Solomon Tunde was afraid of the dark. Indoor darkness was bad enough, but out here in the vast northern Nevada country the night seemed to descend upon the modest roadside motel where he worked in a crushingly inescapable blanket, forcing Tunde to turn the motel lobby into a veritable sanctuary for light.
Nyctophobia. The fear of the dark. Millions of people around the world shared his fear but the overwhelming majority of them were children.
Tunde was fifty seven.
He was deeply ashamed of himself, not only because of his irrational fear but also his unwillingness to talk about it to anyone. On nights like this one, where the overcast skies blocked even the slimmest of moonlight and the darkness was as perfectly profound as the farthest reaches of outer space Tunde wished that his beloved wife Myriam was still at his side to offer support but ever since she was taken by that damned cancer two years ago the nights seemed colder, lonelier, and oh so much darker.
Solomon Tunde was so big that it was a surprise that he was scared of anything. At six foot three Tunde was as round and solidly built as if he were carved out of a block of pure ebony onyx and during his younger and more virile days he had served two tours of duty in Vietnam, trekking through dense, darkened jungles with his fellow marines. He did not know the cause of his irrational fear, after all he had suffered no long term PTSD from the war and while there wasn't a day that he didn't miss his Myriam he had cried all of his tears long ago and trudged on and he would trudge on now.
He refused to let his fear consume him.
Intent on keeping his mind far from the thought of darkness Tunde busied himself around the motel office, working with a can of furniture polish, buffing the surface of the great oak desk to a new sheen. His eyes darted to the window and while the curtains were drawn he could see the sliver of night peeking through the threshold, he could feel it pressing against the glass, pulsing, forbidding...
Tunde turned on the radio to distract himself from his thoughts and the motel lobby was serenaded by the smooth voice of Marvin Gaye.
A pair of headlights broke through the darkness outside and pulled into the parking lot of the motel. Tunde let out a sigh of relief and pulled the guest registry from under the desk. As silly as it was he felt just a little safer when he was not alone, even if it was a total stranger sleeping under the same roof as him.
The front door opened, and Tunde flinched as if the night outside would pounce panther like into his office. The door mercifully closed quickly and a woman entered into the lobby.
She was about ten years younger than Tunde, white, with long albeit lusterless and limp brown hair and plain drab clothing. Admittedly she was not much to look at but she was in reasonably good shape and had a soft, youthful face that scanned the lobby quizzically.
A tinge of embarrassment jolted Tunde and he could feel himself start to perspire. It's the lights she's looking at. A squat fluorescent light perched on the oak desk, a floor lamp glowed in the corner of the lobby, next to the magazine rack glowed a trio of ceramic lights with three way bulbs turned all the way up and the frosted glass ceiling fixtures spilled light from above.
The woman came to the counter and smiled kindheartedly. She had a very pleasant smile.
"If you're looking for more of a tan you should get out more, plenty of sun in Nevada." She said.
Tunde shrugged nonchalantly and said, "I try to stay away from sun tanning, gives your skin cancer you know." He returned her smile and despite all of the lights in the lobby her eyes, deep and blue, shined brightest of all.
"You got any vacancies?" she asked, still smiling.
"Yes ma'am." He flipped the registry towards her. "Just need your signature right here, thirty bucks a night, free cable and complimentary breakfast included."
"Honey after driving all day I'll settle for a sleeping bag and pillow!" She signed her name and fished through her purse as Tunde took the ledger and began to type out her receipt. She had a very pretty and legible signature that read 'Sandra Morris'.
"So what brings you to Nevada Sandra?"
"Oh just driving back from Vegas after visiting my son and his fiancee. And please, call me Sandy."
"Well its nice to meet you Sandy, my name is Solomon. So did you hit the jackpot out there?"
"God no! But the only thing worse than my luck at the casino is my luck with the men, nothing but sleaze balls and high rollers."
"Sorry to hear that, but maybe if you keep looking you'll hit it big in the most unlikely of places."
Her smile grew wider and for once Tunde was glad to have the motel lobby irrationally lit as the excess light brought a new found sheen to her hair and made her eyes twinkle like stars.
"What about you Mr. Solomon, ever win big with some traveling desperate housewife?"
Tunde chuckled, "nah, I've been out of the game for a while now. I used to run this place with my wife but she's...passed now. Breast cancer."
A flash of hurt played across her face, "oh you poor thing, I'm so sorry. I lost my husband ten years ago but sometimes I feel like I just heard the news yesterday, I mean does it ever really get any better?"
"I hope so Sandy, Lord knows I do."
Neither spoke for a moment, and then Sandy began to sing along to the radio in a soothing voice that seemed to melt at his heart strings.
"Lonely lover crying through the night cause the one you love has left you/ lonely lover crying alone in the dark, your singing just breaks my heart."
Not willing to be outdone Tunde swooned the next line as smooth as silk, "I hear you crying from across the street, it keeps me awake unable to sleep/ I close my window, not wanting to hear, still your cries echoes in my ears."
Sandy giggled and said, "tall, dark, handsome, and has the voice of an angel! Maybe today is my lucky day."
While their flirtations were innocent enough, Tunde had not had this much fun with a woman since Myriam was alive and now this stranger, this utterly perfect stranger had bought a light into his life that had been missing for a long time.
The lights flickered for one brief, agonizing moment.
All of the joy, the smiles, and the laughter seemed to sluice from Tunde's body and was replaced with a cold numbness as palpable as ice water. He averted Sandy's eyes and fumbled for her room key, his thoughts once more fixated on the darkness.
"Late on the electricity bills?" Sandy joked, but then her smile melted into a look of concern as if she could see, oh God she could see how unnerved he had become. "Solomon are you OK? You're shaking." The radio had stopped playing Marvin Gaye and emitted nothing but cold, dead static.
"Y-yeah, I'm f-fine," Tunde stammered. "just a little power surge, we get them every once in a while, no big deal."
He wished she would just leave, to leave him alone in his shameful self pity, but she stood unwavering under the intense light and the look of sympathy in her clear, blue eyes was the last thing Tunde ever saw when the lights flicked off again and stayed off, casting them both in perfect blackness.
The fear that gripped Tunde's heart was shockingly profound. His lungs ached for air, as if a vice had entrapped his organs and the sweat poured from his body in thick, nauseating rivulets.
Tunde did the only thing he could do.
"Solomon! Oh my God Solomon it's OK! It's only the dark!"
Sandy's pleas fell on deaf ears as Tunde blindly threw himself against the desk and crashed to the floor in a futile attempt to escape from the darkness. His cries became an unquenchable whimper that caught in his throat and came out as gasping rattles. The dark, as tangible as mist, slid upon him, through him, intolerably deep waves of blackness that seemed to seep into his very soul and replace it with the night itself.
All of his shame, his sorrow, his fears and his pain slowly began to ebb way to a seething anger that festered in his heart and boiled over so fiercely it escaped his mouth in a low hiss.
The LED light of a phone slashed through the darkness and Sandy screamed in pure, bloody murder as she stared into the face of the thing that had once been Solomon Tunde, a wild vaguely human visage of pure hatred. Her cellphone spiraled through the air as the Nightman pounced panther like from its crouch into her ribs, shattering them instantly. The Nightman howled, its wail full of indefinite bloodlust as if it were the voice of the night.