A Piece of Night

Nonfiction by Alana Hassett 

During the day, our thoughts are confined to our planet. This is encouraged. We’re taught that when the sun appears as a bloody blot between the tree trunks, we should zero in on our laptop screens, training our eyes to sprint from line to line and our fingers from letter to letter, until our PDFs send on time and we can afford a few moments to stare at the wall. 

During the day, we move a minute at a time, looking at the equations on the board, the pictures under our thumbs, and the cars driving too slowly in front of us. We teach our eyes to ignore the expanse of blue at the top of our vision, focusing instead on the fraction of pavement at the bottom. We travel along the moving walkways at the airport and the ugly tiles of our schools, eyes lumbering from one crack in the sidewalk to the next. We think about the weekend. We long to be in an altered state of some kind, surrounded by friends and listening to bass-boosted music. 

During the night, we often remain on the ground, cramming our homework in the hour before it’s due, gossiping with our roommates for hours in the kitchen, and watching videos of cats pushing things off of tables. We walk in the cold instead of paying for an Uber, we avoid the people at the party who we don’t talk to anymore, and we come back home for cold pizza. Sometimes we profess our love for our favorite people and tell them how meaningless our lives would be without them. Other times, we try out something new because we want to know what it feels like and find that it makes our tongue feel like cotton and our eyelids heavy. 

During the night, we often ask questions about the future: Will we get a job, or will we have to move in with our parents? Is this new mole benign, or will we die of skin cancer? Will we ever find love? Our minds are no longer zeroed in on the 60 seconds ahead of us, and we’re able to think ahead a day, week, or decade. Some nights, we even allow our minds to run off-leash, provided they stay in our sights and come back when called. 

But the best nights are the ones that make us feel not like another person in a world of seven-and-a-half billion others but like the center of our own solar system. We’ve all had these nights. We might be alone in our bedrooms, at a restaurant with our family, in a parked car with a friend in the middle of the night, or in sleeping bags on the basement floor. We talk about religion, death, science, and politics. We feel more connected than ever before to each other, to ourselves, and to our higher power of choice. Sitting in the basement, we watch as nearby objects slowly lift and begin to float around us—lamps, socks, and pillows moving in a slow, bobbing circle above our heads. As we talk about all aspects of the world, we feel ourselves begin to float a few inches off the ground, like we’re sitting on an air mattress as it inflates. We get caught up in our hypotheses about the afterlife and the passage of time, and we don’t notice that we’re slowly rising in the air. 

Most of the time, we are stuck in the present, locked into our lives and hyper-focused on the real world. But the times when we feel most connected to ourselves and others, the times we feel most stimulated and curious, are the times when we open the gate and let our minds run rampant through the black. 

We continue rising in the air—you and I—and we don’t stop when our heads knock against the ceiling. The roof moves out of our way, and we begin to float out above our neighborhood, staring down at the streetlights and windows that twinkle like stars in the dark. We talk about the things that terrify us, the things that excite us, and the things that we hope the world will one day understand. We continue rising in the air, alongside all of the others who are having nights like ours, and we all move like a fleet into the upper atmosphere. You’re curious about space, you say, as we enter the exosphere. You’re terrified of the prospect of floating out in nothingness, getting drawn into the orbit of other, larger things and tossed around like a beach ball. You’re terrified of space, but you’re enthralled by it too, and as we sit together and talk about it, you slowly feel yourself being drawn in by something larger and darker that looms above the Earth from a watchtower. 

“I wonder what happens to a person who falls into a black hole,” you say, staring up at outer space above you. You rise higher, moving faster than the rest of us, who struggle to keep up with you. You’re moving faster than you ever have in your life. You can’t see what’s coming, but part of you knows what’s about to happen. You whiz through space, avoiding the asteroids and careening around the stars, moons, and planets. You can’t see it as you approach it, but you can feel it; the hair on your arms stands on end, and you feel a tug from the inside of your stomach. As you slowly appear in the presence of the divine queen, you stare into the dark. 

“I just wonder what it looks like in there.” 

As if granting a wish, the black hole cracks a grin, reaches out a calloused hand, and pulls you toward its depths. 

Around you, everything begins to speed up. Distant stars and planets turn from specks of dust to squinting lines, like drops of white paint smeared across the page. Your stomach lurches, and for a moment, you’re skydiving, plummeting at an exponential speed with no wind to push your hair out of your face and howl in your ears. Every fiber of your being, every atom in your body is yanked towards the blackness. Nothing is left behind. 

You’ve been moving towards the horizon your whole life, and finally you’re going to catch it, as you approach but fall short of the speed of light. The specks of existence ebb away behind you until you can see nothing but the frothing maw of the monster in front of you, hear nothing but its grumbled, hungry muttering. You’re petrified, but in the best possible way, like a surfer on a beach staring up in awe at a gargantuan tsunami. The black hole is bigger than anything you’ve ever seen, and it overtakes your field of vision until there’s no difference between keeping your eyes open and closing them. You keep them open, and the black clings to your irises like mold. You blink profusely. You turn around to watch the final puppet show of space, the little lights dancing across the surface of the circular window that shrinks as it tells your last bedtime story. 

You don’t notice when you pass within the walls of the black hole. For you, the event horizon is undetectable. But when you look behind you, you can no longer see the stars. You coast. You would kill for a flashlight. But instead you become part of the darkness. 


God hides the best secrets of the universe just beyond the event horizon of a black hole. Just past the entrance is where you can find out how our world was created, whether we were made on purpose or evolved accidentally, and whether other life exists somewhere in space. 

