The Night Lands

by Norah Deay



Everybody knew nobody lived in the Night Lands.


 Just past the derelict prison on the highway out of town, the night lands weren’t much more than a few acres, but it was enough to give the locals the heebie jeebies. From the road (because nobody ever set foot in there) it looked like a giant lightning strike had wiped out every blade of grass, every bush, tree, and animal so that nothing could, or would, live there. And yet…


Jimmy King believed that if he could only get over the incline marking the horizon, he would see a different world. He had listened at night when no cars travelled the deserted road and there was nothing to disturb the silence. A low hum seemed to come from the direction of the horizon, but it was so indistinct Jimmy couldn’t be sure he wasn’t imagining it.


Whatever was out there didn’t need light because even the stars didn’t shine over the night lands. The sky looked as if someone had punched a hole in it and was stretching the hole wide to keep the stars back as they crowded up against the edge.


Jimmy had a torch, strong boots and a switchblade tucked into his jacket pocket on the night he decided to go over the incline. He stepped cautiously off the grassy berm at the side of the road and into the night lands. His feet crunched on the bone-dry surface and a musty smell tickled his nostrils as he inched his way forward. He walked for what felt like hours, the landscape eerily silent, his only companion the hum in the distance. The incline seemed to stretch on forever, but Jimmy was determined to reach the top. He wondered if he was the first person to step foot on the night lands. He imagined he was on a far-off planet, exploring a new world where no light could penetrate.


As he neared his goal, the air seemed to thicken around him, charged with static. The hairs on his arms and neck bristled, and his spine tingled. He felt as if he were wading through waist-deep water. The ground beneath his feet pulsed to a steady rhythmic beat, matching the distant hum in his ears. It was as if the land itself were alive, although people often said that about New Zealand.


Then, abruptly, the incline ended, and Jimmy barely caught himself from stumbling into a black void. The ground fell away sharply, plunging into an impenetrable darkness. Exhausted from scrambling over loose rocks and branches for almost two hours, he clung to the narrow path like a lifeline. His heart pounded. He swung his torch in an arc, right to left, left to right. The light cut through the darkness, illuminating an astonishing sight. Below, stretching as far as his torchlight could reach, was a sprawling cityscape bathed in a ghostly glow. Buildings unlike any he had ever seen rose from the ground with gleaming spires and elegant arches. He directed the torch away from the sight and immediately, it disappeared back into the blackness. Jimmy instinctively knew this was why there were no stars above; nothing could be seen so long as there was darkness.


This isn’t home. A wave of awe washed over Jimmy. This isn’t our world. The night lands weren’t empty after all—they were inhabited by another civilisation of tiny people; lithe beings moving among buildings which could only be between one and two feet tall at most. Jimmy watched entranced as the lights flickered on and off here and there throughout the city and faint shimmering figures moved among them.


Jimmy’s breath caught in his throat. Who were they? Why had they hidden themselves away? And more importantly, were they friendly?


He forced himself to be calm and scampered down the hill like a spider. As he neared the city, the figures became clearer. They were humanoid but their skin glowed softly, casting light on their surroundings. The lights didn’t come from the buildings, they came from these people – they carried their own illumination within them.


To Jimmy’s surprise, they seemed unfazed by his presence. Instead, they regarded him with curiosity, their luminous eyes reflecting the light from his torch. Then, one of them stepped forward. It reached out, not in a threatening gesture, but with an open hand. Jimmy hesitated for a moment, then slowly extended his own hand. The figure touched him, and a jolt of energy surged through his body. It was not painful, but rather invigorating like cool water flowing over his skin on a hot summer day. Instead of an explanation in words, images flooded his mind, stories of a realm that lived in harmony with the night, harnessing its energy and cultivating its own light to create their own ecosystem strong enough to keep them safe and secure in this secret world. This city in the Night Lands was like the afterlife’s waiting room, and the glowing inhabitants were souls waiting for their assignments back on Earth.


Jimmy felt a slight pressure against his hand.  The figure had stepped closer to him, and it looked deep into Jimmy’s eyes. It nodded, as if acknowledging his understanding. Jimmy looked around him, seeing the night lands in a new light. These beings of the night were thriving in a world where even the stars didn’t shine. Jimmy felt humbled and honoured to know their secret.


He turned and headed back up the hill, looking back one last time at the glowing population casting long shadows against the backdrop of the night. The figure that had shared its knowledge with him stood watching, a silent guardian in the quiet city.

At the top of the incline, he had to pass between two squat rocks. Their energy rippled across his skin, humming all along its length like some invisible wind chime and he held out his hands to stare in awe at the light that came from within. Once he’d passed through the rocks the light disappeared and Jimmy grinned. It felt like he’d been gifted the experience in exchange for his silence.


His journey was quicker going back, the downward momentum combined with the adrenalin that still flooded his veins gave Jimmy’s feet wings as he ran down. The hum of the city was quieter now, but still present, like a best friend at his side. He wondered if he would still hear it as he used to, a reminder of the secret world beyond the hill.


Once he reached the road, the Night Lands were once again swallowed by darkness, the stars hesitating at the edge of the hole. Jimmy’s eyes raked the starry sky above him, a small smile playing on his lips. The night lands were not empty; they were filled with life, with light, with secrets. He felt privileged to carry this secret, a lone keeper of an incredible truth.


It was an easy secret to keep because everyone knew no one lived in the night lands.