and oil runs low, the wood in the hearth crumbles to embers. And he finds your guilt and shame delicious.
Wolf-like, he hunts with his nose; an unquiet conscience lures him with a scent that only he can smell. He waits for you to fall asleep. Then he scrapes his long bony fingers over your skin, feeling for the way in as he feasts on even the least bit of regret or culpability, sinking imperceptibly through flesh and bone, questing into your guts and your brain. He digs deeper with every scrap of contrition and remorse he finds, until those twig-like digits, half transparent, squeeze around your heart.
If you’re lucky, you’ll wake with a cold start of horror before that icy grip locks in place. If you’re lucky, you’ll only feel the hand slipping out of your body, leaving a polluted chill behind. They say that if you don’t wake in time, the Night Man will stop your heart.
The Night Man came from a land of winter rains. Frost crept over the window panes and silvered the ground with frozen sparkles, and ice formed around the edges of puddles, and the rain came freezing cold. But snow was unknown to the people there.
Midwinter arrived, cold and misty — Noctarodhe mety, they called it: Night Man weather. As the fog thickened, he came walking, and the candles in the houses guttered and blew out.
It was late enough that the streets should have been empty. Longest Night revelers were up late, gathered around their fireplaces, toasting the brighter days ahead. But children and drunks and lonely people slept, plenty of prey for the Night Man in his hunger.
As he walked, he came across a child standing alone in the street. “Why are you out so late, little one?” he asked. “Do your parents know where you are?” He sniffed, expecting a delectable waft of transgression — and could smell nothing but the cold winter air.
“I have none,” said the child. And no winter coat either, it seemed, and threadbare linen stiff with frost.
“Ah,” said the Night Man. “Well.” Perhaps such a child might be a thief, if only to survive? He shuffled closer and sniffed again, hoping for even a hint of humiliation or regret. Nothing. “Do you know who I am?” He stretched out a bony finger to touch the child’s thin torso, wanting at least to inspire fear.
“I am not afraid of you,” said the child, and the Night Man snatched his hand back, gazing in alarm at the smoking blackened tip of his finger. “See? I can warm your hand, though I can’t warm your cold heart.”
“How did you do that?!”
The child just cocked an eyebrow at the Night Man. “Go back to your darkness, Noctarodhe. You’re not wanted here.”
The Night Man crossed his arms and turned away from the child, in the manner of a cat who meant to spill the cream. “I don’t need one odd little brat for my feasting. Run away; there are more than enough dark hearts waiting for me in the shadows of the Longest Night.”
“Leave them be.”
“And you’ll stop me how?” the Night Man asked with a sardonic grin. He raised his head, sniffing, then strode off down the street, looking up at the houses and rubbing his bony hands.
“I call the snow,” said the child, just loudly enough that the Night Man heard him and looked back to see him reaching skyward with both hands. And the first white feathery flakes began to fall.
“What is this?” asked the Night Man, brushing snowflakes off his shoulders.
“Snow for forgiveness, snow for compassion.” The snow fell faster, sticking blue-white on the ground. “Snow for those who need a fresh start.” A thick blanket formed, reflecting light bright as day. “Snow for all who need a bit of magic and new hope in their lives.”
“Who are you?”
“The opposite of you,” said the child, who didn’t look at all like a child any longer.
And the Night Man roared and gnashed his teeth in frustration, because the brightness of the snow hurt him. He shielded his eyes with his long bony hands, and skulked back to his lair in the dark woods to wait for another day.
So as the Longest Night draws in, gather round the fire. Stay awake as long as you can. Forgive those who have offended, let quarrels be mended. Find peace, look forward to the brighter days. And hope for snow, because the Night Man is out there.
Kella Campbell mostly writes about love and its related entanglements, though not always. She can usually be found in Vancouver, Canada.