Once you enter the black hole, pick up this book of secrets, and learn everything that God jotted down in ugly handwriting, you’re effectively trapped. It’s the perfect ruse. No one in this world has seen what exists past that point, and no one who has seen it can tell anyone what they’ve seen. You might see a white waiting room, where all of the hole’s victims sit on cream-colored chairs, coughing up blood into a tissue until the black hole’s receptionist calls you up to the sliding-glass window and hands you some forms on a clipboard. You might have to wait hours for your name to finally be called, when you’ll be brought through the door on the left and escorted kindly to your death. 

All we know is that the center of a black hole has something called a singularity, which holds a huge amount of mass in a teeny tiny space, and where density and gravity become infinite—but we don’t know what the singularity actually looks like, and we don’t know what anything looks like between the event horizon and the singularity. 

I think that the singularity looks like a small red grape that sits on top of a pedestal in a glass case so that it doesn’t get damaged. I think the part of the black hole between the event horizon and the singularity looks like one of those moving walkways at the airport, and you just keep walking and walking towards that grape until your skin starts to pull back from your skull and your bones begin to fracture into little pieces and you fall to your knees and your legs shatter into Lego-sized shards that get all clogged up in the moving walkway until you get close enough to the singularity that they’re launched towards that little grape and swallowed by its greatness. 

In your last few moments before getting sucked in, the singularity plays music, and to make you more comfortable, it plays your favorite album. As you approach the singularity, it smiles down at you, kind of like a queen. I think it’s honored that you’ve come this far to see it, and it feels bad that your legs are all busted up and your skin is no longer attached to your skull. I think that the singularity wants you to have the most epic death imaginable, so it lifts you up into the air (not actual air, because that’s scientifically inaccurate) and looks you straight in the eyeballs, its warm, radiating glow engulfing you in light. And as Beyonce’s “Countdown” plays over the speakers, the singularity reaches out a finger, and you hold out yours too, and you guys get really close to touching, like that picture of God and Adam, like that movie with the little boy and the alien, before the singularity blows you a kiss, and the wind created from that kiss bursts you into a billion pieces, and that’s how you die. 

Scientists believe that when you reach a certain point in the black hole, you begin to stretch out, your body widening and widening until you’re stretched as thin as a rubber band. They think that you probably die early on in this process, which is definitely a good thing, because you don’t want to have any kind of consciousness when the black hole spreads you so thin that your atoms are lined up in front of each other in single file, waiting patiently to explode. They say that you get nowhere close to the singularity of the black hole, at least not while you’re still alive. But my question is why would the singularity create that incredible gravitational field and drag you all that way if it didn’t want to meet you? 

I think that you meet the singularity. I think that you greet her with open arms and a wide grin, with visible nerves and excitement. You shake her hand eagerly, honored that she’s touching you without a glove, and you tell her how amazing she is. You tell her that you’ve been fascinated with her lately. You don’t know too much about her, but you find her incredibly intriguing. The singularity is politely appreciative of your comments. As you try to stammer out a final thank you, she whispers in your ear, “You’re welcome, darling,” before making a sharp clicking noise with her tongue that causes you to explode violently on the spot. 

Or maybe she doesn’t explode you, and instead invites you back to her place for some wine and crackers. Maybe she sits you down on her couch and explains everything about the universe that she thinks you should know. She tells you things you’d never bothered to contemplate, and she makes you feel more complete than you ever have before. With this knowledge, you feel as though you can die happy, and you do. 


A black hole comes into existence when an elderly star starts to cave in on itself as it gets close to death. The outward-pushing Energy of the star enters a standoff with the inward-pushing Gravity. These two forces remain in combat for a few million years, before Energy gets too tired and Gravity conquers, slamming their blade into Energy’s chest with gusto and surging in towards the core of the star from all sides. Because of the pressure, the inner core of the star suddenly shrinks down to a tiny speck. It happens so quickly that the star doesn’t even notice that its insides have shrunk and turned an inky black. The star doesn’t realize that it has been possessed, until a few milliseconds later, when the baby black hole in the middle of the star begins to eat its way out. It consumes the innermost portion of its old body, guzzling its old arteries and bones so quickly that it chokes and spits up a little, pushing beams of Energy out of its ears. This is the moment that the star realizes its fate. Milliseconds later, it explodes. 


You and I sit together inside as the roof falls back into place overhead. The clock says it’s three in the morning, which means we’ve been talking for almost four hours. You have things to get done tomorrow, so you can’t stay up much longer. I have things to do too. We say goodnight, pull our sleeping bags over our shoulders, and stare up at the ceiling still thinking, remembering when the roof was gone and we were in space. I wished that you could tell me what was inside the black hole, but you can only tell me what you think was inside, and I can only tell you the same. 

A black hole is a product of a seemingly endless war within a star. It comes into being when the star has nothing left to live for, and its heart turns cold and dark. As you lie in your sleeping bag, waiting for sleep, you travel again into space and watch the star die, imagining the war going on inside. You watch the star splatter into space, ducking as the shards fly over your head. You want to savor this moment. 

Religion, death, politics, and black holes intrigue us beyond belief. During the day, we keep them mostly out of sight, thinking instead about the minutiae of human existence: I have to buy more toilet paper, we think. I’ve gained six pounds, and This applesauce is expired. As the sun begins to set, we let our minds relax a little bit, inviting our thoughts to get some fresh air. Some nights, we’re able to let our thoughts loose for real, letting them climb upwards and upwards until we’re sucked into a black vortex of questions. Sometimes, we have someone else there to agree and disagree with us, and sometimes, we reach toward the unknown with them. Whether these nights happen often or rarely, whether they happen with others or alone, whether they leave us excited or just more confused, we always return to the daylight with a little piece of the night. 


About the Author:

Alana Hassett is a senior at Virginia Tech, majoring in Professional and Technical Writing as well as Creative Writing. In addition to her passion for writing, she loves filmmaking and playing in the Virginia Tech marching band. 

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