What do you call a period of 24 hours? Most people would call that a "day", but there is a far more precise term: a nycthemeron, a period of both night and day totalling 24 hours. It sounds like I'm splitting hairs here, but I assure you, the difference between a day and a nycthemeron can mean all the difference in the world - not because it can horrify you, but because it can change you.
Pennsylvania is a nice enough place. Some claim it only has two seasons: winter and construction. The winters are frigid, but the summers are quite pleasant, and we are presently in a most unseasonably wonderful spring. My backyard borders what is legally government-protected wetland, so I cannot go out and tend to it at all. The grasses run thick and flowers bloom, filling the air with a sense of glorious wilderness and natural beauty. On occasion, one can see a few foxes darting in the bush, or perhaps the uncommon snake or deer rustling the leaves.
The neighborhood I'm in is a small one, and I don't often deal with the neighbors. I prefer the solitude of tending to my house and yard. There is a simple joy in being able to invite your dearest friends over and showing them the difference between your perfectly kept lawn and the untamed field at its edge. At the end of the day, there is nothing that compares to sitting on the deck and watching the sun set behind that field, smiling at each movement in those bushes and underbrush, content to think of adorable little vulpines playing around or of rabbits foraging for food.
My weekend days only last about 15 hours or so, from 10 AM on Saturday until 1 AM Sunday morning. Aside from lawn work, washing cars, and other chores, I spend a good bit of time playing video games - Killing Floor is my current favorite - and meditating. Zen philosophy is a great way to release stress, no? And at the end of each day, I simply close my eyes and calm myself down, as per the therapist's suggestion. A paranoid schizotypal personality is a bit of a pain, but it keeps my mind open without pushing me into schizophrenic territory. I know there is something beyond this, an aether or a spiritual side, but I don't hear voices or anything. That's just crazy.
But what does all this have to do with a nycthemeron? Well, this Saturday has been different. This has not been a day; rather, I am approaching the end of a nycthemeron, spent entirely awake. From 6 AM yesterday morning until 6 AM today, which should approach soon, I have been going about my daily routine of school, then chores and homework, eating dinner with the family - my younger sister doesn't share my love for labor that I do, but my parents can appreciate it. Nothing of note happened, really. Around 10:30 PM, my parents told me they were going off to bed for the evening, and my sister was spending the night at a friend's house.
So by 11 PM yesterday evening, I was alone in my house. Our dog sleeps with my parents, so I essentially had free reign to do whatever I wanted, although to be frank all I really wanted to do was sleep. School is rough around AP examination time, and I'd been up for 17 hours. Instead, however, I steeled myself to see this little idea through. I went out onto the deck and settled in, with the porch lights on, of course. Nice and pleasant, with a light breeze, probably in the low 60s. The deck gate was shut, and I simply kind of spaced out after assuming the full lotus position, taking in every sensation of the night: the air, tinged with the sweet smell of our roses and lavenders, alongside the wild fragrances of grass and dandelions; the quiet shifting of the undefiled meadow just beyond the property boundary; the darkness, which extended infinitely in all directions, held at bay by only my porch lights. I was in my own world.
The next time I bothered to come back to reality, my iPod displayed a time of 1:13 AM on Saturday morning. Two hours passed in essentially the blink of an eye. Uncrossing my legs and standing up was a bit difficult. I felt stiff, cold, as though I were a corpse. Beneath my feet, the deck creaked out a sharp whine, and behind me a bird tore off into the night, rustling the leaves of the maple in our yard. As I opened the door to return inside for the night, however, I caught something in the overall stillness: a small animal frantically dashing through the brush, and doing what no other had dared. It crossed the threshold of my carefully-tended lawn, treading where machinery had cut down natural life, before abruptly stopping in the middle of my yard. Slowly, deliberately, it turned its head to face mine.
Through the light, I could just barely make the figure out to be a raccoon. This was a rare enough sight, a live procyonid. Most of the ones we see up here are flattened and lying on the road. Its eyes had that shining reflection like in photographs where the flash makes the eyes appear to glow with unnatural brightness. We stood there for what felt like eternity, an unspoken communication between human and beast. Finally, without warning, it tore off back into the wilderness just beyond my reach, where humankind cannot interfere.
That glance left me shaken beyond belief. With trembling hands, I turned back to the door and pulled it open, slamming it shut behind me and taking care to lock it. The clock read 2:26 AM. Another hour, lost in what felt like an instant; only three and a half more to go, and these too passed quickly. I rushed upstairs to my bedroom and dove under the covers, still shivering on occasion. I felt a chill, not of physical nature. No, this was the cold hand of realization gripping at my inner being.
As I lay there, my mind slowly turned back to meditation, urging myself to calm down and simply rest. Seconds became minutes, minutes became hours; and as the clock rolled around to 6:00 AM, I felt myself seized by relief. Within the next minute, my consciousness fled, and as I drifted off, I heard the faintest sound of claws brushing against the bark of the oak outside my bedroom window.
Which brings us to this moment, this Saturday afternoon, about nine and a half hours after fulfilling my personal mission. Why does this deserve to bear the title of creepypasta if there is nothing paranormal about it, nothing abjectly horrifying? Because to this person, at least, a nycthemeron spent mostly in routine helped me realize that I needed to break it. The hours spent in meditation and solitude while humanity slept and I remained awake, the supposed hour I lost gazing into the eyes of an animal...these hours were more fulfilling than the rest of that period.
Humankind has for too long considered itself to be superior to the "lower" animals. We destroy natural habitats, we poison the earth and don't attempt to rectify it. We as a species need to change, even if it happens one member at a time.
Try spending a nycthemeron awake, in your routine until you can be alone with nature. Let yourself resonate with the primal atmosphere of the natural world. Let your mind go free. Let your humanity go free. Maybe, if you're lucky, you can find a meaningful experience in a mindframe where time means nothing, where even a simple raccoon's gaze can offer more insight than a thousand books of scripture.
Maybe, if you are one of the few luckiest ones, every morning when you awake? You will be able to look out your window and smile, seeing a raccoon sleeping in the tree beside your bedroom window.
I'm not mowing my lawn anymore.