He was small and afraid and the dark was terribly massive. It stretched on before him, past the porch light, past the porch, into what were empty fields in the day and vacuous, abysmal, pits on that cloudy night. The trash bag was heavy in his hand and the thin plastic was stretching and ripping. He knew that if he did not run to the trashcan now, the bag would rip open. He knew that if he did not run to the trashcan now, the night would consume him.
Outside of the porch light, down the wooden steps to the yard, things moved in the black. Wolves, or worse than wolves, paced the boundaries of the light with lolling tongues, waiting for him to gather his courage. Be brave, he thought they said. Come into the dark. We are only your imagination and we cannot hurt you. Be brave. Be brave. Be brave. But he was not brave and so he stared into the dark with the trash bag drooping in his hands, unable to move. If the bag ripped, his mother would be very angry with him, and it would rip soon if he did not run into that hungry night.
He could see it, of course. The trash can. It sat only a few feet away from the porch, tinted ever-so softly blue by what little starlight eased through the clouds that night. But a few feet were many when they were filled with wolves, or worse than wolves. A tiny hole appeared in the neck of the trash bag, where it stretched with its own weight. He sucked in a deep breath and took a single step away from the porch light. Something snapped at him, but it made no sound and it was gone as soon as it had come. He closed his eyes and took another step. Be brave, someone said and he thought it might have been himself.
They came for him, then, in the almost dark, only in his imagination they were not bound by any rules. They came from the fully lit porch behind him. They came swooping down from the black sky. They crept down the tree that grew up out of the center of the porch. They came running for him and he was too proud to scream. Big boys aren’t afraid of the dark! he thought, but his legs were running and he was stuffing the nearly torn trash bag into the receptacle before he could think how silly he must look. He lept from the bottom of the steps to the porch and swung through the open sliding glass door into the house. He did not look through the glass into the night as he slid the door shut.
From behind him, his mother said, “Can you take this one out too?”
His eyes widened and his heart continued to pound in his chest. In the darkness the wolves, or worse than wolves, laughed at him. They laughed and rolled on the lawn and howled and jumped and snapped their teeth at the air. His lips became a thin line and he turned to his mother, the color slowly draining from his face.
“Yeah, I guess,” he said.