The basement was dark.
This, in itself, was unremarkable. Most basements are dark. They’re sort of known for it. If you asked fifty people the first word that comes to mind when they hear “basement,” then “dark” would make the top five.
But there’s dark, and then there’s dark.
This dark was more than a simple absence of light. It was thick, and heavy, and it curled around your limbs and seeped into your lungs. It made you wonder if your eyes had really ever worked, or if vision had all just been the distant dream of a fevered imagination. It was a dark so intense, you felt it was a piece of the primordial chaos that existed before the universe began. If any darkness could ever have a soul, this ancient blackness was it.
Its name was Stanley, and it opened its eyes and yawned.
It hadn’t always been called Stanley. In the grand scheme of things, having a name was still a new experience for it. Over the centuries, it had been referred to as things like “The Birthplace of Shadows,” “The Eternal Devourer of Day,” “The Nightmare Valley,” and “Dammit Marge, Quit Playing Around and Turn That Light Back On Before I Break My Neck Down Here.” But it had never really had a true name.
That changed when the dark made its very first friend. This friend explained that names were very important, because they encapsulated your personality so others would instantly know how to react to you. “For instance,” he said, “my name, Sir Rexington Einstein Von Doom, tells people immediately that I am the wise and powerful ruler of all I survey, and no one to be trifled with.”
Privately, Stanley felt this might be a slight exaggeration, for two reasons. First, Rex was a rather scrawny black tomcat, sporting a rainbow pastel collar and a heart-shaped tag that read, “Mommy Thinks I’m Purr-fect.” Second, the lady of the house commonly referred to him as Rexy-Wexy Cuddlekins, and he accepted her smothering affection without apparent protest. Still, as Rex was the only friend he’d ever had since the dawn of creation, he felt it best to keep his observations on that score to himself.
Rex had been rather put out when, after careful deliberation, the dark had chosen the name Stanley. “But you’re a force of nature!” he sputtered, hissing slightly in his indignation. “Your name should be great and terrible, and strike fear into the hearts of men!”
Stanley shrugged, sloshing gently against the pool of light at the top of the basement stairs. “I’ve been striking fear into the hearts of men for centuries, and I never needed a name for it before. Besides, there was an old man that lived here once, years ago…used to come down and talk to me about how the dark was calm and soothing. Well, he wasn’t talking to me, exactly; he was just thinking aloud, but it was still nice. His name was Stanley, so that name will do just fine for me.”
“Hmph,” grumbled Rex. “Can’t you at least add something exciting to it? Ooh, ooh, I know: how about Lord Stanley Sunkiller the Eternal??”
Stanley stared unblinking into Rex’s eyes, radiating an otherworldly finality. Few creatures can win a staring contest with a black cat; Stanley was one of them. Rex blinked.
“Or, just Stanley is fine, too. A fine, solid name, is Stanley. Suits you well. Right off, I said to myself, boy, he really looks like a Stanley.”
Stanley smiled. “I’m glad you approve.”
Rex approved deeply, and then made an excuse to go approve from another part of the house for a while, until he got over the feeling that his nerves had all been dunked in a pail of ice melt. But Stanley had spent a lot of time around cats. He knew that Rex’s uneasiness would fade, but his curiosity wouldn’t.
Stanley liked cats.